Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Farewell to Fall

Certainly was a memorable fall!    While the calendar still technically says autumn, the weather in North Carolina and many other areas of the country indicates that winter has arrived.     Thought I'd keep it simple today and share a few images from some of our most special (non wedding related) fall moments.

Farewell to Fall!   Welcome to Winter!

Wedding Planning Weekend, Butterfly Garden, Asheville, NC

Fearrington House, North Carolina (check out that squirrel going after that wine on the last chair!)

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Fearrington House, North Carolina (my favorite striped cows!)

Fearrington House, North Carolina

Can't forget Thanksgiving Dinner!

Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina

Grove Park Inn, Asheville,  North Carolina

What is your favorite fall memory? 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lemon Snowflakes

Lemon Snowflakes.    Aren't they pretty?

As I prepare to escape the frigid North Carolina weather, I wanted to leave you with something that I think you might enjoy.    Sweet, light, fresh and a little sparkly.    Like a cold winters day, but you can enjoy these inside, where it is warm and cozy.   Maybe with a cup of tea?    

Perfect for a cookie swap or holiday dessert table which is exactly what I made these for.   I am looking forward to sharing the entire table of goodies with you, but for now just a little taste.  

Originally hearts in this recipe from Good Housekeeping, I swapped these for the beautiful snowflake design and decided that snowflakes are very deserving of a sprinkling of silvery edible glitter.    

Lemon Snowflake Cookies

3 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 tablespoons salt
3 sticks butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh lemon peel
1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Lemon Glaze Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon peel

edible silver glitter

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2.  Combine flour, cornstarch and salt in small bowl.
3.  Combine butter and sugar in a large bowl with mixer at medium speed.   Add in lemon peel and extracts.  
4.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add in flour mixture.
5.  Divide dough in half.
6.  Roll each half to about 3/8 inch thick.
7.  Using snowflake cookie cutter, cut as many cookies from sheet as possible.  
8.  Place cookies on ungreased large cookie sheet, about an inch apart.
9.   Bake about 15 minutes until a pale golden color.
10.  Repeat with dough scraps and second half until all cookies are baked.
11.  Transfer to rack and let cool about ten minutes.
12.   While cookies are baking, make lemon glaze.    Add powdered sugar, lemon juice and peel to small bowl and whisk until smooth.
13.   Dip each warm cookie into glaze and place back on rack to cool and set.
14.   Before fully setting, sprinkle with glitter (optional).

Stay warm and bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Handmade Flower Girl Baskets and Other Wedding DIY

At first I was not sure what I would do with my pretty new lady hammer.    The pink one with the flower covered handle and tiny grip.    It was a gift from my new sister-in-laws.   Part of my emergency marriage kit.  

And then I had the perfect thought, as I was covered in flour at 5:00 in the morning, contemplating how to make the stained glass part of the stained glass cookies I was about to attempt.   My sweet new hammer.   Just right for smashing color coordinated Jolly Ranchers into a gazillion melt-worthy pieces.    I know my new sister in laws will be very proud.

I have been knee deep in all kinds of baking fun.    Melting chocolate, hand forming kisses, frosting snowflakes, powdering snowballs.    Just the kind of thing I expected I would be doing one week out from my honeymoon.  

I can't wait to tell you all about my little project and all of the wonderful things I have been up to, but not quite ready yet.  Since I am in a bit of a DIY mode at the moment, I thought I would share one of my projects from the wedding.  

Advance Warning:  You will probably not want to attempt this at home.   I would, however, like it to show for the record that I tried.

So the story is this.   I am in the midst of intense conversation with my florist, planning centerpieces filled with roses in blush and ivory, lanterns with cream pillar candles, corsages in all shapes in sizes, when the topic of flower girl baskets comes up.

"We'll have two flower girl baskets.   Filled with ivory rose petals."

Ah... I'm envisioning my sweet little flower girls dancing up the aisle, tossing petals in the air, smiling sweetly at our guests.

"The baskets will have big bows and flowing ribbons."

Ugh.   That sounds so typically bridal and, well, so not me.    I have a lightbulb moment.   Perfect!   I'm a little low on wedding DIY projects.   I can surely make flower girl baskets.   Hey, maybe I can save a little money in the process.  

