Category Archives: Our Favorite Things

This Crazy, Beautiful Life

My seven-year-old daughter was given a homework assignment to complete over the winter break. She was asked to reflect on her greatest accomplishments of 2016 and develop a list of goals for the coming year.

Well, with a trip to Spain over the holidays, her homework was pushed aside until the very last moment. As the clock ticked away the final hours of our vacation, my daughter frantically picked up her sparkly blue pencil and rushed to work. Her answers were honest and, even with the time crunch, contemplative. She was proud of several successes in 2016: how hard she had worked in school and the fact that she had begun reading chapter books; her commitment to ballet and gymnastics which kept her active and strong throughout the year; and her go-with-the-flow attitude which served her well as she traveled to new places, making friends along the way. Her hopes for 2017 were simple, yet earnest: audition for a role in the Nutcracker ballet; read 9 books a day; learn more about animals and science so she may become a veterinarian one day; and continue to spend time with her two favorite people, mom and dad. That one was my favorite, of course.

I found her assignment inspiring. My daughter was setting goals based on her interests and growth over the previous year. She approached the exercise from a place of abundance. Oftentimes, as adults we start the new year reflecting on our perceived deficiencies – I need to do more of this, loose some of that – be different than who I am today. It is too bad, because a long the way we forget to build upon the unique strengths we already possess. And wouldn’t that be a kinder way to enter a new year?

Taking a cue from my little one, I’ve decided to use 2017 as an opportunity to set a very personal goal focused on that which I value most in this world. My family.

My goal for 2017:

Simple. I will continue to prioritize my family above all else. We will go sledding when it snows, spend Sundays making messy art projects, plant our vegetable garden in spring, travel over holiday breaks, and invite more friends into our home. We won’t wait for moments to celebrate, instead we will celebrate the little moments. And I will continue to share them here. I am also using our crazy, beautiful life as the inspiration for a book about family traditions that I will complete this year.

Dear 2016: you weren’t the easiest year – we had our ups and downs. But in the end, I thank you for the time and the tremendous memories. Here are some of my favorites…

Mara
Mara enjoying public art in Montreal
Hello Kitty
Our little one eyeing up the treats in China Town
Family Time in Nature
Enjoying a nature hike through Milwaukee’s botanical gardens
Riding the Waves
Aunt Masha and Uncle Seth taking our daughter for a ride on Lake Tahoe
Wading in the Water
Our little one braving the cold Tahoe water
A case of the sillies
My mother and brother sharing a moment in San Francisco
mara-seth
Celebrating my brother’s wedding in New Orleans
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Witnessing the most beautiful wedding of 2016
Kevin
Speaking of weddings, celebrating 12 years of marriage with the love of my life
Arc de Triomf in Barcelona
Spending the holidays in Barcelona
Playground 1
Enjoying a small park in Spain

My family was the inspiration for starting this blog. Entertaining Family allows me to document our adventures and the nuggets of wisdom we learn along the way. Writing about the people in my life brings me joy and I am so grateful to have a place to share my reflections. Thank you for sharing this space with me.

 

Our Favorite Things – Pimm’s Summer Cup

The first time I visited the UK was early June of 1995. The weather was lovely and sunny but not especially warm. The friends I was visiting warned me that “summer” can be a relative term in the British Isles and to be prepared for anything. I packed accordingly (layers!) and spent a couple of beautiful summer weeks exploring the south of England and Wales.

One memorable day was spent in Bath. After touring the Roman sites and then listening to an extraordinary impromptu concert in the courtyard of Bath Abbey, we stopped for lunch at a small cafe. Our server, upon hearing me chatting, declared that an American her first trip abroad should drink something quintessentially British. Before I knew it there was a summer cup in my hand (and shortly thereafter a Bass ale, etc!).

Pimm’s is a gin based liqueur that tastes of citrus and spice with botanical notes. If you’re wondering about the exact ingredients don’t bother Googling the recipe. The formula is a well kept secret. I think it tastes a little like bitters but sweeter and smoother, though definitely not cloying. It has an alcohol content of about 25% so it retains a lot of flavor without an overpowering alcohol taste.

