Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cocktail Hours


I realize that it is not yet 9am on a Saturday morning and it might seem like an odd time to muse over the art of the cocktail, however, I just can't resist. Darling Husband (DH) and I just love trying out both old and new recipes for cocktails. Cocktails are fun, festive and fabulous - all qualities I adore. So, from time to time, I'm going to host a 'Cocktail Hour' here on my blog and share recipes, tips for setting up a bar, my favorite recipe books and more.

Why? As we've already established, I LOVE a cocktail! But secondly, this is a part of my new self-appointed role as a 'Cocktail Ambassador'. From my experience, people solely drink beer these days. Not that I don't love a good beer, especially an icy-cold Dos Equis, it's just that beer isn't as fun or celebratory as a cocktail. Not to mention that it seems (at least here in Texas) that beer was invented to be consumed en masse, instead of savored like the cocktail. It's cheap, easy to serve, and again, most people drink it.

Therefore, I feel it is my duty to champion the return of the cocktail! I invite you to stay a while and learn about Ambassador Amanda's favorite libations!

The Cocktails book at the top is one we often use to find quick, classic cocktail recipes. I bought it for about $7 and it is the one we turn to the most because it's small and fits snugly in our bar. A couple of years ago, I heard Oprah talking about one of her new favorite cocktails: the Moscow Mule. Now, I wasn't sure about this...I prefer coctails with more sophisticated sounding names, like the 'French 75' or the 'Martini'. Although I love most equine, the mule is not at the top of the list.

I decided to try it out anyway, because let's face it, isn't Oprah almost always right? Yes, I know, my dear conservative friends, perhaps she is not always right when it comes to politics. Moving on. She was 100% correct about this drink - it is uber yummy!



Here's a pic of my Moscow Mule, made with Austin's own Tito's vodka. I never recommend using a cheap vodka...why would you?




According to this book, the "Moscow Mule came into existence through a happy coincidence during the 1930s. An American bar owner had overstocked ginger beer, and a representative of a soft drinks company invented the Moscow Mule to help him out."

Moscow Mule
serves 1
10-12 cracked ice cubes
2 measures vodka
1 measure lime juice
ginger beer, to top off
slice of lime, to decorate

1. Put some ice cubes into a cocktail shaker. Pour the vodka and lime juice over the ice. Shake vigorously until a frost forms.
2. Fill half of a chilled highball glass with cracked ice cubes and strain the cocktail over them. Top off with ginger beer. Stir gently. Decorate with a slice of lime.

Ambassador Amanda's notes: I use a double old-fashioned (DOF) glass to serve this drink - only because I have a beautiful set from Waterford that I love to use every chance I get. My DOFs are quite large, so unless yours are as well, it might be best to use the highball glass. As mentioned above, I use Tito's vodka out of Austin and I use Bundaberg ginger beer. I've only been able to find this at World Market, but it may be available at a large liquor/specialty store, such as Spec's. Although it is called 'ginger beer', it doesn't actually have any alcohol in it and doesn't taste like beer at all.

Some last words of wisdom on the Moscow Mule: it is a refreshing, tasty drink that is perfect for summer savoring. I say 'savoring' because be forewarned - it is a strong drink that will 'slip right down', so if you are a lightweight, I suggest sipping it slowly! Sante, mes amis!


I hope you'll try out the Moscow Mule and let me know how you like it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Witte Museum with Darling Husband (DH)

 

On Saturday, DH and I headed to the Witte Museum.  I've been wanting to take him since the new South Texas Heritage Center opened in May.  I went ahead and purchased a family membership for us, with the hope that now we will frequent the museum more often.  The South Texas Heritage Center has a nice, albeit small collection.  Where the Witte excelled was the creative displays and games for children.  I FREAKED out when we first walked in because there is a truly realistic vaquero mannequin that greets you.  I wanted to video him with my phone, but didn't want to get too close.  I kind of felt like the small child that is scared to death of Santa. 

A museum greeter invited DH and I to attend a branding and roping clinic and we played 'the good tourists' by shuffling into the learning center.  Let's just say that this country girl found it hard to sit through a lesson on branding cattle and ropes given by what was obviously an actor.  He told the class that ranchers are now putting microchips in their cattle to help locate them if they ever get lost....hmmmm.  I'm a rancher's daughter this must be something the Dallas ranchers do with all of their money because I've never heard of such a thing around these parts. :)

One of my favorite exhibits was in the main part of the Witte: a collection of Fiesta Royalty Dresses.  It was a small collection and I think the room lacked some pizazz, but the dresses were, admittedly, very beautiful.

