Pumpkin Spice and All Things Nice

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Its been a couple of weeks since my last post, but not for a lack of writing! As the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens, I’m knee-deep in test recipes and kitchen gadgets, and thought I’d share some tidbits here. I’ll serve up the posts menu-style, so you can click on what you’d like. Happy reading, and as always, thanks for being here.

Pizza personality chart! What do your toppings say about you? Read here and find out.

Can turmeric cure the blues? Here are five everyday spices, and their surprising health benefits!

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The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate: Pumpkin spice has gone beyond the latte; they’re even making pumpkin-spiced Spam!  Is this a well-deserved craze, or is the whole PSL thing overrated?

Oh. My. Gourd. Many decorate with gourds this time of year, but few savor the flavor. Turns out butternut and spaghetti squash are the most commonly eaten gourds, while most others remain unenjoyed. Here are some recipes and tips for making the most of this season’s harvest!

PumpkinSpiceLatte

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Postcard from Tokyo

This advice for Tokyo is the same advice I’ll give anyone visiting Japan. Explore the alleys! That’s where all the treasures are hidden. From little Izakaya shops with just four chairs on a counter, you will find exquisite ramen. You’ll find hidden courtyards with Shinto temples that are over a thousand years old. Homemade candy shops, innovative playgrounds and sushi meccas are tucked away in these little alleys. Some highlights from Tokyo:

Robot Restaurant

Prepare for sensory overload, as lasers, disco balls and neon lights create a dizzying show of battling robots, ninja warriors and psychedelic costumed characters. It’s too over-the-top to put into words. The show sells out way in advance, so be sure to book before your trip!

Cherry Blossoms

Make sure to go in the spring to take in the heady, romantic views of cherry trees blossoming in white and pink. Unlike the delicate cherry blossom trees in the states (such as DC) the trees in Japan are beyond mature. They seem ancient, with heavy, twisting trunks people can climb. If you can’t make it in the spring, come in the fall, when the Japanese maples come alive in fiery colors. Click here for the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

This is Harajuku, close to Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing

Yes, it is home to the busiest intersection in the word, with thousands of people criss-crossing the multiple corners for each red light. It’s a sight to behold, and film with your camera as you weave through a sea of faces. But beyond that is a vibrant night scene. I got street food at midnight – unbelievable Kobe beef on a stick. I got sushi served to me by bullet train when ordered on a computer screen. I explored adorable boutiques and saw a statue dedicated to Hachi.

Japanese pancakes

There are plenty of places to get these fluffy masterpieces. About an inch thick and custardy on the inside, they melt in your mouth and are piled high with fun toppings. From hazelnut chocolate and bananas, to whipped cream and strawberry compote. Just don’t go to Burn Side St Cafe, because there is a miserable server there who takes away the experience. There are plenty of options!

Tokyo Tower!

Speaking of plenty of options, there is so much more to discover than what I mentioned.  So consider this a jumping-off point. And most importantly, don’t forget to explore those alleys!

 

How You Can Bring Paris to RVA

Last year, I was swept up in the magic that was Diner en Blanc. I wrote about it, but one must experience this Parisian tradition in person. While this elaborate picnic began in Paris, it’s now celebrated around the world. Considering the size of Richmond, you’d think it wouldn’t have caught on. But the event became a must-do summer tradition, and with around 1,200 attendees every year, Richmond’s become a major player on the world stage.

And 1,200 revelers are a lot to coordinate, so Diner en Blanc Richmond is looking for volunteers. By volunteering, you not only gain free entry, but you get to participate in one of the most memorable cultural experiences in Richmond. An elaborate night of creativity in all its forms; visual, musical, palatable. The big night is August 17th, and per tradition, the location is top secret until the day-of.

If interested in volunteering, email richmond@dinerenblanc.com – until then, au revoir!

Ladles & Linens & blogs, oh my!

As you know, I love to share party and entertaining tips. Exhibit A, Exhibit B ….you get the idea. I’m happy to announce that Ladles and Linens brought me on as their Lifestyle Blogger! The Story of Cooking has allowed me to share even more tidbits and things that inspire me, like managing your work/life balance and themed parties. The latter being LIFE.

