We Did!

Robinson Imagery

It’s official! We tied the knot!

Check out Brittany’s great write up and pictures here: Blue Ridge Mountain Adventures (thanks, Brittany!)

We had the best weekend of our lives, and we felt so fortunate to be surrounded by our family and friends at this special time in our journey together. Kyle and I are headed to Breckenridge, Colorado for our honeymoon this week and I am sure that I will have plenty of photos and stories to share when I return.

And now, according to a random number generator, the winner of the wedding favor giveaway is. . . (drumroll, please). . .

Michelle!

Congratulations, Michelle! I’ll get your coffee to you when I return from my honeymoon. 🙂

Locally Roasted Wedding Favors

So, friends, here’s the thing. I have tried to minimize the impact of the wedding planning on the blog this year, but now that we are just three days away from the wedding, it’s going to be all wedding, all the time. I just can’t focus on anything else! And after the wedding, it’s going to be all honeymoon photos all the time. At least I can promise that some of those photos will be of food, because I just can’t help myself. Sometime in the next two to three weeks, I might post a recipe. But for now, wedding favors!

I am super excited about our wedding favors, and I should be, because they were the first thing we decided on at the very beginning of the planning process. Before I had a dress, a venue, a photographer or a caterer (heck, even before I had a budget), I had the wedding favors all picked out. Kyle and I are thrilled to be giving our guests little packages of locally roasted coffee from Blanchard’s Coffee.

We had a blast getting these together. We wanted something custom made, so we visited the roasting lab earlier this year for a tasting. We watched them roast the Dark as Dark blend while we were there and learned a little about their equipment and business. We tasted several varietals at different roast levels, then blended them together to see what worked together. We ultimately chose a blend and roast that we loved. It was so much fun and so personal!

Unfortunately we recently found out that one of the coffees in our blend is unavailable due to a limited crop. But on the bright side, we got to taste more coffee! Blanchard’s sent us samples of similar coffees and we had a tasting at home to come up with the next best thing. We had a great time again, while tasting in the comfort of our own home, and we feel that we picked another winner. I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as we do!

I am so excited about this because it is just one of the many ways we have been able to use a portion of our wedding budget to support a local business and feature a product that we believe in. Our vision for the wedding celebration is to convey our personalities and interests, while showcasing a well curated collection of products from local businesses, and we aim to get there by making sustainable choices along the way. Blanchard’s is a great local Richmond business and working with them has been awesome.

So would you like to try out our special blend for yourself? I’m giving away one 3-oz. bag of our wedding coffee to one lucky reader. To enter to win, please leave a comment on this post, about anything at all! Tell me how you take your coffee, what you do to support local businesses, or why you love Richmond. Give me some marriage advice. Tell me a joke. Introduce me to your cat. Whatever you want!

Because I plan to tell you whatever the heck I want to for the next few weeks. Then, when the wedding stuff is over, maybe I’ll give you a recipe for Three Sisters Soup, or tell you about my first time using habanero peppers, or show you what a Turks Turban squash looks like.

Leave your comment by 11:59 PM on Saturday, October 20th for your chance to win.

This giveaway is not sponsored by Blanchard’s Coffee; I’m just feeling generous.

A Foodie Bachelorette Party

bachelorette2

Credit: Meghan McDonald

I recently hit the road with some of my best friends for my bachelorette party in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t the wildest of weekends but it was absolutely the most fun I have had in awhile. I want to share some of it here because the girls planned a very personalized bachelorette weekend which, of course, included some fantastic food. It also included jumbo slices of pizza purchased from a small carryout restaurant located one block away from Town Danceboutique. We don’t need to talk about that.

Resampled_2012-09-14_21-00-08_614

She feels pretty, oh so pretty

My wonderful sister planned a fabulous weekend of dancing, drinking, dining, and pampering that I will never forget. It all started with a trip to Town Danceboutique for the Friday night drag show, at which I was teased for being a bachelorette and then forced to awkwardly shake my money maker on stage. After the show, Town turns into a big dance party with an amazing crowd and nonstop awesome music.