Much like the Mint Julep is the signature drink of the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s is regularly served at events like Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Show. I’ve never seen one on a menu in my town – which is a shame because it’s a refreshing and unique drink that would make a great addition to a summer cocktail list. A quick internet search will yield dozens of recipes with a variety of ingredients to make the “perfect” cup. Try mine, or another that catches your eye and enjoy!

Pimm’s Summer Cup

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Fill a tumbler half-full with ice

Add 2 oz. Pimm’s

Finish with sparkling lemonade

Garnish with mint leaves and slices of strawberry and seedless cucumber

Variations

Substitute club soda, ginger ale, Sprite or Prosecco

For the garnish, try lemons, limes or oranges. Raspberries or blackberries make tasty additions as well.

Our Favorite Things – A Christmas Tree Trimming Tradition

christmas 78_editedChristmas tree trimming night has always been an event in my family. When I was growing up my parents would buy an enormous tree that took up an entire corner (or sometimes half!) of the living room. Together we would lovingly unwrap all the ornaments and recall the stories behind them as we decorated the tree. We each had our favorites: ones we made, ones given to us by our grandparents, ones that made us laugh. Before I was born my Dad made a felt frog for my sisters – it’s just a head with legs and a big pair of red lips. It’s hilarious and only Dad can hang the frog in a designated “place of honor”.

My parents would tell us about the ones they made when they were first married, and the few from their own childhood Christmas trees – delicate wartime ornaments that were always put up high as protection against the inevitable bumps the tree would endure. Each one represented a part of our family’s story. And once it was completed, lit with many strings of colored lights, heavy with ornaments, glass icicles, and the angel sitting proudly on the top, it was a chronicle of our lives. It was a tree full of memories – pieces of each of us to see and cherish during our favorite time of year.

This looks like a picture of Christmas familial bliss and harmony. We did have a happy family but let me assure you that we were a “real” family and not every moment was bliss. Not even the magical wonder of Christmastime could stop my sisters from their sisterly bickering. They were notorious for arguments over what ornament to hang where, who got the ladder first, etc. I am 10 years their junior so I was usually found covering my ears and yelling at them to stop yelling.

My Dad (badly outnumbered by four females and smart enough to know when to retreat) would put on the lights, his frog, and then make his way to the kitchen. There he would whip up a batch of his and my Mother’s special Tree Trimming Night cocktail, Brandy Alexanders. My sisters and I enjoyed the NA version: deluxe ice cream Alexanders that were basically chocolate shakes with nutmeg.

Our recipe differs from a traditional Brandy Alexander in that it has ice cream instead of half and half and is made in a blender. You can make it strong or not so strong, depending on your taste. The one-to-one ratio of Brandy to Crème de Cacao is a generally good rule of thumb.

Whether it’s for tree trimming night or any festive gathering this holiday, this is a delicious cocktail and something a little different from the usual winter repertoire of eggnog, mulled wine and punch. But whatever your chosen libations may be, please always drink responsibly.

Brandy Alexanders

1/2 cup Ice cubes

2 cups Vanilla Ice Cream

2 oz Brandy

2 oz Crème de Cacao

1/2 tsp Grated Nutmeg

Add ice to blender and roughly chop. Then add ice cream, Brandy and Crème de Cacao. Blend until smooth. Add more ice if too thick. Serve in tall glasses with a generous sprinkle of nutmeg on top. Makes 2-3 servings

Ice Cream Alexanders

2 cups Vanilla Ice Cream

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, to taste

1/2 tsp. Grated Nutmeg

Blend ice cream and chocolate syrup until smooth. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Makes 2 servings.

Traditional Brandy Alexander

According to DrinksMixer.com, a traditional Brandy Alexander is a fairly stiff cocktail made in a shaker.

2 oz Brandy
2 oz Dark Crème de Cacao
2 oz Half-and-Half
1/2 tsp Grated Nutmeg

In a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, combine the brandy, crème de cacao, and half and half. Shake well. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the nutmeg. Makes 2 servings.

Our Favorite Things: Vegan Holiday Kitchen

As a vegan, I used to feel left out of holiday dinner celebrations. For years, my family would meet at a gorgeous lakefront restaurant for Thanksgiving. There were tables filled with turkey, turkey gravy, butter-laden mashed potatoes, stuffing with bacon…and side salad, oh thank goodness! Ranch dressing? You gotta be kidding me….

