Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Card Shopping

By Jenna Allen

Thanksgiving is this week and soon it will be December. December, for most, is marked by a flurry of parties and feelings of excitement and anticipation for the holidays. One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is selecting cards, which I send and give to my friends and family. There are so many unique and attractive options available that it is a difficult and tremendously fun decision to make.

Photo courtesy of crane.com

These are the cards I sent last year. Exotic animals sport antlers on the cover and inside it reads, “This Christmas, play reindeer games.” They are part of kate spade for Crane & Co. Mrs. Spade’s stationery line is whimsical and smart, not to mention downright charming. For instance, she has a card that features, in big colorful block letters the words, “Hope, Peace, Cookies.” She uses atypical color palettes in her holiday stationery (pink, red, blue, gold and green) to create cards and party invitations that are slightly contemporary, slightly mod, and never too fussy or formal.

Photo courtesy of Paper Source

Another favorite place to look for holiday card inspiration is Paper Source. They stock a variety of cards, including everything from moss colored cards embossed with pinecones to red and white cards printed with vivid images of peppermint candy canes. These mitten shaped cards appealed to me because of the unusual color combination and graphic snowflake design on the envelopes. Most of Paper Source’s paper is recycled with 30% post-consumer waste, so you can send cards and still feel good about being eco-friendly.

Photo courtesy of shopinviting

Etsy has a vast number of options, including plenty of handmade and letterpress cards. Some of the stationery sellers that have shops are very creative and are true artists. You can pick up cards that are both affordable and, in some cases, unlike anything you can find in your local stationery store (think embellishments and unusual cutting techniques). Or, if you choose to go a more traditional route, like these simple and elegant letterpress pink snowflake cards, they have plenty of options that fall into that category too.

Photo courtesy of zazzle

Although the USPS is issuing season-appropriate stamps, one of my favorite sites is Zazzle, where you can find a greater array of postage options (literally thousands of holiday-themed stamps) to choose from. Select from postage that has already been designed or customize your own set of stamps. We recently had a client who made custom stamps to coordinate with her wedding invitations. She was so happy with how they turned out and they made for a polished overall look.

Sending hand-written holiday cards is a fun tradition that has not gone out of fashion, despite an internet-dependent society. Cards are a lovely way to remind people that you are thinking about them during one of the busiest times of the year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Un-Corked: Winning Wines for the Holiday Season

by Elizabeth Duncan

photo from yemmhart.com
Thanksgiving is next week and the invitations for holiday parties are stacking up. The Christmas holidays will quickly follow and then New Year’s Eve parties. As much as I look forward to enjoying some delicious and fabulous meals and the good company of family and friends, I’m really looking forward to the many glasses of wine I’ll be sipping. In addition, I will be in the position of needing to bring a hostess gift to many of these parties. A bottle of wine is my go-to gift for just about everything, but especially so around the holidays.

I do not pretend to be any kind of expert on wine. I didn’t even develop an interest in wine until my early twenties. At the time, I pretty much exclusively drank European wines (mainly French reds) and the occasional Australian shiraz. When I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I knew nothing about California wines. A waiter at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Frascati, took me under his wing and started to educate me about the local wines. I started to make trips into Napa and Sonoma, and gradually I developed a little more knowledge. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to travel in some of the best wine-producing regions of the world –France, Italy, California, South Africa. I have come to appreciate wine immensely, while recognizing that I still don’t really know anything about it. About eight years ago, I read “The Ripening Sun: One Woman and the Creation of a Vineyard.” Here is a very simple synopsis: An English woman buys a vineyard in the south of France and out of a need to support herself learns how to produce wine. Within that story is an incredible explanation of how the grape is transformed from a simple piece of fruit into an award-winning sip of wine. I have never enjoyed a glass of wine since without thinking about how much work went into making it.

photo from Chalk Hill
Here in D.C., I have the good fortune to work with Ace Beverage for just about every event and the occasional personal request. Noel and his colleagues are invaluable in putting together the best options for every need – from standard event bars to tequila tasting bars to specialty dinner wines to splits of champagne for the out-of-town guest amenity. While I, and just about everyone else in the event industry, coordinate with Ace Beverage frequently for work, one of the most remarkable things is that it still maintains a neighborhood shop experience. Based in Northwest D.C., near American University, Ace Beverage has been serving fine wines and spirits to the community for over 75 years. From everyday to special occasion, you will not only find it here, but you will learn something new with each visit and enjoy fantastic service that will keep you coming back.

