Wine Tasting Birthday Party

The Occasion

For my mother’s 65th, I planned an afternoon wine tasting party. Decorations were inspired by the bold reds selected for the tasting, along with traditional wine and Tuscan decor. As part of the planning, my husband and I made the sacrifice of leaving the children with the grandparents while we went wine tasting at Jessie’s Grove, our favorite winery in the Lodi wine region, only 45 minutes from home.

The Selection

Jessie’s Grove, Chardonnay

Another surprise Chardonnay provided by my father, for contrast

Jessie’s Grove, Carignone – usually used for blended wines, but here bottled on its own

Jessie’s Grove, Earth, Fire & Zin

Jessie’s Grove, Petite Sirah

Earth, Zin & Fire Label

The Menu

IMG_6457As I typically do, I chose to use a variation of party platter recipes provided by Real Simple.

– Antipasto Party Platter with cured Italian meats, Italian bread, roasted tomatoes, three olive varieties, and a ricotta cheese spread.

– A cheese and cracker platter featuring American Blue Cheese, French Comté, Swiss Gruyere, and Irish Dubliner served with dates, figs, grapes, and ginger snaps.

For dessert, since my mother is a baker extraordinaire, I chose to take a less traditional route and serve chocolate truffles, Hazelnut cookies sandwiched around a chocolate filling, and English toffee.


Decor Details

I used wood oval tags tied with twine to an eye hook in a wine cork to create labels for the cheese. I purchased Alstroemeria, deep red roses, purple Hoary Stock and red Sweet William from Trader Joe’s. For additional filler I added olive branches from our yard.



The Main Event

Based on online templates, I created Wine Tasting Cards for guests to fill out as they sampled the wines (provided here for free download: Wine Tasting pdf).

Along with the wine, we also imported a fabulous piano and cello duet, Chase and Carol Ann Loeb, Strings Attached. For the two hours of the party they played a selection of jazz and classical musical.

Alas, because of this persistent illness, I forgot to take photos of the event once styled! With a generous, but still intimate, size room, I placed the wine pouring table in the back of the room, next to the musicians. In the center of the room, atop a round table I stacked wood wine boxes, partially draped with rustic red fabric, crowned with the main flower arrangement (in a wine ice bucket no less). Surrounding the boxes were the platters of cheese and crackers, specifically paired for the ultimate tasting experience, the antipasto platter, bread basket, fruit platters and sweet treats in various vessels including chocolate covered espresso beans in vintage silver martini coups. Smaller floral arrangements in unique vases (think vintage glass vases and brandy sniffers) graced the white table clothes on the three round tables and three cocktail tables spread throughout the room.

The party went beautifully and I really felt it was my best yet. I continue to kick myself for not taking photos. Hopefully the descriptions give you a fair idea. If you enjoyed this piece and other events under the Event Planning tab. Please keep in mind that if you are in the Turlock/Modesto area, I am available to help you style and plan your special event!

The Un-Thanksgiving Menu

This year, as way to have an intimate family gathering, we decided to do an Un-Thanskgiving Menu on Wednesday evening, taking a twist on the traditionals. Thursday we would be spend with relatives. This could be our chance to be fancy, gourmet, and thankful, because, well, neither of our families seem comfortable going around and saying what they’re thankful for. In my family, it’s more about the food and small talk than anything else.

The Menu

Cranberry sauce

Mashed sweet potatoes

Rotisserie duck

Brandy Alexander Pie

The Result

Well, since it had been a busy day, I plopped down in a chair with baby on the ground and my laptop on my lap. Of course, my presence was keeping the baby happy, you know? I shouted a “do you need any help?” to my husband once and he said no. See how we shatter conventional stereotypes?

From the living room I asked if he bought cranberries. Nope, only the canned kind, thinking there would not be enough time to make cranberry sauce. He offered to doctor it up and my moody, hungry tiredness made some difficult conversation around that subject. He found cranberries in the freezer and went on to make the cranberry sauce.

Lesson 1: Discuss the grocery list.

After an hour, he said “the duck is finally thawed.”

Lesson 2: Don’t by frozen duck the evening you want to cook it.

After thirty minutes he went to the garage and said he was looking for the roaster. The dusk did not fit on the rotisserie. Then my eyes opened to what was happening in the kitchen.

Lesson 3: Work together for strange last minute menus. Check in to help assess the situations because four eyes, two heads, and four hands are all better than half that amount.

I remembered where the roaster was, so up the attic he went, and brought it down. I never said we had to continue, but in his deep desire to make this fancy meal for me who has a yen for fancy things, he would not give up.

The duck was in the roaster (roast duck sounds more like it, right?). I put the finished cranberry sauce in the fridge (we did have time after all). I forgot all about the “fancy” and setting the table. It was already 8pm at this time and we usually eat by 6pm. The man made his world-famous garlic bread. Delicious!

Lesson 4: Yum, appetizers!

