Archive for the ‘Parties and Entertaining’ Category

2 Sparkling Wine Bargains for Holiday Celebrations

November 20, 2011
Sparkling wine for two. (2)

Image by zpeckler via Flickr

Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs Brut, France

A very good value at $12 or less a bottle.  Delicious and elegant, dry “methode traditionnelle” sparkling white wine that tastes like fine champagne. Very fine effervescence, pale gold color. Delectable on its own or with light appetizers.  Highly recommended!

Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé “Perle d’Aurore,” France

A pink, dry bubbly.  It has a lot of personality and can stand up to food, like salmon.  My guests like it, and it looks beautiful in a champagne flute.  About $16 a bottle


Wine Tasting: Virginia Wine Pairings for Your Thanksgiving Feast, Sunday, 11/20

November 19, 2011

Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe in Occoquan, Virginia (408 Mill Street, Occoquan, VA 22125) (703) 494-1622 is having a free Thanksgiving Wine Tasting & Stock-up Sale on Sunday, November 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.   They will be offering tastes of six carefully selected local wines along with samples of turkey, ham, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

It would be a fantastic idea to make Virginia wine a part of your holiday meal, because we all know the first Thanksgiving was held in Virginia 🙂

In case you can’t  make it on Sunday, here are the wines they recommend, with notes:

North Gate Viognier, $19.95 (North Gate Vineyard, Purcellville, VA)

This Viognier starts with aromas of sweet jasmine and tropical fruit with a touch of vanilla and butterscotch. There is a nice balance of acidity and spice throughout, leading to a lingering finish with subtle hints of grapefruit.

James River Vidal Blanc, $16.95 (James River Cellars, Glen Allen, VA)

A fruity, off-dry wine (slightly sweet) with grapefruit and peach characteristics.

Rosemont Dry Rose, $14.95 (Rosemont Winery, LaCrosse, VA)

A dry, French style Rose’ with smoky aromas and hints of rose petal, apricot, and strawberries. A great wine to complement ham!

Lovingston Pinotage, $24.95 (Lovingston Winery, Lovingston, VA)

100% Pinotage with a lovely cherry bouquet that develops on the palate, complimented by silky tannin and round body. Terrific with Thanksgiving fare.
Trump/Kluge Simply Red, $15.95 (Trump Winery, Charlottesville, VA)

This Bordeaux-style blend is medium-bodied wine with fruit-filled expression. Nuances of blackberry and black currant with notes of spice and hints of licorice.
Gray Ghost Adieu, $26.95 (Gray Ghost Vineyards, Amissville, VA)

A late harvest Vidal Blanc with the rich peach, honey, Muscat and apricot aromas and flavors. A perfect after dinner wine with pumpkin pie!

Are you ready for some Christmas Tunes?

November 7, 2011
Christmas Music

Image by Chiot's Run via Flickr

I like to listen to Christmas music early in the year, before I hear it every where.  Sometimes I even listen to it in the summertime, when it’s really hot, to feel cooler 🙂  So I was happy to discover this online site.  My son likes it, too.

If you’re good and ready for some holiday tunes, you can listen to Christmas music online, for free, on iHeart Radio.  This “Christmas Lites” is a good, upbeat mix.  Just follow this link:

Do you have a Christmas playlist?  What’s your favorite Christmas song?

How not to blow your diet during the holidays

November 25, 2010

I love to eat.  It shows 🙂

This holiday, I’m trying to balance enjoying some wonderful food with fitting into my favorite jeans.  If you’re in the same boat, here  are some of my calorie-saving strategies.

Cocktail, anyone?

You’re partying, you’re celebrating, and you’re libating! One trick to reduce your alcohol intake is to drink a club soda or glass of water between each drink.  David taught me this after I had a hangover (if I drink two drinks — my maximum — I usually feel pretty hungover, unless I do this)  My favorite non-alcoholic drink is to order seltzer or club soda with a splash of cranberry juice and a wedge of lime.  It looks festive and Christmasy…and it has very few calories!

So, anything with bread, chips, crackers, cheese, sauce, gravy, or dressing are the diet pitfalls.  It’s really hard to not go overboard at a party.  Even a few appetizers can add up to a lot of calories.  But lovely shrimp — you can have a big shrimp with cocktail sauce for just 22 calories!  Olives and almonds are good for you, but you have to watch the sodium, so enjoy them in moderation.  Generally when I go to parties, the food that is served is really laden with calories, so one strategy is eat something filling before you go out — like a bowl of oatmeal, or a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt, or a slice of turkey and a slice of Swiss cheese wrapped in a tortilla.  Then, to keep my hands busy, I take lots of photographs at the party.

