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summer whites

You know those amazing hot summer days spent relaxing in the sunshine by the pool/sprinkler all day – the ones that drift seamlessly in warm summer evenings where the only sound is the hum of crickets and the occasional frog?  That was the kind of day I was envisioning for our “summer whites”.  That wasn’t so much the kind of day we got – but the rain held off for the most part, and the borrowed heater (thanks mom!) kept us warm, and the company was amazing … so it pretty much felt like that kind of a night.

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In the end there were about 20 of us.  The only thing that made me nervous about this  year’s summer whites was that we’d invited a bit of a random group to come together – we were trying a new thing in our new neighbourhood.  Friends new and old, neighbours and family – a lot of people had never met before coming over sometime between 7 and 730 that night … but as it turned out this is a very small world and many connections were made over the awful ‘gasoline’ taste of one wine, or the delicious stone fruit of another.

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I took the day off Friday to clean up a bit, grab some rentals, and make some food to pair with the wine.  All in I made two dips, 4 appies and 2 desserts – each were made to pair with one of the wines we were serving.  The tables were also filled with cheese boards and caramels, fruit and bread, and chips with cam’s salsa (my favorite – worth a post all in itself … maybe a guest post).  The menu looked like this:

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And thanks to the amazing manager at Everything Wine – the blind wine tasting was a pretty fun success.

We started everyone out with sangria or a cherry-lime punch, and then once everyone had arrived we launched into the tasting.  Everyone got a clip board with tasting notes for the top 7 wines we were tasting, a wine glass, and a pen.  After each pour people chatted about the colour (insert most common response here: “um it’s yellow-y-ish and clear/opaque” ) and the smell (“fruit! I smell fruit” “or is it grass?” “gasoline – ew” “butter!) to finally the taste (“dry-ish” “flowery” “peaches”).  They tried to guess the type of grape and the region/country that the wine was from.

At the end of the evening we revealed each of the wines – we first asked people which were their favorites – and then to guess where they thought each of the wines was from.  We handed out the results of the wine grape, winery, region and price so that people could take that home with their notes in case they wanted to re-try any of their favorites from the night.

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The best part for me came after all the wine tasting – when everyone was gathered outside sipping on their favourite revealed wines or sangria and just chatting… it was so much fun to see everyone connecting and laughing and to have this summer get-together be outside despite the ominous forecast.

Some tips I’ve learned along the way in case you’re planning a last minute summer wine party:

  1. grab some crayola ‘window writers’ – they make the best name tags for glasses – everyone writes right on their glass and you don’t have to fumble with charms before and after
  2. for cost effective decor try using local cut flowers – we had vases all over the house and patio of hydrangea from my mom’s garden
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  4. chose a sandbox: make your tasting either region, grape, year or other specification to narrow down the types of wine you are tasting and make it a little easier for your guests who have no idea what they are about to taste
  5. make your own wine bags- I made ours in about 10 mins from burlap – just sew simple bags to the measurement of the tallest bottle and tie with natural cord.  I used white fabric paint to paint on the numbers but you could also stick on numbers or if you’re in a hurry use brown wine bags for the blind tasting.
  6. make your own clip boards! this super easy craft took very little time and meant we had a dozen clip-boards for the event that we can re-use.  Or you could buy them – but people need something to write on (and write with) so be sure to plan for that – for wine tasting template wine1wineclipbaords
  7. have alternate drinks.  everyone needs a break from the wine at some point (some are reluctant attendees to begin with) so have water, punch, beer, sangria or other drinks on hand that people can help themselves to throughout the night
  8. this one is the most important I think … and I don’t always do a good job of this:  make everything ahead of time.  you don’t want to be in the kitchen all night. plan a timeline – make appies that don’t require a lot of last-minute fuss – and label anything that needs an oven or bbq with temperature and timing so that anyone can throw things in for you if you get busy.

It is always a bit of a dream come true for me when we get to entertain.  I really do genuinely love the process of getting ready for events like this.  I felt a little awkward last night when a friend asked what kind of prep this took and how long – because the truth is that I’m always thinking of the next event.  I think I answered about 3 days – which is also true – I bought the wine and groceries wednesday evening, made the crafts thursday evening, and cooked, cleaned, and picked up rentals friday.

