Posted in Entertaining

A Christmas Wine Tasting Party

On a cold winter’s eve, a group of friends gathered at my home, escaping the windy night, to celebrate the holiday with dinner, gifts, and to taste my new wines. Thank you to my friend, Annie, for taking photos!

The tree was decorated and all aglow, the twinkly lights and candles were lit and cast a lovely glow. Food was set out all around so that guests would mingle; latkes, cheese balls, olives, pickles, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon, chips and dip, limocello cheese cake, and ginger bread.

We created a game that we have done at every party. Guests pair up with someone they don’t know and answer the questions. The questions are based on the origin of our animal’s names. There is always laughter during this trivia game! (You can answer the questions at the end of this article!)

The Chardonnay was everything I wanted to be. It was a very small batch. Caramel apples and light pineapple in every taste of this delicious wine. I was so pleased.

My Merlot was a hit. Sumptuous, with aromas of cranberries and flavors of mulberries and cedar; currants and complexity linger on the palate. We toasted to friends and the new year.

Everyone brought a ten dollar gift to exchange. Numbers were drawn and everyone went home with a wonderful present.

I let each guest have a barrel taste of my new Nebbiolo. It is still sweet with juice but the flavors are coming together beautifully and I think it will be a very fine wine indeed.

Keeping in mind what is really important, gather those you love near, introduce new friends, and gather memories dear.

Ice Breaker:

  • What are our cats, Chuck and Linus, named after?
  • What movie is our cat, Mr. Boogedy Boo, named after?
  • What movie/books does our dog, Gandalf’s name come from?
  • What movie/book do our goats’ names come from? Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones?
  • The sheep we are getting in a few weeks will be named Ebenezer and Fezziwig, where does that come from?
  • Our kittens are named Taos and Socorro- what do those have in common?
  • Our ducks are named Serrano, Sandia, and Big Jim- what do those have in common?
  • Tie breakers- A past cat we had was named Zuzu’s Petals and a greyhound we had was named Bumble; what movies are those names from?
Posted in Entertaining

How to Throw a Memorable Dinner Party

Five records were stacked and ready to start playing as soon as the first guest pulled up. The table was set. Small wine goblets brought out for the occasion. Fresh sunflowers filled canning jars. The dinner party was about to begin.

I decided to throw a four course dinner party for friends, complete with wine pairings. My own garden created inspiration and filled the menu, along with local mushrooms, wine, and cheese. Homemade pasta and sourdough baguettes rounded out the menu.

This was an elaborate party, but it was easily managed by planning out each detail ahead of time. The menu was written on a door painted with chalkboard paint. The chive pasta was made Thursday. The Limoncello cake was made Friday in anticipation for Saturday’s dinner. On Friday I also blended a simple gazpacho style soup using lots of fresh veggies and olive oil in my Vitamix, added seasoning to taste, then stored it in the refrigerator. The soup was served cold topped with crab, which was removed from its cans Friday and stored in a glass container in easy reach in the fridge. Ten sets of plates and bowls were set out on the counter for easy plating.

Everything that could be prepped ahead of time was, like harvesting vegetables, pre-cutting the iceberg lettuce, and making the salad dressing. The white wine and champagne were put in the refrigerator as well.

Saturday morning I met up with girlfriends, rested until after lunch, then hit the ground running baking bread and setting the table. The potatoes were parboiled then smashed and placed on a cookie sheet. I poured crushed garlic and olive oil over the whole thing and put it in the toaster oven to start after the soup course.

Before guests arrived, the wine was opened, a pot of boiling water was started and kept on low for the pasta. The pasta sauce made with garlic and oyster mushrooms was started to the point of adding cream and was then kept off the heat until it was time to pull it all together for the third course.

Cups of coffee and delicious lemony cake was served. Guests meandered the garden, played with the dog, sipped wine and found things in common with each other. The whole dinner was a success. It it is a wonderful gesture to invite those you love from different circles and spoil them with great food and drink and company.

