A Gin Bramble is one of those drinks that most bartenders have heard of, but probably need to Google really quick if you order it.  Don’t even bother ordering it at a bar that uses flavored syrups for their cocktails.  A new gastropub just opened up in town and their array of fresh fruit and herbs lined up on the bar was thrilling!  I’m not sure exactly how they made it, but here’s the version I make at home:

Ingredients:

  • 2 shots Bombay Sapphire Gin (my favorite!)
  • 1 Tbsp. Sugar
  • 1 lime, cut in half
  • 4-5 blackberries
  • sprig of mint
  • Ginger ale

Directions:

  1. Fill your cocktail shaker half full with ice, add everything but the Ginger ale.  Shake until your cocktail shaker is too frosty to handle.  If your fruit isn’t very ripe, you may want to muddle it before shaking.
  2. Dump everything out into a highball glass, pick out the limes, and top with Ginger ale. If you like it less chunky you can strain it into your glass before adding the Ginger ale.

My husband and I are both from the East Coast, but now live in Southern California.  While I do have some family here in Sunny CA, most of my family and ALL of my husband’s family are still back East.  To make the most of our holiday without the big family feast, we decided to throw a pre-Thanksgiving Soiree 2 years ago.  Knowing that most people have family obligations on Thanksgiving Day, we figured the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving would be the perfect opportunity to have our friends over to show them just how thankful we are to have them as part of our extended family.  To make things a little easier we decided to serve Thanksgiving inspired hors d’oeuvres.  The first year was a hit!  We had a house full of people and had a fabulous time.  Here’s what we served:

  • Turkey Meatballs
  • Cranberry Bruschetta
  • Mini Sweet-Potato Tarts
  • Caramel Apple Slices
  • Stuffed Mushrooms
  • Mini Quiches
Last year we moved to a bigger house.  We have a whole 2 bedrooms and a backyard now!  So needless to say we had more people and more food!
  • Turkey Kabobs
  • Turkey Sausage en Croute (turkey kielbasa wrapped with puff pastry)
  • Spicy Cranberry Relish
  • Sweet Potato Samosas
  • Cheese Plate
  • Brazilian Cheese Breads
  • Mini Quiches
  • Spiced Cider
  • Mini Caramel Apple Tarts
  • Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting
Here are a few pictures from last year.  Stay tuned to find out what we’re planning this year!

No I do not currently live in the city; I currently live in a small town in the middle of nowhere because I’m a full time student trying to get a masters degree.  What I daydream about when I’m not planning my next party, or doing homework, is moving back to my hometown and favorite city in the whole USA: Washington, DC.  That’s right, our nation’s capitol.  What’s so great about DC that I haven’t found anywhere else?  It’s a melting pot, a small city doing big things, full of culture, education, and worldly people with important things to do and places to go.  I love the hustle and bustle without the overwhelmingness of NYC.  When I graduate in June I’d love to move to Bethesda, MD a small suburb of the city that is known for it’s great restaurants, hole in the wall bars, and family friendly vibe.  Here’s a gorgeous apartment I found on vacancy.com that would be a dream come true:

I love the open floor plan and gorgeous wood floors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here it is fully furnished

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look how green it is! I love garden style apartments which don’t feel as claustrophobic as a high rise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently they also have outdoor BBQ areas, which makes for great summer entertaining.  And the best part…it’s pet friendly!  They even have a fenced in dog park and access to the Capital Crescent Trail for walking/biking.  You really couldn’t ask for more so close to the city.  Neither could Darcy and Einstein, they really love being outside.

Hopefully one day soon I really will get to blog about my Soiree in the City..I’ll keep you posted.

It’s crazy to think there are rules involved when throwing a party.  It’s just supposed to be fun, right?  Nevertheless there are a few things to always remember when you’re hosting an event.  Some of these are just common sense and common courtesy.  A lot of them have stemmed from pet peeves I’ve experienced when attending parties.  You want your guests to be comfortable and have fun and keep the evening flowing as smoothly as possible.  Comment back if you think of a few more!

  1. Be fully dressed when your guests arrive – this may sound silly, but when you’ve spent all day cleaning and cooking you may find yourself scrambling to put the last few apps in the oven still dressed in sweatpants with your hair in a bun when the doorbell rings.  Imagine how awkward your guests will feel when they know they’ve arrived before you’re ready for them. About 45 mins. before your party is scheduled to start, it’s T-shirt time!!!!  Get dressed, put on your makeup, and curl your hair.  That way even if you are still putting the finishing touches on something, you’re ready to greet your guests looking your best, and your guests will feel at ease.
  2. Have some drinks and appetizers set out before guests arrive – this sort of goes along with the previous rule.  When your guests arrive let them help themselves to something to eat and drink even if you’re still working on a few things.
  3. It’s better to have too much food, than too little food – maybe this goes along with my Indian culture, but not having enough food at a party is a serious infraction!  Just overestimate what you’ll need and make sure your table looks full.
  4. Not every party is a potluck – if you know you’re throwing a big party and you feel like it’s too much to handle by yourself ask a few of your close friends/family to help out by bringing one item each.  Please do not overwhelm them with too many requests, remember, they’re your guests too.
  5. You should always provide the entree – you’re the one throwing the party so you’re the one that should provide the main course.  If you can’t cook, buy it!  The main course is generally the most expensive item at a dinner party as well, so inviting someone over for dinner and then essentially asking them to provide the dinner is just tacky.
  6. You should always provide at least one appetizer and drink yourself – your friend with the bruschetta might be running late, and then what will you do?  See rule #2 for more info.
  7. Paper or plastic? – this might just be personal taste, but it’s weird to have a mix of real dishes and fake dishes.  If you’re going paper, go all the way and vice versa.  Personally I prefer real dishes, silverware, glasses, and cloth napkins.  Stores like Ikea have great options for just a few dollars.  Check out these wine glasses that I bought for a soiree last year, they were just $4.99 for a 6 pack.  Another great option is your local thrift store.  A mix of different plates and glasses can be eclectic and charming. 
  8. Seating – I live in a pretty small house and my dining table only seats 4.  When there are more than 4 people over we eat in the living room, just make sure you have enough hard surface to set drinks on.  Depending on how casual or what the theme of the party is, you can even put floor pillows around your coffee table to act as a kid’s table or even have some of your guests sit there.  Check out an Arabian Night Theme party I had   where floor pillows fit in just fine
  9. Music – Have some ambient music playing in the background.  Nothing is more awkward than the first part of a party when only a few people have arrived and perhaps they don’t know each other well.  Music helps create a relaxing atmosphere and helps people loosen up.  You don’t want it to be too loud unless you’re throwing a keg party.  I also like to have something graphic playing on TV with the sound turned off.  It just creates another level of ambiance and can be a conversation starter.  Some good options are cartoons or old black and white movies. Do not let the first guest plop down on the couch and turn on the TV to watch the game, the news, etc.  This is such a mood killer.  Just politely ask them to turn it off.  Believe it or not this has actually happened before.  Awkward!
  10. Lighting – you never want it to be too bright, but too dim can also create an awkward atmosphere.  See my post on creating mood lighting on a budget.

