WINE CLUB

Aperitivo Summer Italian Whites (Wine Club 2019)

THE INVITE

The blazing heat of summer arrived well before the actual official day of the season this year and has been nonstop. Basically no rain to speak of for several weeks now, the lawns are browning and plant life sagging. Lawn sprinklers are doing their best to supply some much needed nourishment, but by the following day – everything looks parched once again.

Outdoor entertaining in Southern Louisiana is simply uncomfortable. Between the intense heat and the buzzing and biting mosquitos, unless there is a screened in patio available, outdoor entertaining is limited to several weeks in the Spring months and again in the Fall . So our summertime wine party has to be held inside.

Longing for the comforts of a cool sea breeze, and the smell of fresh salty sea air, my inspiration is drawn from the colors, traditions and flavors of the Island of Capri and the Amalfi Coast of Italy as we sip and taste cold citrus and grassy white Italian wines.

For the invitation (that was emailed) I created a text box in Word using a blue font and border with a pale yellow page color. I inserted a lemon branch (free clip art) and created the boarder with an online picture of bougainvillea, lemons and votive candles that I printed out and then measured, cut with a paper cutter and glued to frame the invitation.

SETTING THE TABLE

The invitation, the score card, dollar store lemon salad plate.

My intention was to create a fresh, Amalfi Coast – Capri Island atmosphere. Images of bougainvillea bursting with vibrant fuchsia blossoms climbing the walls of villas, the fresh white linen fashions, cool variations of the ocean’s blue and green hues, nautical touches to represent the fishing and boating, as well as an abundance of lemons all highlighted with the romantic flicker of candlelight were all incorporated into my table decor.

I searched for an image of a lemon tree branch small enough to clip and place at the top of the wine score card (above), using the same image to make a small place card to slip into the sardine can pull-tabs. Finding one Ortiz sardinas can in my pantry that inspired the idea was used for this picture, but I ordered a lower cost version from World Market that were actually used for the party. While canned sardines actually come from Portugal they made a really cute place setting stand and favor. I have memories of eating them as a little girl with my grandpa, but I’ve never eaten them as an adult. Why does it seem so scary a thought now?

THE FLOWERS & LEMONS OF THE AMALFI COAST

The kaleidoscope of deep Mediterranean ocean blues and greens, the jutting rocky cliffs dotted with pastel vistas, salty fresh air breezes filled with the fragrance of fish and seafood and white capped waves splashing along the rocky shoreline are all hard to capture in a dining room, but we can imagine.

I bought this lovely climbing bougainvillea for $16 a couple of months prior to my party, with high hopes that it would yield a healthy quantity of blossoms for the planned date to clip and create a center garland for my table. Another option would be to bring the plant indoors for the evening. While the plant is strong and healthy, when the day of the party arrived, it was completely void of blossoms. I’m sure it will be overflowing with blossoms by next week- when I no longer need them! So as a substitute, I clipped crepe myrtle blossoms of the same color from the trees that we have an abundance of in the South.

Of course you can’t have an Amalfi coast themed party without lemons. I’ve always wanted a beautiful, healthy lemon tree in my backyard, but one given to me years ago died once I moved it from a pot to the ground. While lemon trees can be grown successfully in Southern Louisiana, the most successful citrus here that I know if is the sweet satsuma. The satsuma peels easily and is free of seeds with its harvest being closer to Fall. One of my wine club members has successfully grown a lemon tree in her back yard for years that yields huge Meyer lemons similar in size to those found on the Amalfi coast, but our party was just before the harvesting time so I couldn’t have fresh branches dotted with lemons for my decor.

Luckily, artificial, but very realistic in appearance, lemon tree branches can be purchased in many places. So for this party, that’s what I’ll be using.

THE DECOR & COLOR INSPIRATION

It was summer, but I struggled to find a tablecloth or table runner and napkins in the soft blues I wanted for the table. My usual resources ( Homegoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls) were coming up short. I found blue and white striped napkins, but nothing for the table. Then I found a printed tablecloth that might work, but no napkins. The Friday after the 4th of July, I decided to browse around in World Market Cost Plus. Many of the summer items were marked down 40% to 50% and there was a 20% off coupon to add from my membership. Among those sale items I found this sardine plate with the perfect shades of ocean blues I had imagined and I knew I had found my color inspiration.

On a lower shelf, I found two cobalt blue glass lantern candle holders that added a bit of drama and height to the table. My luck continued and I found a table runner and solid napkins in a cool shade of blue similar to one of the sardines on the plate. Later I found a table cloth in the same shade of blue. Dollar Tree rope (found in the floral section) was cut and knotted to give a nautical touch around each napkin.

