Grace will be two at the end of this month. I can’t remember a faster two years.
Nor can this guy.
Grace had a few special requests for her family party this weekend and we were glad to oblige.
The guest list had to include Baby Nick, Clark and Uncle Zach.
We would listen to “Michael Jackson! Michael Jackson!” music.
There would be balloons.
We would eat a Gaston happy cake (they’re like regular cakes, only happier).
She may have a future in event planning.
Grace’s 2nd birthday party
I think I need to ask for a less freaky hand for my birthday.
The weather cooperated (sorry, mid-Atlantic states), but unfortunately cold season kept a few family members home. We missed them and made sure to save them some cake (but I might eat it…).
We kept the menu simple, mostly because nothing could top the Gaston cake. Gaston is one of Grace’s favorite books (it’s about a family of poodles and a family of Frenchies), and the folks at Sweet Tooth bakery in Southie did an incredible job recreating the cover.
Cheese and herb flatbread
Italian turkey meatballs (this was semi-traumatic for my vegetarian self, but I thought they’d be a crowd pleaser and I am trying to branch out a bit when cooking for everyone else… even if that means simply heating frozen ballz from Whole Foods in our crockpot… baby steps)
I photocopied a page from my sketchbook (all little drawings of Gaston characters) and used those images for food labels. Grace helped me make a few decorations over the past month or so, including a giant two and some not-so-giant party hats.
We had our loved ones there to celebrate with, balloons to play with, Michael Jackson to listen to, and plenty of cake to enjoy. So by Grace’s standards (and mine), this was the perfect 2nd birthday party.
In the spirit of honesty, these onion tartlets take closer to fifteen minutes to make… but ten minutes sounds better.
Caramelized onion tartlets with feta and thyme
Makes approximately 12 mini tarts, vegetarian (contains dairy and gluten)
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil or butter
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 package of frozen mini phyllo dough shells (I keep a few packages of these shells in our freezer — they are fully baked and just need to be reheated, a lazy woman’s dream)
Remove phyllo shells from freezer and follow directions for thawing (or baking, if necessary)
Heat oil or butter in a large skillet and saute onions for 5-7 minutes, stirring often, until caramelized
Remove onions from heat and add to large bowl with feta and thyme; mix and set aside
Arrange shells on a rimmed baking dish
Fill each shell with the onions, feta and thyme and bake according to package directions (for these, I baked them at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes)
These little guys can be served hot or cold and are one of my favorite appetizers to make and share. The filling can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated. While you’re at it, you may want to make a big batch of caramelized onions (Julie wrote a great “how to” post that includes 16 different ways to use caramelized onions).
Some things you want to keep secret. Like, say… surprise party plans. Or the fact that you have owned a home for nearly four years and still don’t know how to clean an oven. Other things, like a fail-proof recipe for a delicious roasted sweet potato salad, are too good to be kept under wraps.
Vegan roasted sweet potato salad (gluten free)
Serves: 10 – 12 people
6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped across the rib
2 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, raisins or currants
1/2 cup red onion, diced
Salt and pepper
Preheat your (recently cleaned?) oven to 350 degrees F.
Toss sweet potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on a rimmed baking sheet.
Cook sweet potatoes until they are fork tender and slightly brown (stir occasionally) – approximately 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix celery, cranberries (or your choice of dried fruit – I’ve used both raisins and currants), and red onion in a large serving bowl.
Once sweet potatoes are sufficiently cooked, mix them with other ingredients and top with green onions.
Notes: This dish can be served warm or cold, and keeps well for up to three days in an air tight container, refrigerated (obvi). Feel free to play around with other spices and seasonings. I personally live to season everything with Old Bay, but am not certain everyone shares my love for the OB. Got leftover sweet potatoes? Why not whip up Alex’s spicy sweet potato lentil burgers?
While putting together the menu for Andrea’s shower, I found a few great ideas on the time vortex that is Pinterest, but didn’t want my sister to know what I was planning. Ever the schemer, I created a secret board for keeping my ideas organized (and secret). One secret board turned into two, two into three… and well, you get the picture.