Desserts and Coffee Drinks

I really hate to break this to you.  I know it tastes like Christmas in a cup — but that delicious smelling Starbucks Peppermint Mocha?  The smallest size tops over 300 calories.  If you’re going into Starbucks, do your diet a favor and just order a cup of regular coffee — that’s only 5 calories! — or a cup of tea.  What about those low-fat cakes?  Think they are a good snack?  Nope.  Every low-fat slice of cake they have are over 350 calories; some almost 400 calories.   Don’t even think about cupcakes.  Have a mini scone or cookie instead, or split a piece of that amazing gingerbread with four friends 🙂

If you’re still pining for the taste of the peppermint mocha you passed up, when you get home you could make one yourself with your own coffee, a small squirt of Hershey’s chocolate syrup (1 Tbsp=50 calories), and the new peppermint whipped cream (comes in a can at Safeway; about 15 calories) for under 100 calories.

Pie is my personal downfall. Guess what. Not all pie is evil 🙂 You can have a slice of pumpkin pie for under 300 calories, some spray whipped cream for 15  calories, and if you do what I do — not eat the crust — you’ll save even more calories and fat.  But choose a piece of innocent-looking pecan pie and you could be in for 500-600 calories!

I don’t know if I’ll lose weight this holiday season — wouldn’t that be wonderful?  But if I follow my own advice, at least, I hope I won’t gain any extra.

Gingersnap Egg Nog Martini Recipe

December 18, 2009

Thanks to bostonkayakguy for this great holiday martini I found on his blog!  I taste-tested it and give it five stars!  Warning: it’s lethal.  One drink and you will not be able to feel your lips 🙂  Have a designated driver handy.


The ingredients: 1 ounce Canton Ginger Liqueur, 1/2 ounce Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, 1/2 ounce DiSaronno Amaretto, 2 ounces egg nog, 1 pinch cinnamon sugar, 1 ginger snap cookie for garnish

  • Rim a martini glass with cinnamon sugar
  • In a mixing glass combine egg nog, Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, Canton Ginger Liqueur, And Disaronno Amaretto.
  • Then add ice;  shake vigorously.
  • Strain into the chilled glass.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon on top and garnish with cookie.

Holiday Libations

December 15, 2009

Ah, the holidays.  I like to have people over, and you know what everyone asks to drink?  Water.  So, if you’re having a get-together, I recommend stocking up on plenty of bottled water (like Pellegrino) and lime slices, which everyone seems to like.  But some will also partake of wine and non-alcoholic beverages, so here are some suggestions…

Sparkling Beverages for Holiday Toasts

Looking for a sparkling wine?  Try this lovely, affordable, and delicious rosy sparkler in your fluted glass, my favorite, Louis Bouillot Perle d’Aurore Rose, which you can find at Total Wine.

Another affordable and tasty alternative to champagne is Prosecco, an Italian white sparkling wine, and I’ve found some nice values on Prosecco at Best Cellars in Arlington, VA.

Here is a non-alcoholic “un-champagne” recipe to try (for a punch bowl or pitcher): combine 32-oz bottle of cold club soda with a 32-oz bottle of gold gingerale and a 24-oz bottle of cold, unsweetened white grape juice.

Hot Apple Cider

If you’re having a party or just staying home with your family, nothing beats a pot of hot spiced apple cider simmering on the stove’s back burner.  It will make the whole house smell wonderful and it’s always been a hit when I’ve served it.  Here’s a recipe for it from Betty Crocker (

Hot Spiced Apple Cider (115 calories per serving)

  • 6 cups apple cider
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cinnamon sticks

1. In 3-quart saucepan, heat ingredients to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 10 minutes.
2. Before serving, strain cider mixture to remove cloves and cinnamon, if desired. Serve hot.

A Very “Mary” Cocktail

My favorite drink is still the Cosmopolitan. Here’s Betty Crocker’s version (the notes are mine), including a non-alcoholic version.

Mary Fletcher JonesCrantinis (140 calories per serving)

  • 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail (I think Ocean Spray’s the best)
  • 1/2 cup citrus vodka or plain vodka (I like Finlandia or Stolichnaya)
  • 1/4 cup Triple Sec (or Cointreau, that’s what I like)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • Fresh cranberries, if desired
  • Lime slices, if desired

1. Fill martini shaker or 3-cup covered container half full with ice. Add all ingredients except cranberries and lime slices; cover and shake.
2.Pour into martini or tall stemmed glasses, straining the ice. Garnish glasses with fresh cranberries and lime slices on picks.

Nonalcoholic Variation: Skip the vodka and use club soda (or Pellegrino sparkling water).

Less Alcohol Variation: Serve Crantinis on the rocks and add a splash of sparkling water.

