Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Wine Attacks

Dear Bashionista,

image via

My friends and I love red wine - but the thing about wine is, the more you drink, the more you spill. What's the best way to get out a wine stain without killing everyone's buzz?

Jen E.

Dear Jen,

It might surprise you to know that I am not much of a stain-fighter. I'm much more likely to reassure my wine-spilling guests that it's no big deal, throw the tablecloths in the wash when the time comes and hope for the best - if they come out looking like an homage to Jackson Pollock, I just figure that once the table is loaded with dishes, no one will really notice.

However, if you are lucky enough to own nice things, and keeping them pristine is important to you, you're going to want to act fast. If it's at all possible, take the stained item into another room - nothing stresses out a guest quite like watching someone in a party dress scrubbing furiously at the mess he just made.

1. Fight stains before they happen.

The easiest way to get stains out of white tablecloths? Not having white tablecloths in the first place. Simplify your life and invest in darker colors. Or if you're tempted to go the disposable route, you might consider covering your table in butcher paper. Avoid plastic throw-away tablecloths; they're as tacky as they are wasteful. Butcher paper is recyclable, gives your table a sleek, DIY look, and is great for impromptu sketching.

2. Battle stains after they happen.

So you couldn't bear to throw a party without your starched whites, and they just went and took a wine bath. Here's what you do:

First, blot the offending liquid - never rub. It takes time for a stain to embed itself through the fabric - you want to pull it out, not grind it in deeper. If possible, place paper towels or dishtowels underneath and on top of the stain - if you're lucky, they'll just absorb it on out of there.

Use cold water to fight stains - unless you can use boiling water! If you're talking about a sturdy fabric like a cloth napkin, or a tablecloth you can quickly whisk away, you can position the stain over a large bowl and then pour boiling hot water right through it. What you never want to do is blot with warm water - it will just help the stain set into the fabric.

If you can't remove the tablecloth or the carpeting, then introduce red wine to its arch nemesis: white wine. Club soda is also a brawler. Just apply the crime-fighting liquid of choice to the stain and blot. White toothpaste can also work.

If you've been blotting for a reasonable amount of time and haven't achieved perfection, throw some baking soda down. It will draw the stain up and out.

After the party, throw the cloth into the wash but skip the drier;  if there's any stain left it'll get baked into the fabric. It's better to let it air dry and then put it through the wash again if it needs it.

3. Don't ruin your friend's nice things.

Bad news - if your friend has stained her dry-clean-only dress, treating the stain can do more harm than good. She'll want to get herself to the dry-cleaner's as soon as possible. In the meantime, your best option is to apply paper towels to either side of the stain - and do so right away, while the stain is still wet.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Philanthropy Playlist

Image via
You've got your donors in a room, glasses are clinking, appetizers are being passed, your guest speakers are wetting their whistles and checking their notes. Now all you need is the right soundtrack.

The following playlist is a mellow accompaniment to your Stories & Auction Benefit. Click here to download on iTunes. From current indie-folk darlings to nostalgic favorites, this mix is a crowd-pleaser that won't try to pull focus away from your worthy cause. Your guests will be relaxed and happy, and you'll be well on your way to convincing them that philanthropy can be fun.

Here's the track list:

1. Little Eyes/Yo la Tengo
2. Tiger Lily/Luna
3. Pale Blue Eyes/Velvet Underground
4. Into the Mystic/Van Morrison
5. Pink Moon/Nick Drake
6. Mushaboom/Feist
7. You and I/Wilco
8. Insects/The XX
9. White Winter Hymnal/Fleet Foxes
10. Ekibobo/Samite
11. Deep Blue Day/Brian Eno
12. Pretty Bird/Jenny Lewis
13. Could You Be Loved/Bob Marley
14. The Emperor's New Clothes/Sinead O'Connor
15. She/The Sundays
16. Dreams/Fleetwood Mac

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lavender Blackberry Syrup

It's coming on summer (summer!?), which means that, in a few short weeks, you will most likely stop buying wool hats and start spending your money on things like sunblock, maxi dresses (everyone loves a good maxi dress), Klondike bars, beach parking, barbecue sauce, air/bus/train fare (for all of those summer weddings), and more Klondike bars.

