Apr 26, 2011

The Back of Your Head Looks Like A Face!

Just realized I haven't told y'all about the massive amount of fun that was Kinger's wedding in Athens two weeks ago.  I was too busy talking/laughing/dancing/drinking to take any pictures, so once some come in I'll be sure to share how completely gorgeous it was.  I'm also obsessed with the table toppers, and kicking myself for not taking a picture of them since I want to fashion my own now. 

Anyway, before the real pictures come in, I have to tell y'all about Pascal.  Parisian Coffieur to the stars and Kinger.

Hater of all things Samma.
Seriously, the man detested me.  I was in trouble for the following (1) not having my coffee (2) not bringing him coffee (3) having too thick of hair (4) straining his shoulder due to my unreasonably thick hair (5) moving my head too much (5) having too many layers and most of all, (5) having the audacity to tell him I like my hair down or half up, especially since I have bangs.

These issues led to this. 

The tri-bunion. Pascal was forced to do this because of all my layers. Layers which he asked me if I cut myself. (!)
The nerve.

Well, it was quite windy, which is why the coffieur insisted on my hair being up, and was outraged when Preston and I went outside to check out the wedding preparation.  I made the situation far worse when my lawyer side kicked in, and I suggested that my hair should be able to withstand wind since pictures and the ceremony would both take place outside in said wind.

Then I ended up with a rat tail.

So ladies, lesson learned.  Never tell a Frenchman what to do, or you shall end up looking Gwen Stefani in the mid 90's. 

And hey it could be worse!

He told NJ, whom I'm dousing with hairspray here, that her hair looked like a booger!

I'm cracking up right now thinking about it.  And, the bride looked beautiful, which is all that matters!  No one noticed the self-cut booger hair of her minions!  Hee.

So Kinger, Congratulations and welcome back from your tropical honeymoon this week!  Send me pics as soon as they come in!

Tis A Gift To Be Simple

Hubs and I attended a wedding of one of his friends from high school last weekend outside of Asheville.  I just wanted to share this with y'all because I just loved the setting and the darling barefoot bride.

Isn't it lovely?  The bride walked down the aisle to Appalachian Spring.  Hubs shocked the hell out of me by turning and saying "This is our wedding song isn't it?" Flabbergasted, I beamed with pride at him for remembering that tidbit from our nuptials.  He replied, "Well, I had to listen to it for long enough waiting for you to come down the aisle!"


Hubs went to boarding school, so it was lovely to hang with his friends who are scattered about in sharp contrast to my friends.  We all scurried on home after adventures elsewhere, excepting a few stragglers who I hope will eventually make it back to good old East Tennessee.

Speaking of East TN, it never fails to entertain me to watch the change that happens when you cross the border into Western North Carolina.  Thanks to the Vanderbilts, and various other fancy folk who visited the mountains of Carolina, historically there's just a lot more cash on that side of the mountains.  Hubs (an Asheville native), and I entertained ourselves on the drive to the wedding by playing "Tennessee or Carolina?".  Respectable, clean, well maintained little farmhouse?  North Carolina!  Hardscrabble trailer with a couple cars out front and some chickens in the yard?  Tennessee!

Hey, at least we're authentic.

Apr 22, 2011

My Name is Lucca

 Terrible post name, I know. I couldn't think of anything else, but Lucca is amazing. It was my pick in the "where would you live in the towns we visited" game. The medieval part of the city in surrounded by a wide giant wall the grassy top of which is populated with joggers and elderly couples strolling hand in hand. And it had really good shopping (which I avoided due to spending lock-down), and we enjoyed a delightful lunch of minestrone, bread, pate, and, ahem, prosciutto. 

Brother and Em.  We tromped around town for a solid hour, looking for an annual flower market which Mama wished to see.  You may note that my father is not in many pictures.  This has nothing to do with his photogenic-ness, but rather the fact that he was likely off getting gelato when various photos were taken.  The man became extremely fluent in two Italian words- cappuccino and gelato.  He probably had gelato 3-5 times a day on average.  Good thing he is an exerciser!
 The beautiful church on the main square.  I loved this statute with the golden rays.

