Sunday, October 31, 2010

a sneak peak

i only have a few photos as I was just a little busy last night, i will share more later.

i think the evening was a huge success. the meal, the music, the wine, the decor, it was all perfect. Darlene thought she was going to my house for a small party, so she was absolutely surprised to see everyone there.

I also have to say that while all the food was good, the meat was out of this world. (this coming from an almost vegetarian.) As a matter of fact, all i ate was meat and dessert. I will have to share some recipes later.

The chef and his wife

the cooks with Darlene

explaining the desserts

Darlene and her mom enjoying some piano music before they were serenaded

talk about service! we enlisted a few co-workers and their spouses to help serve, do dishes, help out, etc. They all worked so hard.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The next chapter

It has been a busy week. We arrived home from my parents last Sunday night and have been going non-stop ever since. I have pictures to share but I am trying to finish up the party, so the Colorado pics will have to wait. In the meantime I will share our menu with you - Saturday night is the big night and I think we are ready. I finished up all my grocery shopping today and I have been able to make some headway with the cooking this evening - I could do more if I had a bigger fridge. Right now I have tomatoes roasting in the oven in olive oil and sea salt. They taste best room temperature and are delightful by themselves or you can freeze them and use them in soups and stews throughout the winter. They are so good and will be included in our antipasti.

Speaking of antipasti - here is our menu! I am in charge of the antipasti, mushroom lasagna and tiramisu. Wish me luck!

Pomodori al Forno (oven-candied tomatoes)
Fagioli toscani con Cipole Rosse e salame (Tuscan white beans)
Eggplant marinara flatbread
Insalata de melane (salad of cantaloupe, black pepper and prosciutto)
Insalata de mele acetose ed erba cipollina (sweet-tart salad of apples, sorrel and basil)
Patate con rucola (Roasted potatoes with wilted arugula)
Marinated vegetables (mushrooms, asparagus, cauliflower, artichokes, cipollini onions, peppers)
Insalata di pomodori e mozzarella (tomato-mozzarella salad with pine nuts and basil)
Italian Cheese platter – Robiola, Pecorino Tuscano, Fontina Val D’Aosta, Gorgonzola Dulce,
Parmigiano Reggiano
Olives – Castelvetrano Italian olives, Garlic stuffed Greek olives, Barese Italian green olives, Barese Italian black olives

Main Course:
Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin
Free Range Chicken Supreme with Lemon Caper Sauce
Salmon with Wine, Rosemary and Garlic
Veal Lasagna Vini Grassi
Wild Mushroom Lasagna

Apple tart
picture found here

Friday, October 22, 2010


Did you know that Rosemary is an herb of "love and remembrance?"

I didn't either when I decided to make Rosemary Sea Salt as a party favor, but knowing that minor detail makes the idea even better, don't you think?

I wanted to make party favors that guests can use throughout the next year with the hopes that as they use them they think of Darlene. She probably won't be here much longer and I like to imagine that when they are all home in their kitchens and they reach for their bottle of vanilla or jar of sea salt they will smile, remembering Darlene and her last little trip to Italy that they were able to share with her.

Kim made the labels for me as well, and I found little jars on clearance at Crate and Barrel.

They are all washed and ready, as I will make the salt next week when I am home from Colorado, and the little bottles of vanilla are labeled and waiting for the big event.
Love and remembrance, perfect, isn't it?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

you can call me "nat the caterer"

So we have BT lined up to be the chef. His name is in the invite and everyone is excited to see what he is going to cook up. But there is one minor detail he seems to have forgotten when he agreed to cook. We are cooking for 60 people.


He starts to get a little nervous and then kind of "freaks out" as Aidan would say, and thinks we need to call a caterer. And then we poll a couple of the other MD's and they all agree - parties over 10-12 people they always call a caterer.


A caterer? No, please?!

This is my persuasive speech.

"But anyone can call a caterer, we want to make a special party for Darlene. We can do it, right? I can do it, right? I have cooked for large groups many times and have done so successfully. Huge groups - groups of over 100. I have had groups of 30 -40 in my small home and cooked for them in my tiny kitchen. I can do it - you may know me as Nat the nurse, but I can be Nat the caterer. If BT will just make one main thing and be the face of the kitchen, I will be the grunt in the kitchen and do the work. Really, I can."

