My Annual Holiday Shindig – The 2014 Version

Holy cow!  Last night I hosted this year’s version of my Annual Holiday Shindig (read last year’s here).  I had 30 people in my house.  Let me repeat…I had 30 people in my house!

By the numbers:

  • 26 invitations
  • 44 people invited, all from different parts of my life
  • 30 people came
    • 1 friend I’ve known since elementary school
    • 2 friends since college
    • 2 friends from grad school
    • 1 friend from synagogue
    • 2 friends of Boyfriend D
    • 4 CrossFit current or former coaches
    • 6 co-workers or their spouses
    • 4 family members
    • 1 gym friend from my days before CrossFit and her boyfriend
    • 2 book club friends plus 1 boyfriend
    • 1 is a neighbor
    • 1 is Boyfriend D
    • 1 is me

This is the one time of the year when I invite friends from all aspects of my life and they all come together.  I am utterly astounded.

You saw the invitations when I had a bit of Writer’s Block a month ago.  I asked people to kindly RSVP by December 21 and I was still getting RSVPs the day of the party.  (OY!)

I spotted this cocktail on Pinterest about 2 months ago and decided it would be this year’s drink.

Raspberry Slushy

For the champagne flutes, I bought these at Bed Bath & Beyond.  They look a lot nicer in person and they are sturdy despite being so inexpensive.  I put two small spoonfuls of crushed ice at the bottom of each glass before pouring in the slushy.  To make the whipped cream, I used 6 cans of full fat coconut milk (I like Native Forest Organic Classic Coconut Milk, which I buy at my local Fairway) that was refrigerated for 24 hours.  Open the can at the bottom and pour the liquid out.  I used a spatula and a spoon to scoop out the cream into a large mixing bowl.  I added 4 tablespoons of vanilla, 4 tablespoons of honey, and 8 teaspoons of cocoa powder to the cream.  Using a handheld beater, I whipped the cream then placed it in the fridge until I needed it.  To make the slushy, I put 1 bag of Trader Joe’s frozen raspberries and 1 bottle of Pindar Sweet Scarlett red wine in a blender and let it blend for approximately 1 minute.  I had to make 3 batches (that’s 3 bags of raspberries and 3 bottles of wine) to fill 24 glasses and I had some leftover.  I did not strain out the seeds.  I poured the slushy into the flutes.  My friend B followed, scooping the chocolate whipped cream on top.  My friend J from Book Club placed a straw into each glass after.

The slushy cocktail inspired the theme for the rest of the food of the party with its sweet red, wintry look.  I decided all of the food would fit a green, red, and white theme.  Boyfriend D and I made a list identifying all of the foods in these colors and came up with a menu from there.  We made 2 protein dishes, 3 vegetable side dishes, and 3 desserts.  Since everyone wanted some recipe or other, this post is for you.

Red: Balsamic Braised Beef Short Ribs

The recipe for the ribs is a very easy one to follow.  The most labor intensive part is making the dry rub, coating the ribs, and searing them.  Boyfriend D did everything with the ribs.  You can find him here for any questions.  The first time we made this recipe, we followed it exactly.  For the party, we left out the dates and didn’t notice much of a difference.  We made 3 batches using a total of 10 lbs of ribs.  We also have always used boneless ribs out of sheer laziness.

Red, Green, & White: Paleo Turkey Meatloaf

The recipe for the meatloaf is very easy.  I’ve made this for multiple dinner parties and it is always a big hit.  I used turkey this time and it was so juicy.  I’ve used beef in the past and love it just as much.  To feed 30 people, I doubled the recipe and used 2 loaf pans.  I prepare all of the veggies together (doubled) then split it in half when I need to mix it with the meat.  We cover the bottom of the loaf pans with the BBQ sauce, place the meatloaf mixture into the pan, then cover the top with more BBQ sauce.

