Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's been a while since I posted pictures of random, pretty, outdoor tables. This morning, 
this table is doing it for me:


It's a garden party that was hosted by LaurĂ©n LaRocca and Marlan Willardson of 
Twink + Sis, then posted on Domaine Home and, where I found it, on the FWx blog.

And it is pretty, pretty, pretty. Ghost chairs + rustic table + thick marbled placemats? 
I am allll over that.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Muddling Through - and a Spring Cocktail

Embarrassing confession time: Last December, Arctic Chill sent me a cocktail muddler...and I left it in the box until last Friday. It sat on my kitchen counter, a daily reminder of what a slacker I am. ("Muddling" is not the only thing on my to-do list that's lingering.)

Last Friday, on the first day of Spring, the weather sucked but it seemed like as good a time as any to get muddling.

Last week, in honor of Spring, I packed up a bunch of booze from our house, along with some fruit and mint, and carted it over to Kyle and Mary's house - with the muddler, of course. I didn't have a recipe -  just some thoughts. As soon as we arrived, I spread everything out and got creative. It looked something like this:

And that turned into this:


And it was delicious. So delicious that I made three or four more rounds, until I ran out of prosecco and had to use sparkling water instead. Oh, and the muddler? It's solid. Stainless steel, easy to clean, great weight. I like it!

If you're in the mood for celebrating this week, you could do worse. Here's the recipe:

Welcome to Spring Cocktail
Makes 4 drinks

Ingredients:
4 ounces Vodka
2 ounces Limoncello
2 ounces Blackberry cassis
1/4 bottle Prosecco
2 sprigs mint, plus more to garnish
4 raspberries
1/8 cup blueberries
4 blackberries
2 key limes, halved
2 ounces simple syrup
2 ounces lime juice

Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and muddle until the fruit has liquified. Strain the fruit and booze mixture into a new shaker and shake to combine. Taste - if it's too tart, add a little more simple syrup.

Fill four rocks glasses with ice. Divide the fruit mixture between the four glasses, filling each about 3/4 of the way. Top with prosecco and stir to mix. Garnish with mint and enjoy!


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Going Green

As ever, the month of March is all about the Irish around here.

We started the month with our annual Fake St. Patrick's Day celebration. This year, the party was held at Ryleigh's Oyster Hunt Valley, where two amazing bartenders took care of a crowd that was dozens strong for four straight hours.

After years of just meeting for drinks, last year, FSP became a benefit (thanks to Rasim's smart suggestion). This year, we raised over $2,500 for the MLD Foundation. Not bad for some afternoon drinks! The money was raised by selling koozies, raffling off baskets including donations from local businesses, and a 50/50 cash raffle.

It was a great time - both during the afternoon and back at our house that night. Lots of oysters, lots of beer, lots of generosity.
Clockwise from top left: Irish Cooper; Erin wearing my grandmother's pins; the scene at Ryleigh's; the front of Mike's shirt; some of the raffle prizes; the after party; the back of Mike's shirt; the koozies and (center) a big basket full of Irish gear.

Last weekend, we continued the celebration with a families-and-friends brunch at our house. I made corned beef hash and my mom cooked a zillion eggs to order, Cooper smoked a gorgeous piece of salmon, and so many people brought dessert. We've been swimming in sweets for days.

It was, of course, a great time. And it lasted, as brunches do, from noon until almost 9 p.m. Needless to say, we were all exhausted on Monday. Including the kids. But it's worth it, of course, to celebrate our Irish heritage. Especially since we are gearing up for a 2016 trip to the motherland itself!
Clockwise from top left: the dessert table, including a sour cream coffee cake (my mom), chocolate chip cookies (Chad's mom), grasshopper brownies and car bomb cupcakes (Mike's mom) and a Bailey's bundt cake (Alicia); Cooper with Maggie and Biz; the salmon; "potato" candies from Eddie's; Jen and Mark's reuben dip; radishes with Irish brown bread from Atwaters.
Funnily enough, we didn't do anything Irish-y at all - other than wear green - on St. Patrick's Day itself. In fact, we ate Indian food that night.

