Diner en Blanc 2021: The glamour of it all!

This year’s event was proof positive that a global pandemic can’t hold us back from the sparkle, fizz & clink of Diner en Blanc! In 2020 we were still blindsided and figuring things out, but this evening was a breathtaking ride, and a reunion of sorts.

The Chloe wine was flowing, the dance floor throbbed – I even witnessed a proposal! The good kind, where he gets down on one knee. This revelry could not be possible, were it not for hosts Enjoli Moon, Christine Wansleben, and Ayana Obika.

Each woman embodies a spirit of creativity and entrepreneurship in their own way. Moon is the founder of the Afrikana Film Festival, Wansleben is the owner and chef at Mise En Place and Obika is the chief visionary at Gratitude Rising Events. I’m just lightly grazing their accomplishments – they bring the world of art, film, food and and culture to Richmond, and we could feel the culmination of their efforts at Diner en Blanc.

This year tried the Chloe Prosecco, and it was so refreshing, I stuck with it the entire night. And what a night it was! The location of the event is not revealed until the day of, and it was held at the newly-revitalized Monroe Park, by the VCU campus.

When I was a student at VCU, the park was dimly lit, falling into disrepair, and plagued by violence. After being closed for a time, it reopened into a thing of grandeur. A giant two-tiered fountain is encircled by enameled bistro tables and chairs. Students study and couples hold hands – it felt like Paris. Which is only appropriate, since Diner en Blanc started in Paris over 30 years ago.

Celebrating with artist Ryan Azia

Most notably, the sun set and the sky turned cobalt blue. The minarets from the old Mosque (now the Altria theatre) lit up, and matched the cobalt of the sky. The moon rose above it and a cool breeze swept in, offering respite as we danced with sparklers in hand.

I enjoyed an incredible meal. Garnish Catering featured a vegetarian beef wellington, with asparagus, hummus, and flaky pastry. They made kale salad, a cheese plate and vegetables. Croaker’s Spot provided their famous fried chicken and cornbread. l topped it off with a decadent red velvet cupcake from Melissa’s Cupcakes.

It was an evening to remember. We triumphed over these troubled times. It’s easy to rise above amidst the glamorous, inclusive, and beautiful spirit of Diner en Blanc. See you next year!

Ashley Jefferson (center) of Virginia Style Magazine, flanked by partygoers.

Spring fever: Let it burn!

Spring is in the air, and I don’t care if it’s that old “fool’s spring” – the warm snap in March that makes daffodils bloom and gullible people dry clean their coats. I know Virginia winters, and we could very well be hit with snow in a week. But I don’t care. I blow past that unending stack of dirty dishes and into the backyard. I’m out there digging and watching the earth wake up until well after dark, when I get dragged in by the ear.

You wouldn’t believe all I’ve been able to do with repurposed materials. I used discarded slate from my neighbors’ roofs to stack up an elegant fire pit. I used extra slate and discarded pavers in the alleys to build pathways in the yard. It’s a mosaic-like hodge podge of marble (from broken kitchen countertops), concrete (from broken up hardscaping) and slabs of shale from my sister-in-law’s property in Pennsylvania.

Our Christmas card: Robert as Santaur!

The last time I had written was during the holidays. I spent many winter weekends hosting cooking marathons; the oven belting out serving after serving of comfort food, so that our freezer will be nice and stacked with homemade goodness. That’s what a second freezer really is: an excuse to turn your home into a food factory.

I liken winter cook-a-thons to saving for a sunny day, rather than a rainy day. You hunker down in bleak weather to cook ahead for sunnier times, when you’d rather be outside. Toss a few frozen goodies into your beach bag, and it will be delicious by the time you hit that salt air.

Not posting here hasn’t been for a lack of writing. I’ve been writing full time for a law firm (fascinating stuff, actually) and still have the privilege of being the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens. Not to mention freelancing for North of the James! All pistons are firing right now, and it feels good.

My father, right at home working with our pizza oven

But before spring is in full swing, before we’re all vaccinated and swinging from the rafters, I’d love to catch you up. Since entertaining and traveling is still taboo, I’ve mostly written about food. Much of it comforting, all of it delicious.