I use her recipe for the BBQ sauce, which Boyfriend D made the night before.  We store it in empty, washed out salsa jars from Trader Joe’s (awesome recycling and cost-saving).  You’ll notice one of the ingredients in the sauce is beef stock.  As I keep a kosher kitchen and try to make it a paleo kitchen, I make my own beef stock.  I pour all of it into a large tupperware and leave it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, I scrape off the fat and measure out 1.5 cups and place that into Ziploc baggies.   I then leave these in the freezer and pull them out when I need them.

For 2 straight dinner parties, Trainer J takes home half of the leftovers of meatloaf and mixes them with scrambled eggs the next morning for breakfast.  Hello, Protein Heaven!

White & Green: Cauliflower Tater Tots with Avocado-Lime Dipping Sauce

We loosely followed this recipe for the Cauliflower Tater Tots.  We use 1 2-lb bag of chopped cauliflower from Costco instead of the 1/2 head of large cauliflower (it saves us time in the clean up process).  We added the Herbs de Provence this time and it made a huge difference.  We tried making our herb/spice blend the first time and they were okay.  We used truffle salt in lieu of the unrefined sea salt the second time and they were delicious.  For the party this year, I wanted the Herbs de Provence.  These were hard to find but Fairway finally had them in stock.  We decided to bake the tots as frying them takes forever.  To bake:

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Using a small spoon, scoop out tots one at a time and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets
  • Using the back of the spoon or your hand, flatten out the tots (they will have some thickness to them, you want the tops to be smooth)
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, until tops are golden
  • Flip the tots (we used a fork for this)
  • Continue baking for another 10 minutes until golden
  • Remove from oven and let cool (or serve hot)

For the sauce, we doubled the recipe.

Red, Green, & White: Shaved Brussels Sprouts with [Bacon], Leeks, and Pomegranate Seeds

For this recipe, we made 3 batches (and had way too much food) of Against All Grain’s Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Leeks, and Pomegranate Seeds, minus the bacon.  I found the recipe online for you.  Our modifications:

  • Trader Joe’s sells shaved Brussels sprouts by the bag.  We used 2 10-oz bags for each batch.
  • We omitted the bacon (you know…the whole kosher kitchen thing).  In lieu of bacon grease, we used olive oil.
  • We bought chicken soup and a pack of pomegranate seeds at Aron’s Kissena Farms

Red & Green: Arugula, Citrus, [and Bacon] Salad

This salad was a last minute addition.  We tried making white sweet potatoes and that backfired completely (we wanted to make gnocchi but they were too starchy so we decided to mash them – they turned black after we baked them and went to grab dinner).  Thankfully, I had Against All Grain’s Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well and Feel Great: Over 150 Gluten-Free, Grain-Free and Diary-Free Recipes for Daily Life sitting on the kitchen counter (I borrowed it from the library – awesome paleo cookbook if you’re looking for one).  She has a 2-page spread of 4 “starter salads” recipes.  We used the Arugula, Citrus and Bacon Salad and omitted the bacon.  We also used blood oranges and ruby grapefruits instead of a regular orange and grapefruit for the red factor.

  • 1 lb (or less) of arugula
  • 4 blood oranges (or more) – segmented (you want just the juicy part, not the membranes)
  • 3 ruby grapefruits (or more) – segmented (same as the oranges)
  • Toss the above ingredients together in a large bowl

We tripled the dressing, pouring the ingredients into another empty Trader Joe’s salsa jar, sealing it, and shaking the jar to mix everything together.

  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Remember – we tripled the dressing recipe.

Red & White: Strawberries & Cream

I decided to make 3 desserts where each dessert reflected one of the colors in my theme.  Going with the whole red and white theme of the cocktails and the whipped cream (who doesn’t like whipped cream?), I decided to make strawberries and cream using Grand Marnier-infused whipped cream.  I bought 4 lbs of strawberries at Costco (two 2-lb containers) that B removed the leaves from and sliced in half the long way.  I made the whipped cream:

  • 6 cans of full fat coconut milk (the same kind I used for the drink and the same process)
  • 4 tablespoons of vanilla
  • 4 tablespoons of honey
  • 4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier

Using a handheld beater, whip the cream until the ingredients are mixed in.  Place the bowl back in the fridge until you’re ready for it.

