Holiday Cocktail Party

adminCocktail party, Friends, home team, party planning, Uncategorized, wine, Winter Sangria%s Comments

Ryan and I both love entertaining, love our friends and love Christmas so it was a no-brainer to have a cocktail party to ring in the Holidays!

After a few days of cookbook scouring, grocery trips (4 in all!) and apartment cleaning, we were ready to host 15+ of our friends.  On the menu?  Caprese Crostini, Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, Arancini balls, Maryland Crab Dip, Spinach Artichoke Dip, Turkey Meatballs in a Cranberry Sauce, Brie with Fig Jelly, Gingerbread and Oreo Balls.  And Winter Sangria.  And a Champagne Cocktail.  And beer.

Despite our initial plan of keeping it simple (a house drink, beer, and some appetizers), our menu grew and grew until we had 2 house cocktails and 10 different dishes.  We got carried away but we enjoy preparing both our home and our kitchen so much that I think it was as much a gift for us as it was for our guests, a fun little project to take on together.  After all, ’tis the season, right?

Here’s a pic I snapped right before the party wrapped up.

Merry, Merry!


On Baking: Cookie Exchange Edition

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Tomorrow, a group of girlfriends will convene at my friend Amanda’s darling Lincoln Park apartment for a cookie baking party and exchange.  From my understanding, her grandmother does this with the family every year and now Amanda is bringing the tradition Chicago-side.  We’ve been instructed to bring the ingredients for our favorite cookie to so we can spend the evening baking together and then trade up at the end so we each go home with a taste of everything.  We were also told to bring wine.  I don’t think that has anything to do with cookies.

After much (internal) debate, I have decided to make Chocolate-Covered Oreo Balls.  A co-worker’s Mom made them for a work event once and for as decadent as they tasted, I was so surprised to learn how simple they were to make.  With any luck, my contribution to the cookie exchange will look like this:

Oreo Ball Recipe Ingredients

  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese or whipped cream cheese
  • 18 ounces package of Oreo cookies, crushed (crush the entire cookie- don’t remove the filling!)
  • 2 cups semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon shortening

Oreo Balls Recipe Instructions

Mix cream cheese with electric mixer until fluffy. Add the crushed Oreos and beat on high until well mixed. Chill for at least 2 hours in the freezer. Then roll Oreo cookie mix into one inch Oreo Balls.

Next, melt the chocolate chips and shortening with a double boiler or in the microwave.

Dip the Oreo balls completely into the melted chocolate using tongs or a toothpick.

Put on wax paper. After the Oreo balls harden, keep them in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3 or 4 dozen Oreo Balls, depending on the size.


What about you?  I’d love to hear what your favorite holiday recipes are!


Just Like a Good Bra…

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I’m talking about support, people.

To say I am blessed to have supportive people in my life is an understatement.  I am even luckier to know that I do as these people are also very expressive.  But this week, the support I have been getting from people I love, people I like and people I don’t even know has been overwhelming.  Overwhelmingly AWESOME, that is!

My best friend is in Paris this week so she sent a card because she’ll be mid-air during my run.  My Dad, writer of the best emails of all time, sent me a Papa G classic that made me (and several co-workers) cry at work yesterday.  Mama G is coming into town to be at the finish line.  There have been emails and calls from friends, friend’s parents, acquaintances, readers, friends of friends, all with advice, their own running stories or well wishes.

I’m getting more excited than nervous now and I attribute that to the amazing support I’ve been shown recently.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

4 days!

Cubs Win!

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I started Sunday out with plans to do laundry, apartment hunt and go to yoga.  I ended up at the Cubs vs. Pittsburgh game with 9 of my closest friends.  A soft pretzel, a few cold beers and a 8th inning comeback by the Cubbies and I had my first Cubs game of the 2010 season under my belt.

That is reason #2987 that I live in Chicago–at a moments notice, I can be gifted a Cub’s ticket and walk up to Wrigley Field to go to the game.  And enjoy the game alongside some of my best friends, who also happen to be there randomly.  Sure, I’m starting the week lacking clean sheets and no where to live come July 1st but when I look back on this season in my life, I willing to bet that I’ll remember the fun times with my city and my friends more than chores left undone.

