CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY

Twelve Days of Christmas Cocktail Party

The house was ready for a party…tree branches from the neighbor’s trimmings on the chandelier.

Weekends during the month of December fly by so quickly packed with shopping and a variety holiday themed activities of every kind. While I love the festive beauty and nostalgic glow that Christmas decorations and music offer for entertaining, by the time December arrives I’m a little worn down from a year of hosting parties all year. I love holiday baking and cooking which both consume a lot of weekend time also. While the idea of hosting a Christmas party simmers in my mind each year, my energy level has fizzled to glowing embers and I just can’t get the fire started to put together another party.

My daughter, her husband and my grandchildren usually come home for Christmas week and my point of focus is on preparing for their arrival and reserving energy to dedicate to my grandchildren. As a full-time mortgage loan underwriter, my days are busy at work like most of you and weekends are precious time that must be wisely scheduled to accomplish everything that the holidays demand. One year however, my little family decided they would being staying home, so I decided to host a small cocktail party, but I needed it to be as stress free as possible.

Christmas parties can draw from many different themes, but short on time, I had to use what I had. As I dug through my boxes of Christmas treasures I found my Twelve Days of Christmas linen napkins I bought on clearance one year at Williams Sonoma. I pressed each on the ironing board and lined them across the table. They provided both a pop of Christmas colors and fun.

My neighbor had just purchased a fresh tree and trimmed some of the branches from it’s trunk. They were piled beside their trash can, so before they were picked up by the trash collectors I grabbed them and once again glanced around the house for a place to use them. The chandelier in the center of my living room caught my eye. I didn’t put up a Christmas tree this particular year since the kids weren’t coming home, so I needed to add a little spruce drama to the room. Using floral wire, I draped and tied the branches to the chandelier and then made a large bow that I attached to the bottom center.

Next for the refreshments. A cocktail party needs cocktails and a place to prepare and serve them. I surveyed my living area considering the best way to arrange the room for a cocktail party. I decided to have three stations around the room with drink options. A Moscow mule station with labeled bottles, ice, sparkling wine, garnishes and the recipe was created on top of my entertainment cabinet (above); a large punch bowl filled with eggnog set on top of a copper bowl filled with ice (a mixture of bottled eggnog from the liquor department combined with a jug of dairy department eggnog and a pint of rich vanilla ice cream swirled in) punch cups, a ladle and a couple of nutmeg pods with a small grater on the side to top off each cup were set up on my cocktail cart; and finally my mulled wine (a combination of red wine, brandy, grand mariner, ginger beer and mulling spices) simmered in a crock pot on the kitchen counter with a bowl of blood orange slices for garnish (below) for easy self serve access. Cocktail napkins were also provided at each location for a guest to hold around their glass.

Eggnog Station
Mulled Wine Station
Left to right: Mulled wine, Moscow Mule & Eggnog

I envisioned my guests walking around the room helping themselves to a drink and the food also placed in different areas around the room, allowing me to also enjoy the party and visit with my guests.

On the sofa table bacon wrapped pineapple and Chinese sweet chili sauce and
Fig balsamic goat cheese with cranberry pepper jelly in filo cups.

I cleared off every surface in the room and placed platters out to plan what I would serve and where I would place each item around the room. I chose items that could be made ahead and served at room temperature or in a warming vessel such as an electric fondue pot or crock pot.

On the breakfast table: White Velvet Soup and Bourbon Meatballs.
https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/white-velvet-soup-3157615?soc=itksocialsharedefault%7Cios%7Cp

On the breakfast table (above) a White Velvet Soup stayed warm with the help of a crock pot. A stack of small bowls and a tray arranged with the toppings and spoons were provided on the side; Bourbon meatballs to the right with small cocktail forks.

On the dining room table a spinach dip twisted bread tree , cheese plater and red velvet coconut buche noel.
https://www.tastynova.com/2018/10/christmas-tree-spinach-dip-breadsticks.html

On the dining room table, (above) a spinach dip twisted bread stick Christmas tree; (below) two trays with various cheeses, crackers, olives, pickled mushrooms, etc. and finally dessert – a red velvet roll cake with whipped cream cheese and coconut shavings to resemble a buche noel that I sliced later in the evening and served.

Red Velvet coconut buche noel.

With Christmas music in the background, this party required no formalities and allowed everyone to mingle and converse the night away while sipping and nibbling around the room. I hope these make ahead and self serve station ideas will inspire you if you’re considering hosting your own Christmas gathering this year and feel like you just don’t have the time. Store bought small bites and pastries would work just as easily with no cooking or baking required at all. Use what you have and just add a little sparkle to make a toast to the holidays!