The club can’t even handle me right now.

After an evening of debauchery, we slept in at our swanky hotel, Helix, which is located in the hip Logan Circle neighborhood. A few Starbucks coffees and hot showers later, everyone was ready for a food porn marathon.

Resampled_2012-09-15_11-01-49_301

hot

We began with brunch at Co Co Sala, a “chocolate lounge” that offers a three course prix fixe brunch on weekends. First, a round of brunch cocktails took the edge off.

2012-09-15_11-11-31_221

Clockwise, from left: Berries & Bubbles, Fire & Ice, Wasabi Bloody Mary, Peachy Keen

We enjoyed our cocktails with the amuse bouche, which was a cocoa flavored ball of fried dough, rolled in cinnamon sugar, drizzled with chocolate caramel, and sprinkled with nuts.

2012-09-15_12-09-37_895

One of the highlights of brunch was the Aztec Cheese Enchilada, which is a “pepper cheese enchilada with  guava sauce and avocado,” with a ” shaved fennel & mache salad with chipotle chocolate ganache, jalapeno jack cheese & guava lime vinaigrette.”

2012-09-15_12-09-45_627

Another hit was the Cheese Magic, which included “twice baked upside down cheese soufflĂ©,  leek sauce and tomato marmalade” with a “blue cheese pear salad with walnuts, cranberries, & honey balsamic vinaigrette.”

2012-09-15_12-09-26_89

The Grown-up Grilled Cheese was perfect for a cool and cozy late morning meal. Cheddar cheese was melted between slices of truffle-scented brioche, and then the sandwich was served alongside a cup of roasted tomato soup and a cheese fritter.

Resampled_2012-09-15_12-50-13_382

The two best desserts were the peanut butter cheesecake with a milk chocolate and peanut brittle crunch, and the Onyx, which was a dark chocolate mousse with vanilla creme brulee, salted caramel, crispy chocolate pearls and a brownie bottom. The Onyx was so delicious that I managed to eat the whole thing, even though I was already stuffed.

Resampled_2012-09-15_12-50-06_87

I am so happy that I’m not starving myself to fit into the wedding dress, or I may have missed out on all this amazing food. I recently came to the realization that the only reason I haven’t had a single bridezilla moment or major meltdown is that I’m not trying to lose weight. Seriously, the stress of wedding planning on top of working an amazing full time job, volunteering on the weekends, and developing my freelance writing career is enough to cause the occasional freak-out. If I were dieting on top of that, forget it. I think the reason some brides turn into psychotic, self-centered, emotionally unstable monsters is that they can’t handle the stress while being so damn hungry all the time. Not a problem for me!

2012-09-15_16-10-40_736

Onward to the best dinner I have had in a long time. My lovely sister (and gorgeous maid of honor) made us reservations at the number one restaurant on my list of places to try in D.C.! Dinner at  Zaytinya with my closest friends was simply wonderful. Zaytinya is a Mediterranean tapas restaurant that serves Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese inspired mezzes under the direction of Chef José Andrés.

Resampled_2012-09-15_16-28-36_670

Zorro was here

The meal began with bread and oil, which I went easy on since the best was yet to come.

Resampled_2012-09-15_16-35-55_566

I ordered a bottle of the Agiorgitiko, Gaia Estate 14-18h, which is a Greek rosé. After a couple of course, one bottle for the table turned into two bottles, which is exactly how you should do tapas or mezzes, in my opinion.

