Friday, December 2, 2016

Bring Me My Dinner!

I am out of  what seems like blogging-retirement because I have something I really wanted to write about: Dinner

I always jest that, other than bringing home my beautiful girls, the best part of having a baby was the dinners!  I was once critically ill once and got the same treatment.  I can definitely say that the best part of being critically ill is the dinners.  Bringing meals to new moms and sick friends is commonplace in my little corner of the world, but I have recently learned that it is not so common elsewhere (or even here in other social circles).  I thought I would make a list of my favorite tips for taking a meal that truly helps your friend when they need a little extra care.

1. Go Disposable 
My most important piece of advice is to pack the food in disposable containers (or at the least ones you don't want back).  If you pack in a real container, make sure your friend knows you are gifting it to them--There is nothing worse than being sick or a new mom and having to chase someone down to return her pyrex!  Remembering to pack in disposables elevates worry on your friend's part and decreases extra clutter for them to deal with.  After all, you are trying to help them out, not make more work.  I like to bake items right in an aluminum pan with a lid as I did with this brisket last night:

While the brisket doesn't look "plated" here, adding the top finished the look and made it easy to carry.

For cold items, which I like to keep somewhat separate, I love take-out style containers.  I pick these up at my local restaurant supply store (bonus tip: you don't have to own a restaurant to go there) or on Amazon.  Here is an Israeli Salad I sent with the brisket:

2.Soup to Nuts
A second critical piece of advice is to make the meal from "soup to nuts," including everything the family will need.   I'll talk more about what to take in a moment, but whatever you make should represent a whole meal.  You may skip dessert or not eat bread with dinner at home, but extras like these round out the meal and make the recipient feel extra loved.  I can attest that major bonus points are achieved when you remember to bring bread and the good Irish butter!  Don't assume that the family has anything.  If you are taking a salad, do not assume they have dressing or even the stuff to make it (it is hard enough to remember to buy cider vinegar and even harder with a newborn).  Sometimes, if I am feeling really industrious, I even add a beverage.

3. The Menu
You may feel stumped about what to make.  I always ask if the family has any allergies, aversions due to the illness or nursing, and even if they are sick of anything.  Because certain meals are great to take, a  family may find themselves up to their ears in lasagna and casserole!  Other than that, I like to take meals that 1) fair well at room temperature or are easy to reheat in the provided container, and 2) are substantial enough to give the family leftovers.  Last night I made a first course Kale Salad  with a mason jar of homemade shallot-lemon vinaigrette, brisket, corn souffle, Israeli salad sidedish, rolls, and our favorite not-for-breakfast bars for dessert.    Soups and chilis are fantastic in cool months (don't forget the cornbread and toppings) and grilled fish or chicken with grain salads rule in the summer.

4. Style the Food
You know the old adage that you eat first with your eyes.  Even though you are using disposables, "style" the food as best you can.  For me that means adding fresh herbs or a pretty-cut lemon where appropriate.  I also layer my salads.  Not only is this pretty, it stops the salad from becoming a soggy mess before the family is really to eat! Here is my Kale Salad from last night before it was tossed (notice the adorable lemon on top):

4. Remember that everyone loves a brown paper package tied up with string!
If dessert happens to be cookies, brownies or bars, I love to box them up bakery style.  Last night I utilized craft box and parchment paper to achieve the look.  Doesn't that make it look all the sweeter?  Go on and put a blue ribbon on your own pie--you deserve it!

5. Box it UP

Over the years I have carried dinner to friends in many different containers.  I think a laundry basket really works well, and my collapsible picnic basket is gorgeous, of course.  My favorite, however, is a good-sized box.   It helps keep sloshes and spills from getting on your car.  It is easy to carry everything in one trip and, best of all, it is disposable (see #1).    I may have had a "few" boxes after Cyber Monday.  I cut the top off so that it is open for anything that doesn't quite fit and is easy to access.  To take it over the top and make everything look better, wrapping the box is a nice touch:

6. Drop it like its hot (literally)
It is not always possible with work schedules and other time constraints, but I really like to provide dinner ready-to-eat near the time the family eats.  That way, they don't have to worry about warming or cooling.  If this is impossible, then make sure to write out heating instructions to eliminate guesswork.  Once you have dropped that "hot potato," get out of there.  Obviously you may want to peek at the baby or inquire about your friend's health, but remember that you are not a dinner guest. Your job is to provide dinner and provide peace of mind to the family rather than add another person to entertain!

7. Share the Joy!
In my social circle, being the dinner organizer denotes a special relationship to the new mom or patient.  Others who wish to bring the person food will often ask one of his or her good friends if a meal train or care calendar has been established.    That good friend, in turn, sets up the meals in a way that prevents the family from getting too much at once or too much of the same meal.  I always inquire if there is a set schedule before dropping off.  Even when there is no schedule, I like to ask the family when the meal would be most  helpful so that I make sure it arrives when it is actually needed. 
 I love this idea so much that I think it would be so fun even if you aren't sick or a new mom.  I am considering starting a meal swap that a thing already?  Does anyone know how I could make it work?  If so, share your ideas! Wouldn't it be fun to get a box like this for no reason at all?  

