FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

How Do You Like Them Apples ? Friendsgiving Brunch 2021 (Back Together Again)

It’s time to start gathering again! This time of year comes and goes far too quickly. I love the Fall season so much and by mid-month some are already pushing for Christmas, but I want to give the season it’s fully deserved time. While the holiday is generally meant to celebrate the history modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people, for most of us I believe it’s a time to show gratitude and appreciation for all that we have, friends, home, health, faith and more.

I am grateful for so much in my personal and professional life, and so happy to once again gather with friends who support all of my creative ambitions, with a Friendsgiving brunch.

Setting the Table

Little boutonniere like bouquets made with a magnolia leaf, fresh sage, chamomile and spray roses were created for each place setting and guests took them home at the end of the brunch.

A combination of succulents, spray and country roses and eucalyptus (and later a couple of apples- I wanted crab apples but couldn’t find any this year) were arranged around brass candlesticks to create a fragrant and feminine centerpiece. Everything was just laid on the table with no water source the morning of the brunch.

Inspired by Erin French of The Lost Kitchen, I decided to use an apple theme for my menu and included one of her recipes.

Cocktails and Nibbles

Simple apple cider bellini. Reduce 3 cups of apple cider to 1 1/2 cups. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve fill each glass 1/4th to 1/2 with reduced cider and top off with prosecco, champagne, crement or other sparkling white wine.

An apple tasting tray of each apple used in the dishes being served.

For most of my younger years I had only eaten a red delicious apple, the only kind my Mom ever purchased. As I studied foods and flavors years later I saw an article in a magazine that featured a description of multiple apple varieties. There are no apple tree farms in Southern Louisiana, so we are limited to the varieties that appear in various grocery stores.

One year I purchased one of each variety and compared their flavors, finding the most amazing flavors and never buying a red delicious apple again. With that memory, I decided it might be fun to create a tray with each of the apples used in the dishes in the menu, giving my guests a similar experience hoping to inspire each to try new varieties on their own afterwards.

From left to right, Lucky Seven Grain Bread(Artisan bread from Rouses)
toasted with olive oil and sprinkled with a pint of kosher salt, Baked Lemon Ricotta,
a small dish of Apple Butter (Dickinson’s), Golden Berries, Marcona Truffle Almonds,
Soft ripened cheese from Germain,France, Italian truffle cheese, and Chicken Liver Pate’.

For the “nibble boards” a term borrowed from Erin French (my most recent found source of inspiration), almost everything was purchased from Trader Joe’s, hence my Trader Joe Nibble boards.

The cup is filled with Fried cheese stuffed kalamata olives
(in Trader Joe’s frozen food section – and very very good!)

Salad Course

For the salad I used Erin French’s roasted buttercrisp squash with apple slaw. My local Fresh Market has the largest variety of squash and I’ve been experimenting with several over the past couple of months. One buttercrisp squash about the size of a cantaloupe three to four pounds was sliced into ten wedges, enough to serve all of my guests. The link below provides Erin’s recipe. My only additions were a little apple cider vinegar and pomegranate seeds for color and crunch. My slaw was made with four apple varieties, pink lady, granny smith, golden and honey crisp. My recommendation would be to pick a variety of sweet, tart and crisp versions and also consider the colors of green, yellow and red. The skin remains on the matchstick pieces and adds color. Erin and I ALWAYS decorate with edible flowers. The small yellow flowers (top left)are tarragon blossoms. I planted a couple of tarragon plants a couple of months ago and they have been blooming as if it were Spring!

https://www.today.com/recipes/roasted-buttercup-squash-apple-slaw-recipe-t141064

The squash is easy to bake as instructed and served at room temperature and the slaw tossed in it’s dressing with the arugula holds up well. I plated these about 45 minutes before serving and everything held it’s texture. (My guests could not stop talking about how delicious this was. Thank you Erin!)

Entrée

The entrée and dessert courses were both contributions from two of my guests. My work hours have been long and stressful and in order to pull this event off I needed to accept offered help and take a few shortcuts.

Apple and cranberry stuffed pork loin with Trader Joe green bean casserole bites.

My friend Lanie (who also loves to cook and has restaurant experience) made this Jazz and Fuji apple – cranberry stuffed pork loin. I think I heard there was a little fig jam, hazelnuts and some other special secret ingredients in the stuffing. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect addition to the menu and there wasn’t a single piece left!

Dessert & Mulled Cider Wine

Lanie also made an apple cider white mulled wine, with a spicy ginger liqueur that we served with dessert.

A week prior to the brunch I attempted to make apple cider donuts for the first time. I don’t have a fryer and I NEVER fry. The dough was too wet and I had trouble controlling the temperature of the oil – the house spelled for days after. It was an epic fail! Donut maker, I am not and I rarely fail when I try to follow a recipe.

I decided a better alternative was to support a local donut business that makes a multitude of small flavored donuts. I employed one of my guests to order a couple dozen apple cider donuts and asked that they not place them in the finishing cinnamon sugar. I wanted to rewarm the lot before serving and then toss in the cinnamon sugar myself.

I already had a large bowl of cinnamon sugar left over from my failed attempt at donut making. I added two teaspoons of Chinese Five Spice (my favorite substitute for cinnamon) and mixed the sugar thoroughly. We were advised to rewarm the donuts in an oven or air fryer – never in the microwave, so I placed them on a tray (to serve 2 per guest) and hoped to make them more “dessert like” my slicing all of the donuts horizontally in half and spreading one side with apple butter before sandwiching the two halfs back together. I then placed the tray of donuts in a preheated in oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes. When warmed through I rolled the donut gently in the sugar mixture and placed on a saucer with small mini dessert forks.

The party may be over, but the memories will remain and the joy I saw in my friends as they hugged and caught up with one another, along with their praises for everything we served as always made all of effort worth it. I am forever grateful for their enthusiasm and encouragement and cannot express how happy I am to be able spoil and entertain again.

To all of my wonderful followers – Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful for your support as well!

WINE CLUB

How to Host A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Tasting Party….

In the South, the humid hot summer heat begins to dissipate slowly as Fall quietly eases in with its cool refreshing breezes and changing foliage, but not until well into late October or November. Still we hang our autumn leaved garlands and wreaths on our doors and thresholds, line the front walkways with purple, yellow and amber chrysanthemums and perfectly shaped pumpkins hoping to encourage the comforting temperatures of Fall to fully arrive. Autumn is my favorite time of year. A time when my passion for baking and cooking hearty soups and stews peaks, along with taking long walks as nature’s colors transform into the most beautiful shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

Several years ago I went on a Fall Pilgrimage in New England -from Boston, to Salem, Portland, Kennebunkport, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, The Berkshires, Stockbridge and finally Cape Code to witness the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever seen along with historical landmarks of our wonderful country. I enjoyed it so much, that I did it again a few years later. I still remember the quaint little town of Salem dressed for the coming of Halloween, with potted mums displayed everywhere you looked and our visit to the Salem Witch Museum.

Those memories of my Fall in New England and the haunting vibrations of witches and Halloween, inspired my Hauntingly Elegant Wine Club evening. I wanted it to be unique but not gimmicky, catchy with a touch of elegance.

THE INVITE:

IMAGES BORROWED FROM A BEAUTIFULLY CATERED HAUNTING EVENT –
POSTED ON MARTHA STEWART’S WEBSITE THAT INSPIRED MY VERSION OF A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT PARTY.
https://www.marthastewart.com/1521546/host-halloween-dinner-party-hauntingly-beautiful

My invitation was emailed to my guests, but I created a printed version for the sake of creating a photo. Guests were asked to bring a red wine, with a haunting, spooky or spell bound label and a small bite; and black attire.

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

Thawed frozen black cherries soaked in kirsch, pureed and strained (discard cherry pulp); add the juice of half a lemon to cherry liquid. Fill 1/4th of each coupe glass with cherry juice; 3 dashes chocolate bitters and top off with Prosecco. Garnish with dried cherries soaked in kirsch over night and an Amarena cherry.