It worked, and at a meeting later that week I was referred to as "Nat the caterer."


What have I gotten myself into???????? I have really stuck my neck out, I hope this whole party works out, and now I am the one freaking out and BT is the one saying. "We can do it."

We can do it.


So that is why I have found the perfect apron to wear over my little black dress. Because now I am Nat the caterer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

enough about the party already!

I thought I better upload some pictures for Jane (James' mom.)

While I am sure that you all are finding the party details absolutely fascinating, I know she is probably craving a picture of Aidan, right? These pictures are from this summer when Aidan had to dress up like a clown for YMCA.

He is a nutty professor clown, can you tell?

Now what?

So I am busy planning, trying to line up dates. Darlene is ill, very ill and we need to pull this off in a hurry. Unfortunately my local chef is not able to participate on such short notice, so I go and lament to my physician( which I will keep calling him to protect his name), "What are we going to do? It won't be as much fun without a celebrity. Surely you have to know someone who is a great chef? Don't you have any favors you can call in????"

He responded, "Didn't you know that BT is an amazing cook? He auctions off a gourmet meal at the Crystal Ball every year and it is always a hot item." (BT is one of our surgeons, he is from NYC has a great accent and a super personality. And I will just continue to call him BT to keep his name out of google searches.)

So, fast forward a lot of details, we have a chef, a venue, a date, board approval, invites and a .........(drumroll please) photographer.

I hit up a couple local photographers and asked if they would be willing to do some pro-bono work. I figure - a house full of physicians and administrators - that is free advertising. Some of the guests are just starting their families, others will be planning weddings, so what better opportunity, right?

J.Kesterson Photography has graciously agreed to help me out. You will have to check out his photo blog, or his wife's blog, which is absolutely charming and one of my favorite blogs to read.

So things are looking up, the details are falling into place and the party is going to be a reality.

Now to plan a menu.

But that is another story. I will give you a hint though, this is what I am going to be wearing at the party.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some minor details

Those of you who know me know that I rarely do anything halfway. If I am going to plan a party it has to be perfect down to the smallest detail. All I can say is that the physician who volunteered his home had very little idea of what he was getting into when he said yes. Fortunately he and his wife are gracious hosts, have great taste and an eye for detail. Their home is also warm and inviting and they have a huge kitchen right in the middle of their main level which is perfect for the party I had in mind.

Picture warm shades of brown and golds, rich fabrics, European linens, rosemary topiaries, candles in vintage Chianti bottles, Anthropologie-style eclectic china, the smell of warm bread and garlic......... are you seeing what I see?

But before we can plan the party we need to plan the perfect invitation, right?

Last year we had used this local graphic artist to design our Christmas cards so I asked her if she would be willing to design the passport. It was a first for her (and for me!) but she did a great job.

It is hard to photograph the pages of the invites, but each one turned out perfect. For the background she used a faded map of Italy and some vintage Italian travel postcards and similar to our American passport we put inspirational and travel quotes throughout. We asked our guests to bring a favorite travel photo or album to share and then since we are mixing her family and her co-workers I included a little "game" to encourage conversation. We put a random assortment of travel questions (and some specific to Darlene that her sister gave me) in the back where you normally have your "stamps" and the guests are supposed to "fill their passport" with the most stamps by asking each other travel questions, and whoever has the most "stamps" will get an autographed cookbook. Make sense?

The invites turned out beautifully - and they will be a memento of the evening for those who choose to save theirs. Kim did a great job making my random thoughts a reality and I was proud to hand them out. They look rich and authentic, not like a cheap imitation. Kim, if you are reading this, we received many, many compliments on them!

This concludes Chapter III.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Party Planning Chapter II

Okay, so when I left you I had a party idea, but that was it. I thought I would try another local chef/author, who just happened to have come back from a trip to Italy and Greece. I have her blog linked on mine, I am a huge fan of her book, and I happen to have an autographed copy. (James had met the co-author a few years ago and had it autographed for me.)

She also responded to my query almost immediately - so impressive. She actually thought she might be able to participate, so the planning began in full force.

Invites, venue, decorations - all twirling around in my head. Oh - and there was the small hurdle of getting it approved and paid for by our administrator and board.

