A New Venture: Saying Goodbye to Ann Written Notes.

House & Host Hey there!  So, you have probably noticed I have been MIA as of late.  Well, it’s not that I have been sitting around, eating bonbons wasting the days away.  I have been coming down the home stretch of my new venture, my new blog project, House & Host! And, you are the first to know so go on, check it out!

It’s been a work in progress in my head for over a year and tangibly for the last five months.  I found an amazing designer, Joy Laforme and she did an incredible job bringing my concept to life.  It’s been a super-duper creative outlet, a challenge and just so fun to see something from start to sort-of-finished (it’s never really finished, right?!).

So to that.  Goodbye Ann Written Notes.  The last 2+ years has been fun sharing my crazy stories, my love of all things beautiful, my travel adventures and a lot in between.  Thank you for being on this ride with me and I hope you will join me on this new, slightly modified, a bit more passionate, more colorful and a little more in my zone ride.

A couple of housekeeping notes:

  1. Will Ann Written Notes go away?  Sadly, yes.  But, after a few tears, I am actually excited because I think House & Host will be that much better, more creative and more storytelling.  After months of brainstorming and ideating and getting my creative juices flowing, God make it clear this was the right move.  And I’ve learned a ton along the way which I am SO thankful for!
  2. Will you need to subscribe to House & Host to receive the blog updates?  Yes!  You just need to go to the blog and scroll down slightly and on the right there is an email sign up box.  It takes 20 seconds.  Sign on up…first post goes live tomorrow!
  3. Have you enjoyed reading Ann Written Notes?  Have I made you laugh?  Cry?  Have I inspired you?  Well, I hope I have done something to make even the tiniest impact in your life.  And to that, I have a personal favor.  I would be SO grateful if you would share out House & Host to your friends and family!

Here’s to pursuing passion, closing chapters and opening new ones.  Here’s to creating, to trying, to learning, to growing.  Here’s to taking risks.  And to finding something you are passionate about and staying tremendously interested in it.  #livelikejulia

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Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.

If you have been following my blog, you know that I love a hand-written note.  Well, to be honest, I actually love any kind of note whether it be an email, a card or a text message to say hello, thank you or I love you.  Hence “Ann Written Notes” as the name of this bloggy blog.  Anyways, this past week, Rick and I received a few great thank you notes that I wanted to share.

Being in the hotel business, Rick and I want to make sure that our friends and family have great hotel stays and overall, a memorable and inviting experience while in Chicago.  And it’s a perfect tag team:  Rick knows how to take are of people at his hotel (I guess being in the business for 30 years has taught him a few things).  And I know how to take care of people in our home (ahem, we have an extra bedroom and I love having dinner parties and serving Moscow mules…come on over!).   Getting notes like the below is exactly why we love doing what we do.  God didn’t make a mistake when he brought us together…we LOVE the hospitality business!  And we love making people happy 🙂

And to that, I wanted to offer you a little challenge for this weekend:  Write someone you love a card.  Write a note to your boss to say thank you.  Write a note to an old friend just to say hi.  I promise they will love it and you will bring a smile to their face 🙂

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Meeting Monica Pedersen

ann-ueno-monica-pederson-15This past weekend I attended a designers dream event at Pottery Barn on North Avenue in Chicago featuring the ever vivacious, creative and warm HGTV legend, Monica Pedersen!  Admittedly, I didn’t know a ton about her going in but grew to learn more and love more about her during her book signing event.  Unlike other book signings I have gone to, Monica was engaging, informative and welcomed a conversation.  It wasn’t all about her, but rather, it was about her sharing pages from her book and how-to’s, hilarious stories and really inspiring hosting ideas.

What I personally loved most about the event was her story.  Her journey into design.  The fact that at age 35 she started her career with HGTV and pursued her passion of design is amazing to me!  Most of what she knows is because of testing, learning, doing, experiencing.  Not a Harvard design education (hmmmm…not even sure Harvard has a design program…).  Of course, she has a gift of the design eye and incredible hostess skills.  But, she activated and gained credibility in the entertaining and design world because she went with her heart.  #loveit

Check out some of the shots from the event below and a huge thanks to Pottery Barn for the great feature!  Oh and P.S. can we talk about how cute she is?!  And she’s like 8 months preggars?!