How to create secret Pinterest boards
Secret Pinterest boards come in handy when planning holiday gifts, gathering ideas for blog posts, or pinning chores that — as a 31 year old — you should know how to do without the guidance of the Internet. They are only visible to you (unless you invite friends to collaborate — perfect for fellow bridesmaids and other co-conspirators), and appear at the bottom of your screen of boards.
To add your own secret board, simply click on “create a board,” as you normally would.
… and be sure to select “secret” before saving changes.
Two easy steps and you’re officially a secret (…Pinterest board) agent. All I ask is that you don’t keep any tasty recipes to yourself.
I had to take a little hiatus from The Weekend According to Instagram, mostly because I avoided Instagram and limited most forms of communicating with strangers online for the past two weeks, so as to not ruin the surprise part of my sister’s surprise shower. (That was a long sentence. I am making up for lost time posts.)
I bet it was a lot easier to surprise people before electricity was invented.
Somehow, though, we pulled it off. But not without a lot of lying. A lot. Lies and surprises go hand in hand, I am learning. I’ll tell you all about the food (complete with a recipe for roasted sweet potato salad) and decorations later this week, but first I need to come clean.
Lies I told my sister during the past 24-48 hours:
We are going to surprise you for your bachelorette, but your shower is going to be the last weekend in April.
I am stressed out (at this point, semi-not a lie, but mostly a lie) and can’t make it to our cousin’s shower (which is where she thought she was going yesterday) so Dad is going to pick you up.
Someone (I think I specifically said “an idiot”… so I not only lied, but was mean) accidentally posted about your surprise bachelorette on Facebook, so please don’t log into your account. Ever again. (In reality, multiple people posted about my cousin’s actual shower, thus threatening to topple our very delicately built house of lies.)
I am at my office and I am very stressed out. (I was at my parents’ house, unpacking glitter and cupcakes.)
And when she texted to say she was on her way to my office to surprise me with tea: I, um… am still stressed out but I just left my office.
I will talk to you tomorrow (or in an hour, when you arrive at your own shower) and yes, I will download that stress management app you recommended.
I was so relieved when Andrea finally walked through that door. Who needs a stress relief app when you have that smile to look at? She is going to be the most beautiful bride. Being her sister really has been the joy of my life. And that’s no lie.
I was thrilled with Alex reached out with what follows. We met at last year’s Healthy Living Summit and I’ve been smitten with her blog (and her lovely self) ever since. Please enjoy her stunning photographs and delicious recipe, and be sure to head over to Alex Eats Green for more of the same. xoxo Gossip Girl Elizabeth
Spicy sweet potato lentil burgers
Hi guys! My name is Alex, and I’m over at Alex Eats Green, where I blog about being a vegetarian. Recipes, daily eating and restaurant reviews are all included in the fun, but it’s also a lot of photos of my good looking friends. Elizabeth was crazy kind enough to pass over the reins to me so that I could share this delicious burger recipe with you.
Even before I went green, I was never the biggest fan of the burger. Growing up, I was definitely always a hot dog girl; all the bacon, blue cheese, and caramelized onions couldn’t change that. But now that I’m a vegetarian, burgers are a whole new ball game. The possibilities for combinations truly are endless: beet, bean, quinoa oh my and more.
Each month, myself and a few friends get together to share our most recent life happenings. I was in charge of dinner for the most recent one (…you know where I’m going with this one), and I knew that the perfect companion to our conversations/giggling would be these burgers.
I like them for a few reasons: they’re easy to dress up – you can get creative with the toppings, and make them as fancy or low key as you wish. I also like knowing exactly what is going into my burger, which can’t really be said for most veggie burgers that you pull out of your frozen foods aisle. And finally, they’re sweet potato burgers! You would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t enjoy what is essentially sweet potatoes on bread. Am I right, or am I right?
You’re sure to impress at any BBQ, monthly dinner, bookclub, or just yourself with this recipe. Enjoy!