…if you could not fail?

adminFriends, Italy, pleasure, reading, Uncategorized%s Comments

I was at a meeting the other day where the ice-breaker posed the question: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?“.  I was kind of taken aback because someone asked me this a few months ago and I never came up with an answer.  I mean, if I couldn’t fail?  Without regard to my personal skill or past or abilities?  I have my goals and things I am working toward but is that what I would do if I knew I couldn’t fail?  No, those are things I’m going to try for anyways.  If I could not fail

The answers from the group really got me thinking big.  I mean, talk about standing in a place of nothing’ness and creating whatever you want.  Because if you could not fail, you could do anything. Some of my favorites: “travel and not come back”, “be a Madonna’esque rockstar”, and “be in the Winter Olympics…as a bobsledder”.  Someone even said that they would be the President of the United States.  Right away, my reaction was “Ugh, what a terrible idea!” but it’s what you would do if you could not fail. If I couldn’t fail, being the President would be amazing!  I would be able to fix our international relationships, end the war, get Iran and North Korea to voluntarily give up their nuclear weapons, rebuild American companies so there are actual jobs based in actual America, find a cure for AIDS and cancer, bring the fine arts back to public schools AND end bi-partisanship by requiring that the Senate get weekly mani-pedis together.  So, I finally got it, this if you could not fail thing.

I would move to Italy and devote my time to all things pleasurable.

I would spend my days practicing yoga in fields of sunflowers and olive trees and in vineyards. I would go to the market to buy copious amounts of fresh basil, vegetables and cheese, and have those perfect kind of meals that last for hours and are conversation and wine-filled.  Every night.  I’d make friends from around the globe to do all these things with in between the times when my friends and family were flying out (on my private jet-I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, after all) to join me in my pleasure-filled life.  And I’d read book after book after book–The Divine Comedies, Atlas Shrugged, finally finish Pride and Prejudice, every single chick-lit on the planet, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible…everything.  For fun, I would consult world leaders on the above listed presidential stuff and when Madonna needed some support, I’d put my years of hairbrush singing to use and join her on tour.

What would you do if you could not fail?

On Holiday’ing

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This is how my day began (via blackberry messenger):
Nina:  Did you put Gatorade in LB’s water bowl?!?
Ryan: I may or may not have thought Luna Bell needed to up her electrolyte count.
Never a dull moment with that one.
The holidays snuck up so quickly this year and this is my excuse for the lack of blogging.  My dad and Kari and my cousin Kalia and her husband Ken were in town for the 3rd Annual Gardner Family Christmas Kickoff the first weekend in December.  This is one of my favorite traditions.  My Dad decided that we needed to create a plan where we meet in Chicago to kick off Christmas–that no matter where Kalia and I are, we’ll grab the husbands, kids, pet hamsters, whatever and make it to Chicago the weekend before Christmas to spend some family time.  The first year, I took the Amtrak from Grand Rapids only to have it stop in Hudsonville due to some other train hitting a truck. The Polar Express it was not.  When I was told that we would be going backwards to GR at 10mph, I made the conductor let me off the train, and I hiked in my Uggs with my luggage through a snowy ditch to the Tractor Supply Company across the street and read my new Vogue next to the topical ointments for udders until Kalia and Ken could come get me.  Everyone got John Deere socks for Christmas that year.  In gift bags with horses on them.
Ryan and I drove up to Crystal Mountain Resort in northern Michigan last weekend for the wedding of Sara Neinas and Travis Young.  The Lambert’s and Neinas’ are like family to my mother and I–time spent with them is time of great appreciation.  They love being together so much and the warmth is just palpable.  And they’re huggers.  I love huggers.  It was such a blessing to spend the weekend at a ski lodge with my mom and celebrate with a beautiful, super fun wedding.
Congratulations to the newlyweds!
I’ve so enjoyed all the hustle and bustle of the last month but I am so looking forward to just being in the city this weekend with no plans.  My favorite thing to do these days is stare at my Christmas tree so I imagine there will be a lot of that going on.  I’m dedicating today to holiday baking.  My dear friend Shana is home today as well and I’m so excited to share in one of my favorite holiday rituals with her.  No matter how busy this time of year is, I love how spending time with people who make you happy and make you laugh is more of a priority than it is at other times.  Part of why I moved to Chicago was to be with my “tribe”.  Community is so, so important and I don’t think people get that.
There is such a need for connection, for communication, to have people around you to go “You too?!?”.  I am so blessed to have my friend family so close by and now, my work friends.
Wherever you are and whomever you’re with, I hope today brings you joys, small and large, a few belly laughs, and time to reflect on good fortune and a bright future.
High Five of the Day: Speaking of community, you know who had an amazing one? George Bailey.  I was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life“, I watch it every year, and I just cried and cried today when the entire town comes to their house with that basket of money.  “No man is a failure who has friends.” -Clarence, Angel Second Class.

