Tag Archives: sangria

‘Toga! ‘Toga!

The second portion of my epic weekend began Saturday morning; I woke up in Kat‘s guest bedroom (I stayed over after Friday night’s concert since she lives in that area), got decked out, and hit the road with her, her husband Mike, and baby Penelope. Our destination? The race track in Saratoga…my first time there!

7-27-13-toga39

Kat, Penelope, and I donned our preppiest dresses! Kat and Penelope both wore Lilly Pulitzer, because mommy and daughter simply MUST match. I wore my nicest dress, by Vineyard Vines…the one I tricked my dad into buying me since it’s Tennessee Vol orange and white ūüėõ

And this time, Penelope did not poop on her Lilly ensemble!

And this time, Penelope did not poop on her Lilly ensemble!

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Marvelous in My Memorial Day Weekend

It may not be Monday because I didn’t think it was worth it to publish a full MIMM post on a holiday, but Memorial Day starts with M and so does Marvelous, so there’s no reason I can’t keep the alliteration train chuggin’ at full speed. My work day went south the second I picked up my cubicle phone this morning to listen to a voicemail, so I really need to focus on marvelous and not mad. Which is how I’m feeling.

Thanks Katie for hosting this party! Pretend the Monday says Memorial Day.

Marvelous is…making it to my gym’s Friday evening step class. I haven’t been able to leave work on time for that class in awhile but I decided it was the Friday before a holiday weekend so if any day I was going to leave early, it’d be that day. The step class was so fun – a routine with both familiar and new moves, a high-energy instructor who demanded cheers from us as we worked out, and fantastic remixes of old favorites like “The Call”. Great way to kick off the holiday weekend.

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Summer with a Side of Guilt

Summer is officially here! What comes to mind when you think of summer? I think of warm weather, beaches, family, friends, concerts, sunglasses, flip flops…and parties. Now, get that image of a keg out of your head. That’s not what I mean.

I prefer homemade sangria to a keg.

I mean summer parties, whether in the form of¬†barbecues, bonfires, backyard grad parties, festivals, tasting events…frequency of all of the above really kicks up in the summertime. I already know this from personal experience over the last month – and it wasn’t even summer yet.

Cabernet, strawberries, oranges, and lemon seltzer.

With these parties come the usual suspects – food and drinks. Suspect is probably a poor choice of words though.

Yup, I made that!

It’s a poor choice of words because thinking of the food and drinks at my beloved tastings, BBQs, and shindigs as bad guys is exactly what I’m struggling with…and trying to get away from.

I’ve found that in the back of my mind, as I sip on my sangria and roast my marshmallows, I’ve been battling those nagging feelings of guilt over indulging. A creeping fear that I will enjoy doing so to such an extent, that it will become a daily habit (and hence, no longer an “occasional splurge”).

Kim and I have bonded over our sangria love since we first started hanging out!

Which stinks, because what I really want to do is tell those thoughts to go to hell so that I can have fun with my friends and relax. In fact, Jeff and I have even created a little inside joke hashtag that we can throw out at me when I need to do just that Р#CalmDownCaitlin.

Sometimes at summer festivities, I start¬†feeling overwhelmed. I look around at all the good food and refreshing drinks, and I want to try it all. It’s OK to try it all! Then my over-planning mind kicks in: But what if I get full first and overeat? What heavy ingredients are in that dip? How much juice is in that sangria?

White and red sangrias, the right courtesy of yours truly.

Nothing better than crusty bread and cheese!

I am often able to find myself distracted enough by good times to quiet my mind and enjoy myself in the moment. I’m glad I haven’t been missing out on anything.

Yeah, I overloaded on the fruit in the drink.

But often times when I get home from a BBQ or a tasting event, I start dwelling on what I ate. On if it was really “necessary” for me to have a second helping, or if I really “needed” to have ¬†a third glass of wine.

Memorial Day BBQ Dinner

Father’s Day BBQ drinks – white & red wines

OK, maybe I physically don’t need dessert, or cheesy dips, or creamy potato salad. But when I’m surrounded by family and friends enjoying those things, and when I find myself looking at them with envy, that doesn’t matter. It’s what I WANT, not what I SHOULD do, that can guide my decisions and my actions.

Family friends gathered around the dominoes table.

