Love Then and Love Now

Greetings all you Sticks Forks Fingers fans! My name is Lauren Zabaneh. My blog is Foodie House (which I was granted permission to shamelessly plug) and I will be doing a bit of “babysitting” around here while Pam is off gallivanting around the hills of New Zealand, wine-tasting and forgetting about the rest of us (as she should), for her much anticipated honeymoon.

Foodie House is a food blog of recipes and stories of either food-crafting or motherhood, but always something I’m inspired to write about. If the previous two things don’t fit the bill of inspiration, I will write about whatever does. I’m a storyteller and my joy is to bring food to life with humorous narrative and thoughtful photography.

When Pam asked me to do this “blog foster care”, as she calls it, I was thrilled. Pam is one very special lady. She’s well-spoken, witty and can review wine like nobody’s business. She keeps me laughing with her sense of humor and outlook on life. And if I could visit anybody’s backyard, in these 50 great states, it would be hers. I’m hoping someday we can crack open a choice bottle of wine and shoot the breeze in her well-cultivated garden. So here’s to you Pam, dear! I thoroughly hope you and your hubby are enjoying the rolling green hills, vineyards and wines of New Zealand.

So let’s get romantic, shall we? Since I am feeling inspired by Pam’s wedding and honeymoon, I thought I would share a snippet of the night the Hubs and I got engaged, accompanied by a wine review and some snacks. Who doesn’t love snacks?

Over the past eleven years of marriage, the Hubs and I have been through a lot together. We’ve lived many places. We’ve adopted children and had one the old-fashioned way. We’ve had adventures together (parenting being the greatest), made bad choices, made good choices; have had yelling matches and making-up matches. We agree that we are each other’s best friend and help-mate. We give each other a boost when we need it and a chewing out when we need that too. All in all, we love each other.

We had dated a mere 4 months and he popped the question. We were head over heals for one another. We knew after a month of dating that we were destined to tie the knot…and we were only 21 years old.

Some thought us crazy and we were kinda freaked out by it too. I mean, we had just met. We were not even friends before we dated. It was like, “Hi. I think I love you.”

The first week of November of 1998, the Hubs (then, “the Boyfriend”), broke his arm playing football with a bunch of his buddies. He broke it bad enough that he had to have a plate and screws put in. I played nursemaid to him, giving him his medications and letting him crash at my place. There’s nothing a man loves more than a woman taking care of him- that and a delicious meal.
About a week later, he tells me he wants to take me out for a nice dinner on the Plaza (we were living in Kansas City at the time). I was excited as it had been a rough week with his broken arm and I had just started cosmetology school the same week. Oh, and I also had a horrible case of laryngitis. So, I could barely speak. Not so great when your have to answer the most important question of your life!

He took me to a special little restaurant called the Classic Cup. It’s my kind of place- crisp white tablecloths, shimmering stemware and excellent service. I ordered the vegetable lasagna and he ordered the shrimp Diablo. (Why I remember that, when I can’t even remember if I took my vitamins this morning, I will never know.) We were chatting and having a good time. Supposedly he was extremely nervous.  I can’t say that I thought he was acting weird or anything. He did, however, look funny with his giant cast and wonkster arm sling. Now that I think about it, he did have a couple drinks before dinner. It would be easy to assume the proposal happened because of a lapse in judgment due to a whiskey sour and some pain medication, but that wouldn’t be very romantic, now would it?

We had talked about getting engaged here and there. In the past he had mentioned getting engaged when he had enough money to buy a ring, so he was shooting for the summer. During dinner that night, I remember asking him how we could even afford to do it in the summer and he answered me, “Just like this.” He came over to my side of the table, got down on one knee and with his arm in a sling, he told me how much he loved me, showed me the ring he hand-picked and asked me to marry him. I was crying so hard and barely had a voice that it was hard to squeak out a “yes”. I was so completely surprised. I didn’t see it coming at all. That’s what made it so great. It was incredibly special and one of the best nights of my life. When we came back to my house (my parent’s actually) I was announcing it like it was news to them, but they already knew all about it.

