One warm June evening a few years ago, I sat at my kitchen table, digging into a dinner I’d just made. The table was loaded. There was risotto, swirled with fresh herbs that they’d picked from the herb garden on my porch while I was cooking. A salad with fresh strawberries that we’d picked that morning, sweet candied almonds and salty feta cheese. A steak hot off the grill. Icy water. Maybe some wine. Around the table sat two of my closest friends — ones who’ve traveled the road from the carefree days of teenagedom to the very grown-up moments of adulthood.
Whenever I think of that evening, I smile. But it’s not the food that I remember most. It’s the warmth that comes with feeding the ones you love. The night was filled with laughter, joy and all the good things that come with friends sharing a meal.
It’s with those same friends that I’ve spent countless nights sipping something delightful and talking. They know my inner most dreams (and weren’t at all surprised when I started talking about the crazy need I have to live by the beach). And when something worrisome happened last spring, they were there before I even said anything. Whenever I think about the people in my life closest to me, they hold a spot high in my heart, among my family members.
When Gallo Family Vineyards, a family-owned wine company that I love, asked me if family meant more than blood to me, the answer was clear. Of course. I love my family. And my friends are included in that grouping.
How to Plan a Great Casual Night In
Honestly, when it comes to hosting dinners, I prefer casual to formal. So I like to keep it easy, simple and fun. Here are a few of my best tips for having an awesome night in.
- Keep the Menu Simple – Of course you want to feed your friends and family well, but that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated. Instead, stick to a simple, easy, fresh meal. And don’t be afraid to have everyone gather in the kitchen while you whip it up.
- Remember the Small Bites – Tossing some veggies and dip out or maybe a cheese plate may seem like a simple thing, but it also is great for munching while the food cooks — and that takes a lot of pressure off the cook.
- Take Your Time – Having a casual night in? Don’t rush! Instead, take it slow and enjoy every minute of conversation and every bite of food.
- Let Them Bring Something – I am always up for someone to bring dessert (which I love to eat more than I love to make). When your friends and family ask if they can bring something, always say yes.
- Offer a Selection of Beverages – Ice water is always a must for us. So is a libation — and lately, many of my friends and I love to enjoy a glass of wine. Choosing a red and white (like the Gallo Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay) offers a little something for everyone.
- Keep the Music Mellow – When I am cooking alone, I love a great beat. But when friends are dining over, mellow tunes are the perfect background music.
Gallo Family Vineyards has recently launched the Gallo Family Vineyards Crest Creator. It’s a fun, interactive tool where you can create, share and download fun personalized family crests. I play with it a little bit and made up this one that makes me think of my friends. A few times over the last few years, we’ve taken the four hour drive north to Cape Cod for weekends away filled with seafood, beaches and lobster — and more.
Making the crest is so easy. You choose from 17 templates, and then customize them with whatever icons and personal mottos speak to you. And if you really love your crest, you can even order it printed on shirts, cups, totes and more through a partnership with Zazzle.com.
“We designed the Crest Creator to be something fun that pays homage to families, however they’re defined,” said Stephanie Gallo, third-generation Gallo family member and Vice President of Marketing at Gallo Family Vineyards, “It’s our way of saying thanks and celebrating all the families who have invited us to the table for the past eighty years.”
Want to make your own? Check out the Crest Creator website.
What is your definition of Family?
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