The problem is that I don’t trust myself when I’m surrounded by stuff I get excited about – stuff like this:

But just because I love all the food and drinks at these parties doesn’t mean I’m going to go crazy and eat everything. In fact, it means ¬†it’s the PERFECT time for me to just sit back, enjoy myself, and try the foods that I want to try. Eat the potato salad that I want to eat, despite the fact that it’s got bacon on top. I mean, these fabulous parents are grilling us all this amazing meat and seafood, so why not throw some steak onto my plate next to the chicken?

I honestly am usually more of a savory food lover than a sweets lover, so why not have a bit of that Coca-Cola chocolate cake (below right) if I want it? Eating it will not make me want to eat it every single day from then on out.

There’s a reason everyone, me included, looks happier with an ice cream cone in hand. Ice cream is worth it. Happiness is worth it!

How cute is my friend Erica with her homemade strawberry ice cream?

No use crying over spilled milk, right? So no use feeling guilty over strawberry shortcake either. OK, that was a reach. Go with it.

When I’m smiling like this and having a good time, does it really matter that I’m not being “perfect Caitlin”? That I’m not eating clean? It’s just one day – one meal, even.

My friend Colin, stickin’ his butt in my picture.

I don’t want to look back on my summer, or any time in my life, and regret holding myself back. There are already periods of my life that I feel that way about. I don’t want there to be any more. How can I hold myself back when there are so many good times to be had?

Not sure if this qualifies as a good time.

What’s the benefit of living a physically healthy lifestyle if I can’t be mentally healthy, too? I’ll have this body for the rest of my life, but I’ll also have this mind. And the guilty feelings that invade it and scold me for following up dessert with another glass of red are not healthy.

I want to let go. I want to let the good times roll. I want to come home at the end of the day, take a deep breath, and tell myself that I wasn’t perfect today – and have that be a GOOD thing. I want to CONGRATULATE myself!

About to enjoy a s’more!

Because I deserve to laugh at moments like this…

I deserve to sit around a bonfire and play Catch Phrase with my friends…

I deserve to say “yes” when someone asks me if I’d like a s’more…

Perfect roasting position.

I deserve it all! And that’s OK.

Father’s Day…where are the fathers?

Do you have certain times of the year when indulging stresses you out more than usual? I know the holidays are another time that many worry about.

Do you have any suggestions that have been helpful to you for dealing with feeling guilty over not eating “100% clean”?

What ways are you kind to yourself mentally?

Taste of Wethersfield

A couple of weekends I attended yet another glorious tasting event – a local, reasonably priced tasting from the Wethersfield Historical Society called¬†Taste of Wethersfield!¬†Anyone who’s been reading my blog for awhile can surely tell that I love going to these things. I’m all about trying small samples of as much as I can. There is so much out there to taste! Other events I’ve gone to include:

Since a lot of people seemed to enjoy my last Fashion Friday post, I’ve been trying to remember to take more outfit pictures before heading out to events or meals.¬†Is this something you guys are actually interested in seeing?

Top: Forever 21

Necklace: J. Crew outlet

Watch: Fossil

Pants: Urban Outfitters

Heels: Steve Madden

 My good friend Kim is a Wethersfield native, and she agreed to join me on this lovely Saturday evening. She was definitely familiar with a lot of the places in attendance!

Awkward posing with the event mascot.

We were greeted right away with a selection of beers: Shock Top Raspberry Wheat, Wheat IPA, and Lemon, as well as good old Sam Adams Summer. As a beer experimenter I went with the beer I thought it was most likely I’d like, the Lemon. It tasted like…Shock Top tasted the last time I tried it. Donde esta la lemon?

Let’s move onto the wine – now that’s more like it! At the below table I sampled Edna Valley Vineyard Merlot, described as complete with “aromas of cocoa powder, black cherry, & plum balanced with fine tannins and acidity”. I don’t know about the cocoa, but it was certainly well balanced and tasty.

The below Amarula Cream Liqueur was one of the most delicious liqueurs I’ve ever tried! It was like an¬†amaretto¬†coffee. It’d pair so well with a dessert pastry. Or poured over a huge piece of tiramisu. Someone try it and get back to me!

Wethersfield’s Starbucks was there too – not exactly local/slow food, but still yummy. They were serving coffee, including their new Blonde Roast (which is too light for this blonde) and pastries! I’ve had the below¬†chocolate chip walnut banana bread in the past at my previous favorite study location from my days at UConn, the Starbucks on campus.