My guests sipped on their cocktail while another guest and I opened the bottles of wine, placed each in a numbered bag and poured the wines into the numbered glasses in preparation for the tasting.

About a month prior to this party, I had purchased red roses to place on the table for my book club meeting. For some reason, they were so pretty and remained only partially open. I watched as they slowly dried holding their bud form. I also had a vase of hydrangeas from a friend’s wedding that had dried in their contains. With a plastic cauldron, plastic skulls, green and Spanish moss (all from the dollar store), dry dead branches from the yard sprayed with gold paint and black grosgrain ribbon tied in knots on it’s smaller branches to look like bats, I created a spooky elegant floral arrangement for my sofa table. Black lanterns placed on each side contained battery candles and pieces of dried flowers, moss and black glittered branches.

From there I began to dry roses and other flowers from my garden to sprinkle along the table, add to my candelabra, and create other small arrangements around the house. I made spiders from champagne corks and black pipe cleaners, and placed Spanish moss and black crows in the chandeliers.

The local craft store had all of the Halloween decorations on sale and I purchased spider web netted tablecloths and scarves that draped over my lamp shades. More plastic dollar store skulls, black glittered twigs, moss and dried flowers were sprinkled along the center of each table. On this evening I had 14 members requiring two tables for seating. I used my black and gold rimmed china, brass candle holders with black tapered candles and gold-ware cutlery to add to the mystic and elegance.

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked brie with black cherry, raspberry and black grapes simmered in red wine.
Served in mini cast iron pans.

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

  • 1 cup of black rice
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed green apple
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flavored oil (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans & or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 to 3 cups of baby spinach or arugula
  • salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinaigrette
  1. Cook rice in vegetable stock using amount of liquid according to the package instructions and allow to complete to room temperature when complete.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a small sheet pan – place the pecans and/or pepitas and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. This brings out the natural oils in the nuts to enhance their flavor and crunch. (A great alternative is candied or spice coated pecans – but they take more time involving egg whites, sugar and spices – you can find a recipe on Pinterest). Set toasted nuts aside in a small bowl.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using 2 separate sheet pans – spray each tray well with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray) and place pans in the oven to pre-heat the tray.
  4. Place the diced squash (or sweet potato) in an appropriate sized bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of chili oil to add a little heat, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Carefully spread the vegetables in a single layer on one of the heated sheet trays and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables over half way through creating a little browning on the sides that are facing down on the tray.
  5. Use the same bowl to place the diced apples and toss in remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully spread on the second heated sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven 15 minutes (warmed through but with a little crunch still present) – when these come out the squash needs turning over.
  6. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large salad bowl mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette (recipe in the next box).
  7. Add the cooked black rice first, the roasted apples and vegetables next, then the arugula or spinach (or combination), pomegranate seeds, pecans and/or pepitas without tossing at this point. Layer with heaviest items in the bottom and lighter on top with vinaigrette at the very bottom of the bowl. When ready to serve gently toss all ingredients together to lightly coat with the vinaigrette. Note: To keep vegetables warm, you can leave them on the sheet tray in the oven at 200 degrees until ready to serve for about 20 minutes – more than that they may dry out too much.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette: In a mason jar with lid ( or simply add ingredients to the bottom of the salad bowl) place 1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado Oil; 1/4 cup Apple Cider; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; 1 minced shallot (or garlic optional); 1 tbsp. honey or agave; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper. Either whisk in the bowl or shake vigorously in the jar to combine. Optional: Gently warm vinaigrette in a small saucepan and return to serving salad bowl. (This is for a lightly dressed salad. If you prefer more dressing -double the recipe and guests can always add more ).

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/491525746823276732/

When I saw these serpent breadsticks on Pinterest, I decided to make a warm Garden of Eden vegetable salad and breadsticks that used autumnal flavors. The salad combined black forbidden rice, roasted sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, baby spinach and toasted pecans with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. My serpent breadsticks were flavored with garlic butter and black Hawaiian salt. For best results: The tongues were made with dried red chili peppers with a little “v” cut into the end with scissors. I had to make a little slot at the end of the head of each breadstick before baking , to get the pepper to hold in place. I quickly inserted the pepper tongue in place immediately after the breadstick came out of the oven while still soft. As they cooled the pepper held in place. I used black peppercorns for the eyes. [Baking the breadstick with the red pepper inserted causes it to burn, so it has to be added after the baking.] Below are images of the beautiful small bites brought by my guests.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Fall immediately makes me think of campfires and S’mores. I found this great cake recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s blog. I used leftover cake and filling to make a couple of cake balls I called truffles, and a mango syrup that I dotted along the sides of the plate to help cut the richness of the ganache. A lighter version would be to use a mousse in lieu of ganache and semi-sweet or milk chocolate instead of the bittersweet I used – but a true S’more calls for a rich chocolate. Several of my guests were celebrating birthdays over the previous and next couple of weeks, so we added candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. http://mynameisyeh.com/mynameisyeh/2017/4/smores-mini-cakes

THE WINE

The Winner!
  • La Catrina [Cabernet Sauvignon] 3 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Bloody Red Blend] 2 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Cabernet Sauvignon 2016] 2 votes
  • HOB NOB WICKED LIMITED EDITION [RED BLEND] 2 votes
  • Ministry of The Vinterior [Cabernet Sauvignon 2015] 1 vote
  • Vampire [Vampire Red -Winemaker’s Blend 2014]
  • Saved [Red Wine 2014]
One of my guest brought me with little ghostly air plant as a hostess gift.

This is a great time to pull out your slightly tarnished silver, save the colorful flower petals from your garden and let them dry, and search through dollar stores for moss, black pebbles and other items to add to your decor. While I live near the swamps and large trees filled with Spanish moss – I purchased moss to avoid bringing in unwanted insects and who knows what else into the house.

The winner’s trophy –The winner received this webbed bagged bottle
of Limited Edition Bartenura Semi-Sec.

Long before the idea of a Hauntingly Elegant Party came to mind, I found this bottle of Bartenura Semi-Sec (of all places at Walmart). The webbed bag was so elegant and interesting that I decided to buy a bottle and hold on to it for some occasion. One day while one of my friends was visiting, I was sharing some of my ideas for the party and suddenly remembered the bottle tucked away in my pantry. She pointed out that the bag looked like a spider web. Lightbulb moment – I had my trophy for the winner.

As the Fall months approach, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the ghostly spirits of Halloween with a slightly Gothic twist , I hope you will be inspired to host your own hauntingly elegant evening. If you try any of my ideas or create your own – check out the posts on my Pinterest page and share yours.

WINE CLUB

Syrah vs. Shiraz (The Battle)- A Return to Wine Club

The “Decades” Wine Club is back in session!

At the start of 2020, I originally put together a plan for my first wine party of the year -expecting it to take place on a cold winter’s night on February 29th – for a Leap year celebration. For the first time in five years, three couples had conflicts with the date and I decided to reschedule the evening. The first available weekend that could work with the majority was April 25th.

There was no way back then, that anyone could have predicted that one morning we would wake up and learn of a dangerous and sometimes deadly pandemic that gradually spread from country to country making its way through our world and would significantly change life as we previously knew it. The CDC recommended that the only way to suppress the spread of this virus was to adhere to government mandates or social distancing that required everyone for the most part remain home. So this party plan had to be set aside for a little more than a year.

As vaccinations became available and administered, over a period of several months, the mandates lifted and slowly we’re making our way back to a new form of normalcy with new appreciation for gathering with family and friends.

Our group of seven for this gathering was a little smaller than usual with some having travel plans causing three of our usual couples to be absent, but the evening was in no way short on the usual good conversation, good wine and delicious food. All vaccinated and with a little more elbow room at the table than usual, here’s how our Shiraz versus Syrah plan came together.

Above is an example of the emailed invitation, created as a Word document, with assigned wines of half Shiraz and half Syrah.