Spicy Sweet Potato Lentil Burgers
1 cup dry green or red lentils (I used green split pea)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1-2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper and mixed Italian herbs (each)*
4-5 small organic sweet potatoes, baked, peeled, mashed
1-2 cups fresh or frozen spinach or kale
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp. olive oil or parchment paper
Mashed Avocado Topper
1 large avocado
1 – 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
Optional: Add micro greens, sliced red onion, yogurt, or cheese!
*a note about the spices – I basically put every spice I had in my cabinet into this mixture. Feel free to take some liberties on the varieties/amount of spice, but the spices listed above is a good place to start.
Combine lentils in large soup pot. Add enough water to cover about 3 inches above lentils. Boil until lentils are very tender, about 45 mins – 1 hour. Drain water from lentils. Transfer lentils to a large bowl and cool.
Add the seasonings to the lentils. Stir with lentils until well blended. Cover lentils and set aside.
Slice sweet potatoes in half, and bake at 375 degrees. Cool, peel, and coarsely mash. Add mashed potatoto lentil mixture and mix well.
Chop kale or spinach then add to mixture. If using frozen spinach, squeeze out as much water as possible. Add 1/2 cup breadcrumbs to mixture (more if you still feel that the consistency is too sticky)
Using a spoon or both hands, form mixture into balls and then flatten. Press breadcrumbs lightly onto patties. Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes. Don’t skip this step!
After chilling, freeze any burgers that you want to save for later.
To cook burgers, heat in non-stick pan with small amount of olive oil for about 5 minutes or baked in oven on parchment paper until hot and crispy at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Flip over at the half-way point.
For more food fun, and general ramblings about life as a vegetarian, come follow along at Alex Eats Green. Thanks for having me, Elizabeth!
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]Plenty of things in life are difficult. Snacking with friends shouldn’t be one of them.
A tiny and a huge caprese bite for Tina‘s tinyHUGE party
With the weather being just lovely lately (I like the blistering heat almost as much as the recent cool down), there’s no better place to be than up on the roof with a carafe of wine, crisp vegetables, fresh berries and a good wedge of brie. Oh, and– most importantly– a pal or two.
When it comes to summer entertaining, I like to keep things easy. No utensils, no cooking, no frills.
Glass isn’t allowed by our condo association’s pool, so I’ve been using a shatterproof acrylic carafe to transport adult beverages. It looks rather shady, but it gets the job done.
Washing and cutting vegetables and portioning them in packable containers at the beginning of the week saves time, and ensures you have healthy snacks at the ready.
A bit of variety ensures there’s something everyone will like, but I try not to go overboard. Something sweet, something salty, something gluten free, and something not. That’s my pool snack M.O.
Beach towels make great table cloths. And they keep your toes warm when the sun sets. Aaaand they soak up spilled wine.
Keeping food finger-friendly equates to less waste (no need for plates or forks). Besides, tiny things are just plain cute.
The best part about easy summer entertaining? No need to decorate when you’ve got views like this, captured on my iPhone (no filter, just Mother Nature putting on a show).
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]It seems fitting that the planet (our corner of it, at least) is getting some much needed rain for Earth Day. Clark and I enjoyed a nice, long walk in the mist this morning before curling up on the sofa for a day of reading, folding laundry, and getting ready for the B’s game (come on, boys!).
Yesterday’s game didn’t go as we had hoped, but we still had a good time cheering on the black and gold with Nick’s brother Mike, and my lovely friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth provided her unmatched knowledge of the team, as well as various good luck tokens, including a piece of glass from last year’s Stanley Cup final. I made sure we had snacks.
I’ve been sticking to my low FODMAP diet as closely as possible, while giving myself a little wiggle room on days like yesterday (a little bit of bread, and a touch of garlic). I’m half-way through the four week process, and looking forward to figuring out what to eliminate for good. Amid the snacks, we made room on the table for a springy centerpiece.
There was plenty of yelling, cheering, and groaning as the Captials topped the Bruins with just over a minute left to play. While killing time before today’s must-win game, Nick and I checked out Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist. It was very interesting, if not more than a little upsetting.