CHRISTMAS, TRADITIONS & TEA

Our Christmas Cookie (Tradition)

Homemade cookies delivered to my neighbors last year.

As a young girl in a military family, we moved almost every year until I was in the 4th grade. We then lived for a few years each, in both northern and southern California before Dad finally retired from the service. Military families often live far away from family and miss out on the annual traditions or routines that usually form from being near them. We didn’t have Christmas Eve’s at Uncle so in so’s or alternated Christmas Day dinners at each of our grandparent’s houses. Christmas was usually just dinner for the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother and I.

Having missed out on holiday traditions with other family members as a kid, it was important to me that my daughter have family traditions when she was growing up. I was inspired by my ex-husband’s large family, who routinely celebrated different holidays throughout the year their own unique way with a large family picnic for Easter and a Christmas Eve gathering every year that I made sure she attended.

In preparation for Christmas, three families that resided in homes all on the same street gathered in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to pick a family member’s name from a bowl. On Christmas Eve there was a party at one of the three homes along with traditional food and a gift exchange. My food memory from those parties so many years later were Grammy’s shrimp balls, at the time made by a beloved Aunt nestled in a chrome insulated container that I couldn’t wait to see arrive and placed on the table.

Another tradition that took place for several years involved a group of family members that got together in early November and drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a Christmas tree farm. Each family would select their tree, pay for it and tag it. The Friday after Thanksgiving, everyone would make the journey back to the farm to cut the tree down, wrap it up and bring it home. The following Saturday night I would host a tree trimming party for friends and family. When I think back to the small townhouse living room I had back then and the number of people that would cram inside, I’m not sure how we did it, but everyone eagerly attended year after year.

These were the days long before computers, so with a few library books and a typewriter, I typed all of the lyrics to 36 Christmas carols. I cut out and taped some images and drew others to some of the pages. I then organized the pages so that after I made photocopies and folded them in half, they would form a little song book. The children would sit in front of their decorated tree and sing a few Christmas carols.

While I didn’t ask my guests to bring an ornament, I received some beautiful versions that have become treasured classics -handled with special care as they are hung on my tree all of these years later. Year after year, as I unpack them from their layers of bubble wrap or tissue, the memories of those parties come rushing back.

Both my daughter and granddaughter received a nutcracker ornament the first time I took them to see the Nutcracker Ballet. The boys, not as interested in the ballet, received their nutcrackers in their early years of tree decorating.

Whenever a party includes children it’s imperative to have an activity to keep them entertained, especially in a small home. Upstairs I had an open loft that didn’t have any specific purpose, but offered enough space to place two folding tables with chairs. For the first party I baked cookies formed into various Christmas themed shapes such as candy canes, bells, and trees. I then purchased a variety of sprinkles and colored sugars and cans of white frosting that I used food color to make green, red and yellow. The kids sat at the tables with their plastic knives and dipped into the cans of frosting to slather on their cookies and then sprinkle with various candy decorations having a ball! I would convince them to allow the cookies to dry, and then ask them to come downstairs to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols. We then wrapped their cookies in cellophane bags for their journey home.

In the years that followed, I found a large Teddy Bear cookie cutter. I thought that something with a larger surface, maybe rolled out a little thicker, would be easier for the kids to handle. I could not have imagined not only how much they would love it at the time (as they left with bears loaded down with chocolate or vanilla icing and about a pound of various candies), but years later one of the mothers told me her daughter still remembers decorating those cookies and she’s now in her late 30’s.

While I haven’t hosted a tree trimming party for years, I do bake a variety of cookies to box and deliver to my neighbors.

Now I have grandchildren, but they live one State over and with jobs and school schedules I don’t see them as much as I would like. While they often come home for Christmas, it’s usually after the tree has been decorated, so starting with my first grandchild, I have baked those same Teddy Bear cookies and mailed them with tubes of icing and various sprinkles so she could decorate her cookies when she decorated the tree with my daughter and her husband. Now with three grandchildren, every year I’ve sent the cookies and the kids have followed the tradition of a night of cookie decorating. Last year I asked my granddaughter who was at the time just days from her 11th birthday, if I should keep making the Teddy Bear cookies and she immediately said “Yes! Nana, it’s a tradition!”

