Fake it ’til you make it!

Pain au Chocolat

Pain au Chocolat

We’ve all heard the expression “Fake it ’til you make it!” and that’s what I intend to do – live like I’m living in France, until I can make the move.

For me, the French/European lifestyle is all about working to live, and not living to work.  Taking time to enjoy life’s pleasures. Being an artist. A writer. Dining outside. 

Parisian Cafe

Parisian Cafe

When I’m in Europe, I take the train to visit different cities. I walk more. I eat bread (*gasp*). Spend hours, sometimes entire days in Museums AND Cafés. Drink Champagne. Enjoy Crêpes and Pain au Chocolat (chocolate croissants)  – a lot! So why not do this now?

Nutella and Banana Crepe

Before I leave for my French Adventure, I plan on doing the following things right here in the Good Ole U.S.of A.:

1. Take the train to another State (perhaps Denverto visit my bestie Heidi; or Chicagoto visit my brother; or just maybe travel to a city I’ve never visited).
2. Finish my novel.
3. Relax in the park with a loaf of French bread, a bottle of wine and a good book.
4. Start drawing /painting again.
5. Enjoy the local museums and galleries.
6. Dine outside as much as possible.
7. Host a French Dinner & Movie Night –  complete with French music, a French film, Champagne, Hors d’oeuvres and Crêpes!
8. Speak French daily.
9. Cook French cuisine.
10. Sit in a local coffee-house for hours and people watch.

I better get started tout de suite!

This post is also posted in my new blog: The France Project 

Curry Shrimp

This is the recipe my friend Christian prepared for our August Girls Night – the theme was Jamaican, and this dish was amazingly good!  I hope you enjoy it!

Curry Shrimp 
Prep: 30 min  Cook: 5 min (makes 6 servings)

1 tablespoon butter
1 pound uncooked, peeled shrimp
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable broth (it calls for chicken broth but I used veggie)
1/2 cup milk
1 small tomato chopped

Melt one tablespoon of butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Cook shrimp in butter 4 to 5 minutes or until pink and firm. Remove shrimp from skillet; drain skillet.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in same skillet over medium heat. Add onions, flour, curry powder and salt in margarine, stirring constantly, until bubbly; remove from heat. Stir in broth and milk. Place back on stove and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in tomato and shrimp. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until hot. Serve over rice.

Note: The recipe says 30 minutes for the prep but literally you could make this in 15 minutes including cook time if you buy shrimp that is already peeled.

Girls Night Goes Jamaican

Happy Anniversary Girls Night!

We’ll it’s been a year since I started my monthly Dinner and a Movie ~ Girls Night, and besides being a fabulous night with my girl friends, it’s also been a wonderful culinary experience.

girls from girls nightStacey

Each month we have a different menu theme and movie, however, for the past few months we’ve actually not watched the movie at all.  We have just enjoyed the meal and discussion.

This month’s theme? Jamaican Baby! And, one of my favorites themes so far. There were so many incredible colors and flavors in the dishes people prepared. 

We started the evening with fancy island beverages made with Pineapple juice, Coconut Liqueur and clear Rum (thanks Tracy!), in addition we served Guava and Mango juices with Coconut liqueur.

To keep with the theme, I made a funky Jamaican/Reggae playlist on my iPod with songs by Bob Marley, Collie Buddz, Peter Tosh, Ken Boothe, Harry Belefonte, Freddie McGreggor, Aswad & Sweetie Irie, UB40, Johnny Nash and Musical Youth, to name a few. The island music played throughout the evening.

We continued our flavor fest with some wonderful appetizers brought by Wendy: Ahi topped with Mango Salsa and jalapeños, served with Blue Corn Chips, as well as some tasty humus and Pita chips.

The Dinner Menu consisted of some delicious Cold Pumpkin Soup – YUM! (Thanks Shay!), tasty Rice and Beans (Thanks Wendy!), some amazing Curry Shrimp* (Thanks Christian!), a scrumptious cold rice dish with pineapple and peppers (Thanks Erin!), a healthy and delicious tossed green salad (thanks Kellie!), yummy Jerk Chicken (prepared by me, recipe below), fried Plantains (more from Christian), and finished our meal with creamy Mango ice cream (more from Tracy).

For continued snacking we had Maui Onion Chips and Maui BBQ Chips (thanks Heather!)  We also had wine for those who didn’t want to stick with the sweet Rum drinks.

The movie chosen for the evening was Dr. No, the first James Bond movie (released in 1962) which was set in Jamaica. But, as seems to be the case lately, we didn’t make it to the movie due to our fun and lively conversation filling up the evening.

