Valentine’s Day DIY: The Man Bouquet

I know I’m not the only one who thinks buying for guys is difficult no matter what occasion it is. Last year just around this time, I was scrambling for ideas on what to do for Sean for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t want to go the chocolate hearts route, and I was feeling crafty, so the DIY Man Bouquet was exactly the perfect solution.

man bouquet

I saw a few of these on Pinterest, but decided to create my own version. These bouquets can be as intricate or as simple as you want, and can range in price from extremely cheap to extremely expensive depending on what you want to include in it.

My arrangement included the following:

  • Nips. Jack Daniels Whiskey is Sean’s favorite. Use preferred booze of loved one. (God knows I’d never drink Jack.)
  • Candy and/or gum. As much or as little as you want!
  • Scratch tickets. I did put in three – a $1, $2 and $5. Bonus points for sports-themes scratchers.
  • A beer coozie. Or a straight up bottle of beer works too. I made the Bruins coozie the centerpiece of the bouquet.
  • Wooden skewers.
  • Large plastic tumbler. Perfect for large glasses of cold beer or ice water. A traditional beer mug would also work.
  • Tissue paper.

To assemble, tape or glue each item to a wooden skewer. Stuff the mug or glass full of tissue paper and insert skewers to form bouquet. I cut the skewers to different heights to get the look I wanted.

Present to your loved one on Valentine’s Day and watch their face light up! Accept praise for creativity and being just plain awesome.

Note: While I did make this for a guy, there’s no reason not to make this for a girl. I have plenty of friends who would love a non-traditional bouquet any time of the year!

Working 9 to 5… (and a CHOCOLATE GIVEAWAY!)

Ok, technically I work 8:30 until whenever I feel like I’ve done enough work for the day that constitutes leaving. Usually it’s around 5 or 6.

In my last post (a month ago… where did summer go?!), I mentioned my new job as the Social Media Specialist at Lindt & Sprüngli Chocolate USA, more commonly known as “Lindt.” In a nutshell, I develop the social and digital content and marketing campaigns for Lindt’s chocolate products, ranging from the well-known LINDOR Truffles to EXCELLENCE chocolate bars and everything in between. I’m also in charge of community management for our social channels and read every comment or post from Lindt fans.

I can’t lie.. for the most part, it’s a pretty sweet job. Sweet job… because I work in a chocolate factory. See what I did there? Moving on…

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So anyway… this Giveaway situation.

Since I work for what I think is the best chocolate company in the world, I want to share it with you! The winner will get a homemade Lindt Chocolate gift box complete with all of my favorites and yours too! (And maybe a fun surprise.. who knows?!)

HOW TO ENTER:

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment telling me what your absolute favorite Lindt Chocolate is. (Just click on the “comments” below to leave your own!) That’s it!  It could be anything from the Milk Chocolate truffles, to the EXCELLENCE Dark Chocolate with a Touch of Sea Salt bar to our hollow Gold Bunny that you get in your Easter basket every year.

And if you’re feeling lucky and want 1 more entry, follow Lindt Chocolate USA on Facebook and leave a comment telling me you did.

Good luck all! The contest will run from now until I decide to close it so get those entries in and get some chocolate from me!*

So much chocolate...so little time.
So much chocolate…so little time.

*Disclaimer: While I do work for Lindt Chocolate USA, this is not a sponsored giveaway. Any and all chocolate will be paid for and come directly from me. All opinions expressed are my own!

**Contest valid only to residents in the continental USA. (Sorry, I can’t ship internationally or to Alaska or Hawaii.)  Also, if you live somewhere hot, I will do my best to see that your chocolate does not melt, but please be advised that chocolate and heat are not friends. 

A Quick Update

Things have been rolling along here, just puttering through this winter that suddenly got 10 times worse when Blizzard Nemo decided to dump close to 30 inches of snow on Massachusetts last weekend, but hey, shoveling is part of life too.

Snowball fight BEFORE the storm actually started.
Snowball fight BEFORE the storm actually started.

Now that things are cleaned up a bit, here’s what’s been going on lately.

My wonderful boyfriend turned 27. Or as I like to remind him: the end to his mid-twenties and the almost-approaching-30 years. Needless to say, that doesn’t necessarily thrill him. But I did get him Bruins tickets for an April game against the Islanders and made this…

#masterpiece
#masterpiece

… so he was pretty happy.  I found this beauty on Pinterest (follow me!) and followed this recipe to put it together. I highly recommend it even though it was a lengthy process.

