Category Archives: celebrations

Gyu-kaku

Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurantsNaoto and I celebrated our 12th anniversary last Saturday! We had plans to go to a new cocktail bar called Prairie School, but it unexpectedly closed for good the week before our anniversary. (It wasn’t even open a year!) I was super bummed. But then I read about Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese BBQ chain that came to Chicago a couple years ago. I knew Naoto would be into it–he remembers going in Japan–and I figured it would be something different and fun. It’s definitely not really a romantic place…it’s pretty bright and loud and open and you’re working together to cook your food, so if you’d rather have a more traditional special occasion with your partner, maybe this isn’t your place. That being said, a group dinner here would be a blast. (And of course it was perfect for us since we’re not really white tablecloth kind of people.) Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, lychee cocktail, Asahi beerWe started with an Asahi beer and a lychee martini while we pursued the menu for the best options for the two of us. You can order a la cart, or you can do different levels of prix fixe options. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, Gyu-kaku saladWe opted for the “samurai” menu that included starters of miso soup, salad (pictured above,) spicy tuna volcanoes, and beef bibimbap. And for grilling, Kalbi beef, miso skirt steak, rib eye, garlic shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. Oh and mochi ice cream for dessert. It was plenty of food for both of us. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, grilling meatsThe servers give pretty good instructions about placement and timing for the various meats. No one wants to eat raw chicken.  Naoto did most of the grilling, but I helped with the vegetables. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, grilling meatsThere are three sauces to accent the food, sweet, sour, and spicy. The meats are marinated but the sauces are perfect little accents to balance the richness of the meal. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, mochi ice creamOur dessert was green tea and strawberry mochi ice cream. A few bites of each was a perfect ending to our dinner.

Next time, I think we will probably order a la cart, mainly because there are different sides and meats we’d like to try in place of the prescribed choices with the prix fixe menus. They even have some summer specials that look really fresh and tasty. Gyu-kaku Japanese BBQ, west loop restaurants, cherry blossom cocktail, asahi beer Cheers to the next twelve.

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Tiki Birthday Party

tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, man tais, cocktail umbrellaOver the weekend, James, Naoto, and I threw a tiki-themed birthday party for friends, Karen and Jackie. I LOOOOVE theme parties (as you may know) and I thought it would be really fun to jump into summer with a tiki theme. tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, table setting, leis tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, table setting, leis I did a simple table because we had a spread of fun food. I got the “centerpiece,” leis, napkins, and a couple of garlands from the Dollar Tree. I really don’t shop there often, but I went with my parents once and now it’s my go-to place for parchment paper and tissue. We went a couple of weeks ago and I was delighted to see that they had a bunch of tiki party things. (By the way, this is not a sponsored post.) tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, table setting, leisEven though it was a small gathering, I made us little festive place cards with some peacock card stock and little puffy pineapple stickers from Paper Source. paper source kit, tropical leaves kit, tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, table setting, leisI had these tropical leaves (an old Paper Source kit) leftover from a couple of summers ago, so I hung them up in the corner. They will likely stay up for the whole summer. paper source kit, tropical leaves kit, tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, blue hawaiis paper source kit, tropical leaves kit, tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, blue hawaiis, crab rangoonWe started the night with Blue Hawaiis and crab rangoon (purchased from a local thai restaurant.) James told me that flamingos are not tiki, but I couldn’t resist the neon pink flamingo stirrers (also from the Dollar Tree!)

tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, man tais, cocktail umbrella, tiki friendstiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, man tais, cocktail umbrella, tiki friends, presleyWe stayed in the kitchen and ate and drank Mai Tais while Naoto finished cooking the dinner. He and James were in charge of the menu and I was in charge of decorating, cocktails, and cupcakes. Collaborative party planning is the best!  tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki partyFor dinner, we had pineapple fried rice served in the pineapple, Hawaiian pizza, and an Asian slaw. I’m going to admit that the fried rice in the pineapple was sort of the catalyst for the whole party (thanks, Pinterest!) James and I watched a YouTube video to learn how to hollow out a pineapple and it was not as hard as it sounds, as long as you have a sharp knife and a little patience. (James executed it perfectly because I have neither a sharp knife nor patience.)