The company’s owner, Sarah Nicholas is a legit FBI agent-turned-TV Chef-turned business owner. And since her story’s more interesting than mine, I’ll go ahead and leave a link about her right HERE. And since her family is so adorable, I’ll go ahead and drop a photo right…

…there we go.  I’d always been a Ladles and Linens customer. If Lilly Pulitzer were a gourmand, this would be her shop. It’s playful, but tasteful. Cheerful, but serious about quality; they test all their products. They have three locations in Virginia, but distance is no issue because you can shop their store online. Their prices are competitive with Amazon, which makes me feel even better about shopping local.

And as they say, “It’s always a kitchen party, and everyone’s invited!”

Bonfire of the Bon Vivants

When I hosted a casual bonfire (for 55!) in my back yard, I didn’t account for it to be the coldest day of the year. But to live well, one must worry less. Les bon vivants know that all too often happy anticipation rolls into anxiety. Just look at what’s expected of brides-to-be; tears, tantrums, mood stabilizers. When in reality, brides should be planning one of the biggest bashes they’ll ever have. But I digress.

The point is, things happen, like rain, or in our case, freakish subzero temperatures that came out of nowhere. We had to concede that yes, this would be an indoor/outdoor party. I cleaned the house, lit candles and played Chet Baker. 

the blonde mafia, defrosting

How to keep the crowd circulating indoors and outdoors? That’s easy – put the bar outside! It was perfect, really. When our cooler and fridge were overstuffed with beers, the outside temps were just as cold! In addition to beer, we made a signature cocktail. It stayed hot in the crock pot, to battle the elements. It was apple cider with salted caramel whiskey, topped with whipped cream and Ghiradelli caramel sauce. 

salted caramel whiskey-spiked cider

We also borrowed a second fire pit to spread the warmth. Guests grilled their hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire, but I kicked the experience up a notch. I had a S’mores Station, where ingredients were encased in elegant glass, preventing guests from having to fumble with packaging.

We created a hot dog toppings bar, with ingredients that ranged from the expected (grilled onions, Sri Racha, homemade chili), to the adventurous (cranberry chutney, pineapple, homemade habanero sauce).

endless toppings for the hot dogs

And I can’t resist adding an activity or station, so I created a “Happy Fall, Y’all! photo wall, complete with furniture, pumpkins, colored leaves and stringed lights. 

Ryan scores the epic photo of the night

Though the kids enjoyed the outdoor ball pit, hammock, tree swing and toys, the night marched on and the air got chilly. I called to the kids out back that we would play a Christmas movie in the living room. They tore across the yard and fell stone silent in front of Stick Man, curling up on the furniture. 

a nod to Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy, guests cozied up in fresh blankets

As the crowds dwindled, so did the fire. The last few friends wandered into the living room, and the conversations went deeper. Bonfires are great because they can be woven in between major holidays, like Halloween or Christmas. Plus. people have to cook their own dinner (hot dogs) and dessert (s’mores). But then you reward them with an elaborate topping bar because the late and great Nora Ephron is still in your head reminding you that people love to play with their food. Almost as much as you love to serve it to them. 

Happy holidays.

Without the 3 on the right: Xenia, Sylvester & Nabeela, I’d have been in the kitchen all night
no matter the party, the kitchen gets cowded
devil is in the detail (or tangled in our grape vines)

An Autumn-Themed Baby Shower

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I heard that being pregnant in the summer is like wearing a wool sweater in hell. When we were finally graced with cool air, I threw my friend Carla an autumn-themed baby shower.

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Like many parents of second children, she didn’t want her party to be a big to-do. I kept it simple. Like any good shower, I made it short, served ample food and kept the booze flowing!

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I used harvest classics for decor, such as scarecrows, pumpkins and gourds. An earthy sari was used as a tablecloth, with brown and orange paisley.