Here are a few questions I had for Noel about wine-purchasing and trends.
Q: What should people consider when purchasing wine as a gift?
A: When buying wine as a gift, it helps to consider any preferences you or the recipient might have. For example, do you want to give red, white or sparkling? Do you have a budget? Is there a particular varietal of interest or a country of origin you would like to consider? All of these can help identify the wines that would be a good fit. A gift can be about sharing something you love or trying to find a connection with an interest of the recipient. For example if the recipient loves traveling in Italy, they might appreciate that you acknowledged this with an Italian wine.
Q: I think a lot of people are intimidated by wine because they don’t know much about it. What do you recommend for overcoming this trepidation?
A: If you don’t know where to start, start with what you know. What wines have you enjoyed or disliked? Working with a knowledgeable salesperson, you can start to expand your own tastes and knowledge from there. At the end of the day, it’s about enjoying the wine.
Q: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in wine (e.g. new varietals, new production areas getting acclaim, etc)?
A: The hottest trends right now are Malbec, Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio and Prosecco.
Q: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in wine-buying (more people buying certain varietals, budget-focused, etc)?
A: There is a good bottle of wine at almost every price point. We have definitely seen an increase in the more affordable wines in terms types and brands available.
Q: Any other tips or advice you would like to share?
A: Beware of “fancy” packaging or labels. Most of the time it’s just a gimmick to sell inferior product.

Following are just a few of Noel’s recommendations for this holiday season.

Traditional: a classic choice, sure to please a broad audience
Trendy: the current darling in the wine world, will show you’re in the know
Cutting Edge: emerging trends or boutique labels, might teach them something new

Price Point
Affordable: under $25
Mid-range: $25 - $40
Splurge: over $40

Thanksgiving Dinner

Wine: 2006 Willm Pinot Gris, France
Tasting Notes: Peach and apple flavors mesh with the rich texture in this attractive Pinot Gris. Balanced, lingering on the moderate finish. Drink now. 85 points from Wine Spectator. (via thewinebuyer.com)
Price point: Affordable

Wine: 2007 Seghesio “Sonoma” Zinfandel, California
Tasting Notes: #10 on Wine Spectator Top 100 in 2008; 93 points from Wine Spectator; Dark red color with ripe cherries, berries and milk on the nose. Black cherry, blackberries, cough syrup notes, wild berries, black pepper, charred oak and vanilla on the palate. Robust, juicy, zesty, and vibrant. (via winecentric.blogspot.com)
Price point: Affordable

Cutting Edge
Wine: 2008 Santa Barbara ZCS , California
Tasting Notes: In this synergistic blend, the Zinfandel from 50 year old vines lends the jammy fruit quality to the wine, the Carignane adds density and finish, and the Sangiovese shows off the cherry aromatics and flavors (winemaker)
Price point: Affordable

photo from MSNBC.com
Holiday Gift

Wine: 2007 Caymus Conundrum, California
Tasting Notes: Soft tropical notes of guava and cherimoya, also peach and honeysuckle. The rich perfume is supported by concentrated and focused layers of peach and apricot nectar, pear and green melon with spicy vanilla notes. The creamy texture and balanced acidity carries through the palate for a long finish. (winemaker)
Price point: Mid-Range

Wine: 2007 Chalk Hill Sauvignon Blanc, California
Tasting Notes: The 2007 Sauvignon Blanc offers notes of honeyed grapefruit and white citrus in a medium-bodied, fresh, lively style with good texture as well as a crisp finish. 90 points by Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (winemaker)
Price point: Mid-Range

Wine: 2004 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon “Montelena Estate”, California
Tasting Notes: The Montelena earthy-berry aroma is very concentrated, showing lovely, classic Cabernet, warm earth and sun baked cassis with licorice and spice. On the palate there is integration of strong, deep, concentrated fruit in a perfect balance. Super fine tannin grips the palate, with ripe, round flavors that dance right on the seam between classic Bordeaux and California styles. I look back on the battle of 2004 with fondness because the wine is so wonderful now. And after 25 or more harvests we love the greatest challenges, because once they are but memories the toughest years become the most legendary adventures. (winemaker)
Price point: Splurge

