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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Columbia Crest Cork & Fork Dinner Party

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For my first twenty birthdays, we (being my friends, family, etc.) came, we celebrated, and we moved on. The next birthday in our family wasn’t until September so there was plenty of time to regroup and get back to normal life before whipping out the cake and spanking machine again (don’t ask). But then, shortly after my twentieth birthday, I met a boy. Our first conversation (August 31st, 2006) revealed that his birthday landed exactly a week after mine, on August 28th. At the time, this was merely a cute little fact, a way for me to flirt with him and brag about that week of wisdom I had over him. Little did I know, that tall, dark, and handsome student would become my husband, and that we’d be forever stuck with birthdays exactly one week apart, his following mine.

Four years later, we have grown accustomed to the whole birthday thing. August creeps up and we start discussing my birthday (it IS first, after all!). Usually I have grand schemes of how to celebrate and Ryan, bless his heart, sees to it that the celebration plays out as I have imagined. Like in times past, we come, we celebrate, and we move on. But WAIT…we can’t move on, back to normal life, because suddenly seven days have passed and it’s time for Ryan’s birthday! Except we’re tired from celebrating, people have already used up their “happy birthdays” for the McLaurys, and somehow Ryan’s birthday falls by the wayside.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m being slightly overdramatic here. However, I do always feel a little bit guilty that Ryan’s birthday follows so closely behind mine and has the tendency to get lost in the shuffle. This year, I was determined to change that up. Yes, I had my party last weekend, but until Julia suggested having it, I was much more focused on making Ryan’s birthday a smashing success this year. Thankfully, Foodbuzz was willing to help me out. Together with Columbia Crest, they offered Foodbuzz Featured Publishers an opportunity to host a dinner party, using Columbia Crest wines and delightful Bobby Flay recipes that he created to pair with the wines.  On a whim, I applied, proposing a dinner party that would be all about Ryan and his birthday. In a nutshell, I described what you read above and proposed hosting a dinner in which Ryan was king. He would choose the entire menu, the location, the guests, and the wine…and I would make it all happen. Much to my surprise, Foodbuzz picked me as one of the lucky four to host a Columbia Crest Cork & Fork party. I hadn’t even told Ryan about my proposal, so I excitedly called him while he was in San Diego and shared the news. And so the plans began…

Yesterday was the big day, both Ryan’s birthday and the day of our dinner. After weeks of carefully thought-out plans (Ryan is one of the most thorough people I know J), we found ourselves in Chicago, ready to feast. Ryan selected the location: downtown Chicago at my parent’s condo (thanks Mom & Dad!), the guests: our favorite travel buddies, and the menu (keep reading).

While I originally planned to do all of the food shopping and preparation, this changed when we decided to include Mike and Maggie. Like us, they love to cook and eat good food and they were thrilled to share this dinner with us. We decided to make a whole day of the event, visiting a local Chicago farmer’s market to buy the bulk of our ingredients before settling down in the kitchen together to make each carefully selected dish (don’t worry, we didn’t let Ryan do TOO much work!).

What you see throughout this post are a series of pictures that capture our day in Chicago, from the hunt for local ingredients to the hard work in the kitchen to finally, the enjoyment of a fabulous meal in honor of Ryan.

I really don't have the words to describe just how amazing this meal turned out. We thought we were in trouble when we all fell in love with the first course. I was sure the rest of the meal would in no way compare. Instead, we continued to be impressed with each course. Like true (wannabe?) foodies, the four of us sat and dissected each dish, discussing the flavors and our preparation of everything.

No meal is perfect and we had our fair share of adventures...everything from purchasing wrong kinds of cheese, spider attacks, near trips to the ER, and attempts to grill lamb on a 12-inch grill. Yet all was forgotten as we moved through each course, falling in love with all of the fresh flavors. I knew the meal was a success when we sat licking our dessert plates and moaning in satisfaction. Yes, it was that good.

I can't wait to tell you more about this incredible meal we were treated to! I’m posting our menu below, but you can expect detailed posts on each dish, complete with recipes and our thoughts, beginning next week. 

Wow. What a meal. Thank you Bobby Flay for meal inspiration, thank you Columbia Crest for the delightful wine that paired perfectly with our meal, and thank you Foodbuzz for the help in hosting this party! You all played a part in, and I quote, one of the best meals of Ryan's life (and mine, Mike, and Maggie's too!)