On to the theme…. the research and putting a plan together

Shiraz versus Syrah.  My research informed me that Shiraz and Syrah, are both wines made from the same grape. In Australia the grape is called Shiraz , and in France, the grape is called Syrah. While both Shiraz and Syrah are developed from the same grape, their differences are described below and I decided to use this information as a guide to create an exercise for my group that would test their abilities to identify which wine is a Syrah and which is a Shiraz. As the labels of each bottle selected were sent to me, I searched for the information on each to gather a collection of the described flavors and aromas.

https://mcwilliams.com.au/shiraz-v-syrah/ source of information below:

The Differences:

Syrah Flavours: The (slightly)leaner than the Australian style, yet more complex (spice, cherry, tar, smoke, cassis, plum, etc), earthy, lively (more acidity),softer tannins, and typically capable of short to long term bottle ageing.

Shiraz Flavours: Shiraz wines that are full bodied and encouraged to produce rich, ripe, and intense fruit flavours (plum, blackberry, cherry, etc), as well as hints of black spice. They can also have a higher alcohol content due to longer ripening on the vine before picking. These fruit driven wines are usually made in an easy drinking style and are good everyday wines but are able to age for many years.

The typical old-world Syrah is lighter and leaner than the intense Shiraz wines of Australia, which tend to be richer intensity, fruit forward and more full-bodied with tannin. The difference between the Canberra Syrah and Hilltops Shiraz exhibits this difference very clearly.

The Table Setting

My gal pals and I etched the wine glasses with numbers in late 2019 and this will be the first time we will be using them. I’m kind of excited about it! The table centerpiece is meant to add a little color and sparkle, but created low so that my guests can interact with a clear view of each other.

The Friday evening and day of the party (Saturday) are both extremely busy for me (the host), so setting the table a week in advance frees me of this task the weekend of the event. Faux olive vines, glass votive candles and battery twinkle lights provide a safe, but elegant ambiance to the table. Glasses evenly lined up, in numerical order, wiped free of fingerprints and then turned upside down until the day of the party is a way to set the table in advance and keep the glasses free of any dust or those pesky summer insects that can slip into an open door from time to time.

Scorecards that give hints of what differences might appear between the wines – to help my guests identify which is which.

At each place setting, scorecards with information about each wine (shiraz /syrah), a printed description of each guests’ wine and a pen are ready for a planned activity.

I ask everyone to send a picture of their wine label at least a week before the scheduled party, 1) to ensure no duplicates and 2) for time to research information and pairings for each wine. With the wine notes of bottles in hand, for this party I gathered examples of the flavors and aromas in the descriptions and made “wine notes” samplers. Portions could be set up early and then covered with plastic wrap, while fresh items like fruits or fresh herbs are added the day of the party.

The “wine note” plates were provided to assist in our activity. Each guest was asked to attempt to identify their bottle of wine and in addition to labeling which glass of wine they think is a Shiraz and which is a Shiraz. Blindfolds (used at a past meeting) proved to awaken the nose and palates when eliminating the sense of sight – were available, but not required.

https://www.afoodieworld.com/tersina/2018-06-07-rewriting-wine-101-syrah-or-shiraz-pinot-grigio-or-pinot-gris This website provides good information about the differences between syrah and shiraz and I clipped some info for the scorecard to help with efforts to identify the version of each wine tasted.

The Aperitif

As my guests arrive, everyone falls into a natural choreographed routine of handing off their wine bottles to me, placing their trays of food on the table and then visiting with the other guests. As I work to uncork the bottles, and then bag and number each (with the help of a couple of volunteers) I always prepare a tray of small glasses of some kind of aperitif for everyone to sip while I’m getting the bottles poured and the final touches are made to the table. For this meeting’s aperitif, I found Byrrh – served over ice with a splash of club soda and slice of orange peel. I prefer an aperitif that is wine based, so as not to disturb the palate before our actual wine tasting. There were lots of “ooo’s” and “ahs” coming from the living room as my guests began to sip and visit after such a long separation. I think it’s safe to say it was well received. I truly enjoy discovering and sharing new wine experiences of all kinds with my group.

Pronounced “beer,” this red wine–based aperitif is loaded with warming spices and relies on quinine for lightly bitter undertones. Think of it as a slightly spicier sweet vermouth and use it as such in a Negroni, or drink it straight with a large cube of ice.

The cold slightly sweet Byrrh with a touch of citrus peel
was lovely for the hot summer evening.

Byrrh is an aperitif amaro first produced in 1886 by Simon Violet and his brother Pallade. By 1935, Byrrh was the most sold aperitif in France, with sales of 35 million liters. In the late 1960’s, regulatory changes led to a shift in production towards Vin Doux Naturel, a type of fortified dessert wine, and away from aperitif drinks like Byrrh. This led to the family selling the label to Pernod-Ricard in 1977.

Byrrh is made from partially fermented Grenache and Carignane grapes that have a bit of alcohol added to them (called mistelle) that then has dry red wine added to it before being flavored with cinchona bark and other herbs and spices. The resulting aromatized wine is then aged in large, neutral oak barrels for three years before bottling. Byrrh is 34 proof. 

In 1999, Pernod-Ricard introduced Byrrh Rare Assemblage, which is aged for ten years in small oak barrels. 

Preparing the blind tasting

Years ago I purchased these metal disks and wrote numbers on each with a white felt tip pen. The bottles are opened and slipped into slender brown grocer wine bags, cut to size, but not until the bottles are received since they can be shaped differently and some are taller than others. Finally each receives a number wrapped with twine before being poured into the glasses with the same number at each place setting.

The Activity: Can you identify which wine is yours?

Each guest received a printed description of the aromas and flavors of the wine they brought, a score card and information to reference about the differences between Shiraz and Syrah. Once all of the wine is poured, we say a blessing together and then everyone is seated to start the evening’s activity.

Before any food is brought to the table, everyone sips each of the wines and takes notes – the activity has begun. For this tasting the response was unusual. None of the wines were getting very good responses, and it was funny to hear how a few claimed the same numbered glass was “their wine”. After about 15 minutes of sampling and noting, I delivered the small cheese course to the table along with spicy barbeque peanuts.

The Cheese Course…

Most of the cheese pairing recommendations I found for these wines were strong blue cheeses. I found a gouda black truffle cheese that several wine experts at our stores agreed would pair well with these wines (and boy did they!)A couple of chunks of blue cheese, blackberries and mission figs (the black fruits mentioned frequently in the wine notes) and freshly made blue cheese pecan crackers that are always a hit and come out perfectly every time were added to complete the course.

Tip: Pecan blue cheese crackers = after slicing each I used a flour dusted cookie stamp to create a little honeycomb surface. Note: Once the dough is mixed it requires 24 hours refrigeration – so plan ahead!

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

The Wines

While the winning wine of the night wasn’t a unanimous vote,
the 2016 Boom Boom Syrah won with 3votes, 2018 Nobels Rives By Cave de Tain Syrah came in 2nd with 2 votes, 2019 Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz and 2016 Crozees Hermitage Les Jalets(Paul Jaboulet Aine) Syrah each received one vote. So the Syrahs came out in front.

The Menu

As hostess, I provide the cheese and dessert courses. Usually I help my group with some ideas for small bites based on my research about the wines we are featuring and their pairing recommendations. When there are enough participants we can usually create a balanced meal, or when I see that we are short of something I will make the addition myself. The group for this meeting was a little smaller, so I added a salad with blackberries that is fresh, light and had the blackberry notes of the wines. Sprinkled with my signature white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and for this salad a little agave. Light with a touch of sweetness.

The recommendations for these wines was a bit challenging. Everything I read suggested grilled, barbecue and spicy pairings. While the wines did not receive a lot of praise when sipping, once the food was added, the wines came to life and completely changed. It was our opinion that these wines were best when paired with the right food – and we had the right food. Some of wines brought out the spiciness of the food and the entire experience was very interesting. I seem to always forget to take a picture of all of the food, but you can see from the table below, not much was left behind. It was all delicious!

The Dessert Course…..

As I searched for information about Shiraz and Syrah wines, a past post kept coming up of an event where a variety of Lindt chocolate bars were paired with different wines. Among those pairings was this J. Lohr 2017 Syrah, paired with a dark chocolate chili bar.