For the past two years, their little family has stopped by on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on their way home from visiting their grandparents in Alabama to decorate my tree. This year while Mom and Dad enjoyed a college football game, we played Christmas music and shared an evening of decorating my Christmas tree and then gathered around the table to decorate two new cookie shapes – a large Christmas Tree and the popular red truck with a Christmas Tree (that the boys decided to make blue.) Of course by the time we had finished the Christmas tree cookie, my littlest demanded it was time to eat his snowflake cookie. (I mean a little boy can only hold out for so long!)

Packed in those same cellophane bags, ready for the journey home, somehow all of these years later, I’ve managed to re-create a similar tradition with my grandchildren. Whether in their own home or here with me, I hope that like those other small children who once attended my tree trimming parties years ago, they will remember these moments as our “Christmas cookie tradition.”

HOLIDAY, Thanksgiving, THANKSGIVING

So Grateful for Your Support!

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the kitchen once again whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner!

This dining room table has been the gathering place where family and friends have gathered so often over the past five years for the holidays, book club meetings, wine club dinner parties, a mothers tea , a simple evening dinner and more! Here’s to another year of shared memories filled with conversation, laughter, food and wine. Today my family will gather around it once again, grateful for the many blessings in our lives while enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and then watching our favorite New Orleans Saints win yet another game this evening!

It’s been nearly a year since I started my blog and I can’t thank all of my followers enough for your support and kind words. While my parties are filled with a lot of themes and dressed up table settings, the true intention behind my blog is to encourage everyone to gather regularly with people who have wonderful loving hearts, faith in God and a positive thoughtfulness about life. Surrounding yourself with great people will add value to your life in the way God intended our lives to be. Here on my blog I’ve tried to share ideas that I welcome you to borrow and create your own version of to draw those that you love in your life closer.

While social media has made something like sharing ideas so much easier, it also has made us as a society reluctant to pick up the phone and actually call someone, have a true conversation, and share with one another. The sound of someone’s voice (and we are lucky enough with smart phones to also see their face) is so much more satisfying than a bland sometimes misunderstood text. (S I P) Social interactions are so important to our well being and parties are the way to get everyone to pause and join in a shared interest.

Each and every time I mention to someone I have a Wine Club and a Book Club their face lights up and they say “Oh Wow! I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club” or “That is such a fun idea, I wish I had something like that to go to!” My response is, why not form gatherings of your own with your friends? If you’re not into books, how about knitting, or game night? Not into wine, how about a potluck supper club, beer tasting party, or coffee tasting over Sunday brunch? I’ve been very fortunate to have a group of people in my life with shared interests, but chances are you and your friends also have “something” in shared interest that you could enjoy as a group. Remember, even if not everyone “likes” the same things, a good person will be open to learning or teaching something new.

Today’s gathering included a side of mashed potatoes with gravy, maple roasted sweet potatoes, green beans with dried cranberries and toasted almonds, corn casserole, Italian sausage and cornbread stuffing, and of course turkey.

Iced tea with rosemary simple syrup.

As I drove along a small road yesterday, I noticed an area covered with fallen leaves. Fall reached the deep south just before Thanksgiving this year producing these beautiful variegated beauties. I decided to stop and search through the piles along the side of the road finding several that I brought home to add to my table decor. While many have draped their homes with Christmas decorations weeks before Thanksgiving had even arrived, I choose to hold on to the beauty of Fall for one more day – my favorite season of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone – God Bless you and yours always and thank you for following along!

FRIENDSGIVING, WINE CLUB

Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Party Fondue..

My Alpine-Alsace Friendsgiving Wine Club party was planned for an afternoon with just the girls from the club. I wanted to share some of the experiences and memories that three of us who traveled together in mid-September had, with the rest of the ladies in our group. With a bottle of Crémant from the Alsace region of France, the re-created German salad from southern Germany and the cheese fondue from Mürren, Switzerland all I needed was a few added touches to bring this Alpine-Alsace themed party to life.

A few months ago, I invited a friend I hadn’t seen in quite a while to join my S I P Facebook page. As she praised me for my creative ideas and the special touches I added to my various parties, she remarked, “You even etched the wine glasses with numbers!” The thing is, they weren’t etched. Hmmm… why didn’t I think of that? Do you have any idea how much time it would have saved me to not have to write the numbers on all of the glasses for each party? What a great idea!

This party would not involve any judging of wines or require my guests to bring a small bite as we usually do; so as a little activity ,after we’ve finished our fondue lunch, I decided to have the ladies give me a hand with the task of etching our wine tasting glasses for our future meetings.

