cocktail round-up and happy new year!

I love New Year's Eve. I truly do. I’ve spent the night of December 31st trying to speak Italian in Rome, toasting in the new year on a boat sailing down the coast of Chile, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, in San Francisco's Castro District, in Peru near Machu-Picchu, getting lost in the Sinai dessert and inside a few clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn- all celebrated with the best of friends. Then I settled down and I had kids…
..whom I love dearly, but let's be honest, New Year's Eve is not exactly the wild celebration it once was…
Finding a babysitter can be a bit challenging and (it might be age) but everything seems so crowded. So recently I’ve kept it simple: a home cooked meal, a bunch of friends and some good cocktails. Which is all one ever really needs, right? 
Here's a little round-up of some of my favorite drinks this year. Enjoy them!
I hope that your new year is bright and filled with peace, love, friendship and adventure. Thank you for tuning in and being part of my little space on the very busy internet. 
See you all next year! Be well and cheers!

1. Apple Cider Hot Toddy by Cookie + Kate
2. Golden Raspberry Lillet Cocktail by 101 Cookbooks, Quitokeeto 
3. Mango Raspberry Bellinis from a House in the Hills
5. Limoncello Raspberry Prosecco Cooler by Comfort of Cooking
6. The Roman Holiday by the Pharmacie on Design Sponge
7. Concord Lime Vodka Collins by Brooklyn Supper
8. Cardamom Rose Cocktail by Apothecary on Design Sponge
9. Winter Sun Cocktail by Two Tarts

Special thanks to Carly Loman, the Jr. Account Executive at DLD PR (which is where I work!), for putting this collage together. She's great!

broncosnation, pumpkin cheese soup + ask a beer guy (or, sunday in denver)

I grew up with Yankee baseball. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I went to my first game, but I was definitely pretty young, like maybe 4 or 5 years old. My mother grew up on the Grand Concourse, a stone’s throw away from Yankee Stadium, and my father is from the Bronx too- so Yankee baseball is in my blood. But that’s really where sports started and ended in our family. If it wasn’t Yankee baseball it was nothing. Up until last week I had never been to any other professional sporting events- no football, no hockey and no basketball. But things changed when my husband’s cousin Melissa, who was in Denver visiting us (again!), scored three tickets for the Broncos-Redskins game.

Excitement over the ticket-score quickly turned to worry, for the night before the game I came down with flu-like symptoms, including high fever and a sore throat. So I drank a few cups of hot tea with lemon and honey, popped a bunch of Halls cough drops into my mouth, managed to swallow a few ibuprofen and then went to bed…hoping that I'd feel better in the morning. 

Except that I couldn’t sleep. The pain was awful and swallowing, at this point, was nearly impossible. Knowing that something was wrong, I went to an Urgent Care Center (which thankfully accepted my insurance) and there I was given the diagnosis: acute tonsillitis caused by an extreme streptocchocal infection. Not exactly the news I wanted to receive. 

Now here in Denver football is like a religion and almost everyone is a parishioner, including Megan, the nurse practitioner who was treating me. She understood the severity of the situation - and we both knew that unless I was going to be medevaced or put in the I.C.U., I simply had to be in those section 509 seats! We both agreed that time was of the essence, so she took out the "big guns" (so to speak) and pretty much guaranteed that they would do the trick. 
I got a steroid injection in a place…well, let's just say it was in a location other than my arm…which made me feel like a true professional athlete. I began a course of antibiotics immediately, and as promised, by kickoff time I was feeling much better. I was almost as good as new.

As we made our way to the stadium I briefly feared that I would be outted as an imposter, as someone who had only recently learned the rules of the game (two weeks ago). But I was wearing bright orange threads and seamlessly made the transition from I-don’t-know-the-first-thing-about-football to hells-yeah-you-better-believe-I’m-a-Broncos-fan. It was awesome. 
The crowd was electric…all 76,000 people in attendance were cheering on the hometown team. I followed along: 1st down, 2nd down, another 10 yards so 1st down again, incomplete, touchdown and so on. You get the picture. It was amazing. There were fans, and players, and horses, and fireworks, and a half-time show that included a re-enactment of Thriller (it was Halloween weekend), cheerleaders, more fireworks, more horses, acrobats and lots of pretzel eating by yours truly. The people watching was great too. There were dedicated fans with painted faces, grandmothers with Broncos medallions hanging from their earrings, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, older folks and younger folks. And lots of people in orange. At times the cheering was deafening, which is just the way I like professional sporting events...

