Friday, October 5, 2012

Throw Down: I Heart Huckabees Movie Night

What would you do as an American with a philosophical crisis, 3,500 miles and 72 years from the epicenter of existentialism? You'd outsource your problem to a husband & wife team of Existentialist Detectives. Obviously.

I Heart Huckabees is absurd and completely entertaining. Jason Schwartzman is pitch perfect as the disaffected, 20-something environmental activist poet, raging against crass consumerism and corporate doublespeak when he isn't drowning in self-pity; Mark Wahlberg is brilliant as the depressed fireman so obsessed with oil consumption and the meaninglessness of life that he will punch anyone in the face; and Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are their philosophical investigators. Add Jude Law and Naomi Watts as the golden couple Schwartzman despises, and Isabella Huppert playing the French former protege turned dark philosophical nemesis, and there is just no telling where the plot will veer next.

Might I suggest this fine film for your next movie night?

photo via
 If you're familiar with our other movie nights (Darjeeling Limited; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; Love Actually; Fantastic Mr. Fox; and Burn After Reading) then you know that one of my favorite things to do is serve food as it appears in the movie, so you can eat along with your favorite characters. Read on to learn what food appears when, and choose to serve as many items as you care to. Join us next week for a playlist of French songs inspired by the films of Isabella Huppert, and for our wrap-up post where we'll give you some fodder for your Netflix queue - a list of my favorite movies featuring actors from this movie.

The menu for I Heart Huckabees can be as simple as you want to make it. At the very least the afternoon before the party, make a tray of brownies. Then decide how elaborate you want to get with dinner. There is one scene where our protagonists are sitting down to dinner in a house of super-Christian strangers. The family is feasting on pasta, peas, asparagus, green beans, bread, salad and tall glasses of milk. For my purposes, I bought some pre-packaged garlic bread and popped it in the oven - but feel free to substitute a healthier option from that list. If you'd like to serve cereal, pour out small bowls ahead of time and load them onto a tray with spoons and a carton of milk. If you'd like to serve ice cream, load up a second tray with ramikins and put a nice chunk of ice cream cone in each as a garnish. Leave the carton of ice cream on the counter to soften as the movie begins, then scoop out small servings right before go time.

As your guests arrive, put out licorice in bowls within their reach, and then take their drink orders. You may want to mix up a shaker of martinis, or a pitcher of your favorite cocktail with lemon garnish. You can also give guests the option of coffee, tea with lemon, or a glass of milk. If you plan to serve champagne, load up a tray with glasses which you can bring out when it's time to pop the cork.

photo via
 Minute 11: Jason Schwartzman is being surveiled while eating cereal. Bring out the tray and let guests pour their own milk.

Minute 17: The snooty lady is washing down her hatred of Schwartzman's character with an ice cream cone. Bring out your tray of little ice cream bowls.

Minute 36: It's Mancala Hour! Time for some nice cocktails with lemon.

photo via . . . and yes, that is a
really young Jonah Hill.
 Minute 42: Schwartzman and Wahlberg break bread with some right-wing Christians, and nearly end up brawling. Serve your dinner item.

Minute 53: Isabella Huppert is driving around and Wahlberg is noshing away on some licorice.

1:11: In one of my favorite scenes, Naomi Watts is wearing a bonnet and unselfconsciously stuffing her face with brownies. Mmmm. Brownies.

1:35: We've finally arrived at the Wetlands Benefit! Time to pop the champagne.

After the movie ends, invite your guests to stay and mingle. Press play on your Isabella Huppert-themed mix, and stage your own mancala hour - or just hit each other in the face with a punch-ball. Enjoy!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sam's Simple Mint Juleps

I don't know about you, but I could use a drink right about now. Here to help us out in that department is . . . my Dad! Apparently, he and my Mom have been enjoying a nightcap in the evenings this summer, using mint from his own garden. Take advantage of Indian Summer, mix up a pitcher of delicious Juleps, and get thee to a veranda, post haste.