A note for both whipped creams – you may need to adjust your mix-ins to your taste to cut the coconut flavor of the cream.

White: Paleo Cookie Dough Bites

We made 4 batches of this recipe.  We use dry, unsalted cashews and add the 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt.  Boyfriend D is much better at rolling these in his hands into smooth balls.  We freeze these on a baking sheet lined in parchment paper.  These are best eaten frozen.

Green: Zucchini Chocolate Chip Muffins

I’m pretty sure I linked to this recipe before.  Elana’s Pantry and Against All Grain are two of my favorite websites for paleo friendly dishes.  Anyway, I make only a few changes to the muffin recipe:

  • I use walnut oil instead of grapeseed oil and keep the quantity
  • I mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl then add the wet ingredients into the same bowl and mix again.
  • I use a standup/hand grater for the zucchini.  1 large zucchini = approximately 1.5 cups but it’s okay to use extra.
  • Mix the zucchini in then add the chocolate chips and mix again.
  • I line my baking sheet with paper muffin holders – it saves on cleaning time
  • Store extras in the fridge

I believe those are all of the recipes.  Happy cooking and happy eating!

The one and only picture I have of the food and the evening:

holiday shindig 2014

Thank you for being my friend.

(A special shoutout by request: Boyfriend D is amazing for taking off Friday to help me shop and start the prep work then cooking with me all day Saturday and letting my OCD hostessing take over Saturday night.)

Wishing all of you, dear Fitters, a happy and healthy and wonderful 2015.  May next year be your best year yet.

Helena Rubinstein

It began innocently enough when I received the e-mail:

Helena

I immediately forwarded it to J and A asking if this was of interest to either of them.  They both bit and we made our usual plans of a museum (this exhibit) and dinner (at The Writing Room [our new go-to restaurant on the UES as the food was outstanding and the menu had more we wanted to try than we could possibly eat in one meal]).  We met at the museum this past Sunday where A was generous enough to buy my ticket since J and her Cool Culture Card were delayed due to typical MTA bus/subway weekend stupidity.  A and I entered the exhibit to get out of the crush of the lobby.

The exhibit begins with a panel on the wall introducing us to Helena Rubinstein.  Jewish and born in 1870 in Krakow, Poland, she made her way to Australia by the outbreak of World War I where she began a line of cosmetics and skin-care products.  When she came to the United States, she introduced the everyday woman to makeup at a time when only actresses in Hollywood and prostitutes wore makeup.

Feminism is expressed in many different ways.  Today, one way women argue for feminism is by going without makeup, leaving their bare face exposed.  Helena Rubinstein argued the opposite: she believed that feminism and beauty do not have to be separate, that beauty is power.  She taught that a woman’s identity was her own to create and makeup was one tool to do so.  Feminism is about defining yourself and your own beauty.

The exhibit consists of 6 rooms.  The first room is dedicated to Helena and her story.  We see a wall lined with paintings of Madame (as she became known).  When she was in her thirties, she began commissioning portraits of herself.   The wall is fascinating as you see different perspectives of the woman (depending on the artist) as well as her graceful aging through the years.  My favorite is the one in which she is sitting regally in a Balenciaga dress.  A shortened version of the dress is also on display.  As we learned, she had all of her designer gowns shortened as she grew older so she could wear them every day.

The second room is where we are introduced to Madame’s art collection.  She collected masks and statues from Africa at a time when this art was nearly ignored.  She had paintings by Picasso, Warhol, Frieda Kahlo, Matisse and many others.  Most of these works of art hung in the chain of beauty salons she ran around the world.