I finally tackled cocoa bombs! This was one of the pandemic must-do activities, and I fashioned mine after Terry’s Chocolate Orange. For those who haven’t tried orange and chocolate together, it’s a sublime combinaton!

I’ve been learning to make guilt-free goodies. Well, not entirely guilt-free. But I sweeten this chocolate coconut bark with honey, and these peanut butter cups are made with less sugar. Yet both are addictive! Both also use a bit of coconut oil, which not only has antioxidants and provides immune support, but it’s manna for your hair and skin.

I love pie, but if I had a choice between sweet and savory, I always go for savory. My husband finally fired up the new pizza oven he built, and we spent at least six hours making Middle-Eastern spinach pies, meat pies, cheese pies, zaatar pies and egg pies. We had a whole team on the case, and hours later, we had stacks of freezer bags filled. We passed them out to ecstatic family members.

I’d also like to think that I cast a wide net of relief, as I wrote about five foods that people traditionally believe are unhealthy, but are actually good for you! This is the reverse of the usual article, which tends to list “health foods” that are secretly bad for you.

Speaking of “bad for you,” I had to cover some classics for the Super Bowl spread. Buffalo wings, when done right, are life. And I think potato skins are underappreciated, considering the myriad ways you can slather them with sin.

I teach people how to build an epic bowl of ramen, using whatever you have in your home. People have plenty sitting around to keep their bowl interesting, and ful of color. The same goes for grain bowls, which are even more versatile. I also teach people how to make congee, a comforting breakfast porridge from China. This simple crock pot recipe only uses five ingredients, and fills your home with the scent of warm ginger.

Many Instagram friends have asked me to demystify my ramen porn

I think we’re caught up for now. Hopefully this content-rich post makes up for my absence. This is always my favorite place to write; free from editors, free from overthinking on SEO algortithms – just a place to celebrate the good life.

While I love good food, I’m looking forward to opening this blog back up to all the other topics I’ve covered, from travel to fashion to parties. Especially the parties, and I plan to make up for lost time! As we are all beginning to get vaccinated, I can feel the world opening back up. Or is just that my spring fever?

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

Before you get tangled in tinsel….autumn

I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s a determined optimism in trying times, or the joy that comes from a new political era on the hoizon. But Christmas has come a lot earlier this year. It’s as if they’re skipping over Thanksgiving entirely. Houses are lit up, and a station has begun playing holiday tunes 24/7, three weeks before the turkeys are even trotted out. I get that Thanksgiving is an overrated holiday, but this eagerness for Santa blows over the last of this beautiful, fleeting autumn.

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The leaves are still gold and the weather hasn’t gone cruel, so let’s not get all tangled up in tinsel just yet. Here are some ways to enjoy the glorious last days of autumn, and be in the moment. And yes, these suggestions are all food-based.

Do you, like me, feel that a turkey dinner is… basic? This doesn’t apply to mashed potatoes. Nothing can touch mashed potatoes. But turkey? It works well in deli but there’s a reason we don’t cook that bird all year. It’s not that good. Switch things up. You can support local businesses by ordering through them, because they will most certainly be struggling though an economicaly nuclear winter. Or just switch up a boring staple with a delightfully warming dish, like coconut curry butternut squash soup.

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A simple recipe, with few ingredients

You’re going to see lot of pumpkin pie from November to January. What if I told you there was a chewy, gooey, sweet and salty alternative to the same ol’ same ol’, and you probably have the ingredients in your kitchen right now? What if you end up hating me for telling you about it because it’s so deliciously addictive?

Speaking of sweets, you may have a wealth of leftover Halloween candy sitting in your home. There are so many ways to repurpose it, whether for a homemade advent calendar or a way to sweeten up your gingerbread house. Find great ideas right here.

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Apple cider spiked with bourbon, ginger beer and cinnamon is peak fall

Working from home with kids in virtual school can breed chaos; more dishes, too much noise, lots of juggling. The last thing you want to do is spend more time in the kitchen. Healthy doesn’t have to mean time-consuming. Apples are still in season. Grab them in bulk and make them three ways; a meal, a dessert and a snack. And parents, I’m thinking of you too. This fresh apple cocktail will help you recover from those endless Zoom meetings.

