Last week I shared a recipe for my dear friend Courtney’s virtual baby shower.  This week I’m excited to share a little bit more about the real life shower we were able to throw for her.  Some bloggers dream of fame and fortune.  Some dream of attending special workshops or conferences.  Some of us just want to get together and have a good time.  Yep, that’s us.  Through daily emails and texts, a group of us have become best friends who happen to live hundreds of miles apart.  Hardly a week goes by when one of us doesn’t say, “I wish we could all get together and cook, bake, and just have fun!”  Unfortunately, living so far apart and all having busy schedules, it’s not a simple thing to arrange.  Finally, with the impending birth of Courtney’s baby girl, we decided it was time to make this dream a reality.

We began coordinating plans with Courtney’s wonderful husband Eric so we could pull off a surprise of epic proportions.  After months of planning and what seemed like hundreds of emails and texts, Josie, Tara, and I arrived in Richmond.  (Elly, even though you couldn’t be there this time, you were very much missed!)  We arrived early at Julep’s, a favorite restaurant of Courtney and Eric’s known for its inventive Southern cuisine.  Finally Courtney arrived with Eric for what she thought was a date night, only to be shown to a table where the three of us were waiting.  Needless to say, she was quite surprised (though she was very composed).  At last we could all breathe easy and start enjoying this weekend we had been planning for so long!   The meal at Julep’s was truly fantastic.  We started with the fried green tomatoes and cheese plate.  I can’t remember what everyone else had but my entree was the pork shank with barbecue cheese grits, caramelized onions, and broccolini.  For dessert I enjoyed the strawberry moscato sorbet.  I would go back in a heartbeat.

Since Courtney and Eric recently moved into a new home, we opted to stay in a nearby hotel and we took Courtney with us!  Boy, was that ever fun.  It reminded me of sleepovers I had in high school, staying up all night talking.  (No exaggeration – I think I had maybe 10 hours of sleep the entire weekend.  We just could not settle down!)  Saturday morning we enjoyed brunch at a fun restaurant called Lulu’s, and turned it into a mini baby shower for Courtney.  It was so much more fun to be able to give her our gifts in person than to mail them.  We skipped any shower games and just continued our constant stream of excited chatter.  The food was spectacular.  I had shrimp and pimento cheese grits with poached eggs and hollandaise.  It may sound like an unlikely combination but it was actually the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had.  I would love some right now!

After brunch we explored Richmond a bit more.  We took Josie for her first trip to Penzey’s Spices.  Then we walked down the street a bit to For the Love of Chocolate, a place I will always think of as the most chocolatey chocolate shop ever.  I feel fairly certain that they carry almost every single type of chocolate, chocolate candy, chocolate anything that is marketed anywhere in the world.  I have never experienced anything like this!  Since it was the weekend before Valentine’s Day the store was shoulder-to-shoulder packed full of people the entire time.

There was a wall full of different flavors of malt balls, a section for chocolate-covered espresso beans, a huge case with nearly a hundred varieties of fudge.  Josie found the biggest peanut butter cups any of us had ever seen (and let out quite the dramatic gasp when she spotted them – haha!)  I found a bunch of little novelty gum tins with funny sayings on them – very sassy, just like me.

The truffle case was absolutely overwhelming.  I had to make my way past it about four times before I was able to eye the flavors and make an order (coconut creme pie, tiramisu, creme brulee, dark chocolate raspberry, and vanilla latte, if you wanted to know).  Ordering was kind of intense because of the crowds and the huge number of employees, everyone shouting orders, etc.  There was a whole other side to this case off to the left, but I couldn’t get the entire thing in my picture.  Who knew I’d need my camera AND a wide angle lens?

It was a mad house in there.

After a very brief break at the hotel, we headed over the Courtney and Eric’s house.  You see, the thing that we talk about the most when we pine after these dream get togethers is not just being together but cooking and baking together.  So, we blocked off Saturday night for making dinner and dessert together.  First we had to decide what exactly we were going to make.  You might think it would be easy but it actually took us a really long time to choose.  We don’t get to do this every day, so we wanted it to be good!

We finally made our meal selections and then we were off to Whole Foods to shop for ingredients.  I’ve been to a lot of Whole Foods, but this was the nicest I’ve seen.  We had a lot of fun browsing and people probably thought we were nutty.

Then we headed back to the house for the best part of all – finally cooking together!  It was such fun to be in the kitchen all together, and it was kind of amazing how each of us took on different tasks, each popping in and out of the action from time to time to take some photos.  It was all quite seamless – we made a great team!  The phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen” definitely does not apply to us.  Tara and Courtney prepped a fabulous appetizer for us to snack on while we cooked the rest of the meal.  (I plan to post about all of these recipes eventually, and soon!)  Anything involving lots of melted cheese is good.

Josie and I started in on the main dish, but we all ended up helping with various steps.  The meal was wonderful as expected.  The only hiccup in the weekend came after dinner when we made dessert.  We chose a seemingly simple cake that sounded wonderful with gorgeous photos.  Unfortunately though the recipe looked enticing, it was highly flawed.  It ended up being the biggest kitchen fail I have ever experienced!  (Consequently there are no photos of this because I didn’t want to remember it.  Ha!)  We were pretty discouraged but after reading many, many reviews of others who had had the same experience as us, we at least knew that we were not to blame.  Thankfully Courtney happened to have some of this triple chocolate mousse cake in the fridge because she’s fabulous like that, so we did not go without dessert.  (In case you were wondering, I have made it my personal mission to make the fail cake again, as a reliable and useable recipe, so that I can share it with all of you.)  We enjoyed our dessert and stayed up late late late talking and watching Lonely Island videos (this is our favorite – NSFW warning!)  Eventually we knew we either had to get to bed or just stay up the rest of the night.  Since Tara had a long drive home the next day, we opted for sleep.  And then suddenly in the morning, just as soon as it all had begun, our awesome weekend was over.  Josie and I were back to the airport and Tara drove home.  Major sadness.

It’s impossible to even think of highlights from the weekend because truly, the whole thing was one giant highlight.  We laughed SO, SO much that my face almost hurt from smiling.  I really never even wanted to go to sleep.  It was all over far too quickly but at least now that we’ve done it once, we solidified a commitment to do it again, and often!  I have to give huge thanks to Courtney’s wonderful husband Eric who helped make the weekend so perfect.   And to you, Tara, Josie, and Courtney: You girls mean so, so much to me I can’t even express it.  I know I don’t need to say it because the feeling is mutual, and that – that is awesome.  I love how it seems we all share one mind, finishing each other’s thoughts and understanding each other better than we could ever imagine.  You make me smile, make me laugh, and have given me support at a time when I have needed it the most.  Courtney and Eric, I am so thrilled about your baby girl’s upcoming arrival, and this was the best possible way we could have celebrated.  I feel very blessed to have been even a small part of it.