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Filtering by Tag: cocktail

P.S. Another Perfect Party

Suzanne Pollak

It may seem impossible, but I went to yet another marvelous dinner party this Summer…

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Actually, this particularly perfect dinner party was at my very own house! The special part was the group of guests — seven — three who knew each other, the other three newly arrived in Charleston. We asked each person to pick someone there they knew and tell about that person, instead of people introducing themselves. This is fun, innovative, saves everyone from bragging about themselves; plus it’s fascinating to hear what friends highlight about each other.

This only works with a small group, however. The cocktail hour was eye opening, enlightening, and by dinner everyone was acting like old friends. That’s what it’s all about: knitting together a new community right in your own house. Happy to report all six are fast friends.

Wine + Food Q&A : Counter Cheese Caves

Suzanne Pollak

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What are your best tips for arranging a cheese plate, in terms of beauty, taste, and color? What the most important aspects in your opinion? [Use a] variety of textures and milk types. Otherwise bright colors are vital: citrus, radishes (watermelon radishes are great), tomatoes, etc. The other essential aspect is pattern/symmetry. Using inspiration from nature, art, or some of your favorite aesthetically pleasing [objects] always helps!

 Do you have a particular balance you prefer regarding hard cheese and soft? I always like to include [one or two] soft cheeses and vary the texture from there. From semi-soft cheeses like washed rinds (i.e. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson) that are "soft" but will hold their shape, to super hard cheeses like gouda (i.e. Forx Farm 12 Month Gouda) that you can leave whole or portion into bite-sized pieces for easy snacking.

 What extras do you like to include on the cheese boards? We try to stay as seasonal as possible but will also skirt the line a bit for beauty's sake, using hydroponic tomatoes for color. Olives, various nuts, dried cherries and citrus are other favorites. When I am making a cheese board at home, it is often as simple as three different cheeses, sliced baguette and olives. Bright, full, patterned boards look great, but simplicity on a beautiful board can look just as good.

 What are your rules/ideas about cutting vegetables like radishes and cucumbers in slices or wedges? Do you cut for looks or taste? You have to cut for both. No matter how good something looks, if it's difficult to eat, you've lost the plot.  Again, symmetry is key so you want all of the pieces to have an identical shape and be placed in a symmetrical manner. With radishes, cucumbers, citrus, etc., we will often slice quite thin for layering. Mandolins can be very handy.

 What are your favorite crackers or breads on a cheese board? Roots & Branches Sesame Crackers (from Asheville) and Tiller Baking Co. baguette or sesamo loaf!

 What are your favorite olives and meats on a cheese board? Castelvetrano olives and liverwurst or pate.

 Do you have particular go-to boards or trays (wood, porcelain, metal, certain makes)? We use high-quality but still disposable (or reusable) square wooden boards for our business, but I like any heavy cutting board. We have one we got as a wedding gift that is a super heavy handmade butcher block with a psychedelic wood pattern across it. Marble slabs also look great!

 When do most of your customers use cheese boards -- an appetizer before a dinner party, on a buffet for a cocktail party, for a picnic? I would say most of them are for cocktail parties where the appetizers are the main event, but many use them for an easy way to greet guests or begin a dinner party. We've also made several for wedding-related snacking, whether at [a] bachelorette party or to have out while the reception dance party rages on.

 When a cheese board starts getting picked over, do you as a host rearrange the cheeses on the board? Add more? Bring out another board? I tend to put out everything I intend to offer on the board at once, so once it's done, it's done...but there are no rules! This is part and parcel with always making sure you have more than you think you need. There's a cheese-hound at every party. I like to have it ready ahead of time which is handy for being able to socialize, but also for allowing the cheeses get up to room temperature.

 What is the proper way for a guest to cut into a wedge of cheese? If everyone knew about rind to paste distribution, the world would be a better place; but an overbearing host is no fun. Most rinds are edible and delicious (besides those that are waxed or clothbound), so the idea is to get rind and paste in each "slice.”  I'll typically portion a bit of the chunk while leaving the rest whole to provide guidance to the uneducated.

 How do you get a non-foodie to taste an unusual or stinky cheese? Truthfully, I prefer not to force anyone to try something if they are simply not a cheese lover. Some folks just don't like trying new things, and that is okay.

 What was your most unusual request? Cheese without salt! Salt is an essential ingredient to cheese making. No salt = no taste.