 This gate leads to my secret Italian garden where I scribble my critically acclaimed and extremely lucrative best selling novels, and drink cappuccinos which serve mainly as an excuse to eat more prosciutto.  Then I'll take Buddy on a stroll, and make Hubs fantastic picnic lunches ala Ina Garten, which we eat in a romagical nook of my garden.
You can see the side of the wall snaking around in the background of this photo.  So after looking for the flower market for ages, we finally found it.  It was a plant sale, just like the one which happened last weekend in the park here in town.  Not exactly wander around for hours material, but they were enjoyable wanderings.

So glam, no?  I swear I wore different clothes every day (while only packing 2 carry-ons for myself), but my trench coat was my mainstay. Lightweight nylon, this last minute purchase from Stein-mart was clutch for the changeable Italian weather.  And I felt so very Euro.  Although definitely not Italian.  Thank goodness Mama is blonde too.  Two freaks are better than one!

Apr 20, 2011

Inside the Villa

Buon Giorno!  Welcome to my home. My dream home, when I spend a number of weeks every year in Tuscany.  Of course, I only fly first class, and am not surrounded by energetic senior citizens in sweat suits on the way there.

 I know I've talked about my intense love for cured meats before, but this love became rather obsessive during my 10 days.  Under the guise of foodie-ness, I let my love for salamis, prosciuttos, and sopressatas to reach new heights.  Seeking out glasses of wine or cappuccinos every early evening to have more antipasti?  Well, I need protein right? Part of my diet.  Damn straight.  Oh and olives?  A girl's got to have some vegetables healthy fat sodium in her life.

We can all agree that calcium is very important for bone density and good health.  Hence my copious cheese consumption.  As always, I am a paragon of health.

 Mama and Emily obviously agree!  Red wine for heart health ladies!

 This is the lovely kitchen of the "kids' apartment", right around the corner from my parents' place.  I made lots of frittattas from the fresh eggs and leeks left on our counter every morning.  Don't worry ladies, I was very conscious to pronounce them "FREET-TA!-TA!" Giada style.  I'm so damn authentic.

 Our living and dining room.

And Hubs and I's 15th century bedroom with a 16th century bed.  When the lovely proprietor told us that the bed had been in her family since the 1500's, Hubs looked rather askance, while I dreamed about Romeo and Juliet. Yep, just a bit romantic with the arched ceiling and chandelier.

My parents, brother and sister in law to be, and Hubs, combined with an assortment of olives, cheeses, cured meats and delightful cheap wines?  Basically a dream night for me.  Especially when you add Mama's homemade spianch gnudi for dinner, and sleeping off my jet lag in my romantic arched ceiling lair.

Oh, and the mysterious plant?  Brussel sprouts! 

Apr 19, 2011

Villa Il Paradisino

We arrived in Florence after running through a couple airports (Charlotte and Munich) to be greeted by Mama and Daddy at the airport. After some wrong turns, we arrived at our home for the next ten days- Villa Il Paradisino.

Mama and Daddy had been making themselves at home for about a week before our arrival, and Mama was pleased as punch to show me around.  Since I had been breathing airplane air for about 12 hours, I was delighted to frolic around the Italian fields, although I was dragging quite a bit. Don't let me forget to tell you about the rowdy group of 75 year olds that partied the entire flight from Charlotte to Munich.  Those golden oldies were the recipients of a number of evil looks from myself and Hubs. 

While I frolicked, Hubs sat on the terrace, unpacked and checked in e-mail

Although I missed Buddy horribly, Nina, my Italian dog friend who loves bites of frittata and plastic bottles, was on hand to entertain.

The villa was the perfect mix of city and country for this crew of East Tennesseans.  Set in a suburb of Florence (a ten minute train ride into downtown), we were in a walled enclave of seven acres of grapevines, olive trees, vegetable gardens, chicken, geese and guinea hens.
The flowers were incredible.  As were the (untrimmed) forsythia.

I loved wandering through the fields identifying the Italian cousins of out gardens back home.  This one took me a while- I was entranced by the colors, and poked around a bit to discover what in the hell it was. . . any guesses?