I decided I wanted the dessert course to include this wine and chocolate pairing two ways. First in the original method of small sips of the wine paired with a square of the chocolate. Secondly I wanted both transformed into an actual dessert that still maintained their original flavors. I found a recipe for these fudgy, spicy dark chocolate cookies (filled with chunks of the dark chocolate chili bars) and a sorbet made with the rest of the bottle of wine.

The sorbet is very simple – and both pairings only required one bottle of the wine (8 servings). Make at least one day ahead.

TO MAKE THE SORBET: In a medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 6 ounces of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add 10 ounces of the bottle of wine (the rest will be used for the small sipping glasses.) Stir the three ingredients together and then let it cool. Place in an ice cream maker and freeze to manufacturer’s instructions. I turned mine for about 30 minutes. It will not be solid, just icy (you can see the video of my instagram post). Pour all of the frozen wine into a loaf pan or other container and freeze overnight.

The spicy dark chocolate cookies were surprisingly good and even better with the wine. https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/dark-chocolate-chili-cookies/

Over the five years (now starting our sixth) that our club has been gathering, we have enjoyed discovering new wines sometimes with playful themes like a murder mystery, a derby themed party, a hauntingly elegant evening, a rio de janeiro carnival – as well as a variety of wonderful small bites and desserts. Tonight was a return to Wine Club with a surprisingly “spicy twist” that peppered our appetites and curiosity of what we have yet to discover.

GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK, WINE CLUB

Let the Music Play….

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Whether the table is set for my wine club, book club, mothers tea, Friendsgiving or any of the many other entertaining dates I’ve planned, the one thing you can’t see in the party pictures is the music!

I usually begin experimenting a week or two prior to the scheduled event in search of the best music selection I can find, in search of background melodies that don’t overpower the conversation, but like a subtle soundtrack in a movie, creates the appropriate mood and ambiance for the gathering. Until recently I chose the Pandora App where the variety of options or countless for nearly every theme you can dream up. Simply search with the theme, such as Italian love songs, Mardi Gras music, French Cafe’ or the individual name of a favorite artist. As technology advances, so do the options. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo players or Google Play can provide musical options from Pandora, Spotify or their own musical programs with a simple verbal request.

In the recent year as I visited small shops in our area, the sound of classic French music, smooth Jazz or piano instrumentals caught my attention, and when I would ask what was playing I was informed over and over again that it was YouTube music. Videos created into various music themes that can be played up to 10 hours has become another favorite. I originally streamed the music from my TV, but Google or Alexa will play the music if requested also.

The point of entertaining (dinner party, wine party etc.) is to have shared discussions and conversations. So I choose music that isn’t distracting, but provides a soothing background for the evening at a soft audible level. Below are some suggestions/examples of options I’ve made part of my party planning.

Capri – Italian White Wines Night

For an Italian themed night: (Capri) Andrea Bocelli Radio, Italian Summer Radio, Italian Cooking Music Radio, or Italian Traditional Radio. Romantic Venice, Italian Restaurant Music

Christmas Cocktail Party

Holiday/Christmas Cocktail Party– Jazz Holiday Radio, Diana Krall (Holiday) Radio, Michael Buble (Holiday Radio), Nat King Cole (Holiday) Radio, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Radio, Christmas Radio.

Derby Themed – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds

Derby Theme : Kentucky Derby Radio, Frank Sinatra Radio

Symphony of Whites (Wines) – Austria, Germany

Symphony of Whites (Wine): Classical Dinner Party Radio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio, Antonio Vivaldi Radio, and many more.

Holiday Dinner Party: Acoustical Guitar Christmas, Jingle Bells (Frank Sinatra (Holiday); Christmas Bells (Instrumental – Classical)

French Cafe’ themed small luncheons.

French Bistro Theme– French Cafe’ Radio, Edith Piaf Radio, French Cooking Radio; Spotify : French Cafe’ Lounge Music, French Romantic Music, French Bistro Music, French Mornings-Emily in Paris Vibes, French Jazz Cafe’

Rio De Janeiro Carnival– Brazilian Radio, Tango Radio, Spanish Guitar

Romantic Valentine Theme- Classical Piano Love Songs, Country Love Songs Radio, Diana Krall Radio, Michael Buble Radio, Chris Botti Radio, Romantic instruments

Mother’s Tea – I play a lovely song in honor of remembering our mothers just before starting to help focus our thoughts and hearts in the right place. “I Remember You” by Trisha Yearwood; “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran.

Whatever your party, theme or no theme, while preparing the list of things to do, include a selection of soothing musical entertainment that is sure to enhance the enjoyment of your event.

FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

🍁🍂 Travel Memories Gathering🍁🍂

We drove past many fields of Sunflowers and grapevines. We also were introduced to Crémant a pleasant, sparkling, refreshing wine from Alsace, France.

🍁I think we would all agree that the year 2020 has really thrown us off course. Whatever our routines may have been in the past, nearly everything has been forced to change. The routine that gives me the most pleasure and provides the content for this blog, is planning “social interactions and parties” for my family and friends. Social distancing obviously put a serious halt to all of those gatherings for several months, but as the “phases” allow us to slowly move forward and restrictions begin to slightly relax, I finally sent my first invite for a small gathering.

🍁Just one year ago (in early September 2019) when life was clearly different than it is has been this year, I met two of my friends in Europe for an unexpected adventure. We spent one week visiting a castle in Southern Germany; medieval towns in Alsace,France and the Swiss Alps of Mürren, Switzerland. What better way to shake off our 2020 blues, than to recreate some of the food and wine experiences from our trip and gather to talk and recall special moments of this memorable time we spent together. Our best memories pictured below:

German Salad with edible marigolds.
Cornichons, capers and pearl cocktail onions;
French Pear Liqueur brought back from Eguisheim, France,
that tastes like sweet caramelized pears to sip with dessert.
Store bought truffle mousse, charcuterie meats, garlic toasts.
I found this truffle mousse (pate’) in the cheese section at Whole Foods. It didn’t have much of a truffle flavor, but was still very good and filled two ramekins.
A traditional Swiss fondue made with Emmethal and Gruyere cheeses, garlic, white wine & kirsch, served with roasted (rather than boiled multi-colored potatoes and toasted baguette cubes (see link at the end for the recipe ).
Napkins reminiscent of a French country kitchen and colorful rooster place mats.

🍁I needed this gathering to be relaxing for myself as well as my gal pals. So while I prepared the salads and the fondue, I took shortcuts here and there and bought items prepared, like the pate’ and this Black Forest cake, that while not like the original version we enjoyed in the Black Forest of Germany, was light after all of the cheese, bread and potatoes and still recalled the memory of that day.

After removing the fondue pot, I placed two large pieces of cake on a platter in the middle of the table and we grabbed forkfuls with a cup of coffee and an occasional sip of our Pear Liqueur cordial.

🍁”Where should we go when we can safely travel again?” asked on of my friends. Spain was suggested…. they’ve both been there – I haven’t. Once again, I’d be thrilled to just go along for the adventure!

Recipes and planning can be found on my 2019 Friendsgiving post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/category/friendsgiving/

Images from our European Adventure can be found on my Travel Journal category posts https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/the-spontaneous-traveler-bonus-edition/

WINE CLUB

Sunset🌅Sipping Wine Party (while social distancing)

The recent worldwide quarantine caused this “social interactions” hostess to take pause from the usual planning of gatherings with family and friends. As we all tucked away in our homes in what felt like the longest “time out” ever, the demands of my regular full-time job excelled and continues to require long work hours. Grateful for my job, I was not among those who had time to reorganize and meditate during the quarantine. What time I had on the weekends, I made the usual masked trip to stock up on groceries, and then returned to continue my quarantine with cooking (see Simply Elevated category), clean and launder. Suddenly the weekend had evaporated into thin air and it was Monday again.