All good things, yes, but your subsequently reduced bank account will force you to think of new and creative ways to thrill and impress your friends in the kitchen.  Enter: lavender blackberry syrup.

What good is a syrup, you ask?  What does it even do?  Well.  Lavender blackberry syrup can be poured on pancakes, drizzled over ice cream (take that, Klondike bar), mixed with seltzer water for homemade soda, or, even better, splashed with some gin and bubbles for one amazing cocktail.  Mix it with lemonade.  Swirl it into some hot water to make a sweet and fragrant tea.  Freeze it to make ice pops!  Bathe in it!  The possibilities are rather endless, you see.

Cheap?  Check.  Impressive?  Check.  Easy?  Check check check.  A world of pink syrupy summer fun awaits.  Get into it.

Lavender Blackberry Syrup

This recipe is easily altered to suit your taste.  Don't like blackberries?  Try strawberries instead!  Can't get your hands on culinary lavender?  Try some fresh mint leaves or sprigs of thyme.  Have fun with this one.

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons culinary lavender
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries, well-rinsed (reserve a few for garnish, if you like)
Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice and lavender in a medium pot, and place over high heat.  Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat and add the blackberries.  Simmer the mixture until the blackberries begin to soften and break down, about 7 minutes.  Use a wooden spoon to smash and bruise the berries a bit, releasing more of their flavor into the syrup.  Remove the syrup from the heat and strain it through a fine strainer, into a jar or tupperware.  Discard the smashed blackberries (or save them and eat them on toast?).  Allow the syrup to cool, and then chill completely in the refrigerator.
Once cool, spoon a few tablespoons syrup into a tall glass with ice, and fill the rest of the glass with soda water (and maybe a splash of gin?  Shh, it's fine).  Garnish with a blackberry or two.  Sip, smile, repeat.
Yields 1 quart syrup.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Throw Down: Stories & Auction Benefit

It helps to create a snazzy flier.
Last Friday night I attended a reading and auction to benefit The Endowment for Unexceptional Humans - read all about their unique mission to "help regular people with a good plan achieve success" at their website,

The founders of the Endowment have a lot of friends and colleagues in the Boston literary world. The authors gave an evening of lively readings that drew a crowd, and donated cool items to be auctioned off. Amy Clark, one of the founders and organizers of the event, estimated that they made 75% of their profits from the auction and sold merchandise; 20% from the $5 suggested donation at the door; and 5% from the donation jars they left out by the snack table. Every little bit counts! She said they also got a lot of good press which led to some online donations at their web site.

Interested in planning your own fundraising event? Read on to learn how the Endowment put theirs together. Click here to meet the great authors who donated their time, goods and services. And click here for a playlist of background music that will make the perfect soundtrack to your gala event.

1. Secure a Venue

If you're a small non-profit, you want to make sure that the cost of your venue doesn't take too big a bite out of your profits from an event. The Endowment economized by renting out the community room of First Church Somerville. Churches are great places to consider because they are dedicated to community outreach and may quote a discounted price for a non-profit business. Community centers, art galleries and community theaters are other possibilities. Consider approaching organizations you are already a part of, or friends who might have access to spaces they can donate or let you rent for a deep discount.

2. Give People a Reason to Get Excited

The organizers knew they needed two things: entertainment to get people in the door, and auction items to raise some cash. The program for the evening consisted of each of the authors reading a short piece, and then describing the item they had donated for the auction. Hannah Baker-Siroty read poems about cattle and auctioned gift certificates to Grass Fed, a new burger restaurant in JP. Stace Budzko read a short piece, and told a story about getting his parents to get him a motorcycle by hiding tiny toy motorcycles in every corner of the house; he auctioned off a few hours of one-on-one writing sessions with a handful of toy motorcycles thrown in. Surrealist author Christopher Boucher auctioned off a cage named Steve, which had been woven by his wife. He read a piece on how to care for your new pet cage, Steve. Sarah Braunstein read a love letter to 1967 Peter Parker, and then auctioned off a set of cool Spiderman merchandise. Brad Clompus read three short poems, one about mice, and then auctioned off some fancy chocolate mice. William Giraldi read a section of his novel, Busy Monsters, and auctioned off a lifetime subscription to Agni, and a one-on-one writing consultation. Julia Lisella read three poems that pair well with wine and beer, and auctioned off a gift basket with poems, nice wine, two Coronas and a lime. She also filled in for Cammy Thomas, reading her poems and auctioning off a basket of fancy food items appearing in the work. Finally, Board member and professional massage therapist Jamie Thompson auctioned off some body work sessions.

