Christmas Sangria

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My husband doesn’t have a ton of free time. Work speaks for most of his waking hours, which is a choice and totally fine…and I notice that when he does have time on his hands, he wants to complicate things. Most things. For example, on Sunday we were on a walk when he mentioned that he would like to stop for a drink. Okay, great. Manhattans and wine had already been imbibed that weekend…sangria, he declares, sangria is what he wants. I suggest half a dozen places I know with sangria on our street and the next thing I know, we are at the grocery store making sure we have all of the ingredients to make sangria at home.

And you know what? He was absolutely right to have use make it from scratch and I offer you sangria as an alternative cocktail this week of Christmas. It makes a big batch, using apples and pears (ooh! or pomegranate! use pomegranate!) makes it more seasonal than say, pineapple or strawberries and I think a cinnamon stick as a stirrer would be enough to make Aunt Thelma abandon her post at the fruitcake.

The moral of the story: sangria is not complicated and not just for summer. And let your husband make things involving cocktails (slightly) complicated.

Winter Sangria

1 bottle dry red wine

1 1/2 Cups brandy

1/2 Cup Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

Splash 7Up

Pears, Apples and/or Pomegranate

combine in a pitcher, adjust to taste, garnish with cinnamon sticks. 


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I love that “Friendsgivings” are a thing. All year I am grateful to have friends who I love like family and taking a day to prepare a meal together is becoming one of my favorite traditions.

Something else I love? Going all out with cooking. Everyone in this group loves to cook so something like a Friendsgiving means added effort which takes their food from a The Food Network level to, I don’t know, a Thomas Keller/French Laundry level. These people are not messing around and my taste buds are so happy for that.

Ryan was on mashed potato and bourbon punch duty while I took on dessert. In case any of you have desserts on deck for this week, I did some prep-work for you and highly recommend doing an Apple Slab Pie and Pumpkin Bread Pudding with caramel sauce. This apple pie feeds a full group and is a lot denser than round pie. I added almond extract to the glaze because I love the sweet nutty flavor with the apples. Oh and totally make the pie crust. I did it for the first time last year and again this year, it makes such a difference and is so easy.

It’s my theory that people don’t actually love pumpkin pie but are tied to the idea of pumpkin being fall tradition so skipping the pie and doing Pumpkin Bread Pudding was my move…and it was a hit. I am not crazy about raisins so I did cranberries and holy cow, I can’t believe how easy it is to make caramel.

Our Friendsgiving meal was incredible but I think my favorite part was after leftover containers had been made, the table cleared and everyone curled up in the living room. Bottles of wine passed around, jazz playing, storytelling, a few people dozing off, blankets being shared. Like that quote from Walt Whitman, “We were together. I forget the rest.” Togetherness is Thanksgiving and I am so grateful for that.

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I am also grateful, and slightly surprised, that these sweet potatoes arrived on the table without the use of a fire extinguisher.  Last year, there were flames coming from the oven when the marshmallows caught fire thus earning this dish the name of “torched sweet potatoes” on the menu this year. While it was funny to watch everyone scramble to extinguish said fire, no one exactly complained that things were a bit calmer around the oven this time.

sweet potatoes


You Can Do It: Flower Arrangements

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Having fresh flowers in my house is one of my favorite things. It’s a fairly simple but it feels like such a luxury to have something pretty around…and with Chicago winters, honestly, it’s just a good reminder that something is alive.

Usually, I buy a bouquet, come home, plunk it in a vase. Done. But with the holidays upon us, I got to thinking about if I could kick it up a notch and conquer an actual centerpiece. I swoon when I see big, gorgeous arrangements at weddings or restaurants but certainly, that could be something I could figure out how to do without the big price tag that comes from ordering them from a flower shop, right?


Adventures in Floral Arrangements. I knew I wanted to make something beautiful I could have in my home or bring as a hostess gift for less than $20. After procuring some floral foam from Michaels (any craft store will have it), I set out to Mariano’s, my favorite grocery store that also happens to have awesome blooms at killer prices. I mixed and matched, coming home with a dozen red roses, sunflowers and red spriggy thingys. What I was looking for was colors I loved together and a difference in textures that was going to make it interesting to look at. Real talk: whatever you love and makes you happy will be perfect.