Apr 18, 2011

Dress Love

Thank y'all so much on the compliments on my dress!  It's from Dillard's, and was inexpensive- you can find it here.  Mama's was a cheapo by Jessica Howard too (I'm sure she loves that I just proclaimed that to the internet).

In non-cheap dress news I am dying for these-

 Nanette Lepore
 Kate Spade

Maybe the dress fairy will come to my house.  If so, either or would be perfect for upcoming weddings and rehearsal dinners, thanksloveyousomuch!

Apr 14, 2011

Popeye Strata and Country Strong

16-20 (1/2 inch thick slices supermarket French or Italian bread
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened plus extra for the baking dish
3 large shallots
2 12 oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup dry white wine
12-16 oz Gruyère cheese, shredded (3-6 cups)
12 large eggs
3 1/2 cups half and half

1.  Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spread the bread out over 2 baking sheets and bake until dry and light golden brown, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time.  Let the bread cool completely and then spread butter evenly over 1 side of each slice, using 4 tablespoons of th butter.

2.  Meanwhile, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallots and  cook until softened, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and cook until warm, about 2 minutes .  Transfer to a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the wine to the skillet and simmer over medium high heat until reduced to about 1/4 a cup, about 5 minutes, set aside to cool.

3.  Butter a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and tightly fit half of the bread slices, buttered sides up, into a single layer in the dish.  Sprinkle half of the spinach mixture, then a heaping cup of th cheese evenly over the bread slices.  Repeat with the remaining bread slices, spinach mixture, and 1 more cup of the cheese.

4.  Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until combined, then whisk in the reduced wine, half and half, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread layers and sprinkle the remaining cheese over top.

5.  Wrap the strata tightly with Saran wrap, pressing the wrap to the strata, then weigh down.  Refrigerate for 8-24 hours.

6.  Adjust the oven rack to the middle rack and heat oven to 325 degrees.  Unwrap the strata and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Bake the strata uncovered until pulled away from the edges and puffed, about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack before servings.

So, I watched Country Strong last night- who has seen it?  Thoughts?  I felt like half the movie was missing- characterization, what?
Okay, in other news I'm heading to Athens to celebrate Kinger and Chas' nuptials!  Hurrah!  I hope y'all have a glorious weekend!

Eggs, Bread And Cheese*

Jenny and I definitely chowed down some strata leftovers Sunday morning.  Our husbands were quite pleased with that result of the shower.

Oh my word, this was tasty.  I was a teensy bit nervous making these, since they were recipes I'd never prepared before, and I never make new recipes for guests without trying first.  However, I had made the French Toast casserole, and all of these came from a cookbook I trust as much as my mother when it comes to cookery- America's Test Kitchen, which publishes Cook's Illustrated.  All three of the casserole recipes came from "The Best Make Ahead Recipe", and are rather foolproof.

Breakfast Strata with Potatoes, Rosemary and Fontina:
  • 16-20 1/2 in thick slices super market French or Italian bread (the soft kind)
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing the baking dish
  • 3 cups cooked red potatoes cut into 1/2 cubes (I cheated and used those "simply potatoes" that come in the refrigerated section.  I had an opera to get to!
  • 3 large shallots minced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 12-16 oz fontina, about 3-5 cups.  This depends on budget and love of cheese.  My budget (and waistline) is always ready to expand when it comes to more cheese!
  • 12 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups half and half
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of minced flat leaf parsley
Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees.  Spread the bread out over 2 baking sheets and bake until dry and light golden brown, about 25 minutes, switching and rotating about half way through.  Let the bread cool completely then spread 4 tablespoons of butter (nuke it to help with spreading), evenly over 1 side of each piece of bread.

Melt the remaining three tablespoons of butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Add the potatoes and cook until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the shallots and cook until softened about 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and the rosemary and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Transfer mixture to medium bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the wine to the skillet and simmer over medium high heat until reduced to 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Butter a 13 by 9 baking dish and tightly fit half of th bread slices buttered side up into a single layer in the dish.  Sprinkle half the potato mixture, then a generous cup of the cheese evenly over the bread, repeat with remaining bread slices, potato mixture and 1 more cups of cheese.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until combined, then whisk in reduced wine, half and half, parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Pour the egg mixture evenly over the bread layers and sprinkle remaining cup of cheese over the top.

