Next Up: Europe!

Well, the time has come to finally take that solo trip I've always dreamed about. I'm a week away from departing on what may be the most life changing experience of my life. I'm a little scared but very excited at the same time.

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This solo vaca will give me a lot of time to reflect on recent events in my personal life and make plans for the future. All while touring some of the most beautiful places on earth. I look forward to writing down my thoughts and experiences so follow along on all social media platforms with #myeuropeanwanderlust

Itinerary:

Paris > Champagne > Amsterdam > Lyon > Barcelona > Reykjavik 

Stay tuned...

September is PCOS Awareness Month

PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a problem in which a woman's hormones are out of balance. It can cause problems with your cycles and make it difficult to get pregnant. If left untreated, PCOS can cause diabetes and heart disease. It affects about 5 million women in the US!

Ever since stopping the pill, I gained weight, became fatigued and moody easily, very irregular cycles but never knew what was causing these symptoms. 

PCOS is extremely hard to diagnose without numerous tests involving ultrasounds. I've completed these tests in our infertility journey and my RE (reproductive endocrinologist) has officially diagnosed me with PCOS. 

Since we now know the cause, I've completely changed my diet (bye-bye carbs and WINE!) and picked up yoga. With the help of Metformin (diabetes medication to help regulate blood sugar) and these changes, I feel a lot better and hope to see the results in our fertility journey.

In honor of PCOS Awareness Month, I've changed my profile picture to include the Teal ribbon to get the word out about this condition. With monitoring and lifestyle changes, this won't ruin my dream of becoming a mother!

Learn more: http://www.pcosaa.org/

No Carb, No Problem

Since starting this infertility diet with no carbs, I've had to completely change my eating habits. According to my dr and other research, carbs can inhibit your hormones resulting in irregular cycles. Hey, I've tried a lot of other things so why not give this a shot!

Pasta is my weakness, I love all Italian food. So how do I get my fix without having noodles?

Zucchini Noodles!

I bought a zucchini spiraler on eBay for less than $5 and have used it numerous times in the past 3 weeks. Here is my favorite recipe so far:

2 zucchini

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup diced tomato

Olive oil, S&P, garlic salt, shredded Parmesan

This cooks up super fast. Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium-high, saute the noodles with the garlic, add in tomato and seasonings. Once warmed through, serve with chicken thighs and boom. dinner.

This simple, fast weeknight dinner would pair perfectly with a Chardonnay!

Hosting a Party? Don't Neglect your Front Door

It's the first thing guests see as they arrive. By adding a few simple (and cheap!) additions, you can really liven up your front door for your next party.

Originally our front step was dull and boring and pretty dark. A dark brown mat, no wreath or bright colors. For under $100, I redid the whole thing!

Start with a wreath. It's easy to make or you can even buy one already made. I made this one from a square wreath I found at Home Goods and added some personal touches with flowers and a wooden letter. I chose neutral colors so it can be used all year long.

Also, spice up your front patio with some bright colors like this vase turned planter, some fake flowers and a simple lantern. Don't forget to update the mat for a pop of color as well!

Simple! Now I'm ready to host my next party with a warm, welcome from the start!

Infertility: Why No One Talks About It & Why I Am

For those who don't know, we've been trying to conceive for 23 months now, with many hormone treatments and even one failed insemination. After more testing (occurring now), we'll discuss other treatment options and hope to have great news for you in the near future!

However, we are not alone. Infertility affects over seven million people of childbearing age IN THE UNITED STATES alone! Staggering numbers, yet there is very little awareness and discussion around the subject. I believe no one talks about it because it is unknown at first (until its too late, really), then it's partially because those are viewed as the minority, when really the minority is a fairly large number. I understand that it is a very personal experience that we go through but I've found comfort in sharing my experience and learning from others.  Almost making it "normal" in a way, like we're not the only ones.

Hence, why I'm sharing now. It's hard to keep this bottled up, a secret if you will. To all the others facing infertility, all 7 million of you, we got this and we don't have to go at it alone!

Every time I mention our struggles, either that person or a friend of theirs has gone through the same thing. Not surprising since infertility affects 1 in 8 couples!

Maybe it's the complexity of the issue; where no 2 couples are infertile for the same exact reasons, but we all experience the same hurt, desire, ups and downs as each other. Infertility is not biased, it affects people of all ages, origins, men, and women.

Or maybe it's because fertile couples, pregnant women, single friends don't know how to show support or what to say. More on that later.

A support group of friends and family is a must for every couple. Being able to vent and be comforted has been key in our journey. We have gained a lot of support by opening up about our experience. Online support groups are a great source of information and experiences but there's nothing like comfort from your own friends and family.  I thank each and every one of you for your support, thoughts and prayers to get our family started!

For those friends and family who are supporting infertile couples, here's a list for infertility etiquette written by Resolve.org (The National Infertility Association):


Don't Tell Them to Relax

Everyone knows someone who had trouble conceiving but then finally became pregnant once she "relaxed." Couples who are able to conceive after a few months of "relaxing" are not infertile. By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as "infertile" until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. In fact, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. This year weeds out the people who aren't infertile but just need to "relax." Those that remain are truly infertile.

Comments such as "just relax" or "try going on a cruise" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.

Infertility is a diagnosable medical problem that must be treated by a doctor, and even with treatment, many couples will NEVER successfully conceive a child. Relaxation itself does not cure medical infertility.