I’ve also seen the below¬†double chocolate brownies and lemon loafs in the display case of many a Starbucks location.

I elected to sample their newest petite pastry offerings (I’ve never even seen these in stores before since I started passing up Starbucks for local cafes), the brown sugar walnut (left) and chocolate hazelnut (right) tarts. To my surprise, I preferred the brown sugar walnut. Perhaps that’s because the chocolate hazelnut tart had no hazelnut taste to it whatsoever – it just tasted like a Milano cookie.

Let’s get to some area restaurants! City Steam is a really cool brewery/cafe/restaurant in Hartford with daily bar specials, comedy shows, a diverse menu, and its own brand of beers. I’ve eaten there once before and it was a pretty good meal! Not amazing, but not bad by any means. There is definitely something for everyone on the menu.

The Naughty Nurse Amber Ale, the original beer from City Steam, is available in bottles in liquor stores. During my Integrated Marketing Communications class last spring, one of the owners of City Steam even brought a six-pack in (to pass around, not drink…) and spoke with us about marketing. I wasn’t as interested in marketing and branding in the food and drinks world then – wish I could go back in time now and listen all over!

Naughty Nurse is the variety of beer I opted to try, since the newer option, Blonde on Blonde, is a “very hoppy pale ale” (seriously, the label even says that word-for-word) which is almost sure to equal me disliking it. Kim and I both liked the Naughty Nurse (ha) a lot! We detected a chocolate/caramel taste, and the employee working the booth did confirm our suspicions about the caramel.

My eye wandered immediately to the right, toward the next booth over, Carmela’s Pasta Shop of Wethersfield. I hadn’t heard of it, but Kim confirmed for me that they are thought of by many as the best source of homemade pasta in Hartford! Thankfully the staff was serving up freshly made ravioli. Their sauce was to die for and the ravioli were perfect! Some of the best I’ve ever had. I’d love to try a squash or pumpkin ravioli from Carmela’s…I wonder if they make any in the fall? I hope to get to Carmela’s sometime this summer to bust open a bottle of wine and enjoy some good old-fashioned Italian cooking!

I was happy to have the chance to sample another specialty cocktail from Onyx Moonshine, after having tried their delicious cider-based cocktail last fall. This grassroots liquor company has a factory right near me in Manchester, CT! Onyx is being served at more and more bars and restaurants not only in its home state, but in RI and MA as well. The cards at the bottom of the below photo detail a different Onyx Moonshine cocktail for each season!

¬†The pitcher below was filled with a refreshing concoction indeed – the summer cocktail Shinin’ Tea: one part Onyx, two parts sweet iced tea, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.¬†I didn’t detect a hint of the moonshine, but not because there wasn’t any in there – it sneaks up on you! Danger! The founders, Adam and Peter, also informed me that their moonshine is a great component in many recipes, like steak tips. That sounds amazing!

¬†I really expanded my beer horizons during this event and sampled my first Hooker Brewery beer (made right nearby in Bloomfield, CT), the Watermelon Ale. I’d heard less than favorable opinions of it and was fairly surprised to find that I enjoyed it! So refreshing and as Kim said, “it tastes like I just sucked on a Jolly Rancher and chased it with beer”. Yup, that’s about right, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

Tschudin Chocolate & Confections of the wonderful Middletown, CT had some impressive sculptures in the making! I don’t exactly know what the one below is because clearly it was in-process when I got the photo, but check out that construction hardware!

I can’t believe the bamboo in the photo below (on the right) is ALL CHOCOLATE! How cute is the googly-eyed iPhone? Kim and I each took a nibble of some dark chocolate discs from this booth. Mmm, it paired SO well with red wine from the next table over!

That table was run by some lovely ladies of Cork & Brew in Southington, CT, the only place in the state where you can make your own beer and wine!¬†They even have¬†free classes Saturdays 10am or 1pm by appointment! I’m not sure what kind of wine the red was that I tried, but it was VERY fruity. The white was a¬†Green Apple Riesling – SO SWEET. Way too sweet for me, but yummy for a couple of sips from the small cup.

Cork & Brew seems to be the PERFECT destination for a girl’s night, bachelorette party, 21st birthday, and more! I love the idea. Guys can even get into the whole beer thing! You can also buy the supplies from them, take them home, and make your beer and wine all the time!

How amazing and cute are those cork holders?! They have them available in the store (not online yet unfortunately) and have Mother’s Day Gift written all over them!