Wrap the strata tightly with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap flush to the surface.  Weigh down with boxes of sugar, or whatever you have the is relatively flat and heavy.  Refrigerate for at least 8 and up to 24 hours.

With rack in middle position preheat oven to 325.  Let strata sit unwrapped at room temp for 20 minutes.  Bake the stratas uncovered, about an hour and 20 minutes, until it's puffy, and the edges have pulled away.  Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes before serving.

I'll pass along spinach gruyere tomorrow, before I head to Athens for Kinger's wedding weekend!  A big thank you to all the adorable hostesses for Em's shower- y'all are the best!

Apr 12, 2011

Rock Around the Clock

 The hostesses and my lovely bride to be future sister dressed in white.

We hosted a "Round the Clock" shower for Em at my crib Saturday morning. Two of the girls made these adorable clock cookies, which I had no hand in, as precision and patience in icing is not a strong suit of the Spice and Sass coterie of skills.

 However, I can put together a brunch shower with the best of them! This is one of my favorites showers to throw, as it is easy to expand depending on your numbers, can be accomplished by yourself or a bevy of hosts, and is tasty.  So our menu consisted of- Ham Delights (those little poppyseed ham sammies), fruit salad, marinated asparagus, a savory strata, and French Toast Casserole.  All are easily made ahead (and in case of the strata and casserole, must be made ahead), and can feed a crowd.  So recipes!

For today- French Toast Casserole-
French Toast Casserole:


1 (16 oz) soft loaf of French or Italian bread, torn into 1 inch pieces

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

8 large eggs

2.5 cups whole milk

1.5 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (or more to taste- I adore cinnamon, and you need something to burn off the rest of the ingredients)

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg


1 stick unsalted butter softened

1 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar

3 tablespoon Karo

2 cups pecans chopped coarsely

For the casserole:

adjust two oven racks to the upper middle and lower middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Spread the bread over 2 baking sheets and bake until dry and light golden brown, about 25 minutes, switching the sheets about halfway through the baking time. Let cool completely.

coat a 13x9 baking dish with the butter and pack the dried bread into the dish

whisk the eggs in a large bowl until combined, then whisk in the milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Pour the egg mixture over the bread and press on the bread lightly to submerge it.

For the topping:

stir the butter, brown sugar and Karo together until smooth then stir in the pecans

Refrigerate the topping and casserole separately at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

To serve- 350 oven, put rack in middle position. Sprinkle the topping evenly over top, breaking apart any large pieces with your fingers. place casserole on rimmed baking sheet and bake until puffed and golden about 1 hour. Serve immediately.

So, not exactly health food, but. . .it's soo delicious.  Just don't eat it every day, okay?

Apr 11, 2011

Three Times The Fun

So I'll go backwards with my weekend, and start with pictures from Sunday-
 All of the hostesses and Peg at the shower for the trips! (click all pics to enlarge)

 Peg showing off her bump, and adorable dress from Boden.
 My favorite gift was the three teeny tiny bathing suits, so the girls can all hit the pool this summer.
This makes me laugh, because there is actually eight people in it.  Five of them are in utero.  Hee.

The night before we helped host an engagement party on one of the bridesmaids' parents' farm for Brother and Em.

 I tricked Morgan into coordinating his clothing with me.  I attempt this for every event, and it rarely works.  I would like us to be like Will and Jada Smith (sans Scientology and poofy shoes), and coordinate all clothing choices.  Hubs has no interest in this.

 Trying to get a bunch of ladies drinking wine to stop chatting and take a picture is quite difficult, as most of us know.

My brother and some his best friends.  We discussed how much I hated them when they were in middle school. No one was offended- after all, the assholery and annoyance factor of 12 year old boys is a truth universally acknowledged.

Speaking of annoyance, my dear fur ball Buddy is being a bit of an asshole himself, and burrowing between my hand and my lap top, so I'll wrap this up.  Recipes and a rundown of the bridal shower will follow tomorrow, I promise!