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Birthday Party Ideas for Tweens: My Attempt at Winning Aunt of the Year.

IMG_1369There are things that I write about that I can say with confdience I know what I am talking about.  Travel.  Food slash eating.  The hotel business.  Awesome interiors.  And so on.  Having a birthday party for a little girl, in this case, my niece Hannah, wasn’t one of those things.  Until now.  I brainstormed with my sister and we ended up with having Hannah’s birthday party at my house.  So fun!

As I don’t have young children, I sort of forgot there should be a bit more to the party than just ordering pizzas.  You know, um, like decorations.  Cake.  Maybe some tween flare.  So the tween birthday party challenge was on and I was going to attempt getting the aunt of the year award and make it special for not only Hannah, the cutest tween ever, but everyone who attended.  See the play-by-play below (I’m watching football right now, hence the use of that weird sporty language).

Set the theme.  We decided on a mani/pedi party which seemed fitting for not only the tweens, but the adults, too.  Oh and don’t forget to rock some awesome bright colors!

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Spruce up your space with some girly, but not cheesy, decor.  I raided Paper Source and walked away happy, despite their ridiculously over-priced everything.  It’s so cute and chic it’s worth it.  Ugh, I’m such a sucker.  I bought a pinwheels kit and a happy birthday banner kit which made me feel like a DIYer, even though I’m not really a DIYer.  Paper Source is smart like that…they can make even gals like me feel like Martha Stewart.

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I’m not sure about you, but when I was a tween I was obssessed with arts and crafts. So naturally, I had to have an activity.  I bought craft letters and a bunch of stickers and paper and tissue for the girls to decorate the crap out of them.

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{We have some serious crafting going on here}

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Having a girly mocktail was also a must.  Thanks to my friend Vaneesha for loaning me these cute mason jars and straws.  What tween doesn’t like a pink lemonade spritzer?!

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It’s always good to have door prizes so I whipped together these cards (same color scheme as Paper Source kits) for everyone to add a personal touch to the giveaway.

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Speaking of personal, it’s always good to give the birthday girl some extra love via the art of personalization.  I used my chalkboard easel and slapped on her recent school picture.  Done and done.  Easy breezy.

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And last, but not least, the sweets.  Cakes are a little circa 2008 so of course, I defaulted to cupcakes.  In the continued battle of having the best cupcake here in Chicago, Sweet Mandy B’s is for sure a front runner.  Not only are they beautiful, but the flavors are creative and the taste is DEE-LISH.  Yes, please.

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{I hope all your birthday wishes come true, Hannah!}

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What to Get the Person Who Has Everything.

what-to-get-the-person-who-has-everythingAs Rick’s birthday was approaching this year, I knew I had to think of something good, creative and F-U-N.  You see, in the game of “who gives better presents,” Rick is kicking my you-know-what.  Not that it’s a competition or anything (ahem and not like I am competitve) but I really did want to make this birthday memorable for him.  And then I remembered my friend Katie’s blog (Katie is Keen On) where she hired this dude named Chef Andrew from The Crying Onion, a private chef, as a gift for her friends that were getting married.  Oooohhh, this could be good for Rick!

I contacted Andrew, we dialogued a bit, I asked some questions, I chose the menu (there are literally so many options to choose from and Andrew is super flexible) and I invited my parents, sister and brother-in-law to come to the city to surprise Rick.  Perfecto!  A mini, intimate surprise dinner party at home where I we don’t cook or clean up  (oh, did I mention Andrew takes care of that, too?) for the guy who has everything. Okay he doesn’t have everything but being in the hotel biz, he goes out to tons of dinners so this would be a nice treat, something special, something we’ve never done, something memorable and if Andrew is as good as my friend said he was, it would also be tasty. Now, let me take you through this culinary delight.

