I am both honored and humbled to have been a part of the feature, so a big thank you is in order for everyone at BMag!
To make a long story short, I was asked to put together a holiday inspired menu as well as entertaining ‘tips and tricks’ to be featured on a thematic tablescape designed by the magazine's stylists.
Needless to say I was instantly channeling my inner gay, teutonic, Giada DiLaurentiis and whipping myself into an Ina Garten style domestic frenzy, but I had to answer a few questions first…
I’m including my responses here because I think it gives good insight into why I’m writing this blog and explains the persistent afterglow having cooked for this piece.
What is your background in?
- I work in finance, however, I spent 10 years in various roles in the hospitality industry from marketing to floor management. It was during this time, under some inspiring talents, that I developed my interest in and appreciation for food and wine. I was also fortunate to do several stints studying abroad, during which I acquired my love for travel and the exploration of diverse locales and cultures. These experiences combined to give me an insatiable curiosity centered on the food, wine, and culinary traditions around the world, and it’s through my own cooking and travel that I get to satisfy those urges, this is my creative and sensory outlet in my 9 to 5 world.
What brings you to Baltimore?
- I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, most of my childhood and adolescence spent as a figure skater. After my career as an athlete ended, I was drawn to Baltimore for college at Loyola University where I studied International Business. My father's family is quite large and has been in Baltimore for a many years and I had spent a good deal of time here growing up, so therefore, I felt at home right away. Through the years I forged a deeper connection with the city and the people in it, falling in love with so many things, and decided to stay after graduating. Here I am now, enjoying life in Upper Fells Point.
How would you describe your blog?
- This blog is my way to share my experience; cooking, dining, living my day-to-day as a member of the 'Aspirational Proletariat' to which so many of us belong. It’s a personal account, a real-life version of the high-gloss images and scintillating tales of transcendent meals and cultural adventures that inspire me in print, television, and daily life, all experienced within the confines of my 9 to 5 reality.
How long have you been blogging?
- I started blogging at the beginning of 2013, but I have to admit I’ve been writing amateur restaurant reviews and travel stories since I was 10, I hope no one ever reads those…
What do you love about holiday cooking?
- I love that the holidays are a chance to go over the top with everything you do. Whether it’s décor, the variety of your spread, or even the richness of the dishes you prepare. No one will fault you for a little excess during the holidays. It is a perfect chance to try new things and really indulge your guests, family, friends, and ultimately yourself.
What’s your favorite holiday and why?
- Thanksgiving, hands down. For me, it’s the perfect holiday, family and friends gathering around food, what could be better.? I also happen to love cooking during this season, fall flavors and produce like sage, chestnuts, pumpkin, and cauliflower are some of my favorites with which to work. I guess it doesn’t hurt that my absolute favorite wines, Amarone and Valpolicella Ripasso, are arguably some of the best to pair with turkey!
For the purposes of the article I focused my menu on side dishes that capture iconic flavors and items I knew would be vibrant in photographs.
My choices of the spiced wine, vibrant nutty salad, sweet and spicy carrots, simple grilled fish, and the savory and sweet custard are all nods to these traditions in some way but also come from my personal taste. Chilies from New Mexico, piquant blue cheese, and rich caramel are all some of my favorite flavors and things that I look forward to during the holidays and all year long. These recipes are simple and can easily be modified to fit any occasion.
· Spiced Wine – Glühwein – I make mine with typical mulling spices of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, adding cardamom and black peppercorns for a deeper flavor and aromatics, finishing off with orange rind and brandy, then cooking on very low heat for an hour before serving. I serve in a large glass punch bowl and garnish each glass or mug with a cinnamon stick.
· Finger Foods:
o Fennel ‘Fries’
o Warm Radicchio, Cayenne-Candied Walnut, and Gorgonzola Piccante Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
o Roasted Red Chili Glazed Rainbow Carrots with Toasted Pine Nuts
o Harissa Grilled Makerels on Grilled Bread
o Salted Carmel & Spiced Rum Custard with Fresh Whipped Cream
Recipes can be found online by clicking HERE
Holiday Entertaining Strategies
So as far as the entertaining ‘tips & tricks’ go, I consulted some close, like-minded friends, and really just reflected on the types of things I give myself as ‘to-dos’ whenever I entertain. Whether it's a small dinner party or an all day brunch, these are simple dishes or strategies I have found particularly successful.
· Make a Savory Statement - Inspired by a designer friend known for her stunning plates, I've always liked to have a beautiful 'statement' charcuterie and cheese platter for guests to enjoy throughout any event. I try to use slightly unexpected items like autumn leaves, fresh flowers, crispy fennel, pickled okra, or even some candied bacon just to keep things visually interesting and to highlight the headlining meats and cheeses.
· Add Some Flavor to Your Table – Use colorful and unique ramekins for salt, pepper and other seasonings that you want on your table rather than the usual (and often mundane) shakers one might normally find. This adds visual interest to the tablescape in subtle and unexpected ways.
· Mix & Match – Use vintage and mismatched glassware for pre-dinner cocktails and antique tea cups for dessert or coffee service. Each one can be a conversation starter while the meal begins and ends. I love collecting these pieces whenever I travel and it’s fun to tell friends about the process.
· Spread the Spread - Placing food and beverage stations in various locations throughout the home or entertaining space rather than all in one central 'buffet & bar' location creates natural flow and allows guests to mingle more freely. This is especially important in smaller homes or compact urban environments (like my Baltimore row home) where one might even consider putting certain items outdoors to expand the entertaining space.
· Local Color! – When possible, source all flower arrangements locally, the Fells Point Farmers Market or Ellen Frost at Local Color Flowers is my Go-Tos! By doing so, one can naturally lend an authentic seasonality to the table top or display.
· Start from Scratch – Make at least one item completely from scratch. Whether it is pasta, bread, pickles or even a cocktail infusion, creating something entirely your own puts your personal stamp on the entire event.
· Get that Feeling – Choose your menu and decor carefully, giving it a cohesive, consistent, and thematic ‘Feeling’. Plan how you want your guests to think and feel when they enter the home or room, and develop that idea in everything you serve. I try to select a theme that is a nod to the season or a particular cultural culinary tradition, that way the décor and dishes relate naturally to each other and are all relevant to the whole of the experience, i.e ‘Alpine Christmas’ dinner or ‘A Springtime in Italy’ Brunch.
· Have Plan and Hire Help – Make sure you have thought through every stage or step of your event so as to avoid unexpected surprises during service. No one likes a harried host, so whether it’s hiring a professional or a begging a good friend, always designate someone to help with the minutia of execution and clean up.
Overall, this was an incredible experience and everyone should go pick up the magazine!
It made very clear to me what I love about food and entertaining, inspired my creativity, distilled my passion, and I am left feeling even more dedicated to building on this part of my life, my pursuit of umami.