A Very Brandi* Christmas

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Matching sister outfits
Gram's fireplace

Jillian was good

Penelope likes to wrap

Girls' gift exchange

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The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If you haven’t noticed, I am using lines from the classic Christmas movie “Elf” as my subject of my gift postings. J Bo and I still crack when Will Ferrell climbs the escalator in those yellow tights.

Sometimes hearing what other people want for Christmas inspires you to add things to your list or sparks ideas for your family and friends. Today, I feature items that are on some my dear readers’ gift lists.

Amy: Crate & Barrel gift cards to purchase a new coffee table.

Brady: Snow boots

Brian: A nice TV

Dana: A flip video camera and new bag

Sacks: Pimped out digital camera

Trish: WVU Tire Bowl tickets and a new laptop (Brandi* would actually like a new WVU Football coach)
ME: A blinging guitar for Guitar Hero and a beach cruiser bike

I started making Christmas lists for my parents again back in 2005 because I asked for just money and my mom still felt the need to buy me presents, many of which I returned, so that I had something to open on Christmas Eve. Oh yes, Christmas Eve (we will get back to that). Brady thought that my lists were a little dumb until he realized that I actually get things that I want, wear and use. While you might feel a little cheesy making a list for your family, it gives them options and ideas. I recommend putting about 20 things on there – it gives everyone a nice selection and they will have some left over ideas for your birthday.

The Bonkowski girls open our gifts on Christmas Eve because “Santa stops first at our house because the children are extra good.” It’s our little tradition.

(Ethically, my journalism degree tells me that I probably should have got everyone’s permission to publish this list on my blog, but guess what!? The only people that read this are those who have my blog link and others sent here from Brian’s blog!)

(Pics: theflip.com, beachbikes.net, elfyourself.com)
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Hot Off The Press

Saturday, December 20, 2008

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I'm a human, but I was raised by elves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sometimes I fret over finding the perfect gift. Other times, I just buy something and trust that the giftee will return the present if they don’t like it.

With Christmas around the corner, here are some ideas for people those people that see to “have it all.”

Tickets: If you know an upcoming band of performance is coming up that the receipent enjoys, the experience of going to a concert is a great gift. Also consider events like “Dancing with the Stars” and sporting events. (p.s. I wrotethis before J Bo came up with the awesome parents gift idea - great minds think alike)

Dates: If it’s your significant other that has everything, create the “12 Dates of Christmas.” Give your loved one 12 different things to do. From movie, bowling and play tickets to dinner gift cards, your man or lady friend will love the creativity and it will give you plans to break the winter blues.
Food & Alcohol: Let’s face it. We all need to eat and drink. Why not buy the person some gift cards for places they enjoy dining, bars they frequent or the local grocery store. This is one area where I feel gift cards are welcome. If you know their favorite beverage, pick up that spirit or a bottle of fine wine. A lot of spirits companies sell special holiday-themed gift sets this time of year.

Monthly (fill in the blank) Club: More than ever, there are a ton options out there for monthly clubs where your gift recipient receives something in the mail. My favorites include flowers, wine, beer, cocktail mixers (Stirrings), cookbooks, movies, steak, fruit, chocolate, tea…the list keeps going. Pick something your friend of loved one likes or they want to learn more about – like wine.

Charity: For those unlucky readers that need to buy something for a person that is super-rich, when in doubt, donate to a charity in that person’s name. Brady’s little mustache thing introduced me to DonorsChoose.org and let me say I am obsessed. Searching though what America’s teachers are looking for is heartbreaking. For example, a teacher here in Chicago was raising money to buy her class the Queen Latifia anti-gang violence book. I had to pry myself away or else I was going to spend the weekend begging for money on Michigan Ave.

Click back this week for some more gift ideas.

(Picture source: Parents.com)
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12 Cocktails of Christmas (part two)

And the 12 Cocktails of Christmas continue!

Five golden rings
One of the best parts of this song is belting out “Five Golden Rings.” Someone wearing five golden rings on their fingers would be considered a “Golddigger” in my mind. Therefore, here is a feirce recipe for a Golddigger. This drink contains Goldschlager - cinnamon schnapps that has little gold flakes floating in the bottom. I must warn you – this one sounds disgusting.

- 1/2 oz Jack Daniels
- 1/2 oz Goldschlager
Pour in shot glass and serve

Four calling birdsI am not really a fan or birds. Pigeons to be exact. I think they are gross and dirty. So when researching this category, I stumbled upon “The Dirty Bird.” While this drink would probably make me puke, I would recommend it to those who like White Russians, because it’s basically the same thing!

The Dirty Bird
- 1 oz vodka
- 1 oz coffee liqueur
- cream or milk
Pour the vodka and coffee liqueur in an old-fashioned glass filled with ice.
Fill with milk or cream.
Shake by placing a mixing tin over the glass and giving it one or two good shakes.

Three French hens
Okay, I am not going to go into any cocktails that require eggs (nog is the exception). There are some real gross things out there from modern mixologists. I am not sure if you know this, but in some European countries, they actually call a bachelorette party a “hen night.” Therefore, let’s toast the Ménage à trois of hens with a French Martini that includes Champagne.

French Martini with Champagne -1 shot chambord
- 1 shot pineapple juice
- 1 shot vodka
- Champagne
Add chambord, pineapple juice and vodka to a flute glass, and then fill with Champagne.