Mint Juleps

4 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
1 hand full of mint leaves with stems (save a few leaves for a garnish)
Bourbon or blended whisky
Add water and sugar to a sauce pan.  Heat and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add the mint.  When the pan has cooled to near room temperature, remove and discard the mint.  The mint syrup can be refrigerated for several days.
To make the julep:
Add 1-2oz of Bourbon to a tall tumbler.  Add 4oz of the mint syrup and fill with ice and add the mint garnish.
Makes 8 servings

Monday, September 10, 2012

Turf War

Dear Bashionista,

What happens if you throw a party and invite friends who recently broke up - and then they both show up, bringing their respective posses. How are you supposed to keep the peace?

- Kristen B

The dreaded dance posse
Girrrrrl, get yourself a time machine, because that's about the only thing that'll help. The fact is, once you're in the middle of a turf war, there's not a lot you can do about it.

Now as a host, I hate choosing between friends who have unchosen each other. Typically, I don't; I invite them both on evite (or the social networking venue du jour) so that everyone knows ahead of time who's coming. I trust people to be grown-ups and manage their own messes; if they shouldn't be in the same room together, no one knows that better than the two of them.

Of course, there are moments during the grieving/loathing process when people do not exercise their best judgement, and there are times when a man or woman scorned might start to see your living room as the perfect place to try their case before a jury of their peers, at high volume and with a maximum of hair pulling. Here are some ways that you  can avoid throwing a party that requires police intervention:

1) Monitor your evite

Keep tabs on who's planning on showing up. If you happen to notice that two sworn enemies are in the mix, consider dropping one of them a note - something along the lines of, "Hey Nancy, I noticed that you and Sid are both planning on coming on Saturday. Of course I would *love* to see both of you, but I just wanted to give you a heads up so you aren't uncomfortable."

2) Attempt some light intervention

Let's say you dropped Nancy a line, and her response was, "If I have to see that lying bastard cavorting around with his new girlfriend I will just DIE," or, "When I see that lying bastard cavorting around with his new girlfriend I will just MURDER HIM." Looks like it's time to check in with your old pal, Sid. Let him know you aren't picking sides but that you would encourage him to either smooth things over before Saturday night, or wear a bullet-proof vest, as the situation requires.

3) Run interference

If the worst happens, and both sides show up armed to the teeth do what you can to subtly keep the peace. Try keeping the posses separated as much as you can. Asking members of the militant entourage for some emergency help in the kitchen is a good way to divide and conquer. If things are seriously tense, don't be shy about pulling aside a few of your most discrete, assertive, or physically imposing friends, let them know the situation, and ask them to help you keep an eye on things. If anything starts to get out of hand, they should have your back.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Denise & Zach's Wedding Gallery

Here is the story of Denise & Zach's Jersey-Fresh Wedding at Perona Farms, in 20 pictures. Enjoy!

All photos copywrite Lara Kimmerer, 2009.

Zach's saying his vows. Cue the waterworks!


First dance.

Zach's mom got onto the dance floor
and tore it up!

Zach will conquer this cake.

Drew U friends forever!

Such a fantastic wedding.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Denise & Zach's Wedding Playlist

All photos copywrite Lara Kimmerer 2009.

Denise & Zach managed to turn their wedding reception into an epic dance party - mainly by playing the songs our crew grew up loving in the '80s and '90s. They also managed to find some piano covers of classic '80s songs for their entrance music. And they had fun with theme songs; "Let's Get Busy" for cake-cutting time, and a Flight of the Conchords song for the bouquet toss.  Here's the link to download the playlist on iTunes.

Here's the track list:

1. The Final Countdown/Scott D. Davis
2. White Wedding/Scott D. Davis
3. Freeze the Saints/Stephen Malkmus
4. Inside of Love/Nada Surf
5. Cut Your Hair/Pavement
6. Let's Get Busy/Rocket from the Crypt
7. Ladies of the World/Flight of the Conchords
8. What a Fool Believes/Self
9. Beercan/Beck
10. Mercy/Duffy
11. Organ Donor/DJ Shadow
12. The Humpty Dance/Digital Underground
13. Get it Together/Beastie Boys
14. Connected/Stereo MCs
15. Gigantic/Pixies

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Denise & Zach's Wedding Menu

All photos copywrite Lara Kimmerer 2009.