Witte Info on The Order of the Alamo: The Order of the Alamo has crowned a Queen to reign over Fiesta every year since 1909.  The Queen, accompanied by a Princess and Duchesses, is crowned in an elaborate coronation pageant.  Each coronation is organized around a theme that is selected two years in advance.  The theme influences every aspect of the coronation from the designs of the dresses to the set design of the theater where the coronation is held.  This year's annual Fiesta exhibition explores the design behind the Order of the Alamo cornation. 


This dress was designed for the Queen of the Panama Canal (or something like that).  You can almost see her super long train in the back - with a depiction of a ship passing through the canal.



Isn't this dress beautiful?  It reminded me of a mermaid.


Detached train.



Duchess of St. Patrick's Day



Duchess of the Romanov Easter Egg (does Faberge ring a bell?)



Loved this gorgeous train!  Circa 1998.


Stage model, Court of the Napoleonic Empire (Order of the Alamo Coronation, 1993)
Notice the 'HRH' monogram - 'Her Royal Highness'



'N' for Napoleon and notice all the bees?  This was Napoleon's personal symbol.

I give this exhibit a B - I don't like the gold mannequins or the boring blue walls.  They probably chose plain walls so as not to compete with the dresses, however, it almost made them look cheap...

Also, I wish there would have been more than a handful of dresses to view - you could look at the entire exhibit in less than five minutes.

All in all, we enjoyed our trip to the Witte as well as our husband-wife quality time together.  We didn't check out the Darwin exhibit, opting to save that for another trip.

What did you do this weekend?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cute Workout Clothes & New Trainer


Since I would rather die than show you a pic of me in workout clothes at present, here is a photo of my favorite gym shoes.  Yes, I am absolutely one of those people who like to get dressed up to work out.  I love wearing cute workout clothes and for a while, became a regular at Dick's Sports, where they have a fabulous collection of women's Nike gear.

Feeling cute while exercising really does motivate me (I swear, James!).  Since I feel self-conscious in tight athletic gear anyway, you'd think I would be inclined to try to be inconspicuous at the gym or in the park.  Not me.  I'd rather wear fun, brightly colored outfits to lift my own mood while working out.  One time, I showed up to play tennis with my friend, Cara, and she commented that I looked like a peacock and she resembled a raven (she was wearing all black).  She may be right, I just love the fun colors in Nike's current collection.


I don't have an endorsement deal with Nike (at present), but I do tend to gravitate toward their aesthetic.  I also LOVE Athleta (pictured below)!


Their Yoga collection is the coolest I've ever seen and their catalogs/advertising is second to none!  As soon as the Athleta catalog arrives in the mail, I rush through it to see whats new or on sale.  Athleta can be a bit pricey, but the pieces I've purchased are top quality.  I've lusted after their yoga tops for some time now and just might be ready to splurge!

I'm feeling very optimistic these days about my diet and exercise (which slipped a bit when I started my new job).  I called up a trainer I've been dying to work with for some time now and crossed my fingers that she would be available.  I really think God had a hand in this one, because she was more than willing to train me!

I know some people who would say that hiring a trainer is very....extravagant and wonder why can't I just do it myself?  First of all, one of my favorite things in life is extravagance so it's practically perfect for me!  On a serious note, I need that extra motivation as well as someone (whom I admire) to push me farther than I would push myself - both mentally and physically.

When I worked out with trainers in the past, I learned some valuable lessons about myself.  They forced me to try exercises I knew in my heart I could not do.  I quickly pointed out this fact and continued to whine during the attempts.  Apparently I don't always know my heart that well because I was capable of doing some of the said exercises.