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As mentioned in a previous post, people love to play with their food, so we had a waffle station. The waffle flavor? Pumpkin spice, of course! I also made truffle-roasted acorn squash, to keep it seasonal. I still added classics, such as fresh fruit, French press coffee, and in a fun twist, I made cheesy Eggs Florentine cups using muffin tins. My husband Robert, an avid curer and smoker of meats, passed around samples of his homemade bacon, accented with a hint of Chinese Five Spice.

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Whenever throwing a party where kids can tag along, it’s best to keep them engaged and independent from their parents. Adults deserve to kick back a bit. I laid out picnic blankets in the yard for them to dine on, along with a plethora of outdoor activities, such as a ball pit, tents and a slide. Those with pets must be sure to scoop up any droppings first!

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People seem to be split into two camps regarding games, but I shamelessly love them. I did a music trivia game, with all songs having the word “baby” or “girl” in the title. Ice Ice Baby and Baby Got Back were crowd-pleasers, especially with the children. Their ears perked up when they heard, “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” and we didn’t hear the end of it. Trivia winners scored limited-edition OPI nail polish and could choose their favorite colors. We also had a Hey Girl Hey photo booth.

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Instead of cake, I made a pyramid of Rice Krispies Balls, dipped into melted white chocolate that was dyed pink. Guests even took home wrapped packages of these as a party favor.

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Carla deserved to kick back and cool off, and this party did just that.
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Richmond Tastemaker Spices Up Church Hill (the puns stay)

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The grand opening of the Green Kitchen felt not like a promotional event, with food samples and stiff greetings. This was a full-blown housewarming party, with a delicious spread and guests were welcome to roam the halls.

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Chef Tammy Brawley made the space feel like home. While the hi-tech kitchen is industrial, the overall feeling is warm. A luscious living wall greets you as you walk in, like a shot of oxygen. A fully set dinner table sits by large windows. Fresh flowers are everywhere. An old stone fireplace sits in the front room, oversized and very Brothers Grimm. To my delight, it’s fully functional.

img_8682.jpgI can speak first hand on Brawley’s mastery in the kitchen, and am happy to report she isn’t solely limited to catering. She’ll be throwing cooking instruction parties, working as a personal chef and, perhaps the most exciting to me, meal prep.IMG_8676Richmond is booming, and busy professionals and families don’t want to sacrifice health for convenience. In fact, many trends point to the fact that fast food is dying. Fading are the days that Mom piled everyone into the station wagon for Roy Rogers. Brawley is creating healthy, gourmet meals for Richmonders to enjoy at home. And unlike mail-order meals, there’s no prep or messy clean-up in the kitchen.IMG_8680Adding cache to the already-chic Church Hill, The Green Kitchen will be a bright spot for the 25th Street corridor and a beacon of taste in Richmond. IMG_8690img_8687.jpgIMG_8678IMG_8681IMG_8691

 

White Hot in RVA: Diner en Blanc 2018

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Some parties are fun, some are even wild. But it’s a rare party that can pull off magical.

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Diner en Blanc in RVA this year was preternaturally beautiful, right down to the breeze that swept the humidity out of the city. Richmond was graced with cool air for the first time in weeks. With the haze gone and stars twinkling above, we carried on the tradition that  began in Paris in 1988. François Pasquier had invited some friends to an elegant outdoor dinner at Bois de Boulogne, and asked them to dress in white so they could find one another. Diner en Blanc is now being hosted in 70 cities around the world, including Richmond.

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The event is held in a top secret location, which isn’t revealed until the day of. I was invited by hosts Christine Wansleben, star chef and owner of Mise En Place and Top 40 Under 40 media maven Enjoli Moon. Ayana Obika was also a host, and has plenty of experience throwing large-scale bashes as owner of Gratitude Rising Events. That night, 1,200 revelers marched in, carrying gorgeous displays for their own dinner set-up. There were strung LED lights, Eiffel towers and billowing bunches of white flowers. Upon entering, guests were greeted by dancer/aerial artists from SOUL Aerial and Performing Arts.

Chloe Wines sponsored the event, and their sparkling Prosecco poured all night. There was even an ice luge sculpture, for those who wanted their bubbles extra chilled. The media lounge featured a delicious spread by Croaker’s Spot and Elegant Cuizines, serving classic summer picnic foods. There was crab salad served in crab shells, fried chicken, cornbread, potato salad, kale salad and bread pudding laced with Maraschino cherries.