So now I get it. This whole football thing.  It grasps the city of Denver every year. And every one of the season's 16 games are exciting, especially if the Broncos win…which they did on that beautiful autumn afternoon.  
* * *

Since I've been bitten by the Broncos bug, I’m pretty sure that we will be hosting a game or two this season. I was thinking of starting things off with home made pretzels and various dipping sauces…to be followed by this Pumpkin, Cheese and Beer Soup which I spotted on Spoon Fork Bacon.  As the recipe title indicates, there's lots of cheese in this soup and the orange color from the pumpkin and cheddar makes it a perfect dish for the season- as well as for the novice Broncos fan who just can’t get enough of Eric Decker. Go Broncos! 
Pumpkin Beer Cheese Soup (Adapted slightly from Spoon Fork Bacon)
Serves 3 to 4
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, diced

1 large leek, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 rib celery, diced

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme

1 (12 ounce) bottle pumpkin ale

2 cups vegetable broth

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/3 cup all purpose flour

2 cups whole milk (low-fat is fine)

2/3 cup pumpkin puree
 (I added another tablespoon)
3 ½- 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese 
(I used almost all of a .75 lbs. block)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste 
(this is key before serving)
simple butter croutons:
1 cup diced sourdough bread

3 1/2 tablespoon melted salted butter

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For croutons: Place all the ingredients into a bowl and toss them together until they are evenly coated. Pour the croutons into a large skillet and place them over medium heat. Toast the croutons for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove them from the heat and allow them to cool and crisp. Set the croutons aside until you're ready to use them.

For soup: 
  • Pour the oil into a medium pot and place over medium-high heat. Add the onion and leek and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes or until onions and leeks have become translucent. Add the garlic, carrots and celery and season with salt and pepper. Sauté the vegetables for 4 to 5 minutes and stir in 2 tablespoons thyme. Add the beer and broth and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetable mixture is fork tender. Remove it from the heat and set aside.

  • In another medium pot melt the butter. Whisk in the flour to create a roux and continue to whisk for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk (about ¼ cup at a time) until there are no lumps remaining and the mixture thickens. Stir in the pumpkin puree and mix until smooth. Toss the cheese together with the lemon juice before stirring it into the milk mixture. Stir until the cheese sauce is smooth.  Stir in the remaining spices.

  • Pour the cheese mixture and broth mixture into a blender and blend until smooth (or use an immersion blender which is what I did- it makes clean up much easier). Pour the mixture back into a pot and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes or until soup thickens slightly. Stir in the remaining thyme and adjust the seasonings (salt and pepper are key here).

  • Ladle the soup into bowls and top with buttered croutons. Then serve! 
* * * 

Now what's football without beer? I wanted to find a seasonal beer that would pair well with the aforementioned Pumpkin Cheese Soup, so I Asked A Beer Guy

Chris Cohen, a friend of mine who's beer savvy, a Certified Cicerone and founder of the San Francisco Homebrewer's Guild (plus all-around awesome guy) had a few ideas:

"The pumpkin cheese beer soup is super rich and dense, with some seriously intense flavor. Many people think wine is the way to go when pairing with cheese, but beer lovers know that’s just ridiculous! You’ll want an intensely flavored beer that can stand up to the soup’s rich cheesy flavor and dense mouthfeel. If you want to keep things seasonal, go with a wet hop IPA like Sierra Nevada’s Northern Harvest Wet Hop Ale, or if you’re lucky enough to be able to find a bottle, grab one of Almanac Beer Co.’s Fresh Hop IPAs. Fresh hop IPAs are beers made with hops that have been picked within the previous day or so, and they often impart a grassy herbal hop character, though it depends on the hop varietal used. Fresh hop IPAs have the high abv, malt backbone, and big fresh hop character to stand up to a flavorful cheese soup, plus their herbal and grassy fresh hop character should pair perfectly with thyme or other herbs in the dish."

Thanks, Chris! You can find out more about Chris's work and beer consultation on his website, as well as beer related things on the SFHG  Facebook page. Now I'm ready to watch football, ladle some soup and drink beer! (Don't worry friends, I still won't wear fleece, jerseys or crocks.)
Stay tuned, Ask A Beer Guy will be back with beer pairing suggestions for middle-eastern pumpkin fatayer appetizers and pumpkin ravioli too!

raspberries + sangria

I took Otis and Theodore berry picking to Hoot N Howl, a farm in Boulder, once before. It was about 10 months ago, and as I reflect back on the time that has passed between then and now, I can't believe that we were able to make all the pieces of our life come together. We are finally living the life that we had dreamed of in Colorado...and yes, we still love to go berry picking.
Two weeks ago my friend Kelly came over to my place to pick us up, as we were taking our play date on the road. We wanted to talk and swap weekly stories, so we decided it would be better to pile into one car instead of caravanning over to the farm. We squeezed three car seats in the back, strapped the boys in (her son is good friends with my kids), and set off in the direction of Boulder. Aware of potential traffic jams along Highway 36, we armed ourselves with water bottles and good music.
When we got to the farm the boys ran around, as boys usually do. 