 What is the best way to store cheeses? If the cheese was wrapped in paper when you bought it, you can rewrap it in that same paper and secure it with a piece of scotch tape. Store in the drawer or devoted bin in your fridge. Otherwise, wrap the cheese in parchment paper and then in saran wrap. This will keep the cheese from drying out but not let it take on the "plastic-y" gross flavor that can happen if the plastic is directly touching the cheese.

 How did you become interested in cheese? Just out of sheer love for it! A fortuitous internship at Vermont Creamery got me into the cheese world and I never looked back!

Where did you get your exceptional visual sense from? I would say both Eric and I have an artistic background but his visual sense mainly guides us. Luckily, our aesthetics coincide nicely.

 Was yours and Eric's wedding cake a cheese tower? Yes! We drove up to New York from Charleston for our wedding with a trunk full of cheese. We had a bunch of cheesemonger friends in attendance, so immediately after the ceremony we called all of them up to portion the cake so that everyone could snack on it throughout the rest of the party. It was one of our favorite aspects of the day.

 Could we do an all cheese dinner party together? I have ideas… Certainly! With such a range of textures, flavors and colors, we feel like there is no reason cheese can't be part of every dish on the table!

Do you eat cheese every day? I certainly do eat cheese every day. I have found that the more I work with something the more I crave it. At the end of the day, whether coming home late from FIG or finishing our deliveries, I set some cheese out, let it come to temp, and open a beer or pour a glass of wine. It's a nice unwinding ritual.

Thanks Counter Cheese Caves!

XO, the Dean

Pat Conroy & Cocktail Parties for VIE Magazine

Suzanne Pollak

Caroline Pollak, Pat Conroy, and Suzanne Pollak.

Caroline Pollak, Pat Conroy, and Suzanne Pollak.

If you missed Suzanne Pollak's piece upon the passing of legendary Pat Conroy -- a touching recount of her time spent cooking and co-authoring his cookbook -- you will find it recently published in VIE Magazine, followed by the official Academy Guide to Cocktail Party Attire.

Read the full articles HERE & HERE (respectively) via VIE! This month, look for Suzanne's notes on hosting, whether a society ball or an intimate dinner for a few friends. Coming Soon...

'TIS the Season for a Cocktail

Suzanne Pollak

Who wouldn't love to be at this cocktail party?

Who wouldn't love to be at this cocktail party?

Too many parties are unremarkable, and not for lack of work on the host's part. Some just don't stick in your memory, or leave you feeling thrilled you attended. Maybe they didn’t cast that luminous glow on life, even if for a few moments. If you've ever wondered how to give a cocktail party that makes each guest leave happy, satisfied, and thankful for you, the Dean has a couple secrets up her sleeve.

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Growing up in Africa, I went to remarkable parties every week, even every night. There were cocktail parties in Mogadishu, Somalia, where we lived in a pink house on a hill over looking the city and the Indian Ocean.  All kinds of people attended: ambassadors, hunters, Arabs, Italians. One time American Olympian Jesse Owens came over, the era’s Usain Bolt. Especially overseas, in third world countries, parties build a community for a few hours, lasting til dawn. Those parties ended when the sun rose. I was on my way to bed when most guests arrived, and just waking up when they left.

The length and mix of parties cannot be duplicated but the lessons to learn are to set the stage and invite interesting people, beloved old and exotic new...

Setting the Stage:

So much concerted effort when it comes to hosting a party  -- stress over what to wear, what to serve and drink, how to decorate the house, the gimmicks, the glasses, on and on. The strange miracle that seems to elude us as we busy ourselves with party details is that all these elements don’t add up to a hill of beans. The most important point is to make guests relaxed the moment they walk in the door, able to step outside themselves for the duration. To experience that seizure of happiness, a floating feeling that lasts for days, is the ultimate goal. It all comes down to real meaning versus gimmicks. Gimmicks are fine, fun, even fabulous if they set the stage. Your job is to create magical moments. This takes deep thinking and off-the-cuff intuition.

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Set the stage that works for your taste, energy, house and budget. It’s not difficult because this is about your personality.  Not about money, not about working yourself into a frazzle, not about doing things other people do. It’s about your personality asserting itself in the details. Taste is subjective! If you like plastic and silver together, great. The best houses are personal, not interior design-driven. If you only have time for picking up cocktail snacks at Trader Joe’s and Costco, that's fine too. Tip: buy truffle potato chips and fill with tuna tartare or pickled shrimp.

Whom to invite:

Everyone and anyone, not just the usual suspects. Invite at least a few new faces. Guests fall into two camps: comfortable if they already know everyone else, or ready to make new connections. But everyone everywhere loves to talk with an interesting person, known or not. Small talk gets stale in moments. Don’t let your party become a distant memory because small talk drowned the energy. 

