Wine Country Entertaining – Downton Abbey Style

Entertaining in the wine country means being flexible. Whether it’s a small group of friends, large chaotic kids party, or small intimate formal dinner, it’s all about combining fabulous friends and flavors.

Of course throwing parties with kids is an entirely different animal as the entertainment options can range from as simple as coloring sheets and play dough to extravagant hired entertainers and traveling petting zoos.

Recently while enjoying a quiet laid back casual dinner of homemade pizzas and local wine, the conversation turned to our favorite TV show, Downton Abbey. The four of us decided to throw a small intimate black tie dinner party for fellow Downton fans. We decided to do something revolutionary: have a party without kids. Us parents don’t get out much, so the thought of adult time made it more fun.

The beginning planning stages involved conversations about whether it would be white or black tie, when to send invitations and what to serve.

downton 3From the invite to the place settings, every detail was thoughtfully planned. I used Paperless Post for the invitations. I chose a formal design with a picture of a chandelier similar to the one that would decorate the party.

Having sent the invitations, it was time to plan the other details such as decorations, place settings, music and menu. Planning ahead made it such a success. For the cooking portion, I have to thank Ina Garten for her tips published in one of her fabulous cookbooks. For example, she suggested a cooking timetable. Well, when coordinating seven courses, the timetable was key. In the days before, the schedule made the little tedious tasks like unpacking crystal and silver more manageable. For the day of the party, having a written schedule took the stress out of things. Another key factor was hiring an assistant to help serve the meal and help with washing the legions of dishes left in the wake of a 7 course formal meal. (Emily – you rock!)

So, for the menu, I had a 24 pound turkey that I built the menu around.

Passed Appetizers, Bubbles & Lady Mary Cocktail

Endive with roasted garlic cream cheese and shrimpdownton
Dates wrapped with prosciutto
Lady Mary Cocktail (bubbly, Lillet Blanc, lemon & basil) or (sprite, lemon & basil)
Main Meal

Mushroom sherry soup (mushrooms + sherry + shallots) with a heavy cream drizzle
herb roasted turkey, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, English peas & cherry port gravy
mixed greens with raspberry vinaigrette
cherries jubilee over ice cream (this is fun as you light it on fire)
cheese course (cheeses, dried fruit, crackers)
homemade fudge & port

For wines, the party featured those from Peter Cellars Pinot Noir & Roche Winery Merlot

As far as set-up, Emily Post was helpful in setting the scene. The detailed diagrams helped guide the European table setting required for a formal Downton evening. Admittedly though, I didn’t follow it exactly as to make things easier I put the dessert utensils on the table. (Gasp!) A sin for which I likely would have been fired or put on probation had I been working at Downton Abbey.

With most of the food ready to go, greeting guests was a pleasure! We enjoyed the flavors and libations. And, afterwards silly fun with fake mustaches (really worth a laugh). In Downton Style the men departed for cigars & scotch and a chat about all things manly. Us ladies did the same (cigars, scotch and a chat about all things girly).

downton2Of course ages after our bedtime, we dimmed the lights and started dancing the night away. Like I said earlier, us parents don’t get out much so we are easy to entertain.

Now it’s on to planning our next one. Perhaps it will be Mad Men cocktail party or a Gone with the Wind garden party.. Any ideas??

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Spring in the Wine Country is Like the Perfect Chardonnay

With spring all around, this past week reminded me of why the wine country is like no other place.  It is just dreamy to live here.   Amongst the budding vines are hints of purple, pink and yellow wildflowers.  Birds are singing. Butterflies are flying. Blubs are blooming.

In some ways, spring is like the perfect chardonnay.  A beautiful smell like budding flowers, delicate tastes with a buttery finish that evoke thoughts of walking barefoot through new spring grass.

spring 3Spring in Sonoma also means the Sonoma International Film Festival.  It is a unique time when the Hollywood vibe mixes with the casual country.   Glamorous tourists decorate the square wearing their Jimmy Choo stilettos which makes for prime people watching especially considering the uneven cobblestone streets.  Local businesses host a variety of events and film showings.  And, the town is bustling with activity.

An intimate event was hosted by Roche Winery, where guests were able to mingle with those involved in the film Favor, including the actors.  Personally, something about actors makes me turn into a bumbling idiot.  Somehow my educational training in being able to ask a myriad of questions and think on the spot goes off into the universe for a moment.  And, the conversation becomes something like I would have had with a guy I had a crush on when I was in elementary school.   Actor – “Hi, I’m an actor.”  Me – “wow.”  Actor – “well, I was in Star Trek.” Me – “really [pause] wow.  ”  In any event, luckily there were other folks who chimed into the conversation.

All in all though, the evening was an exceptional wine country experience especially since it was paired with my all time favorite wine, the estate chardonnay by Roche Winery.  Oh Roche Winery, however do you create such a rich and enjoyable chardonnay?  Whatever you’re doing, please keep doing it and I’ll keep buying it.

There was only one thing that could make it better, exceptional nibbles.  As luck would have it Mara Roche created a delicious spread oozing with flavor, love and wine country personality.  Deviled eggs with wasabi essence, hand crafted Thai spring rolls, tri tip sandwiches, and goat cheese with quince tantalized my palate while complimenting the wines being poured.

spring 2The next morning, I took my boys out to have some wine country fun.  We stopped by the Studdert Family Farm where some newborn lambs were just getting acquainted with farm life.  I’m not sure who liked meeting the lambs more, me or the boys.  There is nothing quite like watching your little ones meet something that’s even younger than they are.  The pureness of a one day old lamb is breathtaking.   Bobby loved petting the lambs while CJ enjoyed chasing them around the barn.

After the boys had tormented the lambs enough, it was time for walk.  We walked our favorite loop winding through budding grape vines, past llamas and near a few parked train cars.  Of course, walks with two little guys are leisurely to say the least.  They are a favorite way to enjoy an entire morning.   So, we had to stop at the trains.

The boys climbed aboard the trains and pretended to steer the train down the track.  While they were having their choo choo bliss, a couple of out of towners were passing by.  Wearing Premiere Passes to the Film Festival and impressively sized diamond earrings, they stopped to admire the boys and chat. For the second time in a 24 hour period, I had another star struck stupid moment.   The guy with crystal grey blue eyes and friendly stature was strikingly similar to Jeff Bridges.  In any event, we chatted about my boys’ zest for trains and, how wonderful Sonoma is.  After all where else can little ones climb on parked train cars at a kid’s park with the sound of live music from a farmers market beaming in the background?

Was it Jeff Bridges?  I’ll never know.  All I do know is that it doesn’t matter, even if it was, it shows how enjoyable this town is for all especially in spring.  For those of you who don’t believe me, then come check it out.