A couple of weekends prior, I spent an entire Sunday etching several sets of glasses until I found the best technique for taping, stenciling and etching, leaving the four last boxes for the ladies to etch. I was now prepared with what I felt was the best method that I could share with them for the best results.

As always, a party begins with an invitation. In this day of texting and emailing everything, I selected an image I found online with the rich colors of fall and some royal looking purple grapes that gave an added pop of cheerfulness to typical oranges, golds and browns of the Autumn season. I added a similar colored font for the invite information that I then took a picture of and cut and paste the image of the completed invite into an email about a month before the scheduled date that I sent to my invited guests.

FREE BLACK & WHITE CLIP ART FROM CRAVINGSOMECREATIVITY.COM
I colored in the leaves and berries with markers using some of the same colors as my invitation.

Over the weeks that followed I put the rest of my plan together little by little. The free clipart above was only available in a black and white sketch form. I printed the set and selected several markers (from my grandchildren’s box) similar to those in the art on my invite and did what the kids do – I colored in portions of the thankful cards. When finished I still found they were a little bland and decided to print sheets of the art from my invitation that I then cut slightly larger than the card and using a glue stick, attached the colorful background to frame the thankful card.

I then used a very small hole punch to make two side by side wholes at the top of the card. A rustic twine was tied around an aubergine colored napkin and then the ends where thread through the holes in the cards and tied into a bow. The prepared napkins were placed on top of the plate for each of my guests with a sprig of fresh rosemary and a fondue fork.

My hammered copper fondue pots, ordered from Switzerland, arrived with a set of fondue forks; but unlike the forks my mother bought back in the 1970’s, they do no have colored tips at the end of the handle. The colored tips of yellow, orange, dark blue, green, light blue and red help everyone identify which fork is theirs when they get mixed around in the pot, just as wine charms help guests keep track of which glass in the room is theirs. While the fork doesn’t usually sit in the pot for cheese a fondue, when oils are used to cook meats and vegetables, the forks remain in the pot for a while until the food is cooked and can become intertwined.

Not fully dressed table – but pulling the plan together.

Drawing from the images and experiences of my time in Europe, I found these little condiment bowls with red roosters that reminded me of France. I imagined them filled with pieces of hard cheese brought back from Switzerland my one of my traveling companions, cornichons, and caper berries like those we shared while there.

One of the red roosters of Eguisheim.

To create a cozy warm table setting, I used a neutral colored plaid throw placed over a cream tablecloth; copper bowls on each end of the table will be filled with bread cubes and roasted potatoes and carrots to be passed around and dipped into the hot buttery cheeses. Shimmering copper colored round place mats beneath gold rimmed china and my mother’s wood handled bronzeware utensils all brought together the comforting Alpine setting I was trying to achieve.

Fields we passed along the highways in France were filled with sunflowers. Fortunately sunflowers are also available in the floral sections of grocery stores and I mixed them with some rust and purple colored chrysanthemums. The shops of Eguisheim were also filled with large tin hearts painted in various colors, but the red and white stood out in my memory the most. Switzerland replaces hearts with cowbells. So the two cowbells I found at Hobby Lobby resemble a combination of the painted tin heart and cowbell as one for a fraction of the cost of those in Europe.

Practicing the flower placing.

When we entered our hotel room in Mürren there was a glass bottle like the one above filled with water ( and the name of the hotel etched on the outside) with a few tumbler glasses. I repurposed this French Lemonade bottle filling it with water for the table as a nod to another of our memories. The wood disk trivets add the Alpine feel of the beautiful black forest of Germany and the Alpines among the Alps of Switzerland. A recent rain storm left debris from the pine trees scattered on the streets and in parking lots. I gathered some of the branches with small pine cones to slip between the flowers for an added alpine touch.

🌲🐓🐄🌻Alpine- Alsace Wine Club Friendsgiving Fondue Table 🌻🐄🐓🌲

Delicious cheese wrapped in wax paper covered with colorful cows and their bells brought home from a little shop in Zurich by one of my traveling companions. The rind of the cheese in the forefront is crusted with wildflowers and herbs – beautiful and delicious. It was the lighter of the two cheeses in flavor as well.

Another memory was a jar of caper berries that one of my friends picked up in a shop that she served one evening with meats and cheeses in our little German cottage. I filled the Alsace red rooster condiment bowls (I have two) with the caper berries, cubed pieces of the cheeses, cornichons and cocktail onions.