For larger gatherings it’s nice to stage your home in a way that’s functional and keeps guests moving around. You want to have clearly defined areas for food, drinks, and seating. When working in a small space, get creative about what constitutes a bar. It could be a sideboard in the dining room, an end table in the living room, or even a card table set in the corner of the room.

Check out my DIY bar cabinet that was originally a 1930′s medicine cabinet. A little sanding, wood stain, and updated knobs transformed this $50 thrift store find into my favorite piece of furniture.

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A few accessories and bottles complete the bar

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Check out another great thrift store DIY bar project by Shes.No.Martha

 

Ikea Hacking at its best, take a look at this creation by Shoebox Decor

Use a bookshelf, another great idea by Apartment Therapy

 

Never plan a cocktail party or happy hour without something to nibble on. Even if you’re not planning a full meal, it’s nice to have a couple of different things on the table. You can’t go wrong with a cheese plate, don’t worry about making it too perfect! A couple of chunks on a rustic board with a cheese knife is all you need.

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Take some help from the store to keep it simple. Hummus and tzatziki in bowls with mini pitas makes a substantial snack.

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When planning a simple cocktail party it’s fun to have a signature cocktail rather than trying to stock a full bar. It’s also much more wallet friendly. My good friend Erin came over yesterday for some quality girl talk so I mixed up a couple of frozen cocktails to kick off the evening. Feel free to use your favorite fruit sorbet or granita in place of this watermelon basil version.

Watermelon Basil Granita

(adapted from Cathy Lowe, foodnetwork.com)

  • 4 cups watermelon chunks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. Basil, finely chopped
  1. Put watermelon and sugar in a blender and purée until smooth.
  2. Pour into a 9″ x 13″ baking pan and stir in chopped basil
  3. Put it in the freezer and scrape with a fork every 2 hours until the granita is fully frozen into fine flakes- almost like a snow cone

Frozen Martini

  1. Using an ice cream scoop, put 1 or 2 scoops of granita into each martini glass (depending on how big the glass is)
  2. Serve martinis with 1-2 shots of vodka (depending on size of glass). Let your guests pour the vodka over the granita to create their frozen martinis.

It doesn’t get much cozier than this

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Last night someone decided to break into my car and steal my school bag with wallet inside. This was mostly my fault for leaving the bag in my car, but needless to say when I woke up this cold rainy morning I wanted something warm and comforting to start my day with. I call this recipe Morning After Breakfast Potatoes. It’s a cross between Canadian Poutine (which I’ve never actually had) and Irish Nachos. Enjoy this comforting treat after a tough night or even after a late night out with friends. Invite everyone back to your place and have these on the table in under 10 minutes. Your friends will love you for it.

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Morning After Breakfast Potatoes

  • 2-3 lbs. Small Red potatoes
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 1 cup chicken gravy – see below

Smashed Potatoes

  1. Put red potatoes in the microwave until fork tender
  2. Once tender put potatoes in skillet with a little olive oil
  3. Give potatoes a gentle smash with a potato masher and fry on both sides until skins are crisp

Easy Chicken Gravy

  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. All purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  1. Heat oil in a saucepan and add flour
  2. Cook flour for a couple of minutes until it smells toasty
  3. Add stock and simmer gently until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Tip: put leftover gravy in a freezer bag and freeze for future use. This makes middle of the night breakfast cooking a breeze

To assemble:

Put potatoes on serving platter and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and shredded cheese. Pour gravy over potatoes and top with green onions.

When the sun goes down and you’re hosting an event, lighting is a critical element to the success of your party.  Too bright and everyone’s a little too self conscious to really have fun, too dark and you’ll be chasing your meatballs around on your plate.  This is not the time for overhead lights!  Focus on table lamps and dim floor lamps.  Another inexpensive way to create mood lighting is with candles.  Visit your local thrift store to find inexpensive votives and hurricanes, or get creative and re-purpose something into a candle holder.  Check out these cheese grater inserts I found, spray-painted, and filled with tealights.  Mix your thrift store finds with your nicer pieces for an eclectic feel:

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