Darlene's favorite country is Italy - she has been there multiple times - and loves the food, the land, everything about it. So for our event I envisioned a "Culinary Tour of Italy." The invite would be a passport, and we would sample all sorts of Italian delights, drink wine and give Darlene one last trip to the country she adores. I made a huge jug of limoncello and started a batch of homemade vanilla. (Party favors) One of our physicians agreed to host the party in his home, so now we just needed to find a date and get it all approved.

And that, my friends, is chapter II.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What I have been doing

Lately, in addition to work and home, I have had another project that has been consuming my time. I have been meaning to blog about it, but I have been too busy. There are a lot of details, so I may be able to spread this out over a few posts........... if I can find time to sit at the computer.

It all started a few months ago with an idea. We were sitting at a meeting at work talking about Darlene, our office manager. She is the kind of women I can barely even find words to describe. Inspirational, thoughtful, energetic, compassionate.... the list could go on. She has been battling cancer for the past decade, and after every round of chemo has been able to triumphantly overcome, pack her bags and head off on vacation. She also is one of the few people I know who has been able to successfully balance her job with her passions in life. She always walked to work, is an avid gardener, a gourmet chef, and a gracious hostess. She also is my "go-to" person at work. Since I have taken this management job I have had to have some of the most awkward and uncomfortable conversations with employees, and she always backs me up or gives me wonderful advice on how to deal with people. So, back to the meeting - we were talking about Darlene. She is batting her cancer again, but this time we aren't so sure she is going to win. We were talking about something special we could do for her, and no one had any ideas.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was driving in my car listening to Lynne Rosetto Kasper on NPR. I love that lady, and you know what? She lives in the Twin Cities. So I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be amazing if we could plan an event where Darlene could meet Lynne?" I could imagine them sitting down over a glass of wine and recounting tales of pasta's they enjoyed in Italy.

So how to get a hold of Lynne........ I hand-wrote a letter to her and I also emailed her show. And do you know what? I had a phone call within two days!!!! Unbelievable! Unfortunately however, Lynne is on book tour and cannot plan anything for the fall, but would love to send Darlene an autographed cookbook.

I took a picture of the package - I was so excited. No pre-made address labels, this was hand-addressed to me, from her home address. I have a little celebrity crush on her, so I just stared at the package and kept it in my desk, unopened for a good week or two.

Finally I opened the package and found this book, with a lovely note for Darlene. I wanted to wait and give it to her at the party but I just couldn't wait. What if the party never happened, or worse yet - she has been so sick - what if she doesn't make it to the party? So I gave her the book but instructed her that she wasn't allowed to ask me any questions because I want the whole thing to be a surprise.

Okay. So that is Chapter One in the party planning story. Stay tuned, there is more to come!

Friday, October 15, 2010


we have been enjoying the last few weeks. This seems to be the perfect fall - I can't remember Minneapolis having one quite so perfect for at least 5-6 years. I have been working on some projects, Aidan has enjoyed playing with the neighbor kids, and we also got a new roof last week! Next week we drive to Nebraska to visit my parents. Aidan is excited to be missing school. he thinks it is really cool if you plan to miss so your teacher sets you up with schoolwork for your trip. Its the little things, right?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Seeing Clearly

This past week I did something I never thought I would ever do.

Lasik surgery.

James had his eyes done a few years ago and had nothing but problems so after seeing his recovery I thought to myself, "There is no way I will ever do that!"

However, this year my eyes really started to rebel against my contacts. I tried new contacts, better contacts, less contacts, and they just weren't happy. Suddenly Lasik didn't seem like such a bad option. I mean, have you ever tried swimming in the ocean with glasses on? or yoga? or what about jogging? Not to mention the nice little line of inflamed pores under my frames. So I signed myself up and had the procedure on Tuesday. My dear friend Steph kindly gave me a ride home and entertained Aidan for the evening, and when I woke up the next morning everything was clear.


If only life could be that easy, eh?

I haven't been able to try my "new eyes" out yet - no yoga or jogging for a week, but I have to say that seeing the alarm clock in the middle of the night is wonderful. James also had halos at night from day 1 of his recovery, but I do not seem to have that problem yet.

So if you are on the fence about Lasik - I would say to go for it. The cost was about the same as 4 years of eye exams and contact refills, or 2-3 pair of new glasses. Totally worth it.