3. Keep the Show Rolling

While the authors and their one-of-a-kind items were the big draw for the evening, don't underestimate the importance of having a good MC - Jeremy Bushnell kept things moving quickly, seemed at ease in front of a crowd and kept up some good banter - and in this case, an auctioneer. Lulu Savage ran the show that night and made me appreciate how important her job is. Lulu worked the crowd with her quick wit, gently heckling the timid bidders, and genuinely cheering with every sale. This is exactly what you need - an auctioneer who makes you feel like a winner for parting with your cash. Lulu specializes in fundraising events - if you're looking for a an auctioneer in the Boston area, hire her!!

4. Stock your Merch Table

I am currently sporting an awesome black messenger bag with white lettering proclaiming, "FOLLOW ME. I HAVE A PLAN." The Endowment used a local company, Hemlock Ink in Somerville, to screenprint an array of items, from messenger bags to t-shirts and hoodies. The merch table also had books for sale by the authors - a nice way for the authors to see a little profit for the evening - and free buttons with the Endowment's logo; giving them away for nothing is a small price to pay for free advertising.

5. Publicize Like Crazy

Long before you even begin to plan a major fundraiser, you need to build a following for your organization. Spend time creating a professional-looking website, and then promote the hell out of it on facebook and twitter. Create a facebook page that's specific to your organization as well. Make sure to update these frequently with all the interesting things you're working on and make it eye-catching with photos and video whenever you can. The bigger your public presence is, the easier it's going to be to pack your venue.

When it comes time to get the word out about your event you can use facebook to invite your followers first. Then create a buzz by posting little teasers on the event wall, your own wall, and your organization's facebook page. Do the same on twitter. Know a blogger whose interests align with your event in some way? Invite her personally to see if she'll cover it (yes, I was happy to).

Finally, do some more traditional marketing. Print up your eye-catching flier and post it in the neighborhood around the venue. Send out press releases in the hopes that someone will want to do a story about you, or send someone to cover the event. Finally, post your event in places with free local event listings - the Auction was listed in the Grub Street newsletter, Bay Windows, Cambridge Community Television's calendar, the First Church Somerville calendar and the SoJust calendar.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Economic Stimulus Photo Gallery

At the Economic Stimulus Party, each guest created a photo-resume - with a Polaroid and a description of what, exactly, they would do for food. We then hung these on the dining room wall, turning them into an interactive art installation. Here is a photo gallery of some of my faves:

Kristopher will pander for food.

"1) I am everything you want me to be, and more! 2) I love what you love. 3) Hate love? Me too! 4) Wanna have a beer? 5) I'm the guy you want to have it with."

Elissa will rock out for food.

"I have several years of ass-kicking experience rocking out with bands and skipping cd-players. Shameless headbanging and naughty manipulation of a microphone stand included in this action-packed performance."

Jack will spy for food.

"As a multi-national mystery man, professional male model, and NASCAR driver, I will perform sundry espionage tasks . . . for the right (extremely high) price!"

Jean will lactate the milk of human kindness for food.

"I'm sleek, chic, and user-friendly. I have the speed of a hamster and the strength of ten men and a boy. Trivia: Name a word with 9 letters but only one vowel (there's a hint above)."

Lauren will butter yo' bread for food.

"Cousin of Liz, maker of sculpture, and 5 feet, 11 inches of multi-faceted, booze and metal enthusiast at your service. Will forge you a knife, mix you a drink, change your oil, and do a little dance . . . for food."

Matt will ponder for food.