Two turtle dovesThis recipe from Ingrid Hoffman from the Food Network is a little complicated and it serves four rather than two. However, it’s called “The Dove.”

Dove Cocktail
- Lime wedge, for riming glasses, plus more for garnish
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup white tequila
- 1/2 cup orange liqueur
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- 2 limes, juiced
- 1 lime
- Splash club, orange, or grapefruit soda (depending on desired sweetness)
- Pomegranate seeds, optional
- Rim 4 tall Collins-type glasses with lime wedge and then dip in sugar.
Fill glasses with ice cubes.
In a large measuring cup combine tequila, orange liqueur, lime juice and pomegranate juice. Divide cocktail between the 4 glasses. Top with soda and garnish with lime wedges and pomegranate seeds, if desired.

And a partridge in a pear tree
ABSOLUT Pears is a must here. When the flavor launched, there was a lot of buzz, but also some confusion. Bartenders and at home entertainers were having a rough time figuring out what to mix it with. Here is simple recipe that I would totally garnish with a clean, wood branch.

Absolut Pear- 1 part Absolut Vanilia
- 4 parts Lemon-lime Soda
- Pear
Fill a highball glass to the rim with ice cubes. Pour absolut vanilia and lemon-lime soda into a mixing glass. Fill the mixing glass with dry ice cubes and stir. Strain the drink into the highball glass. Garnish with a pear (slice).

(Recipe Sources: AbsolutRecipes.com, foodnetwork.com, idrink.com, wikipedia.com, cocktails.about.com, drinksmixer.com, Photo Sources: greenfieldpaper.com, artofdrink.com, thedrinkshop.com)
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12 Cocktails of Christmas (part one)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

When I was four-years-old, I was in a preschool program that also had a Kindergarten for five-year-olds. I was a little advanced for my age, so with my parents approval, I got to go to Kindergarten early. At Christmas, we preformed a play for our parents in which I portrayed the part of 10 Lords of Leaping in the 12 Days of Christmas. Every time I hear the song, I think of my first acting role. I even have a Christmas ornament that proudly displays my achievement. I like to think of it as my first Oscar.

A few years back, I saw a recipe-themed story in a newspaper called “The 12 Cocktails of Christmas.” I love this theme, so I am going to reprise it for you my dear readers. Incase you forget the classic holiday tune, the final verse goes a little something like this:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me

Twelve drummers drumming,

Eleven pipers piping,

Ten lords a-leaping,

Nine ladies dancing,

Eight maids a-milking,

Seven swans a-swimming,

Six geese a-laying,

Five golden rings,

Four calling birds,

Three French hens,

Two turtle doves,

And a partridge in a pear tree

Because the post is rather log, I am going to give it to you in two parts. The first six cocktails are…

Twelve drummers drummingWhen I think of drummers, I think of hard core rockers. These people chug out of the bottle. But for the purpose of this post, let’s salute drummers with the Drum Shot from idrink.com

Drum Shot- ½ part 151 Rum
- ½ part Jagermeister
Mix ingredients in shot glass and “prepare to be tough.”

Eleven pipers piping
Pop bottles with the pipers like you won the championship game. When I mean bottles, I mean bottles of some Piper Heidsiek champagne. I am making this one easy, because the cocktail recipes are going to get a little tricky here.

Ten lords a-leaping
Ah my favorite present. Toast my acting debut with the “Oh Lord” cocktail. I have a feeling that is what my family was saying after my performance.

Oh Lord- 1 ounce Tequila
- 1 ounce Coconut liqueur
- 6 ounce Orange Soda
Pour Tequila and Malibu rum into glass with ice, pour orange soda over the booze. Really easy to make, and is what happens when you run out of everything else to drink.

Nine ladies dancing
Oh what sluts. Just kidding. But let’s pretend these ladies have red hair and don’t like to dance until they are wasted. That means do shots.

Red Headed Slut- 1 oz peach schnapps
- 1 oz Jagermeister
- Splash of cranberry juice
Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, strain.

Eight maids a-milking
Oh yes it's ladies night! Gather the maids together and toss back some egg nog. There are some great pre-made options at your local grocer, or you can make it from scratch with this recipe from Alton Brown of The Food Network.

Alton Brown’s Homemade Egg Nog
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1 pint whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 ounces bourbon
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 egg whites*
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Add the milk, cream, bourbon and nutmeg and stir to combine.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat to soft peaks. With the mixer still running gradually add the 1 tablespoon of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form. Whisk the egg whites into the mixture. Chill and serve.

Cook's Note: For cooked eggnog, follow procedure below.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the 1/3 cup sugar and continue to beat until it is completely dissolved. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over high heat, combine the milk, heavy cream and nutmeg and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and gradually temper the hot mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Then return everything to the pot and cook until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from the heat, stir in the bourbon, pour into a medium mixing bowl, and set in the refrigerator to chill.

Seven swans a-swimming
Why are you staring at my swannnn…sorry. I just had a Billy Madison moment. Thinking like Billy, let’s make things simple here by just going with a wine. A wine from the Black Swan Winery.
Six geese a-laying
The obvious choice here is a cocktail with some Grey Goose. While I am not typically a fan of the vodka because of its taste and brand positioning, I’ll include it here – tis the season for peace!