{First things first.  The menu at a glance.  On our new chalkboard wall in our dining room.}

ann-written-notes-private-chef-dinner-party{Next up, setting the table.  I was really excited about this as we just bought our new Restoration Hardware Flatiron Dining Table so this was our first dinner party using the new goods.  Plus, I scored the Neiman Marcus cocktail glasses on clearance from Target and busted those out for a little gold bling, naturally.}

IMG_3185 IMG_3186 {This vase is actually the Illume Boulangerie Jar candle from Anthropologie. I love the single pink-tipped rose in it!}IMG_3187 {I love these paper placemats from Cake Vintage.  They are perfect as they do the job, they’re super cute and are customizable.}

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{Enter Chef Andrew.  Cooking in our kitchen.  He brings all the ingredients, pots, pans, everything!}  ann-written-notes-what-to-get-the-person-who-has-everything

{First Course – The Appetizer:  Crab cake with a spicy and sweet relish, siracha and brown mustard.}
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{Second Course – The Salad:  Arugula salad with shaved vegetables and mandarin oranges topped with seared salmon and salmon sushi on the side. Mouth watering yet?}

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{Third Course – The Soup: Roasted butternut squash soup with roasted pork.}

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{Fourth Course – The Main Event: Braised beef short ribs with some ridiculously awesome other stuff like scallions, rice noodle salad, sweet and sour yumminess and a lot of things I am forgetting.  Just trust me, it was de-lish.}

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{The Fifth Course – The Dessert: Homemade (obviously) apple fritter and um, oh…homemade donuts with saffron glaze, chocolate glaze and vanilla glaze sauces.  Yeah, that was dessert.  Watching him fry those bad boys in the pan caused me to drool a bit which was a little embarrassing but he understood.}

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{And of course, a birthday toast!}

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Well, ladies and gents, hiring a private chef hit. the. spot. Pun intended.  It was an incredible night, Andrew is ridiculously talented, the prices are reasonable and none of us will forget the experience.  I would highly recommend not only him but the concept of hiring a private chef for a special occasion!

Mangi e Beva! A Bucket List Dinner Review.

Warning:  This blog may make your mouth water, it may make you hungry and it may cause you to gain 3-4 pounds.

I don’t find it ironic that I as I sit down to write this blog, I am drinking a glass of my favorite vino (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) and eating a bowl of pasta.  Normal.  I have to say, if you need to whip together a weeknight dinner after a long day of work, my argument will always be in favor of Italian.  Saute some onions and garlic, simmer some ground beef, add some spices, a few cans of stewed tomatoes and tomato paste  (or a jar of sauce…eek!  I know, I know), boil Trader Joe’s rigatoni and it’s guaranteed to be a quality meal.  Oh and don’t forget the wine.  Then you really feel like an Italian.

Now that John and Jackie Cherone (pronounced shi-row-nee) are probably cringing, let me move on to the main course of this Ann Written Note.  For the past couple of years, Rick and I have had the pleasure of getting to know and sharing a few meals with John and Jackie Cherone.  Brother to Tony Cherone, Rick’s mentor and dear friend, Johnny (I feel like I can call him that now…you will understand why in a bit) is the epitome of a true Chicago Italian.  The accent, the frosty white hair, the sense of humor and most importantly, the cooking skills.  Did I say cooking skills?  Oh, I meant, the “next top Italian chef of Chicago” cooking skills.  My first meal with him was at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush and I remember being impressed and intimidated by his incredible knowledge of Italian food.  I think I mentioned a few words about ravioli or pasta sauce and quickly realized that despite my American Italian decent and passion for food, I should shut the hell up.  So, I did.  And became a great listener and admirer of his Italian food stories…and his storytelling overall for that matter.

Fast forward a year or two (I am so my mom…I can’t remember dates or events to save my life), Rick and Johnny were enjoying a cigar and one thing leads to another and we MAY have an invite to the Cherone household for an Italian dinner.  You see, getting an invite to a Cherone Italian dinner is not easy.  In fact, Rick made it very clear that getting an invite to the Cherone Italian dinner was a bucket list worthy event.  Well, ladies and gents, a couple months later, The Ueno’s got the invite.  To the Cherone annual Ravioli Sunday.  Not just an Italian dinner.  Their annual Ravioli Sunday Dinner.  OH YEAH BABY!  We were in!  Sss-ccccc-oooo-rrrrr-eeeeee!  I’m Italian.  I love food.  I love wine.  Perfecto!