Kim and I had successfully hit up almost all the downstairs booths, so we went upstairs and were greeted with a much livelier atmosphere! An excellent live band was playing and plenty of patrons were dancing; it was so cute!

There was also a silent auction happening upstairs. I actually didn’t see this in my event program until the next day, but look at this auction item – such a cool idea!

We tackled the upstairs drinks first – plenty to choose from at the below table. I sampled Lunae Moscato, the first Moscato ever to be infused with natural fruit “essence”, whatever that means! It was way too sweet for me and didn’t taste that natural, to be honest. And then we had Chopin Vodka, which I didn’t have a chance to try at Taste of the Nation: New Haven (their booth was shoved into a random corner that I didn’t notice at first), so I was excited to have the chance to sample it here. Each variety of Chopin is made with different “grains”, which in turn determine how much it tastes like…well…vodka. I went for the most potent, the potato vodka. I LOVE potatoes after all, so how appropriate! Yup, this definitely tasted like vodka. Not something I’d order straight up but I’m sure it’d make a smooth cocktail! Kim thought I was crazy for even trying a sample of it straight.

Next I tried Finca La Linda Carte Reservado, a Syrah and Malbec blend from Mendoza, Argentina. There was also some Merlot in there. I love blends so much – you don’t really know what to expect until the first sip. And I especially love all the wines used in the blend, so it was no surprise when this wine put a BIG smile on my face, and I don’t mean because it got me a-buzzin’.

Another noteable red I sampled was the below El Coto Rioja. Rioja is a grape that I am relatively new to knowing about, but it was love at first sip since I first sampled some at Esca. This wine also seemed very CT-appropriate with its The-Hartford-like logo!

Reps from one of the newest spirits to hit the market, American Harvest, were giving out cocktails made of OJ, Sprite, and their organic vodka. I wish I could tell you whether or not this vodka was any good, but the cocktail completely masked its taste and was mostly juice and soda. Boo!

The good red wines kept on comin’…my last sip of alcohol for the evening, and it was a good last one, came from the bottle on the left in the below photo. It was Dreaming Tree Crush, a smoky red that really impressed me – and I felt that way before I was told by the booth’s operator that Dreaming Tree is the wine company owned by Dave Matthews!¬†Dave sure can make good music AND good wine.

OK, I am not a drunkard, let’s get back to the food shall we? And what makes a girl crave pizza more than red wine? Answer: nothing. Good thing Village Pizza was posted up next to the booth with the Dreaming Tree!

It may not look the prettiest but the above pie with spinach and sausage, though not in possession of as thin a crust as I normally like, was so delicious. So was the below pie, fresh out of the oven (literally – Village Pizza is right across the street from the event venue, talk about local!) and complete with beefy, juicy tomatoes and perfect seasonings.

Next Kim and I found an unexpected booth – one run by grocery chain ShopRite. I honestly have always associated that grocery store with heavily discounted, low-quality items. However, I was pleasantly surprised by their offerings! The cheesecakes below were fantastic…it’d been way too long since I had a bite of cheesecake. That used to be my “reward” to myself after each calc exam I suffered through at UConn!

The melba toasts with fresh olive oil and balsamic vinegar made me feel quite classy!

So did the olive tapenade spread on these melba toasts – even though it may look a bit gross (I won’t say what it looks like…), trust me, it was delicious.

MELBA MANIA! The below toasts were spread with a spinach and artichoke hummus. YUM. However, I didn’t really taste the spinach or the artichoke. I just tasted salty hummus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

My favorite combo, of course, was the cheese and fig jam pairing. I could eat sweet and savory things piled on top of bread ALL DAY.

Krause Catering passed out some delectable looking mini strawberry shortcakes. Instead of pound cake, they were made with BISCUITS! Biggest regret of the night: not deciding I wanted one until they had run out. And the event wasn’t even over yet! The picture below is Kim’s – she was a smart lady and grabbed one of these early.

Carbone’s, a Hartford landmark on “Little Italy” AKA Franklin Avenue, had some amazing meatballs. They didn’t look too pretty so I didn’t take a picture, nor did I get a picture of the prosciutto-wrapped melon we tried because the few pieces left on the tray looked lonely. However I did get a shot of this unique appetizer, cucumber slices topped with a salmon and tzatziki-like spread. So yummy! I had actually eaten dinner at Carbone’s the night before (hoping to have time to share THAT experience at some point…) and was glad the booth was passing out things I hadn’t already tried.