Don't Minimize the Problem

Failure to conceive a baby is a very painful journey. Infertile couples are surrounded by families with children. These couples watch their friends give birth to two or three children, and they watch those children grow while the couple goes home to the silence of an empty house. These couples see all of the joy that a child brings into someone's life, and they feel the emptiness of not being able to experience the same joy.

Comments like, "Just enjoy being able to sleep late . . . .travel . . etc.," do not offer comfort. Instead, these comments make infertile people feel like you are minimizing their pain. You wouldn't tell somebody whose parent just died to be thankful that he no longer has to buy Father's Day or Mother's Day cards. Losing that one obligation doesn't even begin to compensate for the incredible loss of losing a parent. In the same vein, being able to sleep late or travel does not provide comfort to somebody who desperately wants a child.

Don't Say There Are Worse Things That Could Happen

Along the same lines, don't tell your friend that there are worse things that she could be going through. Who is the final authority on what is the "worst" thing that could happen to someone? Is it going through a divorce? Watching a loved one die? Getting raped? Losing a job?

Different people react to different life experiences in different ways. To someone who has trained his whole life for the Olympics, the "worst" thing might be experiencing an injury the week before the event. To someone who has walked away from her career to become a stay-at-home wife for 40 years, watching her husband leave her for a younger woman might be the "worst" thing. And, to a woman whose sole goal in life has been to love and nurture a child, infertility may indeed be the "worst" thing that could happen.

People wouldn't dream of telling someone whose parent just died, "It could be worse: both of your parents could be dead." Such a comment would be considered cruel rather than comforting. In the same vein, don't tell your friend that she could be going through worse things than infertility.

Don't Say They Aren't Meant to Be Parents

One of the cruelest things anyone ever said to me is, "Maybe God doesn't intend for you to be a mother." How incredibly insensitive to imply that I would be such a bad mother that God felt the need to divinely sterilize me. If God were in the business of divinely sterilizing women, don't you think he would prevent the pregnancies that end in abortions? Or wouldn't he sterilize the women who wind up neglecting and abusing their children? Even if you aren't religious, the "maybe it's not meant to be" comments are not comforting. Infertility is a medical condition, not a punishment from God or Mother Nature.

Don't Ask Why They Aren't Trying IVF

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a method in which the woman harvests multiple eggs, which are then combined with the man's sperm in a petri dish. This is a method that can produce multiple births. People frequently ask, "Why don't you just try IVF?" in the same casual tone they would use to ask, "Why don't you try shopping at another store?"

Don't Complain About Your Pregnancy

This message is for pregnant women-Just being around you is painful for your infertile friends. Seeing your belly grow is a constant reminder of what your infertile friend cannot have. Unless an infertile women plans to spend her life in a cave, she has to find a way to interact with pregnant women. However, there are things you can do as her friend to make it easier.

The number one rule is DON'T COMPLAIN ABOUT YOUR PREGNANCY. I understand from my friends that, when you are pregnant, your hormones are going crazy and you experience a lot of discomfort, such as queasiness, stretch marks, and fatigue. You have every right to vent about the discomforts to any one else in your life, but don't put your infertile friend in the position of comforting you.

Your infertile friend would give anything to experience the discomforts you are enduring because those discomforts come from a baby growing inside of you. When I heard a pregnant woman complain about morning sickness, I would think, "I'd gladly throw up for nine straight months if it meant I could have a baby." When a pregnant woman would complain about her weight gain, I would think, "I would cut off my arm if I could be in your shoes."

I managed to go to baby showers and hospitals to welcome my friends' new babies, but it was hard. Without exception, it was hard. Stay sensitive to your infertile friend's emotions, and give her the leeway that she needs to be happy for you while she cries for herself. If she can't bring herself to hold your new baby, give her time. She isn't rejecting you or your new baby; she is just trying to work her way through her pain to show sincere joy for you. The fact that she is willing to endure such pain in order to celebrate your new baby with you speaks volumes about how much your friendship means to her.

Don't Treat Them Like They Are Ignorant

For some reason, some people seem to think that infertility causes a person to become unrealistic about the responsibilities of parenthood. I don't follow the logic, but several people told me that I wouldn't ache for a baby so much if I appreciated how much responsibility was involved in parenting.

Let's face it-no one can fully appreciate the responsibilities involved in parenting until they are, themselves, parents. That is true whether you successfully conceived after one month or after 10 years. The length of time you spend waiting for that baby does not factor in to your appreciation of responsibility. If anything, people who have been trying to become pregnant longer have had more time to think about those responsibilities. They have also probably been around lots of babies as their friends started their families.

Perhaps part of what fuels this perception is that infertile couples have a longer time to "dream" about what being a parent will be like. Like every other couple, we have our fantasies-my child will sleep through the night, would never have a tantrum in public, and will always eat his vegetables. Let us have our fantasies. Those fantasies are some of the few parent-to-be perks that we have-let us have them. You can give us your knowing looks when we discover the truth later.

Don't Push Adoption (Yet)

Adoption is a wonderful way for infertile people to become parents.  However, the couple needs to work through many issues before they will be ready to make an adoption decision. Before they can make the decision to love a "stranger's baby," they must first grieve the loss of that baby with Daddy's eyes and Mommy's nose. Adoption social workers recognize the importance of the grieving process.

