Monday, December 17, 2018

One Perfect Gift: A Cooking Class

Chef Stephanie at Chatham Bars Inn

Last night I talked with one of my girlfriends who was agonizing over what to get her parents for Christmas. They don't really need anything personally or for their home and she didn't want to wander around the mall aimlessly. After throwing some ideas back and forth we talked about some of the best gifts we've ever given or received.  

One of my favorites is an experience like tickets to an event or a class. On L's birthday one year I surprised him a private cooking class with Chef Joel Gamoran when Joel was still here in Seattle at Sur La Table. It was just us and Joel in the kitchen as he taught us how to perfect one of our favorite meals to cook at home, pizza. We had so much fun getting our hands into dough together and learning something new. It was infinitely better than dinner at a fancy restaurant. I vowed that future gifts would be just as creative. (My friend was excited when she landed on the idea of a wine tasting for her parents who love wine.)

A few weeks ago it was my birthday and L asked for some gift guidance. I said I would love to spend some time back home in New England. And so, that is how I ended up at the Chatham Bars Inn on the beach in Chatham, Massachusetts on a winter's weekend. I invited one of my best friends, Gina, to join me. She's about to have her first baby in February and it would be a chance for us to spend a cozy weekend at the beach relaxing (I left the baby for the first time in fifteen months with L!)
On our first night, instead of dinner in the restaurant, we registered for  Chatham Bars Inn Cooking School with Chef Stephanie. The menu was The Guide to the Perfect Holiday Cocktail Party. There were twelve guests, and as we arrived in the kitchen, we donned aprons, washed hands and sipped on a Seasonal Cranberry-Rosemary Mule (thoughtfully Chef had prepared Gina a non-alcoholic drink).

There are some cooking classes where guests sit and watch the chef but in this case, we would be preparing the five appetizers at different stations., with guidance from Chef. This was the menu:

Flatbread, Fig Preserves, Farm Arugula, Shaved parmesan, Crispy Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic

Bacon Wrapped Scallop, Orange-Cranberry Mostarda

Baked Brie with Spiced Apple, Pear, Pomegranate and Walnuts

Baked Chatham Oysters, Farm Kale, Linguica and Fennel

Jumbo Lumo Crab Cake with Cajun Remoulade

Cocktail: Seasonal Cranberry-Rosemary Mule

Each station was set up  with a recipe and the ingredients pre-measured. Gina and I had a great time making the Baked Brie (recipe here). The scent of the apples, pears and spices sautéing on the stove, brought over some of the other guests and tasting of the warm fruit simmering was encouraged. The kitchen environment was comfortable, like family cooking together except with someone much smarter than us who had prepared the stations so that we couldn't fail. Even specific kitchen techniques were explained. Here's Chef Stephanie teaching us how to chiffonade (finely shredding greens):

In less than an hour, we were adding finishing touches onto our dishes, drizzling balsamic reductions, sprinkling dried Pomegranate seeds and topping with fig preserves. And as we sat down together family style at the table, we toasted and enjoyed the feast that we had made. It was the perfect way to spend a birthday.

As Gina and I were tucking into our beds later that night we wished we both lived closer to the Inn. During dinner Chef Stephanie told us about some of their upcoming cooking classes. I would love to take one of the classes in the summer when Chef and the cooking class participants head out into the eight acre farm that the Chatham Bars Inn owns, to select fruits and vegetables for dinner and then gathers to prepare them later that evening. To learn more about The Chatham Bars Inn Cooking School visit their website to learn more about upcoming classes.

If you're stuck on what to get the person who is difficult to buy for, consider an event like tickets to a favorite comedian or artist on tour or a class tailored to their interests or something they have always to learn (sailing, knitting, pottery, golf). It's something that you know they don't already have and even better it says that you put thought into the gift.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Where are you decisions based?

I was having lunch with one of my friends and he started having an anxiety attack about his future, He's in a place of flux. Literally his life could go one of two ways and he was stuck on which path to take. I told him that I believe that we know what a decision should be but we can become so focused on the fear of "What if?" that it can be hard to make a choice.

"What if I don't take this job? What if I take the other job and they lay people off? Then I'll have no job. I'll be homeless."

"What if I move in with him and then he meets someone else?"

"What if I choose the college that I've always wanted to go to but I know that I could make more money down the road by going to the college my parents want me to go to?

The answers all come down to this: You have survived every bad thing that has happened to you in the past. If, God forbid, the worst happens and you choose poorly (so you think), then you move on, like you always have.

You find another job.
You move out and enjoy the fact that you escaped a future with someone who doesn't deserve you.
You thrive in your #1 choice and work hard to achieve your goals once you graduate.

I think about the times when I have made choices out of fear and I realize that I was never quite steady in that choice. I wavered, I didn't give it my all. You can't succeed or be happy if you are  focused on the negative or what could happen. I'm not suggesting that you don't buy insurance or otherwise make smart choices. What I am saying is that you have the power to choose wisely.

Lean into your decision. You are smarter than you realize. Once that soul of yours works together with your heart and your mind, you are an unstoppable force. Operate from a place of certainty that you have the power to create a future that is wildly perfect.  Take the right precautions to ensure that you will succeed. Maybe that means talking with a therapist, meeting with a career mentor or talking with a financial planner. Know that whatever decision you make is the right one if you come at from a place of positive energy. And if, by chance, the decision is wrong, pick yourself up, like you have always done so well, dust yourself off, regroup for a moment and move on.