Grey Goose Vodka Martini
- 3 ounces Vodka
- 1 ounce Dry Vermouth
Shake with cracked ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive.
Check back on Thursday for part two.

(Sources: drinkmixer.com, foodnetwork.com, drinkswap.com, cocktailDB.com, blackswanwines.com, marieclarie.com, greygoose.com, idrink.com, drinkstreet.com, plumparty.com, epicourious.com)
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Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The 2008 Brandi* homemade holiday cards are on their way to your mailbox, well those readers that I had addresses for.

You might recognize this year's design as "the most favorite reindeer of all..."

And now for the unveiling:

Taaaa daaaaa! Boy, do I love reindeer games!
I've had some readers inquire about how long it takes and how much it costs to produce my almost famous cards. Here is the 2008 breakdown:

- $50 on supplies (paper, 50 cards, envelopes, glue, bling)

- $25 for stamps (50 stamps)

- 8 total hours of design and print time

I hope the cards put you in the festive mood! If they don't do the trick, I hope you are one of the lucky ones to own Brandi*'s 2007 Holiday Mix CD : )
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Lips with the Furrrrrrr

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Chances are, if I ask most of you to describe my man friend Brady in three words, “trendsetter” wouldn’t be one of them. In fact, it probably wouldn’t even come up in the top 20 words my dear readers spit out.

For the second straight year, Brady is growing some lip fur for charity. That’s right folks; Mustaches 4 Kids (M4K) has sucked my boyfriend in for a second straight season.

Mustaches 4 Kids is a simple charity. For several weeks starting in November, guys in across the U.S. grow mustaches. Friends and family help the grower by giving cash to support the stash. Last year, all profits went to Off the Street Club, but this year the grower can pick a non-profit. The Chicago M4K chapter meets weekly at stashe’ check-points where the organization takes pictures to show the progress.

The organization was obliviously created so people would ask the grower “why do you have that hair growing above your lip,” but no one realized in 2008 a mustache would be in fashion. For instance, Brad Pitt rocked the lip carpet on “The Today Show” last week and his fellow “Sexiest Man Alive” George Clooney has been sporting a lip blanket.

Readers, I ask you to give my boyfriend a Lincoln so that he can shave the damn thing off on Dec. 16th. Please. When he says that he is doing this for the kids, it is starting to scare me because he looks like a child molester.

I know times are tough, but you can donate here:


(sources: m4kchicago.com, eonline.com, moustashe.planetbrett.com)
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Stay Wet USA

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Tomorrow, December 5th, is truly a cool day to get totally wasted.

Cinco de Drinko, er December, marks the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment which legalizes alcohol in the United States. This year marks the 75th anniversary of this joyous occasion.

The origin of Prohibition in the United States dates back to May 1657 in Massachusetts. Some people were pissed that others were throwing back too much rum, wine and brandy. Others getting sauced went against religious beliefs and then there were a small percentage of smart doctors said that alcohol caused physical and metal health issues. Regardless, over consumption of alcohol became illegal in Boston.

Flash forward to the later part of the 1800’s. The Methodists believed that alcohol and sex went hand in hand. Okay, really the Methodists said that watering holes typically had prostitutes. This than lead to the formation of women’s groups that would protest bars, destroy liquor and harass customers until the saloon stopped selling alcohol. Those bitches meant business. The “Prohibition Party” also formed at this time. It’s kinda funny because the words together seem like an oxymoron.

Like the issue of Gay Marriage in the ’08 election, during the 1916 race both Woodrow Wilson (D) and Charles Evans Huhes (R) ignored the Prohibition Issue. In December of 1917, Congress got together and with more “dry” people than “wet” Prohibition was passed by both houses.

Thirteen boring years later on December 5, 1933, prohibition was repealed with The Twenty-first Amendment. As it states, the amendment... “explicitly gives states the right to restrict or ban the purchase or sale of alcohol.” This then led to a plethora of laws, in which alcohol may be legally sold in some but not all towns or counties within a particular state.

I’ve recently seen a lot of alcohol companies and modern-day saloons preparing for Prohibition Parties tomorrow. Of the PR, I love the campaign from Dewars. From the old school pics to the whitty copy, these people know how to party like its 1933.

Here’s to the Repeal & the 21st Amendment! Stay wet!

(Sources: Wikipedia, dewarsrepealday.com, foobooz.com, thegreatdepression.co.uk)
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Ways to Survive Holiday Travel

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Let’s just say that I experienced a mini-travel hell on Monday night. I handled it like Jackie O. visiting France, but I must say at one point I almost cried. If I didn’t prepare, I could have been stuck in a closed airport (that actually had the lights out) for seven hours before being put on a plane, just to watch them de-ice it and then boot me off.

Air travel can be crazy this time of year. Here are some tips for dealing with holiday travel.

• If your flight gets cancelled and they force you to leave the plane and talk to an agent at the desk, while you are waiting in line, call the airline’s 1-800 number at the same time. Let me just say this saved me at least 30 minutes to an hour on Monday night (and time meant everything at 2:30 a.m.).

• Check your computer at home for delays before you leave for the airport. When I saw that my flight was pushed back four hours, I called Southwest and asked what the chances were of it getting moved up. The guy said “very slim, but check each hour.” That man saved me sitting around for seven hours. I got to nap at home and watch Gossip Girl.

