Monday, February 26, 2007

A Chinese Wedding Year

Last Feb. 18th, in case you haven’t already heard, the Chinese celebrated the coming of their New Year as in the Year of the Pig. Why so late in February - because it is based on the lunar rather than Gregorian calendar. As with every upcoming new year, many Chinese astrologers make new predictions based on the year that you were born, which corresponds to 12 animals. Now, if you are the horoscope following-type, then you will find this interesting because there are certain years wherein it is considered an auspicious time to get married, have children, and so forth. There are even feng shui experts specializing in weddings who help predict when is a great nuptial year for a couple based on their Chinese animal signs. Does August 8, 2008 (i.e., year of the rat) seem like a great date for a wedding? The Chinese certainly think so because the digits “888” is believed to be very lucky number to be born on. Also, isn’t it a coincidence that the 2008 Olympic Games will be held in Beijing, China – giving rise to what is called an “Olympic Wedding Year!”

Where is this all leading to anyways? Well, if you are planning a wedding, and your sign lands on year that is not advisable for marriage, then you may want to reconsider another year. But, that’s not so practical for many. However, many traditional Chinese weigh these forecasts heavily and often rely on a prosperous year to set a wedding date. Whether or not you believe this interesting practice, for those who are having a Chinese wedding ceremony, then following traditions and customs becomes an integral part of the planning process. So, how do you go about doing this especially if you are based in the United States? Well, there is the web and many books dedicated to feng shui for weddings. Here are a few ones that I found:

Lillian Too - Best selling feng shui author known throughout Asia.

Chinese Fortune Calendar

Wild Geese and Tea—An Asian American Wedding Planner

Pictures of A Traditional Ceremony

- notice that the bride doesn’t wear a white gown, but rather a red one.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A honeymoon in Tuscany

Maybe this was inspired by my experience watching the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun,” or perhaps that bottle of Chianti I had this weekend, but whatever it is, a destination wedding in Italy is an ultra romantic way to make your nuptials. Or, if you’d rather spend it with the most important person in your life, then it’s also a great place for a honeymoon. Whether you plan to say “I do” or not in this beautiful region, there are so many romantic things to enjoy when you’re there such as visiting a wine estate. For this idea, I’ve found Castello di Gabbiano. Actually, it found me when I was shopping for an elegant dinner wine at Target.

Picture this for a moment. You and your fiancĂ© just shared a bottle of wine from the Italian vineyard of Castello di Gabbiano. To celebrate the memories of your relationship, you head off to this 12th century castle tucked in the hills of Tuscany. Forget the glitz of a big hotel because in this castle, there are only 10 guest rooms. They even serve you a welcome bottle of wine when you get there. Call it a bed and breakfast, but this is more because you get a true taste of the Tuscan culture and people when you travel here. If you feel like doing literally nothing, the castle touts a beautiful view garden view of the castle. Its strategic location also makes it a wonderful stop if traveling through Italy because it’s between the city of Florence and Siena.

If you’re not yet sold on staying at this castle, then you can stay put where you are (which is probably a lot cheaper) and enjoy some of their wines and recipes for planning your own Tuscan-inspired wedding. Their website offers some select recipes that are also offered at their restaurant - the "Il Cavaliere" Restaurant. Plus, they give you pairing suggestions with each recipe. Check out their recipes for Florentine-style Grilled T-Bone Steaks!

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Valentine's Day Wedding Proposal

Some pre-wedding talk before the 14th of February - also known as the day of wedding proposals.The scene typically entails chocolate, roses, jewelry, and a teddy bear. But sometimes giving a different approach can make the impact more impressive. And in this day and age, a man or a woman deciding to pop the question can certainly do it with just a bit more creativity besides you know - the "usual."

A Heart-shaped Cake
Who doesn't love cake? C'mon, you've gotta be crazy not to love cake. Cupid would agree that giving a wonderful heart-shaped wedding cake might do the trick. It need not be a big cake, but one with a loud wow factor. It can be a cute little wedding cake with the top of the cake serving as the place to put the ring or you can reserve the top layer of the cake to hold the ring similar to a small box stacked at the very top. If you want to be extravagant, then a real wedding cake in the shape of heart is the way to go. This cake from Cakes by Wildflowers - created by Chef Lori Ann Blethen are just pure edible works of art.