"I think I'll make them myself."

"Oh, okay.   How about I just bring two along anyway?  You know, just in case."

"Well, okay, thanks.   I'm not going to use them though."

I have visions of beautifully handcrafted flower girl baskets in ivory and french lace.    Adorned with pearls in a modern and yet sophisticated little girl way.     They would be the most beautiful flower girl baskets every created.

I made John go to the craft store with me where we agonized over shades of cream and ivory, textures and laces.    I brought them all home, filled with anticipation.
And there they sat.   And sat.   And continued to sit.   Until the day before we left for the wedding.

"Don't you think it is time to make those flower girl baskets?   Or should I call the florist and have him bring the back-ups?"

Right, like that's going to happen.   Just the push I needed.

At this point, I'd love to share a flower girl basket making tutorial for all future brides who are looking for a little DIY. But the fact of the matter is, there is not much to share.    I wrapped a bunch of pretty ribbons around a couple of baskets.    The end.

And truth be told.   They had big bows.   And yes, they had flowing ribbons.   (See photo above!)

But what matters is that I made them myself.   With lots and lots of love.   And there was no sweeter sight then my beautiful little flower girls (along with our very handsome ring bearer!) carrying their handmade baskets down the aisle.   Throwing petals in the air.  Smiling sweetly at our guests.

Gorgeous Photo by Visio Photography

Oh, and I didn't actually save any money on these.  But I'll never admit that to anyone.   Especially not  my incredibly patient and understanding florist.  (PS - If you are ever in need of a florist in Asheville, check out Blossoms at Biltmore Park).    

Advice for future brides - DIY projects are fun.   They really are.   They bring a very personal touch to the wedding and give you a little extra sense of pride.    Just be practical about it.   Perfect visions are lovely, but things don't always go as planned.    No one else will notice but you, so just relax and have fun with it.    Enjoy the process, don't take on too much.   And always, always have a back up plan!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Simple Math: A Beginner's Guide to Turkey

"It's simple math dear."

Words not to be uttered in our house again.  I will also never reveal who said them.

How hard can roasting a Thanksgiving turkey be, really?

I mean, it is really just a big chicken, right?

My Thanksgiving holiday preparation was rolling along at an almost perfect clip.    Menu planned carefully in advance.   Shopping divided among stores and days.   Completed in a timely and organized manner.   Turkey ordered (early!) and picked up to rest gently in a chilled setting until it was time.

I even had a beautiful new roasting pan (thanks Aunt Bev and Uncle Frank!).    Graduated from the kind you have to pick up last minute at the grocery store.

My recipes carefully organized.    Cranberry sauce completed Tuesday night.   Green beans and brussell sprouts washed and trimmed.   Stuffing prepared.   Sweet potato casserole awaiting its final topping.  

All I had to do was flip on the Macy's Day parade, finalize my fantastic sides and dessert and whip out a fabulous turkey.   Really, how hard could it be?

I enlisted John to wash our new friend (we named him, but he shall remain nameless), remove the neck and gizzards (what are these anyway?) and pat him down and lay him to rest in his new pan.    Meanwhile, I chopped fresh herbs and rubbed them lovingly all over "him" (don't worry, the turkey... not John).

"So how long does this thing need to roast anyway?   Do we have a plan?"

"I don't know.   Couple hours.   Maybe 3 - 4.  We'll just keep checking the temperature.   With our new thermometer."

Forty five minutes in, our friend receives a sweet little turkey bath and a fine shield of tinfoil.    Feeling pretty good at this point.    Santa has made his appearance and we are rounding into Eukanuba dog show territory (am I the only one who actually watches this)?

Sides are positioned for final baking/sauteing/mashing.    Looking good.

"Do you think we should check the temperature?   You know,  just to make sure we're on track?"

"Sure.   Let's do that."

"Does this really say 190?"

Enter freak out panic mode.   Turkey overdone.   Nothing else ready.   First Thanksgiving as a married couple.   Ruined.  Forever.   Did I mention RUINED?   FOREVER!

"It's simple math dear.   Didn't we calculate the total time it would take based on the weight of our turkey?"

Fighting words.   Math was never a strong suit.   I rely on data.

"Well, I rely on data AND math. It's pretty simple."