2012-09-15_16-58-27_703

Everything we ate there was amazing and we practically licked every plate clean. Some of my favorites were:

  • Maroulosalata – heirloom lettuces, dill, mizithra cheese, red wine vinegar dressing, nasturtium flower petals
  • Bantijan Bil Laban – crispy eggplant, roasted garlic-yogurt sauce
  • Bamya – caramelized okra, fresh and crispy chickpeas, cardamom tomato stew
  • Mercimek Koftesi – traditional seared red lentil patties, preserved lemon yogurt, pomegranate, lettuce leaves

Resampled_2012-09-15_17-04-42_891

After dinner, we took a long walk back to our adorable hotel and did a fun spa night, complete with DIY manicures and pedicures. . . and enough sparkling wine to make us just clumsy enough to forget we had wet nails and consequently ruin our manicures. The itinerary of this trip was so personalized to my tastes, and while it might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, this bachelorette weekend was so uniquely me. I am so grateful that I have such wonderful friends to come along for the ride.

Planning and Playing in Charlottesville

2012-04-03_15-58-40_95

It has been a little while since I have done a wedding planning update. I’m not ready to share all the fun details quite yet, but I wanted to show you some of the things we have been up to. The wedding is just over 6 weeks away (aaahhhh!) and we have been spending a lot of time in Albemarle and Nelson counties, planning, making decisions, and putting the finishing touches on our wedding details.

One of the more interesting tasks was our pie tasting with Lynnette from Family Ties & Pies, who will be making the pies for our dessert table. I have mentioned before that we are planning a seasonal meal for our reception that will incorporate as many local ingredients as possible. For dessert, we have opted to do assorted pies instead of a large decorated cake.

2012-08-23_19-02-26_465

We are thrilled that Lynnette uses a lot of local ingredients in her pies and tries to make them a tad healthier by substituting natural sweeteners in place of refined sugars. The tasting got us really excited and committed to the dessert plan. When my Dad sent me this great article last week, I felt even more strongly that we had made the right decision!

2012-08-23_19-17-00_859

I don’t know (and frankly don’t care) if anyone else will be missing the wedding cake, but we are absolutely sure that we will not miss it one bit.

Resampled_2012-09-01_12-53-42_829

Last weekend I had my hair test in Crozet along with a few other meetings and had to spend Friday night out near Charlottesville. I was able to convince some friends to join me over the holiday weekend, and we rented a cabin in Afton for two nights.

Resampled_2012-09-01_08-07-02_156

It is amazing how two nights can feel like four or five when you don’t have TV or Internet access. It was positively blissful and exactly the recharge that I needed. I enjoyed my morning coffee with a fantastic view and the sounds of nature all around me, and spent my evenings playing games in the cabin and roasting marshmallows around the outdoor fire pit.

Resampled_2012-09-01_11-50-24_113

We even squeezed in a hike at Crabtree Falls to work off the beer we drank on Friday night. I did not get the full benefit of the activity because I had to stop about two-thirds of the way up, turn around, hike back down and head to the cabin to shower and get out the door for an appointment. Although I missed the view from the top this time, I am still grateful to have had the opportunity to get out there on a beautiful morning.

Resampled_2012-09-01_12-08-26_652

We met up with friends later at one of our favorite spots, Blue Mountain Brewery, for an early dinner.

Resampled_2012-09-01_17-01-46_302

The veggie pizza was delicious, as always, and of course we had to get a sampler flight and some growler fills while we were there.

Resampled_2012-09-01_17-08-39_284

Most of our recent trips to Charlottesville and Afton have been very rushed. I was really happy that we had the chance to stop and smell the roses (or hops as the case may be) this time around. My next visit is in a week, and then again the week after that. By the time I walk down the aisle in October, I’ll almost feel like a local!

Resampled_2012-09-01_16-55-12_453

When I returned to Richmond from this last trip, I had about 36 hours to unpack, do laundry, tie up some loose ends at home, and repack for a weeklong business trip. Luckily, I managed to get the last of the wedding invitations out before I hit the road again.

2012-09-03_17-36-29_337(1)

45 Days!

Wedding Planning Update – 4 Months to Go!

ri_ img_8434

It has been awhile since I have written about my third job: wedding planning. You may recall the wildly popular Engagement Tofu post, in which I announced my and Kyle’s engagement.