He brought the bread over to me on the couch (I’m even worse now because the baby is asleep and I’m still not helping).

Lesson 5: Set the table ahead of time, this will help keep me alert to the active world.

Next course (each course consisted of whatever was cooked already): mashed sweet potatoes. Our reaction to the first bite: hmm… My husband’s second reaction: it kind of grows on you.

Lesson 6: Skin sweet potatoes before cooking/mashing when making mashed sweet potatoes

Lesson 7: Don’t use too much water in the mashing process.

Lesson 8: Don’t make mashed sweet potatoes.

We still had a while for the duck to finish. What course could we do next? Dessert, of course! We stole a gingerbread turkey cookie from the platter prepared for Thanksgiving day and dished ice cream on top. No needed lessons here, it was simply good. Now that I write this I realize we forgot the dessert we had planned on. That’s just fine. We’ll save it for Gaudete Sunday.

We ate the duck with the cranberry sauce. My husband did an amazing job with his first time making duck. The cranberry sauce was thick with great flavor. When I bit into a pine needle, though, it took away from the cranberry zest.

Lesson 8: Don’t cook with cranberries you froze after using them for a centerpiece.

Use Cranberries to Make Thanksgiving Table Candles

So we learned a lot! I’m not sure what happened to me and my alertness. Conscientiousness is usually my strength. It’s absence might be tied to sleep-deprivation. We had talk about working as a team (I should stand up and help; he should ask for help or at least say yes when I ask if he needs it).

Final menu in order of appearance

Garlic Bread

Mashed sweet potatoes

Gingerbread turkey cookie with vanilla ice cream

Cranberry Sauce

Roast duck

We may do it again next year, change the menu and try again.

Lesson 8: Be thankful to go with the flow. We invited friends over and I can’t imagine how it would have gone had they been able to come!

All Souls’ Day Celebration

I love Halloween. I love the controversy and the conversations. For some reason, I’ve been comfortable with the macabre for a long time. Cemeteries were never creepy. Post-conversion, I thought it was beautiful to sit in a cemetery and just soak in the awareness of the souls in Heaven and the need to pray for those in Purgatory.

As a child living in the country, there was no trick or treating and how I longed for it. We dressed on our costumes, always homemade, went to mass, and went to the party after mass for games and candy. In vain my parents tried to appease my trick or treating desires, but alas, no one was home. The porch lights of those country homes were off.

Now I am married with children of my own. My mother makes the costumes and I put together my husband’s costume. Two years now we’ve done themes for him and the children. Last year, the Scarecrow, the Lion and Dorothy were represented.


This year, Maid Marian and Friar Tuck joyfully joined Robin Hood (not pictured) for a rainy evening of trick or treating.



Along with Trick or Treating on Halloween, on All Saints’ Day I managed to take the children on a Saints Pilgrimage. We drove to the nearest church and I explained the saints who were represented by the statues at that Church. The children seemed to enjoy it even though memories were a little thin at the end of the day. For the second time, our family hosted an All Souls’ Day Celebration on November 2nd.

The table features ghost and pumpkin cookies, chili, bratwurst, and clementine “pumpkins.”





Of special note were the soul cakes made by my husbands. In centuries past, the poor went from door to door on All Souls’ Day and in exchange for praying for the family’s beloved dead, they received soul cakes, a slightly sweet treat (one of origins of our practice of Trick or Treating).


The table features white, browns and orange with white mums all around.




My husband also stirred up his “witch’s brew” in our brand new $5 punch bowl from the Hope Chest.


The party was great fun. As the evening drew on, we built a bonfire (another tradition in All Hallow’s Eve and All Souls’ Day revelry), bobbed for apples and enjoyed some squash bowling (butternut squash as the bowling pins, likely not a centuries-old tradition).

When the sun went down, the church bells “rang” (digitally at least) and we prayed for our dearly departed:

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord.
R. And let the perpetual light shine upon them.

All: And may the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.


There are so many fabulous and festive traditions out there! We could have made it more macabre without abandoning Catholic culture (Sedlec Ossuary, anyone?) but this year it shaped up differently. Looking forward to next year. Restoring Catholic tradition, one party at a time!

Woodland Tea Party-Birthday Party

For my daughter’s fourth birthday party, a milestone in my eyes (goodbye toddlerhood?) I wanted to do something very special for this little girl. Inspired by this crafty and enchanting floral fox birthday party, I decided on a woodland tea party in my parents’ almond orchard.

IMG_5448Armed with orange balloons, pink balloons and a helium tank, the grandmothers set the stage.


Literally. My father moved the dance floor he built for our friends’ wedding two weeks past into the orchard. Brought out some rounds and folding chairs and viola! we have a setting for our darling dear. I brought out my mother’s wedding china (easier since the party was at her house), some rustic orange fabric circles for the centerpieces, and flowers I arranged from two large bouquets my mom acquired at a retreat.