Rapid change in plans.    We are no longer speaking.    We will finish the sides, clean up and sit down to a meal of cold turkey.    We proceed.

"I think it is time to carve the turkey now.   It has been resting for like, an hour and a half."

"Does this look pink to you?"

"Is that blood?"

"Stop poking it.  You are letting out all of the good juices."

"Does it really matter at this point?"

Unbelievably annoying.    We break out the red wine.   Things begin to look a little more promising.   No worries.   We'll just stick it back in the oven and hang out by the fire for a bit.    It is what it is.  

Dinner, when it finally all came together, some hours later, was unbelievably good.   Yes, we had a few starts and stops and moments of escalating tension, but in the end, it was a lovely meal.    We gave thanks for many things.   The turkey and (crack-like) dressing even made it into our post meal top three ranking of Thanksgiving dishes.

My advice for those preparing turkey for the first time (solo or with another non-expert) - It is never that simple.   There are so many factors involved.

I am convinced that this is another one of those situations where practice makes perfect.   I am looking forward to many more years of practice.

Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving weekend!  Filled with love, good food, good friends and family and whatever else your heart desires!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wedding Dress Shopping Experience

"Say Yes to the Dress"  What's not to love?   I think John even secretly likes it.   

I did not cry.   No tears of joy, jumping up and down and hugging of friends and family.   

So how did I know it was "The One"?

I just knew.  It took me an overnight of lost sleep and another round of trying on dresses to be really sure, but after all was said and done I knew.    (Admission - there was another round of doubt after the dress came home with me, but that was just nerves in disguise.   Totally normal.)
                                                                                      My dress! ---->
                                                                 (Priscilla of Boston website)

I went shopping by myself.    I like shopping by myself.   No pressure.   (I did drag in my friends at the very end of the day, for a second set of eyes and to add a little fun to the process.)

I went to one store.    I did this over the course of two visits, probably could have done it in one if it weren't such a big decision. 
I tried on ten dresses.    Four the first day.  My dress was the third I tried on. 

I got opinions from the consultants at the store.    (Priscilla of Boston, by the way, brand new in Raleigh and highly recommend.   They were so much fun to work with and always made me feel like a special bride).     

They asked me questions about my vision.    I explained that I wanted elegant, sophisticated a little romantic, a little European.    We used these keywords as questions to "test" the dress.

"Do you feel elegant, sophisticated... etc?"   Sounds silly, but it was a helpful double check. 

We added fashion forward after I tried on a very traditional cinderella-y dress that made me cringe.    Sometimes things are better on paper than they are on your body.   

<--- Me, in "The Dress" just minutes before the ceremony.  Looking incredibly nervous! 
(Visio Photography)

In the end, there were a couple that I liked, but only one that was really me.     It was the one I felt most comfortable in.  Not in the comfort sense, but in the dress feels like a natural extension of me.    Me, but better.   Me, getting married.     

So, that's what it came down to.   In the end, I loved my dress and know that I made the right decision.   

My advice for any brides who may just be starting this process - 
  • Bookmark images in magazines and on-line, but do not get overly hung up on a particular style. 
  • Try on all kinds of styles when you first start looking.   You will figure out right away what does not work and what you like most.    
  • Be completely open.   You may be surprised but what type of dress you prefer. 
  • Trust your instinct.    You may not be overwhelmed with emotion and cry tears of joy, but you may just feel content,  like yourself, only better.    
  • Have fun!    It is an experience like no other.   
  • Start early if you can.  I was in a serious time crunch and luckily had a wonderful new store to work with, but this is probably not typical.    Ordering the dress and alterations will take more time than you think. 
  • Oh, and keep the fiance in mind as well.   You'll want him to like the dress too!
For any already marrieds, I'd love to hear your stories...   

How did you find your dress?   How did you know that it was "The One"?   
Any other advice that you would add?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Interview with a Wedding Planner - Occasions by Emily

I am so very excited about today's post!   The lovely Emily has agreed to stop by and answers some burning questions I had while sharing some of her wedding wisdom with all of us on this Happy Friday.

For purposes of this dialogue, since we share such a fabulous name, I will hereby refer to us in the manner that John did during our wedding planning sessions.    He called us E squared.   I was E1 and Emily was E2.  