THE PLACE CARD

SMOKED SARDINES IN LEMON FLAVORED OLIVE OIL THE ACTUAL CANS USED.

THE WATER BOTTLES

Several years ago while browsing through my local TJ Maxx and Marshalls stores, I was drawn to these beautiful cobalt blue bottles of Ty Nant water. As with wine, tasting water from different parts of the world is interesting. I chilled and drank the water, but afterwards I just couldn’t part with the beautiful bottle. There’s something elegant about it. Over time, I collected and saved both the bottles and their screw on aluminum tops (all 12 of them) and for a period of time refilled each with filtered water. I would then place the empty bottle(s)in the dishwasher to clean and refill again. I thought this was an environmentally clever way to drink bottled water, but also a very attractive vessel. Something about drinking from a glass bottle rather than plastic or a metal version is much more appealing. For the wine party, I’ll be filling my cleaned bottles with sparkling Italian San Pellegrino water at each place setting for both an additional pop of color and the water my guests need to cleanse their palates.

THE APERITIF AND THE WINE

For the aperitif I try not to venture too far away from something with wine. I’m concerned about blowing out my guests taste buds with an alcohol or flavor too intense to afterwards enjoy the actual wine tasting. I found this cocktail “The Gentle Italian” again on Giada’s page made with Lillet, Aperol and Processo. It was light and citrusy. My guests sipped on their aperitif while I and another guest opened and labeled bottles and another poured their contents into numbered glasses.

While watching the PBS show Weekends with Yankee I saw an interview with the famous chef and good friend of Julia Child -Jacques Pepin. I learned of this beautiful book of his art created to record memories of food and fun with friends. I wish it had been available years ago when I first started my wine, book club and tea gatherings, but it was published in 2017. My friends made notes on the left and listed the food they brought for the gathering on the menu side. I chose a page that fit the theme of our wine meeting and everyone took turns making their entires while sipping their Aperitif.

While our party is about wine, it isn’t stuffy. We of course want it to be fun! So it was no surprise when one showed up with the fish bottled table wine, that wasn’t bad by the way. The bottles are lined up as they were numbered above.

THE CHEESE COURSE

I like to find new things in the culinary world for my guests and I to experience. Burrata is , kind of the “it” appetizer ingredient at the moment. It is pricey, but when I went in search of it at Whole Foods I happened to catch an Amazon Prime member discount day with 40% off. I purchased two balls of the cheese and decided it would just be a small bite sample for everyone. For an elevated way to serve it, I looked through a back issue of Wine Spectator Magazine that hasn’t failed me yet. There I found a Burrata Caprese recipe by the high respected chef Nancy Silverton. I prepared the plates about a half hour before everyone arrived and set each out on the table knowing I had to handle the wine as it arrived.

My twist on the recipe was to add fresh slices of heirloom tomato and chunks of parmesan to the plate. I couldn’t find the vine cherry tomatoes that the chef used, so I substituted the multi-colored grape and pear shaped tomatoes for a more colorful plate.

.https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a5605/mozza-caprese-recipe/ A small bowl of warm marinated olives was set on the side as a little antipasti touch. Everyone loved the cheese and the tomatoes.

THE SMALL BITES

THE DESSERT COURSE

For a hot summer’s night, I wanted to serve something traditionally Italian, but refreshing and light. Inspired by the series Giada in Italy-Capri, I decided to serve small bite sized biscotti and an espresso granita that she made on her show.

I used Giada’s limoncello biscotti recipe, but made my own twist by adding chopped candied lemon (from Trader Joes) to the dough and a quartered piece to the top of each cookie before baking. This added a little more color and identifies the flavor of the cookie. I also made pistachio biscotti found @ilarysbakery. The size of the star shaped pastry tip was not provided so my shape isn’t as impressive as her’s, but they had the great pistachio flavor.

Pistachio and Limoncello biscotti.

The granita prepared the day before and scooped into the cups earlier on the day of the party saves on serving time. My freezer drawer was cleared for storing the espresso cups and each were topped with whipped cream before serving. Per Giada’s recipe if desired you can pour your shot of limoncello into the granita. After first tasting the granita on its own many of us tried it with the limoncello and found it to be surprisingly good. I also decided to pick up some cannoli’s and placed one on each plate to share.

No surprise, an Italian themed evening ends with the digestif limoncello. Whether sipping it on its own or adding it to the granita all limoncellos are not the same. Some are very strong with a moonshine flavor or bitter and yet over the years may mellow out. Others have the perfect balance with just the right amount of everything like a cool glass of lemonade. While in Italy several years ago, I was told to store the bottle in the freezer.

