RECIPE: THE PERFECT BRUNCH MENU


Photo by the ever lovely Mary Caroline Russell, who took all the pictures for my last album, Hourglass.

Photo by the ever lovely Mary Caroline Russell, who took all the pictures for my last album, Hourglass.

Since we last spoke, I had a birthday...

I'm getting to the point in my life where I can't decide if birthdays are exciting or emotional. But either way, I turned 27 on April 7th. As per our usual tradition, Michael and I decided to throw a big party to celebrate. My birthday serendipitously fell on a Friday this year, so we used it as an excuse to celebrate all weekend (and actually for a few days during the week as well...bc YOLO). 

As I've mentioned before, brunch is pretty much my favorite thing. In years past I've thrown a brunch for my friends on the Saturday of my birthday week (it's a super fun tradition, you should adopt it as your own). We bake something with cinnamon (we've done everything from cinnamon toast, to cinnamon rolls, to cinnamon donuts, to churros...), have lots of fresh fruit, and of course mimosas.

Even just thinking about brunch right now makes me so happy. I hope you'll plan one for this weekend. Here are some recipes...in case you need a few home-run menu items...


Pineapple Mint Mimosa

serves 8

2 bottles of Brut champagne

2 cups pineapple juice

1/2 cup orange juice

4 Tbs mint simple syrup*

4-8 sprigs of mint, for garnish in the pitcher and in the cups

 

The best  thing about Mimosas is that you can't go wrong! Champagne is delicious on its own, but the key to this famously classy brunch drink is to give it just a hint of tropical sweetness. So my perfect mimosa tastes like champagne mostly, with mint, and a little pineapple-orange juice, as notated above. But YOUR mimosa may need to taste a little more like OJ to suit your fancy! So experiment until you find the perfect mixture. What a good excuse to test it out the day before!

*I like my mimosas ever so slightly sweet, so my secret ingredient is a little mint simple syrup. (or this year I made rosemary, as you can see in the picture). You can find mint simple syrup at the grocery store pre-made, or you can simply combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring it to a boil while stirring until there are no more grains of sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Then add 5-10 sprigs of mint, letting the mint sit in the mixture and wilt. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator, or if you're making it the day-of, try cooling it quickly in the freezer before adding it to the mimosas.


Mushroom & Feta Skillet Frittata

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serves 8

1. In an oven safe skillet, heat 1 Tbs olive oil.  Roughly chop the spinach and cook it over medium heat. After it's wilted, transfer the spinach to a colander and press all of the liquid out of the spinach. Let it sit for a few minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, half-and-half, 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, nutmeg, cayenne, salt and pepper.

3. While the spinach is resting, heat 1 Tbs of olive oil in the skillet. Then add the yellow onion to the skillet, cooking until translucent. Stir in the garlic, spinach, and mushrooms, cook until fragrant. Gently fold in the egg mixture. Cook until partially set, about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle feta cheese and remaining parmesan cheese over the top.

4. Place skillet in oven and bake until frittata is puffed up and golden, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve.

8 large eggs,

1 cup of half-and-half

1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

salt + pepper to taste

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, minced

10 ounces fresh spinach

1/2 cup feta cheese

1/2 cup shitake mushrooms


Caramelized Vanilla-Cinnamon Toast

Ah, cinnamon toast! The very first thing that inspired our brunch tradition. It's simple, but intricate. It's comfort food that can be mouth-watering. Follow the steps closely, but as always, you are the chef! Tweak and experiment based on what you like.

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Cinnamon Spread

4 Tbs Cinnamon

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 sticks of butter

Soften butter, whip ingredients together in a stand mixer until completely combined. The texture should be crunchy with cinnamon and sugar, but spreadable. 

THE Toast

1. Find a fresh, uncut loaf of bread at the grocery store. The Fresh Market makes a really nice white bread that is uncut, if you can't find that you can use a sourdough.