Mentioning adoption in passing can be a comfort to some couples. (The only words that ever offered me comfort were from my sister, who said, "Whether through pregnancy or adoption, you will be a mother one day.") However, "pushing" the issue can frustrate your friend. So, mention the idea in passing if it seems appropriate, and then drop it. When your friend is ready to talk about adoption, she will raise the issue herself.

So, what can you say to your infertile friends? Unless you say "I am giving you this baby," there is nothing you can say that will erase their pain. So, take that pressure off of yourself. It isn't your job to erase their pain, but there is a lot you can do to lessen the load. Here are a few ideas.

Let Them Know That You Care

The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren't going through this alone.

Remember Them on Mother's Day

With all of the activity on Mother's Day, people tend to forget about women who cannot become mothers. Mother's Day is an incredibly painful time for infertile women. You cannot get away from it-There are ads on the TV, posters at the stores, church sermons devoted to celebrating motherhood, and all of the plans for celebrating with your own mother and mother-in-law.

Mother's Day is an important celebration and one that I relish now that I am a mother. However, it was very painful while I was waiting for my baby. Remember your infertile friends on Mother's Day, and send them a card to let them know you are thinking of them. They will appreciate knowing that you haven't "forgotten" them.

Support Their Decision to Stop Treatments

No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief. Even if the couple chooses to adopt a baby, they must still first grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy's nose and daddy's eyes.

Once the couple has made the decision to stop treatments, support their decision. Don't encourage them to try again, and don't discourage them from adopting, if that is their choice. Once the couple has reached resolution (whether to live without children, adopt a child, or become foster parents), they can finally put that chapter of their lives behind them. Don't try to open that chapter again.

Food, Music and Wine at Jug & Table

The latest wine bar to come from the Ripple family, Jug & Table, held their first wine dinner. Jug & Table boasts itself as a wine bar with a flare for Rock and Roll with more than 30 wines by the glass, and JUG!

Sommelier Theo Rutherford  and acclaimed Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley teamed up to host a sensory wine dinner. In true fashion, each of the 6 courses were perfectly paired with a wine and a soundtrack.

Course 1

Food: Cobia Crudo Wine: Josef Leitz Riesling Rheingau Music: Rolling Stone Sticky Fingers

Course 2

Food:  Housemade ricotta, pea tapenade and crostini Wine:  Cederberg Bukettraube Music: eans on Toast

Course 3

Food: Steamed Mussels Wine: Exclusive Charles Smith "Vino" Rosé of Sangiovese Music: Cream

Course 4

Food: Housemade Andouille Wine: N2 Langhe Nebbiolo Music: Iron & Wine

Course 5

Food: Grilled Hanger Steak Wine: "Megaphone" CdR Music: The Smith's Meat is Murder

Course 6

Food: Peach Parfait Wine: La Vida al Camp Cava Music: Frank Zappa

An amazing night filled with delicious food and conversation. Can't wait to go back and get a glass of Provence Rosé on tap!

Welcome cocktail for the evening featuring Bourbon, Kolsch, Cava, orange juice

Welcome cocktail for the evening featuring Bourbon, Kolsch, Cava, orange juice



#InYour30thYear

2015 marks my 30th year! Wow, how life changes as you get older.

Maybe it's the wisdom that comes with age and the lack of sweating the small stuff but nonetheless, life changes. I mean I could say the same thing when I turned 20. I'm sure there are changes with each decade; philosophy, thoughts, the inner you, family, career, the list goes on.

Change in Priorities

  1. Maybe it's your career or being a fantastic parent, either way your focus is no longer on who has the nicest car or coolest clothes. You're more focused on bettering yourself, to be yourself, not who/what your surroundings say you should be.
  2. People still influence you but in a different way. They inspire you to grow and be who you are. In your 20s, maybe your influencers were trying to get you to become more like them, "Keep up with the Joneses" theory. #InYour30thYear you seriously don't care what some people perceive of you, mostly because you're happy with who you've become and you're rocking it!
  3. It's about becoming a grown up. Owning a house, investing in your retirement, career goals, paying off student loans. #InYour30thYear all of this is in the forefront of your mind, or definitely more so than it used to be!
  4. You strive to be healthy. No more junk food instead you spend time in the kitchen making meals from scratch for your family. You really think about what you're putting in your body and how to stay as healthy as possible.

You find your true friends. 

  1. These are the ones who don't want to change you and the ones who are genuinely happy to be your friend.
  2. You don't see those true friends as often as you'd like but you don't take it to heart. Everyone is starting to be busy with their own life and family. Earlier in your 20s, you had nothing but time to spend with each other. Now, you look forward to going home after work and spending time with your significant other or just decompressing from life. Everyone understands that feeling and no feelings get hurt when you can't catch up with each other.
  3. When you do find time to get together with friends, even if only a mile away, it's like time never passed. There's no blame game on why it took so long to get together, you're just in the moment enjoying that girl time.

Your idea of the perfect weekend changes.