While the score cards are there for making notes, they aren’t always serious as you can see. Some try to guess from the list of descriptions which bottle is which, others just note how the wine makes them feel or simply check their favorites.

Guests are provided with a list of the wines and whatever descriptions I could find on the internet to reference while tasting the wines.

The top two winning wines of the night and the trophy –
a blown glass vase made in Italy.

Another lovely evening where the conversation this time was buzzing about upcoming travel plans for myself and some of my guests from Italy to Germany, France and Switzerland. We can’t wait to get back together after our trips and share memories of our adventures.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Makeover #7: Breakfast Room

Most of us cannot buy all new furniture to revamp a room we’d like to update. Here’s some ideas of how to use unexpected hacks as well as update the items you may already have somewhere in your home like I did.

When I first moved into my house, my Uncle (and Godfather) presented me with a generous monetary gift to help me purchase something for my new home. I had decided before moving in that I wanted woven shades along the back windows in my living room and breakfast area. Yes they were pricey, but a friend recently considered putting the shades in her home and when we did a little research they had almost doubled in cost since my purchase. I was glad I decided to invest in them when I did. Including the linen shade for the back door (below).

The sun rises on this side of the house and during the months when the brutal summer temperatures averaging 90 degrees and more, the shades (that are lined but not black out) help to keep the heat at bay. I have to keep them completely closed until just a little after noon when the sun moves to the front of the house and I can draw them up and let the lovely natural light that I love in.

The black fold-out table was a very inexpensive find that I brought with me from my previous home. There I had a small dining area (a townhouse) and knowing I would eventually move, when I tossed out my chrome framed chairs with faux butcher block set from the 70’s, I decided to buy something simple and inexpensive, but functional – clearly not my dream dining room table.

I also purchased the two benches that originally had a dark black and white design fabric. I decided to recover them with an upholstery fabric I found at Hobby Lobby that resulted in a fresher, modern look. https://www.hobbylobby.com/Clearance/Clearance—Fabric-Sewing/Clearance—Home-Decor-Fabric-Trims/Iron-Galatia-Fabric/p/103873 Later I purchased two charcoal gray nailhead trimmed chairs from T. J. Maxx for more seating.

Several years ago, my brother (who also loves to decorate) gave me this rooster as a Christmas gift. When I received it, I had no idea what I would do with it. My previous space was already cramped with things. So I set him on top of my refrigerator and there he sat until I moved.

As I unpacked and searched for a place he could stand out, I looked toward my breakfast table. What’s more representative of a morning sunrise and breakfast than a rooter’s cock-a-doodle-do? My rooster became my inspiration for the decor of the room. A couple of golden rooster placemats added to the table for a pop of color. Later a good friend who is a talented artist painted a colorful rooster as a gift that hangs on my wall.

A large wall stood before me blank and the room was is much need of a pop of color. As I searched for art I cringed at the cost of prints and framing. Again, while in my previous home I found this book of Botanical prints on the bargain shelves at Barnes and Noble. As I searched through the pages, I realized the size of the prints and the many colorful options it held, could be framed. I purchased the book (originally priced at about $75.00 for $20. I spent a lot of time looking through its pages to find just the right selection of six images to frame.

I then searched for an inexpensive set of frames, carrying one of the cut out images with me to Walmart. There I found four frames slightly weathered finish, already containing an ivory mat that blended well with each print’s background. I luckily found two more online to complete the set of six. The arranged, framed prints added the exact amount of color I was looking for and filled in the wall nicely without the high price tag.

I later replaced the light fixture to this weathered open lantern for a French country touch.

With all of the entertaining I wanted to host in my new home, I had over the years purchased a variety of white platters, bowls, plates, cake pedestals and baking dishes of various sizes. I was in need of something to place in front of the window where I could keep plants, that also provided storage for some of my many serving dishes. I found the piece below that provides open shelving, two drawers where I store placemats and two fold out leaves that I can use for buffet serving when needed.

A lamp with a French, European style base, centered on the table, draws in the design from the rest of the open areas to complete the look. In the future a fresh coat of paint will brighten up the room just when it is needed.

Lamp purchased at T. J. Maxx

As always with a little patience, a plan, focus and ingenuity a room can be pulled together by transforming items you own, using hacks to get the look of upscale art and as little as setting aside $50 a paycheck for a few months. I didn’t paint my walls yet, but remember that a fresh coat of paint is verify inexpensive and can transform the light and interest in a room. Simply break down the stages. Recover chairs or benches or pillows one month; search for art and framing for wall art over the next month or two, save for the light fixtures for a couple of months, and then an accent table if desired. In no time – you can have a transformed room personally designed my you.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #6 – Guest Bath Makeover

Updated window with molding and hand made shade.