I am fascinated by Paul Watson, The Sea Shephard Conservation Society and their tactics. Are they controversial? Most definitely. They have done well to bring media attention to whaling, seal clubbing, drift net fishing, and other serious issues, though. It seems we still have a long way to go to protect our planet and all its inhabitants.
There are two (possibly more… maybe, like, six or seven) things in the Universe that I know almost nothing about. Football and the much buzzed about “paleo diet” are two such things. What do you do when you’re totally out of the loop? Throw a (very exclusive small) party. And pretend you know what you’re talking about. With the New England Patriots playing the Denver Broncos in some sort of playoff game, and Nick participating in a paleo challenge at his Crossfit box (in normal human language, that’s a gym), the need for a get together seemed obvious. Helloooo, paleo and Patriots… they both start with p. (I am pathetic. That’s another p word.)
Though I aspire to eat as thoughtfully as my fiance does, sometimes I’d rather just eat nachos and call it a night. And I am fairly certain I would be the first member of the tribe to go extinct were I living in caveman times. I’d much prefer a blade of grass over a wooly mammoth leg, or whatever. While the paleo diet may not be for me, I’m usually up for something new. Especially if it involves feeding people.
A Paleo diet, also known as paleolithic diet or caveman diet, is all about natural foods to help achieve great health and a perfect physique. The human body evolved for more than 2 million years with the food found in nature: game meat, fish, vegetables, wild fruits, eggs and nuts. The human race was thriving on this diet high in animal fat and proteins and low in carbohydrates, but things changed when we introduced unnatural foods to our bodies.
Clark thinks he invented paleo. He’s like, “Dude. I’ve been eating fresh vegetables and nasty ass raw bones since you got me. If you’d let me forage for berries and magic mushrooms, I would. Old news. Give me a grain-free treat.” So sassy, that one (in my imagination, at least). Needless to say, I have a lot to learn.
Meanwhile, anything I know about football I learned from watching my younger brother play. And from listening to sports radio during my measly commute. Driving home earlier this week, a caller mentioned a poll running on the Denver Post’s website asking readers, “Whose life would you rather live: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s or Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s?” Is it wrong that I would rather be Tim Tebow? Man Uggs, Super Bowl rings, ponytails and supermodel wives are all well and good… but, um… no thanks. I am easily overwhelmed.
Being easily overwhelmed seemed like a perfectly good reason to hand off (hey, that’s sort of a football phrase) the paleo chicken wing responsibilities to Nick. Being a vegetarian who has undercooked meat on more than one occassion is an equally valid reason. I stuck to less terrifying recipes, ones that bore a lower risk of me giving away botulism:
Paleo “sushi” (hollowed cucumbers stuffed with sliced turkey and avocado)
In addition to the wings, Nick also whipped up paleo-friendly margaritas and cantaloupe with prosciutto. He has also perfected a delicious granola recipe that includes pepitas, almonds, sunflower seeds, and coconut. It makes the perfect football snack. Our friends Tina and Mal joined us for the game, and brought the most delicious spinach dip, along with fresh vegetables and veggie chips. The four six of us (Frenchie and pug included) always have such a great time together.
When it was all said and done, the Patriots won quite definitively and the paleo-inspired food seemed to be touchdown dance-worthy. I am beginning to wonder if Clark those cavemen and women were on to something. On second though, those suckers didn’t have stoves. Or sports radio. Or mascara.
I think I have had a life-crush on Martha Stewart ever since I knew she existed. Truly. I don’t really even mind the insider trading thing, because well… I love a comeback. Do I think it’s unseemly to know right from wrong, and still do wrong? Absolutely. But who can deny the majesty of this “simple” wreath chandelier? Or the perfect presentation of desserts set out for expected carolers?
Not me. While I would love to entertain for a living, I sort of need to make a living in order to entertain. I don’t have a team of stylists. I do have a dog that likes to decorate the condo with various half-chewed stuffed animals when we have company, but no… no team of stylists. I can’t pay chefs to cook lavish meals for in-home dinner parties, and the closest I’ve come to having someone food shop for me is Peapod (a veritable life-saver when there’s a blizzard pending and you’re nearly out of TP). I have never successfully sewn a pair of boiled wool slippers for my every member of my family, though I did successfully print Martha’s handy templates. That has to count for something.