The Jerk Chicken I made was delicious and easy.  In case you’d like to give it a try, I’ve included the recipe. Don’t be daunted by the number of ingredients, its super easy and doesn’t take very long at all to prepare.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Combine in a large bowl:
1 Tbsp ground allspice
2 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground sage
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
big pinch of salt
1 Tbsp sugar

Whisk the following liquids in with the spices:
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice
juice of one lime

Add the following to the marinade:
1 Habanero pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped white onion
3 green onions, finely chopped

Add 2-3 lbs. chicken to the marinade:
Approximately 4-6 chicken breasts. Leave the as filets or cut pieces into 2” or 3” chunks
Stir to coat the chicken
Cover with plastic wrap
Let marinade for at least 1 hour

Pull chicken pieces from marinade and place on grill (The best way to cook the chicken is on a gas or charcoal grill, however, I grilled mine on the George Foreman Grill and it worked great – and cooked extremely fast!)

Grill each side until chicken is fully cooked (white inside when cut into – about 20 min on grill, 5 minutes on Foreman Grill.) I take the leftover marinade and cook it on the stove for 15-20 minutes and then use it as a sauce to top the grilled chicken and rice.

Serve with Jamaican rice and beans.

Enjoy!

*Please see “recipes” category for Christian’s Curry Shrimp dish recipe.  It’s amazing!

Celebration of Friendship

Recently Real Simple® Magazine and Buitoni® held a joint sweepstakes; the prize was a Dinner Party for 14 guests, with the meal prepared by a Professional Chef. In addition, the winner would receive the services of an Event Planner to handle all the details of planning the party.  The winner was right here in Roseville, CA, and my company (DKG Events) was brought in to orchestrate the event.

A few months before the party I met with the winner, Michele; two of her closest friends; and the Chef. After getting to know a little bit about Michele and her husband, we decided on an “Old World” Italian Dinner Party theme.

The Chef, Gillian, of Foodie in the Kitchen, went to work on the menu, and I went to work on all the other details of the event.

Over the past year or so, Michele’s husband Jay had gone through a life threatening illness, but thankfully he had beat it!  Because of this, they decided to hold the dinner party on his birthday, and would invite all their closest friends who had supported them throughout his illness, as a celebration of his life and their friendship.  

We decided to call the event a Celebration of Friendship. Keeping with the Italian theme, I looked up these words in Italian, and created an invitation and titled it Celebrazione di Amicizia.

Most people do not have dining room tables large enough to hold 14-16 people and this was also true in Michele’s case. Therefore, in order to achieve the look and feel that we were going for, I suggested we rent tables (one 8′ X 4′, and one 4′ X 4′) and put them together creating a 12 foot long table.  Then we covered the extra-large table with King sized table clothes, which we also rented from Classic Party Rentals, along with a table runner, dinnerware, chargers and glassware.

   

The other thing we did was to move their furniture around a bit.  I suggested that we place the “Old World” dining table in their family room where their couch was currently, and move their couch in their dining room where their standard size dining table was. They agreed to make the changes.

Michele’s best friends wanted to be involved with the party planning, so they arrived early on the day of the event, and helped with set up, made the appetizers, assisted me with the setting the table, making flower arrangements and many other pre-party planning aspects before the other guests arrived. They were truly lovely to work with.  These are their appetizers.

Guests enjoyed the appetizers and wine out on the patio  prior to dinner.

 Candles are lit, lights are dimmed. 

I created menu cards and placed one at each place setting, along with a chocolate truffle in a gift box. Ambiance was created with flower arrangements and lots of candles set on a runner down the center of the extra wide (and long) table. Keeping with the Old World feel, we choose to use the Gibraltar glassware, instead of stemware.  I also created a playlist on my iPod with a fabulous mix of music that played in the background throughout the evening. 

Chef Gillian and her assistant.

 

The Menu

Focaccia Bread

Pasta e Fagioli Soup
 
Chicken Breast Stuffed with Broccoli Rabe, Fontina & Pine Nuts

Pasta with Seasonal Spring Vegetables

Fresh Berry Crepes with Amaretto Zabaglione

 

  Special friends sitting down for a celebratory meal.

 

A toast to Friendship!

 

During the dinner the guests shared stories about their lives, things they had been through, and the reasons they cherished their friendships so much. After spending the evening with this wonderful group of people, I felt like I had a glimpse into their lives, and was touched by their closeness. They even brought me into their dinner conversation by asking about me and my family, they seemed truly interested in my life. When Chef Gillian was able to take a break from the kitchen, they did the same with her. We might have been the “hired help” but they made us feel like friends.

From the prospective of an event planner the event was a success, and Michele thanked me for all I did in helping her host such a nice dinner party. But really, I feel thankful that I was able to be a part of such a wonderful evening – to witness this Celebration of Friendship.

And yet again, it came to mind how everyone we meet comes into our lives for a Reason, Season or Lifetime. 

Bikes, Bites and Art

Sacramento has a lot to offer its residents and visitors!! So many amazing restaurants with sidewalk seating, as well as art galleries, museums, boutiques, theatre and sporting events. One of my favorite things to do in Sacramento is the Second Saturday Art Walk – or Ride, I should say.