My guest bathroom has been patiently waiting for a makeover. Without a plan in mind for the past five years, I finally decided to direct my attention toward this project and form a plan that would elevate the appearance of my plain small bathroom. It began with an image of a bathroom window I found in a magazine of French homes (below) and with the image as reference and inspiration I began my search.

For several months I searched through antique and repurposed furniture shops for a decorative plaque similar to the piece at the top of the window in the inspiration photo. Everything I found was either the wrong size, extremely heavy or very expensive.

The magazine photo that inspired my window treatment.

Decorative shelves turned against the wall to create a decorative crown for the now framed window.

I take my Dad to his barber every six weeks or so, and while he’s getting his hair cut I browse through the antique shop next door. During one of these visits, I found two plaster shelves with a lot of detail that caught my eye. While they didn’t match the width of the window, I felt I could create a mini crown of some type, especially for the low price of $25 for both. They are a lovely cream color with light gray highlights.

Next I visited the hardware store to select the molding to frame the window and mirror. I chose a crown molding with a simple design along the inside edge, along with a light taupe gray paint [Behr: Sliver Drop] for the walls and a medium gray [Behr: Graceful Gray] for the trim and ceiling. The painting and woodwork was set into motion by my terrific handy man Tim.

The selected molding

For color accents and decor, I purchased a brushed brass curtain rod that suspends from the ceiling of the bathtub and two curtain panels composed of shades of gray, cream and olive (that also passes for a golden mustard shade). Alongside the selection of curtain panels was a display of tie backs of various designs. The charcoal gray taffeta ribbon pompoms looked like a fun playful accent I could apply in some way. I bought several planning to somehow trim the shade in addition to using the pompoms as the tie backs they were designed for.

To balance the color of the charcoal gray tie backs, I purchased two charcoal gray curtain panels made with a similar fabric. I then cut off the hem of the panels (that were the same width as the patterned panels) and hand sewed the band of color to the bottom of the patterned curtains. After carefully measuring the windows in both my guest and master bathrooms and then the remaining fabric from the charcoal panels, I realized I had enough to create a faux shade for both the guest bath, as well as the water closet and the garden tub window in the Master bath. That’s three shades for $20.

Custom drapes that hang from the ceiling are very costly. I found 108″ length curtain panels at Tuesday Morning that I selected for the color theme of my design and then trimmed the bottom with charcoal gray for a pop of contrast and to further extend the length of the curtain.

The drape hanging from the ceiling (shower liner on a second rod).
The painted walls and trim. The framed mirror and updated brushed brass
light fixture to match the curtain rod.
Before and after of guest bath window with framing, crown and shade with pompoms.

The original contractor placed a towel bar behind the toilet and I’ve never understood that location. So I had Tim remove it and patch the holes before painting. A marble shelf with brass brackets was added for decorative items (orchid, bubble bath bottles and candles). A new brushed brass towel bar was placed under the window, closer to the shower for guests to use when visiting. The towel bar and paper holders were also replaced with brushed brass pieces of the same design.

The towel bar on the wall behind the toilet was removed and replaced
with a marble shelf and brass brackets.

My helpful handyman painted the bathroom and the hallway, while I painted the molding and hand sewed the shades. When the painting was finished everything was hung and a brushed brass light fixture was installed above the mirror. When I stepped back to survey the finished room, I was pleased. It looks original and fits in with my other decor.

Below are the second and third faux shades I made from the two charcoal panels for the Master water closet and the garden tub window that has not yet been framed. The walls on this side of the house have also not yet been repainted, but are scheduled for a future weekend project.

The most difficult part of designing on a tight budget is being patient. A year later while browsing through my favorite store of antiques, home decor and repurposed items the decorative piece below caught my eye. I haven’t decided yet, if I want to put it over the garden tub window (above), or frame the window above a built in desk (below) that is visible from my kitchen and living areas. Looks like the subject of yet another “weekend project”.

Built in desk area where Blog posts are created.
Future weekend project.
WINE CLUB

Peek-a-Boo aka 14 Shades- Annual Wine Off

To be fair, when you are blind folded you can’t exactly pose for a photo!