A simple affair is also easy to pull off. Put on a pot of soup. I wanted to make my woofers (farm interns) a truly Colorado meal, so I made them green chile, heated some tortillas on the gas stove, juiced some prickly pears and made the most delicious margaritas ever. The point of a dinner party is to come together as friends and community. Joining together over food is a great way to keep relationships alive and well. It adds such sweetness to life.

Cheers!

Posted in Entertaining, Food/Wine (and preserving)

Gathering Folks Together, a Simple Baby Shower, and an Easy One Pot Cake

My home seemed too small to host a baby shower for my friend, but I know after all these years of gathering people, that somehow it all works out perfectly. So my daughter, Emily, and I started planning. In my small space, we amazingly, and comfortably fit eighteen people, laughing and wishing the new mama well.

Parties needn’t be elaborate or expensive. When an RSVP came in, if they asked if they could bring something, I said yes! Many parties can be potlucks. No one minds. I always loved to throw great, large dinner parties, until I realized how crazy I was getting trying to get everything cleaned, then everything cooked, and I never ended up having time for my guests and relaxation.

My favorite guest, my granddaughter, Ayla Mae!

If you throw a celebration between mealtimes, you can just provide a few snacks and drinks. The idea is to get folks together. In an era of social media, loneliness, and disconnect, we must go out of our way to gather people together. Invite neighbors over for a neighborhood potluck. Invite a few couples over for cocktails and a card game.

Or invite several people you don’t know to a baby shower! It was really great fun. Gifts, chips and dips, vegetables trays, cupcakes, and my own vegan cake filled tables. A few different people brought sodas and Emily brought paper ware and index cards. We had the guests write their advice for the new mama. As she read each one aloud, I could tell she was touched by the support that she may not have realized she had as a single mom. It takes a village to raise a child, and a small part of the village came together to show her that.

Let us promote the idea of village once again and invite folks over to celebrate anything…celebrate life!

I like to make an easy one pot cake for gatherings. This recipe can have infinite possibilities. Use all flour or use hazelnut flour instead of almond. Change the spices. Use water or almond milk instead of coffee. Just keep the basic numbers right and you will end up with a delicious, moist, plant based cake every time!

Amaretto and Coffee Cake

Combine:

2 1/2 cups of unbleached, organic flour

1 cup almond flour

1 cup of brown sugar

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 teaspoons of baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon of ground coffee

1 Tablespoon homemade cinnamon extract (or 1 teaspoon of store bought vanilla extract)

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 cup of coffee

2 Tablespoons of white or apple cider vinegar

Quickly stir it all together (the baking soda and vinegar is what makes it rise) and pour into a 9×11 greased pan, 2 greased round pans, or a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

For the baby shower cake, I just used regular frosting. I made the same cake the evening before for a gathering with friends and make an amaretto frosting to top the cake with. Amaretto and Coffee cake is delicious.

In a bowl combine 1 cup of powdered sugar with 3 Tablespoons of Amaretto liqueur. Drizzle over cake.

Posted in Entertaining

A Book Themed Birthday Party

When the children were growing up, we started our morning with two things, coffee and Martha Stewart. We loved her show when it took place in her house (and how I would love a set of DVD’s if they were ever made!), and then we watched the newer Martha Stewart Show. Me, Andy, Shyanne, and Emily piled up on the couch with our cups of coffee, absorbing everything the maven of domesticity had to teach us. Perhaps that is why my kids are such clever party planners, or perhaps it just comes natural to them. Yesterday, Emily threw a book themed birthday party for her daughter, Ayla’s, first birthday.

I made the girls matching dresses with books on the fabric. They were adorable at the party!

I cannot believe my granddaughter is already turning one! Oh, she is a darling little thing- spunky and all smiles. She was quite a hit at her own party as family and dear friends gathered around the local coffee shop (closed on Sundays) to celebrate. Here is a look at Emily’s brilliant birthday party plan. Kids get tons of plastic toys that will not be played with long, but books…now books are a great gift.

The menu was made to look like a library check out card.
Emily is a great cook and she spent the day before making miniature quiches and muffins. She also set out a parfait bar with yogurt, chia seed pudding, fruit, and granola. Doug and I picked up Einstein’s bagels and shmear on the way.
A drink station and food buffet makes it easy for everyone at the party to help themselves and let’s mama play with her children and visit with guests.