• If your flight is on a long delay, when you arrive check the monitors to see if there is an earlier flight. This worked for Brady and I last month. Our flight was pushed back three hours, but we flew standby on the earlier flight and made it – shaving about four hours off our trip.

• Be prepared for the worst – especially during high-traffic travel times. After my bad luck year of 2007, I feel that I handled Monday so well by just expecting to be delayed or to have my bag lost. Don’t go in with the expectations that you are going to have a perfect trip.

• Have a security check point routine. Because I’ve been on close to 20 flights this year, I’ve got it down to a science. While you are waiting for the people to check your ID, take off your coat/sweatshirt, shoes and get out your baggie of liquids. This will speed up the next step of sorting your carry on’s and going through the metal detectors. Also, consider the order you send your stuff through – always put your shoes in first!

• After you get through the detectors, please pick up your stuff and redress away from the community table. I hate when people hold up the line while trying to get redressed (ah hem Brady).

• Be careful with headbands. I have one that loves to set off the metal detectors.

• Remember that no liquid rule – that means snow globes. The TSA people are grinches during the holidays and don’t even give in to a girl crying.

• On your flight, get the drink without ice – you get more that way. If you want it cold, ask for the ice in another cup.

• When you are on Southwest and you can pick your own seat, be a hero and take the security row. You get more leg room.

• Finally, if you get stuck in the airport for six hours, make friends with a bartender and get wasted (vodka on the rocks). Just be sure to pee before you get on the plane. You are sure to get stuck on the runway and want to pee your pants.

And in the words of my bus driver tonight “It’s the holidays people.” You’ve got to deal with the crowds and be patient!
(Photo from: cartoonstock.com)
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Thanksgiving Dinner: To Feast or Fight?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving is all about eating dinner with family together at the table. This means there are bound to be some sticky conversations or for some little talking.

Here are some tips for creating a great dinner conversation:

* Let’s say that cousin Joe brings his hoochie-of-the-moment to dinner. Strike up some chatter by paying her a compliment. Tell her that you like her airbrushed nails or two-toned hair. It’s okay to lie a bit in this situation.

* Everyone loves a vacation. Ask family members about their last trip or any upcoming trips.

* Purchase a copy of People, Time, Sports Illustrated and a local newspaper. Read all of these on your way to dinner. You will be able to chat with everyone from Aunt Ida to Uncle Bob. I was actually surprised two Christmas’s ago when my pap said “I think that Angelina Jolie is pregnant.”

* If there is a student at the table – college, high school or even pre-school, ask about their classes and teachers.

* Spending turkey day in Pittsburgh? Just talk about the Steelers. Bonus points if you can share a story about a recent run in with Big Ben, Jeff Reed, Heinz Ward or the Bus.

And a few conversation “don’ts:”

* Try not to bring up religion, politics or the economy.

* If things get really bad, pretend to sleep. Blame it on the turkey. Don’t play sick – you may offend the chef.

* Be careful with the booze. You don’t want to get dirahha of the mouth.

Ways to change the subject or avoid the topic:

* If someone starts asking you questions that you don’t feel comfortable answering, simply say “can we talk about that later?”

* Let’s day the family gets into a heated debate over politics. Do your best to remain silent. If someone calls you out, tell them you are just listening to everyone’s opinions.

* Don’t attend dinner. Order Papa John’s and stay at home.

(sources: wikihow.com, San Diego Union Tribune, cnn.com; picture from kecute.wordpress.com)
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of visiting the Bonkowski residence, you would know that I live off of a major “route” that goes through Robinson Township. However, while the area may be a little busy, we have a little turkey problem in our hood. Because they are building more houses and tearing down woods, the turkeys roam my yard – they’ve even chilled out on our porch.

Since Thanksgiving is one week away I thought I would salute our unofficial “pets” by dedicating this Thirsty Thursday to Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey is a Kentucky Bourbon owned by spirits giant Pernod Ricard.

Also known as “The Dirty Bird,” “Gobble Gobble,” “Thunder Chicken,” and “The Kickin’ Chicken,” the Wild Turkey line features a few varities that are over 80 proof – the standard for a Kentucky Bourbon.

Some other facts about Wild Turkey:
- The original distillery was built in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky by the Ripy Brothers in 1905.Of course the distillery shut down for a brief time during prohibition, but stared rolling right after the repeal.
- Wild Turkey was bought out in 1971 by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co. who then sold it nine years later to Pernod.
- In 1940, Thomas McCarthy took some samples of the bourbon with him on a turkey hunting trip. The following year, his friends asked for “some of that wild turkey whiskey,” and the name of the brand was born.
- Is always aged in new white oak barrels. By using new wood means the bourbon draws in tastes of vanilla and caramel while aging making those its predominant characteristics.
- Bourbon standards in the United States allow distillers to add artificial coloring, but Wild Turkey chooses not to.

While most recipes containing Wild Turkey are really manly (i.e. Three Wise Men Go Hunting), but below you may want to test these two cocktails the night before Thanksgiving (or as some jagoffs call it “Wild Wednesday”).