But we're not quite finished. Hardcore Irish-Americans that we are, we have one more party to go to this coming weekend. And it's sure to be a good one. Slainte!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Valentine's Day and the Magic of the Kids' Table

Adults on left (check out those woven ribbons!) and kids on right (plastic silverware, yes, but also gift bags!)
As I'm sure you all remember, Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday this year, guaranteeing that restaurants would be even more hectic than usual. We're not big V-Day celebrators under any circumstances...and you couldn't pay me to go to a restaurant on the most lovey-dovey night of the year. I feel for people in the industry.

When we do celebrate Valentine's Day, it's usually with our friends. Alicia and Mike have hosted a couple Valentine's Day wine tasting parties that are so well-attended - we're obviously not the only ones not really into the holiday.

This year, we had dinner at our house. Nothing unusual or crazy - steak, potatoes, asparagus, hollandaise. Shrimp to start and cupcakes for dessert. Standard dinner-with-friends fare.

I did spend a little time on the table, though - and on the kids' table. As I know I've mentioned before, setting the table is one of my favorite things in the world. It combines so much of what I love about party-throwing - the anticipation, the pretty stuff, the orderly pre-party organization. I just love it.

Now that some of the kids in our friend group are older, I've started spending more time on the kids' table. I set up a couple short IKEA Lack tables in our dining room, next to the adult table, and we use stools (also from IKEA) as seating.

Everything's paper and plastic (they are kids - and some of them are little!) but I try to make things extra fun, with decorations and gifts attached the name cards. For Valentine's Day, it was bags with candy all around, plus extra candy for the girls and little Nerf guns for the boys. Which did violate my "no guns at the table" rule. But it was a special occasion.

Unsurprisingly, the boys, who are all older, are really only into it for the loot. Some of the girls, though, totally get it. They come in and head right to the table to look for their seats - and they genuinely appreciate how the table looks. I love it.

I mean, my grown up friends care how the table looks, too. But they're not nearly as cute as the little one.

Friday, March 06, 2015

History, Wine and Intrigue

I love Rioja. We go through wine phases around here, jumping from country to country, varietal to varietal. For over ten years now, we've been serial wine monogamists, settling on a "house wine" and buying case after case, until we find a new love.

For the past six or so months, that wine has been a Rioja called Montebuena. Everyone who drinks it likes it - and it is seriously inexpensive. Plus, it's a screw top which means that, yes, some of the pomp and circumstance around opening the bottle is missing. But it's a whole lot easier to deal with mid-party.

I love history, too - especially when it involves tales of wine counterfeiting and general intrigue. Unsurprisingly, this short lesson about the origins of the gold wire on bottles of Rioja, from Vine Pair, had me fascinated.

Montebuena doesn't mess with the wires but more than a few fancier Riojas have rotated through our wine cellar at one point or another. I always assumed the wires were a holdover from the olden days - but I hadn't thought about why. Short answer: to prevent counterfeiters from gaining access to the bottle.

And isn't it just like 18th century Europeans to create an anti-counterfeiting measure that sparkles?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Flavor + Science = More Flavor

We have been eating a lot of Indian food around here lately. Like, a lot.

Also, I have been working on an article related to the scientific underpinnings of some sensory experiences.

These two things do not, at first glance, appear related. But they are.

According to this Washington Post article, science has proven that part of the massive appeal of Indian food comes from the fact that its dishes typically combine ingredients that are scientifically unrelated. And not just that the ingredients kinda seem unrelated - they really aren't related, in chemical terms.

This is some interesting stuff.

The article also links to a chart that could be my downfall this week. I could spend all my hours playing with it. It's an interactive graphic that shows which foods share the most, and the least, chemical links.