Speaking of easy meals, how about one chicken, three ways? Chicken is only boring if you A) boil it or B) Don’t treat it like the blank slate that it is. Seasoning can bring out the best in a bird. Variety is the spice of life, and one full-sized chicken will provide three distinct dishes. That being said, healthy proteins aren’t always animal-based. This tasty, freeze-ahead staple will be a miracle in a pinch. Throw in the slow-cooker, ignore, then pack it up for later, when you are in need of guilt-free prepared food.

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Bumper crop of produce this harvest? Make a goal for zero waste.

When it gets cold outside, you can treat yourself to crock pot cocktails. This recipe for pumpkin-spiced hot cocoa is a creamy, soul-affirming dose of self care. Pour into a big mug and curl up with a book.

The extended warm weather this season has produced bumper crops of produce, sometimes too much for us to know what do do with. Have no fear. The thought of wasting food is equally repugnant to me, so here’s some smart, sustainable options for what to do with all that produce.

Pumpkins are the symbol of fall, used more as decor than food, because its contents tend to be a little plain. Without pumpkin spice, pumpkins would be over. But there are other gourds in the patch. Read on for some gourd greatness.

Savor the deliciousness of harvest time, and the last of the rainbow of falling leaves. It’s going to be a long winter, so enjoy autumn while it lasts.

Everyone okay out there?

One of the gifts of this pandemic is seeing “influencers” being replaced by hilarious TikTok videos. People need to laugh. Overly-edited selfies of girls on boats feels tone deaf at the moment.

Right now, the country is fighting for social justice, and rallying against an increasingly fascist White House. Influencers, already teetering on shaky ground for the shameless pursuit of followers and fame, seem out of place in today’s America.

Let’s put a hold on diet teas that cause gastrointestinal disasters. It’s not as fun watching high-end make-up tutorials when, if you aren’t one of the 40 million who are unemployed, are likely working from home anyway.

Let this time be a refresh, to focus on things that enrich our lives. Things that make us happy, and things that make a difference.

There are hilarious memes dedicated to the slow descent into madness for 2020. But if my previous posts have told you anything, it’s that I’m fighting the negativity tooth and nail. Instead of feeling helpless about the state our country is in, I get up and go to Black Lives Mater protests. I sign petitions and I registered to vote by mail. I turn my grief into action.

I miss entertaining and traveling. But I’m using the extra time to brush up on home projects, because life is giving me the world’s longest weekend. I built a slate fire pit and a curving, slate sidewalk leading up to it. I wallpapered the stair risers. I explored new parks with my six year-old and was able to binge watch everything in my queue. Highly recommended: Fleabag.

Here are some other things you can do to make the most of the current situation:

When life hands you peaches…. Get outside for fresh air in an orchard and pick them. It’s perfect for social distancing. If you don’t live near a farm where you can pick your own, hit up the market. Peaches will never be more juicy or wallet-friendly than they are right now in season, and delicious things can be made with them.

The same goes for tomatoes!

The kids need to have a little fun too. Integrate literature and food by making real-life green eggs and ham!

This winter, when news of the pandemic hit, it was nature that saved us. As if sensing our pain, she saved us from sleet and frigid temperatures. Like magic, winter was mild and spring came early, allowing us to get outside. My husband took up fishing, and with it, the exploration of unvisited state parks and local fishing spots. It meant days in the sun, leisurely picnics and fresh fish! Nothing beats my husband’s fried bass with Thai chili and tamarind sauce. Nothing.

Most pools are closed, but it isn’t the only way to make a splash. Research the best places to take a dip, whether an old quarry or local lake. If you’re not land-locked, get to the coast. Well and Good even has a guide that lists the best natural places to swim in every state. To make the most of it, go prepared. Pack river shoes to avoid broken glass or questionable surfaces. Bring water to stay hydrated. Come with friends, because there’s safety in numbers. Since you’ll be far from civilization, pack great food and stir up a fresh summer sangria. These will likely be the best days of your summer.

It’s true that the pandemic isn’t over, but neither is summer. This season can be fleeting, which is why we need to stop and savor the little things. Instead of frozen sugar water, get creative with homemade popsicles. Arnold Palmer, strawberry and basil and cappuccino are among the surprising flavor combinations. Have fun with it!