My daughter, Shyanne, is an amazing baker. I have shared with you her work before. I must say, she outdid herself this time. These cakes were not only gorgeous, but absolutely delicious. The double tiered cake was orange and vanilla and the other was a vegan chocolate that was so rich and so amazing. https://www.facebook.com/WickedlyDeliciousDesserts/

The baby loved all of her books and entertained everyone as she stood up and walked around and danced. It is always lovely to get together with friends and family. Emily took a simple kid’s birthday party and made it affordable, creative, and fun.

Posted in Entertaining

A Kitchen Themed Bridal Shower

My beautiful daughter, Emily is getting married next month.  Her sister and I planned a kitchen themed bridal shower.  The invitation talked about how Emily loves to cook and that she will be cooking for a very long time for her growing family so we may as well make it fun!  Party goers were encouraged to bring a fun kitchen item that they love in their own cooking.

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We had the party at Shyanne’s house, since she lives closest to everyone.  My children watched Martha Stewart when it was on television every morning growing up, and it shows.  Little signs decorated the space.

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Ayla, Emily (the bride), and Shyanne

Shyanne spray painted green wine bottles gold and placed mums in each.  Balloons captured the attention and smiles of our baby, Ayla.

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I made strawberry shortcake on sweet biscuits (recipe to follow), Seven layer dip with tortilla chips, and roll ups (tortillas spread with cream cheese and topped with green chilies then rolled up and sliced).  Shyanne make cupcakes, and ricotta and peach bruchetta, and little tea sandwiches.  The table was beautiful and inviting.  Cardboard cake holders glued to sturdy plastic cups acted as stands.

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Drinks were set up on the island.  Raspberry juice and sprite in one pitcher, coconut rum and juice in another.  I brought a gallon of sweet tea.  Every one helped themselves to finger foods and drinks and met new folks and talked.  The kids were adorable playing together.

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My granddaughter, Maryjane (middle) and her best friends.

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Shyanne printed out three games for us to play.  They were all quizzes about the bride or the bride and groom.  It was a lot of fun guessing things about who kissed who first, who is the best dancer, does the bride like coffee or tea better, and so on.  Small succulents acted as the prizes since that is one of the themes of the wedding.

We had everyone write out advice for the new bride and share it.  There were some very inspirational words.  Young girlfriend’s advice as sound as the women that were married half a century.  It was a lot of fun and made us all nod and strive to be better partners.  Those went into a sweet picture album.

An Instapot, box of Corningware, breadmaker, immersion blender, knife set and cutting board, pressure cooker, and cookie sheets later, the young bride was inspired to start cooking.

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My friend, Tina, and I. This was taken by a mama with a wiggly baby on her hip!

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This is a great picture of Doug and his parents with our granddaughters.  

It was such a wonderful time with family and friends to celebrate a profound new chapter in our daughter’s life.  A wedding is an amazing event and celebrating and preparing the young bride is the community’s honor.  We are very thankful for our “village”.  To help the young couple is a pleasure and being together is always special.

Sweet Biscuits and Strawberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a mixing bowl combine,

1 3/4 cups of flour

2 Tablespoons of sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

1/3 cup of olive oil (I use lemon infused olive oil for half)

2/3 cup of milk

Drop by spoonfuls on greased cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes.

Top with a sprinkle of sugar, whipped cream, and chopped strawberries mixed with a little sugar.

 

Posted in Entertaining

Bocce! The Ultimate Family Game

According to my DNA test, I am not Italian. but one might think I was and I feel I should be!  What, with my Italian convertible Fiat (I mean, pumpkin shaped mini-farm vehicle), my great love of homemade Italian food, my extensive knowledge of Italian wines, my closest friend is even Italian!  Oh, and so is my favorite game.  Here I sat down to write to you about bocce and how to play it because it is portable, easy, and so much fun.  But, it turns out I already wrote about it, four years ago Easter.  So I will link that one so that you can see the details and photos of my little Maryjane as a two year old ball runner.