Our “Decades” Wine Club was near the end of its 5th year. One steamy summer evening in July we gathered for a “blind” tasting of the top 2 bottles from prior meetings over the past year.  Our club consists of 5 couples and 2 singles, with 2 alternate couples who fill in whenever one of our original members is unable to attend. Due to limited space in my home, dishes, glasses and so on – I’ve limited the attending group per meeting to 12. The part that I did not anticipate is that both of our “alternate couples” each had 2 winning bottles of wine from meetings they attended during our past year.  This caused me to form a plan for 16 possible guests (we ended up with 14), so I simply split everyone up between two tables rather than one and it worked out fine.

IF YOUR GOING TO PICK A WINNER…. YOU WILL NEED A TROPHY
FOR THE WINNING WHITE & RED

I’ve learned that even when your intention is to organize a gathering for fun; when a little light competition is involved, “winning” can be tempting.  I began to observe my guests throughout the evening at past meetings and overheard couples trying to identify which wine was “theirs”, rather than voting on the wine they actually liked the most – or one spouse would vote for the same wine as the other, rather than independently voting.  As a result we often have 2 wines that tie or have nearly equal votes.  To make the finals more interesting I decided to include the top 2 wines from each meeting.  We typically have 7 bottles per meeting and with this plan we ended up having our usual 7 bottles (3 white and 4 red) for the finals that I call “The Annual Wine-off”.

So what’s with the Peek-a-Boo you ask?  Due to my little observance of “couple voting” I decided to cleverly separate everyone for the initial tastings and give everyone a blindfold.  The bottles were bagged and numbered 1 through 7. Then I discreetly wrote the same 1 through 7 under the base of the stem of each glass.   After I poured all of the wines into their matching numbered glass I placed quarter sized numbers 1 thru 3 (in front of the whites) and 1 thru 4 (in front of the reds) that I printed out.  The girls were lined up at the bar on their own with the 3 whites, 4 reds, a small bowl of bread and crackers, a glass of water and a blindfold.  The blindfolds pushed out just slightly under the nose allowing downward vision, so they could see the stems of the glasses and the numbers in front of them.  They started with the whites (that should be the coolest temperature) and each chose which of the 3 they liked most, by handing me the printed number.  

Slips of paper with numbers -after tasting the wines blind folded, the vote was cast by selecting the number each member wanted to vote for.

The winning white and red.

I then had the girls step back and remove their blindfolds for a break. while delivering their 3 white wine glasses to their partners who were sitting at the table waiting to now determine their blindfolded votes.  However, I rearranged the glasses so that they were not in the same order.  Their 1 thru 3 were different bottles now actually 3,2,1.   When the guys voted I had to get them to show me the actual glass they were choosing so I could look under the stem and write the true bottle number on their voting tab. [This would be impossible to handle all on my own. My long time friend who is a member does not drink wine. So I employ her to help me with the uncorking, bagging and numbering task at the beginning and tonight she shared the task of monitoring our blindfolded voters on this night.]

The white wine competitors and trophy for the winning white.

While the guys were tasting the whites, the girls moved on to the reds and once their votes were cast, again I delivered the reds to the guys in a different line up to make their choices.

Not only did the voting spread out to give votes to every bottle, we also had an actual clear higher count winner for both white and red.  My guests also were stunned by how much better they were able to focus on the flavor of the wine when blindfolded.  In theory it has been said that if one of the senses in blocked off, the others are enhanced.  By taking away sight – more focus was distributed to the taste buds and everyone’s concentration on the nose and flavor was elevated.  

The trophy for the winning red and the red wine competitors.

When I explained to everyone they would be blindfolded the “Fifty Shades” joking began – therefore I affectionally added “AKA 14 SHADES” WINE-OFF.   

But in truth, aside from trying to get a clearer voting method, the evening was festive and fun. My group of winos are always eager participants in whatever I dream up. It keeps our meetings fresh and fun where great memories and friendships are formed.

THE CHEESE COURSE

THE CHEESE COURSE
Red Grape & red onion mustrada

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grape-and-red-onion-mostarda-5300990
Ice box blue cheese, pecan, rosemary crackers

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

Goat’s Milk Pavé with Cover Honey & Mango Gelée
[Black & pink peppercorn crust]

http:// http://top100.winespectator.com/2017/article/recipe-match-for-vouvray/

THE SMALL BITES

On the table: The beautiful and delicious small bites prepared by my guests: [Left] Cucumber cups filled with julienned daikon radish, carrots, bean sprouts, baby tender lettuce, a large boiled shrimp, thinly sliced red jalapeno -topped with black sesame seeds, a dot of Siracha and sweet chili sauce; Asparagus Au Gratin; Grilled chicken skewers; [Right] Mini lamb pies and caramelized onion quiche. [Far right] It was National Chocolate day and one guest brought artesian chocolate truffles.