Thanksgiving Cocktail1/2 oz. Brandy, apple
1 1/2 oz. Wild Turkey
4 oz. Cranberry Juice
1 tsp. Lime Juice
1 wedge Lime
Build over ice in a Collins glass. Garnish with a lime wedge

Fuzzy Blue Gobbler1 part Curacao, blue
1 part Schnapps, peach
1 part Wild Turkey
Shake everything with ice; strain into a cocktail glass


(sources: wikipedia, wildturkeybourbon.com, drinknation.com)
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Celebrity Spirits

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Over the last year, rehab has become a cooler celebrity hot-spot than Les Duex. From Britney to Lindsey to Eva Mendes, it seems like ever week a new starlet is hanging out at Circe Lodge in Utah.

While some stars are leaning on a sponsor to stay sober, other celebrities are become more involved in the alcohol industry. Here are some famous people whose names you may see behind the bar at your favorite watering hole (or down Diesel).

Donald Trump: Of course The Donald had to put his name on a bottle of something and vodka was his poison. Let me just say this brand markets itself as “quadruple distilled.” I learned from the Absolut folks that vodka can really only be distilled twice – anything after that really doesn’t matter or effect the taste.

Roberto Cavalli: Cocktails are basically a fashion accessory at a club, so it makes sense for fashion icon Roberto Cavalli to get into the spirits biz with a vodka brand, right? Roberto Cavalli stays true to his heritage by using Italian water and grains in the blend. The bottle is also designed by Cavalli himself.

Dr. Dre: Not only is he a badass rapper and an original gangsta, but Dr. Dre launched “Aftermath Cognac” this fall in a partnership with A&M Records and Drinks Americas. Make sure you have a pimp cup on hand to drink The Aftermath.

Snoooooooppppp: Of course Snoop Dog is following in Dre’s footsteps with his own cogna coming out in the next few months. One of them should really create pre-mixed gin & juice in a can. I have a great advertising jingle in mind.

Danny DiVito: After his drunken appearance on “The View” Danny now bottles and sells limoncello.

Willie Nelson: Let me tell you – Willie knows how to party. First his reputation for being a pot head, then his bourbon brand? Willie seems like a good time. His bourbon is called Old Whiskey River.

In the wine category, there are a ton of celebs that back brands. The list includes
- Francis Ford Coppola
- Athletes Greg Norman and Mike Ditka (Best Damn Red is a real variety)
- The late Paul Newman
- Martha Stewart (right)
- Celebrity Cellars also sells wines adoring images of Madonne, Kiss, The Rolling Stones, the face of Madonna, and Barbara Streisand.

(Sources: Houston Chronicle, Luxist, Washington Post, giftee.com and celebrity cellars)
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Merry Go Round the World

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reader Brian recently asked for my opinion on a “Stock the Bar” party. I told him that this theme works well for a housewarming or a couple’s shower, but is hard to pull off on a random night. I mean you don’t want to force your friends to bring you a $20-30 bottle of alcohol and then serve them keg beer and tortilla chips.

Brian’s real goal was to have a party where he could serve a number of new cocktails and spirits for his guests to try. In brainstorming, we came up with idea of an Around the World party. While this may or may not end up as Brian’s final theme, it inspired some great ideas.

Consider these tips below to host your own Around the World party.
* Invite friends by sending them a blank passport that they will get stamped at each station.
* If you budget doesn’t allow for you to support the countries, ask friends to host a different stop.
* When guests arrive, create a “security check” when they walk in. Act as a TSA agent and take your friends’ coats. You can also hand them mini-airline bottles of alcohol for their “trip.”
* Create 3-4 stations around your apartment or house. For a bigger space, add more stops on the tour.
* Print and laminate flags from each of the countries to display at each stop.

Here are some tour stop recommendations:

* Hola Senorita: Recreate Mexico with a great salsa, guacamole and a paloma. After my co-workers went on a trip to Tequila, Mexico, they said that the Paloma was more popular with the locals than a traditional margarita. Add an activity to this stop with a piñata.

La Paloma
- 2 ounces tequila
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- pinch of salt
- grapefruit soda (or Squirt)
Combine the tequila (reposado, preferably), lime juice, and salt in a tall glass. Add ice, top off with grapefruit soda, and stir. If you have some troubles finding the grapefruit soda (Mexican brand Jarritos), you can use Squirt as a last resort.

* Guten Tag: German’s love beer. Serve some specialty brews at this stop paired with giant soft pretzels. Bonus points if you have beer steins for guests to drink from.

* Bonjour: Nothing says France like French fries and Champagne. At this stop, create a photo opp for guests by purchasing a large portrait of the Eiffel Tower.

* Bellisimo Italy: A pizza station will be a hit for the stop in Italy – especially to satisfy those late night muchines. Complements the slice of pie with lemoncellio shots and red wine.

* Ni hao: For a stop in Asia, sample pot stickers and sake. Or you can hand out pieces of orange chicken on toothpicks like the do in the mall!

* Irish Eyes are Smiling: Irish people are known for being drunks. At this stop offers travelers some Guinness and Irish Coffee. Serve mini bowls of Lucky Charms!

Irish Coffee1 1/2 oz Irish whiskey1 tsp brown sugar6 oz hot coffeeheavy cream
Combine whiskey, sugar and coffee in a mug and stir to dissolve. Float cold cream gently on top. Do not mix.

The more props you have on hand at each station, the more fun the pictures will be. After the event, send friends a mini-photo album as a thank you and a way for them to remember their “trip.”

(Sources: esquire.com, drinksmixer.com. Images: walletgear.com, worldmapsonline.com, infus.com, tamu.edu, )
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A is for Apple

For a party earlier this month, I attempted this recipe for mini-candy apples. While my finished product can use a little work to perfect, I thought I would share this cute and easy recipe from Family Fun.