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This year for Easter the kids all came down to Pueblo.  We took the dusty bag of bocce balls from the shed and set them on the front porch.  For some reason, we haven’t taught Reed (who has been in the family three years and is Italian!) how to play yet.  Maryjane threw the small white ball (the jack) and then ran off to play.  Aunt Bree opted to hold Ayla so the teams would be even.  We played on the side of the house, a bit more demure than we usually are.  We tend to like to throw the thing into ravines and over small hills.  Andrew and Emily were deep in conversation the whole time, but still managed to win.

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Do pick up a set of Bocce if you see it at sporting good stores or garage sales.  The game is great for picnics, family get-togethers, or just with two people, a glass of limoncello, and a dusky summer night.

Here is the rest of the story..

Posted in Entertaining

Planting in Glass Jars

Planting in canning jars and other large glass vessels is such a fun idea.  I have seen these a few places now and I love the idea.  My bamboo is planted in a canning jar.  I love the idea of giving succulents in canning jars as gifts.

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I equally love the idea of using larger glass jars to showcase pine trees, like this one that we saw at a restaurant in New Mexico.  They really would have to be for a party or a few weeks of decoration because of the lack of drainage.  But they really are charming.  I can also envision miniature rose bushes in large glass jars lining a table.  The ideas are endless.

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My Easter bunnies

My Easter table this year will seat ten.  Bright colored oil cloth of reds and blues and my new Fiesta ware will be used at each place.  I am making a feast of enchiladas, chili rellenos, beans, rice, guacamole, and icy margaritas.  Perhaps a bit untraditional for Easter dinner but shaking things up is my specialty.  Succulents or miniature cacti in canning jars may very well complete the décor.

So grab those wide mouth jars and plant away!  Gifts and entertaining just got more creative and fun.

 

Posted in Entertaining

An Epic Mermaid and Pirate Birthday Party (tips for a great party!)

My granddaughter, Maryjane, turned six years old.  Her Pa turned forty-nine.  Our daughters set out to create an amazing sea experience to celebrate both of their birthdays.  This year they put on a Mermaid and Pirate party!

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The coffee shop in Elizabeth is near and dear to us and we were so pleased that the owner gave Shyanne the key and let us have our party there.  It is the mid-way point for everyone in our families.  We live far enough away that we got a hotel room for the weekend and spent time with Emily and Reed and our beautiful little girls.  They stayed in the room with us and it was so much fun.

Every birthday is a gift.  Every year that the kids are small and let us snuggle them is a gift.  Every moment with family and friends is a gift.

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Maryjane’s cake was made with a mouthwatering homemade strawberry filling with creamy vanilla cake.

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Pa’s cake was made with homemade peppermint patties layered into mint and chocolate.  All decorations are homemade and edible!

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Shyanne is the most amazing baker.  She always has been.  She was eight years old in the kitchen (cussing up a storm) making the most amazing confections.  Her craft only gets better and she created from scratch some amazing cupcakes and cakes this year.

She bought simple cardboard cake trays and had me hot glue them to inexpensive water cups.  These created beautiful cake stands.

The key to a great kid’s party is to limit the number of kids.  Have far more adults than children.  Sound ridiculous?  Think about it, thirty kids and six adults?  Or six kids and thirty adults?  The adults all mingle and catch up (these little girls have HUGE families) and the children are easily kept focused and have a great time together.

We served various teas and coffee.  A spread of gold fish, spray painted Oreos, fruit, veggies, dips and chips made great snacks.  Having the party just after lunch (say, 1 or 2:00) allows the host to serve simpler fare.

A great time was had by all.  Five generations of family, lots of great friends, kiddos, and a granddog celebrated these two beautiful people that I am so grateful to have in my life.

(To contact Shyanne about making an amazing cake, cupcakes, or cookies for your next event, check out her facebook page at http://facebook.com/WickedlyDeliciousDesserts or email her at Shyanne@WhiteWolfHerbscom)

 

 

 

Posted in Entertaining, Holidays

A Frightfully Fun Halloween Party for Any Age

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My daughter, Shyanne, is the queen of Halloween.  She drives an old, lifted Jeep Cherokee with a life sized skeleton named Victor in the front seat all year.  When Shyanne invited me to her Halloween day with my other daughter and granddaughter, I didn’t hesitate (never turn down opportunities to be with loved ones).  I hopped in the car with my witch hat and headed to the eastern plains.