I missed the company of friends and entertaining. Always on the look out for inspiration for my wine club themes, I saw “The Kutchers” Ashton & Mila appear on several morning and entertainment shows, to share their idea behind Quarantine Wine and their partnership with Nocking Point wines. The entire story can be found online, but the point that drew me in was that 100% of the proceeds of sales would go to various charities for those in need during the quarantine. How could I have a 6 year old wine club and not contribute in this way? The bottles sold in sets of two, with the idea of keeping one and sharing (giving one) to someone else to share during the quarantine. The only problem is that the demand (orders) were so high, that Nocking Point had trouble getting the bottles shipped out quickly enough. It took about 2 months for me to receive my shipment of 6 bottles, but the wonderful news is that they raised over reported $1 million for some important causes.

Dollar Tree plastic wine glasses that actually have the feel of glass, the stem stores into the top and screws together. It’s a perfect outdoor wine glass.

Equipped with the wine, I knew that life would not immediately go back to the way we once knew it and that gathering elbow to elbow at my dining room table again was far into the future. Outdoor entertaining seemed like the best option once some of the quarantine orders were lifted, but not having a great outdoor space, I found a local State Park along the river, perfect for a Sunset Sipping gathering.

Let’s Get together for a
Sunset 🌅 Sipping at the River

Knowing as the quarantines were lifted, everyone’s calendars would begin to fill with family obligations and vacations – I decided to email everyone hoping the majority would be available meet the following weekend.

THE MENU

CHEESE BOARD: PINOT NOIR pairs well with cheddar and manchego cheeses.

Quarantine wine is a pinot noir that turned out to be a nice enjoyable drinking wine. For this cheese course, instead of just buying a couple of chunks of cheese, I wanted to find something to make with one of the recommended cheese pairings. I found this recipe on Pinterest https://www.theflavorbender.com/cheesy-thumbprint-savory-cookies-bourbon-tomato-jam. The link provides step by step instructions.

In my interpretation I did not have bourbon, so I played off of the apple cider vinegar and used Calvados (Apple brandy) that was delicious. My only warning is that since the recipe is in grams and ounces that required an online conversion calculator to use cup measuring. I had to make a little adjustment to the amount of cheese and butter in the original recipe due to butter seeping from the cookie while baking. The quality of cheese chosen could also make a difference in the result of the savory baked cookie.

Sharp Cheddar & Pepper Jack

My Version of the recipe https://www.theflavorbender.com/cheesy-thumbprint-savory-cookies-bourbon-tomato-jam

Follow the directions per recipe link –

  • 2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup of sharp cheddar grated (make sure to buy good quality cheeses)
  • 1 cup of pepper jack grated
  • 1 deseed jalapeno chopped finely
  • 1 large spring of fresh rosemary chopped finely
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg (place in a bowl and scramble before adding to mixture).
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup semolina

Note: I used a lower quality cheese to save on the cost. As a result the butter seeped out of the cookie. I had to increase my oven temperature to 375 F and after the first 20 minutes, move the cookies to a fresh cookie sheet to finish baking another 10 minutes. I then moved the cookie to a rack to cool and crisp and they were not at all greasy, but recovered perfectly. I share this in case you as the baker experience a similar situation.

Process grated cheese, jalapeno and rosemary until a smaller pieces, but not smooth. The butter salt and sugar are hand blended with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the scrambled egg for better blending and then mix in the cheese and herbs using spoon or spatula until it forms a dough.
With flour dusted hands form a ball and place in a bowl (cover with plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Using a 1 1/2 inch scoop or tablespoon measure, form balls of dough. Use your thumb or a one teaspoon measure to press an imprint in each ball. Fill the indenture with apple brandy tomato jam.
Example of how the butter oozed from the cookie. See note above with ingredients to help cure- but if this happens to you just bake longer keeping an eye on them and you may have to move them to a clean baking sheet and continue back until golden.
Move to a cooling wrap to crisp up.

SMALL BITES

  • Turkey Thai Lettuce Wraps
  • Grilled shrimp in chimichurri sauce
  • Stuffed mini sweet peppers
  • Eggplant caponata on toasted bread
  • Cucumber salsa and chips
Turkey Lettuce Wraps adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s beef lettuce wraps. https://www.gordonramsay.com/gr/recipes/chilli-beef-lettuce-wraps/ My variations were ground turkey and butter lettuce. I also had the option of mini soft taco tortillas.
Grilled Shrimp with chimichurri sauce. See the link for great tips for achieving the best grilled shrimp. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQYodZLOZTw

I selected a spot beneath moss draped oak trees that created a tunnel view of the sun shining over the river in the distance. I set up a folding table and asked my guests to bring their own chairs. Tip: Tie the corners of the tablecloth into knots to keep edges from touching the ground – learned this when a large black ant made its way to the top of the table.

We formed a large circle facing each other while sipping wine and catching up with great conversation. On this mid-June summer evening we were cooled by an occasional comforting breeze that contributed to the perfect comfortable evening.

DESSERT – WATERMELON PORT SORBET WITH

CUCUMBER AND MINT SIMPLE SYRUP

The temperature high of the day was 91 degrees, so I knew I needed a cold and refreshing dessert to end the evening. I found this version of watermelon sorbet (in the link below) incorporating port wine that I felt would be the perfect finale for a wine club party. My wonderful neighbors gave me a couple of cucumbers from their garden earlier in the week and I had an idea to make a mint simple syrup with cucumber as a side relish to provide a fresh crunch. https://www.recipegirl.com/watermelon-sorbet/

Cucumber with mint simple syrup, fresh mint leaves and edible violas for garnish.

Cucumber Mint Relish: Peel cucumber, slice in half, scoop out and discard the seeds. Dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Chopped 2 tablespoons of fresh mint and mix into the diced cucumber. For simple syrup in a medium sauce pan add 1 1/2 cups of sugar to 1 1/2 cups water. Heat on medium until the water is warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 of mint leaves and (optional a 1/4 inch of fresh ginger). Let steep for 30 minutes and then remove mint leaves. Pour the cooled mint simple syrup over the cucumber. Refrigerate over night and when serving the sorbet, spoon some the cucumber along the side of the scooped watermelon port sorbet, drizzle with simple syrup and garnish with fresh mint and edible flowers (optional).

I had everyone sign a bottle of the Quarantine wine to store away in my wine fridge.

As the time of sundown approached we walked as a group toward the river catching the final stages of the setting sun in the horizon. Grateful for our health, our friendship and this beautiful evening together, as a group we have shared a lot of fun memories. While our world has been forever changed in 2020, we all hope for a clearer vision to embrace what truly matters most in life for our futures.

The sun now set, creatures of nature began to emerge. In the front pond, a small alligator popped its head from the surface, crickets began to chirp in song and as we made our last trip toward our cars with the table and chairs, someone sighted fireflies flickering in the woods as if saying goodbye. A perfect ending to a wonderfully enjoyable warm summer evening.

WINE CLUB

The Welcoming Member of My Wine Club…

The original Wine Club Wreath with corks from one of the couples in the original club.

When I first started my wine club, I wanted to create a welcoming wine wreath to hang on my front entrance door each night of our meetings. I was inspired by a wreath I saw on Pinterest, but I didn’t have corks, so I reached out to my friends and one couple gifted me a bag full, that I pared with artificial grapes and a grapevine wreath – some purple ribbon and our club wreath was formed.

My wreath was in need of something more. A small ceramic dish with a painting of a vineyard that I loved, inspired the small image that hangs in the center which was hand painted by one of my friends who is a very talented artist. I asked her to re-create the image on the little piece of balsa wood (very light weight) to hang inside the wreath. [She later painted a plaque with the year our club was established, that I display on the food table.]

The wreath has been just as much a member of our club as the actual “Sippers” . Over time as my themes were formed, I decided to add accents to the wreath that matched the night’s theme. Over time I’ve added winning corks from our parties – so the wreath now has an abundance of corks and looks full and lush.

MURDER MYSTERY NIGHT

MAGNIFYING GLASS AND INSPECTOR NOTEPAD

RIO DE JANEIRO CARNIVAL

****CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH **** SUPERBOWL WEEKEND ****HONORING OUR SAINTS WHO WERE ROBBED !!!!