I successfully made Honey Oat Bread from scratch.

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I’ve only attempted a yeast bread one other time and this one was way better. I usually shy away from recipes that call for 3+ hours of resting/rising time just because I usually don’t have that much time and I’m not very patient. But on a cold day with nothing to do and a lonely packet of instant yeast in the cabinet, why not?  I recommend this recipe.

– My friends threw me a surprise Master’s graduation party…. and I had absolutely no idea. My best friends and dance friends were there and I got presents and drank (a lot of) Asti in celebration. It was wonderful.

This is my "What the hell is going on here?" face.
This is my “What the hell is going on here?” face.

– DanceWorks Boston Season 6 started!

I’m in 4 routines this time around, and choreographing my 5th DWB piece to “World Spins Madly On” by the Weepies.  I’ll take a group photo at our next rehearsal.

– I’m going to host my 2nd giveaway soon!

Freshly baked cookies may or may not be included … don’t miss it!

Tell me! What’s new in your life? What would you like to see as a theme for a giveaway that includes cookies? 

Brunching at Back Deck

As I walked into the Back Deck Restaurant on West Street in Boston on Sunday, I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I last attended a Boston Brunchers‘ event. It was also the first brunch where I got to use my new fancy camera!

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Since the Patriots were playing in the AFC Championship game later that day, I knew I had to work at 3pm, so when Renee sent a contest around to win a seat at this brunch from 12pm-2pm, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to enter. When I was selected, I was beyond excited.

When I sat down, I was greeted by a few familiar faces, like Erika, Meghan, Liz and Jess.  I wasted no time choosing a signature drink from their menu: an Orange Cooler, complete with OJ, orange vodka, Cointreau and lime juice. I loved it. If it was acceptable to have one of those every morning, I would. The alcohol was subtle, but present and the juice was fresh. Perfect start to brunch.

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Each bruncher got to choose an item off of the menu to try and we decided to start with some appetizers to share at the table: grilled zucchini with a garlic mayo, eggplant spread on pita, squash soup, chicken livers, hot wings with dipping sauce, and a honey-drizzled grilled grapefruit.  I wasn’t particularly fond of the chicken livers, and the grapefruit was difficult to eat, but everything else was delicious.

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As I perused the menu trying to decide what to order, I felt the brunch menu leaned more towards lunch than breakfast. Maybe I’m just strange, but even during “brunch”, I almost always choose a breakfast item. So that’s what I did, settling on Eggs Diablo. I must’ve been feeling a little adventurous since a) I almost never order egg-y breakfast items and b) this dish came complete with a habenero sauce (which I asked for on the side just in case…)

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I would say that the dish was good, but not mind-blowing. The eggs were perfectly cooked: fluffy, light and just runny enough, but I didn’t taste much spice on the “spicy” pork. The black beans and tortillas tasted as they should. I think I would’ve preferred toast to the tortillas under the beans. I didn’t really eat much of it. The crispy tortilla strips on top, however, were a textural element that I enjoyed. When I took taste of the habenero sauce, I was instantly thankful that I asked for it on the side. While tasty, even the smallest amount warmed my mouth and throat and any more would’ve overpowered the whole dish. When I was able to get everything on my fork all at once, I must say it was quite delicious. Separately, however, the elements on the plate were good, but not great.

The other menu item I was eyeing was the Challah French Toast, which the bruncher sitting next to me happened to order. The moment I took a bite, I knew it would’ve been more my style. It was crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside, and had a bourbon and caramelized banana sauce… Heaven. And, it was huge!

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But we weren’t done yet. Our server came over with a dessert menu and, like our appetizers, we got a few to share. The “Drunken 3 Musketeer” ice cream was by far my favorite.

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Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this brunch and would recommend Back Deck for any Sunday. Heads up – they have a kiddie menu too so don’t be afraid to bring the kiddos along!  If you’re looking for a reasonably priced good time, try it out!

*The Back Deck provided brunch free of charge to the Boston Brunchers and I was asked to write a review of the meal and experience I had. ALL opinions stated here are my own.

My Summer in London: Off to Paris!

