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Monday, June 30, 2014

Step Up Summer Cocktails

The opportunity to chop, cook, infuse, mix and savor produce grown close to home is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. Cooking is an enjoyable chore and hobby elevated by seasonal crops. But, creating and sipping a perfectly mixed cocktail is an escape, experiment and method of relaxation that soaks up the essence of summer living for me.

I use my Iron Gate platter as a cocktail tray/mixing station for intimate patio gatherings.
Unexpected and inexpensive, since there's no party serving piece to buy. Use what you have...

I don’t get too serious or strict about recipes, but treat every glass, pitcher or jar like an art project from summer camp. There’s direction but no rules or expectations – just creative fun. My bar is open to treat friends at least a couple of times a week. Sometimes it's 3 and others it's 30. I've streamlined the process for more fun, less work.

Whether you’re using plastic cups at a lake cabin or expensive crystal on a veranda is irrelevant. Focus on bringing smiles and flavors to yourself and your favorite people.

Let your hosts choose their flavor or twist. Keep herbs in glasses with water along with mini scissors
and sliced fruit. A side cutting board and knife nearby to encourage cutting into your display.

Display what you have on hand so guests can get creative. There's nothing prettier to add color to a table.
A centerpiece of edible goodies (see above, cut into some to start) is a summer party favorite.


Keep fruit and herbs on hand. Buy fresh from local farmers or grow what you can. Less chemicals = more flavor and joy for all. 

Give your guests a choice instead of sticking them with a signature cocktail. Unfussy is the best hot- weather vibe. If someone dislikes berries, they shouldn't have to sip your 'famous strawberry lemonade'-- no matter how good it is. Bonus - flavor options serve as your decor/centerpiece.

Skip sugary mixes, juices and sodas all together. Ugh! They cause sluggish feelings, not to mention the wrench thrown at your swimsuit profile.

Sparkling water reigns. Today's mini machines eliminate excess plastic, but bigger bottles of Pellegrino go a long way when using lots of ice. We all crave a little fizz. It’s also nice to have on hand for abstainers, for creating their own flavored 'mocktail'.
PS: Sub sparkling water for tonic and save 125 calories per 12 oz.  At the end of the party, this really adds up. Glass bottles are so easy to clean and reuse, another plus.

Like white jeans, clear liquors are summer essentials.  Fruit hues shine and melting ice doesn’t cause a watered-down look. Infuse with herbs or fruit for a few days for a much more subtle and genuine taste than pre-flavored varieties. And, they won't stain those white jeans, either.

 I’m addicted to slower melting ‘ice balls'. I throw in basil, mint, berries or citrus for flavor. My favorites are the amply-sized Tovolo Ice Sphere Molds found at Absolution in Nashville

Summer’s about taking a break, including one from your usual cocktail or spirit brand. Instead of the ‘usual’, try new tequila or an artisan gin. A great example is US made boutique brand, Sugar Wash Moonshine as an alternative to white rum. It’s sweeter, lighter and such fun to invite friends over for ‘moonshine’ mojitos. 

Don’t go overboard and try to coordinate everything. No one cares about that except for little girls at birthday parties. If it’s an adult gathering, the environment shouldn’t be ‘matchy’. Curated themes are tasteful, but all of that party store nonsense is never good idea, especially for a casually elegant cocktail hour.

Infusing is commonplace at our bar. Gin with the flavor of fresh cucumbers and mint from my
 herb garden is great solo, but surprisingly complimentary to sweeter fruits like mango and berries. 

More tips, shortcuts and mixing fun will be posted here all week. Don’t miss seeing THE LIST of my go-to sites for shopping, recipes and presentations. Keep following... lots of libations yet to come.

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Summer Cocktails: Source List

Whether you want to muddle produce and herbs for specialty cocktails, or feel more comfortable picking up a crowd-pleasing wine or craft beer, there’s no reason to put too much time into trying to create a summer party plan as a holiday weekend approaches. Don’t stress or search aimlessly through random Pinterest boards trying to find the ideal presentation . It’s easy to get buried with too many choices, and it's the season to chill—not obsess.

Just one of the many colorful concoctions found on Sous Style. This Rainier Cherry Muddler was the from another of my favorite recipe-sharing sites, Sprouted Kitchen

Just like stopping at a small market is faster (and less headache) than navigating a superstore, limiting your options to 2-3 trusted sources where ideas/guides are at the ready reduces stress. Copy links to your phone for picking up essentials when at the farm stand or market, and you’re good to go.

A libations list consistently elevates your host/hostess status and boosts your cocktail confidence without wasting precious time. When it’s time to celebrate, you don’t want to be searching for help online or trying to find an ingredient. Shop and stock up in advance—and focus on soaking up the sun with friends, cocktail in hand.