But to be honest I’d had this in my head for months – one of the most relaxing things I do is read cook books.  I love them.  It’s a happy place for me.  So having a night when I get to pull out recipes that I’ve wanted to try but I know we’ll never eat – or that are a bit scary – but I hope someone else will like even if we won’t … that’s like a gift for me.  I hadn’t made anything on the menu before except for the baked brie and I was excited by all the crazy flavours we would never normally try…  I used blue cheese in three recipes (we never eat blue cheese), used figs in two recipes (never had them in our house before), made shrimp and a salmon dip (we don’t usually eat seafood), made lemon curd for a delicious make-ahead lemon dessert, and pureed white kidney beans (what? eww!) for a crostini recipe that surprised me with how tasty it was.

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I think one of my favourite things in the world is planning and having people for an ‘event’.  I love planning the details, love thinking of what it could look like and what unique thing we could do or make, and love making the menu… but the real joy comes in seeing people’s faces when they are genuinely enjoying themselves.  It’s a selfish thing – i admit that – but some people get their high going for a run or riding a roller coaster … for me – it’s all about the details of entertaining.  Where do you get your biggest selfish joy?

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Below are two of the recipes that people were asking about last night – thank you for reading!

Lemon Dacquoise  (courtesy the lesley stowe fine foods cookbook)

I adapted this recipe a bit because I tried making the meringues the night before our event and they flopped.  In the original you’re supposed to mix in an almond/sugar mixture to your meringue – for me it make the mix flop … so i have noted my go-to meringue recipe below and also adapted by  adding a little zing to my whipping cream with the addition of lemon zest and lavender.

  • 1 cup sugar, 6 egg whites, 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

blend egg whites with cream of tartar on high until stiff peaks form – gradually add sugar (add vanilla or other flavouring if you like) – should be glossy and firm.  drop onto parchment lined baking pans for 25 minutes at 300 degres. turn off oven and let sit for one more hour

  • 6 egg yolks, zest and juice from 2 lemons, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar

melt butter and sugar over low heat.  add egg yolks, and lemon and stir over medium heat until thick – stirring constantly.  refrigerate until firm (2 hrs)

  • heavy cream, lemon zest, 1 tsp sugar, lavendar (optional)

blend cream until it forms whipping cream – add sugar and flavouring.

Put a meringue at the bottom of a clear glass, drop in some seasonal fresh fruit (i used blueberries), add in lemon curd and top with whipping cream.  Can sit all day in fridge. yum

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White bean- pesto crostini

This one is adapted from a Canadian Living magazine.

  • baguette with light crumb – sliced thinly: rub with olive oil and cook at 300 for 6 mins.  Cut a piece of garlic in two and rub on each crostini (can be made 24 hrs in advance and sealed in container on shelf)
  • White bean puree: blend together a can of white Cannoli beans or white kidney beans with salt, pepper, and 2 cloves of garlic
  • Pesto: use your own favorite recipe.  Mine is:
    • 1/2 cup fresh parm cheese, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 2 cloves garlic, 3 cups basil, 2 Tsp olive oil ( i don’t like it runny) – blend together. will stay good in fridge sealed for 1 week.

…add the layers together and top with fresh cherry tomatoes, fresh parmesan, or a little basil leaf – a great make -ahead appy as no cooking is required after the crostini are done!

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the making of “summer whites”

Cam and I love wine.  A favourite vacation of ours before having kids was meandering through BC’s Okanagan each summer trying out the new wineries and haunting our favourites. Even after we had Matt, we took a couple of trips with wine top on the agenda (including through Italy enjoying Montepulcianos, Super Tuscans and Trebbianos amung others that were new to us). Here is a picture of Matt with a random lovely winery staffer at one of our favorite wineries in Italy – Poggio Antico … and then one of him right after he got his treat for the day – nothing like a gelato fix for a nine-month old 😉

poggio matt itlay

It’s amazing though, what three kids did to our wine appreciation … we are now connoisseurs of the 11pm brand – you know the type right? We barely get through the day, enjoy the kids, dinner and play – often not having wine for fear of falling asleep because we’re so tired – and then after everyone is asleep and  we are both caught up on work we head to the hot tub or the fire place and open a bottle of wine.   Bliss.

We used to have a party every summer called summer whites – it was our untrained way of grabbing some friends and having a party around blind white wine tasting.  It was a blast.  People wore white. Wine was white. Music was good.  And the best part were the people – an amazing group of friends. Lack of time and shifting priorities had the ‘whites’ on the back burner for a couple of years but we’re bringing it back this summer.  We had a little ‘pre’ summer whites earlier this summer – tasting some of what beautiful BC has to offer and are looking forward to signing off summer with some great friends old and new.