On Sunday, November 6th, we packed a bag and walked a few blocks to the Ogilvy train station, Chicago Northwest Bound to Crystal Lake, departing at 12:30, arriving at 1:48pm.  John picks us up and all I remember from the car ride were the words, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” as he advised on how to eat the meal he and Jackie had prepared.  I have always believed that visual storytelling is the best kind, so I did my best to capture this 4 hour marathon meal in a visual way.

The Chef's

 Ravioli Sunday, November 6th, 2011 Menu

 

Hors d’oeuvre

Chilled Shrimp

Sausage Bread

Assorted Olives

Parma prosciutto breadsticks

Anti Pasta

This was one of my favorite courses.  A calamari steak (never had a steak of calamari before!) cooked on a special grill with an amazing garnish of capers, tomatoes, garlic, onion and EVOO

Calamari ala Greco

Zuppa

Okay, this was also one of my favorite courses. I have yet to have better pasta e fagioli in my life.  The perfect consistency, noodles cooked al dente and oh, the cheese.  The cheese…

Pasta e Fagioli

Primi

Otherwise known as the main event, the flavor party in your mouth, what Italian ravioli and meat should taste like.  This course was superb and naturally, I was in the clean-plate club.

Ravioli with Marinara Sauce

Braciole, meatballs, sausage

Yum.

Secondi

Yes, there was more.  The chicken piccatta was a personal favorite (and this picture does NOT do the flavor any justice whatsoever).

Mini filets with sea salt, chicken piccatta and sautéed, herbed zucchini and onions

Intermezzo

Shots of espresso with vanilla ice cream…a little relaxer for your stomach.

Jackie's Italian Coffee

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The desserts were also incredible!  Assorted pastries (homemade biscotti…wow), lemon ice, caffe

FINITO!

A huge thank you to John and Jackie Cherone and their dear friend Hope who helped prepare this once-in-a-lifetime meal!  Rick and I will never forget this day and even though I had to run an extra 10 or so miles to work off this meal, it was worth it!  Oh and who says you have to go to Rome to get great Italian food?  I say jump on the train and go to the Cherone’s!

PS – Here are some more prepping pics for your viewing pleasure 🙂

Dinner is at 5pm. If You’re Late, Your A#@ is Grass.

As you may have seen from my previous blog, Rick and I spent Labor weekend in Montreal and Quebec City.  On our last night, our very generous friends, Imma and Chris, invited us over for dinner.  And by dinner, I mean feast.  And by feast, I mean crudites, chips and guacamole, Greek cheese bread (I’m sure there is a fancy Greek word for it, but I don’t know it), nuts, salad, spinach and shrimp in a tomato sauce, olives, chicken, steaks on the grill, vegetables, wine..ahem, decanted wine that breathed for an hour before we drank it.  Fruit and tiramisu.  Two servings of tiramisu for me (I didn’t want to hurt the grandmother’s feelings when she offered me another piece.  Okay, I lied.  It was insanely delicious and I couldn’t resist the temptation).  Cigars.  After dinner drinks.  Unbutton pants (oh come on, you know you’ve done it). This wonderful couple, the hosts with the mosts, know how to have a “Labor Day BBQ.”  Is your mouth watering?  Good.  I asked Imma how she learned to cook and how she finds the time. She is a wife, mother of two sons, she has a career and the list goes on.  Well, first, she’s Italian.  So naturally cooking and food is in her blood.  Second, she said when you have kids, you want to cook for them and you want to feed them healthy but delicious food.  Oh yeah, right, I thought.  Of course.  Just whip up a 5 course meal no problem.  This lady has mad cooking and hospitality skills!