Mini Caramel Apples

- 4-inch lollipop sticks
- Melon baller
- Granny Smith apples (one apple makes about 8 mini apples)
- Butterscotch or peanut butter chips
- Chopped nuts, nonpareils, sprinkles, shredded coconut (optional)
- Small paper candy cups

Step 1 First, cut the lollipop sticks in half at an angle (the pointy end will go into the apple pieces easier). With the melon baller, scoop little balls out of the apple. Each ball should have a section of apple peel. Push half of a lollipop stick into the peel of each ball. Pat the apple pieces dry.

Step 2 Melt the chips according to the package directions. Dip and swirl the mini apples in the melted chips, then roll the apples in nuts, sprinkles, nonpareils, or coconut, if desired. Place the mini apples in paper candy cups to set.

The apples were super easy to transport and were a hit for those that wanted something sweet, but nothing too filling.

And remember, caramel apples aren't just for Halloween!

(Source: FamilyFun.com)
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44th President

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

So I took my readers advice and went to Grant Park tonight. I stood outside for 5 hours to see a glimpse of our new president, but man...it was worth it.

(Above: you can see Obama behind the brown podium)

Here's a recap of my Election Day:

* I voted before work on some shady Illinois voting papers where you color in an arrow. Apparently some polls have computers in this state, but us residents of one of the richest hoods in the city don't have that technology. I filled in my arrows in the lobby of a hotel on a coffee table.

* Stayed at work until 5:00 p.m. Yes, I know this doesn't seem special, but basically all companies in the City of Chicago let their employees go home at 3:00 p.m. to beat the 1 million people coming into the city for the rally - except mine. This actually turned out to be beneficial because my group of 8 went straight to the park.

* The scene on the way to the park was like a baseball game. Vendors were selling t-shirts, buttons and hot dogs. Chicago experienced a seasonably warm night with temps in the 60's during the evening.

* Arrive at Grant Park (the site of Lollapoloza and where I broke my finger playing softball). The City of Chicago starts letting people go through the 4 security checkpoints: Ticket, ID, purse and finally the metal detectors. Let me just say this was more intense than airport security. Then we arrive on the field to an awesome spot - right between the TV view and 50 yards from the stage.

* While we waited (standing) for 5 hours the time flew. Reader Amy sent state updates that excited the group. We were watching CNN and apparently the other channels were calling states a lot earlier. The other amusement was the dramatic CNN updates. Around 10, we were expecting the news of the polls closing in the west coast and rather than determining a blue state...BAM, CNN made the announcement that we had a new Commander in Chief. The crowd went wild as you will see below.

* Brady and I walked two miles home after the rally. Main streets and bridges in Chicago were closed with people peacefully celebrating. I've just never seen this before. I mean anytime I see big crowds is drunkards after concerts and sporting events.

So I started this post at 1:31 a.m. central on election night. I just took a shower to deodorize myself from smoke and wet field, but I must say get this last thing out now.

Tonight, I am so impressed with what I witnessed. The crowd was so peaceful, happy and most importantly diverse. There were whites, blacks, Asians, lesbians, gays and families all together just so excited and energized. It was a great, great feeling and I wish you all could have experienced this with me. I was and am truly proud to be an American.

Here is a video I took below of the jumbo tron. As I mention above, I shot this right after the sudden CNN announcement that Obama won.

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Happy HallowBradyBirthSteelersRuleElectionDay

Monday, November 03, 2008

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Vote Tomorrow

I am taking suggestions for Election Night signage and activities to do while I wait for Oprah to announce Obama.

This is my ticket to tomorrow night's rally. I couldn't get it to paste so you could see my name.

Don't forget to vote!
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Hello Birthday!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Today is the birthday of one of my all-time favorite cartoon character...Hello Kitty!

My cousin introduced me to Hello Kitty in 1st grade and I was hooked. I was even more obsessed because, at the time, there was only one place in Pittsburgh to purchase Hello Kitty items, so being in love with Kit was very exclusive.

In honor of Miss Kitty's birthday, Sanrio (the makers of Hello Kitty) are selling t-shirts that benefit the Humane Society. Buy yours here.

Here are some fun facts about Hello Kitty according to Wikipedia:

* Her full name is Kitty White

* First item baring HK's cute mug was a vinyl coin purse in Tokyo in 1974

* Hello Kitty has appeared in a number of television shows. IN 1991, Hello Kitty and Friends aired on CBS. The plot featured HK living as a little kit with her mom, dad and twin sister Mimmy. Her sis wears the same outfit in a different color and a bow on the opposite ear.

* In May of 2008, Hello Kitty was named a Japan Tourism Ambassador, representing the country in China and Hong Kong
* HK is a triple threat - she's hot, she can act and she also sings. Hello Kitty's branded album with a collection of artists is on sale at Walmart and iTunes.

(sources: sanrio.com, katjane.com, daylife.com)
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If you dress like a slut on Halloween, will you turn out to be a slut?

Friday, October 31, 2008

All over the news this week, there have been a ton of stories about risque tween Halloween costumes. According to The Today Show , mom's are outraged at the tummy baring options for kids these days.