2011-12-11_16-43-54_973

Since then, we have done a ton of research, made hundreds of decisions, and planned many major aspects of our wedding, which is just four months away! One of the main guiding principles of planning this event has been sustainability. Most people will only plan an event this large and expensive once in their lives. We take the decisions very seriously, and we see our wedding as a huge opportunity to partner with people and organizations that have the same values as we do. We try to support local businesses, promote sustainability, and minimize our impact on the environment in our everyday lives. We are looking forward to maintaining those standards in our wedding, and perhaps teaching our friends and family a thing or two about why we make the choices we do.

Resampled_2012-06-15_14-13-46_657

Before we did anything else, we chose the wedding venue. We picked our place before we even chose the date! Kyle and I knew we wanted to get married outdoors and, with the help of some friends, made a list of pro’s and con’s for both the beach and the mountains. In the end, the Blue Ridge Mountains won, because we love to hike and visit there year-round, the area is home to a lot of agriculture and interesting food, wine and beer, and we knew it would be absolutely beautiful in the Fall. We decided on Afton Mountain Vineyards in Afton VA, which is just a stone’s throw away from where we went on our first hike together. As long as the weather cooperates, we will be getting hitched in front of the view you see pictured above. We are so excited to share this very special place with our friends and families.

2012-03-24_10-00-07_397

One of the most important decisions we have made so far (aside from the one to get married), is what food we will have at the reception. I spent countless hours researching, interviewing caterers, and reviewing proposals. I knew that the food would be very memorable (at least for me), so this is an area that we decided we could splurge on just a little. Kyle and I are vegetarians, but our menu will feature both vegetarian options and options that contain meat that was raised locally and humanely. I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but we are planning a seasonal menu with a strong focus on locally sourced foods. You can expect some global cuisine, including Middle Eastern, Latin and Moroccan flavors. Hopefully this will showcase how creative you can be with locally sourced ingredients. Our outstanding caterer is Beggars Banquet from Orange, VA and we are thrilled to be working with them!

ri_ img_8374

Our photographer is the incredibly talented John Robinson of Robinson Imagery. Kyle and I are falling in love with Robinson Imagery almost as quickly as we fell for each other six years ago (ha!). The photos from our engagement session were gorgeous, and John’s personality makes it easy for us to be ourselves in front of the camera (corny jokes, gap teeth, goofy smiles and all). All of our pictures so far look so authentic, which is exactly what we want. I know that our whole wedding party will be just as comfortable with John, so we are expecting great, natural photos of everyone on the big day. And just in case anyone is shy in front of the cameraman, John is bringing a photo booth set up for guests to take pictures of themselves via a remote-controlled camera with a backdrop and props. I can’t wait to see what silly poses our friends come up with.

2011-05-28_14-58-22_734

Our flowers will be provided and arranged by Sarah Pollard Chiffriller, whom you may know from the Twigs line of local floral arrangements at Ellwood Thompson’s. I found her through Amy’s Organic Garden, which is an organic farm that sells delicious vegetables and gorgeous flower bouquets at our local farmers’ market. We are taking a risk with locally sourced arrangements in mid-late October, but we are committed to sticking to the plan. I am hoping for some bright marigold colors when the wedding date rolls around, but if a hurricane or an early frost wipes everything out early like it did last year, then we’ll just have greenery and herbs in all of our bouquets, bouts and arrangements. We’ll just deal with what we’ve got come this Fall.

Resampled_2012-06-15_14-14-06_646

We have a few other things nailed down that you might be interested to hear about. For colors, we are planning on dark teal with pops of marigold and accents of crisp white and sage green. I think the teal and marigold color scheme will be beautiful with the changing leaves and the blue-gray mountains in the background.

One of my favorite ideas so far is our guest book. We will have an artsy book with a lot of white space in it for guests to choose a page that they like and write a note on. This alternative to the traditional guest book will leave us with a keepsake that will look great on our coffee table for years to come. I could divulge the title of the book we will use, but my lips are sealed. We must maintain a little element of surprise for the guests!