Impress and refresh your guests while using up herbs from the garden with Food & Wine's Basil Slushie


My teachers and trusted advisers for ingredients, serving advice,  mistakes to avoid, saving time/money, and evolving recipe options. I've also outlined my HOSTING TIPS guide of all I’ve collected from others, my own experience and observations from memorable parties.You'll also see a variation of motivational menus to get you on track on Southern Sophisticate, so I'm hoping you'll put it on the list along with these:

Take advantage of unique base ingredients like rhubarb to really impress, just follow simple
mixing tips for drinks like this on Maureen's 10 minute happy hour

A reliable source of recipes by a fun, realistic guru (ps: she’s also founding editor of and author of  Cocktail Club). The10 minute happy hour tab is genius. The Maker Style tab includes appetizer tips, the skinny on buying gin, shopping shortcuts and Maureen’s take on how to set a table… fast! Best choice for novice entertainers.

The raspberry-lemonade smash on Sous Style' happy hour was created by another good go-to,
 A Beautiful Mess. It's also great in big batches for backyard sipping.

If you’re idea of a great read is the latest issue of an upscale food mag, you'll lose hours perusing the site. It’s young, fresh and on trend without being trendy. Think 'grapefruit cucumber cocktails meets fashion shoot'. Keep the Happy Hour tab bookmarked. It's actually my top choice for inspiration.. and guilty pleasure reading. 

On Mouth, they do the shopping for you. I am crazy about their Summer Spirit Gift Set. One click, and done! 

Yes, it’s a shopping site for groceries and gift baskets, but in my opinion, they make sites like Williams Sonoma passé. The blog includes trusted advice on purchases. It’s a great starting point if you are seeking what bitters to buy at your local store and invaluable for online gift ordering for your entertaining friends.

Camille Styles totally hooks me with the regular profiles on top entertainers (and their secrets).

Just love this site. It’s current and full of insight on many things. The cocktails are imaginative without being complicated. Select Bottom's Up-- under the food tab... you won't be sorry. 
PS: It's ideal for the calorie-conscious, lots of lighter choices here.

Several fun watermelon and tequila cocktail blends on F&W

The chef inspired, summer drink pick is on-point, and so easy to follow... and delicious. Throwback- meets-modern recipes like the 'new' daiquiri or their Fourth of July cocktail guide are all smart but simple. It's foodie focused, but the blog often includes cocktail recipes with 3 ingredients, max.

Keep your guests (and yourself) hydrated and happy with these tips
What's your go to site for finding helpful, quick information on cocktail parties. Do hosting help is always something worth toasting! 

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Restaurant Revolution

 I’ve spent more time at home than ever this season. Cooking, entertaining, making cocktails and working on the house and garden has been a retreat. I’ve been soaking up every moment.

The newly opened dining room at Adele's on 12th Avenue is a bustling foodie destination.
While there’s no place like home, venturing out is a bit like traveling to a new city as dinner and entertainment options have literally blossomed overnight –. I never agreed with those complaining about Nashville dining in the past, as several greats just get better with time. Just this week, we had a late night date for sushi at Virago and the food's even better than I remember. and it’s been awhile. Fresh and fab new menu items will keep us coming back.

Adele was Waxman's grandmother, and eating here definitely feels like home-cooked comfort. 
What’s most exciting is trying entirely new places. Within two weeks, a couple of anticipated destinations have opened. The first is the anticipated Adele’s Nashville. If you aren’t familiar, just Google Chef Jonathan Waxman for a bit of background; his simple approach to food is soothing and satisfying, I appreciate Adele’s location and transformation of the historic building and former tire garage. It’s familiar but completely elevated, just like the cuisine. 

This Adele's salad of shaved vegetables is so simply prepared but a feast of seasonal flavors.
Open, light-filled space and a chef’s bar for watching skilled hands working over an open fire are elements I like most. Well, that and possibly the best salad I’ve had in the city this year. Adele’s isn’t pretentious or overdone, but a casually chic spot to enjoy consistently good food and service.

Grab a seat at Adele's chef's bar for the best view and some tips on technique. It's dinner and a show...

Another location many don’t know about yet is Sinema – located in the iconic Melrose theater. While I had heard talk of incredible restorations, I wasn’t prepared for Sinema’s level of fabulous. One of my all time favorite designers, and friend, KathyAnderson always incorporates a unique, refined aesthetic. Her meticulous vision for this two-story masterpiece is definitely going to capture the attention of national design publications and editors. In one word: Wow. In three words: Make a reservation! 

Stunning photographs, posh fabric and exposed brick make up the cozy seating areas in Sinema.
Anderson Design Studio incorporated countless architectural details throughout the restaurant. 
Nostalgia and tribute to the original theater are evident in everything from retro signage to the array of art photography and fixtures… even classic movies streaming on the wall. But, it’s far from a ‘kitschy/ themed’ environment that’s obvious. The approach is subtle, glamorous and respectful of the building’s history. If you want a preview, check out the photos on Facebook.  The food is modern but American, making it accessible to every palate.

The exterior reflects the style of classic movie theaters and dramatic entrances.
Top Chef veteran, Dale Levitski has created a lively bar menu and well composed dinner selections for his initial list of offerings in the dining room.  That’s all I’m dishing, as Sinema is something you need to experience to fully appreciate. There’s even a ‘sugar board’ for sweet cravings, just in case you need one more reason to go.

