Thanksgiving Week

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Happy Thanksgiving week!  Jake and I took the red eye to New Orleans on Monday night to be here with his family for the holiday and it’s a little different than what we normally do, but I’m happy to be in such an amazing city with loved ones.  I just wanted to pass along the Fall / Winter Entertaining Guide I put together for ONEHOPE in case you were looking for any more recipe ideas for tomorrow.  There are definitely some yummy ones in there so check it out.  All of the images from that shoot can be seen here so be sure to visit there for some more decor tips and ideas.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Meg

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Images by Brian Tropiano.

Butternut Squash Soup

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One of the many things I love about fall is eating seasonally and experimenting with fall flavors.  Fall is the perfect time to experiment with butternut squash, figs, root vegetables and all sorts of yummy produce and I always find myself craving a great, hearty soup around this time of the year.  A quick internet search for a great butternut squash soup recipe lead me to this with an almost perfect 5 star review average with over 1,900 reviews (!!!).  I knew I had to give it a try.  I adjusted it a tiny bit to make it slightly healthier and the end result was nothing short of incredible.  We served it with warm sliced sourdough bread and a crisp Sauvignon Blanc to cut through the hint of spice and creamy, buttery flavor one weekend when we had friends in town and we were thrilled with their feedback. This is something really great to make on a cool fall weekend so I wanted to pass it along.  Cheers!

Ingredients

6 tablespoons chopped sweet onion
4 tablespoons butter
1 5lb. butternut squash
3 cups water
4 chicken bullion cubes
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 8oz package reduced fat cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

For Apple Topping

1 apple diced (I used a fuji apple)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut squash in half lengthwise.  Season with garlic salt and olive oil.  Place in a baking dish cut side down and fill dish with 1″ of water.

2.  Roast squash for 45 minutes or until soft and tender.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

3.  Once squash is cool enough to handle, remove skin, discard seeds and dice remaining squash.

4..  In a large saucepan, saute onions in margarine until tender. Add squash, water, bouillon, marjoram, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld.

5.  Puree squash and cream cheese using a hand blender until smooth.  Heat for 10 more minutes (do not boil).

Directions for Apple Topping

1.  In a small pan, heat butter until melted.

2.  Add apple and brown sugar.  Saute on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

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I’m Back!

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Huge apologies for being MIA this past week, but my computer that I’ve had since design school finally kicked it.  And by “kicked it” I mean that it took 90 minutes to resize 10 photos last week, I could feel my stomach ulcer attacking my insides and I was about to be hairless if I didn’t start PULLING OUT MY HAIR in frustration and stress.  I finally caved and got a brand spanking new computer that feels like absolute lightning and my life is complete again.  Transferring files, fonts and contents has been a bit of a process while trying to keep up with holiday madness already happening at work, but I’m back with some SUPER fun content lined up for this week and next.  I can’t wait to share :-)  Thanks for your patience!

PS: This image reminds me that my favorite time of the year is almost here, gets me excited to wrap presents for loved ones and gets my creative juices flowing.  Isn’t it so wonderfully simplistic and just perfect?! Image via.

Case of the Mondays

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Is it just me or did this feel like the shortest weekend ever?  A little housework, a short jog, some cooking/baking, HOMELAND (of course) and it was over in a snap.  It finally felt like fall yesterday and I was actually starting to feel warm, fuzzy and festive which has been tough with 80+ degree temps up until now.  This morning I woke up to find that a city of ants had somehow finagled their way in to my freshly baked carrot bread, dropped a nail polish in the bathroom that shattered everywhere subsequently destroyed my rug, favorite PJs and more…. and then spilled coffee all over myself enroute to the office.  Patience officially tested!

Here are a few things that are keeping me smiling on this *terrific* Monday morning:

-  This looks absolutely delicious – can’t wait to try it this week!
–  West Elm is having a sale (!) so I obviously had to take advantage.  Super excited about this coffee table that is currently on its way to my living room :-D
–  Oh and this lamp?  YES.  Reminds me of this one that Target didn’t order enough of has been out of since it hit shelves.
– I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with this scarf, but I love it.  Tassels for the win.
These earrings… say yes to mixed metals.

Hope your week is off to a great start!

Chardonnay + Cheese

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When I first started working for a wine company, I knew absolutely nothing about wine beyond the fact that I liked to drink it.  I had no formal education in wine and the extent of my experience with it was picking up the cheapest or prettiest + cheapest combination bottle in my local market.  Like a lot of early wine drinkers, I couldn’t differentiate between varietals, wasn’t quite sure which wines pair with what foods and couldn’t appreciate any of the complexities that I now seek in my fermented grapes.  While most of the people that work in our company don’t fall in the “wine snob” category, we still experience know-it-alls (or think they know-it-all) wine snobs at events and in meetings with buyers which makes the industry intimidating and honestly, annoying at times.  My personal opinion is that wine is a subjective experience that is supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be an experience.  Certain wines will enhance certain flavors in certain foods, but learning it through experience rather than studying wine notes from a book is really what this industry should be all about.  No two palates are the same and everyone is going to taste wine differently which is exactly what makes it so fun and personal.

