Do You Think They Poured the Wine in the Shrubs? I Don’t and Here’s Why

Come in, sit down, pour a glass of wine and relax in Dave and Pat's wine cellar.

Pat is something else (in a good way “something else”). I knew about her varied talents as a mother of two boys balanced with a heavy travel schedule for her job. But I also learned the night we went to dinner in their home that she is also a gourmet cook. Up until this point, I had only tasted her scrumptious coconut macaroons which should have tipped me off. Dave, her husband, is just a natural host no matter where he is.

I wanted to bring something to our hosts, so how about some wine? I’m not an expert on wine, but I know what I like and I know what people have told me about wines.

Having just discovered this extensive wine section at Trader Joe’s, we had been tasting some new varietals. I took a bottle from my “like” list. Feeling very pleased with my selection — a good wine at a good price — we knocked. It took me about two minutes to discover that Dave and Pat are experts on wine. Vocab lesson –“oenophiles” they are!

Gulp.

We had the pleasure of lingering in their wine cellar which included seeing the wine breathing in a decanter to pair with the succulent lamb chops on the menu. I’ve seen a few wine cellars — including one in the home of the person who invented the Internet. (I’m not name dropping, I figure that will keep you guessing because there are several people who have claimed to have done that!) But the cellar in Dave and Pat’s home really grabbed me, not only because of the wine, the colors, the arrangement, but because it was welcoming. You could get locked in there with a good book and a corkscrew and be very cozy! In a hurricane, it would be my shelter of choice.

The Menu

Dinner included a delicate squash soup, grilled-to-perfection lamb chops, seasoned green beans. Dinner was topped off with a mini chocolate “shake” served in lovely petite glasses. And, of course, lots of really fine wine. We gladly deferred to Dave for his wine recommendations for each course. The kids had their own gourmet meal prepared by Pat with their palates in mind.

I had to laugh at myself feeling a little silly with my favorite wine in hand as an offering. However, Pat and Dave are ever-gracious hosts and when they both said: “We love to try new wines!” they put me at ease. It wasn’t just what they said, it was how they said it.

Hey, they may have poured my bottle of wine into the shrubbery but with their welcoming and gracious attitude they made me believe otherwise. Now, that is hospitality!

(Hey Pat…next time I’m bringing flowers!)

A Wintertime Dessert Party

Please come in for a Wintertime Dessert Party.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Listen to this while you read…)

When Rich Moss, director of admissions at The Heights where our 11-year-old son goes to school, asked me if my husband Bill and I would host the headmaster and prospective parents this month, I immediately said “Of course. I’ll do whatever you need!”

At the same time I said yes, I began to scheme. I am thinking… how many people and what does he want? You see, extending the welcome is easy for me; however, our home, a Victorian-style, is designed with small rooms and cozy nooks and crannies. It is perfect for our small family and fine for wandering/mingling parties.

However, Rich’s get-together seemed like it called for one room where everyone could eat, listen, and engage in questions and answers. Generally when we entertain large groups, we do it in nice weather where our deck, patio and back yard become the extension of the house. As Bill calls it: the “OLE!” (Outdoor Living Environment).

I asked Rich about the format. He suggested, “Just have some coffee, whatever you are comfortable with.”

“Coffee-Schmoffee!” No way were we just having coffee! I can’t pass up the chance to use my imagination and have some fun in the process. Thus, “A Wintertime Dessert” was born. I figured I could use the dining room table as large as possible and use the adjoining bar with seating that connects to the kitchen. It would be cozy depending on the final numbers, but it would work. Guests would have plenty of space for dessert without a lot of serving and removing plates.The acoustics were good so everyone would be able to hear and feel part of the discussion.

Low lighting set the mood with small white candles placed in crystal, shimmering holders with a low centerpiece using white roses, magnolia leaves, and ivory and pale mint-colored crystals. All this was accompanied by ivory linens, stemware in various shapes and sizes, and fine china. (The china story is another blog for another day.)

A visit to the sommelier helped me choose the dessert wines. I described my desserts and he suggested a champagne, a Bordeaux table wine (Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet), and a port. The port was my favorite. Even though the Bordeaux came highly recommended for the desserts, it did not taste good to me…too much like cooking wine. I should have known and followed my gut when he suggested it. On the evening of the event, Bill and I exchanged covert glances when we both sipped the Bordeaux and knew to steer the guests toward the other two choices.

The menu: my own apple/cheese tart creation, strawberries, cream, and “Outrageous Chocolate Cookies” along with the wine and/or coffee and tea.

Creamy apple cheese tart, an original by Barbara.

As the guests arrived, large snowflakes began to fall…a perfect backdrop for this February get-together. Everyone stayed much longer than the event was planned for. It is with great pleasure that I fuss and make it look like I didn’t. All the pre-planning is worth it and a dessert party is perfect for an occasion like this. The hosts can also relax because with the right preparation it is easy to pull off.

I should mention that I also invited the children of the parents. That made it easier for people to come rather than get babysitters. The children were treated to their own kids-type desserts in the basement family room along with an older sibling I paid to supervise them. Their parents were able to relax and really listen and ask questions without feeling rushed to get home. (Hey…three of the four families decided to attend the school after that night and subsequent meetings with the school!) I would say “A Wintertime Dessert” was a success!

A dessert party without chocolate would miss the mark. I have many chocolate recipes but I was in the market for something new, so I turned to the Internet and found just the thing. When I read the ingredients, I could taste it!  So, this cookie won the day. The recipe is from MarthaStewart.com and aptly called Outrageous Chocolate Cookies.

I want to know how others do dessert parties. I’m sticking with it!