Tag Archives: friendships

Champagne Is NOT Just for Holidays

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Spread the cheer any day – Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

New Year’s has come and gone. Time to pack up the champagne glasses for another year (or the next wedding)? Are you kidding me? I hope you are!

The party’s only just started!  What better way to celebrate all of those relationships you’ve gathered around the table than with a glass of bubbles.

A Schramsberg wine master explains the process of making sparkling wines during a session of Camp Schramsberg in the wine caves.

The fact is, sparkling wine or champagne can be enjoyed at ANY meal with ANY food even a big steak. You just have to have the right bottle! One that stands out for me is Schramsberg’s Crémant Demi-Sec.

First you need to know that only wines that come from the Champagne region of France can legally be called “champagne.” Schramsberg is from the Calistoga area of Napa Valley and the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard use the Methôde Champenoise (translation: the champagne method used in France) to create all of their sparkling wines.

Schramsberg has been producing their award winning sparkling wines since 1965 and has been honored to serve them in every White House administration since Richard Nixon. One of the really cool things about Schramsberg is that they offer a unique experience to learn all about their wines.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to participate in some very special events. Camp Schramsberg is one of those that I’ll never forget. I had no clue it even existed. It’s a three-day experience they have twice a year (once in the Spring for “bud” or when the grapes are just beginning to grow and once in the Fall for harvest). Anyone can sign up for camp and attend-it is not restricted to only people in “the trade.”  When I went, almost half of the participants were just people who love wine.

What’s really fun about this experience is that they hold it in their winery caves, out in the vineyards and also at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort.  I learned about Schramsberg’s history, of course, but also about sparkling wines in general and how they are made, was given an opportunity to learn how to properly prune the vines (it’s harder than it looks), how to saber a bottle-cut off the top of the bottle with a saber (easier than you think), eat a lot of great food and drink their amazing wines (even with steak!).  It was at camp that my real love of sparkling wines blossomed and I learned some valuable lessons.

One of them is that you should never hold back for celebrations in your life. So, don’t hold back the champagne (or the sparkling wine) for the “big days.” Every day should be a celebration, and every day is an opportunity to show your appreciation to those people who you gather around your table.

So, don’t be stingy. Pop a cork and enjoy.

End of Another Year, Start of New Possibilities

Enjoy around the table

Time to bring your Friends and Family together around your table!

Wow!  How did it get to be January already?  I’m always surprised by how quickly the year flies by and yet they are moving quicker and quicker and here it is – the start of another year.  And, each year I’m also surprised by how much happens. This past one was absolutely no exception.  Right?  I’m not just thinking about stuff that happened in the news or around the world – although there was a lot of that.  I’m thinking about all of the new friends that I’ve made and relationships that I started last year.  I’m thinking about all of the people who have discovered the importance of being “around the table” with people who are closest to us, or maybe people we wish to bring closer.

We can all give lip service about how dear some people are to us, but the strongest way to “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk” is to gather together for a meal, a snack or even just a cup of coffee.  It doesn’t have to be a big meal or even a big deal at all – what it is, is the time spent together sharing around the table (or even a park bench at lunch).  It’s how we draw together at meals.  When it becomes a regular thing so much changes.  Maybe someone will start making new recipes and others will want to be in the kitchen helping create for the shared experience.  The main point is getting people together to share what is, for many of us, something we do well and too often alone.

Eating should be about more than just getting nourishment – you know – getting the calories in so that we can move through our day.  It should be about feeding the soul with the very thing that makes us human and feel alive: connection to one another – love.

So… let’s toast to the new year, filled with health, happiness and blessings.  Whatever last year has meant to you, make this new year the one where you draw your friends and family close together around your table!

Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules – For Guests (Part I)

Guests at a party - party on!

6 Guest rules to keep you from becoming the party joke.

I love good parties, both throwing them and coming as a guest.  They can be great fun (at least for me)!  The most amazing thing is that with all of them that I’ve attended and many I have thrown, there’s always someone who ends up being “that guy.”  You know, the one that everyone talks about the next day either because of something they did or didn’t do.  They’ll make some faux pas by loudly making an inappropriate remark and then repeating it all night, or showing up with their “posse” when the invite clearly was for just them – it could be any number of bad moves and will be memorable depending on just how spectacular the fool decides to be about whatever he (or she) has done.

As carefree as we want to be at parties, there are some cultural rules – etiquette – for both Guest and Host. I’ve collected a few over the years. Call them “Fran’s Party Etiquette Rules” (catchy, don’t you think?). The list has gotten rather long, so I broke them down a bit over several posts (stay tuned!).