THE DESSERT COURSE

DESSERT : BY HOSTESS
SWEET BASIL CANTALOUPE SORBET WITH CRIPY PROSCIUTTO
 

For photos of other small bites and wine club meetings go to https://www.pinterest.com/lorilynh219/social-interactions-parties/wine-club/

Blindfolds can be found on Amazon.com.

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project – 4 & 5: Kitchen Backsplash & Lighting

I have three counter areas. The one above is beside my refrigerator
and typically used as a beverage station when entertaining.
The wall space here was large enough to insert two of the tin tiles.

The inspiration for my next “weekend projects” started when I found the tin tile shown below. I immediately wanted to incorporate the beautiful tile into my decor somehow. I circled the store with the tile in my hand for about a half hour when the idea of inserting it into a kitchen backsplash suddenly generated. The tiles were sold individually, but purchased by the store as a set of 4 with 4 different designs in each set. I bought the two tiles in stock with the same design and then went home to determine the spacing and how many more I would need. I realized I would need at least two more, and the shopkeeper graciously ordered more and called when they arrived.

The tin tile that inspired my kitchen backsplash design.
The LED track lighting was paired with a remote control f
or turning on and off.

The next task was to find the right tile and grout. I wanted something that was different from the traditional subway tiles, etc. that offered a unique, somewhat custom design while complimenting the rest of the open room’s decor.

The tile I had in mind was not available in the store, so I had to order it and have it shipped to my home. I started with ordering three or four different single tile sheets, holding them up to the wall and tacking with push pins both the tin tile and the sheet tile – attempting to imagine the final look and decide which would best suit the look I wanted. Afterwards, I was able to return the unwanted sheets of tile directly to the hardware store. Once decided I visited the hardware store to select the grout color, all pictured below.

It’s no surprise from my Blog, that I cook and entertain often. Under cabinet lighting was also a must. It has made a world of difference when working on my countertops. Not only does it brightly highlight my backsplash design, it also provides the much needed illumination for preparing mise en place, mixing batters in my stand up mixer, cooking on the stove, or simply making a sandwich.

I chose small, thin, delicate, electric LED track lighting from the hardware store. The space below my cabinet is very shallow and I needed something very thin to avoid visibility. I have a terrific handy man, that created the backsplash design and lighting I imagined over a period of a couple of weekends. Remote controls also sold online are used to operate the lighting above and beneath the cabinets since light switches were not available during construction and would be costly to install. I did however have the forethought to have electrical outlets installed above my cabinetry when it was being built. My handyman, simply drilled holes in the back corner of each of the cabinet shelves. He then threaded the cord upward toward the outlet, where the remote box was used to plug in the cord for easy operation. I have high ceilings and my cabinets do not reach the ceiling. It was my mother’s idea to purchase LED rope lighting to lay across the top of the cabinets and the remote controls are used to operate this top lighting as well as the under lighting.

Rope LED lighting laid on top of the cabinets to illuminate the area above.

I was happy with the end result that in my eyes has an Old World – European look that I had pictured in my mind. I hope this idea inspires you to find a new and original way to design your own backsplash to reflect a style and interesting result that pleases and represents you. It only takes a weekend!

WINE CLUB

Derby Wine Club – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds -The party!

The Wine Club wreath for my entrance door (see Wine Club Wreath Themes Post) was also dressed up for the Derby theme , with a bow tie, a little hat,
gold horse and red silk roses.

IT’S PARTY TIME…. NOW —- WHAT TO WEAR?

A beautiful much more professional version of this fascinator was the inspiration for this homemade version. It began with a red, white and blue felt hat with headband. I couldn’t find the large blue and white gingham fabric used in the original, so I recovered the hat with white paper dollies (first layer) to hide the bright red, and then large blue and white checked gingham tissue paper left over from the grillin’ party. A silk hydrangea and white roses, white feathers (in the kid’s craft section a bag at the craft store) ; silver trim from the sewing section of Hobby Lobby, and a bag of plastic horses purchased online, sprayed silver (others in gold for the table decor) all used to create this little jewel.

Here’s a fascinator tip:

These fascinators are top heavy and keep moving around on your head. I hot glued ribbon from the top of the head band (centered) leaving equal amounts on each side to tie under the back of my hair. The edges were folded over to the backside of the headband and glued again. I made little single knots at the end for a finished look. This provided a more secure fit and balance on the head.

