Monday, March 3, 2014

Dad's Birthday: A Bourbon Tasting

For Dad's birthday a couple weekends ago, we had a bourbon tasting at my parents' house.  None of us claim to be experts, but we thought it would be fun...and it certainly was!

First, let me set the scene:  We used these printable placemats to keep track of the samples (my mom and sister poured blind samples for the guys and me) and these score sheets to keep track of our impressions of each one.  This part was so much fun!  

Each of us has a very different drinking style, so it cracked me up to see everyone going through the sniff-swirl-sip motions.  James is typically a shot-taker, Dad puts a splash of bourbon in his large glass of water, my brother-in-law Bo is a Bud Light guy, and I'm....well, I'm mostly a mint juelp kind of girl.  James and Bo were actually really good and picking out subtle scents and flavors (most of James's descriptions sounded very similar to the bourbons' website descriptions!) but Dad and I were less advanced.  Dad can't smell at all, so we didn't expect much from him anyway.  :)  We used this flavor wheel for reference.  I also set out a bowl of whiskey stones (which Dad thought was a snack and almost tried to eat!) and straws for adding drops of water to our samples.

I did do a little bit of reading on proper bourbon tasting before our venture, but we mostly just had a good time with it.  I put together a platter of snacks intended to bring out specific flavors in the bourbons, but they weren't necessarily treated that way!  We included dark chocolate, fresh orange wedges, dried cherries, pecans, aged Parmesan, and sorghum on water crackers.

Next, the samples:  We tasted Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek, Maker's Mark 46, Jim Beam, Old Granddad (ha!), Bulleit, Wild Turkey, and Elijah Craig.  We started out with a bottle of Zachariah Harris to get a $7.50-per-fifth sample in there, but Dad had finished it off in the weeks leading up to our tasting. :)

The results:  I have to say that my scores definitely did not turn out they way I expected.  I included the Elijah Craig in the tasting because I had heard so many good things about it and had never tasted it, so I totally expected it to end up at the top of my list (which it wasn't).  We usually keep Bulleit, Wild Turkey, and Knob Creek on hand, so I also expected to have those near the top of my list...but they weren't, either.  In the end, three of the four of us chose the same favorite:  Maker's Mark 46.  

The final verdict:  If you're interested in doing a legitimate bourbon tasting, there are plenty of good websites out there with great tips.  If you're interested in planning a fun night with friends, I would totally suggest a bourbon tasting anyway!  We didn't take it overly seriously, had a blast, and now I definitely know what bourbon I'll be buying in the future!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kansas City: Day Two

We started the day off by looking around the Old West Lawrence neighborhood.  The neighborhood was home to prominent Lawrence citizens and was therefore a prime target of the Lawrence Massacre/Quantrill's Raid in 1863, when most of the homes were burned.  Today, it is one of the few neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was a finalist in the "America's Prettiest Painted Places" competition.  My photos below don't show a lot of the pretty painted homes, but the snow caused lots of parking issues which made it difficult to get photos.  Everywhere we turned, though, there were absolutely gorgeous homes, either painted or brick, but with really neat details on all of them.

Then, we headed back to downtown Lawrence for a little shopping.  We stopped by Au Marche, a European goods store, and Brits, a shop with everything British.  Totally up my alley. :)  We got some fun chocolates, drinks, and a little bit of Royal memorabilia.  We really would have loved to wander a little, but it was just too darn cold!

Next, we headed south to the Black Jack Battlefield.  This is the site of another one of the incidents of "Bleeding Kansas" and some even consider it to be the first true battle of the Civil War (occurring in 1856 before the "official" start of the Civil War in 1861).  The Battle of Black Jack was a clash between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces than ended with a surrender by Captain Henry Clay Pate (a pro-slavery Missourian).  