It's also extremely helpful for me to have someone that a.) is a great role model for fitness and b.) actually cares about my success. c.) I could actually be friends with **disclaimer - not all trainers are created equal

I start training again the first week of July and I am fired up to get at it again.  Training makes me feel powerful, able to accomplish almost anything, which in turn, makes me happy.  My husband says he can always tell when I haven't been working out because I'm bitchy.  Poor guy, I haven't worked out in weeks. :)

Now I've got to ramp up for my new training workouts and I only have about a week and a half.  I REALLY don't want to humiliate myself in front of my new trainer, nor do I want to groan every time I get up out of a chair for a week.  Tomorrow morning, I'm going to put on some purple Nike shorts and a peach Danskin halter tank top and hit the neighborhood for a brisk walk with my pups in tow.  Afterwards, I'll do some upper body free weight training.  Keep your fingers crossed for me that I'll be somewhat back in a non-pathetic-shape when I meet up with my trainer for our first workout!  P.S.  Isn't this fabulous?  I would wake up every single morning to workout if I had this outfit (shoes and headband included) !  I swear I would.


Photo via www.athleta.com

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Evolution of My Feelings About Weekends


Today I realized that it's the end of Wednesday, which means tomorrow is Thursday and Friday is almost here, giving way to the weekend. The funny thing is that I experienced a new mix of feelings while considering that the weekend is almost here - surprise that the week was passing quickly and anticipation combined with enough energy for fun activities to come.

Since the beginning of my employment as an adult, the weekend has evoked a multitude of feelings, all of which I now realize, correspond to the employer of the moment. Come with me as I document the 'Evolution of My Feelings About Weekends'.

*Note: Not all of my previous employers are represented here, and they may or may not be in chronological order.

Inner Monologue regarding weekends:

Employer A: "It's Friday night? Sweet! I can go out tonight and still work tomorrow morning. I probably won't be that hungover. Besides, I can sleep it off Saturday afternoon and do it all over again at night."

Employer B: "OMG, this week is dragging on; a monkey could do this job. Please, please, please let Friday get here SOON! I can't wait to go to Harry's on Friday night and Shelley's party on Saturday night!"

Employer C: "I don't even know what day of the week it is. Oh, it's Friday? I have to work until 9pm anyway and open tomorrow morning at 10am. Weekends are awesome - for everyone but me."

Employer D: "It's only Tuesday? This job is slowly killing my soul. Please let the weekend get here soon so I can forget that I'm not pursuing my dreams and distract myself with shopping."

Employer E: "Friday night baby! Time to go out with the crew after work. Too bad I never see my husband any more...I work weekends and he works weekdays...but at least I'm doing something I'm passionate about..."

Employer F: "It's THURSDAY??? How am I going to finish all this work? I need at least two more days in the work week...if I work Saturday, I can almost catch up...then I can rest all day Sunday, in the darkness of my bedroom with the sound of the television drowning out the anxiety I feel for the upcoming work week."

Employer G: "Thursday. I am so freakin' exhausted and if I have to spend one more day with these people, I'm going to lose my mind. I don't even care if I complete my action items, no one appreciates the amount of work I put into this job anyway. Please, God, let Friday actually be Saturday and make Saturday last at least 72 hours."

Employer H: "Wow, it's already Wednesday? This week is sailing by and I can't wait to do something fun with James this weekend...maybe we'll go the the museum or drive to Austin..."

You may have guessed that Employer H is my current place of business and I'm so happy that I am finally in a place where I can enjoy my weekends with my husband, friends, family and doggies. After so many years of allowing my job to influence my feelings about the weekends, I realize that this is something I am not willing to give any longer (unless the work positively influences my weekends)! We work so much of our lives and I truly regret allowing my job to steal 48 hours per week of potential fun and overall enjoyment. And, enjoyment does not mean 'recovering' all weekend because I am so damn exhausted from the work week. Life is just too short and it's just not worth it. Not for money. Not for an 'important' position. Not for approval. It's just not worth it.

I'd rather spend my 48 hours a week going to dinner, drinking cocktails, swimming at a friend's pool, shopping at the farmer's market, visiting a new art exhibit, hosting a dinner party, playing tennis, taking my dogs to the beach, reading a silly book, trying out a new recipe, getting a massage, looking for a present for someone special, decorating my house, working out with a friend, travelling...with ample energy and the right job, the possibilities are endless!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kentucky Derby Party

I absolutely love horse racing! First of all, I adore horses and hope to own a few one day when I have the proper amount of time and money to care for them. Few things get me as excited as the Kentucky Derby. You get to drink real cocktails, dress girly, and it is one of the few acceptable occasions in the U.S. for a woman to wear a large hat without donning a swimsuit. What could be better?

I ordered the official 138th Kentucky Derby invitations to request the pleasure of my friends' company. I then scoured the web searching for traditional Kentucky Derby recipes, party decor, and proper fashion inspiration.