Now while we’re talking about coffee tables, let me tell you about our favors. We are sending guests home with a custom blended and locally roasted coffee from Blanchard’s Coffee, which is located just a few miles from our house. If you know me and Kyle at all, you know we are coffee fanatics. We even met while working in the same coffee shop. So how cool is that?

Resampled_2012-06-15_13-55-36_141

There are still a lot of things that need to be worked out, but I think that our plans so far are pretty stellar. Maybe you readers could help us out with some suggestions.

We are thinking of doing an iPod playlist for our reception in lieu of hiring a DJ or band. However we would like to have live music for our cocktail hour. We have talked to a few jazz and samba bands and we are still trying to make a decision. Send me an email if you know of any budget-friendly bands that are local to the Charlottesville area that would be good for an hour-long cocktail reception.

The wedding cake is still a big question mark (I know, I know, we are late on this). We aren’t really cake people so we had considered doing pies instead. However if we found a good local baker that uses local, all-natural ingredients and has interesting flavor combinations, we could be persuaded to go the cake route. Does anyone know of a great cake shop in Afton, Waynesboro, Staunton or Charlottesville? Even Orange would work.

We are just about decided on our honeymoon and we are leaning towards Colorado. Has anyone been in October? I have done a ton of research but I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has recommendations for Denver, Breckenridge and Boulder. We are looking forward to mountain views, hiking, hot springs, and craft beer tasting.

I will leave you with just one more photo of the beautiful Afton Mountain Vineyards, because I can’t resist.

Resampled_2012-06-15_13-55-14_232

Just the Highlights

Hello there! I just had to pop in to celebrate the return of my internet connection. Once again, our Verizon modem has failed and we were without service for 5 days. Lucky for us, when we reported the problem, our friendly Verizon customer service representative packaged up a new modem and swiftly put it in the mail. Verizon must be using bike messengers for their preferred method of outbound shipping because I can’t figure out how else that modem could have taken a full 5 days to get to us. I guess Hi-Speed is sometimes too much to ask.

Anyway, rant over. Let’s talk about food! I’ll just go through the highlight reel of the last week, starting with a lovely linen rental display that reminds me of the famous shirts scene in the Great Gatsby.

Kyle and I joined my parents and sister for a tasting with our wedding caterer this weekend. Beggars Banquet did a great job planning our menu and incorporating all of our suggestions to execute our vision for a local, seasonal meal that offered something for everyone. Here is a sneak peek of a few of the things that we might serve.

You will have to wait until next Fall for the details!

Another exciting smorgasbord that I participated in this week was our healthy potluck lunch at work. Several people from my team each brought in a healthy dish to share and then we swapped the recipes. There was a good variety of food there, from snacks to sides to a healthy dessert. Two out of the five participants are vegetarian, yet my whole team brought vegetarian dishes that we could all enjoy. I love that my company encourages us to plan activities like this. It really makes a difference when your employer and coworkers support your healthy habits.

I decided to bring two off-the-wall contributions that I knew no one else would come up with. My coworkers are very creative and many of them enjoy cooking, but I figured kale chips would be new to them. Most of the people I shared them with had never had them before, and they got mixed reviews (as expected). You have to love kale to enjoy a kale chip. And I do! I also brought a curried cauliflower salad, inspired by the crackling cauliflower found on the Whole Foods salad bar .

In addition to my two dishes, we had Mexican bean salad, carrots and hummus, cheese and crackers, pimento stuffed olives, wheatberry salad, and a reduced-fat, reduced-sugar fresh berry pie. Everything was delicious!

Despite the deep freeze we have experienced over the last two days, it is about to warm up again in central Virginia, just in time for a new spring recipe I have been working on. Cross your fingers that my internet connection will remain strong, and I will post a recipe that highlights tasty spring vegetables in anticipation of warmer weather.

