Mother's Day Gift Idea: Make a Memory

When I think about my Mom and our relationship over my lifetime, I have realized that the thoughts that pop into my head are never about the actual gifts we have bought for one another, but rather all of our time and experiences together.  This Mother's Day I have decided that instead of sending her some sort of merchandise, I would surprise her with a special DC Weekend Trip (*If you are friends with my Mom, please help me keep this a surprise.  She has been instructed not to read to today's post until Sunday).  

This idea came about a few weeks ago when my Mom had mentioned wanting to visit me over the Summer to see my new house, my brothers apartment and take a trip out to Marjorie Merriweather Post's Hillwood Estate (yep, lots of houses on her DC to-do list).  After hearing wish list for her next DC trip, I thought that it would be fun to surprise her with a trip to DC to not only fulfill her wish list, but also create a few memories beyond just the house visits.  

After giving the weekend a lot of thought, I have come up with a list of activities that I think my mom will  enjoy during her stay in DC.  While I would definitely consider this activity list to be the ultimate weekend itinerary, these are different memory making ideas at different price points that would be great gifts by themselves or as bundled packages to give your mom this Mother's Day.  This is honestly the first time in my life that I have been able to afford to do something like this for my Mom, so I can certainly appreciate the need for gift ideas at various price points.  Added bonus- even with Mother's Day being this Sunday, there is still more than enough time to schedule any one of these gifts.    

Weekend Itinerary

  • Making Dinner at Home-  The first night my Mom is in town, I am going to be making dinner at home for her, my brother and my husband. This will be the only night she will see my husband, since he has very thoughtfully decided to give us a girls weekend and head home to his parent's house in New Jersey.  I will probably make my Lemon and Herb Pork Tenderloin with either Cous Cous or these Roasted Sweet Potato Discs and a Summer vegetable like asparagus or green beans.  
  • Touring All 3 Homes-  Since my Mom will be staying with me, touring House #1 will be accomplished immediately.  The first full day that she is here we will drive out to Hillwood Estate and stop by my brother's new apartment on our way back.
  • Mani/Pedis- This may be surprising, but I am actually not a big fan of getting my nails done.  Reason being, I am constantly working with my hands (cleaning, housework, etc..) and it never fails that I end up chipping the paint within a day or two of having my nails done (yes, even with shellac!).  However, my preference is not what is important here.  This weekend is about my Mom and she enjoys getting her nails done, so that is what we are going to do.  Plus, I enjoy spending time with my Mom regardless of the activity, so it is really a win-win.  
  • Exercise Class-  There is a new Pure Barre Studio that has just opened next to my house, so I have signed us up for an early morning class to get our blood pumping before we head out to the Hillwood Estate tour.  A fun and different exercise class is a great way to spend time together and start the day feeling energized. 
  • Cooking Class-  After my recent Date Night experience at CulinAerie, I am totally hooked on cooking classes.  The weekend my Mom is in town, I have signed us up to take a class on Summer Raw Food Basics, which we both will enjoy since we love to cook and learn about new healthy recipes.  
  • Sunday Brunching- Before her flight departs on Sunday, I will be taking her to brunch at one of my favorite local restaurants with my brother.  This restaurant offers a wide array of brunch options (both healthy and indulgent), and is the perfect way to conclude an action-packed weekend filled with all sorts of new memories and experiences.  

In preparation for the unveiling of this big surprise, I have mailed my Mom 3 Mother's Day Cards in blue envelopes and then one card in a yellow envelope that reads "Open this card last!"  This yellow envelope contains her plane ticket and a note that briefly explains the trip, but then tells her to go to my blog for the full scoop.  It has been so hard to keep this secret, as I have been bursting at the seams with excitement.  My Mom has done so much for me over the years/my entire life, been completely selfless and unconditionally loving, that this is the least I could do to show her my appreciation.  

I hope this post has given you a few ideas on how to celebrate the Mom in your life.  Whether the gesture is big or small, it really is the thought that counts.  

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! (Can't wait to see you!)

Date Night Idea: Take a Cooking Class

This past Saturday my husband and I took a cooking class at CulinAerie, a local cooking school company, for our weekly date night.  The last time we took a cooking class was on our honeymoon in Bermuda.  We had a great time and had said that we definitely wanted to take another cooking class, but of course one thing led to another (buying a new house, moving, renovations…life!) and a year and a half passed before we started looking in DC for a class.  

My search for a local cooking class was extremely fruitful (thank you Google!) and I was able to put together a list of cooking class options.  From there I started asking around for feedback from my friends on any experiences they had had with any of the cooking classes on my list.  A few of my friends suggested I try out CulinAerie, as they had all had wonderful experiences there.  I shared this information with my husband and we decided to go for it!  