Naoto has really been into making his own pizza lately, so we decided he should make a Hawaiian version. And James made the slaw and he doesn’t use recipes. Everything was really tasty (which I can say because I only made the cocktails and the dessert!) tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, table setting, leis, gift wrap, paper source gift wrap, flamingo, pineappleWe ended the night with gifts, cupcakes, and a last cocktail, the Admiral Montenegro, which I cannot recommend enough if you like slightly bitter tiki drinks. (The cupcakes were not-so-photogenic but taste-wise, Martha didn’t let me down!) tiki birthday party, aloha birthday, #jktikiparty, tiki party, tiki drinks, man tais, cocktail umbrella, tiki friendsHappy Birthday, Karen & Jackie! XO

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Letters & Libations: Mr. Zip Cocktail

mr. zip cocktail, letters & libations, gimlet, gin cocktailHe’s always “on thyme!”

This is the cocktail we served at the Letters & Libations birthday party. I think it was a hit, based on the amount of gin consumed at the party. (We only served this cocktail and also beer and wine.) Naoto is the kind of bartender who tops off your cocktail when you’re not looking, though. The Mr. Zip is a simple gin gimlet, with a bit of a twist. We swapped out the lime juice for lemon and we added a hint of thyme to the simple syrup.

Thyme Simple Syrup

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

Handful of fresh thyme sprigs

In a pan on the stove, dissolve sugar in water. Once sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat and add thyme sprigs. Steep for 30 minutes and strain into a container. Chill before using. The simple syrup will last up to a week in the refrigerator. This makes enough syrup for five cocktails. (You can adjust the amounts based on the size of your party, but the basic recipe is the same: equal parts sugar and water, and a handful of thyme.)

Mr. Zip Cocktail

2 oz gin

3/4 oz thyme simple syrup

3/4 oz fresh lemon juice

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake, shake, shake. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme. Enjoy with friends, preferably while writing letters.

 

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Letters & Libations Invitation

airmail invitation, paper source invitation, letters & libations invitationWhen Naoto told me his party idea, my only request (besides meatballs and a signature cocktail) was that he send paper invitations to the party. I love a paper invitation and I’m almost never organized enough to send one. When I saw this moving announcement, I decided to play around to see if we could turn it into an invitation and we could! Naoto took care of the rest. We decided to add two times to the invitation in case people didn’t want to write letters, but almost everyone came during the “letter writing” time anyway so it wasn’t an issue.

airmail invitation, paper source invitation, letters & libations invitationNaoto added a festive picture of Presley to the back (because I wouldn’t let him use one of me!) with a little note. I kept an invitation for my “scrapbook” which is really just a pile of ephemera in a drawer waiting to become something…I love a paper invitation.

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Letters & Libations Stationery

letters & libations stationery, donovan beeson, letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthdayAs I mentioned the other day, Naoto had special Letters & Libations stationery made especially for the party. He knew that Donovan sometimes makes special stationery for the Letter Writers Alliance letter writing socials so he commissioned her to draw something that incorporated letter writing and cocktails. He met with Donovan to chat about the plan and she came up with a few designs. Because he knew I would probably want to use the stationery beyond the party, he let me choose which one I liked best. letters & libations stationery, donovan beeson, letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthdayThis was the winner…a perfect cocktail coupe with a stack of mail ready to go. I love that the top letter has a little paper airplane on it and it’s addressed to me from the LWA. (But that detail is small enough so others could use the stationery without it being weird.) Donovan formatted the image so two sheets of stationery fit on an 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Naoto had them printed at the UPS store, where fifty copies cost $5. (He brought his own paper, Superfine White from Paper Source from my stash at home. I love Superfine papers…almost anything–fountain pens, gel pens, felt pens, pencils–writes nicely on it.)

I now have a nice leftover stash of my own personal stationery and the ability to print more. I’m so excited to write some letters on it this week! (By the way, I’m staying on top of my letter writing this week…how about you?)

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Letters & Libations Party Decorations

letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorationsNaoto was a little worried about party decorations so I told him I’d handle it. I love making garlands and I already had a bunch of supplies leftover from last year’s Write On Party.letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorations, oh happy day paper airplane

I just strung a bunch of airmail envelopes from the ceiling and then made a garland with First Day Covers and old postcards from my vintage paper drawer. And for the “centerpiece” I made a giant paper airplane based on this Oh Happy Day tutorial. I just used eco white roll wrap from Paper Source and drew lines with a pink and blue Sharpie. Then I used this tutorial to fold the plane. I haven’t folded a paper airplane since grade school so I needed a little refresher course.

letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorations, oh happy day paper airplanePresley was impressed.

letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorations, kraft paper tablecloth, post office in many languages letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorations, kraft paper tablecloth, post office in many languagesNaoto made a kraft paper tablecloth for me with “post office” written in several languages and he even drew the Japan Post mascot for me! We scattered some airmail envelopes on the table with the stationery and called it done. Simple but on-theme. letter writing party decorations, letters & libations, paper decorations, mail decorations, kraft paper tablecloth, post office in many languages, Presley the cat, vintage stamp holder mail truckPresley enjoyed pushing the mail truck off the table. She doesn’t like being left out of the letter writing fun.