I came across the May 2012 issue of Southern Living while shopping at HEB and decided the room featured on the cover was so beautiful, I had to treat myself (let's be honest, I often do). What I didn't know at the time of purchase was that the editors had completely planned my entire party for me - and exquisitely, I might add.




I just about fell over when I saw this elegant spread - it was exactly what I was picturing for my party. I instantly decided to recreate most of the recipes and style for my own fete.



First things, first - the main course. Ham biscuits with Figgy Port Chutney and blue cheese butter. I cheated a bit and didn't make the biscuits - instead, I used store bought dinner rolls from the bakery. In hindsight, I wish I would have gone the extra mile and made the biscuits. My review of the recipes? The ham turned out good, but not sure if I basted it too much? The ginger ale and bourbon mixture pretty much burned to the bottom of my roasting pan in the last 30 minutes of cooking. I added more bourbon and some water, but I think it was too late. It didn't seem to affect the ham at all. As for the combination with the Figgy Port Chutney and Blue Cheese Butter, it turned out simply amazing. The sweet-tangyness of the chutney and the rich blue cheese were a perfect compliment to the ham and the flavor was indulgently complex.
Recipes (all courtesy of Southern Living)
Fluffy Cream Cheese Biscuits
Ginger-Ale Brown Sugar Smoked Ham
Figgy Port Chutney
Blue Cheese Butter


Next up: Roasted Brown Butter Pecans with Rosemary. Simply delicious and very easy to make. My husband went crazy for these nuts. Sometimes raw pecans can taste bitter to me, but roasting them in brown butter completely removes that unpleasant taste and gives them an incredibly rich flavor along with the savory Rosemary and sea salt. This one is definitely going in my party recipe rotation.
Roasted Brown Butter Pecans with Rosemary



Southern Living's version of crudite with a whipped lemon aioli. I didn't actually make this, I made more of a traditional crudite with ranch dressing, but their presentation is lovely.



Although all of the recipes turned out great, these Derby Truffles might have been the biggest hit, with the exception of one guest with nut allergies - sorry Nick!
Derby Truffles



I've got my Southern Living out on the counter, measuring the bourbon for the Derby Truffles. I used the 1792 Kentucky Bourbon from our bar. Red roses are for the 'Run for the Roses'. My magazine was so messy by the time I was finished cooking, I called my mom to see if I could have her copy for my recipe files!



My bar - at the ready with Bulleit Bourbon & 1792 - both Kentucky bourbons. I've also got a muddler (which we didn't end up using), simple syrup steeped with mint, fresh sprigs of mint from my mom's garden and my signature drink - Flirtini's.


Aren't Mint Juleps so fun to drink? Just like a Martini can instantly transport you to Manhattan, a Mint Julep places you in Kentucky, in that slow, Southern style. I just love Mint Julep cups and have decided I am going to start collecting one each year. They are expensive, but in 8 years or so, I'll be ready to serve my guests a Mint Julep in its proper vessel.

Classic Mint Julep - Southern Living

Ingredients


  • 3 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon Mint Simple Syrup
  • Crushed ice
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) bourbon
  • 1 (4-inch) cocktail straw or coffee stirrer
  • 1 fresh mint sprig
  • Powdered sugar (optional)


  • Preparation


    Place mint leaves and Mint Simple Syrup in a chilled julep cup. Gently press leaves against cup with back of spoon to release flavors. Pack cup tightly with crushed ice; pour bourbon over ice. Insert straw, place mint sprig directly next to straw, and serve immediately. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

    Note: For testing purposes only, we used Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Bourbon.




    My sister and I with our Derby hats and mint juleps. I did a terrible job of taking photos at this party - Stacy, we will recreate the photo op the next time you come over! Only my sister picked the winning horse - I'll Have Another. One of my picks, Bodemeister, came in 2nd. Now that I'll Have Another has won the Preakness, it will be SUPER exciting watching him go for the Triple Crown!!!! The Belmont Stakes is this Saturday, so tune in with me to see if he can do it!


    Everyone had a great time, such a great time that my husband conked out on the sofa with our dog, Razz, by the end of the evening. Notice the fedora I made him wear for the occasion!

    To read Southern Living's Guide to the Kentucky Derby, click here - http://www.southernliving.com/food/entertaining/your-guide-to-the-kentucky-derby-00417000072799/