2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut thick slices of toast, about 1 inch per slice, and lay them out on a large cookie sheet, covered with foil. Butter the top side of the toast & stick it in the oven until the butter is melted. Remove from oven and spread the butter evenly over the surface and return to the oven for about 3 minutes, until golden.

3. Remove toast from the oven and flip. On what used to be the bottom side of the toast, spread a thick layer of the cinnamon spread, all the way out to the crust. Place back in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the cinnamon is bubbling.

4. Set the oven to broil and leave the toast for a final 1-2 minutes on high heat. Be careful not to burn, and monitor the toast based on your own crunchiness-preference.

5. Remove from the oven and serve with fresh fruit and fresh whipped cream (unsweetened or sweetened, adding vanilla is always nice). If you want to get crazy you can always drizzle some syrup on top. 


The backyard movie

This year we decided to switch things up a little and have the birthday brunch with my family, and then celebrate with friends by hosting an outdoor movie neighborhood party. The weather has been beautifully warm for the last few weeks, so we felt like it was a perfect night to celebrate the first of Spring. Michael and I have talked for years about throwing something like this together, but we hadn't found the perfect excuse to do all this for just the two of us until now.

This is the kind of weekend activity that can be an adult birthday party (throw in some mojitos & a popcorn bar), a kid birthday party (think candy and Finding Nemo), or just a fun neighborhood gathering to welcome Spring. 

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What you'll need:

1. A projector, laptop, and speakers

We used the speakers from our studio, Michael's laptop and an Epson projector from Best Buy. The higher the quality the better (we splurged for 1080p). Michael set it all up on a coffee table and it worked like a charm.

2. Black fabric + White fabric, plus a frame (or something to nail it to in the backyard)

We found some cheap fabric by-the-yard at Hobby Lobby that worked perfect for this. There is a little wooden shed in our backyard, so luckily for us it was as easy as measuring the size of the shed and buying fabric to cover it. We nailed the black fabric behind and the white fabric in front, doubled. Easy set up, easy tear down, plus a cute little roof on top of the movie screen.

3. Outdoor furniture

Because our party was a couples party, we set up little sections of two chairs with some sort of table in between. We knew people would have drinks, candy and popcorn, so its a good idea to give them something to put that on. Michael brought down his old futon from upstairs which was PERFECT. We had lots of cushions, and a fire pit going behind the movie area in case people got cold. Don't forget to tell everyone to bring blankets galore unless you're having your movie night in the middle of summer.

4. Candy + Popcorn

Kroger was having a beautiful candy sale--$10 for 10 boxes of candy. So my sister and I went through and grabbed every type of candy we've ever wanted to try, 4 different flavors of popcorn salt, regular popcorn and kettle corn. We planned for 1 bag per person and it seemed to work out about right. It's never bad to have a few bags of popcorn left for your movie nights at home later.

5. birthday cake

There has never been, and never will be a better cake than this. Michael and I actually ordered this Caramel Brown Sugar cake from The Grit here in Athens for our wedding cake. We love it so much. I haven't had it since our wedding almost 5 years ago, so we decided this would be a fun occasion to have it again. (Also, I grabbed this cute cake topper from Target).


What's better than having a reason to celebrate?

Get festive this weekend and have brunch with your friends, or maybe even host an outdoor movie. Here's a list of my (current) top 10 movies in case you need suggestions. This list is heavy on the RomComs because what's better than a little laughing, crying, and falling in love on the lawn under twinkle lights?

10 Things I Hate About You

Midnight in Paris

About Time

You've Got Mail

Brooklyn

Pride & Prejudice

Almost Famous

When Harry Met Sally

Harry Potter (all of them, sorry can't choose)

Notting Hill

p.s.

Speaking of cinnamon, If you want the recipe for these homemade brown butter cinnamon rolls, click HERE . You can click through the pictures below to get a glimpse at the decadence you'll be making.

Tuscany, you're oh so lovely...



When Michael and I started planning our trip to Europe we had no idea where to go.

A trip overseas is laced with pressure to do something amazing, because anything that requires a 16 hour flight and puts that kind of a dent in your bank account needs to be amazing. We racked our brains for the right cities, the best deals on hotels, the shortest amount of time that would be enough time to really see a city. We were out of our league.