<--- E2.  Photos of Emily and her team by Nick Breedlove

And now you can imagine E1 and E2 sitting in a sweet little cafe in Paris, sipping drinks and eating perfect little pastries.  The weather has chilled up a bit, but we sit outside anyway, wrapped up in pretty little scarves, chatting while the rest of the world passes by.

We'd love for you to join us.   Grab a cup and pull up a chair.

E1: So Emily, tell me, how did you get into the wedding planning business? 
E2:   Event planning seems to be part of my genetic makeup.   As a child I dreamed of joining the foreign service, living at the Biltmore House and planning parties for all of my friends and random strangers.   I now speak French, plan weddings and occasionally get to work at the Biltmore House.   Does it get any better?

E1:  I'd say that is pretty great!   I'd love to hear what makes a wedding by Occasions by Emily unique and special?    I've experienced it first hand, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. 
E2:   Details, details, details.   We are very organized about the details, big and small, which takes stress off our clients.   However, we're also "touchy feely" when it comes to the details.   We like to help our clients think of ways to make everything unique to their personality and vision.

E1:  What has been your favorite wedding or moment that stands out to you and why?   I love hearing stories about different weddings!
E2:   I planned a wedding this summer that was mainly family and a few close friends.   It was a second marriage for both the bride and groom and they each had a set of children.   The bride had asked her young teenage son to sing "It's a Wonderful World" during the ceremony, but he got nervous and a little choked up when he began singing.   He made a desperate plea to the audience to sing along.  The minister (same one you had, by the way), began to sing out whole heartedly, the audience joined in and the violinist picked up the accompaniment without being asked.   I had tears in my eyes watching such a sweet family, friends and relative strangers join together to create a happy moment that the bride and groom will remember forever.   It's fun to have yummy cake, gorgeous flowers and a great band, but the really important things is the covenant being made the the people who share the moment.

E1:   Now I'm a little teary eyed, which, as you know, is not that difficult to make happen with me lately, but what a touching story!     I will certainly never forget that one.    Let's change topics slightly, I'd like my readers to get to know a little about you.   What do you like to do when you are not planning weddings?
E2:  Read, read, read.   It's one of the few things I can do to make me stop thinking about weddings for half a minute.   Can't help it.  :)   I also love being with my three kiddos, but I seem unable to divide work and family life.   Case in point:  My four and six year old daughters were recently worried about an upcoming family wedding where there is no assigned seating as it is a dessert reception.   The six year old wanted to know how people would know where to sit without place cards.   I may have ruined my children....

E1:  That is hilarious.  I see a future planner in your family!   Now for the 20 questions part.   Favorite part of job?   Most rewarding?   Most terrifying?
E2:  I love helping clients define their vision and then orchestrating it for them.   This can happen through the invitations, florals, lighting and even things like glassware.   It's fun to look through the photographer's photos a few weeks later and think about how we helped the bride and groom take a vision from concept to reality.

I am most terrified when trying to send a processional down the aisle.   There are all these people whom I've never met before in my life who need to be seated by ushers I've only just met at rehearsal.   The order of the processional is so important that I can't bear to mess it up, and of course the rest of the guests are watching the whole thing.   It's very nerve wracking and there's no do-over button!   Thankfully the nerves keep me on my game and I can't remember ever messing this up too badly.   No comments, please...

E1:   Well, I'm very happy to report, that my little mini processional was absolutely perfect (Thanks, Liz!).   Now, getting my dad to loosen the grip on my arm as we walked down the stairs is another story... :)     Okay, how about some advice for anyone who may be interested in event planning as a future career?
E2:   Go to college and get a degree in something, anything.   Assist with the events for whatever social groups you join or jobs you hold.   The more you do, the better prepared you'll be for the future.   If you're ready to pursue a career in events, start by getting a job in food service, particularly special event catering.   It's a perfect place to learn about customer service, timing and the ins and outs of making a great event happen.

E1:  Great advice!   What about advice for brides who are just starting the planning process?   Any particular words of wisdom for where they should focus their time and/or money?
E2:  Make a list of priorities with your fiance.   This will help you know how to set your budget.   Seek out a planner early to help you have a realistic expectation for costs.   A planner will also help you know all of the categories you need to consider.

