Libation Celebration: Ambrosia…

For the final installment of Libation Celebration, we turn our focus to New Years Eve.  Once again, I turned to our resident mixologist Ronaldo of the Ivy Room for guidance.  I asked Ronaldo for a drink that was a bit lux.  I don’t know why but New Year parties just feel like they should be fancy – suits, long dresses, plated appetizers….you know the stuff of “adults”.  However, me being me, I wanted lux but not stuffy – like wearing Armani but with sneakers…mind you they are fancy sneakers but sneakers nonetheless.  With that in mind, Ronaldo thought it would be fun to play homage to the American dessert that we all knew as children, ambrosia.  In my household it was an odd concoction of whipped cream, jello and frozen fruit cocktail.  Lets just say that it was made every year and every year it always found itself at the bottom of the trash can come the end of the night.

If ambrosia was what the mythical gods of yore ate, then this would have probably been the perfect elixir to wash down their heavenly snack…..

Ambrosia Drink

Believe me when I say  that no one will be declining this Ambrosia at your party!  Forget the jello — this Ambrosia is a heady mix of bourbon, strawberries and vanilla liquor.  The addition of the whipped cream and the unexpected crunch of the sesame seeds elevate this drink to the perfect mixture of fancy and fun…..exactly what you want for a New Years Party!

Ambrosia Drink Recipe

To see the entire Libation Celebration series, visit here, here & here.

[photo credit: photo by adza//food styling: courtney lake//recipe: ronaldo colli ]

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Cocktail Party Nibbles …Keep It Simple!

I have a habit of excess.  The more the merrier.  The bigger the better.  Honestly, it has become a problem from my closet to my pantry.  I love to indulge and to indulge those that  I love.  Parties tend to be exhaustive affairs with plates of food and drinks overflowing – it’s something I love doing so don’t think I am holding a grudge.  But this year, I am holding to my holiday promise of keeping it simple.  However, simple doesn’t mean boring!

I plan on making the three signature champagne cocktails I shared yesterday for my gathering, but otherwise I am going to keep things low-key when it comes to my nibbles.   I turned to my good friend and professional chef Alejandra Ramos of the famed food blog Always Order Dessert for some guidance.  Alejandra agreed with me that since guests are coming after their respective dinners, there was no need for heavy finger food.  “The drinks are the stars of the evening so make everything else easy, quick and delicious. NO COOKING!”  She suggested that I stick with the tried and true cheese plate….

Ramos Quote 1

Cocktail Cheese Plate

But Alejandra stressed that while the snacks can be simple, they shouldn’t be boring……

Ramos Quote 2

Taking her advice one step further, I wanted to up the “wow”factor and do something as easy but even tastier…..herbed truffled popcorn!  Aside from being super easy to make in large quantities, the popcorn is a delicious and unexpected pairing to accompany the cheese Alejandra recommended….

Herbed Popcorn

Herbed Truffle Popcorn Recipe

Last, Alejandra said I should think about presentation when it came to planning my menu…..

Ramos Quote 3

I interpreted Alejandra’s advice as why not have your drink garnish be an appetizer?  Rather than simply dropping one or two raspberries into my drink as a garnish, I skewered them onto rosemary to create fruit garnishes that could also double as an appetizer….

Raspberry and Rosemary Skewers

Thanks to Alejandra I am now fully prepared for my party and not nearly as stressed.  With these quick and simple tips, I can now focus on enjoying my party rather than worrying about running it.  Which in turn gives me more time to drink….and oh…hang out with my guests too!

Wish each of you a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

[Credits] Styling: Courtney Lake// Photography: Adrienne Aubry

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Looking Forward…..

Happy New Year!

I spent all of last week looking back, recapping 2011 in all of its glory and blunders. However, in this first post of 2012, I want to focus on what lies ahead for myself and the blog. You can call them resolutions if you want, but these are my hopes, wishes and dreams for the new year….

For Myself…..

Becoming My Own Fan: Some people call it confidence. I like to think of it that in 2012, I will become my biggest cheerleader. The negative voice in my head will be replaced with one that sounds remarkably similar to Oprah giving me positive affirmations……

Embracing Failure: “It Is Okay To Fail”. As I try to grow the blog and kick start the design business, I keep repeating this mantra in my head. It is through my failures that I have created my biggest successes. So 2012 is about brainstorming, planning and seeing what happens when I place things in motion — and being okay if some (or all) don’t succeed.

