Sippin' on Gin

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It all started two weeks ago when I ordered a cocktail at Graham Elliott with a base of gin. It was delicious! Then again at Rouge Tomate, my taste buds went straight for a gin-based beverage again – the Ramos Fizz. I officially like gin.

The Ramos Fizz is an amazingly refreshing cocktail that combines gin with an egg white, vanilla extract and lemon-lime soda. Seriously. If I read that I might be puking in my mouth too, but this drink it really good guys – I swear!

Created in 1888 in by Henry Ramos(right), the Ramos Fizz is one of the oldest cocktails in the books. Sometimes you may see it on a menu as the New Orleans Fizz. The thing that makes this drink unique is that you must shake the shit out of it for five minutes to ensure that the cream, egg and gin make a frothy drink. History says that Ramos himself even used several bartenders just to shake one drink. Now that we live in an age with blenders, you can get the same effect by using some electricity vs. manpower.

I’ve shared a recipe with you below from that was made by Eben Freeman, the bartender at the now defunct Tailor in New York City. I can say I did have the pleasure of organizing an event at Tailor in February before it closed. It saddens me because they made the most unbelievable cocktails!

Ramos Gin Fizz (adapted from
1/4 cup (2 ounces) gin
1 dash (3 to 4 drops) orange blossom water*
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) half-and-half
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
1 cup ice cubes
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) seltzer

*Also called orange flower water; available in liquor stores and in the specialty foods section of some supermarkets.
In large cocktail shaker, combine gin, orange blossom water, egg white, half-and-half, lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds more.
Strain mixture into 8-ounce glass. Slowly pour soda water down inside edge of shaker to loosen remaining froth. Gently ease soda water/froth mix onto drink and serve.

(Sources:, drink image from, Henry Ramos image from
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Shot of Brandi* Restaurant Week

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Last week, I had my very own mini-restaurant week. I totally indulged in an array of foods that I’ve never tested before and others that were just fabulously executed classics. Here’s a recap and rundown of some awesome eats.

La Madia: I love truffle oil so much I could marry it. First I loved truffle oil on French fries (thanks Rockit). Then on steak (thanks Spiaggia). Now…pizza. La Madia is perfect for a date or for a night with friends. I totally recommend the Triple Pepperoni, Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella Cheese, finished with White Truffle Oil. Hands down awesome.

Graham Elliott: My lust for truffle oil was satisfied yet again thanks to Graham Elliott. I think the best way to describe this place is casual atmosphere, upscale food. Rather than giving you bread to snack on, the waitstaff brings over popcorn covered with truffle oil and parm cheese. Brady and I shared a number of small plates and one main dish and we were comfortably full. I’ll write about my new drink obsession later, but the cocktails are pretty awesome too. Graham keeps you coming back by changing the menu with each season. Oh and you may have seen the young, hip Graham Elliott on Top Chef before!

Pop Burger: Reader Amy and I met up in New York for lunch while I was visiting for work. We visited the perfect lunch spot – Pop Burger. This place is a posh burger joint with not much on the menu to choose from but what else…burgers! Amy went with the beef, while I settled on the turkey. Pop Burger gives you two mini-burgers, which I enjoy (I always cut my burgers in fours anyways). I totally recommend this place for a quick NYC lunch!

Rouge Tomate: The site of my work event, Rouge Tomate is one of the most eco-friendly dining establishments in New York. The staff here is amazing and whipped up six cocktails and appetizers for our cocktail party. My favorites of the night included the Ramos Fizz cocktail (more later) and the mini-ice cream sandwiches. The ice cream was such a hit, our spokesperson ate at least 3 (and he is a fitness expert). I’d recommend this place for cocktails – the beverage director is amazing and knows how to make a good drink with fresh ingredients. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this place – they have a powerhouse PR firm assisting them now and they were recently featured in an episode of Gossip Girl (Blair and Serena were dining here).

Bar American: While we indulged in some apps at Rouge Tomate, the real dinner was at Bar Americain. A Bobby Flay establishment, Bar Americain is in a great location for business trips and reasonably priced for a New York dinner. The menu features upscale comfort foods like ribs, barbeque and steaks. I went for the pork and I would recommend it; however, I don’t think I would pick this place again to eat or suggest it to friends.