How to Enjoy the Holidays without Gaining (Much) Weight

December 8, 2009

Holiday parties and dinners present all kinds of options.  I think all foods are fine in moderation.  The trick is moderation!  Here are some tricks for enjoying food in moderation, if, like me, you tend to over-indulge and pack on pounds…

Don’t skip meals on the day of the party. You know what a beast stored hunger is.  You’ll be far better off if you eat a good breakfast and lunch and stay hydrated before dinner or cocktail parties.  If you usually eat cereal or toast for breakfast, maybe try oatmeal that day, or eggs and canadian bacon, for more staying power throughout the day.   I tend to drink more water if I put a very small amount of juice, like cranberry juice, in it.  If you don’t drink enough water, try this trick!

Eat before you go out. If you can manage to grab a snack before you go out, you’ll be less likely to eat too much at the party (or before shopping!).  Eat something substantial, like greek yogurt with honey, and a small handful of almonds.  That will line your tummy, too.

Always keep a camera handy. Why?  If you get attacks of shyness at social gatherings (like I do), you can always take pictures of people, or holiday decorations, or the food.  That way, you won’t eat or drink just to keep busy or to feel less conspicuous if no one is talking to you.  Taking pictures keeps you busy and can be a great ice-breaker.

Look out for the holiday blues. Everyone I know gets depressed a little bit at some point during the holidays.  It’s really common.  Before you snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry, or just bored, lonely, disappointed, tired, or even thirsty.  If you’re hungry, eat.  Otherwise, have a cup of peppermint tea (hot beverages are great for curbing appetite) and take a walk outside to rev up your mood and your metabolism.

Skip (or reduce) the alcohol. I enjoy a cosmopolitan or glass of wine as much as anyone, but I have noticed that if I drink alcohol, I tend to eat more (probably because it makes me relax and lowers my inhibitions).  So, there are a few strategies that have worked for me.  One is to order cranberry spritzers (cranberry juice and soda), or club soda with lime (which has almost no calories).  You can also order white wine spritzers, or ask the bartender to make a drink with half the alcohol.  I prefer a cocktail that is light on alcohol, myself.  If you choose to drink, alternate imbibing cocktails or glasses of bubbly champagne (100 calories) with glasses of water, mineral water, or seltzer.  (This will also help prevent a hangover!)

Try the lower fat versions in recipes. In some cases, they are really good.  I don’t do artificial sweeteners, but I like light versions of sour cream, mayonnaise, and salad dressing and use them in my recipes for veggie dip, etc.  Nonfat greek yogurt can stand in for sour cream or creme fraiche in some dishes.

A great way to cut fat in mashed potatoes is to mash them with buttermilk.  It’s delicious! But pass on the homemade gravy — too much fat.  Try canned gravy or jarred gravy instead; we’re talking a 300 calorie-plus difference!

I love stuffing with lots of onion and celery.  Try replacing all or some of the butter in stuffing recipes with canned, fat free chicken stock.  Also, don’t cook it inside the turkey.  It will absorb fat and calories from the bird.

Dress hot vegetables like green beans, broccoli or brussel sprouts with a spray of  I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray.  It’s good and very low in fat and calories.  I also use flavored salad sprays to pep up veggies, such as Asian or Caesar flavors.  They add great flavor for almost no calories.

Sweet potato casserole with marshmallows.  Just don’t go there.  I know, it’s delicious but if I told you how many calories, you wouldn’t believe me.  Try this version of sweet potato casserole instead, which has only 3 g of fat and at least half the calories.

Eat this, not that. I’m a big fan of the “Eat This, Not That” feature in Men’s Health.   It’s amazing the calories you can save just by choosing pumpkin pie over pecan pie.  And that spray whipped cream only has 30 calories a serving!  If you ate just the top of your pie, along with the canned whipped cream, you’d save all kinds of calories by skipping the fat-laden crust.

Hard cheeses like parmesan can be a safer bet than the soft ones, like Brie. But if you can pass on the Brie, you are a stronger person than I am 🙂

Lean meats and fish are good bets on the buffet table, but choose shrimp cocktail (lovely, lovely shrimp has very few calories) instead of crab cakes. Beef tenderloin is a luscious 165 calories a serving.

Olives have practically no calories at all.

I was surprised at how many calories are in fruit cake. It seems so benign! If you indulge, take just a nibble.

Need a holiday treat?  I love low-fat egg nog.  Then I either have a very small glass, or I cut it half and half with milk.  I never miss the fat in sorbet, or in light peppermint ice cream, either.

Like Starbucks?  Did you know a lot of those holiday coffee drinks are packed with calories and fat?  Make your own coffee at home and add purchased flavored creamers (30 calories per serving) like White Chocolate Peppermint or Pumpkin and top with canned whipped cream (another 30 calories) and you’ll save money and more than 500 calories in some instances!

Now We Don Our Gay Apparel: Cool Yule Holiday Fashion Tips

November 28, 2009

Attending a special party or performance this holiday season?  It’s time to show off a little bit!  You know, Washington, DC is a conservative town in many ways.  Even at the Kennedy Center, many women tend to dress down.  I go to plenty of after-five networking functions and I notice that some women look like they didn’t want to be perceived as trying too hard.   Well, ladies, it’s time to turn that around.  There is nothing unprofessional or show-offy about looking fantastic!  Here are some fashion tips to help you shine for the holidays.