Let’s start with the rules that I hope will keep you from becoming the long-remembered party joke:

  1. Never show up to a party empty handed – it’s kinda rude, so don’t do it. Some  cultures have a very strong tradition about this – the Japanese even have a special name for such a gift – they call it “Omiyage.” The host has gone to a whole lot of effort to throw this thing – show some appreciation.  Having said this there are a few guidelines about gifting that I’ll go through in a later post. Read it!
  2. DON’T bring your own playlist of music unless the host has specifically dubbed you the party DJ. You don’t know what the host has planned and unless you want to wind up being disappointed (or embarrassed) by being asked NOT to mess with the music, just don’t do it.
  3. If you spill something – tell the host/hostess IMMEDIATELY. Don’t run and make pretend you didn’t do it.  The sooner it can be cleaned the better the outcome.
  4. If your babysitter bales on you – DON’T bring the kids. Call with your apologies.  Your kids don’t want to come to the party and the other adults there won’t be that comfortable either.  Even if your host insists you bring them (unless it’s a BBQ in the afternoon) don’t do it.  You will need to watch them all night – not great for you either.  Just don’t.
  5. Unless you’re are intending to help with the clean-up, and I mean really help not just follow the host around while they’re doing it, then leave before the party is over. My rule of thumb is that if there’s only about 20% of the guests left – it’s time to go.
  6. Don’t look in the cabinets or closets – stuff is put away in there for a reason and it’s not for you to know.
  7. DO NOT GET DRUNK! I know that one seems obvious but, as we all know, there’s always one.  Don’t be the one.

Maybe you have a few of your own set of rules? Wanna share? Let me know! Remember, though, it’s not about the rules. To me, a party is just another table to gather around– maybe bigger than your average get-together but it’s always about “around the table” – coming together and showing appreciation to one another that counts most.

 

5 Rules for Throwing a Dinner Party That Never Ends

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Have a party that they’ll be talking about for years.

One of the best dinner parties I ever went to started at a normal hour, 7:30pm, but no one left until well after 1am!  Nobody wanted to leave.  The best part?  The host didn’t want anyone to leave either!  If you follow these very simple rules you can have a never ending dinner party that your friends will remember with love for years.  If you get really good at it, you will be known as the dinner party queen/king and the envy of everyone you know.

  1. Be careful of your guest list. That doesn’t mean to keep it to a specific number of guests but to pay attention to the mix of guests.  Be aware of any tension between any of your friends and make sure you don’t stir that hornet’s nest-it won’t bode well for a convivial evening.
  1. Serve dinner “family style.” When you try to create individual plates everything becomes more formal and that’s the exact opposite of your goal.  You want everyone to be comfortable.  When people need to “please pass the potatoes” it gets people talking to each other – a great way to encourage conversation.  When you serve “family style” on large serving platters your guests are encouraged to have seconds or even just another bite of something.
  1. Plan your menu with food that doesn’t need to be a certain temperature – food that is perfectly fine served at room temp. If you’ve ever had a large group over for a meal and you’ve tried to make sure that the last person served gets food that’s as hot as the first person served you will know exactly what I’m talking about.  This way the food can stay on the table as long as you and your guests are at the table (which you want to be a long time!) and still taste great.
  1. Make sure there is plenty of wine on the table for your guests to serve themselves. Don’t be precious with it – you don’t want to have rules about what is being poured when during the meal.  Stick with bottles that are similar in flavor and body whether they are red or white – but make sure to have both opened.  Leave those bottles on the table for easy refills by your guests.  Be careful to not run out!
  1. Candles are key. Atmosphere is the quickest way to turn your dinner with friends into a real party and candles do that effortlessly.  Use candles of different heights on your table and light them ALL.  The lighting changes as your night progresses from fresh candles that are newly lit to a soft glow from those that burn the longest.  Be sure to have a lot of them as they will burn at different rates – only some will last all night but that just contributes to the wonderful atmosphere you want to have.

I promise that if you follow these 5 simple rules your next dinner party will be a greater success than you could have ever wished for.  Enjoy!

I Propose a Ban on the word “Should”

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Stop saying “should” when you really mean “must.”

My Mother was a very smart lady.  I didn’t realize it growing up. To be honest, we never realize how smart our parents are when we are young. By the time I really started to appreciate her wisdom and wit, she was gone (she died at 59 – too young).  Thirty-two years later, I still hear her voice almost every day.  Not exactly how she actually sounded – that disappeared a very long time ago. I hear her words and her clarity – especially when she needed to make a point very clear to me.