The night we got engaged. I couldn't wipe that smile off my face for weeks!

Our Wedding Day.

So are you in the mood for a wine and snack treat? I hope so. I’ve got you all warm and fuzzy so you won’t notice that I’ve only done one other wine review in my life. I’ve tasted a lot of wine, but usually someone else tells me what I’m tasting…like the label on the back of the bottle.
I’ve come up with a very simple, romantic and potentially cheesy wine tasting snack for those who are freshly proposed to, or married, or honeymooning in, let’s say, New Zealand? Perfect.

Cheesy? Yes. Expensive? No. I chose an inexpensive ($9.99) bottle of Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, because it is from the featured country of New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite wines. It’s light, dry and easy to drink. I could not help myself from making cliché chocolate dipped strawberries and heart-shaped crostinis. You don’t have to spend a lot to make a beautiful spread that goes well with just about any wine.
I started by making the chocolate-dipped strawberries- so incredibly simple, but a must-have at any romantic setting. Who can resist the crack of the hardened chocolate sinking into the soft, ripe strawberry? Pretty sensuous food, I’d say.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

12 ripe strawberries
4 oz. good quality chocolate ( I used 60% cacao Ghirardelli chocolate)

Microwave chocolate for one minute on high, stirring half-way through, then stir again and continue heating in 20 second intervals, until just melted.

Have your strawberries washed and dried very well. Dip into the chocolate, almost to the top and set on parchment paper to set. Chill in fridge for at least 10 minute before serving.

These are just glorified toasts. “Crostini” sounds fancier and with the addition of rosemary, well, let’s just say, you will want more than a few of these. Poor Hubs, he went to grab another one and there was only one left. He asks, “Who ate all of these?” At the moment I could have blamed my three year old son, who was currently chomping away with a sprig of rosemary hanging on the side of his mouth, but I didn’t and sheepishly confessed that I was the culprit and blamed the wine for making me overly hungry.

Heart-Shaped Crostini

2 large slices of rustic Italian bread, thinly sliced
2 large slices of multi-grain seeded bread, thinly sliced
(really, just use whatever bread you like)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh rosemary
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut out 8-10 hearts and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with fresh rosemary and salt and pepper. Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes. Remove when they are turning a nice golden brown.

Hunk ‘O Cheese and Grapes

Handful of grapes
Nice wedge of cheese

I found the most luscious cheese at Whole Foods. The cheese girl, who works there, was encouraging me to expand my palate and get goat cheese. I hate goat’s cheese, truly. I’ve tried so hard to like it, over and over again. And each time the same gag reflex rears its ugly head. I just can’t do it. But I can do Gouda, probably because it’s not goat cheese. I love Gouda and this one is one of the best I have ever had.

It’s called Uniekaas Reserve Gouda. It went for about $11.99 a pound, and is a cow’s milk cheese. It’s aged to the point where it’s almost like parmesan, with the salty, crunchy bits running through it. That is my favorite part. It tasted like browned butter to me, creamy, but crumbly. You have to try this stuff. Cheese gold.

I figured what better to go with cheese than a nice handful of grapes? So I piled those on with the salty cheese, herbaceous crostini with the sweet strawberries on the side. Lit a few candles, poured the wine and…

You’re expecting me to say, Then the Hubs and I waltzed into the bedroom to consume our luscious platter of snacking delights and imbibe our New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on our luxurious bed, while whispering sweet nothings and gently brushing crostini crumbs from one another’s dewy faces, as we laughed in the delight of one another’s company. (que record scratching) Right. We have kids now.

This is how it really went down:

Half-way through our meal of turkey pot pies (homemade, none of that Swanson crap), I break out the post-photographed snack platter and glasses of wine. I ask the Hubs if he wanted to do a wine review with me. He replies with his classic, “Wine not?” He says the same thing anytime I ask him if he wants a glass of wine. He thinks he’s funny.

None of this was at all romantic, but still fun. The moment the kids saw me set down this snack platter, they started clamoring for a “heart toast”.