<--- That's Liz, on the left!

E1:  Any interesting trends in the industry that you love or conversely would love to see brides leave behind? 
E2:  Yikes.  This is true confessions!  I'm not a fan of the garter toss, mainly because it seems to embarrass people and my goal as a planner is to help people feel as comfortable as possible at the wedding.   I suppose the groom needs something to balance out the bouquet toss.   Hmmmm... I need to think of a new tradition to suggest here.   Maybe a shoe toss?

E1:  Another non-fan of the garter toss here.  On the other hand, a shoe toss could be a little dangerous.   I'm sure you'll come up with something!    Okay, one last, but very important question before we end today.   Many brides consider going on their own when it comes to planning their wedding.   What value does a wedding planner bring that the bride may not be thinking of when she is making this decision? 

         E1, very happy to have worked with E2, 
photo by her wonderful Aunt Lori----->

E2:   I'm so glad you asked this.   Brides normally want to go it on their own for two reasons:   1. They think they have enough time and skill that they don't need help.   2.  They think they don't have enough money to get help.   In response to the first reason, I think no matter how much time or skill in design/event planning a bride may have, if she's never planned a wedding, then she is in for a stressful surprise.  Weddings are a really big deal and like no other event known to mankind.   For this bride, it's best to consider the planner a partner.   The planner will support the bride through the planning process, allowing the bride to do as little or as much as she pleases.   Then the planner will be there on the big day to make sure the plans are carried out while the bride just enjoys.   For the bride with a small budget, a planner can save money--really.   I tell the truth.   A planner knows where to "shop" for vendors in all different price ranges, and can suggest ways to cut budget to make way for items that are more important to the bride and groom.

E1:   You know, I couldn't agree more with what you've said.    As a (self confessed) 'minor' control freak, while hard to let go, it was a huge relief for me to have someone else running the show so I could just totally be in the moment, enjoying my new husband and spending my time with family.     And I lied, I do have one more question.   How should interested brides get in touch with you for more information? 
E2:   Just give me a call at 828.808.8888 or email   I love to talk about weddings and get excited about each new client because every bride is unique and has fun, new ideas.   Oh, and I'm a HUGE facebooker.   Please join the fan page "Occasions by Emily".   I post new ideas, photos and more almost every day, sometimes several times a day!

E1:   This has been so fun getting to know a little more about you and the business!     I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk with us.   It truly has been a pleasure.  

I hope everyone enjoyed our chat today!   I know that Emily would love your comments and / or questions.    Feel free to post them here or send directly to her.   

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Wedding Planner

If there is one thing I learned in business it is that great ideas really don't matter until they are successfully implemented.

If there are two things I learned in business, it would be the above followed by the understanding that implementation of these great ideas is often best delegated to those with expertise over and beyond your own.  

All resulting in learning that the most important job I had was to find the talent to make the great ideas happen.   Challenging, but also very rewarding when you get it right.

I found that skill, while certainly a must have requirement, is definitely not the most important factor.    I look for a spark, a passion, a drive that not only indicates a strong work ethic, but also a joyous pursuit of success.     Hard to find, but oh so worth it.

In my own pursuit of a successful wedding, applying the same principle, I realized I couldn't go it alone.   I needed someone who could understand my vision and partner with me to make it happen in a way that I could only dream of.  

Another small sneak peak, courtesy of Visio Photography

I needed a Wedding Planner.

My initial requirements were straightforward.   I wanted someone with experience, based locally in Asheville,  since we were not overly familiar with the area.   Beyond that, I went with my gut, seeking out that special spark and passion, someone I could truly partner with and have a little fun with during the process.

I can't recall exactly how I found Emily at Occasions by Emily.    It was pretty early on in the process, even before I found my venue.    Was looking in Asheville and came across a random blog post with gorgeous pictures from a wedding they had done.     Which somehow led me to her blog and website, which led me to this little tidbit:

"Emily earned a BA in French from UNC Asheville and a Master of Public Affairs from Western Carolina University.   As a student of culture and people, Emily enjoys multi-cultural events and traveling abroad."