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Cocktail parties, and in fact the most fun parties, are all about the C’s. Be comfortable, which makes others comfortable. Connect guests. Start conversations, using your contacts and your charisma. Serve canapés and Champagne (e.g. Henri's Reserve) perhaps even in punch! For an in-person tutorial on how to host an unforgettable cocktail party, contact the Concierge at the Restoration Hotel to book a private class with the Dean.

Cheers!

 

Après Eclipse

Suzanne Pollak

No need to call off the party after viewing the Total Solar Eclipse this afternoon. Make your friends a drink!

No need to call off the party after viewing the Total Solar Eclipse this afternoon. Make your friends a drink!

Q: What’s better than hosting eleven for dinner? A: Making cocktails for just a few!

This August, invite guests over for a Late Summer Old Fashioned. Serve with a platter of coppa, speck & pâté (we rely on Goat Cow Sheep) along with silver bowls full of almonds and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Easy Peasy!

Here's to make our signature cocktail, plus a tip on how to refresh your drink without overdoing it.

Late Summer Old Fashioned

  1. Fill cocktail glass with large cubes of ice. Pour in bourbon.*
  2. Sprinkle quite a few drops of peach bitters on top (five to ten according to your love of peaches) plus three or four drops Angostura bitters. 
  3. Top with soda, and garnish with a slice of peach and a cherry. 
  4. To slow down after one or too many drinks, without throwing in the towel, make this cocktail sans bourbon. In your same glass, refresh the ice, pour a speciality soda (Fever Tree or Mountain Valley), then top with a generous splattering of bitters. This concoction is as delicious as a real cocktail and will make you feel better in the morning.

*To use an old bartender's trick -- three to five second pours equal an ounce or two in the glass.

Cheers, and Happy Eclipse-ing, from the Academy's Summer School!

SUMMER PARTY PLAYLIST

Suzanne Pollak

Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, & Eddie Barclay beat the heat with style in St. Tropez. Where else?

Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, & Eddie Barclay beat the heat with style in St. Tropez. Where else?

Once you know what to wear to a mid- (OK maybe late) Summer eve cocktail party, you may as well just get gussied up and host one of your own. But you are going to need a signature cocktail -- perhaps a Paloma? -- and some choice tunes to make it all sing!

So we turned to our dear friend, Alex Admiral Collier, composer and music manager at Eastward Music for a summer playlist to help entertain guests and distract from the blistering heat. This playlist includes new and old songs alike, to usher in wistful memories of cooler, simpler times. Enjoy while imbibing with friends for a heightened sense of nostalgia while subconsciously creating new memories. CHEERS!

A Few Indispensable Tips on Cocktail Party Attire

Suzanne Pollak

It’s chic to wear a fantastic ‘something’ over and over to make it your signature. Just as smart hosts cook their favorite recipe again and again, no matter who comes to dinner, because they know their guests look forward to their culinary specialty; the chicest women throughout history know the style repetition secret. 

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

That 'thing’ can be an accessory, a dress, a shoe. The Dean learned from native and expatriate ladies swanning into her parents 1960's cocktail parties all over Africa. Women wore cigarette pants for casual affairs and jewel-toned satin mini cocktail dresses at fancier parties. Along with real hair dos (coifs, up-dos), eye liner flaring out just like Cleopatra, brilliant lips inhaling pearl or golden cigarette holders, perhaps even a huge cocktail ring or elaborate earrings...none of these beauties boasted a colossal wardrobe with unlimited choices but they had a cocktail uniform that took them anywhere. Once vital decisions are decided, brains are free to tackle life’s thornier problems: whom to invite to the party, which stranger to talk to first at someone else’s, how to grab attention, connect, ignite a fire, or tactfully end a conversation that's headed nowhere.

One  Taffin  ring...

One Taffin ring...

and another.

and another.

The teenage Dean appropriated the tip immediately and forever. Deciding and simplifying what to wear wherever is cheaper and quicker once you you know what suits you. Dressing becomes a snap, so be loyal and stick with your style. Adding that something extra, or taking it off, makes the outfit appropriate for the particular party and place. 

Because, of course, it makes a difference where the cocktail party is: Hollywood, California, Hollywood SC, Beirut, Tripoli or Paris; the Ambassador’s residence or your neighbor’s garden? "When in Rome," so the saying goes. You don’t want to be dramatically different than everyone else unless you can handle it. For example, a man does not wear a motorcycle jacket when he attends a soirée at Charleston’s  Yacht Club. Men there wear the proper uniform of khaki pants and a blue blazer. The Dean once knew two young American beauties visiting the south of France who were assured that everyone, absolutely everyone, went topless to parties at a certain place. Perhaps a little naïve, they showed up appropriately undressed to a party filled with elegant older couture-covered guests. Still embarrassed decades later! 