  1. Happy hour #InYour30thYear is more like $8 glasses of wine at a steakhouse or at that new trendy restaurant in the neighborhood. Long gone are the days of $1 drafts and rails at the local college bar. I mean how can you miss the sticky floors, crowds, and standing room only.
  2. Pregame with friends after work on Friday night with the plan to hit the bars at 11pm. 11pm? C'mon, your Friday nights now entail take out, pj's and Shark Tank. It's been a long week!
  3. Sleep until noon? Not anymore, this probably goes hand in hand with number 2. Since you're not watching the sun come up, you're actually productive on weekend mornings. Maybe you hit up the farmers market, pick up dry cleaning, or mow the lawn all before noon.
  4. The nights you do actually go out on a weekend, you'll be feeling it the next day or maybe even dayssss. Gone are the times that you get up and start doing it all over again.
  5. Day drinking is where it's at. I'd much rather drink and hang out with friends when the sun is up. (insert winery) You can have a good time before you start yawning at 9pm. You'll probably be home in bed by the time you used to go out!

You stress about different things than before.

  1. Career. It's not just a job anymore, You don't just show up and punch the clock. You have real responsibilities. But by gaining more responsibility, you always have to be on. Nowadays, your office can contact you 24/7 and the emails never stop. It can be stressful to get everything done. However, you genuinely enjoy what you're doing. You've got enough real-world experience after your college degree #InYour30thYear and you own it.
  2. Finances. Building up your savings, reducing debt and saving for retirement can be stressful where before it may have been harder to understand the importance. You no longer enjoy going from paycheck to paycheck. You actually stress about ever having to do that again! Budget is your friend, and sticking to it!
  3. Don't sweat the small stuff. Earlier in life, I definitely took things to heart. Now i let things roll off my back, it's not worth my time and stress for things like "who said what?". See "Change in Priorities" above.

What changes do you see #InYour30thYear?

 

*disclaimer: This is based on my personal life. I am married and do not have children yet. I realize some people's views of being 30 may differ*

No Fuss Dinner Party

Dinner parties don't have to be daunting and you don't have to spend all day in the kitchen. Here are some fancy-looking dishes that are a cinch to make.

Crab Salad Napoleans 

Ingredients
12 ounces fresh pasta sheets or premade lasagna noodles
1 cup mayonnaise, plus extra for pasta sheets
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped (about 1/2 cup), reserving 1/4 cup for garnish
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for garnish
1 pound lump crab meat (about 3 cups)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed (about 6 ounces)
1 lemon, zested, for garnish

Directions
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Drain pasta and cool under cold running water. Cut each sheet into 4-inch squares. Each Napoleon will require 3 (4-inch) squares.

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of the chives, lemon juice, pepper, crab, and peas, and toss to combine.

To assemble the Napoleons, begin with 1 sheet of pasta on a plate. Spread a small spoonful of prepared mayonnaise on the pasta sheet. Top with 1/4 cup of the crab salad and gently spread the salad out to the edges of the pasta. Top with another sheet of pasta. Spread another spoonful of the prepared mayonnaise mixture on the pasta sheet. Top with another 1/4 cup of the crab salad and gently spread the salad out to the edges of the pasta sheet. Top with a final pasta sheet. Top with a small dollop of the crab salad. Sprinkle the top with a pinch of lemon zest, a pinch of chives, and a grind of black pepper.

(I made the pasta from scratch which is also an easy recipe of flour, egg yolks, salt, olive oil and water but you can definitely take a short cut with store-bought dried pasta. Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis)

Crab salad is a perfect way to start off the meal and pairs perfectly with a unoaked Chardonnay. I served Stone Tower Winery's 2013 Chardonnay

Roasted Chicken

Ingredients
1 (10 to 14 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme, plus 20 sprigs
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
Olive oil

Directions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pin feathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, 20 sprigs of thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.

Roast the chicken for 3 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

This roasted chicken was tender, juicy and the only work I had to do was the prep! It was a show stopper when we placed it on the table and no one has to know how simple it was.

I served Mira Winery Pinot Noir and Fox Run Dry Reisling with the chicken.

Sides can be just as simple as roasted brussel sprouts with olive oil, garlic, S&P, scalloped potatoes, a simple salad, sauteed spinach.

Probably my favorite part of any dinner party is the place setting.

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Fun placemats that I found at Marshall's are complimented with China plates; a large dinner plate, a salad plate and I used the bread plate for the crab appetizer.

A white wine glass, red wine glass and a stemless wine glass for the always needed water.

I love my plain white napkins because they will compliment any place setting and added some color with some trimmings from the Christmas tree.

Flowers add some color but using mason jars ensures that the flowers don't get in the way of the conversation. 

Make sure to keep the wine and water on the table so you don't have to leave the party for refills.

Elegant Dinner for Two

The holidays are always a busy time and since neither of us live near our family, we always have to travel.

So we've begun to have our own Christmas dinner together before we leave for the in-laws. I enjoy making an elegant, candle-lit dinner every year. Here's our 2014 Christmas!

On the menu:

Braciole with risotto and Barboursville Vineyards' Octagon 2007

Braciole sounds fancy and looks intimidating to make but it's simple, here's Giada's recipe:

Ingredients
1/2 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
1 garlic clove, minced
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/3 cup grated provolone
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak
1 cup dry white wine
3 1/4 cups store-bought marinara sauce

Directions
Stir the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season mixture with salt and pepper and set aside.