Simple, and at the end of the day, everything is reusable (especially for National Card & Letter Writing Month happening now!) and recyclable!

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Letters & Libations

letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthday, birthday cake, kays bakeryFor my birthday this year, Naoto threw me a Letters & Libations party, complete with a theme cocktail, letter writing, and lots of friends. It was so fun and a perfect beginning to a new decade. My only regret is that we didn’t get more good pictures… letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthday So, about the cake…we got it at our local bakery, Kay’s. When Naoto ordered it, he asked if they could do red and blue (airmail colors!) and draw an envelope on the cake. Simple, right? I mean, and envelope is a rectangle with a triangle inside. (Even I can draw an envelope and I’m terrible at drawing!) They said they couldn’t do an envelope but they could do a pencil and a notebook so he figured close enough…well…that’s what we got. Funny, right? It still tasted delicious. Birthday cakes are my favorite…nothing fancy, just white cake with buttercream frosting.

letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthday letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthdayWhen Naoto sent out the invitations, a few people wondered what a letter writing party was. I was feeling a little nervous about making my non-letter-writing friends write letters, but it all worked out in the end and almost everyone wrote a letter! I even had some Mr. Rogers stamps on hand for people to use and Naoto had some special stationery made for me. (I’ll share that soon!) I was so happy to see tables of friends writing letters and drinking cocktails at my dining room table. It was really the best birthday gift ever. (Confession: I didn’t write a letter!) letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthdayWe ate Freddy’s meatballs (pretty much a party standard around here) and Lou Malnati’s pizza and salad, cheeses, chips and salsa, and Karen made her famous pimento. letters and libations birthday party, letter writing party, birthday, kimberly's birthdayNaoto turned my desk into a bar and mixed up a signature cocktail for us…I’ll share that soon, too.

My heart is full, and I’m well-stocked for National Letter Writing Month.

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Happy Easter, Happy Spring

vintage easter card, vintage greeting card, easter bunnyHappy Easter (if you celebrate) and Happy April! It’s still quite cold here in Chicago, which is the norm for early spring. We’re still working out our Easter menu, but I have my spring cocktail napkins all ready to go.

(Vintage card purchased from the Forest Park Emporium. One seller there has the best old paper treats. Bunny paper is Japanese washi from my stash.)

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Write On 2018

write on, write on challenge, hello lucky, eggpress, national letter writing monthTomorrow is April and National Letter Writing Month and the beginning of another Write On challenge! I like Write On a bit better than Letter Month because it’s more removed from Christmas card season and the expectation is looser–write 30 letters during the month of April. I’m hoping to actually finish this challenge after my failure in February. As usual, I have a nice stack of letters that need a reply, some thank yous to finish, and a drawer full of stationery. I ordered the Write On party pack again and I’m planning to have a little letter writing gathering or two this month. One of my pen pals is flying in from New Zealand so there will definitely be some letter writing time planned around her visit. Here on the blog, I’m hoping to post mostly mail related things, too. I’ve been saving some things for the most wonderful time of the year!

Are you participating in the challenge? I love the kits (pictured above) this year! Those little mailboxes are perfection.

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Letter Writing Themed Birthday Gifts

airmail pillow coverMy birthday was last Saturday and Naoto threw me the most wonderful party and gave me such thoughtful gifts. I’ll share more about the party next week. It was a theme party -of course- and it will be the perfect thing to share during National Letter Writing Month.

I’ve had these airmail pillow covers on my wishlist forever. I’d almost forgotten about them until I unwrapped them on Saturday. They are screen printed on natural canvas and you can find them in the Two Hands Two Crowns Etsy shop. I was so excited to stuff my down pillow inserts into them and put them out on the couch for the party. I asked Naoto if he cares that I gave our living room a mail theme and he doesn’t care, so maybe there will be more mail additions in the future. Japanese post rubber stamps, Nico Neco Zakka Shop, Japanese office suppliesMy other gifts were these cute Japan Post stamps from NicoNeco Zakkaya. The little guy is the Japan Post mascot and I love how he’s inside a stamp shape. (I couldn’t find these exact stamps in their shop right now, but they have so many lovely stamps and other things!) I’m looking forward to writing my thank you notes tonight and using my new stamps. As usual, I’m behind on my letter writing, just in time for another Write On challenge! (But I’m hoping to get my thank yous out before Sunday–yikes!)

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