I can’t believe it’s been 12 days since my last post!! I’m currently working on one encompassing everything I’ve been up to since July 6th, but at the moment, I’m slightly preoccupied…

Tomorrow morning, at 3:20am, a bus will take me, Justin, Keesa and Matt to Luton airport.  I don’t know about you, but I only know what 3:20am looks like because I’m usually up on Skype or g-chat until 4am… But to actually have to be a functioning human being who is traveling to another country, I should probably take a nap or go to bed super early or something.

Not likely.

We’ll be spending the next 4 days in the beautiful city of Paris.  Think of it as a mini vacation in the midst of my program here.  We had spent the past 2ish weeks taking a special topics class on the Olympics, took our final this morning (aced it) and I have one package already done that should be posted on boston.com sometime next week.  We’ll be going nonstop for the 3 weeks after Paris in full-blown internship mode so after already being here for a little over 3 weeks, a getaway to France is more than perfect.

The last time I visited Paris, I was 9, and as much fun as I’m sure I had there being hauled around by Len & Shirl, I am bouncing-out-of-my-chair excited to get to experience it again in a different way.  The four of us are even considering a day trip to Versailles on Saturday.

And the best part?  It’ll be my birthday while I’m there… Oh hey, how did you spend your 24th birthday?  In Paris… no big deal.

So the next time you see me, I’ll be a little older, probably none the wiser and hopefully full of good French wine.  Always gotta have wine..

Look out Paris, not sure you’re ready for us…

Trouble? Not us…

…or them.

Paris is doomed.

February Restaurant Review: The Landing at 7 Central

Happy Valentine’s Day all!!  Welcome to my February edition of Chocolate & Wine’s Restaurant Review.

This month, I wanted to find something completely different than anywhere Stephen and I have been.  Plus, being Valentine’s Day, we decided to go out on Friday for a nice, quiet evening instead of fighting the crowds today.

I’ve gotten lots of restaurant recommendations (Thanks! Keep ’em coming!) but this is a place I found via Google.  I wanted something in the “hidden gem” category and that’s exactly what I found: The Landing at 7 Central in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA.

I made a reservation for two at 8pm (ya know.. just in case) and we found it pretty easily.  It was elegantly lit and very inviting.  The hostess sat us right away, directly across from a cozy fireplace.

The Landing in Manchester-by-the-Sea

Our waitress, who’s name escapes me, was friendly and attentive.  She took our drink orders and returned quickly with ice waters, freshly baked rolls that were still hot and the most delicious olive oil I have ever tasted.  A few minutes later, my Argentinian Malbec and Stephen’s Sam Adams-something-or-other-beer was in front of us.  It was efficient service without the feeling of being too rushed.

The menu itself was ridiculous.  There were so many options and everything sounded incredible.  Things like “Chicken Jessica” and “Pan Roasted Salmon” jumped out at me but in the end, I settled on what I really wanted but rarely get: Seafood Risotto.  Stephen got the Prime Rib special.

Seafood Risotto... Yes, please.

My risotto was flawless.  It had muscles, tender scallops, perfectly cooked shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, all wrapped in a not-overly-cheesy bed of puffed up rice.  I had to stop myself from eating too much of it, knowing that I could devour the whole bowl if given the opportunity.  (Not that it made it until the next day anyway due to a midnight snack craving but that’s besides the point..) Stephen’s prime rib was perfectly medium rare, accompanied by a blue cheese butter (amazing) asparagus and thick, garlicky mashed pototoes – comfort food for a chilly night.

Seafood risotto - sorry the photo is a little blurry, but check out all those beautiful colors!

Tip: Always ask what the special is!

That prime rib was HUGE!

There was only one thing that threw me about The Landing.  The tables were set with white linen tablecloths with a blue overlay, lovely cutlery and a single candle.  And then, resting on the dinner roll plate, under said cutlery was… a paper napkin?  Wait, come again?  A beautiful restaurant with paper napkins?  Again, it’s small.  Tiny even compared to the wonderful time we had but I think a place like that should reconsider the paper and switch to cloth.  Just my two cents.

Overall Rating: 9 out of 10.

Just like January, we had another terrific restaurant experience.  Wonderful, friendly service, gourmet food, good prices and the perfect atmosphere for any romantic date night out.  Be aware that for young adults and students on a budget, it may be a little pricier for you, but still 100% worth it.