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Now there is nothing quite like the sound of a five year old’s bent-over, belly laugh.  And that is what I was met with.  “You look like a unicorn!” Maryjane wailed, a twinkle in her eye.  “I am a witch!” I declared.  “Looks like a unicorn to me.”

There were crafts laid out, and snacks galore, spooky music met me when I entered through the door.  I got straight to work, for this Grammie has a role.  I make the best Halloween hamburgers (veggie burgers) this side of the veil.  I sneaked the bits of cheese from cutting out eyes and mouths to my scary granddog.

Witch’s brew was put on, just like when the children were small.  Ah, it does not seem like it was that long ago at all.  A jug of apple juice or cider, a handful of brown sugar, a good sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice and let that begin to simmer then serve.

Shyanne put on a spread of easy treats, crackers and chips and cookies.  We decorated warm sugar cookies with edible watercolors and sprinkles.

We made puppets out of tongue depressors glued to construction paper cutouts that we glued googly eyes to.  Shyanne had carefully pre-cut Frankenstein heads, pumpkins, bats, and ghosts out.  We painted and glued and sprinkled our way into the Halloween spirit.  I did notice that is hard to get into the spirit when no children are present.  This was a welcome party for me.

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“The neighbors are going to wonder what is going on,” Emily said, as Maryjane and I danced to Disney songs and howled loudly like werewolves.

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Emily posing with her pumpkins. She is very ready for the new baby to come! (a few more weeks!)

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Maryjane’s broom. It’s a compact like my Fiat.

Pumpkins were carved, and we danced, and sang.  Halloween parties can be impromptu and easy.  For any age, for us older children regress rather quickly in the sight of sugar cookies and glue sticks.  I hope you find a few ideas to incorporate into your own spooky Halloween day!

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Posted in Entertaining

A “Falling in Love” Baby Shower

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Autumn is such a lovely time to host events.  It becomes its own decorating theme!  I think in this day and age all of us are ready to host simpler parties, to have easier get-togethers, to really celebrate without enormous expense.

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I was inspired by our city park.  Every weekend, if it is warm, one will find entire families in the park.  Portable tents popped up, folding tables and chairs, a BBQ smoking, and children running about while the elders talk.

We chose the old, indoor pavilion at the park in the woods in Elizabeth to have the baby shower.  It was a half way point for most people.  It snowed so only half the people came, but the ones that did had a great time and it was warm and cozy within the red walls of the building.  My friend, Vanessa, and I strewed leaf garlands and mini pumpkins on the tables.  A simple sign, “We are falling in love with Ayla Mae” graced the gift table.

Being somewhat introverted, Emily and I dread those silly games thrown at baby showers.  Reed is excited to be a dad and he wanted to be at the shower as well, so co-ed it was.  We did a contest where each person wrote down their guesses of what day the baby will arrive, hair color, weight, height, and day or night arrival.  The winner will get a gift card in the mail.  A simple journal was laid out for family and friends to write a note to Ayla so she could read in the years to come how excited we all were that she was joining our family.

We had the party at 2:00 so there was no pressure to put on a big spread.  I would have, but I had the furthest to drive and it would have been hectic, so mid-afternoon leaves room for easy snacks like chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, and ranch dip and carrots.  A big pot of coffee and a crock pot of hot cider warmed the guests that ventured out into the snowy afternoon.

The highlight was my daughter’s cupcakes. (http://facebook.com/wickedlydeliciousdesserts)  Shyanne made the most delicious cupcakes filled with caramel apples or ganache and hand made, perfectly sweet frostings with hand made and and hand painted decorations.  Amazing.

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The twinkly lights in the wood building, the smells of hot coffee and cider, the colorful leaves, the laughter, the sweet gifts, the glowing parents, it all was so lovely and simple.  I took the opportunity, having all of the kids there at the same time, to have my dear friend, Alvin, get some family pictures.  It is always a perfect day when families can be together.  And a fall themed party is an easy way to do it!

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