"1) I am a deep thinker. For a fair price and a bag of BBQ potato chips, I will sit on your futon and consider the great questions of our age, while I watch DVDs. 2) There is no No. 2. Wait, actually, there is now! See what I mean?"

Rich will shoot for food.

"I am a sexy monster. I will use my monster sexiness to help the economy. You may not use any likeness of my image without written consent from the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Void where prohibited. My camera appears courtesy of Sony. James Bond will return in I Have VD. Xerox your life because if you lose one, you'll always have a copy."

Rishi will pontificate for food.

"1) I'm full of hot air. 2) I can expound on any subject and convince you I sound authoritative. 3) Need to beat your friends at Jeopardy? Call me! 4) If no information is needed, my hot air can be directed into your HVAC system; hey, it beats oil prices!"

Shannon will edit film for food.

"Will edit films of all types - no problem with porn! Also will 1) proofread 2) walk dogs 3) crochet blankets 4) play Grand Theft Auto (any video game, really . . .)"

Steve will massage you for food.

"Over 2 whole months training. Sorry fellas, NO HAPPY ENDINGS!"

Friday, May 11, 2012

Say it Right Playlist

Image via

Here's a fun playlist that's just right for your next Economic Stimulus Party. Sure to stimulate conversation, cash donations, and joie de vivre - here's the link to download it on iTunes. It's got indie favorites, cool covers by crossover artists, a smattering of classic rock, and a couple of guilty pleasures thrown in.

This little mix will brighten your day, whether you're holding the cash box, or taking the wrapper off your government cheese. Listen to it barefoot in your back garden, or licking envelopes for your favorite cause. Get happy!

Here's the track list:

1. White Rabbit/Emiliana Torrini
2. I Can't Go for That/The Bird and the Bee
3. Ding Dong/Nellie McKay
4. LDN/Lily Allen
5. Since U Been Gone/Kelly Clarkson
6. Say it Right/Nelly Furtado
7. Love Out of Lust/Lykke Li
8. Aly, Walk with Me/The Raveonettes
9. Summertime/The Tornadoes
10. Cadillac/Combustible Edison
11. One Night Stand/The Pipettes
12. I Wanna Be Sedated/The Ramones
13. Unsatisfied/The Replacements
14. Love Today/Mika
15. In the Walls/Stellastarr*
16. I'll Believe in Anything/Wolf Parade
17. Mistaken for Strangers/The National

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Meet the 8 Authors from the Endowment for Unexceptional Humans

This Friday, the Endowment for Unexceptional Humans is holding a fundraiser; 8 Authors will give short readings of their work, and then auction off 9 items to benefit the Endowment. Come out and show your support - 8pm on Friday, May 11, First Church Somerville, 89 College Ave., Somerville, MA.

Join us on Friday for a playlist of songs to accompany a gala full of fascinating people, and click here for the skinny on throwing an event like this yourself.

For now, read on to learn about the authors who'll be performing tomorrow night:

Hannah Baker-Siroty

is from Massachusetts, and lives with her wife in Arlington. A former poetry fellow at The Writers’ Room of Boston, she was recently a featured reader in the Boston’s Best U35 Reading Series and has poetry forthcoming in Broad! and Each Moment a Mountain. Currently, Hannah teaches writing at Pine Manor College and is working on her second book of poems—about Vice-Presidents. Her first book, Odd of the Ordinary, is awaiting publication.

Excerpt from "The Cattle Battle" from

Spent with another lover, I drunk dialed
my first girlfriend. Claimed I was sober
but whiskey talks. Unsteady now, I should've
written a letter. But there's something about
breathing: being in its face, hearing a kind
of heaviness on the other end.

Stace Budzko

has been published in Versal, Press 53, The Los Angeles Review, Flash Fiction Forward, Southeast Review and elsewhere. Screen adaptations of his stories, “How to Set a House on Fire”; “North End, 2010”; and “Why I Don’t Keep A Daily Planner” have received numerous awards and showcases.  At present, he is a writing instructor at Emmanuel College and Grub Street as well as writer-in-residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

Excerpt from "Things Like This Drive Me Out of My Mind" from

About this time my new girl Haley pokes her head from under the down comforter. The top of her hair looks like she's been hit by an electric charge; the sides are damp from the pillow. She's that kind of dreamer.