My conversation with her got me thinking about my mom, who also has Italian in her.  My mom is a wife, a mother of two [adorable, smart, funny, talented…sarcastic] girls, a clean freak, a queen of organization and a career woman.  She worked a full-time job my entire life and still does.  And guess what?  She had dinner on the table at 5pm every single night of my childhood.  She would prep on Sundays, come home during lunch to prep more and when we heard her gray Pontiac drive up at about 5pm, we knew it was time for dinner.  She didn’t complain.  She enjoyed doing it (or at least had us fooled into thinking she did).  And two things stick out for me regarding our family dinners.  First, hand washing and drying the dishes every single night with my sister (I grew up sans a dishwasher, obviously).  I would do ANYTHING to get out of this.  And literally my mom never budged.  Occasionally my dad would fold and dry a few dishes, but that was a rarity. Second, when my mom says dinner is at 5pm, dinner is at 5pm.  If you are late, you might as well cry your way into the house because one thing my mother could not stand was ill punctuality, ESPECIALLY after she had worked 8 hours and prepared our meals with love in her ‘free’ time.  I think I can count on one hand how many times I was late for dinner in 18 years.  And believe you me, I can still smell the fear of facing my mom and dad coming in even 5 minutes past 5pm.

Between the “Labor Day BBQ” (I use quotes because it was more like a 5 star dining experience than a typical hamburger hotdog BBQ) in Montreal and taking a hike down dinner memory lane at the Bennington household circa 1990, I was craving the housewife domestication this week.  And while times are different today and Rick and I dine out often or have evening obligations, there is a very nostalgic feeling and sense of pride in taking the lessons and gifts I learned from my mom and using them as an adult.  And so, I share with my 2011 dinner-at-home experience from yesterday.

12:25pm – Text to Rick “Honey can I make dinner tonight?  I can have it ready when u get home.  Okay?”

1:54pm – Text from Rick “Sure…I will be home at 8:30pm at the latest.

1:54pm (note the punctuality) -Text to Rick “Okay!!  Xoxo.”

5:40pm – Ann leaves the office, takes cab to Jewel to buy groceries.  Her plan is to replicate a meal she recently had in Saugatuck as it was delicious, healthy and turnkey.  Special thanks to Cathrin Bowtell for her amazing recipes!

6:15pm – Ann gets home and starts prepping

7:05pm – Ann goes to gym (and indulges in US Weekly and Minute to Win It on TV)

7:45pm – Ann begins cooking

8:15pm – Cooking is done, table is set, Ann is hungry

8:17pm – Text to Rick “Are you on ur way home honey?”  Rick responds yes immediately.

8:38pm – Text to Rick “Honey where r u…” (purposely omitting rest of text as I have committed to my blog being PG/PG13)

8:39pm – Text from Rick “I’m home”

8:39pm – Text to Rick “No ur not”

8:45pm – Rick arrives, Ann prays to God that she doesn’t ruin this amazing meal by raising voice to Rick [or killing him] for his ill punctuality (hmmm, sound familiar?)

8:47pm – Husband and wife pray,  enjoy an amazing meal together, talk about their day, and  husband compliments wife on good meal.  SUCCESS!  See pics and recipes below.  And note, there are no specifics on the recipes because in true Italian fashion, I don’t measure a darn thing. I just throw it in, taste it before serving and hope for the best.

Hummus and chips:  Hummus (I use the plain hummus, any kind is fine), diced tomatoes and cucumbers, salt and pepper topped with crumbled feta cheese.  You can use tortilla chips for dipping.


Watermelon Salad:  Mixed greens, chopped mint, cubed watermelon, salt and pepper.  Top with crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper and balsamic vinegar.  As Cathrin says, don’t be afraid of salt, pepper and balsamic!

Marinated Pan Fried Chicken:  I bought the chicken breast tenderloins from Jewel.  Marinate them for about an hour (while I was pumping iron at gym) with EVOO, salt, pepper, ground mustard, a little bit of lemon and balsamic.  I cooked in a wok (the wok is my best friend in the kitchen, next to my kitchen scissors) with about a teaspoon of EVOO for about 10-12 minutes.

Sticky White Rice:  Rick is Japanese so needless to say, 70% of our meals are served with rice (the other 30% with pasta).  And I have to say, the rice cooker is actually another BFF in the kitchen.  You put rice and water in the cooker, hit a button and 20 minutes later you have delicious and hot sticky white rice.  I would highly recommend one if you don’t have one already.  Write me a note for details!

Bon Appetit!

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