Asking For It: I have an unhealthy fear of the word “no”. It frightens me in the same vein as clowns and The Forever Lazy, hence why I am always fearful of asking for help or the things I want. I am going to try my best to shed the notion that the “no” is a direct reflection on me, rather than the person’s ability (or want) to help me. Eventually if I ask enough people, someone will say yes….or if everyone says no, then it may sink in that it wasn’t a good idea to start with!

Acknowledging My Limitations: I am going to be the first one to tell you that I don’t know everything there is to food, design and culture. I am pretty sure I know about 1% of what there is to know. Yet I still feel a pang in my stomach when asked a question I don’t know the answer. Being a “professional” in a field doesn’t mean I need to be the expert, but have the desire to continue to learn.

Appreciating My Contributions: I don’t save lives. I have yet to find a cure for cancer. However, I do set a kick-ass table, can style a vignette like no one’s business and can a cake that would make you slap your Momma. But, I find myself continually playing down my talents because they are not “substantial”. Yet I know that when a doctor walks into a room I decorated after a hard day’s work and feels relaxed, sits down to a meal prepared from one of my recipes and smiles when he seems that his wife set a table inspired from one of my tablescapes, I have touched way more people than my consultant friend that day.

For the Blog & Business…..

grow. Grow. GROW: DId I mention I want to grow the blog? I found that in 2011 I finally found my voice and perspective. 2012 is now about finding those opportunities that grant me the autonomy to be me and sharing my unique take on them with you. It is also about making sure that I am writing about those things that appeal to both me and you as readers. So don’t be surprised if you see a survey or two in the coming months asking for your feedback.

Immortalize Myself on Celluloid: Yuppers – 2012 y’all are going to see me in a completely different light…..well actuallty bathed in about a billion watts of light actually. I am lauching a video section of Courtney Out Loud where I will be doing tutorials, answering reader questions and talking with those individuals who inspire me on a daily basis. However, this also means that you will be subjected to my voice on a regular basis…’s a trade-off. You have been warned.

I Want It In Writing: I am making no bones that I would love to see myself in a print magazine in 2012. It’s a lofty goal, but it would tickle me to no end. So world (and magazine editors) I am putting it out there……

More Original Content: I strive to make Courtney Out Loud a place to find original content — food for thought. It’s a tough order to fill since the landscape is so competitive, but one I am committed to in 2012. Which also means I want to start highlighting YOUR projects, homes and tablescapes. So start sending the projects you are proud of my way at

Launch My Business: I found myself in 2011 in the unique position of having people asking for my services without really having a business. I spent 2011 dabbling in the waters of self-employment and am almost ready to place my next venture out for the world to see. I am excited about this next phase and even more excited to share it with you.

There you have it. I think it’s a doable list but things that if I can get them all done, will place me on the track to success. I raise my imaginary glass to success and prosperity in 2012. So did you make a list of success milestones for 2012?

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Thank You……

I am not a person bent on waxing poetic.  I am not overly sentimental nor am I prone to getting all mushy when it comes to life events.  However, I do believe that one should give proper accolades where do.  So I wanted to say …….

On this final posting of the year, I need to give my thanks to several people who made my 2011 so amazing, memorable and wonderful…..

1) The CasaSugar Editors:  Thank you Julia & Elka!  You ladies took a chance on a completely unknown person who had an inkling that he wanted to do interior design.  You have championed my designs for the last year and it has led to so many opportunities and doors being opened.  I am forever grateful for your support and humbled by your kindness.

2) Centsational Girl: Kate you rock.  You shared your platform with a complete unknown and gave me a voice to communicate with thousands of people.  My monthly article on your blog, while at times challenging to write, pushed me to think like a designer and write like a journalist.  I can’t wait to see what 2012 has to offer!