One thing that she used to say, and that I now repeat often: the word should needs to be removed from the English dictionary.

When my sons were young, I tried to never use that word with them. I wouldn’t let them use it in their everyday lexicon. I always worked with them to find a good substitute for whatever they were trying to say.

My mother hated that word because of what unspoken pressure came with it.  If you think about it, when you say, “You should (do, be, say, etc.)” the listener hears something like, “If you don’t (do, be, say, etc.) then you are a bad person, or an unfeeling person, or an ignorant person or any number of other negative attributes that could be applied to the situation. “Should” often becomes a ‘pressure word’ that’s just filled with judgement. The reality is that when you place that kind of judgement on someone, you rarely get the result you were looking for. If you get what you want, then often it’s because the other person is feeling guilty or doesn’t want that negative attached to them. Either way, the other person is not acting because they feel that something different needs to happen.  What you really want from them is an honest change in their behavior – not a change from outside pressure which won’t last.

So let’s all agree – we really should remove the word should from everything we say – we will all be better for it.  My mother said so and she was a smart lady.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

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What happens when you put meaning behind your words.

I had some very interesting requests over the more than 20 years I owned my restaurants. The strangest one came from a mother who was eating brunch with a large group of people one Sunday.  Her son, who was perhaps 6 or 7 years old, was running around the restaurant and had been generally disruptive for most of the time they were seated.

He ran up and down the aisles, pushed open the front doors without regard as to whether there were any people in the way. He hopped in between tables, disturbed other guests, and was generally ill-behaved in every way possible.  A busy restaurant is a dangerous place to be running in the aisles and jumping around – for a boy, patrons, and staff.  There is a continual stream of heavy plates with hot food on them coming out of the kitchen. My staff was having a hard time avoiding collisions with boy.  My manager asked the mother several times to please have her son sit in his chair or at the very least stay at their table for his own safety and the safety of others around him.  The woman looked at my manager, then glanced at her rampaging child with hopeless eyes, and shrugged. “What can I do?” she said.

Eventually, as the problem persisted, I finally asked my manager what was going on. He told me that they had all tried to get the boy under control.  I decided to go speak to the mother myself, the situation was getting worse not better.

I approached the woman, told her I was the owner and was concerned about the safety of her child. I then asked her to please keep him in his seat or at the least at his chair.  Her response me caught me completely by surprise.  In a very soft voice she said, “Can you please tell him? He won’t listen to me.”  I repeated her request back to her just to make sure I hadn’t misheard and she confirmed her wish that I speak to him.  While the request was shocking, I was more than happy to comply.   You see, I’ve never had a problem with saying what I mean – and making sure that people knew it.

I stepped in front of the running boy and wouldn’t let him pass so he had to stop.  I crouched down, looked him squarely in the eye, and said in a quiet, but very firm voice, “Stop running, go back to your chair, and do not move from it until your mother is ready to leave.”  I confess it may have been the same tone I used when I trained my 100 pound Akitas, but I do know for a fact my voice was quiet – and for a 7 year old boy – somewhat intimidating.  He quickly went back to his chair and did NOT move for the rest of their meal.  He would get up and down from his chair but he stayed right in his place and did not move away.  Every so often he would look to see if I was paying attention.  I would catch his eye, he would drop his gaze and not move from his seat.

You see if you always say what you mean and mean what you say, something incredible happens: people believe you – especially children and dogs.  It’s just easier that way.

A Friendship Can’t Rely on Mind Reading

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Can your friends levitate at will? Why should they read your mind?

I’m always surprised when someone is upset because a friend didn’t “just know” what they wanted or what they would do in a given circumstance. “Why didn’t he/she just know how to…” – and you can fill in the blank. The situation may range from truly trivial things to serious situations. And their big surprise is that a friend – without knowing anything – missed a big opportunity to prove the depth of their friendship.

I’ve never understood why people think that others can read their minds. Why not just levitate off the ground or use the heat beam from their eyes? Okay, so that’s over the top – but really – ? It’s like a competition. They’re not satisfied with normal relationships and normal ways of communication – “friends” have to be god-like. And that’s just plain silly.

If you want help with something or want another person to do something for you, with you, at you etc. then you’d better speak up and make sure your friend knows what you expect.  It just doesn’t make sense to me that friends can’t be clear in their needs from the other person but feel perfectly entitled to be upset when the other person doesn’t already know what is needed from them.  Really, I just don’t get it.