Luckily for us, Michael has some amazing family members that have lived in Milan for years. We reached out to them and they gave us some extraordinary recommendations, including the ever lovely Villa Bordoni

The villa itself was gorgeous down to every detail -- the pool, the open-air workout room (check out the view from the treadmill), the food, the staff, and the wine was the best I have ever tasted.

When we first got there, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor and pretend like we fit in. Ha! It was gorgeous, and ELEGANT. We noticed the hand-painted tiles on the floor of the bathroom, the floor-to-ceiling windows that opened out onto a balcony overlooking the rolling Tuscan hills. There was an adorable garden with little tables for two where we ate breakfast and had several glasses of wine during our stay. Right outside our room there was a shared sitting room where you can play chess (...who has time for chess on the reg?) and enjoy a cocktail. The bar looked like a scene out of the roaring 20's. Everything about this place felt like a breath of fresh air.

Click through all the pictures below:



The first day, Michael and I took a cooking class with their chef where we learned to make handmade pasta, a rustic marinara sauce with fresh tomatoes from the garden, tender Veal Osso Buco, and classic Italian Tiramisu for dessert. We love cooking so this was a real treat for us, not to mention that all-you-can-drink wine was being served all afternoon. The pasta process was almost therapeutic. The chef gave us tips on how to chop vegetables correctly, how to find the best olive oil, and how to cook in-season. His broken English and the glasses of wine made it more of a lighthearted Italian experience rather than any sort of real cooking school. 

And we were great with that.

The next day we visited the Antinori Vineyard for lunch and a flight of local wines. The whole place reminded us of a James Bond movie -- the towering concrete building with a vineyard literally built on top of it. The entrance was lined with swirling barbed wire, and you can't help but to feel fancy (and underdressed) when you're there. We kept catching each other’s eye with that “play it cool” but “I can’t believe we’re doing this” look.

When you're trying to pack light for a 10-day road trip across Europe you don't typically bring a whole lot of fancy clothes. But man I was so glad I brought that one dress.

On our last night, we cuddled up in our room, opened the floor-to-ceiling windows to our balcony, and we watched Under The Tuscan Sun (my first time ever seeing it). We laughed, we cried. It was absolutely perfect.

The next morning we picked out a case of local wine to preserve all the dreamy memories (never gotten a case of wine before...wow) and headed on our way to the train station. As sad as we were to leave we could LITERALLY not afford one more night (hehe). So we got the heck out of there and headed to Rome where our hotel was tiny and crappy, which is pretty much what we can actually afford.

So here's my blog tribute, to hoping that we’ll be able to return one day, but grateful for the beautiful moments we had there.

As beautiful and extravagant as Villa Bordoni was, there was something more that really impacted us when we were there. 

IT WAS ALL ABOUT TAKING IT SLOW

We all have an everyday pace that is so fast-- it never stops. We can even feel guilty for having a lazy Saturday. But everything about the place was designed to help you retreat for a day or two from the usual stresses of life and just be. I don't just think that's nice--I think it's necessary.

Up until this trip, Michael and I hadn't really taken a vacation, we were always traveling for work. As wonderful as that can be, and as blessed as we were to be able to travel together for work, we realized we had never really de-stressed and enjoyed ourselves like we did there. 

But I don't think we were able to relax just because Villa Bordoni was a swanky place to vacation.

I think you can tune into that feeling wherever you decide to go. Maybe it's a retreat to the mountains or to the beach for a weekend. Maybe it's a stay-cation at home. Maybe it's saving airline points and eating Ramen Noodles instead of eating out so that you can go live it up for a weekend. Go somewhere you've always wanted to go, or buy a bottle of $30 champagne because there's something worth celebrating.

I know it's not possible to do this stuff all that often, or to rush off to Italy, but it is always possible to enjoy yourself, be grateful, and relax. I hope we all decide to do that sometime soon.

XO,

Emily