One of the benefits to having a wedding at Perona Farms is that the food is outrageously good, and the ingredients are as local and fresh as possible. Denise & Zach made stellar menu choices, and their guests still talk about the food, three years later. Here's their menu:

Cocktail Hour
Crepe station
Smoked salmon station
Passed appetizers included: Lobster cobbler,
Salmon mousses in miniature ice cream cones

First Course
Baby lobster tail with chivry butter

Second Course
Mixed field greens with boccaccini and tomatoes

Main Course
Duet of chateaubriand and salmon with a whole-grain mustard beurre blanc
Sugar snap peas and carrots
Smashed red-skin potatoes

A cart was wheeled table-to-table laden with cookies, pastries, and after-dinner cordials.
The wedding cake was a vanilla-buttercream-frosted yellow cake with chocolate mousse filling.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Denise & Zach's 10 Best Wedding Tips

All photos copywrite Lara Kimmerer 2009.

Denise & Zach chose to have their wedding at Perona Farms in Sparta, NJ, so they could showcase the beautiful farmland of Northern Jersey, and serve delicious food made with fresh, local ingredients. They tapped into their design skills and their shared love of gardening to make the celebration more personal, and they put together a party they knew everyone would love - without breaking the bank.

Here's the story of their wedding journey. It's a top 10 list of the things that made their wedding great, things they learned, and creative ideas you can steal:

1. Find a good photographer

Denise says, "This is so important! The day goes by so quickly, and the pictures are what you're left with." Luckily, they knew Lara Kimmerer, a professional wedding photographer, from college, and they were so happy with their work. Lara strongly encourages couples to do an engagement shoot with her beforehand, so that she can get to know the couple, and more importantly, get to know what they're like in front of the camera. Click here for some pics from their engagement shoot.

2. Hire your talented friends

Denise's vows are several pages long, Zach is flabbergasted.

Denise & Zach were really fortunate to know people they could count on to help them with the wedding. Denise's brother's best friend is a DJ who offered his services as a wedding gift. Lara, the photographer, was a mutual friend from college, as was their officiant, Dan Bailey-Yavonditte, who was able to create a personal and meaningful ceremony for them. And Denise's friend Katie Radler owns her own wedding flower business, The Flower Girl. Zach points out that all these vendors will be at the party - so they might as well be people you'd actually like to party with. "It's so much better to have friends there with your best interest at heart!"

3. Design your own invitations

If you've got design skills, use them! Denise came up with the concept for their invitations, and Zach put it all together, then brought the file to a local print shop. They saved money by doing all the work themselves and printing on basic card stock. They tied in their wedding colors, their Jersey Fresh theme, and kept it simple and stylish at the same time.

4. Let them wear Converse.

The groomsmen wore navy Converse sneakers, and the groom wore white. Denise asked her young neice to be a bridesmaid; she's a bit of a tomboy - Denise says, "I was the exact same way!" - and hates getting dressed up, so they invited her to wear navy Converse as well.

5. Honor your missing loved ones.

The bride & groom were two peas in a pod.

Denise's father had passed away several years before the wedding. She wanted to keep him close by her, so she planned to carry tiny picture frames in her bouquet. The day of the wedding, she was getting ready at her sister's house and realized; she had forgotten the pictures. Denise says she was freaking out about it. And so, on the morning of the wedding, in a freak snowstorm, Zach drove 45 minutes back to their apartment, dug around in their closet, found the pictures just in time, and drove 45 minutes back. Denise was blown away that he was willing to drop everything for an hour and a half on his wedding day, but Zach says if he hadn't, "I'd be telling a different story - of the one thing I regret not doing on my wedding day."