Heart Shaped Pasta Meal
Prepare an Italian meal using mini heart-shaped pasta shells. There are dozens of recipes out there for creating a perfectly romantic Italian dinner, so you can substitute heart shells for regular pasta. The most popular dishes that come into mind and are sure to be a "hit" include carbonarra and shrimp scampi. If you're feeling truly giddy about this idea, you can also try creating a favorite pasta dish of your soon to be fiance. When having an Italian dinner, be sure to serve a tiramisu for dessert. Lastly, you can pop the question as he/she is eating dessert for a total surprise. Check out the Pasta Shoppe for cute heart pasta shells!

How about heart shaped ravioli from Alfonso Gourmet Pasta Inc!

Heart Shaped Cupcakes
If you've already caught on the current cupcake craze, then you will surely love this idea. For a spectacular way to propose, create a boat load of colorful cupcakes in pretty shades of red and pink, and present them on a silver serving tray. Reserve a tiny space in the center of the tray to hold the box for the ring. After a romantic meal, you can present this tray. If you can't find ready-made cupcakes, get the assistance of a friend and bake them yourself using Silicone Cupcake Molds made by Tovolo. You can also try to find them at retailers such as Sur La Table.

Wilton also carries a similar product and you can purchase it directly from their website:

Friday, February 02, 2007

Wine and Cheese Engagement Party

While everyone else is planning for their Super Bowl goodies, let's take a moment to consider a "whine and geez" party. Okay, got you. Actually, I'm talking about a nice wine and cheese engagement party on a sweet Sunday afternoon. You can have this kind of event at literally anytime of the year. It's also a neat alternative to a full-blown dinner. Just how do you concoct a menu for such an event?

Start out with getting the 3 main components:

1) The Crackers and Biscuits

I love all sorts of crackers especially those infused with delicious herbs and spices. They come in different shapes and sizes such as circles, pentagons, or even triangles. But, my all-time favorite ones are from a company called the "American Vintage Wine Biscuits." With these gourmet crackers, you honestly don't even need cheese because the crackers are tasty. The original flavor (i.e., Red Wine and Black Pepper) that I tried is infused with wine and has a nice yet subtle "peppery" taste. Last time, I checked their website, it appears that there are additional flavors (e.g., White Wine, Shallots & Cayenne Pepper, and Chianti, Oregano & Red Pepper) so I bet they are just as scrumptious.

2) Cheeses and Meats

Ah, I love cheese! Just had to say that because if cheese were not invented, we wouldn't have pizza. When looking around for cheeses at your grocery, the most common ones that come to mind are cheddar and swiss, but if you go to the gourmet food section of your grocery, you will usually find cheeses from all over the world. My truly favorites are: Brie from France that has a creamy texture with loads of flavor; Parrano Cheese from Holland that has a texture quite similar to Gouda, but with the nutty taste of parmesan; and lastly Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy that has a sexy savory taste to it (I call it the "ultimate cheese" because I love eating them alone especially "Parma Sticks from Bertozzi." Before getting all caught up in cheeses, let's not forget the meats. When pairing meats with cheeses, I like prosciutto, smoked salmon, or caviar as an accompaniment. They are teeming with flavor yet you only have to eat a few to be satisfied. In this way, if you provide a full variety of cheeses and meats, your guests can still feel like they've had a light meal instead of just a cheese and a cracker. Many of these cheeses and meats can be found in stores such as Trader Joe's, Dean and Deluca, Whole Foods, Better Cheddar, and even Bevmo! Also, small gourmet retailers sell unique products, so be sure to check them out in your locale.

3) Wine Selections

If you are a newbie to wine, don't fear because there is a lot of information out there about wines. I've learned that French wines, though, seem to have a distinct personality and flavor to them. (**No knock against those California wines, but lately, I've just preferred French ones). When looking for wines, be sure to check the alcohol content (is it 12.5% alcohol or does it have more?), the type of wine - whether it's a red or white, the cost if you buy it as a case, and any accompanying tasting notes that are available on the wine. Before you actually buy a bottle, it's a good idea to visit the store first and then jot down names of wines that seem interesting, so that you can go back home and research the wine based on reviews. The best place to get tasting notes is from Robert Parker's website - known as the definitive authority on wines because he doesn't get paid to review wines. You can also check out books such as "Wines for Dummies" and "French Wines for Dummies." Moreover, you can also check out blogs such as Vine Sugar or Vivi's Wine Journal.