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The chic lounge area was decorated by Quirk Hotel, with romantic floral arrangements and glassware. Handmade Eiffel Tower cookies graced the tables, made by Melissa’s Simply Sweet. They were almost too beautiful to eat, but they tasted even better than they looked!

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There was a tres French accordion musician playing Le Mer and other Gallic classics as people assembled their stations. One the set-up was complete, diners waved their napkins in the air so they could commence their meal en masse. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts made a noteworthy appearance with their very own Napoleon. True to form, when he announced it was time to eat, he shouted commands in French. But there was one phrase everyone understood: Bon Appetit!

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Dinner was followed by a live band, and a glow-in-the-dark ensemble of performers, including hula hoopers, jugglers and electric fairies. One highlight was when everyone was asked to light their sparklers. Within seconds the entire place was aglow, a sea of smiling, well-fed faces. New relationships were forged, recipes shared. The event hosts certainly took this event to the next level. Francois Pasquier would have been proud.

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With Quiana Davis, Diner en Blanc volunteer

 

The Portable Pool Party

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Rule number one: A portable pool party cannot be a success if the actual pool is portable. That would be one sad party.

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My friend Flor, a scientist / party girl from Argentina, was having a daughter. But she didn’t want a frilly, pink celebration over it.  She said she wanted to get out of town, just for a day. She loves to swim and tan under the sun, so I threw a portable pool party.

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Luckily our friend had a time share just an hour outside town, with a luxury pool, (indoor and outdoor), lazy river and hot tubs.

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When doing a day trip, always stop for brunch along the way. It’s a fortifying luxury and will allow your party to snack on lighter dishes from the cooler all day.

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Then, bring all the accoutrements that any girl would enjoy by the pool. I brought magazines, nail kits, a deck of cards. I made sure to stock up on sunscreen and bug spray for the girls.

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Under the hot sun, it’s refreshing to eat light food, such as cold cucumber slices dusted with chile y limon. There was heirloom cantaloupe, sliced cheese, truffle potato chips, and guajillo chile porch chop and arugula sandwiches. For dessert there were coconut biscuits and Belgian chocolates. I snuck in spiked strawberry lemonade for the girls, and a Tom Collins for Flor.

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Even with SPF 50, we all started the season with a deep base tan and plenty of Vitamin D. We sipped cocktails in the shallow end, dozed off in the lazy river, and laughed all day. It was a baby shower that didn’t just pamper the mom-to-be, but felt like a reward to everyone who came.

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extravagant mother’s day brunch takes the crepe

Mother’s Day is a holiday that touches everyone. Whether you have a mother or lost one, you are a mother or admire one, it’s thoughtful to set aside time to nurture a nurturer.

That’s what stylist Kristy Kostyniuk did when she and her friends Jennifer Miller and Rose Steed hosted a Mother’s Day Brunch that included not just their mothers, but a curated catch-all. Friends who were far from their mothers, lost a mother, and friends who happen to be moms happily accepted invitations.

crepes, waiting to fulfill their destiny

The ladies spent hours pouring batches of buttery, paper thin crepes. The elaborate spread featured sweet and savory options. There were small-batch jams from local farms, sliced fruit, Nutella, dark chocolate and homemade whipped cream.

Before brunch began, there was a very European spread of croissants, rugalas and scones, all displayed on vintage trays and eye-catching textiles.  Baby pink peonies and fuchsia daisies were everywhere.

On the savory side there were eggs, cheeses, bacon, cured meats, potatoes and more. We lounged and sipped mimosas, swapped stories and repeatedly excused ourselves with a, “Just one more crepe.”

When we couldn’t fit in another bite, the overlapping conversations made their way to the backyard. We sunned ourselves and watched the children dart around  chasing butterflies. Their faces were stained and hands sticky from popsicles. It was an afternoon of leisure and guilty pleasures. As if being a mom weren’t a gift enough.

Hamilton & I

The gracious host, Kristy Kostyniuk and her mother

#becausebacon

sweet as pie