The third room is an extension of these pieces.  Most fascinating to me are the 12 sketches (out of 30) by Picasso.  Some were stereotypical Picasso with lines and hard edges while some, as A pointed out, showed us Picasso’s classical training.  Each drawing shows a different emotion on Madame’s face as she dealt with the artist and his ways.  The placard alongside these drawings stated that Picasso refused to draw Madame as he did not like drawing portraits of people.  The next time Madame was at her apartment in Paris, she went to Picasso’s home where she absolutely refused to take no for an answer and made Picasso draw her.  He drew 30 sketches over two visits.

At this point, my memory goes fuzzy as to the order of the rooms.  If you do see the exhibit, please let me know the correct order and I will edit my post.

The fourth room was the room of beauty.  A short video played on loop showing some of Madame’s beauty techniques and an interview with her.  The museum had on display some of Madame’s original creams and pamphlets along with a copy of her autobiography, My Life For Beauty.  It was above this book that I saw the placard with this motivating quote:

hr quote

There was also an article and picture (from either Life Magazine or the New York Times) about Helena Rubinstein and her company.  In the picture, she is wearing a lab coat and looking powerful.  She has approximately a dozen men in business suits standing behind her, cowering, clearly intimidated by her.  As Madame hit her 90s (she passed away at the age of 95 in 1965), her work came home with her.  Not wanting to step down from her position as head of Helena Rubinstein Beauty Salons, she held meetings from her bed.  With pillows stacked behind her so she could sit up, she ran board meetings from her bed, surrounded by men in suits.  I aspire to be in charge of a company and respected just like she was.

The fifth room contained a small display of Madame’s clothing and jewels.  Her wardrobe and jewelry collection are both to be lusted over.  Even though she was only 4’10, she dressed and carried herself like the woman in charge that she was.

The sixth and final room gave us a peek into Madame’s home life, with pictures and spreads about her triplex on Park Avenue and other homes.  She had collected so much art, that she turned the third floor of the apartment into an art gallery that was also used for photo shoots.  The best part in this section of the exhibit was the story in which she wanted an apartment on Park Avenue in the 1940s.  As World War II and the Holocaust churned in Europe , there was still anti-Semitism in New York City.  The board refused to allow Helena Rubinstein to be a tenant in the building because she was Jewish.  As we saw with the Picasso sketches, Madame did not like being told no.  She bought the building.

A small room off the sixth room contained a series of miniatures.  Madame had miniature rooms designed to house her collection of miniature objects.  The rooms reminded me very much of the miniature house designed for the main character in The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton that I had read for Book Club in September.

This exhibit left me wanting to learn more about Helena Rubinstein.  With her spunk, intelligence, refusal to accept “no” for an answer, modern ways, business acumen, and more, she became a role model for me in an hour.  She reminds me a lot of my grandmother, which is not easy.  I even went so far as to add Madame to my “Goals, Aspirations, & Inspirations” section of my bulletin board at work:

hr wall

If you’re in New York between now and March 22, I suggest you head over to The Jewish Museum (it’s on the corner of 5th Avenue and E 92nd Street – the entrance is on 92nd) and see the exhibit for yourself.

Until next time, Fitters.

For this post, I filled in holes in my memory from the following references and sources:

http://www.elle.com/news/beauty-makeup/helena-rubinstein-beauty-is-power-exhibit
http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rubinstein-helena
http://thejewishmuseum.org/exhibitions/helena-rubinstein-beauty-is-power#about

Boyfriend D proofread this post before I posted it and said, “You gave a review of the exhibit.  I thought you wanted to talk about why she is a role model to you.”  The highlighted sections?  That’s why I think this woman is amazing and put her picture on my “Goals, Aspirations, and Inspirations” Board.

Transitions

As you are aware, my blog is currently hosted by Tumblr.  I am in the process of transitioning to WordPress.