Shot of Brandi* readers, you know how I feel about this subject. I think it's just wrong for people to slut up classic cartoon characters and I applaud creativity.

However, I don't think dressing your daughter/teen like a slut will make her become a slut. Take the MSNBC story I link to above. Here is a direct quote from the story...
"Studies show that the oversexualization of girls correlates with depression and eating disorders. Some girls are consumed with jockeying for social position, altering their looks and winning popularity contests. It consumes their emotional energy and makes them feel really bad about themselves."

You know when they do these studies, it's always "9 out of 10 girls experienced..." I guess I am that 10th girl. The slutty French Maid is moi at age 7 (1st grade). At this age, I didn't know what a slut was. And, if I would hear someone say it on the bus, I would come home and ask my mom what it was - I was just that type. I wasn't in a child prostitution ring and I didn't grow up to be a stripper, rather I was labeled "goodie two shoes" or a "straight ruler" for some time.

I know almost all of my 18 readers don't have kids, but regardless. If and when you have kids and decide to let them wear a risque costume, just talk to them about it. I remember my mom telling them what a French Maid was. I can't remember how she explained it, but we did talk about it. I followed this costume up in second grade with a belly baring jeanie number.

If you want to dress as a slut tonight, that's fine. Just remember that people might think that you are a slut because you are dressing the part. And don't be surprised when guys are looking at you all night.

Like the story says, "I am not suggesting that you dress in a potato sack..." I'm just trying to encourage creativity.

I know you've been asking what I am being this year. Because I feel like 2008 is all about "Going Green" and "recycling" I decided to jump on the bandwagon and recycle a costume. That will give you a hint.
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Dia de los Muertos

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

As a “marketer” by day, trend analysts have been telling us for years that we need to consider Hispanic Americans when we are planning because their presence in the United States continues to rise. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007, 15 percent of the estimated total U.S. population of 301.6 is Hispanic.

More and more bars in Chicago are piggybacking the popularity of Cinco de Mayo by creating specials around Dia de los Muertos. What exactly is this holiday?

Dia de los Muertos, or for those non-Spanish speaking folk, “Day of the Dead,” is celebrated on the 1st and 2nd of November. The holiday celebrates friends and family members who have died. Groups of people typically get together and build a private altar to honor the deceased using sugar skulls and marigolds. The beverage of choice of the deceased is typically placed at the grave site as well.

This holiday dates way back thousands of years to an Aztec festival to honor the goddess Mictecacihual (known as “The Lady of the Dead).

The more I research Dia de los Muertos, the more it creeps me out. The deaths of infants and children is celebrated on Nov. 1st, while adults are toasted on the 2nd. When people visit the children, they bring toys to their graves. Adults get some tequila.

Ahhh tequila. The reason bars are trying to get this holiday going for us young folk. They want us to drink tequila year round – just not on Cinco de Mayo, in summer margaritas and Patron shots.

Whatever way you decide to celebrate this weekend – just have fun and get drunk.


(Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia and photo from destination360.com)
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Friday, October 24, 2008

Non-reader Margaux called me this week in a panic. She had three days to pull together a creative, cute Halloween costume.

First thing first, I directed Margaux to a past Shot of Brandi* blog posting for some inspiration. While my ideas didn’t excite her, I e-mailed Margaux some additional last minute ideas.

With Halloween one week away, let these ideas inspire you too!

Morton Salt Girl:
Okay, chances are a lot of people may not know who you are unless you carry a canister of salt with you, but this costume is just adorable. To pull this off, you need a cute yellow dress (Forever 21 has some options), yellow Mary Janes and a fancy umbrella.

Election Options: A co-worker of mine is a fan of the John Stewart show. Earlier this year, he was mocking “Joe Six Pack” and mentioned his lady friend is “Jane Wine Box.” The co-worker is putting together a Jane Wine Box costume, but both make a good couple idea! OR you can get the whole election gang together – Sarah, McCain, his tight-faced wife, Joe Six Pack, Joe the Plumber, Palin’s husband in a snow suit, her knocked up daughter…all the losers (and let’s hope they are losers!).

Amy Weinhouse: This is so easy to pull together in the 11th hour – especially if you are my sister. Tease your hair up really high, wear a jean skirt, black out some of your teeth and tat yourself up. Get really wasted to complete the look.

Crazy McCain/Palin Supporter: Similar to Kristin Wigg on SNL, you can don a McCain/Palin sweatshirt, mom jeans, white hair and glasses.

Olympian: Dress up as an Olympian of any sort – swimmer, gymnast, tennis player, etc. Just raid your local Niketown sale rack.

Madeline: Along the same line of cuteness as above, you will need to have a copy of the books to make sure people get this idea.

To Catch a Predator: This is good for a threesome. One guy can be Chris Hanson, the other can be a predator and the third person can be a teenage girl. Add a camera crew/FBI for fun.

Yinzer: If I was ever in need of a last minute Halloween costume, I thought about putting on my Big Ben jersey, tying it up with a 80’s-style shirt clip and pulling on some leggings and going as a true McKees Rocks, PA resident.

Juno: Especially cute if you are in a couple and half of the team is knocked up. Do a search on Google Image and check out the movie cover – not too hard to pull off (see right). Don't forget the prego teens from Mass. if you have a group of girls.

90’s Bands: I think it’s a good time to bring back some good ole New Kids on the Block, Debbie Gibson (electric youth), McHammer, TLC (Left Eye!) and Salt ‘N Pepper.