3) The Nate Berkus Show: Thank you to the producers of The Nate Berkus Show.  Clearly I didn’t scare the hell out of you from my first appearance because you were crazy enough to invite me back again!  I am officially checking off “being on television” on my bucket list.   I doubt you will ever know what having me on the show did for my confidence – it gave me the shot I needed to keep trudging forward.

4) Meredith Heron: My feisty Canadian redhead design diva.  Our banter on Twitter has made me laugh, given me food for thought and forced me to think through some tough decisions.  I appreciate your candor and thank you for your honesty.  Now let’s figure out how to meet in person in 2012!

5) Hi Sugarplum: Cassie – Hey Girlfriend!  You have been one of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders.  Thank you for your wit and your ability to crack a joke even when I feel low.  You are my “divine blog sister”…. (TWSS)

6) The Partner: You have the patience of a saint to deal with my random ramblings.  You have been supportive on so many levels.  I could not have done this with you.  You are my rock and I thank God every day that he blessed me with you.

7) YOU: I can’t say thank you without including you all!  Each and every day you come to my little blog to read whatever random musing struck me that day.  I can’t stress this enough that it is because of YOU that I have been blessed with so many opportunities.  Thank you for reading, commenting, tweeting & emailing – it means the world to me that out of your busy day you choose to spend a few minutes with me.

I hope each of you have a fantastic New Year’s!  I am going to be signing off for a few days to prepare for the new year and get my household in order.  I will see you in 2012!

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Tablescapes Revisited……

Hope Christmas was a fantastic and wonderful time for each of you!  I enjoyed a low-key and relaxing holiday with The Partner at the condo in Oakland where we  had a hearty breakfast, opened presents, played with Scruffy and then had an awesome dinner of Butternut Squash & Pear Soup,  Ribeye Steaks with Whiskey Sauce, Caramelized Onion Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Parsnips & Carrots and Brandied Apple Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream as well as a signature Christmas cocktail; the Greyhound which consists of St. George Botanical Gin, grapefruit juice and simple syrup.  Overall, it was the perfect dinner…… Since my mind is on dining, I thought it would be nice to do a little stroll down memory lane to look at the tablescapes I created this year……

Valentine’s Day

I loved the non-traditional color scheme of this table.  The brown and pink combo was unexpected but totally appropriate for this lover’s holiday.

Upcycled Chic Tablescape

I challenged myself to take the components of an existing tablescape and upcycle them into something new.  What started out as my New Year’s Brunch table was morphed into an Asian inspired tablescape suitable for any occasion.

Easter Brunch

This was my favorite tablescape of the year.  I was in love with the paisley pattern and the pastel palette.  Totally unexpected for Easter but totally appropriate, this tablescape still makes me smile months later.

Mother’s Day Tea

I traditionally love modern place settings with a geometric pattern.  However, for Mother’s Day I opted to use a more traditional tea service but still threw in modern elements like the boldly banded plate and the Vallerysthal glassware.

Halloween Dinner Party

Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, the Halloween tablescape was a mix of gothic and modern with feather chargers, mini gargoyles and beautiful black and white china.  I think the restrained color scheme of black, white, grey and a burst of purple was the perfect backdrop to carry this theme.

Thanksgiving Family Dinner

Purple and gold reign supreme for this Thanksgiving tablescape.  It’s rich, lush and bountiful – exactly the feelings I wanted to convey for this holiday of abundance and sharing.  I am still quite fond of the centerpiece and the different flowers and fruits I used to create its textural quality.

Chinoise Christmas Chic

This most recent tablescape was a celebration of my family’s approach to our pan-Asian Christmas.  It borrowed design elements across various Asian cultures but linked them together through a traditional color scheme of red and white.    This tablescape is also the most meaningful since it was the one I did for the Nate Berkus Show.

New Year’s Dinner

The greek key tablecloth is what does it for me in this tablescape.  Combined with the super simple centerpiece (coffee filter wreath, a dozen purple carnations and crystal candlesticks), this tablescape was simple yet sophisticated.  It was the perfect setting to ring in the new year.

I won’t be setting a table for NYE this year as The Partner and I have been invited to a dear friend’s house in wine country to usher in the new year.  Truth be told, I will miss setting the table a bit but what is really important isn’t what’s on the table, but who is at the table.  I am grateful that you all have allowed me this year to share my random thoughts on tablescaping with you and appreciate your support and feedback.