Conversely, some of my friends used to think who the heck wants to go to a vegan Thanksgiving? That just doesn’t sound….traditional…or good for that matter. Tofu, salad, and beans? You gotta be kidding me….

But times have changed and culinary creativity has blossomed. In our home, we find a way to accommodate multiple diets. By choosing seasonal, wholesome ingredients, we can make everyone happy.

This year my brother will be roasting Cornish game hens for the meat eaters and I will make a chestnut, sweet potato and sage tart for the vegans and vegetarians. We will also be sharing some really special vegan dishes from Vegan Holiday Kitchen by Nava Atlas.

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I recommend this book for vegan entertainers…and those who entertain vegans. The dishes are flavorful, well balanced, and easy to make.

Vegan Holiday Kitchen is organized by, you guessed it, holiday! And it starts with my favorite – Thanksgiving. It also includes Christmas, Hanukkah, Passover and Easter, to name a few.

The pages are full of mouthwatering dishes like Spiced Vegetable Peanut Soup, Sweet Potato Biscuits, and Hearty Lentil and Mushroom Shepherd’s Pie.

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Today the world offers a lot of really wonderful resources for vegans. This book is one of them. Along with tasty recipes, there are gorgeous photos and interesting reflections on holiday traditions.

That’s what makes Vegan Holiday Kitchen one of our Favorite Things.

Our Favorite Things – Viognier Wine

viognierViognier (pronounced Vee-yoh-N’YAY) is my favorite white wine. This stunning varietal originates in the Northern Rhône valley of France and was brought to the United States by American growers in the 1980’s. It has since found increased popularity with varieties being produced in North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and beyond. While visiting Door County, Wisconsin this summer I was delighted to find a bottle from a local vineyard.

Viognier has distinctive stone fruit flavors with delicate floral aromas. Notes of apricot, peach, citrus and violet combined with honey and herbal undertones make it a rich and lushly flavored wine. It is generally low-acid and lingers beautifully on the palate. Neither too sweet nor too dry, I heard it once described as the “love child of a Chardonnay and Riesling”. It is a perfect accompaniment to lighter fare or dessert, or to just sip and savor. Prices can vary from $12 to $100 a bottle and even higher. I’ve tasted Viognier from both ends of the price spectrum and found them all to be satisfying. If you’ve never enjoyed this lovely wine I highly recommend giving it a try.

Our Favorite Things: The Yellow Table

The Yellow Table Supper Club

As a woman who loves to host gatherings for family and friends, I am always on the lookout for fabulous ideas. One of my favorite places to go for inspiration is the Yellow Table blog written by Anna Watson Carl, an incredible talent. Her site is filled with beautiful photos, useful tips and delicious recipes! But what I love most of all is her casual, laid-back writing style, which makes her seem like a long-time friend.

Watson Carl recently took the all of the creativity, fun and finesse found throughout her blog and channeled it into a cookbook called The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings. Now she is teaming up with Whole Foods on a new project, The Yellow Table Supper Club, which encourages all of us to host more gatherings around the dinner table. Visit her site for all of the exciting details!

As you know, my passion is bringing people together to savor the simple pleasures in life. Anna Watson Carl certainly shares this love, and that’s why her blog, the Yellow Table, is one of our favorite things!

{Photo from The Yellow Table}

Our Favorite Things: Oil and Vinegar from Oro di Oliva

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Some people enjoy wine bars or beer tastings, I love a visit to Oro di Oliva for fine olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The balsamics are offered in white, wine, and dark varieties. There are sublime flavors like Fig, Black Currant, and Espresso along with unique combinations of Blackberry Ginger, Lemongrass Mint, and Cranberry Pear. The extra virgin olive oils are seasonal and their country of origin varies throughout the year depending on where crops are flourishing. When paired with balsamics, the special flavored oils such as Lemon, Herbes de Provence or Chipotle create a bouquet of taste and add depth to dishes.

Customers are encouraged to sample all the offerings and knowledgeable staff are happy to suggest pairings and recipe ideas. The benefits of olive oil and vinegar are widely acknowledged so any choice is a healthy and delicious one.

Oro di Oliva has four locations in the greater Milwaukee area as well as on-line ordering.