Next up, a place that I have been dying to try (I have a Living Social deal, but have been saving it for when the weather is warm enough to dine al fresco)…Puerto Vallarta! This Mexican mini-chain had a nice long table set up. Some of the offerings included this delectable app. It reminded me of a spring roll, except filled with shredded pork. YUM.

This sauteed chicken, pepper, and onion medley for fajitas was really good. I skipped the tortillas to avoid filling up on bland-ness (I already know what they taste like after all).

Costa del Sol¬†of Hartford served up Mexican that was more my style – SEAFOOD-heavy stuff! On the left we have a gazpacho and on the right a cold ceviche with huge beans. I believe the ceviche was sitting in the gazpacho. The herbs on top had a strong flavor that wasn’t too overpowering. Two thumbs up to each sample!

One of my favorite places in Wethersfield is Lucky Lou’s Bar & Grill on Old Main Street. They have an amazing happy hour, fabulous seafood, and a gorgeous outdoor patio with live music that doesn’t piss me off with excessive volume. All these things are great, but what really puts the cherry on top is their ability to make a good sangria that doesn’t taste like a wine cooler. I had already tried their red last summer, so I sampled the pineapple coconut sangria on the left. I usually scoff at a white sangria, but WOW, I just wanted to take the pitcher down to Florida with me (because it was cold outside in CT) and drink it.

Like I said, they have fab food too. Didn’t fill up on any of that pasta, but I did have one of those balsamic-drizzled bruschettas. My mom and I ordered a full-size bruschetta last time we went, and it was to die for, so I had to have it again.

Ginza, a sushi and hibachi restaurant that I’ve dined at before, was JUST running out of sushi samples when Kim and I arrived at their table. Lots of places were out of stuff by this point! I tried a spicy tuna roll, and Kim had a California roll. Two thumbs up from both of us, though not the most creative or exciting thing ever (and white rice is blahhh). Their hibachi is very good though, I know this from past experience!

I drive by Aroma Bistro on Old Main Street all the time (it’s across the street from Lucky Lou’s) but have never been in. After trying their sandwiches, I think that will have to change ASAP. Check out the Grateful Pilgrim: turkey, caramelized onion, avocado, Dutch Fontina cheese, cranberry mayo. This goes above and beyond your classic “Gobbler” style sandwich with the addition of the avocado and a dynamite cheese. AND wheat bread!

The Garden Treasure was also awesome. I love a veggie panini that doesn’t skimp on the veggies. Sooo much veggie goodness, and basil pesto was a grand finale.

And finally, the Texas Roadhouse, which was MADE by the horseradish mayo and the perfectly crispy bacon.

LAST STOP! Did you think this night would never end? My stomach certainly hoped for just that. Alas, we got to the last table (that still had food left…), Comerio of Hartford. More pork! It was so amazing, slow-roasted to perfection.

And I honestly don’t remember what the dish below was. Something unique! But it was so good. Check out their menu – lots of interesting foodie finds like boiled bananas, gizzards, and stewed pig ears!

I have almost NO complaints about this event. It was great, and for only $35, so worth it! However, I would hope that next year the restaurants are more prepared with enough food. I know that they donate their time and resources and that’s very kind in the first place, but the event was advertised to last until 9:30PM, and even by 8:30PM some booths were out! Of course, it’s very possible that the turnout this year was WAY more than last year! It’s really not a big deal – overall, it was a great event that raised a lot of money for a good cause. The Wethersfield Historical Society should be proud – thanks for bringing an affordable tasting event to the Hartford area!

Which of these tasty treats and drinks would you have liked to try?!

Ever had strawberry shortcake made with a biscuit? How cool is that?!

CT Wine and Food Festival

The following post has been a long time coming, but finally I’ve had a chance to write up the recap and share with you all!

A couple Saturday nights ago I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous event at a discounted price! The Arthritis Foundation put on the first ever CT Wine & Food Festival at The Hartford Club. Attendees could choose to attend Grand Tasting Session I in the afternoon, or Session II in the evening (that’s the one my fellow foodie friend Jeff and I went with). The venue itself was very classy, complete with a coat check and grand wooden staircases.

I’ve always wanted to go to an event like this and was so pleasantly surprised to find one in my own backyard – at an affordable price! The Arthritis Foundation did a great job in their first year holding the Festival and I can only hope it becomes an annual tradition.