Have fun! And stay tuned for my costume!

(pictures: videogum.com, flickr.com)
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Apple a Day

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back when I was a toddler, I had an addiction to apple juice. I would demand that my bottle be filled with my beverage of choice. However, my parents began to notice that there was a little more of me to love, so cut it out of my diet. Don’t worry, I found ways to satisfy my obsession. I manipulated my great-grandmother, who baby sat me, to sneak in the goods via an oversized purse. I would later use my manipulation skills for McDonald’s trips.

Now that I am an adult, I rarely drink apple juice nor prefer apple-flavored cocktails. However, now that it is apple season, a number of drink recipes are popping up. Enjoy!

Apple Pie
1 part DeKuyper® Hot Damn!® Hot Cinnamon Burst Schnapps
1 part DeKuyper® Pucker® Sour Apple Schnapps
2 parts ABSOLUT® Vodka
Pour ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass.

Caramel Appletini
1 part DeKuyper ButterShots Burst Butterscotch Schnapps
2 parts DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps
2 parts Vodka
Pour ingredients into a shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into a chilled martini glass

Juiced Apple
1 part DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps
1 part Vodka
1 part lemon-lime soda
Build ingreidnets in a highball glass and stir

Sour Apple Margarita
1 part DeKuyper Pucker Sour Apple Schnapps
2 parts Tequila
½ part Signature Triple Sec
3 parts sweet and sour mix
Build ingredients in a highball glass and stir

(Sources : DeKuyper, Pictures: timeout.com, poetryfoundation.com )
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Trick or Drink

Monday, October 13, 2008

Two years ago a colleague from Milwaukee told me about the most adorable party her condo community was throwing – an adult Trick or Treat or “Trick or Drink.”

The community was filled with twenty and thirty –something couples, so each house served a different cocktail or shot and neighbors went from house to house enjoying “treats.”

I think this is the most wonderful idea for almost any place – condo community, apartment building or event neighborhood. Here are some tips.

* Stuff fliers into mailboxes with information about the Trick or Treat into mailboxes. Include your e-mail address on the invites so people can send questions your way and tell them you will offer drink suggestions.

* Hand deliver paper luminaries with a pumpkin shaped note with details of the night. Tell people to light the luminaries to show neighbors that they are participating in the festivities.

* Create a map of the neighborhood that highlights houses participating.

* Select one residence as the final destination for a big gathering. If the weather is warm, create a block party at the end of a cul de sac.

* At each stop, encourage each house to serve a signature drink and a spooky treat.

* Hold a contest for the house that decorates the best! For apartment buildings or townhouse complexes, deck out your door.

* Really want to wow your visitors? Purchase dry ice from a local retailer. Use the dry ice to create a fog effect around your door. Add a block to the food table to create a creepy display.

(Pics: masterpeicepumpkins.com, nypost.com)
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Decoding the Dress Code

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Earlier this year, I mentioned that I attended my cousin’s wedding in which people from the groom’s side wore jeans to the reception. I was in awe. During my rant about dress codes to my mom, she made a good point…”If you don’t dress up for a wedding, what you dress up for?”

I was discussing the whole “jeans at a wedding” thing with some co-workers. A bride-to-be mentioned that she listed the dress code on all of her invitations – to the rehearsal and wedding reception. The attire for the rehearsal dinner was “creative casual.” Typically I hate when I receive an invite with this type of nonsense request, but co-worker brought up a good point…”If they don’t know what it means, they will ask me and I will tell them what I want them to wear.”

Decoding the dress code sometimes takes some research. Here are some tips.

Casual Friday: Many companies who require employees to where Business attire during the week, have “Casual Friday.” Most employers allow jeans and sneakers. According to Wikipedia, Casual Friday began in the late 1950’s in attempt to raise worker morale.

Business Casual: Monster.com defines business casual as “In general, business casual means dressing professionally, looking relaxed, yet neat and pulled together.” I used to simply tell interns “no jeans.”

Informal: For guys, this means a suit. For women, this also means a suit – with a skirt or pants.

Black Tie: Typically the dress code for evening events, this attire is semi-formal. For a dude, it should be a tuxedo. Chicks can wear a conservative cocktail dress or a long evening gown. This is also known as White Tie in the UK.

Now for the tricky dress codes…

Festive Attire: This showed up on two of my holiday party invites last year and let me just say I was extremely puzzled. When you search for this via google, you get a number of suggestions. Basically you wear looks with a bit of sparkle or holiday flair (reds and greens).

Creative Black Tie: A twist on regular black tie, this leaves some freedom to go a little more modern with your tux. A woman is able to wear a long or short dress with some bold colors.

Dressy Casual: This is just dumb. I mean can’t you just pick one. If you see this on an invite, it means dressed up casual. For guys, wear pants and a sports coat – no jeans.

In the end, if you are having a party and list a strange dress code, it might be helpful to list some examples for your guests.

If you are unsure what to wear to a party, just ask the person hosting the event or someone else attending.
My rule of thumb is, if you are looking at yourself in the mirror and are questioning your outfit, don't wear it.

And please, no jeans at a wedding reception, funeral or for dinner with the president or queen. Thanks.

(sources: Wikipedia, about.com, handmadegiftsandcards.com, thestationarystudio.com)
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