While it’s unlikely I will ever become Martha Stewart, Jr. (I’ve heard the name change process is a real bore, plus I rather like the new last name that’s waiting for me in November 2012), and it’s equally unlikely that I will have her resources at my disposal, a girl can dream… And then wake up, use what resources and creativity and flair she does have, and throw a damn good party. Or decorate a damn lovely condo. Or bake a damn tasty cake.
I don’t know why I just said damn three times. Probably for emphasis. Did it work? Entertaining is not just for the Marthas of the world. It’s also for mortals like you and me. Want to know how I trick people into thinking I have my act together? Too bad. I’m going to tell you anyway.
Set the stage
Every Wednesday this Advent, I’ve hosted faith sharing for fellow Jesuit grads. If that sounds interesting to you, I’d be happy to elaborate. If you now think I am a crazy Christian, I’m happy to affirm your thoughts. ‘Tis the season for giving, after all! Back to Wednesdays. Our group arrives at my condo just before 7. I rarely get out of work before 6. My commute is usually painless, but every once in a while, the person ahead of me forgets how to drive. I try not to give people the aggressive horn toot on my way to pray, but um… sometimes it just happens. I’m often left with all of 20 minutes to make sure our condo is guest-ready, set out food and drinks, find matches (I can’t talk about God without candles. Just kidding. Kind of.), put my face back on, and turn my work-brain off. The key here is planning ahead. And having a fiance who can field my panicked “I am stuck in a meeting and I forgot to vacuum” phone calls.
It’s no secret that I am list obsessed. When it comes to entertaining, I have this one memorized and use it for brunches, neighborhood Cinco de Mayo parties, and Yankee swaps with my best pals.
They’ll be here any minute andthis place looks, um… lived in!
Empty the trash barrels
Wipe down the counters and sinks
Light candles and safely dispose of the matches
Turn on the electric fireplace
Herd Clark’s rogue toys
Set out plates, glasses and napkins
Fluff the cushions on the sofa, and bust out the Scotch fur fighter
Dust and vacuum, if necessary and time allows
This whole process rarely takes more than 10 minutes (when we live in a sprawling mansion, I anticipate it may take longer), and keeps me just busy enough to gain some mental distance between my work day and what lies ahead. Survey your home and prioritize before you turn into a cleaning machine. Think about the places people actually notice. Just last week, someone commented on how clean our bathroom was. If that person had stepped foot in my shower, or poked their head under my sink, I imagine they may have felt differently. People will likely not open your dryer, or duck into your closet, so rather than fold your laundry and organize your shoe rack, spend those minutes tidying your living room.
I would be a hot mess if I didn’t have a timeline in mind. If I have more than 20 minutes, that timeline almost always includes 19 minutes for freaking out when I burn something in the oven. I make sure that if I need to get dressed or changed, this is not the last thing I do. Inevitably people show up early, and no one wants to be greeted by my 11 year old Boston College tee shirt with the gaping hole in the armpit. Once I am feeling presentable, I might pour myself a beverage, or dance around a bit to my favorite jam of the moment. A relaxed hostess makes for comfortable guests. A drunk hostess likely has the opposite effect, but that’s a different post for a different day.
Decor need not be a chore. A vase or two of simply arranged flowers goes a long way. Three of my current favorites: a bouquet of kale, a tall vase of white tulips, or a few branches of holly.
Keep food simple, but special
When it comes to food, I’ve mastered a few dishes that take minimal effort, but are just special enough to impress and can be presented in a fun way. Appetizers and desserts are key here. I love hosting casual gatherings where you don’t necessarily sit down for a “real” meal. Mostly because the last time we did that, I undercooked the chicken breast (what’s a vegetarian to do?) and nearly killed Nick, my brother, and my sister-in-law. Still sorry about that.