New Year’s Eve

Wine: Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Brut Nonvintage, France
What to know: Elegant and expressive, this delivers floral, pear and toffee flavors matched to a creamy texture. Beautifully integrated, this lingers nicely on the mineral finish. Drink now through 2010. 91 Points Wine Spectator. (via wine.com)
Price point: Mid-Range

Wine: Duval-Leroy Brut, France
What to know: A big, full-bodied bubbly, featuring graphite, toast, lemon and nut aromas and flavors. Balanced, with an assertive finish. Will improve with a few months of cellaring. 93 points by Wine Spectator (via wine.com)
Price point: Mid-range

Cutting Edge
Wine: Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru 2000, France
What to know: A boutique producer, limited quantities available. Whole-grain toast and malt notes characterize this bubbly, whose bass tones are offset by citrus peel and ginger top notes. There’s nice harmony and balance, with a malty aftertaste. Drink now through 2010. 90 points by Wine Spectator (via bedfordwines.com)
Price point: Splurge

Over the years, I have maintained a short list of favorite wines. Here are just a few of the bottles I always have on hand.
I love every bottle of Ridge wine I have ever tasted. My family joined their wine Club last year and this keeps me in good supply. A former colleague gave me my first bottle of Ridge for Christmas one year.
At Casa Lapostolle the founders and owners of the world-renowned liqueur Grand Marnier use French vines and technique in Chile to produce fantastic reds under the Casa Lapostolle and Clos Apalta labels. A big thank you to the sommelier at The Old Stone Farmhouse on St. Thomas for first introducing me to this wine.
Chalk Hill Chardonnay goes well with just about everything or can be enjoyed on its own.  Thanks to my Uncle Paul and Aunt Babs for introducing me to it many Thanksgivings ago.

Whatever your knowledge or preference, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to try some new wines this holiday season. 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Venue Versatility – National Museum of Women in the Arts

by Elizabeth Duncan

We truly are fortunate to have so many wonderful event venues in the greater D.C. area. One of my favorites is the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

In addition to being beautiful, the museum is also one of the most versatile spaces. Between the Great Hall, the Mezzanine, the Elizabeth Kasser Room and the Third Floor Galleries, you can accommodate anything from a small cocktail party to a wedding to a large gala. With the Performance Hall, the museum has a unique advantage for hosting corporate and non-profit fundraising events with speaker programs.

Each event that I plan at the museum has used the space in some new way. And with each event, I have found new inspiration – either from an exhibit or an architectural detail or a comment from a guest.

One of the things that I have found most amazing is how well the Renaissance Revival décor adapts to the varied tastes of my clients. It is obviously, quite lovely for someone with traditional, romantic or grand Old World taste, but it is perhaps surprisingly equally fabulous for the client with a more contemporary, stream-lined taste.

Below are just a few examples from recent events of the versatility and beauty of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Photos courtesy of Rodney Bailey and Associates

Photos courtesy of Freed Photography

Friday, November 6, 2009

Turquoise and Copper

by Allison Jackson

Courtyard designed by Michael Dale from Veranda

My girlfriend and hostess extraordinaire Jennifer Stricklin was telling me about an event she was throwing at her home in Chicago. She was planning to use a color palette of turquoise, copper, espresso brown and cream. I’m always looking for new color palettes to consider for parties and events, and this combination sounded so gorgeous and versatile.

Turquoise, coral and white is a classic look, but it’s very limited to the summer season and maybe best saved for a beach inspired party. However, if you deepen the turquoise and change the coral to burnt orange, copper or sienna brown, the palette suddenly becomes relevant for other seasons.

