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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Christmas in July at The Top Gun Abode

Christmas in July is a novelty that I truly love.  It's not for the QVC shopping aspect, though I do tend to watch the home shopping network more fervently during this time frame, it's because there's something a bit wacky and wild about celebrating a winter holiday in the middle of summer.  With this in mind, I was inspired to throw a theme party at our house this past weekend - a Christmas in July fete. All it takes for me is one small idea and I can grow the biggest event out of it.  In two weeks time, we sent out invitations, planned the menu, shopped, cooked and decorated for our party.  It was one of the more fun and original ideas for a party that we've had in many years.  It was also a great success, as we not only made it a bit of a pot-luck dinner, but we also asked our guest to bring a donation for a food bank and/or a charity that gives toys to children throughout the year. 

Our family-friendly affair brought out a lot of kids.  Families from our circle of Opera Moms, to the families we have made into our village in Collingswood.  I loved seeing the children who had never before met play with each other, make new connections and just run with wild abandon.  I like to say that I know a party at our house is a success when I find the kids in the area behind our garage digging in the dirt and with faces and bodies covered in so much dirt that they look like they are young chimney sweepers!  The kids played, ran, dug and had a ton of fun.  When it came time to straighten up Nate's room, I found crumbs and sprinkles in his bed! The kids had FUN!

Our adult friends enjoyed themselves too.  I set out a feast for the occasion - cooking all night for the meal.  Cider brine roasted turkey; Coca Cola braised ham; sweet potatoes marshmallows; string beans with sauteed peppers and onions; cucumber salad; home-made guacamole. Guests brought watermelon medley; panzanella salads; ramen noodle salads; home-made tortillas and sweet empanadas.  I made a huge pitcher of 100% proof Southern Comfort Manhattans and 3 gallons of slamming red wine, brandy and fruit sangria (I'll be drinking this for weeks, there is so much left!)   Looks like enough for another get-together will have to be organized!

While I enjoyed myself very much, it was a lot of hard work for 3 days straight. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, decorating the house with holiday lights and garb.  Then a full day of undoing it all and putting all the stuff away.  I am filled with awe at our friends' generosity.  So many people, from so many various aspects of our worlds came over to hang out and to donate to our charities.  We are donating the food to The Food Bank of South Jersey.  I think we collected over 200 pounds of food to bring to them! The toys will go to PegsPresents, a charity run by my friend, Lee Romano. She and her husband, Andrew, bring gifts, toys, gift baskets to kids who live in shelters.  They do this periodically throughout the year, not just at Christmas.  We received great things, games, puzzles, a skateboard! I know that there will be many happy kids and well-fed folks thanks to my friends!

I think the above photo captures the spirit of the day and will become a classic keeper photo.  The blending of our worlds with kids being the focal point of our lives.  Merry Christmas!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Guest Posting for Diner en Blanc Philadelphia

 I've been asked to do a guest post for Diner en Blanc Philadelphia.  The post is now up - so I'm redirecting your attention to their blog for today.  Take a gander! I"m so excited!  And I'll be writing, tweeting, filming lots about this year's event, which will take place on Thursday, August 21st.  I'm a table leader this year, so while I still won't have any idea about the secret location, I'll have tons of inside scoop on the party once it happens!  Stay tuned!

My guest post - all about solving the mystery of the secret location:

UPDATE!: 8/13/14 - I happened to find that the blog post is also on Philly Focus - a blog and website devoted to happenings in Philadelphia.  It's run by Aversa PR Events - Kory Aversa.  Nice to have my stuff being posted around the town!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Cocktails with Bourbon, Rye or Whiskey

I'll blame it on my obsession with Mad Men, the 1960's period piece television series on AMC, that has sparked my interest in drinking "brown" liquors.  Jack and Jim were my previous drinking buddies, but now, well, I've moved uptown to a decidedly higher drinking caliber of spirits.  

At a dinner out at The Farm and The Fisherman Tavern, in Marlton, NJ, I was introduced to a craft version of sweet vermouth, called Antica.  It was used in a small batch bourbon Manhattan, and the drink went down so quickly, I could have easily had a second.  I went to the liquor store to find the vermouth and a better bourbon, but Antica is a difficult vermouth to find.  Instead, my friend, Steven, suggested that I try Noilly Prat vermouth.  He also showed me a decent, not too expensive small-batch rye whiskey called Bulleit.  It's one with which I'm familiar amoung the top shelf brands.  Why have I been slumming it with the commoners when there's been this great tasting rye to imbibe?  Using quality ingredients are making my Manhattan's smoother and in some ways, richer tasting.  Inspired by my better booze, I also stepped up my bitters and cherry selections, purchasing Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters - a pricey $15 for a wee bottle, along with a jar of Italian wild cherries in heavy syrup to really "kick it up a notch." Also not a cheap purchase.  These are not your grocery store mixers that's for sure.  It may be an expensive drink but it was money well spent. My wallet doesn't agree but perhaps my liver will forgive me...

I could drink a Manhattan every day, and I practically have this summer.  I've already gone through my first bottle of Bulleit.  I also created another summer cocktail, a newer more decadent version of sangria, made with muddled fruits, lemonade and club soda.  Whoa! Hold onto your fedora folks! This is a summer drink to end all summer drinks.  Whipped together on a whim, I have found a twist on a perennial favorite.  It's not so much a recipe as it is an idea.  Use what you have but use the best that you can find, oranges, limes, lemons, home-made or good maraschino cherries, lemonade, bourbon, whiskey or rye, good vermouth and a splash of club soda.  Enjoy, but not too much! You don't want to become a Don Drapper drunk.

Bulleit Rye Whiskey Sangria Ingredients - Makes 2 Cocktails
  • 1 Orange - Sliced and  Juiced/Muddled
  • 1 Lemon - Sliced and Juiced/Muddled
  • 1 Lime - Sliced and Juiced/Muddled
  • 2 Cocktail Maraschino Cherries
  • 1 Tablespoon  Maraschino Cherry Juice/Syrup
  • Shaker Glass filled with Crushed Ice
  • 2-3 Dashes of Bitters
  • 3 Ounces Quality Bourbon, Rye or Whiskey
  • 1 Ounce Quality Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 Ounces Lemonade
  • Splash of Club Soda
  • Ice and Cherries for Garnishment/Serving
  • Cocktail Shaker and Strainer
  • Wooden Spoon or Cocktail Muddler

  1. Wash and prepare citrus fruits.  Slice the orange, lemon and lime in half and squeeze the juices into a cocktail shaker.  Reserve half of each juiced citrus, and slice into rounds.  Add the citrus rinds into the shaker and muddle the citrus with handle of a wooden spoon or a cocktail muddler.  
  2. To this mixture, add in the cocktail cherries and syrup, 2 or 3 dashes of bitters, and the bourbon/rye/whiskey, vermouth and lemonade.  
  3. Put the top on the shaker, and shake thoroughly to combine and chill. 
  4. Pour drinks into rocks or short, heavy bottomed glasses filled with a few ice cubes and add in a splash of club soda to each glass.  Garnish with a cocktail cherry if desired.