If you follow along on Twitter or Facebook, you may have seen this post:

I almost have it done and will be posting as the first post after the blog finishes transitioning to WordPress.

Thanks for your patience, Fitters!

Scheduling

I don’t know if you realized this, but I finally fell into a pattern of posting every Sunday.  Just as I settle into a groove, life gets in the way of a post every Sunday.  First it was my afternoon in New York City with J & A, then it was my trip to Ohio, which pushed my post to Monday.  Five days after I returned from Ohio, I flew to California.  I came home the next day on the red-eye.  Thankfully, that did not disturb my posting schedule.  The week before Thanksgiving Boyfriend D and I made ribs and cauliflower “tater” tots.  Last week, Boyfriend D and I were at my parents’ beach house when my cousin from California texted me, which also pushed the normal post to Monday.  Again.

Today’s plan with Boyfriend D was to decorate his Christmas tree/Hanukah bush with a side of grocery shopping, brunch at our local BareBurger, and a home-cooked dinner.  I was in the midst of peeling my sweet potatoes and pre-heating my oven when my Skype began to ring.  It was my 7th grade cousin asking for math help.  Between helping her, talking to my aunt, and making roasted sweet potatoes/a broccoli-mushroom frittata/pan-fried halloumi with lima beans, peas, and mint/zucchini chocolate chip muffins, it was nearly 11 pm when I sat down with my laptop.

For my fellow bloggers, how do you manage a full-time job, your posts, and a social life?

For all of my Fitters, do you like Sunday posts or would you rather see something else?

Don’t be shy and talk to me!

Until next time, here’s a picture of our tree:

(My BareBurger and Elana’s Pantry suggestions are based on my own, totally uncompensated opinions. I eat at BareBurger on my own dime (or Boyfriend D’s) and adore Elana’s recipes.)

Grateful

Now that Cyber Monday is coming to a close (I didn’t buy anything.  Did you?), let’s talk about the holiday weekend.  My parents (meaning mom and dad) have hosted Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  Now, my father and stepmom and host.  As my cousins are all married, every other year the gathering is small.  This year was one of the small years.  It was cozy but also depressing.  My office is closed only for Thanksgiving Day, not Black Friday.  I took the day off from work and headed to my father’s beach house with Boyfriend D and Finn.  We relaxed Friday afternoon before going out to dinner.  Saturday morning we took Finn to the dog park and walked around town with her while drinking hot chocolate.  Yes, I know, so not paleo but it was the kind of cold that makes you crave one.  We took Finn home and Boyfriend D and I went for last minute massages before going to dinner.  We came home Sunday afternoon.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s talk about what we’re thankful for.

The things:

  • My house for being small enough that it’s cozy and warm but large enough to hold 30 people for Father’s Day
  • My job for providing me with an income and not yelling when I show up closer to 10 than to 9
  • CrossFit for giving me a healthy outlet
  • This blog for allowing me to inspire people all over the world

The people:

  • Boyfriend D for being my boyfriend and all that entails
  • Finn for teaching me how to take care of another living being and for showing me unconditional love
  • My friends for always being there
  • My family from the west coast for texting me “Hey!  Wanna c me?” with less than 24 hours’ notice
  • My family for being mostly supportive
  • Trainer J for challenging me and coaching me to new PRs and new skills
  • You, my Fitters, for taking the time to stop by, whether you have been here before or are here for the first time

Happy Thanksgiving from the two of us!

Tell me, dear readers, how was your holiday and what are you thankful for?

Grateful

This week’s post will go up tomorrow.

To cap a 4-day weekend (3 of which were spent with Boyfriend D and Finn at my parents’ beach house), my cousin from California texted me that he, his brother, and his father are in town.  I am grateful for his text as it has been too long since I saw these family members.  I am spending time with them in person in lieu of sitting with a laptop and writing this week’s post.

Please understand.

Until tomorrow…