I went in search of pretty things with turquoise and copper in mind and found some great images. Dark turquoise and sunset orange with creamy ivory and mahogany has an exotic feel totally appropriate for the islands without being overtly beachy. I think it would be the perfect palette for a winter destination wedding at a Caribbean resort. The images below make me excited for this weekend’s work trip to the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida.

alice + olivia dress from Net-a-porter
Turquoise tote and espresso brown itinerary
Beaded necklace from Banana Republic
Rose and zinnia centerpiece designed by Jon Martinez
Living room
Party tent
Eva Mendes and Van Cleef & Arpels necklace
Pour la Victoire gladiators from Bluefly

Another take on turquoise is peacock blue. Peacock blue is a statement color, whether worn, painted on walls or incorporated into an event look. It’s so refined and so gorgeous with coppery red or matte metallic copper. I don’t usually love chair dressing, but I adore the cameos and peacock blue silk sashes on ceremony chairs from one wedding designed by Kabrel Polak and featured on Style Me Pretty. And that Lela Rose dress and Celestina clutch is what I want to wear to this year’s round of holiday parties.

Peacock blue sash and cameo from Style Me Pretty
Wedding cake from Style Me Pretty
Turquoise beads on doorknob from Southern Weddings
Living room designed by Markham Roberts from Southern Accents
Lela Rose dress from Net-a-porter
Copper lamps
Celestina clutch from www.net-a-porter.com
Seaglass tumbler from Anthropologie
Copper chair from Anthropologie
Ban.do headband

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Late Night Bites

By Jenna Allen

After a long night of dancing and mingling, there is nothing more enticing than a tasty midnight snack. A few of our clients have recognized the allure of late night nibbling by offering guests comforting treats at the conclusion of a great party.

photo courtesy of rs2guru.com

For an event at Oxon Hill Manor in June, Susan Gage Caterers assembled a classic combination of bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches accompanied by ice-cold glass bottles of Coca-Cola. Guests were handed the snacks as they boarded shuttles back to their hotels. What a memorable way to cap off the night!

photo courtesy of delish.com

Last September, Connie and Aidan’s wedding reception took place at the St. Regis in Washington, DC. As the last few songs of the night were played by the band, sliders and mini vanilla milkshakes were passed out to guests on the dance floor. The St. Regis presented the two-sip milkshakes in perfectly sized shot glasses. Wedding guests went crazy for the late night surprise!

photo courtesy of Lynne Brubaker

In December, Samantha and Steve held their wedding reception at the Stephen Decatur House on Lafayette Square. Snow flurries fell from the sky on the evening of their wedding. At the end of the night, guests were sent out into the cold armed with made-to-order cappuccinos, brewed freshly by Design Cuisine, and Krispy Kreme doughnuts packaged in customized paper cups and bags. It was an appropriately cozy conclusion for a winter event.

Late night snacks are a fun alternative to a more traditional favor. Guests, especially those who have kicked up their heels all night, are bound to be surprised and grateful when they are presented with clever and craveable delights.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Game Night

By Liza Tanner
This dreary weather makes me want to hole up in my apartment and hibernate until the spring thaw.  I’m fighting that instinct, though, and instead inviting friends over for Game Night.  What is better on a rainy night than playing board games with friends and enjoying some comfort food?  I will be the first to admit that I can get a bit too competitive at times, though!  Here are my top 10 games for a fun-filled night:
  1. Cranium
  2. Apples to Apples
  3. Scrabble
  4. Trivial Pursuit
  5. Monopoly
  6. Twister
  7. Scattergories
  8. Taboo
  9. Balderdash
  10. Clue

With all of this acting, drawing, miming and inevitable laughing, Game Night munchies are a must, so there will be bowls of chips and salsa and popcorn around the room for the nervous nibblers.  Then we’ll take a break from the fun to enjoy my favorite cold-weather cuisine: a delicious Santa Fe Soup recipe that my aunt Debbie gave me.  I love the recipe because it’s simple, allowing me to concentrate on winning rather than fussing over it all night.  Santa Fe Soup is always a crowd pleaser and it will make more than enough, so that I’ll have leftovers to enjoy during the week! 

Santa Fe Soup
2 lb ground meat (I use half beef/half turkey)
1 large onion

1 oz package of ranch seasoning
1 oz package of taco seasoning
16 oz can diced tomatoes with chilis
16 oz can diced tomatoes
16 oz can pinto beans
16 oz can kidney beans
16 oz can black beans
16 oz package frozen white corn

Brown the meat with the diced onion.  Drain the grease, then mix in the seasoning packets.  Add all of the beans and corn, with the liquid.  Cook on low for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  Top with sour cream, scallions and/or Tabasco to taste.

Enjoy!  And good luck!