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Next up: what to put the flowers in? I used a soup pot. Really. It was round and short-ish and wouldn’t show the floral foam through it. So anything that can hold water can work for your arrangement. If I were gifting this, I would buy something that I would leave with them.

After soaking the floral foam in the pot with enough water to fill to the top (do this for a few minutes, the foam absorbs a lot), I cut down the flowers to give the arrangement some height but still be anchored by the foam. Trial and error- cut a little, try it out, cut some more.

I started with the sunflowers because they were the largest stem and bloom. I spaced them out so that they would be seen evenly from each side.

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Then I filled in the gaps with the roses. I cut some shorter than the sunflowers to give the arrangement some depth but others I left the same height. Interesting and lovely is the goal here, not perfection.

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After I had a full vase of sunflowers and roses, I pieced in the red sprig thingys to add some texture. Again- I put them in where I wanted to and it just brought an interesting layer to the arrangement. (Ed. note: this is a highly technical post, as you can from the use of the words “red sprig thingys”.)

Moral of the story: making your own centerpiece is totally possible and totally easy. Having this on my table this weekend felt so fancy and I am already thinking about what I want to create for our Friendsgiving in a few weeks.  Mission accomplished!

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Trick or Treat Brunch + Hosting Tips

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Halloween Party

Last week, I had 6 kids under the age of 3 over for a pre-Trick or Treat brunch.

In related news, I was asleep by 8:30pm that night. Parents- hats off to you.

Really and truly though, it was one of the most fun afternoons I have had in ages. The kiddos showed up in their costumes and were just so cute and excitable about…everything. About waffles. About jack-o-lantern cookies. About the pumpkin decorations. And about bubbles.

Oh man, the bubbles.

I put some in the buckets I got the kids with Halloween goodies and thank goodness because With the temperature in the 60s, we were able to play on the back porch and it provided a solid hour of entertainment. I know this is not news to parents but I was blown away.

In addition to spending time with friends and having fun with the littles, it was the first party we have had here that I feel flowed well. We entertain frequently but the food-greeting-drinks-entertainment-chatting aspect of things was just on with this party. Here are some tips about hosting I have picked up along the way:

Unless it’s a seated dinner party, choose a menu that is prepared ahead of time. If guests are settling in for an evening, still being in the kitchen stirring risotto or basting the Thanksgiving turkey is fine but messing with cooking when you’re having a casual, fun, mingle party is a huge pain. Playing to the toddler set and parents who might not want to eat candy all day, we did Belgian waffles and egg casseroles. I had the buffet filled with cider, orange juice, waters and options for a Bloody Mary (I figured a cocktail might be appreciated by parents about to hit the streets with hundreds of kids on candy highs). I also had fresh cooked apples and a strawberry sauce with maple syrup for waffle toppings. We opened the door and everything was ready for when people wanted to dig in. So much more relaxing and enjoyable.

Also ahead of time: put dishes out. “Where is that plate? What bowl should I use? We’re out of forks!” is pretty standard for when we have people over. On Sunday I laid out the serve ware and utensils first thing in the morning where I thought they were needed and actually took time think about it. Thus I was able to run to the store when I realized I actually didn’t buy paper plates (kids = paper plates in my book) and when food was ready, it had a place to go.

Give new guests a tour. I always forget who has been to our house and who hasn’t so it’s Ryan who takes this on and he is so good about making sure everyone knows where the bathrooms are and how to get around. I think it really contribute to making people feel comfortable being in our home.

Speaking of comfortable, ask if anyone needs anything. My friend Kate is a wonderful host. She and her husband are always refilling glasses before you even knew you were low and asking what you need. It’s not about being waited on but asking people what they need really communicates that “mi casa es su casa” and to help yourself to what you want. Pass the Malbec, please.

Spilling/Dirt/Etc Doesn’t Matter: There is nothing in your house that can’t be cleaned up or is that irreplaceable; if it is, put it in a closet or don’t have guests over. Nothing is worth stressing yourself or your guests over. Relax and have fun- that’s why you’re doing this!

Bubbles. I will never not have bubbles on hand ever again. I am not sure kids love anything more than bubbles.

Halloween Party 2

(photo credit: KateGivesThanks)