About a week later, my husband and I found some old videos which were filmed long before we married and long before we had kids. We were so carefree and goofy. Quite silly, really. It made me realize that somewhere along this journey called motherhood (and maybe adding a few years to my life) I've become too serious and maybe I even feel a bit rigid. I no longer spontaneously cartwheel down the street or do Olympic-floor routines on the grass of our local park. Why not? Is it age? Motherhood? Am I worn down or stressed out? I came to the conclusion that I very rarely just completely let go.

I'll admit that some habits are best forgotten and I've matured quite a bit in the decade that has past, but there's a frivolousness, a carefree-ness and a silliness in myself that I miss. I really do. And I've been thinking about that a lot these past few days, especially after looking at the boys having fun at the farm.
I came to the conclusion that I need to spend less time yelling in frustration and more time laughing, tickling and being goofy. You know, I need to be more playful!
As a mother I want to teach my children about kindness, and the values of being inquisitive, knowledgeable, positive, and thoughtful. There's a time for correction and instruction too. But I think that having a mother who is a little bit more spontaneous and just a little bit silly (in a yell-free zone) is just as important, don't you?

Draw a crazy picture, 
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb. 
Do a loony-goony dance 
'Cross the kitchen floor, 
Put something silly in the world 
That ain't been there before.” 
― Shel Silverstein


Raspberry Sangria
My friend Mizzy made this for us last week. Like most recipes, it is meant to be adjusted to suit your preferences. But very loosely, this is what we did:
1 bottle of red wine (Merlot)
1 pint of raspberries
1 cup of pure pomegranate juice
2-3 tablespoons agave
1 cup (or more) seltzer water or soda (like 7-Up)
In a blender, combine the raspberries and the pomegranate juice. Then strain the mixture if you mind the seeds. Add the red wine. Add the agave and seltzer water (or soda). Mix it all up. Serve over ice.

the 4th of july: denver's park hill parade, blackberry gin fizz and watermelon salad

My summers, from birth till the age of 10, were spent in Upstate New York at our family's country home. My parents had a little Swiss-style cottage in a forest community of about 40 families, a few miles outside of Livingston Manor in a hamlet town in the Catskill Mountains. There was a crystal-clear lake with docks and rowboats, and over the course of several summers I learned to fish. I also became mildly obsessed with amphibians and even started a "salamander rescue farm"—whereby I removed local salamanders from their natural habitat and provided them with the shelter they needed by putting them in a shoebox in our backyard. (Don't worry, they all escaped my captivity.)

Most days would end with a barbeque dinner, topped off with chocolate milkshakes or egg creams (a NY specialty that contains neither eggs nor cream). It was bucolic, peaceful and picture-perfect Americana. Very Norman Rockwell. Very simple. And that’s what made it so special.

I always think about that house and our summers Upstate around this time of year. The annual 4th of July fireworks show was legendary and we couldn’t wait for America’s birthday to roll around.

After I became a mother I began to consider tradition more intensely. I wanted to find things that we could predictably do year in and year out. I started thinking about ways to build memories with the hope that one day, when my boys are my age, they will look back upon those summer nights and holidays with the same fondness as I do. I wanted to find something that had a simple small-town feel (even though we live in the city of Denver) and we found it at the annual Park Hill July 4th Parade.

In addition to the parade, we’ve also adopted the tradition of watching fireworks downtown…on a great big blanket, under the stars, surrounded by friends and those gorgeous Rocky Mountains.

Happy Holidays!

There’s no better way to celebrate the Continental Congress's adoption of the Declaration of Independence than by imbibing on a seasonal blackberry gin fizz cocktail. I saw this recipe in Bon Appetit and it totally hit the spot. My only regret is that I didn't make more. I used market blackberries, pureed them in sugar, strained the seeds away, added fresh lime juice and some gin. My only adaptation to the BA recipe was the addition of a big splash of lemonade. 