Again, the weather really kept us from being able to take advantage of this stop.  There is a self-guided battlefield walking tour, but with nearly a foot of snow on the ground, it just wasn't going to happen for us.  From the road, all we could really see was this little glimpse of the farmstead home of Robert Hall Pearson, one of the Free State fighters, which is currently under restoration.

After our  "drive through" battlefield tour, we stopped by the Lilly store (more on that tomorrow!) and then headed to the Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City.  The tour tickets are first-come first-served, so unfortunately we missed out on that.  We did get to look around the outside of the brewery, sample an ESB only available in the tasting room, and pick up a pint glass at the gift shop.  I really wish we had been able to do the tour, but apparently tickets are given out very early.

We killed a little time at Central Market before having an early dinner to beat the crowds.  We really hadn't planned on what we would do for Valentine's Day evening, but we had been wanting to make it to the Kansas City Power and Light District, so we did some quick internet research and decided on the Maker's Mark Bourbonhouse and Lounge.  

They were on a special set Valentine's Day menu, but we both really enjoyed what we got.  They had an extensive bourbon menu, but we went with the classics.  I had an old fashioned and James had a Manhattan.  Both were quite good.  For dinner, James started with the crab bisque while I had a panzanella salad with golden beets and pancetta.  The chef followed that with escargot and beef wellington before our main courses.  James had a sirloin with fingerling potatoes and haricot vert, which he loved.  I loved the airline chicken, arborio rice, and glazed carrots that I had.  I got the chocolate mousse swan for dessert and James ordered the strawberry crepes suzette.  We split them both.  It was a perfect way to end our impromptu Valentine's Day dinner before driving home.

How did you spend your Valentine's Day?  Hope it was lovely!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Kansas City: Day One

For Valentine's Day, James and I headed to Kansas City to see one of his favorite bands perform.  The concert was on Thursday night, so we took a couple of days off of work and drove up Thursday morning to Lawrence, KS.  I had done some research on the town, so I knew that it would be a neat trip, but we really enjoyed the town even more than we expected to.

We got to town in time to check into our hotel and then head to dinner at the Free State Brewing Company, which opened in 1989 as the first legal brewery in Kansas in over 100 years.  

I asked our waitress for a recommendation, and as a hops-lover, I got the citrusy Winterfest IPA (below) and James got the Ad Astra Ale (described as "a full bodied ale that uses a hint of hops to balance the sweetness that comes from three different malt varieties).  Both were really good.

We finished up with dinner just in time to head to the Granada right down the street in the old downtown. 
I have to admit that I was a little worried about going to a show like this, but I knew James would love it and I'm a fan of nearly any live music, so I put my Lilly away, piled on the eyeliner, and really had a blast! 

And there they are:  Dark Tranquillity!  (A Swedish melodic death metal band, if you're interested in looking them up.)  Ominum Gatherum and Exmortus opened.  Exmortus is a band from California, but we will definitely track them down and go see them if they get anywhere close again.  SUPER impressive and fun to watch!

We were the only people with VIP tickets, so we got to hang out with the band for a little while before the show.  The guys were all really, really cool and down-to-earth.  We got photos and autographs and I swear I have never (and will probably never again!) seen James so. stinkin. excited.  Unfortunately, we were both a little nervous and didn't get as much out of the experience as we wish we had.    (From left to right below, that's guitarist Niklas Sundin, drummer Anders Jivarp, guitarist Martin Henrikkson, keyboarder Martin Brändström, James, and lead singer Mikael Stanne).

(From left to right below:  Markus Vanhala of Ominum Gatherum, Niklas Sundin of Dark Tranquillity, and Martin Henrikkson of Dark Tranquillity).

I'll share day two, tomorrow... and I promise there will be less metal! :)

Under the Palm Tree: A Lilly Pulitzer Via Shop

One of my favorite stops on our trip was definitely this Lilly store.  They are always so much fun to visit and I can never seem to find enough photos online of store interiors.  I'm constantly looking for inspiration for my guest room, so I asked if I could take a few photos.  

