The weekend started innocently enough. We landed. We checked in. And then, we discovered our gift boxes. And that’s when the party started.
Sweet Riesling, sparklin peach juice, fresh fruit and a few resourceful food bloggers. I smelled Sangria, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
This was a weekend of food bloggers on a trip to learn about a storied company. Yeah, you’ve heard about these gigs before. Well, this was my first one. The newbie in “the group.” A little trepidatious and a lot honored at being asked to go. I mean who am I? I’m just someone who likes to tell people about cool recipes and food bloggers. I’m not of “their” echelon.
But guess what? They didn’t have an echelon. They were just real. Live. And lovely. And thanks to our hosts, Harry & David and Sandy and Paul, I figured that out really quickly.
And yes, the sangria didn’t hurt either.
Having met some of the group from conferences helped alleviate the nerves, and once I saw the charm of the Ashland Springs Hotel, I knew it was going to be an enjoyable weekend overall.
We were in Medford, Oregon to tour the storied Harry & David. The same company that each Christmas delivered pears to my family in towers of gold-foiled boxes with chocolate for me and my sister and nuts for my dad. Boxes that I would covet and store my keepsakes in for years on end.
But first, we had a dinner to attend.
A very special dinner hosted by a very special lady. Sandy of Reluctant Entertainer, who was anything but reluctant in welcoming a bunch of food bloggers with wine and food and a warm welcome to her home town.
Check out our welcome wagon in this quick video from the evening. Makes me a little homesick for Sandy’s hospitality.
Our amazing hosts’ teen daughter Abby—with Sandy, the queen of the night—made a terrific duo in and out of the kitchen. And really, who better to throw a backyard bash to set the tone of a great weekend? Not that Sandy was nervous or anything, just another evening of entertaining food bloggers.
With a vast background in hosting distinguished soirees to impromptu bar-b-ques, nobody has better advice to pull off the ultimate get together without breaking a sweat. Or at least look like you didn’t.
She somehow pulled it all off with ease. And I wanted to know how.
Here are Sandy’s top 10 tips to easy entertaining:
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #1: Add an element of surprise.
“With a backyard garden theme, we used tomatoes and vines as the decor thanks to the great minds of some of my favorite florists and our “new-used” red-painted trellis we bought at a yard sale for $5.” (check out Sandy’s DIY decorating post)
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #2: Make it long.
“Instead of several small tables, join two smaller tables with one or two of the same tablecloth to create a relaxed family-style atmosphere that lets the conversation flow.”
Maria is as happy as a pea
Caleb takes his spot in the turtle race. That would be first place.
Josh chills at the pool—in between sprints of chasing after Caleb
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #3: Mingle, mingle, mingle.
“Once your guests arrive, give them a chance to meet, mingle and chat. Or in blogger speak, take photos and document the amazing evening for their readers so they can THEN sit back, mix, mingle and chat—with all devices off.”
Jessica and Bridget share digital laughs while consistently sporting the best hair of the trip.
Amy and Rachel. How can you not love that face? One of my favorites of the trip.
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #4: Keep things simple.
“Pop open the jar lids of chutneys or relishes for easy appetizers with goat cheese, flat bread, pita chips and fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Move over Vanna, Jessica has a future in hand modeling. How delish does that app look? Guess what? It tasted even better! It’s as easy as pita chips, goat cheese, jarred relish and a fruit topper. Oh and wine. Yes, wine.
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #5: Use what you have.
“Instead of going on a shopping trip for a one-night dinner, I went eclectic and used my 21-year-old wedding dishes and Dollar Store water and wine glasses. And nobody was the wiser! I also used these cute napkin ties from The Hip Hostess to tie the cutlery and napkins in a nice little package.”
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #6: Think outside of the box.
“I used 2 Lowes painting drop clothes to top the table at just $10 each. They’re neutral in color, large enough to cover long tops and clean up with ease. And if they get stained with wine or food spills it’s no big deal. They can be recycled for what they were originally intended for: Dropcloths!”
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #7: It’s all about good conversation.
“Use seating cards to create great conversations. Pair outgoing personalities next to those that might feel a bit shy to bring out the best in everyone a the table.”
Local Medford bread makes for great dipping
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #8: Make it memorable.