Perhaps most importantly, don’t let helplessness take over. It’s easy during a pandemic to feel down, especially with the relentless news cycle spitting out one treacherous act after another. It’s healthy to shut it out in small doses, but be sure to stay informed. The only way to beat helplessness is to be part of the solution. Register to vote by mail, march with protesters for Black Lives Matter, sign petitions fighting against corrupt government practices, then rest and regroup as needed.

Blink and it will be fall. There will new things to look forward to. Until then, take care of yourself.

Inspiration in Quarantine

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I hope this post finds people in good spirits, though it’s a rainy Monday. In a quarantine. I think it’s a perfect excuse to catch up on my reading and face-mask game, but I want to be sensitive to how other people are feeling during this time.

Some people have lost loved ones to Covid-19, while others are struggling with being so bobisolated. Many are still working full-time from home while trying to homeschool. Personally, my family and I are thriving during this time. Attitude has a lot to do with it. Being positive doesn’t mean that you’re happy all the time, but we are doing two important things: Making the best out of a difficult situation, and remembering that better times are ahead of us. 

We’ve taken advantage of the time we’ve been given. Our son learned to ride a bike, I’m immersed in crafting projects and my husband just made a wheel of Jarlsberg cheese – to be ready by summer. Regardless of how you feel, you owe it to yourself to find light in these dark times. Life is too short. And mark my words: When people start getting busy again, they will lament not having this extra time that we have been given right now.

Here are some tips to make the most of this temporary situation, taken from my blog at Ladles & Linens:

If grocery stores make you fraught, now is the perfect time to start your own garden! The yield will be much tastier, and it will save you plenty of coin: Inspo right HERE.

March Gardening To-Do List

Keeping your immune system in tip-top condition is a great way to stave off Covid-19. Or, if you’ve been infected, an immunity boost still gives a good head start in combating the symptoms and severity.  Fight the good fight HERE.

Now is the time to hunker down and make those time-consuming recipes you love. Even better? Freeze some for later, busier times. You’ll be grateful that you did. Deliciousness awaits right HERE.

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Everyone is baking right now, but it doesn’t all have to be bakery fare. Whip up some protein bars, with whatever you have in the house. Kitchen Sink Protein Bites are tasty and guilt-free. Find some options right HERE.

Have a great week!

When the Weather Outside is Frightful

So the holidays are over. When the decorations were first put away, it felt bare. But by now it feels clean and decluttered. And so does your social calendar, compared to December!

This is a great time to take a breath and enjoy the slow-down before spring is in the air. Tackle home projects that have been on your to-do list, whether cooking those doggy-eared recipes in your cookbook, or patching up a paint job. Crossing those things off the list feels glorious.

Though I’m not a fan of winter, I try everything in my power not to consider January through March a slog. In fact, I’ve posted a few things at Ladles and Linens that will motivate you to make the most of this season.

For instance, do you practice hygge? Scandinavians practice this art of warm and fuzzy and have it on lock. Tips to hygge up your home can be found here.

Who says your slow cooker is for meals only? It’s the perfect catalyst to help you serve these warm boozy drinks!

And staying in during blustery weather with friends calls for comfort food. Start a pierogi-making session. Working with your hands is as therapeutic as the laughter your friends will have around the kitchen table. Make pierogies in bulk – they freeze beautifully. Details here.

It’s also perfect weather for sharing a meal around a steaming hot pot. No cooking required before guests arrive, and they’ll still consider you a gourmand. That alone should be a selling point. Check it out here!

Party Gone Wild

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Girls Gone Wild!

No, we’re not talking about the regrettable exhibitionist franchise, but a party theme. Wild as in jungle wild, and it’s an adorable theme for a kid’s party. Mind you, showers and children’s birthday parties are a joy when the booze is flowing, and a kid’s birthday party is the perfect excuse to go shamelessly, passionately thematic!

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Lilliana Winston turned two, and host Carla Winston saved us all from yet another pink and purple extravaganza. The theme of the party? Two Wild! She repurposed brown shopping bags, twisting them into giant tree trunks for an indoor jungle. Kids and adults alike were encouraged to wear custom fuzzy headbands, all resembling different animals on the savannah; elephants, zebras, monkeys, etc.