While waiting for Jeff to meet me, I perused the brochure provided to each guest describing the vendors that were present for the evening and the schedule of chef demos. I started feeling very excited and overwhelmed as I turned page after page and realized I was still reading the list of vendors. I was also excited to see some familiar names!

Drinks

Jeff and I didn’t want to be chaotic in our approach, so we decided to make a circle around each room so we wouldn’t miss anything. I also was hoping to do drinks first, and then food, since I rarely ever want to drink while I’m eating or after the fact. The first stop was at Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards, a New York winery making sangria out of their sweet Red Cat wines. The recipe was simple: Red Cat wine over ice, with a lime wedge. So delicious and easy!

I also tried a fun little science experiment at their booth. Try putting a few Godiva dark chocolate chips in your mouth, letting them chill there for about 5 seconds, and taking a sip of Hazlitt’s Bramble Berry wine. As the guy at the booth put it, I experienced a “flavor explosion”. Dark chocolate + wine = heaven! The Bramble Berry is the third bottle from the left in the photo below.

The sangria was made with the wine on the right!

I had several other specialty cocktails throughout the evening. Onyx Spirits made a drink of real CT moonshine, apple cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, and whipped cream! It was fall-fabulous. I sipped on it slowly while Jeff tried some beers, and it stayed tasty til the end thanks to the whipped cream dissolving into the beverage. Yum!

Upstairs, Hotel California Tequila made a tequila cocktail that included Godiva chocolate liquer. It was delicious, but I also couldn’t taste any tequila whatsoever. It would have been nice to know what their liquor actually tasted like!

I sipped on the best gin I’ve ever had, Bluecoat American Dry Gin on the rocks. It was unbelievably smooth with no burn whatsoever. Instead of smelling like grass, like most gins I’ve tried straight, it smelled and tasted like citrus! I loved the bottles too.

Believe it or not, I actually found a beer that I can say I liked! I can’t see myself being able to stomach a glass of it, but it was an Olde Burnside Brewing Company ale called Stone of Destiny that was nice to sip on! Low carbonation + chocolate and coffee flavors were the selling points that got me to try it – and enjoy!

I’m not a Stella drinker (my parents are), but I took a shot of this very large bottle of it because I have never seen one before – and I used to promote it at liquor stores!

There were so many wines at this event that I didn’t have room/the tolerance to try them all, but I did sip on my fair share!

I tried the Quixote red wine at this particular booth and really liked it, but there were so many wines that they all seemed the same toward the end. I can also partially attribute that sentiment to my buzz, but I do think this was a situation in which I over-tasted on wine!

Buzzed and blurry?

And what goes best with wine (aside from the dark chocolate I already mentioned)? Cheese! That’s right, bring on the…

Food

Caseus of New Haven was sampling two delectable cheeses that Jeff and I paired with red wine from another booth. The bottom cheese of the photo was chopped too finely for my taste (I could barely pick it up with the toothpick) but it was still delicious. I really liked the top cheese in the photo the most though.

We also tried the cheese in combination with some chewy sourdough bread. And speaking of bread, more was munched on in combination with olive oils and balsamic vinegar from O’Live a Little of Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. I’ve heard so much about their store but haven’t had a chance to check it out, so doing so at this event was very convenient.

Jeff and I were given several shots – of the olive oil and balsamic variety! I was done with the alcohol shots at that point. The center balsamic vinegar in the above photo is a fig balsamic, and the one on the right was filled with flavorful herbs and was our favorite. Like I said before, there was also bread for dipping. O’Live a Little was also selling quaint gift baskets and jarred olive varieties!

Hard to tell, but that’s lasagna!

DaCapo Ristorante Italiano of Avon/Litchfield gave me a HUGE piece of lasagna – the best I’ve ever had! It was so authentic. I love my mom’s whole wheat ground turkey ricotta-less lasagna, don’t get me wrong, but this was the real stuff and it was so good. I can’t believe I drive by this place a couple of times a week whenever I go to the gym near my office, and have never noticed it!

Peppercorn’s Grill of Hartford, which Rachel and I have been meaning to attend for happy hour for a couple of weeks now, provided the above bite-sized gourmet treats. I love little tastes like this! The table provided a nice preview of what I can expect whenever I get to their happy hour. The prosciutto “sushi” was topped with sweet balsamic vinegar, and the lobster tart shells were light, flaky, and had a pleasant crunch. The lobster also tasted beyond fresh, straight out of the ocean. Honestly, it was the freshest lobster I’ve ever tasted!