I purchased a bottle of Crémant d’Alsace at Wolfberger winery that brought home to share with my friends. I picked up a second bottle from another region at my wine store back home and one of my friends brought a bottle of French Blue Rosé and all were served during the fondue and etching. We drank a few different Rosés while in France and the bottle of French Blue also had a little effervescence similar to the Crémants. This lovely little pear shaped bottle of liqueur, also from Eguisheim, was supposed to be served with dessert. But sometimes a busy hostess may forget some of her plan. The good news is that we still have a little memory to enjoy from our trip at another wine party.

One of my favorite finds was the German salad. This is a wonderful way to eat a lot of raw vegetables and enjoy a light salad. Left clockwise: shredded carrots, thinly sliced radishes, chopped sugar snap peas, red bell pepper, Persian cucumber and canned corn. Other options were diced pickled beets and smashed boiled and buttered potatoes all tucked beneath a pile of spring greens tossed in a light vinaigrette. For my version, I simply sprinkled the greens with white balsamic vinegar, garlic infused olive oil a sprinkle of kosher salt before tossing. To add a little color I dotted the greens with a few bright viola flowers in memory of the many, many beautiful flowers we saw hanging a window boxes.

A meat tray was also a favorite of my traveling friends, so of course there had to be one at our party. Crisped prosciutto on one end and fresh on the other, with other charcuterie sliced meats and small bowls of black cherry preserves and homemade fig preserves were served with whole wheat crackers.

Our cheese fondue at a family owned restaurant in the Swiss Alps was served with cubes of bread and boiled potatoes (for dipping). For my fondue dippers, I chose to roast baby red and golden creamer potatoes and carved baby rainbow carrots. Roasting adds more flavor and the carrots added fall color.

We lunched at a cafe’ in Eguisheim after our stroll through the quaint town where I tried escargot for the first time. One of my friends took on the job of searching for escargot we could serve at our party. These beauties were found at our local Fresh Market, filled and stuffed with garlic parsley butter that required only a few minutes in the oven before they were ready to serve. These were no where near as melt in your mouth tender as they were in France, but they gave my guests a chance to give them a try. (I also served Rösti cakes which is basically shredded hash brown potatoes formed into a round disk. This was a dish one of my traveling companions ate a couple times prepared in different ways on our trip.)

Escargot before baking…
Escargot after baking.

I didn’t know at the time, but the mirabelles I purchased in France and then made a yogurt bowl with the following morning, can’t be found in the U.S. I learned that according to Bon Appetit, they’re banned because true Mirabelles are grown only in Lorraine, France and import laws make them nearly impossible to procure in the United States. So I was happy to find this box of Quince & Mirabelle tea, the only nod available to this sweet plumy taste experience.

One culinary experience I missed while in France was the crepe. My plan was to make a fluffy chocolate mousse spiked with kirsch and amarena cherries for a crepe version of the black forest cake we had in Germany. My mousse was not very happy with the liqueur, and ended up being a very soft pudding – but I went with it, adding more cherries inside and on top. After eating so potatoes, bread and cheese, the dessert was light and not overly sweet.

The eating part now over we moved on to our planned activity I had set up at my breakfast table. I explained the process I had practiced for etching our wine glasses with numbers for our future tastings. It took a little while to get the method down and we had a couple of mishaps, but in the end everyone seemed to feel a sense of satisfaction as they peeled away the tape and stencil to reveal the elegant number they had each created. I can already imagine the pride on their faces at the next wine club party when their glasses are lined up before them.

I am so grateful for my group of friends. If it were not for their support and encouragement, we would not have enjoyed the past five years of wine club meetings filled with a variety of wines from around the world, great food and fun themes with lasting, shared , fond memories. Happy Friendsgiving my friends!

The hammered copper fondue pots are sold by Bed, Bath & Beyond and this link on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Swissmar-F66915-11-Piece-Fondue-Copper/dp/B00A2DSMBO/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?keywords=hammered+copper+fondue+pot&qid=1572048708&sr=8-2-fkmr0

TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour – Salem, Portland and on to the Fall Foliage of the White Mountains

Past Itinerary Series

I had a roll of black & white film in my camera – it seemed appropriate for this haunted town.

Halloween is just around the corner, so how about a visit to the Salem Witch Museum? The quaint little seaport town known for the Salem witch trials is far too charming to imagine such awful acts and accusations took place there; but a visit to the Museum brought the historical experiences back to life. A multi-media sight and sound presentation explores the history of the trials with robotic human like characters acting out the events of the past.