Who knows when I'll be back,
In the meantime, happy everything!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Two of my all time most popular posts are fresh Italian Spinach and Zucchini noodles straight from my garden.   If you came for either of those, please look away now!  This post is brought to you by the 1970's, may grandmother, and processed food....  

Someone gave my grandmother this recipe.  I am guessing it was probably from a 1970's Kraft ad, as it relies heavily on packaged ingredients from the food-giant.   She only made it seldomly, because fresh-from-the-garden foods were her mainstay.  I loved the this dish upon first bite, however, and it became my potluck go-tos in my 20's.  It is truly so elegant looking that nobody would guess its dubious ingredients.  I included it in this post  about homey, hearty appetizers that are great for casual entertaining.   For a long time, I would not even give out the recipe for fear nobody would eat it again.  Eventually, word did get out.  To my surprise,rather than shunning the dish, it has become a "cult classic" among my friends.  It is bad and cheesy, but they love it anyway.  About once a year someone will request that I bring it to their home.

Here is what it calls for recipe:
Soft White Bread, 1 jar Kraft Olde English Cheese, 1 egg, 1 package cream cheese, 1 bunch thin-ish asparagus, and a stick of butter 

First, wash, trim and roast or blanch your asparagus .  Set aside.

Next, remove the crusts of the white bread.  Don’t try and cheat and buy the pre-crustless, it is too dry. Fancy bread won't work, and don't even think about whole wheat.  Once the crust is gone, flatten the bread completely with rolling pin or glass—really mush it.  
Meanwhile mix together the egg, cream cheese, and Olde English.  I find it really helps if the items are at room temperature.

See the cheesey goodness?

Finally, melt your butter in a shallow bowl or dish--the flatter the better (please forgive the crumbs here, I forgot to photograph before I started):

Set up an assembly line—bread, spread, asparagus, butter and your cookie sheet. 

Spread about one tablespoon of spread on bread:

Put the asparagus at the end and roll up—roll it in the butter and place seam-side down on a cookie sheet. Repeat until all remaining slices are on sheet. 

At this point either cover with a damp paper towel and cover with saran and refrigerate until ready to cook or cook at 375 until golden and puffed. They will eventually look like this:

Never tell your guests how you made this uber-gourmet looking dish:

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sweet Like Apples and Honey

We have been celebrating Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year last night and today.  Since I was celebrating my new year and new decade last week, I almost forgot to get ready for the holiday (which is bad because 16 people were coming to dinner).  
 I scrambled Sunday morning and pulled together a rather nice tablescape and yummy dinner, in my humble opinion.  I would normally buy flowers and agonize over arranging them.  With the "short-notice" though I was left to use what I had.  Fortunately, I had been sent some lovely lilies for my birthday that had a little life left in them by Sunday!  I also had a bag of apples, which are a symbolic food for Rosh HaShanah in hopes that your new year should be as sweet as apples dipped in honey.  Not bad for 5 day old flowers and five minutes! 
 I took it one step further and made three apples into candleholders  (that took about one minute using a melon baller).  
It almost makes me wonder why I fret over these details all the other times when I plan in advance. almost!  Whether you are celebrating a holiday or just that it is Monday--Celebrate Everything!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Fit for the Queen of the Court: A 40-love Birthday Party

The party I had been waiting 40 years for finally happened this Tuesday.   I simply could not have asked for a better day.  It was late a September day with just the slightest hint of a cool breeze, but with warm sunlight everywhere and not a cloud in the sky! In case you have not read my blog in the last few weeks (or ever, which is more likely), I went with a 40-Love theme.  Grab a coffee this is a long one.  All photos, unless otherwise noted below the photo, are the work of Lemon Cherry Photography.  You can find Lemon Cherry here.   The owner, Sara, is delightful and I think her company is going to grow from here.  If you are in St. Louis, you should definitely check her out!

I was gifted a bunch of dead balls and had so much fun crafting with them.  So did my 11 year old who made this 40 for me.  It adorned the gate to the tennis courts!

 The day started with 22 tennis players and 4 pros who expertly led us in drills and games.  Fortunately, I don't have to blot out eyes because most people are wearing sunglasses!
 The whole thing was made all the more special by the fact that I had a courtside DJ.  I think I will never want to play tennis again without someone pumping all the jams from my lifetime!  I have decided that my Hip Hop Tennis name is DJ Sweet Spot!
This is NOT one of my professional photos, but I thought it was important to show the courtside DJ :)

Lemonade, Tea and Assorted Nuts were served courtside as well as bottled water.

How cute are all of our rackets piled up???

When the games were finished, champagne and sparkling waters were butler-passed and then we headed it for a wee "cocktail hour."    Guests were greeted by a preppy pink and green rag swag that I created.  Two wreaths flanked the entrance (shown in photos below).

This is NOT one of my professional photos, but I wanted to show you this sweet rag garland that I created.  It was the basis for a lot of the other decor! 