So what are your NYE plans?  Dinner and toasting in the new year or a low-key evening in your PJs watching the ball drop?

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Year End Review…..And Looking Forward

So the last day of the decade is before me and as I sit and ponder what 2011 holds for me, let me take a quick stroll down memory lane….

January: I quit my rather stable and well-paying job.  For what? Because I hated it, I hated it with such a passion that I would have rather been intimate with a cactus than continue working there. Actually, I hated my boss…the job was fine.  My boss was wacko.  Sorry Boss Person…you are a good person outside of work, but in the four walls of our office, you were belittling, didn’t know the concept of work/life balance and at times just plain mean.

February – June: I floated around the house doing various projects to occupy that hole formerly occupied by work. I posted everything I did on my Facebook page and my brilliant friends told me that I should start a blog.

July: I started

August: I started culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. On my first day I was harassed by an instructor and heard my neighbors having very loud sex.

September – November: Questioned my decision to attend culinary school all the while writing about all my experiences on the blog.

December: Quit culinary school after the epiphany that I love cooking, but not being a chef.  I love setting a beautiful table, cooking a nice meal and entertaining friends and family. Find me a business model that lets me do the without going $70K into debt thanks to schooling and allows me to pull in what I was making as a marketing manager, and I will gladly pay you $10K for your efforts!

So that brings me to the last day of the year. I typically don’t make new year’s resolutions because I am easily distracted.  I tend to like the new and the pretty rather than the old.  However, 2011 is going to be different from what I did in 2010, for starters I will be working part-time but also because I will be doing something I enjoy, blogging about design and cooking.  So for 2011, here are my top five goals:

2011 Resolutions

5) Continue to build relationships with my family and friends: I tend to be myopic in my scope when it comes to people in my life.  Out of sight many times meant out of mind but the blogging has taught me something different. I have met a vast number of people who I have never interacted with in person……but I think about them often. I care about their lives, their accomplishments and well-being.  If I can care that deeply about a group of people I never met, then I can definitely dig a little deeper and maintain connections with my existing friends and family.

4) Maintain me: No excuses. As a friend of mine says “Don’t let your big ‘but’ get in your way….” I need to take care of my needs on both a physical and intellectual level. On  a physical level, I need to seek out how to get my work out. Simply put, I want to take classes, in particular dance classes that will get me in active and in a group of like-minded people.  I also am going to give concerted effort to the vast array of workout DVDs I have in my collection.  On an intellectual level, I am going to take courses to continue my learning.  I am signing up for two courses through U of C Berkeley’s Extension program in their interior design certificate program.  If design is a passion, then I need to become educated on the topic matter.

3) To know my own self: I make no excuses that I have suffered from bouts of depression and at times anxiety. In 2011, I want to see what I can do to tackle these demons, because I honestly believe that they are a part (not the whole cause) of why I am not excelling to the level I believe I can achieve. So with that said, I am looking to enroll into ongoing counseling to address these issues head on.  I think it will be good for me to look at them head on …… these issues will no longer define my path in 2011.

2) Network: I need to network. I must network. I am going to network. By nature I am shy and the idea of approaching a random stranger and starting a dialogue scares the bejesus out of me. However, I need to do this if I am going to pursue a career in new media and design. I have decided that as part of this goal I need to attend three industry events and get business cards from 10 people at each event. Maybe its a bit ambitious to go from zero to 30, but I need to push.

1) Grow the blog: I love blogging. I honestly do. I love the feedback, sharing and the idea that I below to a greater community.  I started the blog as a way to share my journey through culinary school.  However, the blog helped me find a part of myself that I didn’t know existed.  The blog has given me focus, clarity and a sense of purpose; things I have lacked for a long time.  In 2011, I am looking to bring in more of my marketing and event background into the blog as well as challenge myself to do projects that scare (but also excite) me.

So there you have it… year in review as well as my year looking forward.  These last several months have been a whirlwind but I am honored that so many of you have decided to join me on this journey.  Thank you for your support and I am looking forward to sharing many more projects, mishaps, rants and the like in 2011.

Be safe, be well and prosper!