After all of the planning -our big derby day finally arrived. The ladies all entered one by one. each with their own hand made fascinators, while the guys (a little less enthusiastically) looked like dashing Southern gentlemen in their bow ties. One by one as they arrived, I quickly had each couple stand in front of the beautiful painting of racing horses (borrowed from my neighbor) for a photo.

My neighbor had this beautiful painting in her dining room and graciously
let me borrow it for the night. It was the perfect backdrop for photos!
All of the ladies made their fascinators –
I bought a pack of 6 bow ties (very nicely made by the way)

online for the guys for about $2 each.

At each meeting I create a little gift basket of some kind for the winner(s) whose wine received the most votes for the night. I’ve tried to create a way for everyone to get a chance to win over the years. For this wine party, I purchased a blue ribbon and added a little gold horse- on the number 1 (that was a surprise taped to my shipping invoice when I received the embossed brass race horses that from Etsy – used to create my gold rimmed aperitif glasses.) I also purchased a bag of wine charms (not the kind you put on stemware – these are just regular charms), and threaded a cork screw and bottle of wine on thin twine that easily wrapped behind the large button to create a Derby wine blue ribbon.

My aperitif (a rose sangria) was served by one of my guests, while two of us uncorked, bagged and poured the bottles of wine for our tasting. As the cheese course (pimento cheese soufflés ) baked in the oven, my guests gathered in the living room to watch the Belmont Stakes race unfold with the winning horse -Sr. Winston securing his victory.

I slightly altered the table decor from t he original plan (see “Derby Wine Party – The Plan” post), with black and white diamond patterned ribbon that resembles jockey silks and added a great touch to the black linen napkins. A small knotted tie of the same ribbon was added to the top of the score card to match.

MY CHEESE COURSE: This was my first run of this Pimento Cheese Soufflé (meaning no test bake) and it was delicious. The recipe says it yields 4-6 servings (depending on the size of your dish), but I made 12 individual ramekins from the ingredients of just the one recipe. I also brought one to my neighbor who let me borrow her painting and cut some of her Black Eyed Susans for the party.

Once everyone was finished tasting the wines, we voted to determine a winner before moving on to the food. The comments were that all of these wines were very rich and screaming for a luscious red meat or red sauce. We always vote on the wine prior to eating, so that the vote is purely based on the taste of the wine, unencumbered by other flavors added to the palate.

THE WINNER WITH 5 OUT OF 10 VOTES.
THE SIX LABELS OF THE EVENING IN THE ORDER OF VOTING.

Once the cheese course had been consumed, we moved on to the small bites that my guests and I provided. A week before the party I emailed “inspiration” from a Pinterest search of traditional Derby foods and everyone provided feedback on what they would bring to avoid duplications. As always, the food was beautiful and delicious.

A LITTLE CENTER PIECE DECOR FOR THE FOOD TABLE.
FROM BACK LEFT CLOCKWISE: BOURBON LAMB-PORK MEATBALLS, WITH GOAT CHEESE & CHIMICHURRI; BENEDICTINE SANDWICHES; CHICKEN & WAFFLES; CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLE’ AND BABY BROWNS.

THE GRAND FINALE -DESSERT COURSE. A trio of favorites from different races. The Derby Pie (chocolate pecan pie) from Kentucky; the Lady Baltimore Cake & Smith Island Cake (called Doberge in Louisiana) from the Preakness Stakes each a hit in their own way. While the actual Smith Island cake is 10 layers, I purchased a short Doberge cake at the bakery and cut it into rounds since I home baked the Derby pies and Lady Baltimore cake. One plate like the one below was served per couple.

Bellies full and heads maybe a little tipsy – I commented that one of my guests’ fascinator looked very 1920’s Art Deco, to which another guest replied, “Do I hear a Great Gatsby Theme coming to mind?” Hmmm – hang on to your hats, you never know…..

While not every meeting is as elaborate as this one, I do try to come up with one that has a little more costume and fun once per year. Last year it was our “Hauntingly Elegant” party near Halloween and the year prior it was our “Murder Mystery Nite”. [Blog posts for both are available in the Wine Club category]. For now we will toast this evening goodnight, and look forward to when we “meet” again!

WINE CLUB

A Symphony of Whites…..

Aperitif: White Port, Q Tonic and slice of orange.

THE APERITIF:

Port and Tonic makes 1 drink

4 ounces good-quality tonic water, such as Fevertree or Q Tonic
2 ounces white port
Orange slice, to garnish

Pack a highball glass with ice. Pour in the tonic, then the port. Stir lightly. Squeeze the orange slice a bit into the drink. Sip and enjoy!