6. Decorate with seed packets.

Denise & Zach found beautiful vintage seed packets at, which has been a seed company since colonial times, and is known for their classic, old-timey labels. They used them to designate each table with a different vegetable. After the wedding, they bought frames from Ikea, painted them to match their kitchen, and framed the seed packets. They're stylish and fun, and so very Denise & Zach.

7. Give potted herbs as favors.

Flowers by The Flower Girl.

In keeping with the Jersey Fresh theme, Denise & Zach took the time to grow potted herbs from seeds. Each guest had their choice of herb to bring home - and they also had fresh herbs right at their table for seasoning their dinner. Genius.

8. Make a do-not-play list.

Zach has particularly strong opinions about music, but he also has a lot of respect for DJs; he knew that he wanted to hire a professional who could read the energy on the dance floor. However, there were songs he absolutely did not want to hear at his wedding, so he banished "Celebrate Good Times" or anything by Van Morrison. Once that was clear, he got out of the way and let the man do his job.

9. Have fun with dessert.

Rather than a dessert buffet, Denise & Zach opted for a dessert cart. It was laden with cookies, mini-cakes, eclairs, and fancy after-dinner cordials, and the staff wheeled it around from table to table. They also decided to design their own cake topper. They pieced it together from two different Playmobil sets - they even found a miniature wedding cake with tiny people on top of it. Once they had their little tableau, they glued everything down on a blank CD. Zach says they probably spent more money on that project than they would have spent on a standard-issue cake topper - but some things are worth a little extra money. "When you make it yourself, it can be exactly the way you want."

10. Have an after-party.

Denise & Zach had a morning wedding, and they felt like the reception just flew by. They knew their friends would have the stamina to keep the party going. So they planned ahead for an after party at the hotel where most people were staying. The hotel had free shuttles, a good discounted block rate, and a pool for the kids to hang out in while the adults were carousing in the lobby bar. They loved the chance to hang out with all their favorite people in a more relaxed setting, where it wasn't all about the two of them on display.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Denise & Zach's Jersey Fresh Wedding

All photos copywrite Lara Kimmerer 2009.
 Denise Chadwick and Zach Davis were married in October 2009 at Perona Farms in Sparta, located in the Skylands of New Jersey - not far from Drew University, where they first met. They chose the venue to showcase the gorgeous fall foliage - and instead got slapped with a freak snowstorm that morning. Luckily, Perona Farms had it all under control and moved their ceremony to the grand staircase. Arriving at the venue in a light snowfall made the day a little more magical - and it didn't slow down the party one bit.

Click here for Denise & Zach's tips for throwing a wedding that's personal, meaningful, and an incredible amount of fun. Click here for the details of their menu. Click here for an hour-long playlist of songs they loved dancing to at their reception. And finally, click here for a photo gallery - their wedding story in 20 pictures.

But first, let's get to know one of my all-time favorite couples and how they found each other.

Though they both went to Drew, they didn't really know each other in school. A few years out, Zach was living in Boston with Hugh and Kristen, two of his best friends from college. Kristen had recently gotten a job in the admissions department of a grad program in Social Work. One day she came home and said, "Hey, remember Densie Chadwick from Drew? She just applied to our program."

Zach didn't think much of it - until a few hours later he got his first text ever from Denise.

It was a moment of sheer coincidence. Omar, another mutual friend from Drew, was having a gallery opening in Philadelphia. Denise didn't know how she could get down there without a car, so Omar said, "Hey, why don't you ask Zach Davis for a ride? He lives in Boston now. I think he's going."

It turns out, Denise never even got around to asking him about Philadelphia. They started texting and soon realized that they had all the same friends, they had an awful lot to talk about, and before the text frenzy was through, Zach had asked her out. He says, "What are the odds that she would come up two times in six hours??" The universe was giving him a sign, and he took it.

They went out twice in two days, had some intense conversations, and just completely clicked. Denise had been casually dating another guy before she reconnected with Zach, and that weekend she hung out with her sister and tried to figure out what to do. While they were talking it dawned on her; the other guy was toast, and Zach was eggs benny. Zach laughs and says, "Yeah, I'm goopy on the inside." Denise broke things off with the other guy the next time she saw him.