But please Landing friends, lose the paper napkins…

I want to know:  Do you have a restaurant you’d like me to review?  Been to The Landing and have a difference experience than I did?  Let me know!

Winning, Losing, Sickness, School

My team lost, it was a rough game and that’s that.  There will be no more talk of Super Bowl 2012.

Let’s talk about things that are happy or stressful.  Anything but football.  Since I’ve been away from the blog for a little while, I think this is a perfect time for an update.

School… is stressful.  I thought last semester was hard.  My fall courses were a cake walk compared to what I’m dealing with now.  One of the worst feelings in the world is when one of your professors shoots down every single idea you have for your projects.  When May 4th rolls around, you can find me doing cartwheels outside of 640 Commonwealth Avenue because after this semester, it’s smooth sailing (and flying if you’re referring to London!)

My new apartment… is amazing.  My roommates are great, it’s super convenient and I love being a 5 minute walk to the gym. 

Running… has not really been happening.  See “my health.”  I’m also still looking for a race to run this month but since Sundays are now dedicated to dance, my options have been limited.  Help!! I plan on getting back into a routine this week so hopefully that new 5K PR is in the near future.

Dance… is wonderful, albeit a huge time consumer.  Not in a bad way, just in a I-wish-I-had-more-time way.  I had to drop a night of DanceWorks Boston to free up some time for school things which was awful, but the 5 routines I’m in are going to be great.  And cardio is never a bad thing.  Last weekend, DWB even got to travel to New York City to perform in a show there.  It was a blast and dancing in NYC is always a dream come true.  That’s the “winning” aspect of this post. 

The dance I choreographed... "Hello World"

And sometimes in NYC, I put my leg in the air.

Can you find me?

My health… has been CRAP.  I got sick last Friday (of course the day I was going to NYC) and have been sick ever since.  And when I say sick, I mean it.  Gastroenteritis, norovirus.. whatever you want to call it, infultrated my body last Sunday and well, I’ll spare you the gorey details.  I managed to lose 8 pounds in 1 night if that’s any indication.  Then once that was all out of my system (literally), I caught a head cold and have been dealing with that ever since.  Good job, immune system, thanks for your hard work.

Cooking… also hasn’t really happened this week.  Between NYC and getting a sickness that didn’t make food appealing for most of the week,  I wasn’t really in the mood to cook.  I did make some delicious guilt-free piggies in a blanket and an amazing trifle for a certain football game we aren’t talking about and they were both a hit so we’ll count that as a good cooking for the week.   I want to use my crockpot at some point in the upcoming week so stay tuned!

Aren't these the cutest munchies ever? And guilt free!

Well, that’s pretty much it for now.  Next on the agenda?  Surviving this week.

Tell Me!  How has your week been?  Have you managed to avoid getting the stomach flu?  What upcoming races are you running?  What was the best thing you cooked this week?

Oh, PS – Anyone want a yummy trifle recipe?

Oreo and Brownie Trifle
Adapted from Baking Away

Mmm.. trifle...

Ingredients:
1 9×13 inch pan of fudgy brownies
2 small boxes of fat free, sugar free chocolate pudding mix
4 cups of skim milk
8 ounce container Cool Whip Free
12 ounces regular Cool Whip
18 Oreos

Make brownies and set aside to cool completely.  Mix milk with pudding powder and let chill for 30 minutes.  Then, gently fold in the 8 ounces of Cool Whip Free until there are no streaks.  Chop the oreos and set aside.

To assemble:  Lay half of the brownies in a trifle bowl followed by half of the pudding.  Sprinkle half the oreos over the pudding layer and top with half of the regular Cool Whip.  Repeat layers.  If desired, garnish the top with crushed and/or whole oreos or dark chocolate shavings.  Chill until ready to serve. 

Delicious AND beautiful!

Virtual Bake Sale!

Attention Chocolate & Wine Readers!

I want/need/must tell you about an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference.  A difference to a first-time marathon runner and an incredible charity.  And an opportunity to get some delicious goodies!

My good friend/fellow Boston blogger and bruncher, Amanda, is running the Boston Marathon for the first time.  She is running for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and is attempting to raise $4,000.  Right now, you can attend her blog’s virtual bake sale and bid on a variety of baked goods by some of her favorite bloggers (myself included!!!!)

These are my Double Chocolate Oreo Balls. You should probably go bid on them.