I decided to do a little research about the wines of each country that we would be tasting, and found an article about a Portuguese aperitif made with white port and tonic water that I decided to greet my guests with.

THE INVITATION:

A watermark of a wine glass being filled with musical notes
to create my email invitation.

I searched the internet for free clip art and found the perfect wine glass with musical notes pouring in like wine. I inserted it as a watermark into my emailed invitation.

My wine club has been meeting at least three times a year for five years now. I feel it’s important to continue to create new experiences, so that everyone remains entertained. My group prefers red wines, but in the summer they have been open to tasting white wines. The theme for this wine party was termed “Symphony of Whites” an idea inspired by an old Victoria Magazine article with the same title. The symphony of whites article was composed of white garden flowers, but it sparked an idea for this white wine night, music and simple elegance. As always it began with the invitation, made from free clip of musical notes pouring into a wine glass that was used as a watermark for this invite.

THE TABLE DECOR & MUSIC

Playing on the “Symphony” I found a roll of music sheet wrapping paper that I used as a table runner down the center of the table. I like having a clean simple table due to all of the glassware and tight spacing. With assigned wines coming from parts of Germany and Austria where some of the best symphonies were composed or celebrated, I played symphony music on Pandora in the background. In fact, I play theme music for all of my parties on Pandora. For the Carnival Rio de Janeiro (see the past post) I played the Brazilian station, French music for the French wine night, and so on. Don’t forget the score cards. I used the same watermark from the invitation for the two column scorecard that is cut into two.

THE CHEESE COURSE:

For the cheese course I had a very large spread representing several of the countries; broiled feta with tomatoes and garlic roasted in Greek olive oil, stuffed grape leaves, various cheeses from the countries of our wines and a beer cheese fondue with baked pretzels. (See previous post on cheese courses). While I had a large spread, one of these would have been sufficient.

THE ACTIVITY CHALLENGE

When my wine club first met I would create little conversation games that encouraged everyone to share a little about themselves and offer topics of conversation that included and allowed everyone a chance to speak. With each new meeting plan, I tried to create fun exercises to make the evening interesting. For this party, once I had the list of wines in hand I looked up each on the internet. I found descriptions of the aromas of each and prepared slips of paper with the information. The description of each guests’ wine was set at their place at the table along with small plates containing items with some of the aromas described. The wines in the glasses were numbered, but it’s a blind tasting so no one knew which wine was theirs. The exercise was for each couple to use the description and fragrance items to try to identify which wine was theirs. [Two of the wines had pine scent – hence the sprigs of pine you see at the table.] White wines have a variety of interesting aromas and flavors that made this exercise fun.

This idea was formed after reading the “Cork Dork” by Bianca Bosker. She explained how sommeliers practice smelling various ingredients in order to master their scents. If you love wine I highly recommend this book. I’m happy to say that two of my guests identified their wines and those same two wines were also voted the top two of the night.

Aromas of ripe honeydew and nectarine with gingery note top. Vibrant, open-textured and crisply balanced, with pear, peach and rock melon fruit flavours.  Round, fleshy and smooth in texture with good clarity to its ripe melon and citrus flavors. Honeyed peach, pear tart, almond powder with a touch of orange bloom. Light yellow gold. – Australia

The scent is pure pine forest, cool and refreshing; the flavor is pure, fresh fruit—pears and cold green grapes—the pine notes floating over them as if carried on a breeze, A clean and refreshing zip of mint and eucalyptus explode from the glass. –Greece

Somehow, we completely forgot to take any pictures of the small bites for this party. It’s sometimes hard to host and also be photographer. Over time I’ve put sticky notes on the table to ensure either I or someone else takes a picture once everything arrives.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Mini black forest cake dressed in a chocolate tuxedo cup & Viennese coffee with chocolate musical staff.

I had a lot of fun with the dessert course for this one. The most fun I’ve had since our Vino Italia night. I found chocolate tuxedo cups before I had the plan and stored them in the pantry for a future date. I used an “authentic” black forest cake recipe from Pinterest (which by the way is not as sweet as the usual American bakery version -and better for it). Bing cherries were in season, making the dessert the perfect choice. I deconstructed the cake into small chocolate tuxedo cups (perfect for the symphony) and a mini cake on the side for each couple to share. A Viennese coffee was also served with a chocolate music note I made with bittersweet chocolate a few days ahead.

Greece, South Africa, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Australia, Spain

When you want to experiment with different types of wine, it helps to make the evening interesting and entertaining. It also helps when the food is delicious! Try your own tasting with a night at the Symphony!

The top two wines and the two wines that were identified during the challenge.