Just the spark, the unique angle, the connection, I was seeking.    I reached out to see if she was available.     She promptly responded (a non-negotiable criteria) and we proceeded to have a wonderful discussion.     It was like I was talking to an old friend.      I had a good feeling which was confirmed by the time we traveled to Asheville again to meet both her and her Director,  Elizabeth, in person.     My instinct was right.

I'd love for you to meet her!     I think you'll agree she is just as fabulous as I think she is!

Emily and her team did such a fantastic job with our wedding.   They were a dream to work with.   Fun, knowledgeable, amazingly responsive and kept us completely on track.   They knew exactly what we were looking for and how to work with us, together, but also as individuals.  When I reiterated my goal of a near flawless wedding, they didn't even flinch (at least publicly), but just made it happen.

All right... it has been so long since my last post, I at least owe you one more! (Visio Photography)

And for any prospective brides who might be reading this, I highly (highly) encourage the services of a planner.    The peace of mind and day of coordination is worth every single penny.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wedding Inspiration (aka "The Vision")

One of the first things I did after deciding on our venue at the Biltmore in Asheville was to begin to fine tune the vision for the wedding.

I learned by default that I really needed to figure this out asap, as the first question from anyone I worked with after inquiring about location was always...

"So tell me about your 'Vision'...."

(And, Yes, if I must confess, I was stumped the first time I was asked this.... luckily I am pretty good at making stuff up as I go, but I didn't want my answer to come back and haunt me at a later date!)

Since we decided not to have the wedding overseas, I knew I wanted to bring a little bit of Europe to the even and bring in a classic, elegant, formal ambiance.   We had a small guest list, 28 people in total, immediate family members.   I wanted the event to feel like an intimate formal dinner party filled with romance, candlelight, music and a touch of glamour.    

This image was one of the first I found that really captured the essence of the vision.     We decided fairly early on that the dinner would have both an Italian and French feel, places that John and I had visited together and held a special place in our hearts.   (More on the menu later...   Can't wait to share!)

I picked my colors on the day that I first tried on my wedding dress.    Champagne, ivory, blush and gold accents.   I wanted the colors to carry out that romantic, Parisian feel that is so soft and elegant.    I found a number of images early on that helped to provide a more tangible view into our thoughts.

When I was first engaged, I panicked a little bit.   I didn't know where to begin.  One of my friends and former co-workers gave me the best advice, reminding me that a wedding is just one big project.   If you approach it like a project, it becomes manageable and achievable.    So I broke it down into chunks and everything flowed from there.

After we defined the initial requirements (the location, the vision, the inspiration), I knew that the next step was to select the project manager, or in this case the Wedding Planner.    Since John and I were planning from afar, we knew that we seriously needed some help on the ground and it was one of the best decisions we made.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Adventures in Wedding Planning...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Banana Creme Brulee French Toast

First Sunday brunch as Mrs.

(Well, technically, it is the second as we had a lovely goodbye brunch with all of our guests last week after the wedding.    I'm not really counting it though as the first as it didn't require any work on my part and truth be told, I was physically exhausted.)

First Sundays call for something special.   I also have this philosophy that if you are good the vast majority of the time, every once in awhile you can take a little time out to indulge in something decadent.

John and I spent our first married Saturday Date Night on the couch eating a very healthy dinner of roasted sweet potatoes and broiled chicken thighs while watching the NCIS spook-a-thon (It is the one show we can fully agree upon, and luckily, it is always on).    It has been a long week.  

Time for a treat.  (Not of the Halloween Trick or Treat variety... that was last night too.  I should know better than to buy candy too far in advance.)

French toast is always a good Sunday option.    I wanted to make it a little more special than usual this time.

 John loves Creme Brulee.

 I love Bananas Foster.   (Check out this recipe for Bananas Foster Gelato that I must also make someday!)  

How about a little dessert for breakfast in the form of a modified  Creme Brulee French Toast recipe I adapted from Epicurious?

I am hereby calling this new creation Banana Creme Brulee French Toast.    It is definitely not your everyday french toast, but I'd serve it again in a heartbeat for a special occasion or when you just need a little something indulgent to end (or start) your weekend.    Super easy to prepare and to my credit, I did try and lighten it up a bit by substituting the skim milk and adding some fruit and nuts.