We passed three appetizers: Roasted Shrimp in Pea Pod with a Soy-Mirin dipping sauce, Asparagus with boursin encased in phyllo, and a Petro on a Chinese Soup Spoon. Petros are my favorite treat from Knoxville, TN,  where I went to college.  They are just chili and cheese with fritos and toppings, but they were so elegant on the spoon and passed on a silver platter! 

After that guests found their seats.  I always like a place card because it helps guests feel at ease and it is one more chance for cute! 

 Here,  you can see some more of our handy work.  Tennis ball topiaries, 40 love stand-ups, and centerpieces featuring the same material as our rag garland adorned the room.
Aren't these napkin folds just the cutest??  YOU know I love a napkin fold!

I can't resist showing a close-up of this happy centerpiece.

Before lunch got started, I made a speech and was was presented with the sweetest book from my girlfriends.  Each one submitted a recipe and special note for me.  It was so, so kind, and I will treasure it for always!  They also gave one BIG group gift to ensure my 40's sparkle.  I adore these beautiful stacking rings!

I also got some bling from this guy, who reset my engagement ring for the new decade....I told you it was a good day!

 Now back to the party.......This was a perfect meal for a ladies lunch on the cusp of Fall.
Here were the menu cards and food:

This is NOT one of my professional photos.  Our time ended before dessert, but I had to show you these sweet skillet pies!
Finally, we sent each guest home with a tennis ball cookie that said, your friendship is my sweet spot!

If this day was any indication, my 40's are going to be great!

 Whether you are having a milestone birthday, celebrating holidays (as I will be this week), or just because it is finally almost sweater weather--Celebrate Everything!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

40-Love: A personal history of tennis

 As far back as I can remember my dad played tennis at least once a week.  I can still hear the ice water sloshing in his comically oversized 80’s thermos.   Sometimes my sister and I went out for lessons with our dad, which was equally fun and frustrating.  Needless to say I did not emerge tennis pro or even close to competent.  I did, however, get the earliest Wilson Hammer so that I looked like an ace.  Later, I lent that racket to my college boyfriend and somehow lost it in the break-up.  Even though I am sure he has long-since gotten rid of it, I take some small solace knowing he learned to play with a little girl grip!

After that there was no tennis in my life for a long, long time.  There seemed to be no time in graduate school, while D and I planned our wedding, and even less as we started our practices, decorated homes, and become parents.  Then one day I decided it was time to take up tennis.  The short version is that it was not immediately easy. I was pretty bad for quite awhile.  Why then would I choose to wax poetic on my milestone birthday about tennis? 

The answer is that, surprisingly, I liked it anyway.  A big lesson for me as I enter my 40’s is that it turns out that there can be joy in accepting that you are just okay at something.  And it turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks after all: I greatly improved with lots of practice.  I can now proudly and officially say that I am solidly “okay-ish at tennis.”     The lessons go much deeper than that, though.  You can learn a lot about life from the game of tennis.   Think for instance, that long before you start a match, you have to reach out to friends and make a commitment to be there for one another on the court.  It simply does not work to go it alone.  Sadly there is a maximum of four players on the court at a time, so sometimes you won’t be included.  Other times you will.  Make your own matches when you need to, and remember it’s just a game.

Once you step on the court, you have to play the  game for where you are at that moment—you have to be flexible and adjust whether you are on clay, hard court, grass or even the carpet at Frontenac.  Sometimes you will have the home court advantage and sometimes you will be the outsider.  Only YOU are responsible for your confidence as you step on the court.  It all begins with love.

Tennis players know that when the score is love all, or love everybody as I like to say, anyone can win.  That’s not to say it is easy from there.  Serving and getting the game started is one of the hardest things to do in tennis and any new venture.  Even if you serve well—you can get a foot-fault for standing in the wrong spot.  In tennis and life, you should know where you stand and know when to move if you are in the wrong place.  The good news is that if you mess up, you get a do-over.  That is an actual rule in tennis and each new point is an opportunity.  No matter how far behind you are, there is always room for a comeback unless you decide that you are going to lose, and then you probably will.  Sometimes you give it your all but your opponents is just too good—learn to compliment them and move on.  It is not always about you.  You can have the best rally of your life and lose the point—you have to recognize that your win was the rally itself.  Celebrate the small stuff.   Another day you may be better player.  You may be able to shut out a point, but find it to be more enjoyable to keep the ball in play instead.  The back and forth between the two sides is the reason you are there after all.   I could “serve” up these analogies all day, but it all comes down to this:  You can play up or down as long as you play nicely in life and on the tennis court.  Let new players in your game and love Everybody!

Thank you for being a part of my game and reading along with me!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Balls in the air!

We have been busy transitioning from overnight camp to family camp to back-to-school all while squeezing in two precious birthday parties and  as mama gears up to start a new law office (way more on that later).   You could say that we have a balls in the air, figuratively and literally.    I am in party craft mode once again and this time it is for me! Here is a hint of what we are working on:

Yup in less that 40 days, I am going to be 40!
I plan to love it and embrace it and play with my friends.  Game on!