Many of these snacks can be made the night before, or are easily prepped. I like to keep our kitchen stocked with many of the necessary ingredients on hand, just in case the Pope or my sister drops by. Pre-baked phyllo shells were a genius invention. Same goes for those little loaves of bread. It may be because I am a shorty, but I always gravitate towards miniatures.
Fresh vegetables are an easy fix, especially when coupled with a Greek yogurt dip containing every single spice in our cabinet, and every herb in our refrigerator. That keeps people guessing. Oh, and cheese. Who doesn’t love an artfully arranged plate of cheeses? Someone I don’t want to know, that’s who (I make exceptions for people who are vegan or lactose intolerant, obvi.).
Pop that Crystal. Or the $9.99 Prosecco.
When it comes to beverages, I have one word for you: bubbles. Bubbles make everything more festive. Nothing says, “Oh maaaaaaan, am I having a good time!” quite like a glass of Prosecco, or perhaps some sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice. As a regular on the designated driver circuit, I always appreciate when tap water is not the only alcohol alternative.
Speaking of designated driving, if you’d like an early Christmas gift, remind me to tell you about the time I was the DD at Nick’s fraternity formal. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll nominate me for sainthood.
Keep a stash. Of cute paper goods.
I tend to keep the presentation clean and simple, using a big ol’ white platter and matching plates. We have a little stash of fun napkins and paper plates and the like tucked away in one cabinet. Homegoods is a goldmine when it comes to cute, inexpensive cocktail napkins (imagine the things I would know if my brain weren’t full of thoughts like that one?). In a perfect world, I would use recyclable cloth napkins and strictly bamboo plates. But, um… this isn’t a perfect world. Sorry, Al Gore.
We keep platters, bowls, a cheese board, extra vases and other items we use almost exclusively for entertaining in that same cabinet. It’s like one stop shopping. Except that it’s free, and the inventory never changes.
Play it cool.
The bottom line is this: I’m not Martha. I’m Elizabeth. My friends come over to hang out with me, not a lifestyle mogul (likely because she won’t return their calls either). Entertaining, decorating, cooking, baking, playlist making, and mood setting are things I love to do. If you’re having fun, you’re likely doing a good job, right? Just be cool. And in the words of my kindergarten teacher, be yourself. Nobody likes an imposter… even one that can turn a wreath into a chandelier. For the record: I haven’t tried. Yet.
[tweetmeme source=”elizabethev” only_single=false]The herb, not the lady. (Though I’m sure that, if you know someone named Rosemary, she’s lovely too.) My parents sent me and my sister back to the city after Thanksgiving dinner with a potted rosemary plant for each of us, and the thing seems to be getting bigger and bigger. Much to my delight. There is no such thing as too much rosemary. Same goes for mascara, but that’s a different post altogether. There are a million and one uses for this lovely herb, and I intend to partake in all million in one. Starting with a zingy dip. And ending with a wreath that may take a decade to complete.
Fresh rosemary dip
Before heading to my parents’ house for the holiday, I whipped up a bit of a ‘hmmm… let us see what’s left in the ‘fridge‘ dip, grabbing garlic, fresh lemons, and what herbs we had in the ‘fridge. I combined some baby dill with a heaping amount of (you guessed it… and if you didn’t… well, that’s okay too) fresh rosemary, juice from half a lemon, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a pinch of cayenne and blended for 30 seconds in the food processor before adding 1.5 cups of Greek yogurt (I used Stonyfield Organic). Delicious, with just the right amount of kick. Or zing. Or ka-pow, whichever you prefer.
Sweet outdoor centerpieces
It was a bit to cold to eat outside on Thanksgiving (meanwhile, it is now December 6th and approaching 65 degrees in Boston) , but my parents dressed the table on their deck just in case anyone was feeling brave. I loved the pairing of mason jars and clay potted rosemary. Tasty and beautiful? That’s quite a multitasking herb. I am hoping my little guy continues to grow and grow, so that come Christmas 2018, I will have enough rosemary to make one of these:
Rosemary wreath (or, what to make if you have 20 bundles of herbs just layin’ around)
[Click the photo for complete instructions, via Rachel Ray]