Dressing comes down to the first impression. What can a first impression tell us about someone whom we only met for a moment at a party? Of course we all know human beings are complex and contradictory, but you don’t have to live with someone to sense immediately if you want more of them or less. The package of you starts with eye contact, the smile and what is draping your body. Identify what you want out of the engagement. Something, or nothing? There to sip one bourbon, or to possibly meet your next business associate or romantic partner? You don’t want your clothes to get in the way. A woman does not want to be so flashy others are distracted from substance, but neither does she want to seem too dowdy. 

Figure out your primary assets -- cleavage, neck, arms, hair -- and choose cocktail attire accordingly. For your own engagement, you will need to move, sit and stand. As a guest you can swan around or sprawl on a sofa as you wish.

For reference, here is the Dean's summer cocktail uniform: Hart tassels, J. McLaughlin white blouse and cigarette pants, with extra pointy shoes to make legs look longer. This pair of Balenciaga mules harkens back to the time of Robin Hood! Because they are extravagant, they will be worn with jeans all fall and winter, for hosting ladies luncheons and gumbo dinner parties, with a Halloween costume, for a Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner, even just for hanging out at home.

On Serving Nuts

Suzanne Pollak

One tip the Dean picked up this Summer in France and adopted at home in Charleston is an elegant way to serve nuts during cocktail hour. Fill one bowl with nuts and another with little spoons -- for instance, those sterling demitasse spoons your grandmother left you that lay hidden and unused in their felt rolls. Show your guests how to take a spoon, fill with nuts, then place nuts in their hands and snack away. The French approach accomplishes two results: individual portion control and avoiding fingertips in the food. YUCK!

New Year's Eve, Academy Style

Suzanne Pollak

This is the way the world [/year] ends
Not with a bang but a whimper [almost].
— T.S. Eliot [and the Dean]

After all the sparkly Christmas parties, crushing crowds, decorated windows, doors and trees, not to mention major cooking…New Year’s Eve could be a time for going off radar. A big New Year’s bash is unabashedly out to blow all your circuits -- isn't that the whole point? Make no mistake, this night's party takes sustained effort both to organize and enjoy (as any New Year's host will attest.) This year the Academy takes our cue from our favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, and decided to end our year with a whimper. 

How do you orchestrate a whimper that is also unforgettable? An evening worth staying up for, and going out to? Start by inviting several couples for a champagne cocktail before they go off to blow out all their circuits, but invite one or two of those couples to stay longer for dinner. New Year's Eve isn't without a little over the top, but keep it classy & do it with your menu. Key words: Simple and Extravagant.

MENU

  • Champagne Cocktails - here are ten different ways to make one.
  • Caviar - Ossetra is fine with the Deans but don't overlook delicious domestic varieties i.e. ...) Try an assortment for that really over-the-top feel.
  • ...with Blinis and Creme Fraiche - easier to make (Martha's way) than you think.
  • A plate of charcuterie -- the best you can find. (In Charleston the best is Bob Cook's at Artisan Meat Share on Spring Street.)
  • Oyster Stew
  • Cognac Chocolate Mousse in Champagne Cups - from the Handbook.
  • More Champagne.

We also like to to have plenty of seltzer on hand, because bubbles, as well as the words to Auld Lang Syne so that everyone can join in a round of song to usher in the New Year.

Here's to you, your parties, and 2016!

 

Simple Syrup

Suzanne Pollak

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Time for Math class at the Academy,  Put away your calculators -- this one is easy.  What do you get when you add one part water with one part sugar over heat?  The answer...delicious drinks!

The secret to so many great cocktails is Simple Syrup. No need to buy this in a bottle.  All you have to do is count to two: equal parts sugar and water, boiled for a minute, and then stored in your refrigerator for up to a month.  What could possibly be easier?  



PARTY ICE

A. K. Lister

James Bond may not have preferred ice in his cocktail, but at the Academy, it's paramount.  The old adage is true: "You can never have enough glasses, nor enough ice."  But why not serve your drinks over ice worth remembering?  With just a few 7" water balloons (and tin foil to stabilize them in your freezer), you can impress your guests with idiosyncratic spheres that will keep cocktails colder, longer.  Nobody wants a watered-down drink, ever.