During the actual wine tasting, the kids were chattering away at the table, as kids do, mixing their versions of Mary Poppin tunes with random toddler squeak, and here we are trying to be ever so refined and smell bouquets and look at “legs”. Total joke. We tried to hush them, even for a moment so we could hear ourselves taste the wine. Make sense? For some reason, with all the noise around us, it made it incredibly hard to taste the wine. So, I went outside on the porch, to close my eyes, breathe in and taste this wine. Ah! Apples and flowers. That was my first impression. Delicious.

The Hubs thought it was, “Spicy, citrus-y and peppery.” He was thoroughly enjoying our snacking together, regardless of how un-sexy it was. Oh, and when I asked him what he would rate it on a scale of 1-10, he gave it a 7. I would gladly give it an 8.5. Really good.

This wine went perfectly with the richness of the olive oil on the crostini and the crumbly, buttery-ness of the gouda. I had to stop myself. It was going from wine tasting to wine grazing.

Now, the wine with the chocolate strawberries…eh. Not amazing. I think I know what it was. Since I pretty much hate any chocolate other than dark, I would not have considered dipping the strawberries in milk or white chocolate, BUT with this wine, as tart as it is, I think milk chocolate would have been more appropriate. With that said, as soon as the strawberry hits your tongue, the wine goes very well.

So that, my dears, is my two cents. I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk down my memory lane. I certainly have enjoyed this guest post here at Pam’s place.

To Pam and her Baby, I want to wish you the best wine-tasting, romantic gallivanting, memory-making, frivolous and extravagant time of your lives. Here’s to you!

Love ya, Foodies!


  1. Such a beautiful and romantic post to toast Pam and Baby on their wonderful honeymoon. I loved the heat shaped crostini and chocolate dipped strawberries, so romantic, even with the kids:)

  2. Absolutely fantastic! Everyone's story about how they got engaged, married or enjoyed their honeymoon has a good laugh in it. I haven't had any of the Monkey Bay wines, but I woudl bet they are good. New Zealand never fails to impress with its wines. And once again Lauren, I love your photos.

    Congrats Pam! You've got great and loving family and friends around you.


  3. Good post Lauren! Love hearing the story of how you and your husband fell in love and the adventures you've had since. Alas, I'm sorry to tell you, you and I are finally at a crossroads. I simply can't believe you don't like goat cheese. And to think how close we've come to being bloggy soulmates:) Love the idea for the heart-shaped crostini--and I even have a big heart cookie cutter hanging out in my cabinet.

  4. U R Adorable. I am in love with the heart shaped Crostini - WILL be making that as it makes the meal special. I like that Monkey Bay, not to bad.

  5. Great guest post Lauren...Romantic and fun :)
    Love the treats too!

  6. Lauren, thanks for another wonderful guest post! I'm so enjoying all of these romantic stories!! Your photos are so lovely!

  7. Yay! Good to see you here Lauren! What a great story about your engagement.
    I love Sauvignon Blanc's from New Zealand, how funny. Great appetizers and snacks.... if only I wernt stuck here at work until 11 pm tonight *booo

  8. Love the heart shaped crostini, Lauren. Snaps is certainly kicking your photography up a notch. It was fantastic before but now is even more so. WE've been enjoying a New Zealand Sauv Blanc called Zeal. Have a feeling you'd like it too. Great story :-) Happy weekend - and good luck with the laundry!!! Kate @ Kateiscooking

  9. The first time I had a New Zealand wine, I was freaked out by the screw-top. I was at a wine tasting and I was like, WHAT? A screw top??? I don't drink screw-top wines! But then I learned that many NZ wines use a screw-top. I found that like you, Lauren, I really liked the NZ white wines!

  10. What a great post! I loved hearing about how you and your husband got engaged, and all those wine tasting goodies look delicious! I'm with your kids on this one--I want a "heart toast" please! :D

  11. Lauren, great story! SO sweet. That smile in the picture from when you first got engaged says it all. I love that you went the "cliche" route and did chocolate dipped strawberries and heart shaped crostini--I think it is such a cute idea and the perfect accompaniment to a nice glass of wine.


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