I made it in the morning and therefore did not let it soak the originally required eight plus hours, but it turned out perfect anyway.    Light, sweet, custardy and filled with banana almondy custardy brown sugary goodness.    No need for syrup with this recipe!    Rated "most excellent" by the taster.

Banana Creme Brulee French Toast

1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 banana, sliced
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup of skim milk
6 thick slices of sourdough bread
1 teaspoon Cointreau
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 large eggs
sprinkle of cinnamon

1.   Toast almonds lightly in pan on stove.   They are done when you smell the nutty aroma, but before they start burning.
2.  Sprinkle almonds into 9 x 13 pan and set aside.
3.  Melt butter in pan on stove.   Add brown sugar.   Mix until combined and smooth.   When smooth, add in sliced bananas and stir another minute until coated.    Remove from heat and pour over almonds in the pan.   You will likely need to smooth it out a bit until the sugar mixture reaches all corners.
4.   Squeeze together slices of bread into pan.   You can remove the crusts, but I left on for extra texture. Set pan aside.
5.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
6.  In a medium size bowl, add eggs and milk and whisk together until combined.   Whisk in vanilla and cointreau until combined.
7.   Pour egg mixture over the bread slices in your pan, covering equally.   Shake pan until mixture reaches all sides. 8.   Set aside pan for 30 minutes to allow egg mixture to soak in.   Dust with cinnamon.
9.   Place uncovered pan in preheated oven and bake for 30 - 40 minutes until puffy and golden brown.

Bon Appetit!    Wishing you a fabulous Sunday!  

Oh, and how could I forget, Happy Halloween!

(PS - If someone can educate me on how to add in the many accent marks I am missing on my recipe title, I'd be forever appreciative.)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cloud Nine

I'm back.   And I'm married.   And it was absolutely the best day of my life.

I am still floating around on Cloud Nine.  

I really can't wait to tell you all about it.    I have so much to share and so much love to pass on for all of the wonderful people who made it all possible.     Sigh... I couldn't be happier.     And did I mention...  I'm married to my best friend?    Can't beat that.

I am so excited to share all of the fun details with you, but we have a few other things to cover first.     I do not want to keep you completely in the dark, so for now, I will just share one of my favorite sneak peak images from our truly amazing photographers, the husband and wife team of James and Jenny at Visio Photography.  

Wishing everyone a fabulous weekend!  

I am going to return to my cloud now.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

Italian Wedding Cookies

My little wedding ticker thing says I'll be getting married in 5 days.   Yikes.

I mean that in an "I am so very excited to finally do this" kind of way.    I am not good at waiting.   This last minute stuff is killing me.   I saved up a bunch of mini projects just to take my mind off of the anticipation.   I am very grateful that we have had a short engagement period.  

To say I have a case of anxiety right now is a major understatement.     Anxiety mixed with a sense of calm.   Up and down.  I'm even driving myself crazy!   Ugh... Saturday, just get here already.

When I get this way I need to do things to keep busy.     Lately I've been filling my time with some pretty intense 'last chance' workouts.   Ever since I brought The Dress home last week and it is hanging on my door I have been feeling it taunting me.   Come on... one more work out... you can do it...

Well, these crazy workouts are resulting in an injured knee, unexplainable lower back pain and now a weird throbbing pain in my left hip.    I have to cut back a bit and find another diversion to keep me occupied or I risk finding myself limping down the aisle.      Luckily, I love to cook and moving myself back into the kitchen is a welcome reprieve (although I realize counterproductive in terms of The Dress, but that's besides the point).

I vowed that October would be the launch of wedding month here on Vita Nostra.   Then I realized I probably should not write too much about it or I'll give all the good stuff away in advance of the wedding.   So I will be keeping it a little intentionally vague for now, filling this space with little hints of what is to come.

Today I give you Italian Wedding Cookies.    We had these every Christmas when I was growing up.    Batches stacked up in containers kept cool in the frigid garage (winter in New Hampshire = lots of free refrigeration in unexpected spots) throughout the month of December.    