Mind. Blown. Seriously.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Old Friends, Good Food

As I mentioned last month, this is the year that most of my high school friends turn forty - which means this year, we will go to a lot of parties that involve black balloons.

February is a big month for us, with the birthdays of two of my oldest friends - guys I met in kindergarten at Benfield Elementary (one of the top schools in the country, obvs). Rasim and CJ both turn forty this week - Ras on the 22nd and CJ on the 25th. The original plan was to celebrate them with a party at Kooper's in Fells on Saturday night (organized by more Severna Park friends - our high school friend Chris and his tireless wife Adrienne). But the weather had other plans - and fortunately, Kooper's was very cool about letting us move the party to yesterday afternoon.

So from 4 until 7 yesterday, we took over the upstairs of Kooper's, drinking and eating burgers and nachos and pizza (on Rasim's tab - thanks!) and listening to some deafening 90s rap. Around 6:30, a transformer blew, leaving a bunch of Thames Street and lower Broadway without power. So...it was memorable in more ways than one.

Adrienne absolutely crushed it with the incredibly delicious, incredibly funny cake, from Herman's in Dundalk, and with a poster including tons and tons of old pictures of all of us. A fake Instagram photo prop, amazing cookies and tiny bottles of Fireball as favors were hilarious and really quite delicious (the cookies, anyway).
Top row, from left: Rasim in our 5th grade class picture; the "40" poster, which we all signed. Middle row: Rasim and me in a picture from high school; the Instagram prop; the cake. Bottom row: Rasim's "Sexual Chocolate Chip Cookies"; CJ in our 5th grade picture.

******

We'd actually had dinner with Rasim and Chris and Adrienne at our house, not too long ago. A little backstory: Rasim went to the University of Michigan. Last fall, when the Orioles were playing the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs, he and a college friend made a bet on the series.

Rasim won, obviously, and his prize was a $100 gift card to Zingerman's, the incredible deli and specialty foods store in Ann Arbor. Rasim quickly turned the card over to me, with the understanding that I'd use it to make him dinner.

So we figured out a time for Rasim to come over, and invited Chris and Adrienne, too. The dinner presented a couple challenges: Rasim doesn't eat pork and Chris is allergic to shellfish. So...that takes a lot of proteins off the table.

Nearly all the meat Zingerman's sells is of the porcine variety, so I decided that instead of buying core ingredients, I'd buy a few of their cool sauces and marinades. They source from all over the world and end up with a genuinely interesting mix of products.


The meal, then, was an experiment. I used chicken as the base protein, simmering chunks of meat in a trio of spicy sauces. Maffe sauce, from West Africa, was peanutty and rich. Yassa sauce, also from West Africa, was intensely spicy. And a Jamaican jerk sauce was full of herbs - and, like the others, pretty hot.

My favorite was the jerk - I liked the flavor of the dried herbs, and that the heat didn't overwhelm the other flavors. But everyone had their own preference.

Before dinner, we had some cheese and crackers, and some very fancy roasted Cristal peppers from Spain, washed down with Brewer's Art's Green Peppercorn Tripel, courtesy of Rasim (really, it was all courtesy of Rasim).  True to its name, the beer was packed with green peppercorn flavor.

With the chicken, I made roast cauliflower (always a hit) and sundried couscous from North Africa, which was genuinely better than grocery store couscous. The pearls were large, like Israeli couscous, with smooth texture and fuller flavor than I expected.

After dinner, we ate Craquelin bread, a brioche studded with orange zest and sugar cubes soaked in Grand Marnier. That makes it sound like it's super heavy and boozy - but it wasn't. The bread itself is somewhat dense but overall, the slices weren't overwhelming in any way.

Dinner was a blast - as was this weekend's party (despite the numerous disasters threatening the party's success).

And both events, of course, gave me more than ample opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am to have had such great friends, starting at a very, very young age.

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