Turn Heads with Sassy Leg Wear

Fancy hosiery is one inexpensive way to update and accessorize a simple holiday outfit.  The holidays are one time when you can really pull off patterned leg wear, which is great because  that is one of the hot looks this season, and anyone of any age or size can wear them.  Choose patterned leggings for a more casual (and warmer) look, or go for lace, sparkly or patterned stockings or tights to dress up your look for holiday parties.  I’m gravitating toward the lace styles this year.  One very hot look this season is bright color tights — hot pink and magenta, even.  (I saw this look in More Magazine, so it’s not just for young women.)  Try them with black or charcoal grey dresses or skirts.  Another head-turning look are printed tights in floral and animal patterns.  There is a wide range of prices on these, starting at $7 and up.

Rethink the Little Black Dress

It’s hard to beat the little black dress for easy sophistication.   Go to any holiday party and you’re sure to see ubiquitous black skirts or trousers topped with festive blouses and sweaters.  Even black blazers.  Black is a no-brainer.  But it’s so predictable!

Check out this picture featuring two women in Lane Bryant silk holiday dresses.  Which woman would you remember?  Which would you notice from across the room? Sure, black is classy and elegant, but you only go around once!  Might as well have fun.

Black can be flattering if worn strategically.  Otherwise, black can make you look tired, or less than festive.  If you choose to wear black close to your face, for example, a solid black blazer or top, consider adding contrasting jewelry or hair accessories, in pearl or bright jewel tones, to bring color and light to your face.  For example, I have a very simple black dress that has a v-neck line, but I like to wear a statement necklace with enormous peridot green stones with it.

Pay  a bit more attention to your makeup than usual when you wear black, particularly mascara, eye liner, and brows.  If you’re older than forty, bright red or dark lipstick with black can be a bit harsh, so consider a more subtle lip shade, with a little shine, and accent your eyes.  And of course, the best accessory is a smile 🙂

This adorable dress is available from Target for $31.99

If  you really want to stand out at the party, however, why not go for color this year?  I’ve seen some lovely dresses at Target and Dress Barn in deep purple, deep teal, and cranberry red.  Or try something unexpected and complexion-flattering, like chocolate brown, pewter, sage green, or champagne matte satin — all very chic and sophisticated looks that can look festive when accessorized with the right jewelry and perhaps warmed up with a soft cardigan sweater with three-quarter sleeves (to show off a pretty bracelet).

Check out this flattering, empire-style Target dress which is available in women’s sizes up to 16 for only $31.99!

Would you ever look back at basic black after rocking this fabulous dress from Dress Barn?

What to Do About Shoes?

Shoes are where a lot of people give up.  There is always the compromise between comfort and style, especially if you are traveling on Metro to a downtown event, or the weather is bad.  But people do look at your shoes.

Most work day shoes, such as a simple leather pump or plain flat, as comfortable as they are, cannot stand up to the glitz and luxe of holiday fabrics.  You really have to buy a dressy shoe to look your best, but there are comfortable and affordable holiday shoes to be had.

Consider another color for dressy shoes instead of black.  Shoes close to the color of your complexion (think satin pumps, metallic sandals) will make your legs look longer.   Check out these lovely champagne colored slippers (they’re on sale at JCPenney this week for $39.99).  Now imagine them with some champagne sheer hose, with an emerald or teal dress.  That could be an elegant look.   Or these little red numbers, which look as comfortable as they are pretty ($55, from JCPenney).  Couldn’t you dance the night away in those? 

But black is great, I agree.  If you choose black pumps, consider wearing black patterned or sheer hose to extend the leg.

Casual Looks for the Holidays

Hey, every day can’t be a party (I wish!)  But every day can be a little more fun in the cotton holiday t-shirts I have seen at Wal-Mart and Target for only $5 each.  Why not wear one to the gym the next time you work out, or layer one with a sweater the next time you go shopping or ice-skating?

The ANA and Worthington brands at JCPenney have some great, updated, and affordable looks for casual get-togethers that are wearable for women of any age.  Consider these looks, my darlings, instead of those holiday santa or applique sweaters.  Reindeer sweaters are cute, perhaps, but this holiday, let’s all go for HOT instead of cute.  Here’s a very good reason to donate those cute sweaters to Goodwill and embrace your fabulous hotness while still looking festive.  I love this gorgeous charcoal gray sweater from JCPenney, less than $40.  It’s hip and it has the most subtle touch of Lurex for little holiday sparkle.  Wouldn’t this be smashing with boots and jeans, or leggings?  Or you could wear it for dinner out.

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