Football, friends and…free tickets?!?

adminChicago, Friends, Recipes, Sports%s Comments

Cubs vs. Reds

It was a beautiful Saturday in September, which meant that college football was the only thing on the menu for the day.  Ryan and I decided to start what would likely end up as a beer and barbecue filled day by going on a run.  Per usual, I wimped out 2 seconds out the door and managed to twist Ryan’s arm into stopping for Einstein bagels first (I know how baby likes his carbs).  Sitting outside, enjoying the Chicago summer that arrived 3 months late, devouring whipped strawberry cream cheese goodness and listening to a random, cheesy guy on a keyboard playing some legit classics (Elton John?  Jack Johnson?  Ella Fitzgerald? Yes, please!) was so enjoyable.  Knowing that  I was going to spend the afternoon with my best friends watching the Spartans and the Irish stride stumble into victory what some may consider not quite winning, I couldn’t have been happier.  But then a lovely lady  noticed my  Cubs shirt and offered us tickets to the Cubs game that she couldn’t use.  The first pitch was in 30 minutes but did we want them?  Ryan loves him some free goods so we grabbed what was left of our bagels, threw our failed attempt at running to the wind and hopped in a cab to the game.  The seats ended up being fantastic, the Cubs made a 7th inning attempt to stay in the game and Ryan & I enjoyed some adult beverages as well as each other’s company after a particularly busy August.

After smiling about my time in the Friendly Confines all weekend, I got to thinking about about great days.  Lately, I’ve been in a season where I feel like I am constantly looking for “fun”, “great weekends” and “luck”–all tall orders when they’re needed.  I woke up on Saturday morning smelling the delicious chicken bbq Ryan had cooked in the crock pot overnight, feeling the sun hitting my face from the shade I didn’t close, and knowing I had an entire day filled with something I love (college football) with people I love (my Chicago chums).   I didn’t need anything else from the day–it was already more than enough.  The Cubs tickets that fell in my lap didn’t make or break the day and so I was just able to enjoy it for what it was–an awesome time in my favorite city with my favorite guy.  Icing on an already delicious cake.  What a blessing and I am so happy I slowed down to enjoy it, for once.

Oh and let’s give a culinary round of applause for the AMAZING food that everyone made for the tailgate!  For a group 24 year olds, we put together a delicious spread–ribs, homemade pizza rolls, buffalo chicken dip, red skin potato salad, wings, cookies, and chicken bbq.  Thanks for hosting, Laura!

Here is the recipe for our Chicken BBQ–I say “our” because I cut up raw chicken,  participation enough if you ask me.

Chicken BBQ

5lbs of chicken breasts

1/2 bottle of ketchup

1 20 oz. Coca Cola Classic

3 T. Lemon Juice

2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce

1 Large onion (cut into rings)

2 T garlic (chopped)

chili powder, italian seasoning, salt and pepper and whatever else you feel like to taste


Cut the chicken breasts in to thirds and bake for 20 minutes–you want them not cooked all the way but not raw.  Place the chicken breasts in a large crock pot and add the ketchup, coke, lemon juice, worchestershire sauce, onion, garlic and seasonings.   Stir and turn crock pot on high for 4 hours.   Stir and mix well, using a fork to split apart the chicken into the “strings” that end up looking like bbq.  Cook on high 4 more hours, stirring every once in awhile.  Keep on low or warm as you pick at it all day and occasionally make sandwiches.  Enjoy!