Here's why our freezer is filled with balloons:

May we suggest serving Party Ice with a tipple of Old Weller, or better yet, an Old-Fashioned made with it.  Cheers!

All Hail the Bloody Mary

A. K. Lister

The Bloody Mary is a sweet, spicy, savory cocktail for taking with on the road and sipping when the sun is still high in the sky.  While this is undoubtedly the best recipe, there are a million and two ways to customize with garnishes: dilly beans, a celery stalk, skewered olives, pickled okra, even candied bacon if you're feeling frisky.  This is traditionally a brunch beverage -- our motto is no bloodies after 2PM, but the bottom line is it's your life & you can do what you please.

Whether going for a picnic or tailgating for the big game, show up with a tank of these + a bottle of vodka and you will undoubtedly be named MVP.

An Enlightening Speech (and a Pitcher of Manhattans) at Drayton Hall

Suzanne Pollak

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Drayton Hall Lecture Series at Society Hall; Carter Hudgins: Preserving the Past, Preparing the Future: Celebrating Ten Years of Wood Family Fellows at Drayton Hall.  [Full schedule here.]

The Charleston Academy loves house museums. We are endlessly curious about every nook and cranny of these behemoth beauties from the 18 and 19th Century -- how they were designed, who lived in them, daily schedules -- but mostly we want to figure out if there is anything they did that we should be doing in our own households right now.

On September 17th at Society Hall, Carter Hudgins, acting director of Drayton Hall (America’s first Palladian house, now a house museum), held the audience at Society Hall in rapt attention as he wove historical facts, personalities, stories, photos past and present and described the Wood Family Fellowship’s impact on Drayton Hall, ending with an emotional punch.

Among the lessons learned:

  • John Drayton is something like an 18th century version of Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery.  Based on Drayton Hall’s architecture and other material culture such as the Edwards watercolors, it is clear that Drayton is well-educated and must have spent time in the UK.  However, Drayton Hall doesn’t have any hard written evidence of his travels or education. 

  • The impact of a family foundation run correctly for ten years spreads far and wide.  The Wood Family used a tragedy -- Tony Wood's brother's death as a young college graduate working as a restoration apprentice at Drayton Hall in  1980 and the death fourteen years later of his parents -- to establish a fellowship in the family name ten years ago. This position breathed new life and knowledge into Drayton Hall, and gave nine young scholars a career path.

  • Our messy basements are nothing!  One fellow, Sarah Stroud, organized over one million artifacts stored in zip lock containers since the 1970’s according to excavation context, i.e. in both horizontal and vertical manners. Think of the entire site with an imaginary grid of 5-foot squares superimposed on landscape.  Sarah worked to identify which squares the artifacts came from as well as from layer of soil in the ground.  Thankfully the artifacts were labeled with these details in the 1970s and 1980s.  Now they are being cataloged to learn about what happened across site at various times.  Less than 2% of entire site has been excavated, yet more than one million artifacts have been recovered.

  • Find measuring drapes or hanging paintings difficult? Trish Smith, another Wood Family Foundation fellow, puts us to shame. With the help of Natalie Woodward, Trish meticulously measured every inch of Drayton Hall to develop AutoCAD drawings.  Then she took these drawings forward to complete 3D renderings, so the early interiors, paint colors, furniture, lighting is another aspect of the house museum experience.

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Before the Society Hall event, the Academy hosted a small reception to honor Carter Hudgins and Tony Wood. The party was only one hour long, but it was the first reception in a night of many.

Our advice on staging a 4:30PM cocktail party for 25:

  • Choose one specialty cocktail and only two, at most three, hor’s doervers. NO MORE.

  • Make the guest of honor’s favorite drink. NO reason to set up a full bar; guests don’t need to make decisions.  And FYI, even at that hour, folks in Charleston will drink a cocktail.

  • If there are many parties in one night, insist on yours being first. Yours will be the most memorable -- too much drinking at the other parties makes later memories blurry  -- plus your workload is easier.  Nobody wants much to eat  much at 4:30.

On the Bar:

  • A pitcher of Manhattans

  • Perrier & white wine

  • Bowls of pistachios, Parmesan crisps & chips and guacamole.

 

A Pitcher of Manhattans

Serves 12

3 cups rye whiskey

1 ½ cups sweet vermouth

1 teaspoon Angostura bitters

ICE (Pro. Tip: You can never have enough ice at a party.)

Brandied cherries

Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a pitcher. Stir and store in refrigerator until guests arrive. Put large ice cubes in silver cups or crystal coupes, pour in cocktail and garnish with cherry.