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For this event I started with the wine, and a budget.  Decided to get a good assortment of white wine from around the world and kept the varietals relatively similar … so for this time it meant nothing super sweet, and nothing super dry (think sauvignon blanc to pinot grigio).  I visited our local wine expert at Everything Wine (warning : it’s a candy shop for wine lovers!) and together we picked 6 wines to taste in a good range from the “old world” (France, Italy, Spain) to newer world (Australia, New Zealand, California, BC)  We ranged between $13/bottle to a high of $36/bottle.   We chose an order and I snapped a pic with my phone so that I’d remember it later!

I put together tasting sheets, and had a little fun visiting my pals at Home Depot earlier this week – with some particle board and close pegs I’m making my own clip boards.  I put together one sheet with the wine types, regions and costs in case people wanted to go out and get a bottle they really liked later.  Then looked through some cookbooks for appetizers that would pair well with each of the wines.  I’ll put together a cheese plate to compliment the wines, and some sweet treats for the end of the night, and have water out throughout the night as well.  I’ll post more on the wines and food we chose after the night.

diy clip boards

So … now we just need the rain to hold off (so that we can enjoy one last summer evening under the stars), my second set of meringues not to crumble (first set are a sad mess on the counter), and our kids to sleep through (umm…yeah).

celebrating art

I hope you’re having a fabulous summer so far.  We can’t get enough of this gorgeous sunshine – and it seems everyone we run into is alarmed at how fast summer has flown by this year.  In the effort to try to soak up every last moment of it – my next couple of posts are dedicated to  summer days, and nights.

Together with my brother and sister-in-law we had a great opportunity to celebrate my mother-in-law’s (Gloria) birthday while we visited her in the interior at the beginning of this month.  It was a blast to meet some of her friends, and to have an evening sitting under the stars in the hot (hot!) weather, enjoying a some wine, some memories … and some art.  Gloria is a very talented artist.  In a small tribute to her passion we challenged guests to paint her a picture at some point in the evening in a 4×6 canvas.  The only question we asked her was to name her five favorite colours.  Those colours were what we set out to use throughout the evening…

It took some time (and for some of us a few glasses of wine) but pretty much everyone got in to it at some point and we ended up with a series of prints that we put into a frame to help remember the day, and the good friends she has.

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Before going to visit, we set our kids up with bigger canvasses in the yard.  With the only rule being the use of  their Grandmother’s five favorite paint colours as ammunition – they each set out painting their masterpiece.  They used brushes, sponges, fingers… and a foot at one point!  It was so cool to see how different each of them was in their approach.  With no fears of making a mess (who cares? we hosed them off after) or of rules of what or how to paint – they each took their own – very different path.

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Matthew thought about the colours for a while and decided to paint a sun set on the water – then painted an octopus and a sea turtle in the water and made sure it looked like an ocean by adding the coral reef.  It was thoughtful, and filled with a story about what each of the animals in the ocean was doing and there was no more paint than was required.  It dried almost instantly and Matt was happy to continue on painting sea creatures on paper after he was quickly done with the canvas.

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Kate decided she was painting a red butterfly – and then loved using the water on her brush and then loved the look of mixing colours, and she just kept painting layers and colours until every tiny spec of the canvas was covered.  She looked at it when she was done and noted that it was a butterfly in the blue sky above the trees with the sunshine.  Completely satisfied in her creation – and the last one to put down her brush.  Her masterpiece took three days to dry.

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Charlotte listened carefully to Kate and also decided to paint a butterfly – but her image was true to form with big colour blocked wings and a huge influence of her favorite colour: purple – she wanted to be sure we knew it was a butterfly even though she too, almost filled her canvas with globs of paint – and you can really see that it is – she can point out the blue body to you and the wings and the sunshine in the background if you like … (it is upside down here)

 

paint charlie

 

My brother and sister-in-law did most of the work of arranging for rentals and the catering so it left me with the very happy job of just making the table look pretty.  One small art project was painting small ikea vases with her favorite colours, and then painting tags to match each one.

painted vases painted vase with name tag

On the night of the party everyone took home their vase – which doubled as their take-away and a place setting … and held the flowers for the place settings.

table

We even got the kids in to the celebration and the art theme by baking mini cupcakes in solid coloured mini cupcake holders – which we then matched with icing and set out on artist boards to supplement the amazing dessert provided by the caterer.

cupcakes

It was a super fun day – and the prep for it was just as fun (as you can tell) … but one of my favorite moments of the evening was watching our girls with their little cousin – just hanging out in their own creative little world…cousin hang out