“Take photos throughout the evening, create a photo book and have it shipped to your guests to memorialize the evening. Or start a blog and document it for the world to see.”
Kristin is a natural if you didn’t know…
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #9: Don’t try new.
“Cook a recipe you already know or feel comfortable with. I made a simple salad, corn with zucchini from the garden and a baked salmon with jarred relish from Harry & David. Our wonderful friends Minor and Jeannie gave us the best gift for Christmas: Two Sous Chefs for a night of entertaining at our house so Paul and I can enjoy the evening without worrying about cooking and clean-up. We’re so thankful for such thoughtful friends like them.”
SANDY’S ENTERTAINING TIP #10: Send them home with something to remember.
“Every smart hostess sends a little something home with their guests to commemorate the evening.”
Sandy graciously supplied gift bags with Harry & David kitchen timers in the shape of apples. I know every time I use this cute little timer, I’ll remember this awesome night of bloggerness love.
After an amazing feast and great conversation we were on our way, touring our way through the orchards of Harry & David’s signature pears, The Royal Riviera. Yep, those are the ones you’ll get in your holiday boxes.
700 tons picked per day, in just 28 days which equals 2.9 million pears. All carefully picked by 300 pairs of hands. Again, in just 28 days. I did that math on the bus, so don’t quote me, but I think I’m close.
My favorite quote of the weekend, ” My oven is the sun, my timing is the season.” ~ Matt, the head of the orchards (yes he has a much fancier title but he’s just a lovely simple guy who loves farming and what he does.
Not only were the pears ready to burst thanks tot he 95 degree heat during the day that dropped to the perfect 50s at night, the peaches…oh, the peaches! Straight from the tree and paired with local Rogue Creamery smoked blue cheese. Forget about it. I was in heaven.
A trip to the creamery and a wine tasting at Ledger David made the unusual 100+ temps far more bearable. Yes, my glass is empty. Odd.
I’ve never stayed in a boutique hotel that was so attention to detail and local-friendly as the Ashland Springs Hotel. And I’m betting the comfiest beds in Oregon.
A lovely dinner at Red Lilly Vineyards with plenty of photo opps
And then I was taken back to my Hostess Twinkie packing days (yep, I did that) back on the line at Harry & David and learning chocolate making techniques from their master baker/sweet maker Charlie. Yes, as in that Charlie. But more special.
I sent my packaging prowess to my mom and dad, afterall, I had a box of fruit in my hotel room. Or did I?
Ah, that reminds me, back to the sangria!
Like I said, we were thirsty following our flights into town (some of us had been up since 4 a.m.) so a little refreshment was in order. What to do with some extra time between dinner and a lovely gift box? Dum, dum, dum, dum, SANGRIA!
Although I hadn’t come prepared with my Swiss Army knife or a multi-facted Leatherman—I was traveling by plane afterall—I was wielding a big smile and some battable eyelashes which were somewhat disarming to the ever helpful front desk since they happily handed over a very sharp knife and an accommodating Sangria vessel.
Not your typical front desk request, but I usually find myself bending the rules. Just ask my mom.
A bottle of Riesling, a bottle of sparkling peach juice, a few slices of fresh-from-the-tree peaches and pears and we were ready to sit down, relax and acclimate. And it went perfectly well with Moose Munch.
I’ve since taken this hotel inspired recipe and adapted it to my own state’s peaches and pears with some cherries tossed in for good measure. It’s a perfect compliment for any get together, so easy to pull together and enjoy. As you can see above, Rachel agreed.
If you’re not into the alcohol, just add more peach juice or mix with another flavor. The beauty of sangria is its flexible. And tasty.
If you like your Sangria a little stronger, add in more wine. It’s your recipe, it’s your choice.
I’m sure Sandy would approve.
This recipe is ultra flexible. Add in your favorite fruits, or if you aren't into alcohol, leave it out and add more juice. If you like your drink a little stronger, add in more wine to taste.
- Combine all ingredients in a pitcher. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. Serve with ice cubes if you're in a hurry with not time to refrigerate. Enjoy!
Want to see more? Check out these posts from my fellow traveling bloggers
Disclosure: Harry and David paid for the trip to Oregon, but all opinions about the company and products are my own and I wasn’t compensated for those opinions. I do however love a fresh pear and those peaches…ahhh, peaches.