Christopher Boucher

is the author of the novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House, 2011) and the Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine.  He lives in the Boston area and teaches writing and literature at Boston College.

Excerpt from How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive:

That afternoon we held a birthday party for my son, the 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. He was turning two, a quite young tide in Volkswagen years, so we set up some tables at Pulaski Park in Northampton, invited his friends from school - second graders, most of them - and ordered food from Nini's (detective stories for the Beetle, pizza for everyone else). And a number of people brought cake - there must have been six or seven different kinds of cake to choose from.

Sarah Braunstein

is the author of The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (W.W. Norton). Her stories and essays have appeared in  Ploughshares, Nylon magazine, and on NPR’s All Things Considered. She teaches at the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast MFA program and Harvard Extension School. 

Excerpt from The Sweet Relief of Missing Children:

She knew to watch her back. She knew to avoid slow cars driven by men in sunglasses. She knew, at home alone, to say to the stranger on the phone, "My mother's in the shower now. Shall I have her call you back?"

She would never say she was home alone, nor take the shortcut through the alley. All these warnings, all this advice, the real message was: You are precious. You are precious but you are not free. You can't be both.

Brad Clompus

His poetry and essays have appeared in such places as West Branch, The Journal, Willow Springs, Zone 3, Sonora Review, Ascent, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Tampa Review. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Trailing It Home (Main Street Rag Publishing Company) and Talk at Large (Finishing Line Press). Brad teaches literature courses at Lesley University and poetry workshops in a variety of settings.

Excerpt from "Trailing it Home", from

Expelled from the woods at noon,
bark-brown, reeking of swamp,
with tender, palmate antlers
weightless over his bulk,
he clopped down
the town's main street,
his eyes fogged and serene
like a martyr's.

William Giraldi

is the author of a novel, Busy Monsters, published by W.W. Norton (2011). He is Senior Fiction Editor for the journal AGNI at Boston University, and is a regular contributor to The New York Times Book Review. His nonfiction and fiction have appeared in Harper’s, Salon, and Kenyon Review, among others. Twice his work has been listed among “Most Notable Essays” in Best American Essays. His next two books, a novel and memoir, are forthcoming.

Excerpt from Busy Monsters:

No beer in a bar, much less sex in my car, but just the two of us perched on the top step outside her one-bedroom prefab townhouse with a cheese pie so succulent it rendered us speechless for minutes at a time. She had said that, lifesaver though I was, if I attempted anything wacky or even suggestively satanic, she’d go succubus on my ass—she had studied ninjutsu and Descartes and knew how one enhances the other—“so don’t get snaky,” she said —and I warmed with admiration. Here was a gal with gumption, sang­froid, with a Virginia voice that might melt wrought iron. In the driveway slept her yellow Volkswagen Beetle, the face of a whopping flower painted on the hood and testifying to goodness.

Julia Lisella

writes poetry and teaches American literature and writing at Regis College in Weston, MA. Her books include Terrain (WordTech Editions 2007) and Love Song Hiroshima (Finishing Line Press 2004).

Excerpt from "Old Body" from Terrain:

I am two dead babies so far. One more
and it will be almost my mother's story, too,
the same dumb well
that can't wail and carry on for its own sake.
Though in comparison, my life is charmed,
. . . Still my babies follow me everywhere,
enter our dirty mixed up family with tender feet.
Joining so many other ghost babies at the table.

Cammy Thomas

Her book of poems, Cathedral of Wish, was published in 2005 by Four Way Books. Cammy's poems have appeared in Agenda, Eclipse, The Healing Muse, Marlboro Review, Runes, Sahara and elsewhere. She lives in Lexington,
Massachusetts, and teaches English at Concord Academy.

Excerpt from "Fall" from Cathedral of Wish:

my father pushed our wrought iron
love-seat off the terrace into a circle

of bronze roses it fell out of a family picture
my father dismayed again amazed at himself

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Throw Down: Economic Stimulus Party

Lauren will butter yo' bread for food.
 I first hatched the idea for this party a few years ago when people started tossing around the word "recession," and there was talk of tax payers getting a little extra in their paycheck for an economic stimulus. Also, in the spirit of the day, I was extremely broke.