The upstairs lounge at Sinema is the coolest environment for cocktails and tastings like this octopus.
Levitski will create custom menus for private parties in the space as well.
I’m thrilled that so many restaurant visionaries are investing in Nashville. These expanded options only make living here a bit more delicious for us and for our visitors. Do share your top picks.... and what you're hoping to try next.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Join the Club

We’ve all been approached to join some sort of retail ‘club’. From store accounts to restaurant rewards, offers are endless. Just like album clubs in the 80's, free samples are bait for signing up/forced monthly orders (ugh). But there are genuine, greats like Harry & David’s fruit of the month. It's actually instilled faith that a surprise in the mail on a regular basis is a good thing. I opened my mind to other affiliations and discovered many -some good, others not great... and those I just couldn’t pass up. 

Only a few made my 'must’ list -- all relative to personal interests with ties to newsletters, blogs or websites with valuable information based on how I live. Most revolve around cooking and home, as that's my current focus. 

The Gracious Gourmet is just one of the food artisans featured by The Fare Trade.

For specialty culinary delivery, nothing beats The Fare Trade. Carefully selected items from all over the U.S. chosen by award-winning chefs introduce purveyors outside of mass marketed choices. The website content/blog is outstanding. In fact, it surpasses what's on television or in magazines. The best part is that items are in your hands for experimentation so that video tutorials are useful. Learning from professionals at home is fun, as is getting to know the culinary talents selecting each month’s inclusions. If you enjoy cooking classes and mastering skills like me, The Fare Trade is the ultimate treat.

Just a few of the items from the Spring VIP Box via FabFitFun.
At first I wasn’t sold on this. I previously tried BirchBox and wasn’t thrilled with sample sizes of (mostly) familiar products. But,VIP seasonal deliveries from FabFitFun are diverse, full sized and contain items I don't see elsewhere. My spring box included a dry shampoo I love, a headband I didn't, a fitness ball/DVD that travels with me, and new organic kale chip that’s now a staple. The summer box contains a launch from the amazing Sonya Dakar, so I’m psyched about the arrival. I follow FabFitFun online for tastemaker and wellness guru contributions (a bit of daily inspiration). For a mix of skincare, healthy eating, exercise and trends, the VIP box + uplifting emails is the whole package. It’s the only membership delivery service of personal products that I completely endorse. 


Six Boots Collective isn’t really a club, but the CSA program we’ve chosen for the season. A box of produce, herbs and flowers from 3 Middle Tennessee farms are delivered to my door each Saturday. This container of goodness guarantees I’ll stay creative with cooking and preserving. It eliminates considering non-organic items from supermarkets. Locally grown, seasonal items with the bonus of a detailed newsletter including recipes make summer even sweeter. You can pick up their boxes at Nashville area farmer’s markets. CSA’s in any locale are the way to go for the most authentic produce, and an alliance you won't regret.

Naturally dried pears from Nature Box.
For busy days or travel, Nature Box is salvation. With dozens of snacks serving Vegan, gluten free (or just gluten conscious) or sugarless eaters, it's a source with endless options. I like the variety, quality and that things like naturally dried California peaches never disappoint. Items (from $20 per month) are prepackaged for on-the-go energy. For every box delivered, they donate a meal via Feeding America. Snacks you can feel good about all the way around are their trademark, which is another reason to sign up.

Love this mag for so many reasons.. including the intro to Box South. 
 The innovative magazine, Local Palate partnered with Box South - sent a teaser peaking interest for stocking my gift closet for summer visitors. It’s a monthly collection of Southern items including recipes, creative advice and other tidbits. I appreciate Box South's belief in not exploiting general topics like sweet tea or fried chicken, but focus on seeking the most sophisticated and gifted artisans. It’s not inexpensive, but products are special. Like the amazing Nashville-based Batch, which just expanded to feature a monthly Charleston box, it provides opportunity for our regional brands.

Look for unique items like this in the Cocktail Hour Box from MOUTH.
This NYC specialty retailer is known for hysterical comments, inventive culture and passion for what they term as ‘Indie Food’. Mouth offers one time purchases or special occasion deliveries, but also extends discounts on monthly totes full of goods ranging from all pickles to cookies 'for every night'. My pick is the Cocktail Hour Box. Since my pantry is stocked with items most visitors don’t favor (yep, that pesky healthy thing), this is super helpful for impromptu visitors. Every inclusion comes from American small batch creatorsMouth crafts each into a themed/curated collection. Elect to bump up from 3, 6 or 12 months.. and choose when. No crazy commitment -  just cocktail fare, craft mixers and conversation with Mouth's Indie-loving team. I'm totally tempted by their chocolate subscription, but holding fast at the moment. 

Can't wait to get the summer VIP Box from FabFitFun that includes this Goop Favorite from Sonya Dakar.
What do you think about joining a club for the sake of trying new things? Do share your thoughts... and any other clubs/sites you count on.

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