Well there you have it folks. Seven nights, five good eateries from Chicago and New York. Bon Appetite!

P.S. – Due to rain in New York, a planned dinner party with reader Amy at Tao had to be canceled. I’m still sad. There was going to be a slumber party after dinner too! Sigh.

(Photos: La Madia via serious eats, popburger via Flickr, Rouge Tomate via NYTimes)
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Can I Have a Double?

Remember back in the day (left) when you had to ask your friends to get double prints of pictures made so that you could have a copy? Or the person taking your picture had to guess if you blinked your eyes or not? Or how about getting a roll of pictures developed only to realize you took 20 of 24 prints of your purse?

Well friends, all of these problems have been solved by digital cameras.
Today, the only problems we face are begging our friends to upload pictures to the World Wide Web and making sure we order them.

I’m a huge fan of the Kodak Gallery, but there are a number of other sites out there for you to pick…

· Shutterfly: The winner of a number of awards from places like Good Housekeeping and Cookie Magazine, Shutterfly has a number of ways for you to personalize your photographs. Browsing the site, I can see why moms’ like it so much. It’s easy to use and the themes are family-friendly. The fundraising tool is pretty neat too.
o Cost to join: Free storage, photo sharing, software, festive boarders and back-of-print messaging.
o Cost of photos: 15 cents
o Gift options: Photo books, cards, mugs, invitations, calendars, etc.

· Snapfish: Owned by Hewlett-Packard, Snapfish offers people free membership with unlimited photo storage. Snapfish is just okay - nothing really stood out to me to make this service unique or special.
o Cost to join: Free to join and share pictures
o Cost of photos: 9 cents
o Gift options: Flipbooks, stationary, jewelry, posters, aprons, etc.

· WinkFlash: If you are looking for inexpensive prints, WinkFlash just may be your site. The sharing capibilites aren’t as attractive as other sites and it isn’t as user friendly.
o Cost to join: Free photo storage and sharing.
o Cost of photos: 8 cents
o Gift options: Poster prints, calendars, mugs, mousepads, t-shirts and photo books.

· Photoworks: With simple instructions, Photoworks specializes in photo books and gifts. To keep your account active, Photoworks requires that you place an order once per year.
o Cost to join: Free and there is unlimited photo storage.
o Cost of photos: 15 cents
o Gift options: Greeting cards, sticky notepads, key chains, puzzles, etc.

· MPix: This service touts itself as a “favorite site of serious shooters,” this may be the best site for professional prints. Of the photos sites, I must say that I was most impressed with Mpix’s gift gallery. If you are a parent of an athlete, or a dodgeball player that wants to make trading cards for your team, this is the site for you!
o Cost to join: I don’t believe there is a cost to join, but that isn’t clearly outlined on the Web site.
o Cost of photos: Prices start at 29 cents
o Gift options: Greeting cards, books, wall clings, magazine covers, statuettes, buttons, memory mates, magnets and key chains.
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Flower Power

Monday, July 27, 2009

During my college years as a Chi Omega, we always envied the fact that the other sororities had cooler symbols. Now, owls are the hippest thing in jewelry and home décor. Same with the skull & crossbone that is part of our crest.

We admired the other girls’ colors (ours were red and yellow). That my friends, will never be in fashion (unless you work at McDonald’s).

Our flower is the carnation and we all wished it was something a little more grand, like a rose, or fun, like a daisy. But tradition states that a carnation is the only flower whose petals come together when it dies. All other flowers’ petals fall off. Creepy, right?

Last week I mentioned that balloons are making a comeback in party décor and it looks like the recession is popularizing the carnation.

At first, I was a little skepitical that a carnation could look elegant. But after seeing these photos, I’m convinced that with the right design and, carnations can look stunning. Here are some ways to use carnations at your next shin dig…

* Bunch, bunch, bunch the carnations together. I love the way that Real Simple created this easy, colorful bouquet (right).

* Group colors together. I love the orange and yellow carnations in the square vases above from Martha Stewart. Use different size vases to mix things up.

* Shape matters. Carnations work well when you keep them in a clean shape like a ball or square.