Blackberry Gin-Fizz (Adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, July, 2012)
Makes 8, or 4 for my friends!
1 6–ounce container blackberries

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups gin

1 cup fresh lime juice

Club soda

8 sprigs Thai basil or sweet basil
Lemonade (good quality store bought or homemade)

Purée blackberries and sugar in a blender. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Strain purée through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher (there will be about 3/4 cup); discard seeds in sieve. Stir gin and lime juice into pitcher.
Divide drink among ice-filled glasses; top with soda. Add a big splash of lemonade. Garnish each with a basil sprig.

* * *

This light, flavorful, seasonal salad is perfect for a summer picnic or a 4th of July BBQ. For a different twist you can add a splash of orange juice, some julienned mint, a tiny bit of minced shallot and a drop of honey. Agave syrup is also a nice addition.
Here's the recipe I went with...
Watermelon Salad with Feta and Arugula (Adapted from GiadaDeLaurentiis)

1 (2 pound) piece watermelon, rind removed and flesh cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 (4-ounce) block feta cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 packed cup arugula (the original recipe uses watercress)

1 lemon, zested and juiced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a salad bowl, combine the watermelon, feta cheese, arugula, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently toss. Serve immediately and enjoy.

* * *

Baked Brooklyn's Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (and Nutella Hot Chocolate )

My husband's birthday was coming up fast and I needed to pull a plan together. Absolutely nothing was going to top his 35th birthday weekend, which was last year. To celebrate the special day the last time around I really pulled out all the stops: Park Avenue Autumn for brunch, Nara at the Asia Society in the afternoon, Daniel for dinner (oui!) and tickets to Yankee post-season baseball (props to my mom for getting the tickets). The next day we went to Diner for brunch, Spa Castle for relaxation and then apple picking Upstate. It was great and it was going to be hard to replicate anything like that this year...especially since there's an 11 week old in the house and we haven't secured a babysitter.
I picked up a gift and decided to go with something more muted-- a little more family friendly-- and very local. I went with brunch in our house. Of course the best gift I gave my husband was the gift of sleep. He slept till 11:00 AM and woke up to a birthday brunch.  
I made a three egg omelette with Gruyere cheese, topped with homemade salsa verde, and some breakfast potatoes on the side.  It was delicious. But the piece de resistance was the pumpkin whoopie pie from Baked, Brooklyn. Yes, *that* whoopie pie-- the one that won top 100 tastes of 2007 by Time Out New York.
Baked is one of my most favorite bakeries (miss you!), and this recipe is from their cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking.  
If you really want to go a little over the top,  pair it with nutella hot chocolate.  It's perfect for a chilly fall night.  It's lip-smacking good! 
* * *
Baked Brooklyn's Pumpkin Whoopie Pies (Courtesy of Baked: New Frontiers in Baking)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 cups packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups chilled pumpkin purée
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves together and set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk the brown sugar and oil together until combined. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.
Sprinkle the flour mixture over the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.
Use a small ice cream scoop with a release mechanism to drop heaping tablespoons of the dough onto prepared baking sheets, about one inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cookie comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on the pan while you make the filling. 
(I used a whoopie pie pan so the domes were very smooth and round.  I think you get a more 'rustic' cookie, if I can call it that, when you put dough on baking sheets.) 
For the Cream Cheese Filling
Sift the confectioners' sugar into a medium bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat the butter until it's completely smooth, with no visible lumps. Add the cream cheese and beat until combined.
Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Be careful not to overbeat the filling, or it will lose structure. (The filling can be made one day ahead. Cover the bowl tightly and put it in the refrigerator. Let the filling soften at room temperature before using.)
Assembling the Whoopie Pies: Turn half of the cooled cookies upside down (flat side facing up).
Use an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon to drop a large dollop of filling onto the flat side of the cookie. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spreads to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whooopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm up before serving.
The whoopie pies will keep for up to 3 days, on a parchment-lined baking sheet covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.
Baked Note: Make sure you chill the pumpkin puree thoroughly before making this recipe.  The chilled puree will make your whoopie pies easier to scoop. 

Nutella Hot Chocolate (Courtesy of Real Mom Kitchen)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • mini marshmallows or whipped cream
In a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, whisk together milk and Nutella until the Nutella is melted and milk gets nice and warm. Serve in mugs and top with marshmallows or whipped cream. Makes 4 servings.
This can be made ahead of time, cooled, and stored in the fridge.  Reheated on the stove or microwave in individual mugs.  If microwaving, reheat each cup for about 1 minute.