Strawberry Cooking Challenge

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Over the weekend, we had our first cooking challenge! We decided to infuse a little novelty and fun into our Memorial Day weekend at home (especially since our annual family beach vacation was postponed), and it gave us something to look forward to and plan all week long. And y’all, it was so much fun!

It was a strawberry fest in our house on Saturday as our first cooking challenge unfolded, and I’m excited to share what we did (and some accompanying pictures), in the hopes that it may inspire you to turn an everyday task into something so much more fun and exciting. I shared our process and the evening on Instagram stories as it unfolded, and I received so many comments about the creativity of our little challenge as well as how delicious everything turned out! It truly was an evening to remember and made for the most delectable day and happy experience.

Here’s how it worked:

  1. We brainstormed ingredients and nominated a secret ingredient to be considered. We put our ingredient nominations in a bowl and chose one – strawberry was the winner! Other nominations included: Mike’s hot honey, apple, lemon, and blackberry.
  2. We then drew for courses: cocktails, appetizer, entree, and dessert. Whichever course you drew, you were responsible for creating a dish that incorporated strawberries.
  3. Create, cook, and bake with strawberries to your heart’s content – and then enjoy a delicious four course meal!

Another fun tip: brainstorm as many themed songs as you can! We put together a “strawberry” playlist to enjoy as we were cooking and eating, which kept us laughing for a long time. We then transitioned into classic American rock songs with a little John Mayer thrown in the mix.

And you know I had to set the table to reflect our summertime strawberry theme! It took all of five minutes to cut some fresh dogwoods from our yard, put fresh strawberries in those adorable teal strawberry boxes, top the table with a dusty blue buffalo check tablecloth topped with a red and white striped runner, and voilà!

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first cocktail: strawberry gin smash

muddled strawberries, fresh lemon and lime juice, sugar, gin, club soda, and mint

first appetizer: crostini topped with ricotta, honey roasted strawberries, fresh basil, and cracked black pepper

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second appetizer: bacon strawberry chipotle meatballs

bacon and ground beef meatballs topped with reduced strawberry, onion, brown sugar, bacon, and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

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second cocktail: strawberry rosé sangria

rosé, lemons, oranges, strawberries, and club soda

main course: smoked chicken legs with a strawberry-habanero sauce

spring mix salad topped with sliced strawberries, shaved parmesan, and pepitas

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dessert: lemon olive oil cake with honeyed ricotta and honey-chamomile strawberries

And thus ends our strawberry cooking challenge! Four courses, all incorporating strawberries, and all insanely delicious. Every single bite we had was truly amazing, and our entire menu came together beautifully. It was far and away one of the best memories of all of quarantine and this season of life, and I know we’re already plotting our next secret ingredient cooking challenge!

Ali and Logan’s Merrimon Wynne Wedding

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Ali and Logan are married!! I am so excited to share this remarkable, joyful wedding day with you, especially since their dream wedding day manged to unfold mere days before the entire country shut down from the pandemic. I am so, so thankful that we barely batted an eye during their wedding day and that it unfolded exactly as planned for Ali and Logan – and their families and friends! These two were married on a sunny, late winter day in downtown Raleigh, surrounded by eighty or so of their closest family and friends. It was perfection, and it was a privilege to witness so much love and happiness interwoven into every moment of their wedding day!

Ali and Logan’s wedding day was stunning and incredible in every way, from the weather to the bold, lush flowers to the historic, grand venue and design to the food and dance party. But even more than all of those things, there was so much genuine, heartfelt emotion, so many happy tears and huge smiles and bouts of laughter, so much love between and amongst both families and all of their friends, and an air of joyful celebration and excitement for Ali and Logan as they became husband and wife. And now they’re MARRIED! It was such a fun fusion wedding that perfectly melded Ali and Logan’s family histories and traditions together: Miami touches meets the North Carolina South! Ali’s family is from Miami (with Cuban roots), whereas Logan’s family is from North Carolina. The menu was planned to perfectly fuse these together: pulled pork BBQ empanadas, a grapefruit paloma signature cocktail, dulce de leche wedding cake, a dual entree with influences from both cultures, lots of fun dancing (the Conga definitely broke out!), and so many more personalized touches to truly reflect them as a couple.

It’s hard to put into words just how special Ali, Logan, and their families are and how utterly thrilled I am for them to be married. It was such an honor and joy to be a part of the wedding planning process and their wedding day, as well as to be entrusted to bring their dream wedding day to life (alongside so many utterly talented wedding industry friends!). I have absolutely, positively loved getting to know Ali and Logan as a couple more and more throughout the wedding planning process over the last year, from wedding planning meetings to wedding dress shopping and alterations to tastings to design meetings and so much more. Ali is an extraordinary designer and calligrapher herself, and she lovingly created and designed every single element of their save the dates, invitation suite, day-of paper details (menus, place cards, and more), and signage. I am blown away by her sheer talent, and it’s incredibly special and meaningful to have made everything for her own wedding!  Hop over to Ali’s bride spotlight to learn more about Ali and Logan, as well as their love story.

Ali and Logan are such fun, vivacious, loving, and generous people, and they bring out the very best in one another. I love getting to witness a love like theirs, and it brings me the deepest joy seeing their wedding day unfold and their marriage begin. Their March wedding day at the beautiful Merrimon Wynne House in downtown Raleigh was the most joyful, spectacular, meaningful, personal, and beautiful day for two people who were clearly made for one another. As you’re about to see from the stunning images below from the incomparable Jordan Maunder, Ali and Logan’s wedding day was wildly special, meaningful, gorgeous, and oh so remarkable in every way, and it was the perfect way to celebrate their new marriage with their beloved family and friends.

I am so grateful to have worked alongside a true dream team of vendors over the last year to create and design a plethora of custom, bespoke details and surprise touches for their guests, and oh my goodness, it was epic! Everything unfolded exactly as planned and without a hitch, and you could just sense how special every moment of their wedding day was.

Ali and Logan, you’re married!! I hope you two feel nothing but an abundance of love and pure joy as you were married and celebrated with such profound happiness and excitement! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for welcoming me into your engagement and allowing me to be a part of your wedding planning process and wedding day. You two and your families make me fall in love with wedding planning all over again, and I am forever grateful for y’all, your families, and the happiest memories from your wedding. So, so much love to you two!

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It was an epic, incredibly fun, and stunningly beautiful celebration for Ali and Logan amazing people as they because husband and wife in downtown Raleigh back in early March! I can’t rave enough about Ali, Logan, their families, and their friends — it was such a remarkable, amazing wedding, and I am eternally grateful to have been a part of it. This wedding, and these people, hold a very special place in my heart!

Cheers to the new Martinezes, and endless congrats, you two!! I adore you both — and wishing you a lifetime of joy and love as you begin your married life together!

It was such a joy working alongside some truly fantastic vendors, and we had an incredible dream team. There are so many people and teams who worked tirelessly to selflessly serve this couple on their wedding day, and I can’t thank them all enough!

Photography Jordan Maunder

Wedding planning, design, and styling Stephanie Shaul Events

Venue Merrimon Wynne

Florals Bowerbird Flowers

Catering Beau Catering

Rentals CE Rental

Rentals Greenhouse Picker Sisters

DJ Bunn DJ Co.

Cake The Cupcake Shoppe

Officiant Heidi Gessner

Invitations, calligraphy, all day-of details AM Paperie, the talented bride herself!

some more highlights from their wedding can be found here, and all images here are by the incredible Jordan Maunder Photography!