* Use bright, bold colors. Carnations come in over 10,000 colors. Take advantage of that and match the stems to your event or if you are decorating for a game watch, match your favorite team.
* Make a floral ball. Using carnations in these topiaries from PB Bloom create a dramatic centerpiece.

If you are into the hidden meaning of flowers, then you will love a carnation. According to Martha Stewart, a carnation means “Pure Love.” Oh and give your man a pink carnation on your next anniversary. That color means “Woman’s Love.”

(Sources:,, ,
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"Thanks for loaning me the tank top"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In my career, I’m fortunate enough to get the opportunity to work with celebrities every once in awhile. I’ve spent the day with Florence Henderson (Carol Brady), Cat Cora (Iron Chef), Robert Irvine (Dinner: Impossible) and some other specialists well-known in their professions.

Over the last two days, I spent time with celebrity trainer Gunnar Peterson. For some reason, Gunnar informed me that he was just in Pittsburgh and I proceed to say “I’m from Pittsburgh” (of course, Brian). And Gunnar and I were instant friends.

During a cocktail hour he was hosting for my client, we got into some odd conversations about socialites and ironing. Again, we were BFF.

So as I was looking at his book, The Workout, I stumbled across the photo to the right. Now, keep in mind I never ask anyone for their autograph – it’s tacky. But I jokingly said, “I totally want your autograph next to this picture.” What can I say, I’m a sucker for 80’s attire. Gunnar, being the sarcastic person he is, grabs my Sharpie and produces the following.

If you can’t read his writing, the picture says “Thanks for loaning me the tank top.” Lol.

I know today is Thirsty Thursday and yes, I do have a fantastic recipe. Part of our event was an exclusive work out with Gunnar this morning. I was on Smoothie detail and blended up this fantastic beverage. Enjoy!

Straw-Nana Smoothie

INGREDIENTS1 Banana, sliced then frozen
1⁄2 c Strawberries, frozen and diced
1 c Silk Original, Vanilla or Omega-3 DHA
2 T honey

Combine all ingredients in a blender and give it a whirl.

(Recipe from Silk Soymilk)
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Popping Up At Parties

Monday, July 20, 2009

A lot of different trends are stemming from these “rough economic times.” Two that I am really digging in the entertaining world involve cheap but chic décor. Today, I’ll explore one of them – balloons.

For a long time, using balloons as décor was a major entertaining faux pas. But now they are “popping” up everywhere.

Here are some of my most favorite uses of balloons…

From the Queen of Crafts and Entertaining herself, Martha Stewart, comes this wonderful table setting highlighted with oversized balloons from her “Glamorous Reception” themed-wedding. If Martha says balloons can be glamorous, then by golly they can be.

The Balloon Saloon in New York has some pricy, but easy to DIY inspirations like this balloon flower. This would be awesome for a shower or a children's birthday party. For a DYI spin on this idea, visit Martha.

A wedding blog, 100 Layer Cake, showcased using balloons in a carnival-themed party or wedding to revel where guests are sitting. You blow up the balloon, drop in a paper table number and then write the couple’s name on the balloon. Upon arriving, the guests pop the balloon to see where they are sitting. I like the element of engagement, but the noise would probably get old.

For a baby shower, has an adorable air balloon centerpeice.

I've also seen peole making oversized names of the guest of honor in balloons. That would be super cute for a Sweet 16 party!

Lastly, a number of party planners blow up hundreds of balloons and send them flying to the ceiling or top of a tent for a colorful look. Eventually, the balloons will deflate and come down. I've seen this look done with ribbons hanging from the balloons.

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Stick it To Me

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer is the prime time for street and community festivals. That means one thing for, not shady rides that don’t look safe…it means Food on a Stick!

I don’t know what it is, but there is just something that makes eating food on a stick so much more amazing than using utencils. I mean it isn’t even that good, but the stick ups the fun factor.

There are a number of sweet and savory treats that you can easily serve on a stick at your next party. Hey, it will cut down on the number of plates you need to buy!

Fruit on a Stick: I love fruit kabobs with a good cream cheese and fluff fruit dip. The best fruit kabobs in my eyes include options from the berry group – strawberries, blue berries and raspberries. Frozen grapes on a stick are also popular.