Personally, I’d be totally creeped out if my friends could read my mind – I mean, seriously. Isn’t that some kind of stalking? Just sayin.

Do not count on mind reading to get you what you want from a friendship – period.  The Great Carnac only worked on late night TV for Johnny Carson.  Well, actually sometimes not so great for him either!

S__t or Get off the Pot!

Photo by Mallory Johndrow

Why complain if you’re not going to do anything about it?

My father was a really smart guy.  He was actually a rocket scientist when that was a new thing in the 60’s and 70’s.  But, he had very little tolerance for someone who complained continually about the same thing but never did anything about it.  He would always say “they need to s—t or get off the pot”.  I imagine that was a popular thing when he was growing up and there was only one bathroom in the house!

As I get older I find that I often use him as a reference.  It’s always strange for me to hear his “voice” come out of my mouth – but like I said he was a really smart guy and I always feel really smart when I do.  His frustration over people who refuse to change but love to complain is a frustration I hold as well.

I’ve never understood why someone will complain about something that is happening either to them or around them and then just prefers to continue to complain regularly about that same thing but won’t do anything about it.  If the thing is that annoying to them why don’t they just remove themselves from either the thing or the situation that is causing the thing to happen?  Perhaps they just like to hear the sound of their voice and think that if they either complain loudly enough or often enough it will stop.   I’ve got a secret – the thing will continue to happen until the situation changes.

Here’s the deal (and here’s when I hear my Dad’s voice) no one wants to hear about it over and over again.  If they don’t want to change the situation, then they need to change their behavior (at least around me) and just – shut up!

The Answer Will Always Be “NO”

Photo By Brooke Cagle

Leave a question unasked, the answer will always be “NO” – #Justsayin

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from friends, family and co-workers who say, “I was afraid to ask,” or “I didn’t want to seem – insert anything here – (stupid, greedy, needy, etc.) so I didn’t ask.” Sometimes we think, “they will just say no anyway so I won’t ask.” There are a gazillion of other excuses as to why the request for whatever it was they wanted was never voiced.

I can tell you this with absolute certainty, if you never ask the question, the answer will ALWAYS be “no.”  It’s a truth I repeat too many times to count and yet somehow it’s a statement that is always met with a look of surprise and then “you’re right” comes out of their mouth.

It took me a really long time to absorb this truth but I will say that if you can manage to absorb it too you will get the answer you want more often than the “no” you think you is inevitable.  I think we make the assumption that the response will be negative so that we aren’t disappointed if the “no” actually happens.

But here’s the thing, you just might get a “yes.”  Of course, you might not really want that “yes” but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you wouldn’t have asked if you didn’t want whatever it is.  Try it and let me know how well it works for you!

 

A Chinese Food Memory

Chinese Dinner

It’s amazing what will trigger a Food Memory.

I was speaking with a friend the other day about family dinners and we got to talking about our food memories growing up and what we’ve done with our own families to create food memories for our kids.  Each of us grew up in completely different environments with completely different backgrounds but had experienced a commonality in what happened for both of us around the table. The whole conversation brought back a favorite food memory for me and some serious insight as to why I do what I do with my family and friends – all around the table.

When I was in middle school my parents had some very good friends from mainland China that they would socialize with on a fairly regular basis.  My parents loved Chinese food and I have a very clear memory of a beautiful set of chopsticks that these friends had given to my mother for her birthday one year.  They brought them all the way from China – this was the 60’s and travel between the US and China was almost impossible at the time – people were escaping to come to the US.

I know that they had moved permanently to the US at the time and were never going back (at least that is my memory as a teenager) so anything they brought with them was very precious.  My mother was honored and humbled to have received this very special gift from them.  She would bring them with her whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner.  The hard part was that they were very polished and extremely slippery so she would always have a difficult time eating dinner.  It never mattered to her – she loved them and the love and sacrifice that they represented to her friends – those dinners for her were more about using the beautiful gift than actually getting to eat a complete meal.

I also remember the one dinner (I may have been 5 or 6) when my father decided that I was old enough to learn how to properly use chopsticks.  When you go to an Asian restaurant you will usually see small children using chopsticks that are connected either using a rubber band or springing device to help them keep the pair together and allow the small children to eat by themselves.  At this particular dinner my dad decided it was time for me to switch from Western cutlery to real chopsticks!  I remember him telling me that I couldn’t use any fork or spoon (in fact he made sure there weren’t any on the table) and that if I was hungry I would learn how to coordinate the chopsticks to navigate food to my mouth….I learned quickly and to this day I can’t eat any Asian food without a pair of chopsticks – including rice and noodles!