What are you most looking forward to this Spring? Any highlights on the horizon?

 

Fun With My Cast Iron Skillet

It has been on my Christmas and birthday lists for a few years now, and I have to believe that the only reason I hadn’t received it until Christmas 2011 is that it is so difficult to wrap. I think the only reason I never picked one up for myself is that it is so difficult to. . . well. . . pick up. This thing is heavy.

My first cast iron skillet.

Perhaps the only reason that I finally received one last year was that my dear family had realized that a steady diet of kitchen experiments had packed more flab onto my upper arms than muscle. Maybe now I can tone my arms AND cook a delicious meal, all at once. Maybe now that my wedding dress is hanging in the corner, and the only area of my body that can’t be corseted, bustled, pulleyed, pushed or levered into an optical illusion of perfection is my arms. . . perhaps that’s the reason I decided to start using the cast iron skillet on the regular.

. . . Oh how I long for midsummer weather right now. Maybe after spending two beautiful (and chilly) weekends in the wide open spaces of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, I was feeling a little country.

Or a little campy.

Or I was a little tired, from scoping out outdoor wedding venues all day long for two Saturdays in a row.

Maybe I just wanted to whip up some comfort food for me and my honey, and what better way to do it than with my brand new cast iron pan? Whatever the reason, I got to seasoning my skillet on Sunday morning, and I decided I was going to put this beast of a cooking vessel to good use.

While the skillet hung out in the oven, I did my research so I would know what I was dealing with. Known for its durability and heat-retention properties, cast iron cookware has been a kitchen essential for centuries. A cast iron pot can be used over an open flame, on the stovetop and in the oven. I assume is works on the grill, although that is another domain I have not yet conquered. Cast iron skillets are great for certain dishes because they distribute heat evenly and retain it well.

The first step to using cast iron cookware is seasoning, which builds a natural non-stick coating on the pan. My cast iron skillet came pre-seasoned, but the instructions suggested that I season it again before use to ensure the best results. I found a lot of different methods on the web for seasoning the skillet, so I kind of combined them into the method that I used. First, I wiped down the skillet to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on it while it lived in my cupboard for the last month. Then I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, I poured in the pan enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom to about a quarter of an inch. Using a folded paper towel, I coated the interior sides of the skillet with oil from the bottom of the pan. I placed the skillet in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, then I turned down the heat to 200 degrees F and baked for an additional 45 minutes. Finally, I used two potholders to carefully remove the skillet from the oven and onto a trivet, where I let the skillet cool completely before use.

It worked great!

The first dish I tried was a frittata. I have wanted to make a frittata for years but I never had a pan that was stovetop and oven safe. Isn’t that sad? So I was all over this Tyler Florence recipe for a basic frittata. I omitted the ham and added about one cup of halved grape tomatoes, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the pan to wilt before adding the egg mixture. And of course I sprinkled cheese on top because I won’t have eggs any other way.

I loved taking the pan from stovetop to oven and then out again to see the beautiful result. Here are the before and after shots:

The frittata is done when it has puffed up in the pan and it is golden brown on the edges. Isn’t that just lovely? I served the frittata with a little side salad and I felt fancy like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Except I wasn’t hosting a ladies’ brunch at my palatial home in the Hamptons. I was watching Game of Thrones with Kyle in our cozy little home in Woodland Heights. But I felt fancy, I tell you!

The only downside is that if you thought this skillet was heavy before, you will seriously struggle to wrestle it out of the oven when it’s all full of egg and veggie goodness.

It’s like a garden party, on my plate, in January.

This was so much fun, I think I’ll take the skillet for a spin again tomorrow night. Next up: cornbread. But don’t worry, I have found a whole list of healthy cast iron skillet recipes so I won’t only cook (creamy, cheesy, buttery) comfort food all the time. I’ll quit at cornbread and then move on to a nice low fat, seasonal vegetable dish, with extra iron skillet bicep curls.

But first. . . cornbread.

Yum!