Salad on a Stick: From The Food Network, this is one of the more creative things I’ve seen on a stick – Salad! Here’s the recipe that includes lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber.

Corndog: According to the Nation’s Resturant News, Corndogs were one of the first foods on a stick to originate in the U.S. I love the idea of serving these as a late-night party food. At least you don’t have to buy buns!

Meat: Possibly more popular than corn dogs, beef, chicken and shrimp kabobs are so easy to make. Grill up some meat and fish on a stick with veggies.

Candy Apples: A fall staple, candy apples always come on a stick, but are rather hard to eat.

Marshmallows or Bananas: These are very easy to make. Just tip them in melted chocolate and freeze. Yummm.

Cupcake on a Stick: Yep. It’s the new trend in the cupcake blogesphere. I found this example via the Cupcakes take the Cake blog. The recipe for this include mini-cupcakes, jellies and marshmallows.

In my research, I found that Minnesota State Fair is a hot bed for food on a stick. In fact, this year there are 50 different items being offered. You can find the full list here by searching for foods on a stick (it’s a search topic!)

Standouts in my eyes include…

Fudge Puppy: A Belgian waffle, dipped in chocolate, with whipped cream and sprinkles. Yuummmm!

Tater Tots: What a wonderful idea. Tots are easy to slide down the stick and I love the thought of making a cheese burger and offering Tots on a Stick as the side dish! (FYI – the ones at the fair sound a bit lethal… hash browns formed with cheddar cheese, bacon, green onion, sour cream)

Cheesecake on a Stick: Similar to the treats mentioned above. Cheesecake balls right now are hot in the sweet treat world. I had some dipped in chocolate on Easter…delish!

A lot of these options can be recreated for a party that you are attending or hosting. I wouldn’t suggest making a lot of them during the summer because guests usually eat lighter during the warm weather months!


(Sources:,, Nation's Restaurant News; Images:,, Cupcakes take the Cake and )
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It's (harry) Pott-y Time

Monday, July 13, 2009

Back in the early 2000’s, I hopped on the Hogwarts Express and became obsessed with Harry Potter. I stopped studying for exams so that I could finish books. I dressed up as Harry Potter for Halloween (no, it wasn’t slutty). In 2007, I finished the last book of the series in 24 hours. I’m obsessed.

This week, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the sixth movie in the series is released in theaters. To mark this marvelous occasion, today I’ll give you tips to host a Harry Potter themed party! I totally understand that the majority of my adult readers wouldn’t dare host this type of party, but one day friends, you will be parents and you may want to look back on this theme!

• Design your invitation to mock the process of getting to Hogwarts. Ask friends to meet you at Platform 9 ¾ at 11 o’clock.

• Theme the main room in your house or party site “The Great Hall.”

• Just like you are riding the Hogwarts Express, create a candy cart that can roll around the party. Include treats like Bertie Bott’s Jelly Beans, Jelly Slugs, Chocolate Frogs, Fizzing Whizbees and Cockroach Clusters.

• No Potter Party is complete without a Sorting Hat. Once you sort your friends, award each wizard with a house-themed tie. They are super easy to make with a little felt. The colors are…
o Gryffindor: red and gold
o Hufflepuff: yellow and black
o Ravenclaw: blue and bronze
o Slytherin: green and silver

• For the real wizards, MuggleNet has the lyrics to Sorting Hat songs

• If you are going to have any HP-themed games, then use each house as a team.

• In a special section of your party room, create a mini Diagon Alley, complete with an Ollivander’s wand station. Create a sign that says ”Ollivander’s: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 BC.” Print out popular spells and hang them from the wall for friends to practice their skills.

• Label the bar area The Leaky Cauldron, complete with a bartender named Tom. For those friends that may have a little too much butterbeer, offer them a room for the night ; ) Speaking of ButterBeer, I found a few recipes for this delicious beverage here and for an alcoholic version click here.

• Offer your friends a Rob at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. This is where Harry meets Draco Malfory for the first time.
• For the real Harry Potter buffs, create a Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. This can be a DIY sundae bar. In the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry can be seen doing homework here.

• Purchase a number of gag toys for a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shop. This is the joke shop that Fred and George Weasley open after Harry gives them his Triwizard Tournament winnings.