Powdery simple sweetness in a buttery shortbready (not too sweet) way.  (Warning: Addictive)

I tried to get my dad to find my mother's recipe, but no luck.   This one, on was perfect in a pinch.   The only thing I changed was a slight reduction in salt.  I will definitely be using this recipe again.   As far as baking goes, this is really simple and they are fun to make.   You could easily go a little haywire with the powdered sugar though, so be careful or you'll be finding it in some very unexpected locations around your kitchen.   Not that this happened to me or anything ...

Italian Wedding Cookies

1 and a 1/2 cups unsalted butter
3/4 cup powered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups finely ground almonds
4 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
Lots of extra powdered sugar for rolling

1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2.  Add butter and powdered sugar to large bowl.   Cream together.   Add salt.   Beat everything with a hand mixer (if available) until light and fluffy.    
3.  Add almonds and vanilla extract.   Mix.   (Note - if you are not able to purchase ground almonds, just do it yourself.    Buy the slivered ones and run them through your blender for a minute or two.)

4.  Gradually blend in flour until well mixed.
5.  Use one teaspoon of dough for each cookie.    Shape with your hand into a round ball, crescent, or any other shape that you find appealing.   Place on ungreased cookie sheet.   You can place these fairly close together as they do not spread.

6.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.    Remove before browning.   The color of the cookie should remain light, but should be firm to the touch.    I did mine for 16 minutes per batch.
7.  Remove from sheet and let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.    Roll each cookie in powdered sugar until fully coated.   Set aside for further cooling.


And that's my little hint for today of things to come...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

How I Decided Where to Get Married

I never really had big visions of my wedding as a little girl (or a not so little girl for that matter).    So when it came time to actually having to think about it and quickly move into decision mode (due to my amazing success at procrastination), I had a lot of catching up to do.  

I am also not what I would call a traditional bride, so holding a large wedding in my hometown or anything like that is not me and was not going to happen.   I do not expect anyone to understand that, just to trust that there are certain things in life that are important to me and this is not one of them.

My rapidly changing visions had me walking down the aisle somewhere a little more my style.

Put it this way, when I was in Italy, I had picked out venues in Rome, Tuscany and along the coast.   I spent my mornings drinking coffee and dreaming of my grand, and yet intimate, Italian wedding.   It would be very me, a little modern, a little traditional, very italian (ok, so I'm not actually italian), a little regal and a lot small.  If I had one inkling of a vision when I was younger, it would have to be this.   I even picked out my italian designer dress (which truth be told looks nothing like what I eventually picked, but I was SO in love with it at the time).

And then I went to Paris.   Where I spent my afternoons drinking tea with lots of milk and cute little brown sugar cubes, dreaming of a romantic Parisian wedding, filled with lace and gold and lots of pink.   My little French Fairy Tale.

And then, well,  I came home and reality sort of sunk in.   Visions of sugar plum fairies dancing in my head were replaced with the stark reality that I had only a couple of months to plan this little fairy tale of mine, and realistically, running away to Europe probably wasn't in the cards.   Sigh.  Sigh again.    It was a sad time.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into internet research.    We had a permanent date for quite some time.    Over the course of several weeks, we traveled to California, Maine, Nantucket, South Carolina, Arizona finally ending up with a swing through the North Carolina coast.   I could do that.   Water is good.   Close to home, but not too close.   Done.   For about a week we were getting married at the coast.    Beach houses were scrutinized, finalists prepared for site visits.  I envisioned our families bonding on the sand under large umbrellas, taking naps in the afternoon and grilling fun beach food in the evenings.     I even considered (briefly) going barefoot.

Another reality check when I really started thinking about everyone staying together under one roof for a week.   Good in theory.   Not so sure it would be great in practice, especially given my stress level during situations like that.    Back to the drawing board.

That's when it hit me.   Fall Wedding.   Why not the mountains?   Asheville?    The Biltmore?   Where John and I had our very first weekend getaway.   Perfect.

From this point on, it was actually quite easy.   We were visiting the Biltmore the following weekend, touring the various sites.   We saw the Butterfly Garden and Conservatory and looked at each other and knew we were done.    It was like the vision I never quite had.    

(Here's a few teasers...)

And that is "How I Decided Where to Get Married".    It took me awhile, but I think we ended up at the right spot, for us.     And now... the real fun begins...

I would love to hear your stories!   How did you pick your wedding location?   Was it like love at first site or something a little more practical?