I love these walls painted with Skinny Dippin' faux curtains!

The Liz Shift is probably my favorite piece from the new collection.  I love all of the prints, but I'm really leaning towards this yellow one (Crazy Cat House) for Easter.  I'm so excited that a lot of the new dresses are vintage-inspired!

And the dressing rooms are always one of my favorite parts of a Lilly store.  I'm definitely going to have to make one of these little shift pillows for my guest room. :)

And striped walls with the Chin Chin print?  I'm in love!

Hope you enjoyed this little tour as much as I did!

What are your favorite pieces from the spring collection?  What are your favorite Lilly store details?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tonight we celebrated my amazing mom's birthday.  We went out for Italian and then went back to my parents' house for cake and presents.

I set the table with a nod to the Amalfi Coast and made a limoncello cake with mascarpone icing.

Natalie enjoyed helping Gigi open her birthday presents. 

And now we are back at home, snuggled up watching the Olympics.  We really look forward to this and I've been loving all of the figure skating!  What events are your favorites?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Five on Friday

This is my third Five on Friday!  Hope you'll join us. :)

1.  Cupcakes
I've been baking a lot lately.  Some of my favorites are cupcakes because they're so much fun to decorate and way easy to transport.  I made chocolate-chocolate cupcakes for my cousin's 9th birthday and topped them with Hot Wheels, candy rocks, and crushed Oreo "dirt."

For a coworker that is having twin boys (!!!) I made these white cupcakes with pale blue buttercream icing.  These are my favorite, I think.  So simple.

2.  Europe
James, my parents, and I have been talking about taking a trip to Europe together forever.  Well, we've finally picked dates and I've requested time off for May!  We plan to visit Paris, Bruge, Munich, Salzburg, Venice, and Interlaken.  My parents have done quite a bit of traveling on the continent (we lived in Germany for several years), but what are some lesser-known places that you'd suggest?  And what should I pack?  I'd love your ideas--especially for shoes!

3.  Wakarusa
Well, after leaving Wakarusa last year we said we wouldn't do it again this year...but then the line-up was released!  I'm a huge Flaming Lips fan and James is a huge Infected Mushroom it looks like we're going.  That time off has already been requested, too. :)  Anyone else going?

4.  Super Bowl
There's not a lot I'd like to say about the game...but planning the menu is always one of my favorite parts of any event, so I'll just show off a few of the snacks we made. :)  James smoked pork shoulder and made bourbon BBQ sauce (which I canned).  I also made this delicious vinegar-based slaw and the Neelys' grilled potato salad (one of our staples).  I also made a buttermilk chocolate sheet cake and cut it into little footballs and my mom made these adorable orange shortbread cookies with blue and orange sugar.  The biggest hit was probably the Charleston Cheese Dip.  (Can you tell I love Deep South Dish??)  What did you have for the Super Bowl?

5.  Family Picnic
We had a brief "warm" day last weekend, so my parents and sister's family met us at at the park for a picnic.  There are few things I love more than a picnic and Natalie really enjoyed the playground.  I was even able to snap a few shots of a woodpecker! :)  I absolutely live for days like this.

Friday, January 24, 2014

A New Year

I'm linking up today to share my 5 on Friday! :)


I'm typically not the type of person to make New Year's resolutions.  I'm not quite sure why, but I do always  find myself trying to begin new habits and get healthier, more organized, etc.  This year I'm focusing on five things:
1.  Organization.  I've gotten new baskets for the shelves in my laundry room (after a few more finishing touches, I hope to share it with you soon!) and I'm currently in the process of cleaning out my filing cabinet.  The beginning of the year is always perfect for getting all of my paperwork in order because I can get a headstart on my taxes.  Our local news morning show had an organizational expert on the other day and she mentioned these portable file holders from The Container Store.  I'm an organization and office supply nerd, so I headed over that week and picked a few up for myself.  I love them!  They're clear, so it is easy to see (cute) file folders and differentiate without having to put labels on them.  They also fit perfectly on our Expedit shelf from Ikea, if anyone else is wondering. :)  We have an office with a regular filing cabinet, but I always end up moving my piles of stuff to the living room so I can be near the husband while I work, so these are great for that.  I'm also keeping an empty one for things "to be filed" because I know I won't keep up with my filing all the time.  If there is a specific spot to keep paperwork that needs to be put away, I will actually put it there and then file it correctly when the bin is least that's my plan!