We would go to their favorite Chinese restaurant and I can still see the “lazy susan” in the middle of the table that would be full of the many dishes my parents would order for us to eat.  There was always a lot of discussion about what was in a particular bowl.  One of us would taste it and inevitably they would say – “It’s so delicious you have to try it!”  With all of the tasting of the different flavors, the turning of the lazy susan toward whoever was trying something, the chatter about what we were eating or who got the last bite of something wonderful it was always a fun and crazy dinner.  I loved those meals with all of their silliness and laughter – not to mention the appreciation I learned for good Chinese food and of course my ability to use chopsticks properly!

I didn’t think about this food memory for years until the conversation with my friend brought it to light.  He was telling me that when his family (he’s Japanese) would have everyone over for a big meal, each person would bring something to contribute to the table – not a huge casserole or enormous bowl of salad – but a small bowl of something that they liked to eat so that everyone might have just a bite to experience the flavors in each dish.  He said that there was always so much laughter and sharing that it left lasting memories. It’s exactly how I like to eat to this day – talking, laughing, eating all with family, friends and those I love.  Each person sharing a special bite of something wonderful – around the table.

You Might Have to Give Up on a Friend

Sometimes, You Have to Let Go and Move On

This took me a long time to figure out but I’m going to share it so it won’t take anyone else forever to realize this truth.  You cannot, and I mean cannot in every sense of the word, make a friend care about anything.  You can’t make them care about you or what’s happening in your life and for sure you can’t make them care about themselves and what’s happening in their lives if they don’t want to.

If you’ve ever had an addict, drugs or alcohol or anything else, in your family or if they’re a friend you’ve come up against this.  It is one of the hardest things to deal with.  It is human nature to want to help, to “fix” whatever is wrong – at least it’s mine.

It happened with a friend of mine a long time ago and until that person decided to deal with their own issue it didn’t get resolved.  I was lucky; they did decide to change before their behavior killed them.  The old saying that someone has to hit bottom before they can find their way up is very true.

But, I’ve also been faced with a friend who was participating in some really bad behavior who was convinced they were just fine and didn’t want or need help to quit.  It didn’t matter how many wonderful talks we would have on the subject where they would agree that perhaps they weren’t really being that wise in their choices and I would be hopeful that they would change.

I finally had to give up on them and remove them from my life.  I gave up not because I didn’t care about them anymore but because they didn’t care about themselves.  I had to recognize it and accept it.  Cutting them out of my life wasn’t easy, it sure didn’t mean I still didn’t love them but it did make my life easier.  You can only hit your head against a brick wall so many times before you realize that if you stop you’ll feel better.

Easy Recipe for Gnocchi Skillet with Sausage and Tomatoes

Gnocchi on your Favorite Skillet

Food Memory in the Making with Gnocchi, Chicken Sausage, Tomatoes and your Favorite Skillet

This recipe is so quick and easy to make and looks beautiful on the plate – color in the dish is always important as we eat with our eyes.  It reminds me of a favorite food memory – the first time I ever tasted Gnocchi – they were so soft and delicate.  I found it on a great website, thekitchn.com, in their 23 Romantic Recipes post this week.  One of the best things about this recipe is that you can use store-bought gnocchi and any type of Italian sausage you like. Spicy, anyone? They also suggest that if you want to finish the skillet with Parmesan that you can but that it’s not necessary if you’d rather not have cheese. Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound gnocchi
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 9 ounces (about 3 links) cooked chicken sausage, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick coins
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 to 2 ounces fresh basil, julienned (1/2 to 1 cup loosely packed)

Preparation

  1. Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the gnocchi for 2 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Heat a 10-inch or larger cast iron skillet over medium heat with a light drizzle of olive oil. Add the sausage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Push the sausage into a pile at the edge of the skillet and turn the heat up to high.
  3. When the skillet is quite hot, add the tomatoes, skin down, crowding them in if necessary. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until they are blistered, then stir in with the sausage. Cook for 2 more minutes, until both tomatoes and sausage are slightly browned. Stir in gnocchi and cook just until all is combined, but the tomatoes have not broken down into sauce.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Cooking tip: a cast iron skillet is preferred only because it will give you the best color and sear to the sausage and tomatoes but any skillet will work as long as it does NOT have a non-stick coating.  That will interfere with the browning.