Some of us ride our bicycles around Downtown, Midtown, and/or East Sacramento, stopping to visit a gallery opening or two, then we’ll leisurely ride a few blocks to visit some more. We usually take a break for some Tapas or appetizers and a cool beverage before heading back out to see a few more galleries. It’s a pleasurable and entertaining way to enjoy the evening.

But even if you aren’t in town for Second Saturday, practically any summer day/evening is perfect for a bike ride in Sacramento. If you have visitors in town, or you yourself are without a bicycle to ride, may I suggest renting one from Bikes and Bites. The Bikes and Bites bike rental pairs out-of-town visitors and locals with cool beach cruisers so they can bike to one or more restaurants for a bite to eat in Midtown and Downtown Sacramento. The fleet of rental bikes includes both men’s and women’s classic single speed beach cruiser style bicycles, a combination lock, front and rear light set, an optional helmet, and a front-mounted basket with a sponsoring plaque on it.

Bikes and Bites is the brainchild of Robin Little, who has over 20 years of travel marketing experience and is the owner of UnionVacations.com. Bikes and Bites is the perfect way to get the message out to the public in the Sacramento Region about the importance of lowering their carbon footprint. There are currently 30 bikes available for rental with the possibility of additional bikes being added to the fleet during the 2010 season.

According to Robin, “We have taken the next step and are now placing bikes in a few office buildings, hotels and even a B&B.”

The Cost to rent a bike is only $10 for the first two hours and $3 for each additional hour, a maximum of $30 for 24 hours. What’s cool, and why this is call Bikes and Bites, is that your bike rental can get you easily around Midtown and Downtown Sacramento and spending money in sponsoring restaurants and shops.

The Sacramento Air Quality Management District’s, “Spare the Air” program will even pay for an hour of the bike rental if you ride your bike for several hours. (Please see http://www.BikesandBites.com for details and list of locations.)

Girls night, it’s more than just cocktails…

Relationships between women are important. We learn a lot from each other, support each other during difficult times, and are there to toast each others accomplishments. Boyfriends can come and go in our lives, but I have bonds with women that have lasted for decades. And I can picture us still friends when we are old and gray, reminiscing about our lives, laughing about the good times we have had over the years… and we’ll still be sipping champagne!

Each month I host a Dinner and Movie Night with a group of girlfriends. I started it back in August 09 after a conversation with a couple of friends about how we are all so busy that months go by and we barely have a conversation, let alone see each other.

It seems like as we get older, our lives become so jam-packed with jobs, husbands/relationships, children, and just day-to-day living that we can get caught up and neglect ourselves and our friendships. I didn’t want this to happen. I wanted to make sure that we set some time aside each month for us.

I started with my core group of girl friends. I called or emailed each of them and asked which day of the week would work best on a consistent monthly basis. Once we figured out the day, we choose a movie and a theme for the food, and I sent out an email with all the details to everyone. The first month was terrific. We did it again in September. And by the third month we were in full swing, so I switched to an online evite and I invited a few more women to join the group.

One of the things I love about our dinner and movie night is that we have women in many different stages in life. Some of us are married, others single/divorced, some have never been married but are in relationships that they hope will lead to marriage.  Some have kids, others do not. Some are self-employed, others have full-time jobs, others stay home with children. But we can all come together and speak openly about what’s happening in our lives.  Whether it be work, marriage, relationships (or lack there of), travel, literature, challenges or accomplishments – we get on a topic and somehow we can all relate, no matter what stage of life we are in.

We all respect each other and give feedback from many different perspectives when asked, or just give a listening ear when needed. Every month has a slightly different tone, depending on who is in attendance, and what’s happening in each of our lives. Sometimes we get to talking so much that we don’t make it to the movie; or through the entire movie without hitting the pause button a few times to discuss some “very important issue” that came up in the movie. But that seems to be ok.

Our dinner/movie night is the same night and time each month to make it easier for people to plan ahead and schedule for it. It’s also pot luck which makes it simple and fun for everyone, plus it seems to have become a recipe exchange, with all the amazing treats people bring. And of course we always have wine or some other signature cocktail to go along with the month’s theme… it wouldn’t be “girls night” without that, now would it?

Some of the Movies we’ve watched are Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Vertigo”; “When Harry Met Sally”; “He’s Just Not That Into You”; “Scent of a Women”; and “Chocolat”.

Movie for this month…”Fried Green Tomatoes”.

One of our favorite cocktail recipes from our Harvest themed movie night was the Pumpkin Pie Martini, brought to us by movie night participant and good friend Christian…

Pumpkin Pie Martini:
Ice cubes
1/4 cup vanilla vodka (2 ounces)
1/4 cup crème de cacao (2 ounces)
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Whipped cream, for garnish
Cinnamon stick, for garnish
 
Directions:
Fill a cocktail shaker half full with ice cubes. Add the vanilla vodka, crème de cacao, heavy cream and pumpkin pie spice and shake well.
 
Dip the rims of martini glasses into whipped cream. Strain the cocktail into the glasses, add Cinnamon stick as garnish.
 
Serves 2
Enjoy!