What, you may wonder, is Matt Damon doing in this post? Well, nothing except not being bid on during the Festival’s silent auction. Jeff and I just thought that this autographed photo was too hilarious and random. It didn’t fit in with the gift baskets and vacation packages being auctioned off at all. Poor, lonely Matt!

Look familiar?

I ran into my buddy Phyllis Haynes and her delicious product, Mariah’s Chow Chow Relish. I was so glad to see her, because last time we met she gave me a jar of her Hot & Spicy flavor, so I had a chance to tell her how much I have been enjoying having it on my baked potato skins! I also tried the next flavor up, Hot Hot Hot, and am happy to report that I have officially graduated to that flavor. The relish’s sweetness balances the hotness out perfectly, so that even someone like me who is sensitive to spicy foods can enjoy! Since Phyllis partners with Food Should Taste Good chips when she samples her relishes, I also finally was able to try their Sweet Potato flavor. However, the relish overpowered the chip and I didn’t get a good sense of how the it tasted. No issues with that – the relish is the star after all – but I hope to try the sweet potato chips again soon on their own!

How to-die-for does this dessert look? The Hartford Club Executive Chef Chris Kube‘s sweet, fall-inspired creations were my favorite part of the entire Wine & Food Fest! Jeff and I enjoyed chatting with Chris about his experiences exploring the restaurants of different cities he’s lived in (DC and NYC), and we pretty much lavished him with compliments as we moaned (in a good way) over his desserts.

The above item was my very, very favorite: pumpkin soup with cranberry and goat cheese biscotti. Pure pumpkin, sweet but subtle cranberries, crunchy biscotti, and savory goat cheese were an absolute match made in heaven. One of the best things I’ve ever eaten!

Demos

Throughout the evening, demos called Grand Tastings were scheduled in which various celebrity chefs whipped up some of their specialties, and then shared the results with some eager taste testers (AKA us). Jeff and I only caught a couple of these demos, but I enjoyed how they ran throughout the night so that whenever we stopped by the Grand Tasting area, there was almost always something happening or about to happen!

Chef Adam Greenberg of Barcelona – West Hartford!

The angled mirror above the demo cooking area provided every guest with a great view. Adam Greenberg of Barcelona in West Hartford whipped up some tasty scallops for us!

And for (another) dessert, Mike Elder (you may know him from TLC’s “Ultimate Cake-Off – he’s won three times!) demo-ed his cake decorating skills by showing us how he created some mice to put on top of his cheese-wedge cake!

Check out the barrel in the above photo – that’s a cake! The detail was so impressive. It’s hard to see, but in the photo, Mike is “spray-painting” one of the little mice he made to put on the other cake (pictured below).

It wouldn’t be a proper post without a photo of me awkwardly posing with food.

Check out the little mice! The cake itself, beyond the decor, was a “Wal-Mart cake” (Mike’s words, not mine). He jokingly kept telling us not to judge the taste of the cake itself for that reason! I am happy to report that Wal-Mart makes a good cake, and however sad it was to see the creation divvied up, I thoroughly enjoyed my slice.

I saved the most blog-related portion of this post for last, because it features something I’ve seen all over the place in the blog world: the Vita-Mix!

A rep in a headset whipped up several recipes for us, and I was definitely impressed by the Vitamix’s power! It’s way out of my price range, and I don’t really blend anything anyway, but I still enjoyed experiencing first-hand some food made in the blender that’s so loved by so many of my favorite bloggers!

Freshly-made peanut butter, with bananas and celery for dipping!

The PB pictured above was fab. I only got one bit of banana though, because I dropped the rest of my portion on the ground – dammit, wine! Celery was a subpar replacement for dipping, but the PB was wonderful enough that it wouldn’t matter what I was dipping into it. We also tried sorbet, a fruit smoothie, and tortilla soup! Out of everything though, my heart lay with the PB – it always wins in the end!

So there you have it: my trip to the first CT Wine & Food Festival was a great success, and I can only hope that it becomes an annual event. It looks like the Arthritis Foundation had a great turnout and raised money for their cause!

Have you ever been to a wine and food tasting? Which item that I wrote about would you most want to try?