IMG_5440We added little felt fox clips to the center piece, and paper cut outs with a sleeping fox made, by a good friend, at each place setting.

IMG_5444The focal point of the party was our special gift to the girl. A dollhouse!

IMG_5424Plus delicious food. On the menu: granny smith apples, Caprese salad (tomato, home-grown basil, and fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil), and a ham with Cajun mayo, pickled vegetables party platter featured in Real Simple.

IMG_5425The cake is a bittersweet chocolate cake, also featured in Real Simple, which we served with homemade pumpkin ice cream. It is decorated with one real homegrown pumpkin and assorted sugar cookies made by my mom.


We served a Citrus Lavender Sage herbal tea, another tea mix and hot spiced apple cider.

The kids had an opportunity to paint birdhouses and play bean bag toss.


IMG_5487After that everyone got balloons and wagon rides!




IMG_5623As the evening progress the white lights were the finishing touch to a perfect evening. A great thanks to all those who made this birthday vision a reality!


It’s you I like

Another month another party! My grandmother celebrated her 88th birthday in August. To celebrate her we held an intimate soiree with family and friends. How lovely that our dear friends have become her friends over the years.


On the menu we served jalepeño artichoke dip, spinach dip with French bread, clam dip with potato chips, bean dip with lime flavored organic tortilla chips, chicken teriyaki skewers (a delicious repeat from our anniversary party),


two fruit bowls –strawberry and grapes, and strawberry and cantaloupe -, and crudites with organic, home grown rainbow carrots, yellow tomatoes and cucumber.


For dessert lemon pound cake with homemade pistachio ice cream!

But what in the way of entertainment? An ipod with a genius song selection? No! My husband played piano for the lady of the hour.

Lydia the tattooed lady
It’s you I like
Yes, we have no bananas
The merry-go-round broke down
What a wonderful world
Blue skies

It was a beautiful to way to celebrate one of the most wonderful women in my life.


Happy Birthday, Yia Yia!

Many happy returns

A lot has happened in the past month so there has been little time to post.

To celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, I was something special, something extravagant. We had been through so much together. Three children born, two children in heaven, five homes: two apartments, two houses and our home now where we hope to stay for a long time; two attempts at owning a dog, two batches of chickens, two successful ventures at owning cats. With close to five years dating experience prior to marriage we learned a lot about each other, how to communicate, how to love each other, how to hurt each other and how to forgive each other, so we entered our early marriage years with wisdom on those matters, ready to conquer the world as a team.


As single young adults, we gave our lives to God. As a dating, discerning couple, we consecrated our relationship to God. As a couple married in the Catholic Church, we answered his call in this both glorious and lowly vocation.




So now what? He knows almost all my stories (I still surprise him from time to time). I still learn things about him since he talks so much less than I do and doesn’t feel the desperate need to share every single detail. We anticipate what the other will say. We anticipate the other’s reaction. We do things intentionally to arouse that reaction. “Look, you socialized her,” he said to me, when our daughter repeated something very feminine I said to her on a previous occasion. I know my husband doesn’t care a lick about so-called gender socialization, but he knows I consider our child-rearing to be a grand experiment and am thrilled to discovered what traits common to their respective sex our children naturally develop. I’ve successfully managed a reaction out of him, although the occasions are considerably more rare.


We know each other now. It is no longer a whirlwind of romance and transition. We seamlessly and wordlessly navigate the wild and chaotic movements of our herd from leaving the grandparents’ house after swimming to rushing bedtime. My grandmother marvels at his involvement with the home and kids. I’m grateful for his patience with my weaknesses and his generosity in serving our family as chef and groundskeeper. He even loves me enough to write a post praising me.


It just ain’t right to be so happy.


So I wanted to us to do something spectacular to commemorate the milestone. Sangria on the patio at Galletto’s? Sounds wonderful and chic…and expensive. So an intimate after hours (read: after bedtime) party at our home.


The menu:

Stuffed mushroom caps

Chicken teriyaki skewers


Fruit, cheese and cracker platter

Fried calamari

And a caramel, shortbread chocolate cake made by my mother, baker extraordinaire.


To drink: Sangria


On the table: Stargazer lilies: 0855_B2DSC_0285

the flower he had delivered to me for Valentine’s Day while I was in college in Minnesota, the flower of our wedding, the flower he gave me for this anniversary.


The guests: Nearly all our wedding party, excluding the party of our wedding party who moved to Ohio after his own wedding party. What a blessing to still have these people in our life. I learned early that friendships are passing. How joyful to be proved wrong. My parents, my grandmother, and two couples who mentored us in many ways.


The evening went late for us tired parents of young children, but it was a beautiful evening and I cannot imagine the day could have turned out any more perfect.

I like the old phrase “many happy returns.” To me it means, “let the blessings keep on comin’.”  I’m grateful for the sentiment.  To my Husband of five years, many happy returns.