POM POM, PENDANT, FOOTBALL, & REFEREE WHISTLE & PENALTY FLAG.

A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT WINE PARTY

SPANISH MOSS, BLACK GLITTERED BRANCHES AND A CHAMPAGNE CORK SPIDER. [Halloween}

DERBY THEMED WINE PARTY

BOW TIE, SMALL HAT, GOLD HORSE AND RED ROSES.

ALPINE – ALSACE FONDUE FRIENDSGIVING

SUNFLOWERS AND COW BELLS.

As the themes form in the future, if there is something I can add to represent it, my little wreath will continue to be dressed up for the evening!

WINE CLUB

Baby it’s cold outside….Vini d’Italia Notte…..

Italian taqueria style invitation.

An evening of rich red Italian wines and food is never a bad thing. In fact it is exactly the kind of cozy candlelight evening and comfort foods needed on a cold winter’s night; and when paired with good friends, conversation and laughter is always a winning combination. For this cozy vini d’Italia (Italian wines) tasting, friends where asked to each bring a good Italian red and small bite.

The table setting – a small hole was punched in each place card to
insert a small leaf and berry from a tree in my yard that looks verify much like an olive
(see last photo below with bottles of wine.)

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked Italian fontina, with garlic and herbs, served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices.
https://www.worldmarket.com/product/6-mini-cast-iron-skillet.do

Cold Friday evenings often remind me of those Friday night high school football games where I either sat shivering in the stands or jumped around on the field as a cheerleader. When the game was over, win or lose, a group of friends gathered at the local pizza parlor where the warm toasty pizza ovens and a crackling fireplace immediately embraced us upon opening the door and the chill of the night slowly eased away. As we settled into red vinyl booths, looking over the menus, those comforting aromas of pizza dough blistering in the oven while slowly melting delicious gooey cheese seduced our senses.

On this cold winter Saturday night, I wanted to create a similar environment for my guests with a delicious warming melted cheese course. I had recently watched a rerun of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network and when I saw Ina re-create this restaurant version of melted Italian fontina cheese, seasoned with garlic and herbs I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The small cast iron skillet with bubbling cheese beneath the broiler was just what I had in mind. I headed to the store in search of the small 6 inch cast iron skillets (that have since made many appearances at other parties). Each couple shared a skillet of the prepared herb fontina served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices for dipping and scooping.

THE ACTIVITY:

Two truths and a lie: This particular wine meeting was held in the first two years of our established group. Not all of the friends I invited knew one another. So I worked to create activities that would help us get to know one another, but also serve as entertainment and topics of conversation.

Along with the invitation, I asked each of my guests to write down two truths and a lie about themselves to bring to the party. Later in the evening, during the dessert course I asked each guest to read their list and the others were challenged to guess which was the lie. This activity resulted in informative truths for each of my guests to discover about each out and lots of laughter for the lies.

Another fun activity would be to create a trivial pursuit game about wines with the weekly “Wine Quiz” from Karen MacNeil’s “Winespeed” website.

You can subscribe @ https://winespeed.com/quiz/wine/

THE SMALL BITES:

As always my guests are asked to bring a small bite. this evening the offerings were Italian inspired and everything was delizioso!

DESSERT COURSE:

Trio of Italian desserts, tiramisu cookies, semifreddo
and Zabaglione with Amarena cherries 

https://www.marthastewart.com/313069/tiramisu-cookies

There were so many wonderful options for an Italian dessert that I decided to create a dessert sampler that would be shared by each couple. The trio included a tiramisu cookie, semifreddo and zabaglione with Amarena cherries. My guests enjoyed everything, but the stand out hit of the trio was the zabaglione with Amarena cherries.

Before there was Pinterest, I used to tear out the pages of cooking magazines with recipes I would like to use at some point and organize them in three ring binders. I had saved the zabaglione recipe from an issue of Food and Wine magazine years ago that I also found online and worked out perfectly. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/vanilla-zabaglione-with-raspberries

The recipe used raspberries, but I had recently discovered Italian Amarena cherries (cherries in brandy) that are unbelievably delicious, and decided to use cherries in lieu of raspberries. It was the perfect choice, because my guests could not stop talking about how delicious the cherries were. I’ve since used them in cocktails and other desserts.

Amarena Fabbri Cherries typically come in a blue and white opaline jar that I purchased online (but they can also be found in specialty wine or food stores). The cherries were without a stem. Over time I found stemmed Amarena cherries for about $5 a jar at Trader Joes, and was advised they are stocked on a seasonal basis. Other options are Dark Morello Cherries (also purchased at Trader Joes), or Griottines from France. For this night – Italian Amarena was the appropriate choice.

The Amarena cherry (Italianamara) is a small bitter dark colored Italian cherry grown in Bologna and Modena, two cities of Italy. It is usually bottled in syrup and used as a decoration on rich chocolate desserts.
The Amarena is a variety of the Prunus cerasus developed by Gennaro Fabbri who was born in 1869 in Bologna, Italy. His wife, Rachele, took over an old general store in Portomaggiore, which was near to a wild black cherry orchard. She picked the cherries and then slowly cooked them and semi-candied them into copper pots. To thank his wife for the treat, he bought a ceramic jar from Riccardo Gatti, an artist from Faenza. The white and blue ceramic jar was then used to sell the syrup and started a small company.[1]
He started commercial production of cherry related products in 1905 under the Fabbri brand.[2] The Fabbri company is still family owned,[1] and produces a number of natural cherry pastries, syrups,[3] and beverages.

https://www.google.com/search?q=amarena+fabbri+cherries&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZ3s24k9HiAhUGSK0KHTZBA4MQsxgILw&biw=1391&bih=609#spd=15092513403719375339
Scorecard created with a Word doc, backed with red gingham craft paper and a little clip art.
The wines of the evening and example of place cards.
The top two winners.
My guests were each received a bag of soft amaretti cookies as a favor.

The food was delicious and comforting, the wine rich and smooth and the company filled with good friends, lots of laughter and stimulating conversation. There’s no better way to make a cold winter’s night warmer.

FRIENDSGIVING, WINE CLUB

How to Host an Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Tasting Party – Fondue..

My Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Club party was planned for an afternoon with just the girls from the club. I wanted to share some of the experiences and memories that three of us who traveled together in mid-September had, with the rest of the ladies in our group. With a bottle of Crémant from the Alsace region of France, the re-created German salad from southern Germany and the cheese fondue from Mürren, Switzerland all I needed was a few added touches to bring this Alpine-Alsace themed party to life.

A few months ago, I invited a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while to join my S I P Facebook page. As she praised me for my creative ideas and the special touches I added to my various parties, she remarked, “You even etched the wine glasses with numbers!” The thing is, they weren’t etched. Hmmm… why didn’t I think of that? Do you have any idea how much time it would have saved me to not have to write the numbers on all of the glasses for each party? What a great idea!

This party would not involve any judging of wines or require my guests to bring a small bite as we usually do; so as a little activity ,after we’ve finished our fondue lunch, I decided to have the ladies give me a hand with the task of etching our wine tasting glasses for our future meetings.

A couple of weekends prior, I spent an entire Sunday etching several sets of glasses until I found the best technique for taping, stenciling and etching, leaving the four last boxes for the ladies to etch. I was now prepared with what I felt was the best method that I could share with them for the best results.

As always, a party begins with an invitation. In this day of texting and emailing everything, I selected an image I found online with the rich colors of fall and some royal looking purple grapes that gave an added pop of cheerfulness to typical oranges, golds and browns of the Autumn season. I added a similar colored font for the invite information that I then took a picture of and cut and paste the image of the completed invite into an email about a month before the scheduled date that I sent to my invited guests.

FREE BLACK & WHITE CLIP ART FROM CRAVINGSOMECREATIVITY.COM
I colored in the leaves and berries with markers using some of the same colors as my invitation.

