Who says you have to spend a night on the town to have a fun, exciting evening? My husband and I have found that although we certainly love taking the kiddos out to explore a new restaurant or even enjoy a date night every so often, we can make the best out of a sitter-free evening by inviting some friends (and their little ones) over for a much-needed play-date enhanced by serving some crafty cocktails and appetizers. It almost feels as though we’re out of the house…almost 😉

We’ve pretty much made it a weekly occurrence with our neighbors across the street – we let the kids go crazy, running in the yard together or taking every toy out of its place, while we have a rare minute to hang out, catch up on the neighborhood happenings and have a cocktail or two. While we originally vowed that we would keep it short with a few snacks after work, it has quickly transformed into a whole dinner experience (casual, of course) that sometimes causes us to postpone bedtime by just a bit. The kids never complain, though 🙂

Since my husband loves to cook, he enjoys the opportunity to showcase some of his favorite foods – however, he realizes that the competition is fierce as our neighbor is the executive chef at J. Liu and co-owner of ABC Kitchen in Lexington (both of which you should check out ASAP).

One of our more recent get-togethers featured a fun, casual wine tasting with plenty of food to compliment. I am a huge fan of tastings – they are super easy to pull together (just ask for some guidance on wines at your local grocery store), and you can easily choose the price point that you’re most comfortable with. The tasting experience allows you to have just a little taste or a bit more if you take a liking to something. It also is a great conversation starter as it’s fun to compare reactions.

Our tasting included Le Grande Courtage Blanc de Blancs Brut ($17.99, Giant Eagle), M. Chapoutier Côtes-du-Rhône Belleruche Blanc ($13.99, Whole Foods Market), Buttercup Chardonnay ($11.99, Giant Eagle) and Conundrum Red Blend ($22.99, The Hills Market). I rarely meet a wine that I don’t like, and tonight was no exception.

The Brut was one of the best I’ve had (the perfect combination of green apple, lemon and honey) – and Le Grande Courtage’s owner, Tawnya Falkner, will truly inspire you as she gave up her career in San Francisco and moved to Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy to fulfill her passion for food and wine. She then spent a year and a half creating sparkling wines which embody the French spirit of joie de vivre (joy of life). If that’s not a good enough reason to drink some champagne, I’m not sure what is!

The Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc has been a consistent go-to for us – easy to drink and refreshing with a flavor combination of apricot, fennel and floral. Perfect for a summer evening on the front porch.

I’m obviously a fan of Chardonnay – and the Buttercup Chardonnay did not disappoint. It certainly had hints of butter with an added citrus touch. It was heavier that the other two, and would be great with some seafood or pasta (or both)!

And finally, one of my all-time favorite reds, the Conundrum, which we first tried at one of The Hills Market’s monthly 10-for-10 Wine Tastings (check out the next one on May 4th) was delightful. An obvious change of pace from the whites that we had just tried, but a delicious blend of berries, plum and cocoa was the perfect way to cap off our tasting.

The experience was made complete with dinner to compliment (don’t judge me for the lack of health foods) — bowls of fun kids snacks (M&Ms, pretzels and mini cookies), sautéed pierogis, a cheese plate (of course) and it wouldn’t be a play-date without a plate of chicken nuggets 😊


Our house!

Grilled Cheese, Chardonnay or both?

Grilled Cheese AND Chardonnay worthy

Dining Tips

*Wine tasting can be done in a variety of different ways! You can try different types of wine (like we did) – or you can buy all the same  – for example, four different Chardonnays, at different price points to determine if the more expensive wines really do win out. We typically wrap the bottles in paper bags and mix them up so we are truly ‘blind’ tasting. Hint: It’s rare that the most expensive is the crowd favorite.

*Another favorite wine tasting appetizer: Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Tartines. They’ve always been a hit with our friends, and they’re fairly simple to make in a pinch, which is very important in our house.

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