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Below are photos to show how fun it was, and how hard she worked. To take your party from interesting to PINTERESTing, follow Winston’s example. Enjoy!

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This is extra.

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Devil in the detail: monstera leaves & homemade treats

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Host Gone Wild: Carla Winston

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Hapy birthday Lilliana!

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Pumpkin Spice and All Things Nice

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Its been a couple of weeks since my last post, but not for a lack of writing! As the lifestyle blogger for Ladles and Linens, I’m knee-deep in test recipes and kitchen gadgets, and thought I’d share some tidbits here. I’ll serve up the posts menu-style, so you can click on what you’d like. Happy reading, and as always, thanks for being here.

Pizza personality chart! What do your toppings say about you? Read here and find out.

Can turmeric cure the blues? Here are five everyday spices, and their surprising health benefits!

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The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate: Pumpkin spice has gone beyond the latte; they’re even making pumpkin-spiced Spam!  Is this a well-deserved craze, or is the whole PSL thing overrated?

Oh. My. Gourd. Many decorate with gourds this time of year, but few savor the flavor. Turns out butternut and spaghetti squash are the most commonly eaten gourds, while most others remain unenjoyed. Here are some recipes and tips for making the most of this season’s harvest!

PumpkinSpiceLatte

Postcard from Tokyo

This advice for Tokyo is the same advice I’ll give anyone visiting Japan. Explore the alleys! That’s where all the treasures are hidden. From little Izakaya shops with just four chairs on a counter, you will find exquisite ramen. You’ll find hidden courtyards with Shinto temples that are over a thousand years old. Homemade candy shops, innovative playgrounds and sushi meccas are tucked away in these little alleys. Some highlights from Tokyo:

Robot Restaurant

Prepare for sensory overload, as lasers, disco balls and neon lights create a dizzying show of battling robots, ninja warriors and psychedelic costumed characters. It’s too over-the-top to put into words. The show sells out way in advance, so be sure to book before your trip!

Cherry Blossoms

Make sure to go in the spring to take in the heady, romantic views of cherry trees blossoming in white and pink. Unlike the delicate cherry blossom trees in the states (such as DC) the trees in Japan are beyond mature. They seem ancient, with heavy, twisting trunks people can climb. If you can’t make it in the spring, come in the fall, when the Japanese maples come alive in fiery colors. Click here for the best places to see cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

This is Harajuku, close to Shibuya

Shibuya Crossing

Yes, it is home to the busiest intersection in the word, with thousands of people criss-crossing the multiple corners for each red light. It’s a sight to behold, and film with your camera as you weave through a sea of faces. But beyond that is a vibrant night scene. I got street food at midnight – unbelievable Kobe beef on a stick. I got sushi served to me by bullet train when ordered on a computer screen. I explored adorable boutiques and saw a statue dedicated to Hachi.

Japanese pancakes

There are plenty of places to get these fluffy masterpieces. About an inch thick and custardy on the inside, they melt in your mouth and are piled high with fun toppings. From hazelnut chocolate and bananas, to whipped cream and strawberry compote. Just don’t go to Burn Side St Cafe, because there is a miserable server there who takes away the experience. There are plenty of options!

Tokyo Tower!

Speaking of plenty of options, there is so much more to discover than what I mentioned.  So consider this a jumping-off point. And most importantly, don’t forget to explore those alleys!

 

How You Can Bring Paris to RVA

Last year, I was swept up in the magic that was Diner en Blanc. I wrote about it, but one must experience this Parisian tradition in person. While this elaborate picnic began in Paris, it’s now celebrated around the world. Considering the size of Richmond, you’d think it wouldn’t have caught on. But the event became a must-do summer tradition, and with around 1,200 attendees every year, Richmond’s become a major player on the world stage.

And 1,200 revelers are a lot to coordinate, so Diner en Blanc Richmond is looking for volunteers. By volunteering, you not only gain free entry, but you get to participate in one of the most memorable cultural experiences in Richmond. An elaborate night of creativity in all its forms; visual, musical, palatable. The big night is August 17th, and per tradition, the location is top secret until the day-of.

If interested in volunteering, email richmond@dinerenblanc.com – until then, au revoir!