Over the weeks that followed I put the rest of my plan together little by little. The free clipart above was only available in a black and white sketch form. I printed the set and selected several markers (from my grandchildren’s box) similar to those in the art on my invite and did what the kids do – I colored in portions of the thankful cards. When finished I still found they were a little bland and decided to print sheets of the art from my invitation that I then cut slightly larger than the card and using a glue stick, attached the colorful background to frame the thankful card.

I then used a very small hole punch to make two side by side wholes at the top of the card. A rustic twine was tied around an aubergine colored napkin and then the ends where thread through the holes in the cards and tied into a bow. The prepared napkins were placed on top of the plate for each of my guests with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a fondue fork.

My hammered copper fondue pots, ordered from Switzerland, arrived with a set of fondue forks; but unlike the forks my mother bought back in the 1970’s, they do no have colored tips at the end of the handle. The colored tips of yellow, orange, dark blue, green, light blue and red help everyone identify which fork is theirs when they get mixed around in the pot, just as wine charms help guests keep track of which glass in the room is theirs. While the fork doesn’t usually sit in the pot for cheese a fondue, when oils are used to cook meats and vegetables, the forks remain in the pot for a while until the food is cooked and can become intertwined.

Not fully dressed table – but pulling the plan together.

Drawing from the images and experiences of my time in Europe, I found these little condiment bowls with red roosters that reminded me of France. I imagined them filled with pieces of hard cheese brought back from Switzerland my one of my traveling companions, cornichons, and caper berries like those we shared while there.

One of the red roosters of Eguisheim.

To create a cozy warm table setting, I used a neutral colored plaid throw placed over a cream tablecloth; copper bowls on each end of the table will be filled with bread cubes and roasted potatoes and carrots to be passed around and dipped into the hot buttery cheeses. Shimmering copper colored round place mats beneath gold rimmed china and my mother’s wood handled bronzeware utensils all brought together the comforting Alpine setting I was trying to achieve.

Fields we passed along the highways in France were filled with sunflowers. Fortunately sunflowers are also available in the floral sections of grocery stores and I mixed them with some rust and purple colored chrysanthemums. The shops of Eguisheim were also filled with large tin hearts painted in various colors, but the red and white stood out in my memory the most. Switzerland replaces hearts with cowbells. So the two cowbells I found at Hobby Lobby resemble a combination of the painted tin heart and cowbell as one for a fraction of the cost of those in Europe.

Practicing the flower placing.

When we entered our hotel room in Mürren there was a glass bottle like the one above filled with water ( and the name of the hotel etched on the outside) with a few tumbler glasses. I repurposed this French Lemonade bottle filling it with water for the table as a nod to another of our memories. The wood disk trivets add the Alpine feel of the beautiful black forest of Germany and the Alpines among the Alps of Switzerland. A recent rain storm left debris from the pine trees scattered on the streets and in parking lots. I gathered some of the branches with small pine cones to slip between the flowers for an added alpine touch.

🌲🐓🐄🌻Alpine- Alsace Wine Club Friendsgiving Fondue Table 🌻🐄🐓🌲

Delicious cheese wrapped in wax paper covered with colorful cows and their bells brought home from a little shop in Zurich by one of my traveling companions. The rind of the cheese in the forefront is crusted with wildflowers and herbs – beautiful and delicious. It was the lighter of the two cheeses in flavor as well.

Another memory was a jar of caper berries that one of my friends picked up in a shop that she served one evening with meats and cheeses in our little German cottage. I filled the Alsace red rooster condiment bowls (I have two) with the caper berries, cubed pieces of the cheeses, cornichons and cocktail onions.

I purchased a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace at Wolfberger winery that brought home to share with my friends. I picked up a second bottle from another region at my wine store back home and one of my friends brought a bottle of French Blue Rosé and all were served during the fondue and etching. We drank a few different Rosés while in France and the bottle of French Blue also had a little effervescence similar to the Crémants. This lovely little pear shaped bottle of liqueur, also from Eguisheim, was supposed to be served with dessert. But sometimes a busy hostess may forget some of her plan. The good news is that we still have a little memory to enjoy from our trip at another wine party.

One of my favorite finds was the German salad. This is a wonderful way to eat a lot of raw vegetables and enjoy a light salad. Left clockwise: shredded carrots, thinly sliced radishes, chopped sugar snap peas, red bell pepper, Persian cucumber and canned corn. Other options were diced pickled beets and smashed boiled and buttered potatoes all tucked beneath a pile of spring greens tossed in a light vinaigrette. For my version, I simply sprinkled the greens with white balsamic vinegar, garlic infused olive oil a sprinkle of kosher salt before tossing. To add a little color I dotted the greens with a few bright viola flowers in memory of the many, many beautiful flowers we saw hanging a window boxes.

A meat tray was also a favorite of my traveling friends, so of course there had to be one at our party. Crisped prosciutto on one end and fresh on the other, with other charcuterie sliced meats and small bowls of black cherry preserves and homemade fig preserves were served with whole wheat crackers.

Our cheese fondue at a family owned restaurant in the Swiss Alps was served with cubes of bread and boiled potatoes (for dipping). For my fondue dippers, I chose to roast baby red and golden creamer potatoes and carved baby rainbow carrots. Roasting adds more flavor and the carrots added fall color.

We lunched at a cafe’ in Eguisheim after our stroll through the quaint town where I tried escargot for the first time. One of my friends took on the job of searching for escargot we could serve at our party. These beauties were found at our local Fresh Market, filled and stuffed with garlic parsley butter that required only a few minutes in the oven before they were ready to serve. These were no where near as melt in your mouth tender as they were in France, but they gave my guests a chance to give them a try. (I also served Rösti cakes which is basically shredded hash brown potatoes formed into a round disk. This was a dish one of my traveling companions ate a couple times prepared in different ways on our trip.)

Escargot before baking…
Escargot after baking.

I didn’t know at the time, but the mirabelles I purchased in France and then made a yogurt bowl with the following morning, can’t be found in the U.S. I learned that according to Bon Appetit, they’re banned because true Mirabelles are grown only in Lorraine, France and import laws make them nearly impossible to procure in the United States. So I was happy to find this box of Quince & Mirabelle tea, the only nod available to this sweet plumy taste experience.

One culinary experience I missed while in France was the crepe. My plan was to make a fluffy chocolate mousse spiked with kirsch and amarena cherries for a crepe version of the black forest cake we had in Germany. My mousse was not very happy with the liqueur, and ended up being a very soft pudding – but I went with it, adding more cherries inside and on top. After eating so potatoes, bread and cheese, the dessert was light and not overly sweet.

The eating part now over we moved on to our planned activity I had set up at my breakfast table. I explained the process I had practiced for etching our wine glasses with numbers for our future tastings. It took a little while to get the method down and we had a couple of mishaps, but in the end everyone seemed to feel a sense of satisfaction as they peeled away the tape and stencil to reveal the elegant number they had each created. I can already imagine the pride on their faces at the next wine club party when their glasses are lined up before them.

I am so grateful for my group of friends. If it were not for their support and encouragement, we would not have enjoyed the past five years of wine club meetings filled with a variety of wines from around the world, great food and fun themes with lasting, shared , fond memories. Happy Friendsgiving my friends!

The hammered copper fondue pots are sold by Bed, Bath & Beyond and this link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Swissmar-F66915-11-Piece-Fondue-Copper/dp/B00A2DSMBO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?keywords=hammered+copper+fondue+pot&qid=1572048708&sr=8-2-fkmr0

WINE CLUB

How to Host A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Tasting Party….

In the South, the humid hot summer heat begins to dissipate slowly as Fall quietly eases in with its cool refreshing breezes and changing foliage, but not until well into late October or November. Still we hang our autumn leaved garlands and wreaths on our doors and thresholds, line the front walkways with purple, yellow and amber chrysanthemums and perfectly shaped pumpkins hoping to encourage the comforting temperatures of Fall to fully arrive. Autumn is my favorite time of year. A time when my passion for baking and cooking hearty soups and stews peaks, along with taking long walks as nature’s colors transform into the most beautiful shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

Several years ago I went on a Fall Pilgrimage in New England -from Boston, to Salem, Portland, Kennebunkport, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, The Berkshires, Stockbridge and finally Cape Code to witness the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever seen along with historical landmarks of our wonderful country. I enjoyed it so much, that I did it again a few years later. I still remember the quaint little town of Salem dressed for the coming of Halloween, with potted mums displayed everywhere you looked and our visit to the Salem Witch Museum.