Lay the flank steak flat on the work surface. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the steak to cover the top evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up the steak as for a jelly roll to enclose the filling completely. Using butcher's twine, tie the steak roll to secure. Sprinkle the braciole with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the braciole and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Add the wine to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in the marinara sauce. Cover partially with foil and bake until the meat is almost tender, turning the braciole and basting with the sauce every 30 minutes. After 1 hour, uncover and continue baking until the meat is tender, about 30 minutes longer. The total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the braciole from the sauce. Using a large sharp knife, cut the braciole crosswise and diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Transfer the slices to plates. Spoon the sauce over and serve.

And I wouldn't serve anything but an Italian style wine with this Italian dish. I opted for a local, Virginia wine made by Barboursville Vineyards. Barboursville is known world-wide for their Italian-style wines made by Luca Paschina, Winemaker.

This was the 2007 vintage and was showing beautifully. Perfect with the meatiness of the braciole and easy to drink on it's own for after the meal.

Set the mood with candles, lanterns and crystal stemware. Our table seats 8 but I made it cozy by putting the chairs in the middle, facing each other and using the rest of the table for candles.

Oh, what a night!

An Ugly Christmas

We host an Ugly Sweater Party every year during the Christmas season, 4th year in a row for 2014!

No hoity toity food, decorations or attire here. Take a look at how I organized a fun, cocktail party for the season.

Start off with Christmas themed appetizers like a pigs in the blanket wreath, cheese tree and veggie tree.

Or how about these cute reindeer donuts, simply assembled with chocolate mini donuts, mini twist pretzels, peanut m&ms and round pearl sprinkles!

Our parties always have alcohol so it's a necessity to provide water but decorate the bottles to fit the theme.

Show off your ugly sweaters at a photo booth made with wrapping paper and tacky garland and bows. It was a big hit with all of our friends!

Set up a voting station and have prizes for the top 3! We always have a 1st place trophy and 2 dollar store tacky items, like socks and reindeer antlers. It gets people mingling!

See your ugly sweaters next year!

A Taste of Ovvio Osteria

{Ovvio Osteria, 2727 Merilee Dr, Merrifield VA 703-573-2161}

I had the pleasure of dining with Chef Richard Hetzler and Proprietor Larry Ponzi of Ovvio Osteria located in Merrifield, VA.

All you Washingtonian's who need a reason to leave the city, here it is.

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Made from scratch (everything!) with great service and ambiance is what you'll find at Ovvio.

Since joining the team, Chef Hetzler has revamped the menu and focused on making almost all of the items in-house and from scratch.

Featuring fresh, seasonal vegetables like this green tomato and mixed green salad.

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But don't miss the classics like bucatini bolognese (pictured above), margherita pizza with house-made mozzarella (!), or numerous other pastas and pizzas.

But Ovvio is more than pizza and pasta, check out the chicken piccata with a vegetable puree, salmon with the best mashed sweet potatoes and hanger steak with carbonara onions.

And please, don't forget about dessert! Chocolate hazelnut mousse with caramel sauce, tiramisu or the ricotta donuts with chocolate dipping sauce.

I can't wait to go back for brunch with $1 mimosas!!

I'll see ya there!

The Definition of "Party" Changes from Your 20s to 30s

Came across this great list on FWx (FoodandWine.com) about the changes in hosting and attending parties from our 20s to 30s

and it is SPOT.ON.

As a host, I've noticed these more and more and definitely not complaining!

Start Time:

20’s: Begin pre-gaming at 10pm, party starts at 11pm, show up “fashionably late” after midnight.

30’s: Appetizers are served at 5:30pm sharp. Make a mental note of anyone who is late and remove them from future invitations.

Who’s Invited:

20’s: High school friends, college friends, colleagues, neighbors, that random girl you met on the train whose name you forgot, anyone who can see your public Facebook profile, and their dates.

30’s: Rich and Tracy, Corey and Amanda, David, Stefania (who you’re secretly trying to set David up with), and Nathan and Lara (but only because you can’t invite Rich and Tracy and not them).

Theme:

20’s: It’s a Luau! Everybody wear grass skirts and edible bikinis!

30’s: It’s Election Night! Everybody wear campaign buttons and conservative, floor length dresses!

What You’re Serving:

20’s: Mainly food that is stored in the freezer, cooked in the microwave, and eaten with ketchup. There must be enough to feed 35-200 people.

30’s: Potluck featuring several gluten-free appetizers, tea-smoked duck, and three different types of kale salad.

Beverage of Choice:

20’s: A keg, the contents of your liquor cabinet, and some mystery blue stuff.

30’s: Riesling and sparkling water.

Entertainment:

20’s: Electro pop music, beer pong, and watching how the romantic drama between Ethan, Drew, and Lisa unfolds.

30’s: Settlers of Catan.

Dessert:

20’s: One of everything on the Taco Bell drive-thru dollar menu at 3am.

30’s: Fat-free lemon sorbet.

Ending Time:

20’s: When the next party starts.

30’s: 8:15pm, or when the first person yawns.

Crowd-Pleasing Wines for Thanksgiving

With holidays around the corner, and if you love to entertain, your front door may be a revolving one. Whether it’s a planned dinner party, Thanksgiving or a surprise visit from family, I’ll discuss wines to have on hand to please the crowd and are versatile enough to pair with any food.

It’s all about the planning and being prepared so you can enjoy the party as well! Whether you think about the food first or the booze, it’s easy to build off the other to make your party come together.