I threw this Economic Stimulus Party to bolster our spirits . . . without depleting my bank account. I instituted a 50/50 raffle - a $5 donation was collected at the door. At the stroke of midnight, I drew a name out of a hat. Half the money went to me to cover the cost of the food, and the rest of the pot went to the lucky winner. That way, all I needed to pay for myself was the booze.

The raffle system worked out so well, that I've instituted it for a number of large parties over the years. $5 seems like the right price; guests know they don't have to make a mad dash to a liquor store beforehand, $5 is less than the cost of the six-pack they likely would have brought, and the math works nicely; throw a party for 50 people, and someone is going home with $125. Now, feeding people for $2.50 a head isn't lavish, but if you budget, that should cover all or most of your food costs.

In order to get people in a festive mood, I came up with a group art project. I took a Polaroid of each guest (now that Polaroid is extinct, I would recommend using a Fuji Instax camera), and then affixed their picture to a blank piece of paper with the words "Will _____ for Food" written on top. Each guest got to fill out his or her own joke resume, tailored for these desperate times. Click here for a photo gallery of some of my faves. And click here for a Stimulus Playlist to kickstart your party.

Want to get elaborate? Serve up a menu that's hobo-chic. Try hot dogs and baked beans in a crock pot, frito pie, a hot water carafe next to individual servings of ramen noodles, and a selection of your favorite snackie cakes. Make a centerpiece of flowers using empty cans of baked beans and cheap wine bottles for vases. Give people props to pose with for their photos - a bindle, a harmonica, and a corncob pipe. Eat, drink, and be merry - tomorrow you could be riding the rails.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Meghann & Joe's Wedding Photo Gallery

Here's a gallery of photos from Meghann & Joe's Wedding - it's the story of their special day in 20 pictures. Enjoy!

All photos copywrite Leland Gebhardt, 2011.

Reception in the Wildflower Pavilion

Star lanterns

Steampunk boutonnier, made by Joe

Meghann's beautiful bouquet

Ceremony in the amphitheater

The happy couple!

The bridal party in jewel tones

Desert sunset

A spirited toast

Joe performing "The Promise" by When in Rome

Seating assignments, artfully displayed on branches

Cookie buffet for a sweet finish

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Meghann & Joe's Wedding Playlist

All photos copywrite Leland Gebhardt 2011.

Meghann and Joe deejayed their own wedding reception at the Desert Botanical Garden Wildflower Pavilion. We've put together an hour-long playlist of their favorite selections from the night, including "The Promise" by When in Rome, which Joe performed for Meghann. It's a fun playlist, full of 80's new wave, indie rock and old school dance favorites. Click here to buy the playlist on iTunes.

Here's the track list:

1. The Promise/When in Rome
2. The World Has Turned and Left Me Here/Weezer
3. Stars/Hum
4. Rock with You/Michael Jackson
5. Enjoy the Silence/Depeche Mode
6. Today/Smashing Pumpkins
7. My Time/Minus the Bear
8. True Faith/New Order
9. All I Need/Radiohead
10. Head Over Heels/Tears for Fears
11. Everybody Wants to Rule the World/Tears for Fears
12. Out of Touch/Hall & Oates
13. World in My Eyes/Depeche Mode
14. Whirring/The Joy Formidable

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Meghann & Joe's Wedding Menu

All photos copywrite Leland Gebhardt 2011
Meghann & Joe had the Desert Botanical Garden cater their wedding reception in the Wildflower Pavilion. The food was simple, healthy and delicious. They had an open beer and wine bar, and one of my favorite wine cocktails - sparkling wine with a shot of Ste. Germaine, which is a fragrant elderflower liqueur.

Here's their complete menu:


Cheese and fruit platter
Vegetable crudite


Strawberry pecan spinach salad

Main Course

Grilled portabello mushrooms
Chicken Marsala


Oven herbed potatoes
Balsamic grilled vegetables
Fresh-baked breads


Cookie buffet