• Include miscellaneous props like Harry-inspired glasses, golden snitches, brooms (spray painted to look like Nimbus 2000),

• Send out photos and a party recap in the form of The Daily Prophet.

Yeah, I’m a dork. By now you should know that I don’t care what you think lol. I know if you are a Harry Potter fan, at least one of these tips made you smile!

(sources:, wikipedia,,, Photos:, )
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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

As some of my friends & readers know, I’ve spent the last two weeks globetrotting the U.S. for a number of parties.

I will use today’s post to recap some awesome key learning’s from my adventures.

Family Vaca
For a week, 22 members of my dad’s side of the family stayed in one massive house in North Myrtle Beach. The house had a pool, hot tub, big game room and was across the street from the beach – it was awesome!

Of course it’s hard to organize 22 people, so the following are things that “worked”
* Rather than dine out, each family cooked on a designated night. Themes ranged from tailgating food, Italian night, seafood and kids night (pizza, wings, burgers). All of the families chipped in for breakfast and lunch foods and of course the alcohol!

* One of the most popular dishes of the weekend was the Ice Cream Sandwich Cake.
Here’s the recipe, if you dare:
- In a deep casserole dish (the throw away kind works best), line the bottom of the dish with unwrapped ice cream sandwiches.
- Next, drizzle on Hershey’s Syrup & Carmel sauces and nuts. You might also toss on some jimmies or sprinkles.
- After that lethal layer, add a layer of Cool Whip
- Repeat : )
- When you are finished, freeze the dish until serving.
- I’d probably add some cherries to the top layer of Cool Whip before serving.
- Cutting this masterpiece can be tricky and no one gets a small piece!

Jillian’s 21st Birthday* Yes, folks, this former AA graduate is 21 (she got an underage once, so she had to go to five classes – it wasn’t via an intervention or anything). She may have been drinking for the last seven years, but Jillian is officially legal to now buy us beer.

* To celebrate her non-sobriety, the fam hosted a “Bar-ty” at a local establishment that was open to all ages. In attendance were family and friends from 6 months to over 60.

* We provided apps and beers to all who were in attendance, which helped control the bar tab. If you are hosting a “Bar-ty” and want to pay for some, of the tab, tell guests you’ve got the food covered and hand out drink tickets for the beer. Some bars are also willing to provide a wristband deal.

* Before going all out on birthday girl/boy flair, ask your guest of honor what is willing to wear. Sometimes people aren’t fans of crowns, boas and hats. In this case, our birthday girl was happy to sport her own pimp cup and 21-branded beads.

* Designate someone to stay with the birthday girl/boy. This way you make sure he/she gets home okay. In this case, Brady was a trooper!

4th of July
* By the luck of the draw, my parents were able to rent out the picnic grove that is in the same part where my town’s annual 4th of July fireworks take place. Therefore, The Bonkowski picnic was back. The 4th is also the birthday of my adopted sister, Lindsey Jean Spieler!

* The best thing my dad has ever done for picnic entertaining was rent a beer truck (above). Similar to a small U-hall, the truck was a massive cooler that had taps hanging out the side. This kept the kegs and food cold until we were ready to eat.

* Rather than fire up the grill for three shifts (lunch, dinner, late-night), but parents started the party at 3, so there would only be two food sessions.

* For children and adults of all ages, there were a number of yard games. We had cornhole, ball toss, washers, horseshoes and volleyball. Oh and who could forget the annual softball game. Let’s just say, I still have game!

* At night, the pong balls were bouncing as we played beer pong and flip cup. Always having pong balls on hand for impromptu games.

* The party was DJed by non other than my mom. Her iPod is filled with patriotic songs and some good dance mixes. I think it’s pretty standard now that iPods are the way to go vs. hiring someone to spin the hits.

* Jell-O shots are a Bonkowski signature. When you make them, buy the little cups with lids from Sam’s Club. The lids double as spoons.

* During clean up/transporting, put all of the food/items that need to be refrigerated into one car and all of the other items into another. This helps separate what should be unloaded immediately and what can wait until the morning – especially if your party runs late.

I think the most important entertaining tip is that the host and hostess of the party set the whole tone of the event. If you are happy and are having a good time, your guests will too!
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