2.  Home.  I've read a million times that one of the common factors among less-stressed, happy people is that they make their beds every morning.  I was brought up this way, but after my freshman year of college, I got lazy.  Then I was good about it when we first got married, and then again when we bought our new house, and when I didn't work, etc...but I've gotten lazy again.  James is still in bed for nearly an hour after I get up in the morning, so I've always used that as an excuse--but no more!  It really does make a difference to come home to a neat bed and it only takes a few minutes in the morning.  I'm really going to try to stick with it this year.  I've also been trying to take a few minutes every night to pick up before bed.  It's only supposed to take a month to develop a new habit...or something like that, right?

3.  Wardrobe.  I'm very guilty of falling into outfit ruts.  I have several pairs of J Crew Factory Winnies (LOVE!) and wear them way too often.  I'm a cardigan and flats girl, too.  I try to mix it up with accessories, but a lot of days I just throw on whatever doesn't have to be ironed.  I'm trying to get better about that.  I went through my closet and drawers and got rid of things that I hadn't worn in a while or knew I would never wear and I've been trying to slowly add more dresses and skirts to my circulation.  I'm taking five minutes before bed to pick out an outfit and it makes such a difference!  Why did I wait so long to start doing this?  At night, I'm much more willing to take an extra minute to think about an unexpected pair of shoes, earrings, or necklace to complement my pieces.  Plus, I know before I got to bed how much time I need to allow in the morning for ironing.  I haven't yet worked up to getting the actual ironing done the night before!  (Check out my Pinterest board here for some of my favorite outfit inspiration).

4.  Simplifying.  I love stuff.  I can't help it.  Lately, though, I've just gotten sick of it.  I've been slowly going through drawers, closets, and cabinets to get rid of things.  I reorganized my bathrooms cabinets recently and found 100 bobby pins, 15 small butterfly clips, and 20 headbands!  Not to mention the total overload of hairsprays, volumizers, body washes, and lotions.  I love buying new products and trying them out, so even when I love one, it tends to get put in a drawer and forgotten when I find something else I can't wait to try.  Last weekend, I put a ton of nearly-full bottles under the sink and filled my drawer with all the leftover bits of products.  To me, there is something so satisfying about finishing a bottle of shampoo or whatever else...which probably means I don't finish them often enough!  Anyway, I'm doing my best to use up these little bits left in bottles so that I can get back to just the few products that I really like and use most often.  It is nice to look into a cabinet and actually see items instead of a pile!

5.  Diet.  I was a vegetarian for many years, but even since I started eating meat again I don't get enough protein in my diet.  I don't enjoy meat (besides the obvious bacon) and typically force myself to order it because I know I need it...and I still end up picking around most of it.  To help offset that, I've been drinking protein shakes in the morning.  A lot of the guys I work with drink them and they assured me that it wouldn't make me "bulky," so I gave them a go.  I've been ordering the Metabolic Reset powder from Amazon and mixing it with skim milk.  That adds up to about 230 calories for 21 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber!  I wouldn't say they're delicious, but for the nutrients I am getting, I definitely don't mind the taste (although my verdict is still out on the strawberry...).  My doctor also insisted that I start taking folate, so I found a multivitamin with that and fish oil.  My husband laughs, but I get the gummy ones because I know I'm more likely to take them that way. :)

What have you been doing to improve your life this year?  I'd love your suggestions!