A close friend of mine, who had taken a few cooking classes at Culinaerie before, recommended that we arrive early in order to secure seats in the front row for the best view.  Let me just say, that I am so glad we did!  CulinAerie has video monitors throughout the classroom to ensure everyone can see what the teacher is doing, but I loved having the ability to watch the teacher's demonstrations up close.  

Once we secured our seats and got settled, a kitchen assistant came around with a tray of the most delicious Hibiscus Margaritas.   I wasn't able to obtain the exact recipe from the teacher, but I did track down a similar Hibiscus Margarita recipe on the web.  This a fabulous cocktail recipe to consider trying during the Spring and Summer months.  I am actually planning on serving this tasty cocktail for Cinco de Mayo tomorrow night!  

After we had enjoyed a round of very tasty margaritas, it was time to start cooking!  The theme of the evening was Vegetarian Mexican Cuisine.  Here is a recap of what we made:

The Menu

  • Hibiscus Ceviche- I had always assumed that Ceviche had to be made with a raw fish or a similar meat component.  Boy, was I wrong!  Rehydrated Hibiscus Flowers are actually quite meaty in texture and work beautifully in a ceviche recipe.  
  • Mexican Lentil Hash- This recipe was super easy to make and very healthy.  I loved the rainbow of colors used from all of the different vegetables and the overall flavor profile was excellent.  My favorite part about this dish was actually when my husband remarked "Hey, this is pretty easy to make.  I can definitely make this for you sometime."  Music to my ears!!!  (Picture of this dish is featured below)  
  • Roasted Poblano stuffed with Potato, Corn and Queso with Roasted Tomato Sauce-  this was another delicious dish, but honestly the highlight was learning a new kitchen technique.  I had previously roasted my bell peppers in the oven, which always took a long time.  Learning how to char poblano peppers over an open stove top flame was so much faster and the charred skin was a cinch to remove.  (Finished product is also pictured below)
  • Granita de Pitaya (or Red Prickly Pear)- This is a great dessert idea to consider making during the Spring and Summer.  It's light, refreshing and also easy to make!  Here is a similar granita recipe from Martha Stewart for Mango-Lime Granitas

Of course there are the obvious benefits of taking a cooking class for date night- learning a new recipe and having a delicious dinner with your significant other.  However, what I loved the most were all of the additional benefits I reaped from taking this class.  

Benefits Beyond the Dinner

  • Flavor Inspiration- Until this class I would have never had the guts or know-how to use hibiscus or charred poblano peppers in a recipe.  Now that I have had the experience from this class, I cannot wait to start incorporating roasted pablano peppers and hibiscus flowers into my culinary repertoire.  
  • Knife Skills- One of my favorite parts of the evening was when the teacher gave us a lesson on knife techniques.  Learning how to dice an onion like a pro, quickly chop cilantro and easily de-seed and dice a jalepeno was absolute GOLD.  I cannot tell you how much time I will save in the future when preparing dishes just from knowing these simple knife techniques.
  • Flavor Enhancers/Brighteners- Another great tip we learned during this class was the power of adding acid to a dish.  The addition of an acid (ex. lemon juice, lime juice, vinegar) can really bring out the flavors of the dish.  
  • Meeting New People- Lets face it, its not always easy to meet new people these days.   My days are spent blogging in the morning, going to work all day, coming home and spending time with my husband, and then repeating the same schedule the next day.  There is not a whole lot of time left over (or energy) in any given week for going out and meeting new people.  During this cooking class we were paired with another couple, who my husband and I both enjoyed meeting.  While I am not totally sure that we will become long term friends with this couple, I did realize that taking a class like this is a great way to put yourself out there and meet other people in your area with similar interests.  
  • Quality Time- This was probably the best benefit of the evening.  I had honestly grown so tired of the standard Movie and/or Dinner Date Nights.  Movie date nights have always made me feel silo-ed from my husband, since we are sitting in a dark theater for hours unable to talk.  In addition, dinner date nights at restaurants while nice, were tough places to have a conversation (since you are in a heavily populated room) and short lived (1-2hrs tops?).  I loved this cooking class because it involved teamwork, learning something new, enjoying a delicious meal and going outside of our traditional routinized date nights. 

My husband and I had the best time taking this cooking class at CulinAerie.  Not only did we learn something new and get to spend quality time together, but my husband has now offered to cook me dinner this weekend (yay!).  We have already been back on their website trying to decide on which class to sign up for next!  I have also realized that cooking classes are great for double dates, so we are planning on coordinating with another couple for the next class.  

After taking this class I am done with constantly defaulting to the standard dinner and a movie date night.  I have been completely re-energized when it comes to planning creative date nights and cannot wait to start researching new ideas.  Do you have any favorite date night activities?