This division of our company puts on wine tastings in the customer’s preferred setting of choice and while some of our reps have a ton of wine experience, many of them don’t and are eager to learn what to serve at their tastings and what favors are going to pair the best with each wine.  Last month our focus was Chardonnay so I had some serious fun putting together a cheese plate and easy apps that would be delicious with Chard.  I thought I’d pass it along just in case anyone is interested in learning more about what to pair with Chardonnay.  Check it out below :-)

CREATING THE PERFECT CHARDONNAY CHEESE PLATE

When you think of a wine party, the most obvious food pairing is cheese.  However, with Chardonnay, cheese isn’t always the easiest to pair with a varietal that has such incredible stylistic range.  While some chardonnays are extremely fruity and citrusy, others are oaky and buttery which can compete with the creamy cheeses you might initially think to pair with a white wine.  I explored a few different cheeses to find the best combination with our Chardonnay that offers a perfectly balanced profile of fruit and oak.  As told by our Sommelier:

With most Chardonnays, you get some green apple, a little citrus, and depending on the producer either no or tons of oak and malolactic fermentation to give it that buttered popcorn style. Our Chardonnay undergoes an extremely cold, slow fermentation that extracts tons of tropical fruit character out of this wine. Scents of pineapple, banana, white peach and pear jump out of the glass at me when I pour it. It spends about six months in American oak, but only 20% new oak. The rest of the barrels are all 2-3 years old so it is more for a textural component rather than making the wine overly oaky. You get some notes of vanilla and toasted coconut, but it is definitely in balance with the fruit character of the wine.

CHEESE: I sought to find the best cheese to pair with our style Chardonnay and found a few favorites: Mt. Tam, a brie-style triple cream crafted by Cowgirl Creamery in California.  Another favorite was Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar which is nutty in flavor and has a similar consistency to parmesan while being much more mild to taste – perfect for our style Chardonnay.  The two can be purchased in a set from Cowgirl Creamery that also includes and absolutely unbelievable Echo Mountain Blue Cheese (still delicious with our Chardonnay when drizzled in a little honey and perfect for the reds at your wine tasting tasting), or can be ordered individually as well.  If you’re looking for less expensive options, both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s offer a wide variety of double-triple cream, brie and mild-medium cheddar cheeses that will be perfect for pairing with Chardonnay.

OTHER BITES TO INCLUDE: In my opinion, creating the perfect cheese plate is all about striking a balance between cheeses and other small bites that enhance the flavors of your wine.  Some crackers and perhaps a loaf of fresh French Bread are key.  The fig spread and honey found in both our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages are essential for getting that sweeter balance and will make cheeses like a tangy blue cheese more approachable for those who might not love an extra sharp cheese on its own.  Figs are also particularly delicious with our Chardonnay and can be served with any cheese imaginable all the way from a creamy brie to an aged, extra sharp cheddar or parmesan.  An artichoke spread (also found in both our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages) offers a savory yet citrusy touch while olive oil is a natural pairing and will give your guests something light to dip their bread in when they’ve indulged in enough cheese ;-)

PS: From a gorgeous marble cheese board to honey, olive oil, salami, cheese knives, and more, our Wine & Cheese Party and Cheese Party Packages offer a one stop shop for all of the goodies you will need to create the perfect wine and cheese party.  Cheers!

DIY Fall Floral Arrangement

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You all know that I’m a flower fanatic so creating a fall floral arrangement could hardly be considered “work” ;-)  The trickiest part of this task was keeping it simple enough so that the arrangement could easily be replicated by a novice.  Since most of our reps in this program at work have little experience arranging florals, I needed to break this one down step by step so they could easily recreate it for their own party.  Flower arranging is really intimidating to a lot of people, but it’s really so much easier than most imagine until they see it broken down.  The trickiest part for me is learning the textures and strength of the stems/stalks so that you know just how much pressure you can use while arranging and finagling your flowers into your floral foam.  But once you’ve done a few, it’s really easy to get the hang of it.  I whipped up this beauty that would easily cost over $150 at a flower shop with less than $50 in under 30 minutes.  Since we were using the arrangement for our Pink Party, we wanted to keep with the theme, but also make it seasonal.  Outside of Breast Cancer Awareness, October is not a month that would traditionally make you think of pink, but with the addition of some orange and deep purple florals in combination with pink buds and fresh maple clippings, our arrangement was both perfectly pink while warm and seasonally appropriate for a cozy, fall wine tasting.

