Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Renting Rocks

I don’t own 100 Reidel wine glasses, a really big pink tablecloth, two 11 foot market umbrellas or a large coffee urn.  Yet, I have used all of these things at parties over the years. I guess I could have borrowed these things from friends but they are pretty specialized items, so I chose to rent.

I am a big fan of renting things for parties.  It’s a great solution when you need something really specific like 100 Riedel glasses for a wine tasting and purchasing is not a great option due to either outright cost or knowing the item is going to be truly a one-use item such as the big pink table cloth I rented for a baby shower for a friend having a girl baby.  It’s surprising what you can rent and it’s really not as expensive as you might think. If you find yourself needing something special for your next party, check the rental companies in your area (in Santa Rosa I use GrapevineParty Rentals).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Ice Cream Bar Bonanza

I love to bake and my parties usually feature some sort of baked creation or perhaps homemade ice cream in the summer.  But there are occasions when I am planning  a party and I am short on time or there are too many other moving parts to that particular party and making a homemade dessert just is not going to work. My summer fall back for those situations is the ice cream bar bonanza.

I was introduced to the ice cream bar bonanza at a book club that I was in years ago.  At one of the meetings, for dessert, the hostess opened a bunch (and I mean bunch!) of ice cream bar boxes, dumped them on the table and let the group go at it.  We all felt like kids again, almost as if we were gathered around the ice cream man’s truck, money in-hand, waiting to get our favorite treat.

We recently had a barbeque and it was one of those “fall back dessert situations.” It also turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year thus far.  I got a big cooler and dumped in a bunch of ice and a big assortment of popsicles, ice cream bars, you name it! The key is to go for variety and quantity.  Go for a mix of retro (Otter Pops anyone?), favorites (for me that’s Its Its and drumsticks) and something new that you have been wanting to try.  Get more than you think you need, step back and let your guests dig in.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How to Learn More About Cheese

For the uninitiated, cheese can be a bit intimidating. The good stuff can be expensive and buying it is a commitment. What if you don't like it? Isn't it easier to buy a triangle of generic brie or that herbed cream cheese stuff and be done with it? You could do that but you would be missing out. Here are two easy ways to learn more about cheese.

Order the cheese course at a restaurant.  Hopefully, this cheese course comes with a person to describe the cheeses to you or, barring that, good written descriptions. Pick out some interesting ones that sound good to you. And, here is the really, really, really important thing ... write down the names of the ones that you like.  Just scratch it on the back of the receipt and transfer it somewhere more permanent later. Or just throw the receipts with cheese ideas in a little box on your desk.  Figure out a system for it, it's worth it.

Go to a grocery store with a good cheese selection and hopefully someone to make a recommendation (try Whole Foods). Try a few cheeses, buy one you like, take it home and enjoy it. Write down the name.

Over time you will find that you probably have some fairly clear likes and dislikes. This does not take long. I am a fan of washed rind cow's milk cheese, the stinkier the better (the photo for this post was taken in Epoisses, France where Epoisses - a stinky cow's milk cheese - is made). I would never say no to a regular old triple cream cheese either (try Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery.) I also like smoked cheddar and really most cheddars now that I think about it.  Goat cheese, on the other hand, does not do much for me. That said, I am always open to learning more!

What are some of your favorite cheeses?