Things were going great - until Denise got into Columbia grad school and had to break the news that she was moving to New York. But Zach said, "Oh! I'm looking to move. I'll move to New York." They got separate apartments down the street from each other in Astoria - but they were together every single day. Denise thought, "This makes sense! I could do this . . . forever!"

I ask Zach when he knew he wanted to marry Denise. He tells me that his father was a divorce attorney, so growing up he had plenty of examples of failed marriages. Before he met Denise he "saw no reason to ruin a perfectly good relationship with a big transaction like that." But, he says, Denise is great about laying it all out there - and she said she wouldn't agree to move in together unless there was a possibility that they'd get married. Zach said he came to realize he was skeptical of marriage in the abstract - but marrying Denise? Not skeptical at all.

I ask where Zach proposed. "In our living room!" he says. Zach had some romantic ideas about how to pop the question, but his attempts were foiled a couple of times. He wanted to propose the night Obama got elected - but Denise fell asleep at 10:30. So much for that.

The next night he planned to make her a romantic dinner - her favorite meal is duck. They went to the store and there was no duck to be had. Foiled again! Indignant at the lack of duck, Zach decided they'd make a pizza together, "since pizza is pretty much my favorite thing in the entire world." It may not be fancy, he thought, but it would require her to take her rings off. Then he planned to sneak the engagement ring into the pile with her other rings and take her by surprise.

The trouble was, he was so nervous that he started asking, and then creepily insisting, that she take her rings off, until Denise blew up and essentially said, "No! I'm not taking my rings off! Weirdo."

Zach gave up trying to orchestrate some grand, romantic gesture. A few nights later, while they were relaxing on the couch, he proposed. Denise was floored that this moment had finally come - and she was in her pajamas. Zach told her, "This is the you I'm proposing to - no makeup, comfy clothes, just you." And he told her, " I never thought that I would be doing something like this, but I am so glad that it's happening - this could only be happening with you."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Smokey Couscous with Herbed Cucumber Yogurt

By Cara Valla

image via

It's been beastly hot lately, so here is a quick and easy meal that's delicious and - more importantly - will not turn your kitchen into a sauna!

Smokey Couscous with Herbed Cucumber Yogurt
4 cups couscous (small-grained, not Israeli-style)
2 cups orange juice
2 cups water
2 large cucumbers
1/2 cup of your favorite olives
1 sprig mint
1 sprig basil
1 1/2 cup yogurt (preferably Greek style)
black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
Olive Oil

1. Place couscous in a large bowl.
2. Heat orange juice and water to boiling and lightly salt.
3. Pour over couscous and cover tightly with plastic wrap, letting it sit for 5 minutes.
4. While couscous is cooking, slice cucumbers, chop olives and chiffonade herbs.
5. Mix cukes, olives and herbs in with yogurt, and season with salt and pepper.
6. After 5 minutes, taste couscous. If it seems underdone and if there is a lot of liquid left in the bowl, allow it to sit for a few more minutes.
7. When couscous is cooked and has absorbed the liquid, add in smoked paprika and olive oil and season to taste.
8. Grab bowls, dish out the couscous and top with yogurt mixture. For maximum refreshment, slice up a lemon and throw it in your water glass with some more fresh mint and head to the porch or stoop to relax and enjoy.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vanilla Marshmallows

I adore homemade marshmallows.  They're bouncy and fluffy and all-around charming, but HOLY PROFANITY when the things get toasted... more profanity.  

Set to roast over a flame, a homemade marshmallow does things that a rotund little Jiffy-Puff, while perfectly delicious and, yes, definitely nostalgic, just cannot do.  A homemade marshmallow caramelizes.  It brulĂ©es, even.  It browns and toasts and caramelizes, forming a thin and crispy shell of caramel around an otherwise warm and gooey marshmallow.  PROFANITY.  
Though a bit involved, fresh marshmallows are definitely do-able, in the home kitchen department.  Whip up a quick batch, let them sit overnight to harden, and then gather a bunch of friends and some firewood and make the best damn s'mores you've had, probably ever.  What good would summer be without them?