First off, how much wine will you need for your dinner party?

Great question, it depends on how many wines you are serving and the total headcount. Use the calculation of one bottle = 5 glasses. If you are serving 3 wines like what we’re tasting today for a group of 8 people, you will need 2 bottles of each wine. Each bottle will yield 5 glasses for a total of 10 glasses per wine. Scale this up to as many different wines and however many people.

Keep in mind people’s preferences like do more of your family and friends prefer red wine? You may want to double up on those instead of the whites. Are they heavy drinkers like my friends? Keep that in mind too!

Pro-tip: purchase by the case. You’ll get a decent discount from the store and you know you’ll have plenty on hand. Don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of the holiday season, any leftovers (if you’re lucky to have any) will be gone.

Having more of a pot-luck style dinner party? It’s ok to ask for people to bring a bottle. More times than not, guests ask what can they bring and most hosts will be respond with “oh, don’t worry, whatever…” but it’s ok to say bring a bottle of Pinot Noir, it will pair perfectly with our main course. Guests will be likely to oblige and it helps cut your cost!

So you’ve got the amount of wine to buy but WHAT wines?

Chances are you'll have a group at your Thanksgiving table whose tastes and wine savvy span a wide range. But choosing wine for such a diverse gathering shouldn't be a brain-twister.

I'll focus on 3 different styles of wine; a sparkling, a white and a red.

I believe every party, event, dinner should start with a sparkler! It’s a great welcome to the party and pairs with almost any appetizer. seafood, veggie, dips, spreads, cheese, meats,whether it’s crunchy, soft, salty it literally pairs well with anything, or heck, just drink it alone!

The one that everyone equates to bubbles first is Champagne. Champagne can only be produced in the Champagne region in France. 3 classifications of Champagne - Prestige Cuvee, Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blanc. Prestige Cuvee is just like it sounds, from the high end producers. Blanc de Noirs literally means”white from black” so the juice is from black (or red) grapes like Pinot Noir. Blanc de Blanc is only made from Chardonnay grapes.

Looking for a less expensive sparkling option?

There’s also cava from Spain. Cavas can be made from white or red grapes but must be made champenoise traditional method, all others must be labeled sparkling wine. Like Champagne there are various levels of sweetness from brut to sem-sec to dolcsec, being the sweetest.

Prosecco from Italy is a dry sparkling wine that is also budget friendly. It’s made in the charmat method which means it’s second fermentation occurs in stainless steel, helping with the cost of production.

Serve any sparkling wine in a flute. The reason for this is the narrow bowl naturally helps the wine keep it’s carbonation by reducing the surface area and it’s tall to show it’s dramatic bubbling effect. Serve sparkling wine at 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

So what makes this wine perfect for a dinner party or Thanksgiving? The high acid helps in pairing it with various foods or appetizers. Like stated before, it’s a great way to welcome your guests over conversation and light appetizers. Or save it for the end! It will also pair with dessert.

Riesling is a common wine to serve with the traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Dry Rieslings have high acidity which again helps when pairing it with foods.

Now before you say anything, not all rieslings are syrupy sweet. There are actually some elegant, flavorful, dry rieslings that shouldn’t be overlooked. Most commonly, you find rieslings from Germany. But you can find a great selection from France, Washington State and New York.

What makes this a great Thanksgiving wine?

With Riesling, there's a wider range of style than in any other grape. Thanksgiving dinner can be so heavy - you need something moderate to light in alcohol, with high acidity to balance all that richness, plus a touch of sweetness to go with the sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.

Proper glassware for serving white wine is the tulip glass. Only fill the glass ⅔ of the way so it allows guests to swirl and sniff without spilling. Always serve white wine between 40-50 degrees.

Be careful not to chill it too far, really cold wine hides the aromas and distorts the palate.

The most popular wine to serve with Thanksgiving dinner has to be Pinot Noir. Again, the common theme of being food-friendly is what makes this wine a great choice. There are so many different flavors on a Thanksgiving table. Pinot noir is also a crowd-pleaser because it’s not too tannic, light-bodied yet full of flavor with a smooth, long lasting palate.

Pinot’s can be found all over the price spectrum. I would stay away from the really cheap ones, under $10, as they tend to be more sweet and over-oaked. However, you can find some great Pinot’s in the $20-30 range. Some of my favorites are Mira Winery Pinot Noir and Barrique Cellars Pinot Noir.

Serve red wine in a large bowl glass. Larger glasses help the wine to breath and release all of it’s aromas. Serve red wine at 55 degrees to room temperature.


More Tips:

Pouring a larger, more tannic red wine? Be sure to decant before the dinner party to allow it to open up before guests sit down for dinner. This usually takes about an hour in a standard decanter and it also provides for an elegant presentation.

Serving dessert? It’s always a good idea to end on a high note by serving a great dessert wine. Examples are Sauternes from France, port from Portugal, ice wine from Canada or sherry from Spain. They are usually in half-bottles as you only need a small pour for each guest. These dessert wines are on the higher price point but it will send your guests home raving!

It’s always mandatory to offer something non-alcoholic, whether it be a fun, creative mocktail, or something as simple as tea. Of course you should place water glasses at each place setting as well.

The Perfect mix - these are great wines to serve for a crowd and your thanksgiving dinner but never underestimate people’s palates by buying a mixed case, you’ll be ready for whatever the holiday season throws at you!