Those memories of my Fall in New England and the haunting vibrations of witches and Halloween, inspired my Hauntingly Elegant Wine Club evening. I wanted it to be unique but not gimmicky, catchy with a touch of elegance.

THE INVITE:

IMAGES BORROWED FROM A BEAUTIFULLY CATERED HAUNTING EVENT –
POSTED ON MARTHA STEWART’S WEBSITE THAT INSPIRED MY VERSION OF A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT PARTY.
https://www.marthastewart.com/1521546/host-halloween-dinner-party-hauntingly-beautiful

My invitation was emailed to my guests, but I created a printed version for the sake of creating a photo. Guests were asked to bring a red wine, with a haunting, spooky or spell bound label and a small bite; and black attire.

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

Thawed frozen black cherries soaked in kirsch, pureed and strained (discard cherry pulp); add the juice of half a lemon to cherry liquid. Fill 1/4th of each coupe glass with cherry juice; 3 dashes chocolate bitters and top off with Prosecco. Garnish with dried cherries soaked in kirsch over night and an Amarena cherry.

My guests sipped on their cocktail while another guest and I opened the bottles of wine, placed each in a numbered bag and poured the wines into the numbered glasses in preparation for the tasting.

About a month prior to this party, I had purchased red roses to place on the table for my book club meeting. For some reason, they were so pretty and remained only partially open. I watched as they slowly dried holding their bud form. I also had a vase of hydrangeas from a friend’s wedding that had dried in their contains. With a plastic cauldron, plastic skulls, green and Spanish moss (all from the dollar store), dry dead branches from the yard sprayed with gold paint and black grosgrain ribbon tied in knots on it’s smaller branches to look like bats, I created a spooky elegant floral arrangement for my sofa table. Black lanterns placed on each side contained battery candles and pieces of dried flowers, moss and black glittered branches.

From there I began to dry roses and other flowers from my garden to sprinkle along the table, add to my candelabra, and create other small arrangements around the house. I made spiders from champagne corks and black pipe cleaners, and placed Spanish moss and black crows in the chandeliers.

The local craft store had all of the Halloween decorations on sale and I purchased spider web netted tablecloths and scarves that draped over my lamp shades. More plastic dollar store skulls, black glittered twigs, moss and dried flowers were sprinkled along the center of each table. On this evening I had 14 members requiring two tables for seating. I used my black and gold rimmed china, brass candle holders with black tapered candles and gold-ware cutlery to add to the mystic and elegance.

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked brie with black cherry, raspberry and black grapes simmered in red wine.
Served in mini cast iron pans.

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

  • 1 cup of black rice
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed green apple
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flavored oil (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans & or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 to 3 cups of baby spinach or arugula
  • salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinaigrette
  1. Cook rice in vegetable stock using amount of liquid according to the package instructions and allow to complete to room temperature when complete.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a small sheet pan – place the pecans and/or pepitas and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. This brings out the natural oils in the nuts to enhance their flavor and crunch. (A great alternative is candied or spice coated pecans – but they take more time involving egg whites, sugar and spices – you can find a recipe on Pinterest). Set toasted nuts aside in a small bowl.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using 2 separate sheet pans – spray each tray well with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray) and place pans in the oven to pre-heat the tray.
  4. Place the diced squash (or sweet potato) in an appropriate sized bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of chili oil to add a little heat, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Carefully spread the vegetables in a single layer on one of the heated sheet trays and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables over half way through creating a little browning on the sides that are facing down on the tray.
  5. Use the same bowl to place the diced apples and toss in remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully spread on the second heated sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven 15 minutes (warmed through but with a little crunch still present) – when these come out the squash needs turning over.
  6. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large salad bowl mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette (recipe in the next box).
  7. Add the cooked black rice first, the roasted apples and vegetables next, then the arugula or spinach (or combination), pomegranate seeds, pecans and/or pepitas without tossing at this point. Layer with heaviest items in the bottom and lighter on top with vinaigrette at the very bottom of the bowl. When ready to serve gently toss all ingredients together to lightly coat with the vinaigrette. Note: To keep vegetables warm, you can leave them on the sheet tray in the oven at 200 degrees until ready to serve for about 20 minutes – more than that they may dry out too much.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette: In a mason jar with lid ( or simply add ingredients to the bottom of the salad bowl) place 1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado Oil; 1/4 cup Apple Cider; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; 1 minced shallot (or garlic optional); 1 tbsp. honey or agave; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper. Either whisk in the bowl or shake vigorously in the jar to combine. Optional: Gently warm vinaigrette in a small saucepan and return to serving salad bowl. (This is for a lightly dressed salad. If you prefer more dressing -double the recipe and guests can always add more ).

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/491525746823276732/

When I saw these serpent breadsticks on Pinterest, I decided to make a warm Garden of Eden vegetable salad and breadsticks that used autumnal flavors. The salad combined black forbidden rice, roasted sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, baby spinach and toasted pecans with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. My serpent breadsticks were flavored with garlic butter and black Hawaiian salt. For best results: The tongues were made with dried red chili peppers with a little “v” cut into the end with scissors. I had to make a little slot at the end of the head of each breadstick before baking , to get the pepper to hold in place. I quickly inserted the pepper tongue in place immediately after the breadstick came out of the oven while still soft. As they cooled the pepper held in place. I used black peppercorns for the eyes. [Baking the breadstick with the red pepper inserted causes it to burn, so it has to be added after the baking.] Below are images of the beautiful small bites brought by my guests.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Fall immediately makes me think of campfires and S’mores. I found this great cake recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s blog. I used leftover cake and filling to make a couple of cake balls I called truffles, and a mango syrup that I dotted along the sides of the plate to help cut the richness of the ganache. A lighter version would be to use a mousse in lieu of ganache and semi-sweet or milk chocolate instead of the bittersweet I used – but a true S’more calls for a rich chocolate. Several of my guests were celebrating birthdays over the previous and next couple of weeks, so we added candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. http://mynameisyeh.com/mynameisyeh/2017/4/smores-mini-cakes

THE WINE

The Winner!
  • La Catrina [Cabernet Sauvignon] 3 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Bloody Red Blend] 2 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Cabernet Sauvignon 2016] 2 votes
  • HOB NOB WICKED LIMITED EDITION [RED BLEND] 2 votes
  • Ministry of The Vinterior [Cabernet Sauvignon 2015] 1 vote
  • Vampire [Vampire Red -Winemaker’s Blend 2014]
  • Saved [Red Wine 2014]
One of my guest brought me with little ghostly air plant as a hostess gift.

This is a great time to pull out your slightly tarnished silver, save the colorful flower petals from your garden and let them dry, and search through dollar stores for moss, black pebbles and other items to add to your decor. While I live near the swamps and large trees filled with Spanish moss – I purchased moss to avoid bringing in unwanted insects and who knows what else into the house.

The winner’s trophy –The winner received this webbed bagged bottle
of Limited Edition Bartenura Semi-Sec.

Long before the idea of a Hauntingly Elegant Party came to mind, I found this bottle of Bartenura Semi-Sec (of all places at Walmart). The webbed bag was so elegant and interesting that I decided to buy a bottle and hold on to it for some occasion. One day while one of my friends was visiting, I was sharing some of my ideas for the party and suddenly remembered the bottle tucked away in my pantry. She pointed out that the bag looked like a spider web. Lightbulb moment – I had my trophy for the winner.

As the Fall months approach, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the ghostly spirits of Halloween with a slightly Gothic twist , I hope you will be inspired to host your own hauntingly elegant evening. If you try any of my ideas or create your own – check out the posts on my Pinterest page and share yours.