As far as my friend goes, we talked through his two choices and I suggested that he close his eyes and imagine both scenarios. In which scenario was he smiling? During the rest of the lunch we talked about other subjects (What we thought about meal prep delivery plans. Why is iced tea so much better at restaurants than at home?). As we paid the check, he smiled at me and said "You know,  I'm going to do it. I'm moving across the country. It's wild that I'm doing this but yeah. Wow!"

I couldn't help but tear up with happiness when he recently texted me a picture of himself goofily smiling with his newly adopted dog in his new city.

Courage wins. Again.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Happygirl Gift Guide for Your Favorite Guy

He makes you feel like the sun revolves you. He has seen you at your very worst and still his eyes light up when you enter a room. Maybe he calls you "My daughter. My love. My very best friend. My world. My wife. My everything." Your favorite guy may make you the best spaghetti or he's cheered you on at every one of your games. Whether it's your dad, husband, partner, boyfriend or best friend, here are some things that might make him happier than he already is when you're around.

1. A soft cashmere sweater is a good place to rest your head when he pulls you in close. Land's End ($94.99-189)

2. This RFID blocking travel wallet is a steal at $13.99 and perfect for the traveler who likes to stay organized. (Amazon)

3. If his singing in the shower makes you smile, get him this waterproof bluetooth speaker so he and Bruce Springsteen can sing together. (Amazon, $21.99)

4. There's something about the way the air smells after a rainstorm. Bring this scent home for him with this Big Sur After Rain candle. (, $65)

5.  Maybe he uses drugstore shampoo in the shower to wash his entire body, including his face. Introduce him to the pleasures of clean skin with this Kiehl's Grooming Set (Nordstrom, $48)

6. Does your favorite guy like his condiments? Elevate his sauce game with this Sweet and Spicy Mini Crate featuring honey, maple syrup and Sriracha sauces (Mancrate, $59.99)

7. You could get him a regular toothbrush for his stocking or you could get him this Quip electric toothbrush set that will make his smile dazzle. (Quip, $40)

8. Nothing beats these L.L. Bean boots for protection from the worst that winter has to offer. (L.L. Bean, $135)

9. He protects you. Now help him protect everything else with this Ring electronic doorbell and never have another package stolen again. (Amazon, $169)

10. If he hates wasting time in coffee shops waiting for his morning joe, gift him his own tabletop coffee shop with this Nespresso machine (Macy's limited time special price, $99.99 from $249)

11. Whether he likes his coffee hot or his iced tea cold, this iconic Yeti 30 oz. Rambler will make him a happy guy. Bonus: it fits in most car cupholders. (Amazon, $34.99)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Happy Food: Easy Baked Brie That Makes You Look Like a Chef (Recipe)

Whenever I see Baked Brie served at a cocktail party, my first thought is "That's gorgeous. When did she have time to make this difficult appetizer between creating the perfect playlist, preparing the themed cocktails and cooking little bites all while looking so breezy and happy?"

This weekend one of my best friends and I met at The Chatham Bars Inn (Cape Cod) for a girls weekend. On our first night we took a cocktail themed cooking class,. There were ten other students  and of the five appetizers, we selected the Baked Brie. Neither of us had made this before and we were a little nervous about our creation being served to the class. With recipe in hand, while sipping a Seasonal Cranberry-Rosemary Mule, it was super easy to prepare this app.  We knew for certain it was perfect when Chef cut into it and it looked like something Martha Stewart would serve on Christmas Eve.

I'll be making this for several cocktail parties this holiday season. It's such a beautiful, festive presentation and an ideal warm appetizer for a cold winter's night. Here's to happy cocktail foods!

Thank you to Chef Stephanie and Chatham Bars Inn for this recipe and a fun evening in the kitchen!

Baked Brie With Spiced Apple, Pear,
Pomegranate and Walnuts
1 each of two types of apples
1 each of two types of pears
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ground clove
2 tablespoons of butter

1 sheet of store bought puff pastry
1/2 wheel of Brie cheese (16 ounces)
2 tablespoons of honey
1/2 cup of walnuts

1 egg
1 tablespoon of pomegranate molasses (optional)
sprinkling of dried pomegranate seeds (optional)


Preheat oven to 425. 

Unroll puff pastry from container. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough. Lay the pastry gently on a baking sheet and let sit on the counter with a dish towel over it while you prepare the filling. 

Peel and dice the apple and pears and saute them over medium heat with butter, cinnamon and clove until tender (approximately ten minutes). Remove from heat and let cool approximately 5 minutes.

In the center of your dough, layer fruit and honey. Top with Brie and walnuts. 

Fold dough around the fruit and brie until sealed. 

Beat the egg and brush mixture onto dough, paying special attention to the folded edges. 

Bake on center rack for 15 minutes. 

Remove when golden brown and finish by drizzling pomegranate molasses and sprinkling pomegranate seeds. 

Cut in half and serve with crostini, crackers, fruit slices or pretzels. 

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