Intimidated by not aceing the food/wine pairings? Visit your local wine shop for advice. They are always more than happy to assist if you tell them what you’ll be serving. Also ask about quantity discounts!

Short on fridge space during your dinner party? Use ice buckets to keep the white and sparkling wine chilled. Or better yet come up with a crafty, theme-focused bucket to use like a hallowed out pumpkin for Thanksgiving!

Also, if your guests bring a white wine to serve with dinner but it isn’t chilled, don’t fret. Use an ice bucket and fill with some ice and water for a speedy 20 min chill. Using water increases the surface area so it will chill faster than just using ice.

Gasp, a guest brought a screwtop bottle! Here’s a myth debunked...screwtop doesn’t equate to quality. And actually a lot of higher quality wines are moving to the closure to reduce cost and also cork taint, a common problem with using corks that ruins the wine inside. You will see this more commonly in New World wines.

Speaking of which, when serving wine for the crowd, as a host, please open the bottle and sample in a discrete location to ensure you are not serving spoiled or bad wine. There’s nothing worse than planning a great evening to have it be spoiled by not sampling the wine first.

The first sign of spoiled wine will be the nose. Does it smell like a musty basement or a little off? It may have not been stored properly or it could be that dreaded cork taint. Another good reason to have extra bottles on hand! But don’t throw the corked bottle out, most wine stores will take a corked bottle back and give you a replacement if it is indeed corked.

BEST TIP OF ALL:

Drink and serve what you like. It’s your party you can serve what you want to! Serving wine at dinner parties and holidays can become stuffy and if that’s the way you like it, then great but if your family and friends are more casual, don’t feel intimidated. Having dinner together is what matters most!

Cheers to all and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Chef Luc Dendievel Debuts Fall Menu at Harth

Chef Luc has recently left the Willard Hotel where he was the Executive Chef for 4 years and has moved to NoVa at the Hilton Tysons Corner to become the Executive Chef at Harth. He recently debuted his first menu since becoming the lead chef.

Focused on farm-to-table dining, his new menu features dishes from local purveyors as well as their own rooftop garden. Here's a sneak peak of some of the Fall items on their revamped menu.

Quinoa Salad

Served with marinated mushrooms, sliced apples, caramelized butternut squash, apple vinaigrette.

Cured Pork Belly

braised red cabbage, local apples, apple cider vinegar sauce. One of my favorite dishes, ate too fast to take a picture! Highly recommend

Ancho Chili BBQ Shrimp & Grits

harth's signature applewood smoked bacon jam, wilted kale. Another favorite of the night, who can go wrong with shrimp and grits, says the Southern girl.

Seared Atlantic Salmon

Green lentil ragout, seasonal market vegetables, red wine reduction

Braised Veal Cheeks

Parsnip puree (so creamy), seasonal roasted fall vegetables, tomato and white wine brasiage jus. Melt in your mouth and SO Fall!

Time for dessert!

Apple tart

Apples, honey for their rooftop garden, vanilla ice cream. Not as heavy as it looks, light and airy pastry, I was pleasantly surprised by this dessert.

Walnut Tart

Salted caramel ice cream, vanilla sauce. Salted caramel anything is the way to my heart when it comes to desserts. 

Needless to say, visit harth next time you're in Tysons. NOW metro-accessible on the Silver line!

harth, 7920 Jones Branch Dr, McLean, VA

 

Handheld Bites for Your Tailgate

It's football season!

Plan on tailgating before your favorite team plays? Here are two easy, handheld foods for your next tailgate (or super bowl party). Get out those muffin pans!

Mini Corn Dogs:

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Use muffin cups to make these individual sized corn dogs. Super simple recipe:

1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, mix according to package

cooked/grilled hot dogs, cut into thirds

Pour the muffin mix in the pan, place hot dogs in the center of the muffin. Bake at 400degrees for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm, or let cool. Easy to pack for your tailgate and great at room temperature too!

Mac n Cheese Cups:

Another super easy recipe using boxed mac n cheese - or you can make your own!

1 box of your favorite mac n cheese

1/4 cup of panko

1/4 cup of grated Parmesan, shredded cheddar cheese

Fresh cracked black pepper

Make the mac n cheese according to box directions. Add other ingredients and stir to combine. Stuff the muffin pan with the mac n cheese, top with shredded cheddar cheese. Bake at 400degrees for 5 minutes, until bubbly. Let cool and easily take the cups out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

How easy is that?

Both of these were a hit at our most recent tailgate. Try them at yours. Go team!


A Country Chic Engagement Party

Great favors for any engagement party: He 'popped' the question! These are easy and cheap to make and everyone loves popcorn. Cellophane bags, ribbon, printed tags and of course popcorn. Easy as that!

What a way to welcome the guests than country chic decorations like old lanterns, an old window pane with pictures of the couple, boots as vases and the popcorn favors. When hosting outside, decorations become a little more challenging but why not use what's already there; a tailgate!

No party is complete without punch! Here's an easy, alcohol-free punch:

Pink Lemonade concentrate, lemon/lime club soda, cran-grape juice. You can easily spike it with some vodka ;)

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Another cheap, easy and refreshing favor is personalized water bottles. Design a label or download a template, print in color and cut. Tear off the label on the water bottle, use packing tape and cover the whole printed label with the tape and stick to the bottle. Always a great addition to any party!