Simply visit her website between now and January 28th to bid on the items.  All of the proceeds go towards the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and will help her reach her goal.  Amanda is a kind, passionate person who wants nothing more than to run 26.2 miles successfully and have an impact on this charity.  YOU can help her make it happen.

Questions?  Shoot me an e-mail!  And please let me know via comment if you bid on anything/win anything, especially if you bid on/bid on my Double Chocolate Oreo Balls!

MY PLEDGE:

For every Chocolate & Wine reader who bids on a baked good from Amanda’s bake sale and leaves me a comment here telling me you did, I will donate $1 to Amanda’s charity.  For every baked good a Chocolate & Wine reader bids on AND WINS, I will donate $5 to Amanda’s charity.  And if a Chocolate & Wine reader wins MY Double Chocolate Oreo Balls, I will donate $15 to Amanda’s charity site!!  Either way, this is a win-win-win situation to help people in need!

Rules:
(PS – these are based on the honor system.  If you say you bid on something, please make sure you do…)

1.  Bid on an item on Amanda’s bake sale and leave me a comment telling me you did.  Include what you bid on and how much you bid.

2.  If you win an item, leave me a comment telling me what you won and how much you paid for it.

3.  If you win MY Double Chocolate Oreo Balls, leave me a comment telling me you did and how much you paid for it.  Then enjoy them immensely when I send them to you!

I mean... yum.

I’ll keep a pledge tally and tell you how much I will personally be donating at the end of the bake sale.

Good Luck and Happy Bidding!!

It’s Almost Christmas!!!

To start this post today, I’d like to say a very Happy Birthday to my cousin Sam!

Sam's 21st Birthday... 22 will be much calmer.

I can’t believe how fast this year flew by.  It’s crazy to me that Christmas is a mere 2 days away.  Am I ready?  YES YES YES!

Our Christmas Tree... It takes up the better half of the living room.

First, I want to give a special shout-out and thank you to to Boston.com for featuring my Cranberry & Walnut Biscotti recipe the other day.  Because of you, I reached a record number of page views for one day at Chocolate & Wine!  What a great early Christmas present for my little corner of the Internet.

You should really make these for Christmas..

Lots of people ask me what I cook this time of year for Christmas and the various holiday parties I go to.  To be honest, the list is endless.  I try not to bring the same thing to the same place so it’s always a never-ending search for new recipes to try.

This year, I narrowed it down to a few winners.

For my best friend’s ugly sweater party, I made kale chips.  The recipe could not be simpler.  Take a bunch of fresh kale and wash thoroughly (they can be gritty so really let ’em soak).  Then rip the leaves away from the stems and place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray.  Top with more cooking spray (instead of oil to save some cals!), a little salt and a little black pepper and pop into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  They become crisp and golden and melt in your mouth.  A really great snack or appetizer for hungry girls watching their waistlines!

Check out those sweaters. We don't play around.

For a Christmas Eve appetizer, I pinterest-ed a recipe (did I mention I’m on Pinterest now?  And obsessed with Pinterest?  Well, I am.) And I found mini toothpick caprese salads.  So easy, so healthy, so beautiful!  I’m even going to make a balsamic glaze to drizzle over the top.

Christmas Day is my favorite.  Because I come from a large Italian family, we do things in a traditional way.  And by tradition, I mean we eat and drink for approximately 6-8 hours and pass out in food comas at the end of the night.

Food Coma 101... Christmas 2007!

Christmas is a time for family and the Torto family’s ancient recipe for homemade raviolis.  These are no joke, my friends.  We already made them (in November) and they are sitting in plastic baggies in my aunt’s basement freezer waiting for their bath in from-scratch, simmered-for-hours tomato sauce.

Christmas day is served in multiple courses.  Antipasti, then escarole soup, then the ravs with meatballs, sausages and pork, then salad, then dessert.  Not to mention the finger foods we munch on before sitting down to the table or the bottles and bottles of Asti Spumonti and 2-Buck-Chuck red wine we go through.

This is Asti and it will be gone.

And that’s only with my family.  I mentioned that Stephen is Italian too, didn’t I?  That’s a whole ‘nother story (and food coma..)

I hope your holiday is filled with family, friends, and great food.  And maybe a surprise or two!

Beautiful pillows of ravioli perfection. Photo courtesy of Miss Ali Reed.