Vanilla Marshmallows
Lightly adapted from Joy of Baking
Please note: homemade marshmallows need to sit in their pan for 12 (count them, 12) hours before they're nice and firm and ready to cut/eat.  Please plan accordingly.
Full disclosure: you’ll definitely need a stand mixer to make these, so if you don’t have one, I’m afraid you’re pretty much out of luck, in the homemade marshmallow department.  Bummer city.  You’ll also need a candy thermometer.  If you don’t own one, no worries – you can get one for about six bucks at your local kitchen supply store.  Happy mallow making!
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 12 sheet gelatin (or 3 1/4-ounce packets unflavored powdered gelatin)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • a drop or two of food coloring (optional - I made mine orange)
  • powdered sugar, for dusting and rolling
Spray an 8×8 inch brownie pan with cooking spray, and then gently sift powdered sugar atop the cooking spray to evenly coat the bottom and sides of the pan.  Fit your stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 cup water and salt.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil.  Do not stir.
While the sugar mixture is heating, place gelatin sheets into a bowl or glass and cover with cold water, to bloom.  Let gelatin sheets sit in the water for about 10 minutes, until no longer hard and brittle, but soft and squishy.  Squeeze the gelatin to release extra water, and set aside. (If using powdered gelatin, pour the gelatin packet into the bowl of your standing mixer and then pour 1/2 cup cold water on top – allow to sit for 10 minutes.)
Once the sugar mixture is boiling, attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.  Boil the mixture until it reaches 240 degrees F (115 degrees C).  Once at 240, remove the pan from the heat and turn your mixer on low speed.  Slowly pour the hot syrup, in a thin stream, into the bowl of your standing mixture.  Once all of the syrup has been added, carefully throw in your bloomed gelatin (if using powdered gelatin you can skip this step – your gelatin should already be in the bowl of the mixer).  Gradually increase the speed of the mixer to high, and beat mixture until it has turned glossy white, tripled in volume and is thick and stiff, about 10 minutes.  Add the vanilla extract and food coloring, if using, and beat well to combine.
Using a rubber spatula coated in cooking spray, pour the marshmallow into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar, and allow to sit, uncovered at room temperature, for 12 hours, until set.
To remove marshmallows from the pan, run a paring knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the mallows before inverting onto a cutting board dusted with confectioner’s sugar.  You may need to pry the mallow out a bit with your hands.  Use a sharp knife or clean kitchen shears to cut the marshmallows into squares, and roll each one in additional confectioner’s sugar, to coat.  Shake off excess sugar and store the marshmallows in an airtight container until ready to eat.  Mallows will keep, well wrapped, up to two weeks.
Makes 16-20 marshmallows.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'90s Prom Photo Gallery

This is my actual senior prom dress, y'all! And my
amazing friend Bridget Stoyko couldn't make it,
so she had that corsage delivered to me day of.
 Here are some of my favorite costumes from my '90s Prom Birthday Party. We've got ladies looking gorgeous in evening gowns, guys looking sharp in tuxes, and then plenty of people who decked themselves out characters and cariacatures of the '90s. Here are some costume ideas for you to steal:

First, the ladies in their finery:


Now, the dapper gents:

Rob bought this tux for my party!! And two years later,
he got married in it.

Prom king, meet grunge queen.

Of course, you don't have to buy an actual tux.
Check out these cute couples:

No one danced more than Luna in her little
flamenco prom dress!
Grunge was well represented:

I swear, this is exactly how Linda Lea looked when I met her in 1997:

Noah decided to come dressed as if it was prom night 1994 . . . he was 8 years old at the time. Here he is in pajamas and bedroom slippers:

Liz Zdunich came as Tracy Flick from Election. Brilliant!

Larry and Sheryl came as Tonya Harding and the thug who beat up Nancy Kerrigan!

And one of my hands down favorites is this picture of Kristen, who looks like she just stepped out of My So-Called Life.