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And who can forget about dessert? If you have a bonfire or fire pit, s'mores are a fun and different idea. No hassle with baking, just set up the items needed in a s'mores bar: chocolate bars, graham crackers, marshmallows and skewers (or twigs). A cute, personalized sign never hurts.

"There's always room for s'more love"

What a way to end a fun, love-filled, country night!

So you don't like Riesling?

It's one of the biggest misconceptions in the wine world.

Riesling is sweet. I don't like sweet wines.

That is a true statement to some degree. However, not ALL Rieslings are sweet. The sweet ones have their place, like paired with a spicy Thai dish, but as with any varietal, you can find dry, semi-dry, off-dry and dessert. 

A dry Riesling is one of the most versatile food wines out there. Crisp and acidic, dry Rieslings pair perfectly with seafood, appetizers, and chicken. Not having food? It's great with just some friends on a patio.

New York state has some of the best dry Rieslings in the market. Mostly from the Finger Lakes, just about every winery in the area produces at least one Riesling. I recently participated in a Twitter chat, aptly named #winechat, that focused on Finger Lakes 2013 Rieslings. We discussed the region, the wines, the 2013 vintage with fellow bloggers and industry folks.

Everyone enjoyed the lineup of dry Rieslings that we virtually tasted and all were wondering why more people don't enjoy this side of Riesling.

It comes down mostly to education and stubbornness. People's first notion to Riesling is that it's sweet and they move on. If you're a true wine lover, you know that not every grape/wine/bottle is produced the same. There are many factors; region, terroir, vintage, winemaking style, aging and more! Keep this in mind when glancing the shelves at the retail store or the wine list.

Don't be that closed minded Wino and seek out a bottle of dry Riesling, you won't be disappointed!

Wine Tasting with Vincent at Ritz-Carlton Tysons

I became an Entyse Wine Club member a few months back and plan to frequent the Entyse Wine Bar more often now that I am working at an office in Tysons.

I wrote about Tuesday's at Entyse during the winter and wanted to give an update for the Fall events.

Starting back up in September, twice a month on Tuesdays, Vincent will be featuring 5 wines plus cheese plates for $22. Check out the features:

September 9: Pinot Noir around the World 
September 23: Oregon region 
October 7: Bordeaux 
October 21: Cabernet Sauvignon from California 
November 4: Zinfandel from California 
November 18: Rhone Valley

All of my favorite wines/regions, you bet I'll be making a few of these!

They also have daily specials:

Wednesday - Raw bar from 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Thursday - Live Sushi chef from 5.30pm to 8.30pm
Friday night - Jazz Band from 8.30pm to 12AM
Saturday night  - Flamenco or Modern Jazz

José Andres Comes to Tyson's Corner

Having moved to the burbs in Northern VA a few years back, I've been searching for great restaurants (that are not chains!). To my surprise there have been quite a few:

Pizzeria Orso, 2941, Maple Ave just to name a few of my favorites.

Rarely, world-known celebrity chefs work their way to the burbs either.

José Andres has recently opened his America Eats Tavern in the Ritz Carlton, Tysons Corner.

First thing I noticed was the wine list. A great selection of American wines with a substantial showing of local, Virginia wines!

The food menu does not disappoint either. The origin of the popular American dishes are listed under each menu item. Great for trivia!

You can't go wrong with the beef short ribs:

Or how about Mutton? I had to look up what this actually was but lamb is the meat of a sheep under 1 year, hogget is the meat of a juvenile sheep and mutton is that of an adult. Nonetheless, served with potatoes and fried oysters, this is a fantastic entree.

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The check holder is not the usual black, plastic bifold. They bring it to you in an actual book, classic American novels. Ours came in Squeeze Play, how did they know my husband adored this book as a kid!

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We had a great date night and will be returning!

More Lettuce Wraps!

I realized I just wrote about lettuce wraps but I can't help it!

It's the perfectly, quick, grilled dinner for the summertime.

This time I used a recipe from Bobby Flay for Glazed Chicken Thigh Lettuce Wraps served with a grilled corn and tomato salad.

For the wraps:

1 c. orange juice

1/2 c ketchup

1/4 c light brown sugar

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

pinch of red pepper flakes

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

olive oil, for brushing

S&P

2 tbsp scallions, chopped

Boston Bibb lettuce, for wrapping

Put the orange juice, ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 15 minutes. Keep about 1/2 cup warm for serving and set aside the rest for glazing.

Preheat the grill to high heat. Brush the chicken with oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill smooth-side down, covered, until lightly charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and brush generously with the glaze. Cook, covered, until charred and the thighs are just cooked through, another 3 to 4 minutes. Flip again, glaze, and cook uncovered about 1 minute. Remove the chicken to a cutting board, sprinkle with the chives if using, and rest the chicken for a few minutes.

Slice the chicken into thin strips. Serve with bibb lettuce leaves for wraps and the reserved glaze on the side.

For the Corn & Tomato salad:

3 ears of corn, dehusked

2 roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 c red onion, diced

1/2 c scallions, chopped

1/4 c shredded parmesan cheese

olive oil, for dressing

S&P

Preheat grill on high heat. Coat the corn in olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the corn for a 3-4 minutes, turning a few times. Cut corn off the cob, add all other ingredients, toss and serve.