Supplies

Florals (see my list and tips below)
Oasis Floral Foam
Vessel
Floral Clippers/Pruners

Floral-Guide

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Tip: Almost every big city has a flower district where you will get the best deals on bulk florals.  A few quick google searches will lead you to yours.  If you live in a small town with no direct access to a flower mart, do some research on what you’re looking for and call your local florist to place you an order.  Also, use whatever florals you have around you. Have a tree changing colors in your yard?  Persimmons, Oranges or Artichokes?  Clip a few small branches or stalks and add them to your arrangement to cut down on cost and to keep your arrangement seasonal, textural and beautiful.

Instructions

1.  Pick your vessel.  Remember that big arrangements do not necessarily call for a big vase.  When you are using floral foam, you can position stems in from every direction and maximize the amount of space you have.  The arrangement we created is a medium/large size and we used a small vessel – a brass julip cup.

2.  Using a knife, cut your floral foam to fit snuggly inside. I like to press the foam to the vessel to get an outline of where to cut excess foam away.  You want to make sure that your foam does NOT move once it’s inside the vessel so start big and cut more away if needed.

3.  Fill your vessel with water.  Your foam will soak up a TON of water so make sure that you continue to let it soak in for a few minutes before you get to work and add water as your foam absorbs every drop in sight.

4.  ARRANGE!  There is no “right” way to arrange flowers, but I always start with my biggest floral or what will ultimately define how large the arrangement will be.  Since this arrangement was going to be large, loose, imperfect and “wildflower-esque” I started with the leaves and greenery to define how tall and wide I wanted the arrangement to be.  I positioned the left greens a little higher and the right greens a little lower to give it that imperfect and “freshly picked” feel.

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5.  Next, I added some celosia to give the arrangement some color and height.

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6.  Now that the back of the arrangement is filled in, it’s time to start adding some of the “wow” flowers or your showstoppers of the arrangement ;-)  Dahlias come into season in the late sumer/fall, are so beautiful and make such a big statement.  I added a few “dinner plate” dahlias in orange and then started filling in with smaller florals: plum colored dahlias and pink ranunculus.

Tip: you can always clip your florals shorter, but you can never make them longer.  To keep the arrangement fun, casual and wild, leave some stems on the longer side.  Don’t be afraid to group multiple of the same flower together either.  That helps add dimension and keeps the arrangement from looking too uniform and perfect.  

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7. Once you’ve used all of the “wow” flowers you can fit, add in some extra green clippings to break things up a bit.  I added some leaves as well as some extra celosia to pull things together and to make the arrangement look finished and picture perfect :-)

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8.  You did it!  Get ready for lots of compliments!

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PS: Don’t let any gorgeous florals go to waste.  We filled a pitcher with extra flowers and greens and utilized some on the backdrop behind our wine display too.

DIY Floral Ice Cubes

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I’ve been dying for a reason to make floral ice cubes for a while now and our Pink Party seemed like the best excuse to finally pull it off.  To be honest, they’re a little annoying to make and take quite some time, but the results are so darn cute and girly that I’d be lying if I said I would never make them again.  I don’t have any pictures of the process, but it’s pretty self explanatory, so I’m sure you’ll do just fine figuring it out ;-)

Supplies

Ice Cube Tray (any will work, but we used this one to make larger cubes)
Edible flowers or fruit (we ordered edible flowers from here)
A kettle to boil your water

Instructions

1.  With edible florals, you’ll want to order them 2-3 days ahead of time.  I used this company and because the flowers are perishable, they overnighted them to us.  I ordered on a Monday, they arrived that Wednesday and they’re hands down the best deal out there.  There were a few companies that charge literally $75 for the same thing.  Do not use them – ever.

2.  In a kettle, boil your water and let it cool (I stuck ours in the freezer to expedite the cooling process – but don’t let it freeze).  Once the water has cooled, boil the water a second time and let it cool completely.  Boiling the water twice helps eliminate tiny air bubbles and minerals that will make your ice appear white when it freezes.  Crystal clear ice will help show off your pretty flowers ;-)

3.  While water is boiling or cooling, remove any greens from your flowers.  The greens are edible, but I found that they turned our ice cubes slightly green on our first try – oops!

4.  Put a few flowers into the bottom of your ice cub tray and fill with 1/4″ water.  Freeze water.

5.  Once the water has frozen, layer some more flowers on top of the ice and fill your trays with remaining water and freeze.

6.  When your ice cubes are completely solid, remove them from the tray, place in a glass and serve with an ice cold beverage immediately.  Enjoy!

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