Roger Conant

The drive around town allowed us to see, but not visit, the actual house of seven gables that Hawthorne’s famous novel was based on. Being early October, the light posts were festively decorated with bundles of cornstalks and wheat bound by autumnal colored ribbons. Beautiful purple, gold, umber, yellow and orange mums where positioned in clusters around many of the doorways of residences and median garden areas.

The thought of Hallows Eve night, with lights twinkling around all of the colorful fall harvest decorations while families of the town gather for festivals and walk house to house to trick or treat among the ghosts of this town’s past, made me smile at the excitement and wonder the children must feel.

On the road again we stopped in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where we lunched on New England clam chowder and oyster crackers before moving on further northeast to the coastal region of Maine. The exquisite rocky coastline was dotted with beautiful mansions and elaborate New England cottages perched at the edge of the majestic, very exposed and rustic shoreline. As the wave’s powerful thrust of foam crashed into the wall of rock, I felt both the grace of God’s creation and the fear of what turmoil those explosive waves could bring with a vengeful storm.

We passed the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport that extended to the end of the small peninsula of land heavily guarded. Near sundown, we stopped at the iconic Head Light Point lighthouse, that looked over the sometimes dangerous, but always illustrious ocean.

The following day the drive was long, but the benefit of not being behind the wheel is the freedom to soak in the all of the view from every angle. As we crossed the border from Maine into the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the true jewels of autumn were unveiled. Scattered along the highway and tucked among the mountain’s many hills and valleys like little pom-pms, the brilliant shades and textures of fall foliage were lined up in rows of trees for our enjoyment as far as the eye can see. For two full days I gazed in awe and wonder at the spectacular vibrant colors that with the sun’s help, sparkled like jewels in every direction. I wanted so much to capture the essence of this image and somehow detail in both words and photography the magnitude of its beauty. The drive to our resort hotel was long and allowed me a great deal of time to carefully examine and attempt to describe the multitude of shades of each color that nature had created for our pleasure.

As we maneuvered the single lane of the winding road that stretched toward the heights of the White Mountains, I was lost in the brilliant colors that hugged the landscape in every direction. I remember doing my best to focus on each and every color, attempting to identify each hue to that of another item that could be understood by someone who had not seen the foliage. The artist in me agonized over the challenge it would be to attempt to blend this multitude of shades with paint in so many ways, simply to attempt to record this kaleidoscope of colors on the canvas.

If you look really closely – you’ll see the people walking along the boulders to get a better idea of how large the boulders actually were.

I began with the shade of orange-tangerine, navel orange, blood orange, peach, rusty nail. I even found myself enlisting the names of colors I used in the Crayola boxes I had as a child, like burnt umber. I actually saw something that was burnt umber! There was one shade I simply couldn’t name. I shuffled images of various items through my mind in the same shade for nearly an hour before it finally came to me – cantaloupe- it was the color of a cantaloupe melon.

Many church steeples considered the most elegant icon of New England erected beyond the treetops in every direction. The photographer in me was deeply frustrated that I could not stop along the way to photograph all of the beautiful images along the way. Many of my photos were taken from inside the bus, through the window.

There were reds- fire engine red, little school house red, stop sign red, cranberry, maraschino and black cherry red, beet red, red hot lipstick red and then came the yellows, golden apple, banana peel, lemon, sweet corn, and harvest gold; some actually sparkled in the sunlight shining like gold. Then neatly strategically tucked in just the right places were the many shades of green, hung like a backdrop to accentuate the remarkable colors of nature representing the tranquil calm of the autumn season.

Then dotted along the way were the romantic covered bridges that gently arched over the babbling brooks, cluttered with large boulders and peppered with the elegant falling leaves from trees that framed a perfect picture. We stopped a few times along our long trek, once at one such covered bridge, and once at the spectacular Franconia Notch. I eagerly walked to the overpass where tourists were snapping photos of the gorgeous view, but the air was so cold and the wind so forceful that it took our breath away.

We quickly retreated into the cute country stores nearby where I couldn’t wait to purchase a cup of hot, steaming fresh apple cider. One sip and I knew this was both the flavor and aromatic essence of autumn that I had imagined when I dreamt of this charming area. I purchased little maple leaf shaped glass bottles of maple syrup to bring back to family.

In the distance as we traveled further toward the ski resort (used during the off season for tours), a snowstorm concentrated in one section of the mountains (an uncommon sight for a southerner). Just prior to sundown, we drove past the State House in the capital city of Vermont, Montpellier where the gold domed roof glowed in the final embers of sunlight.

Snow storm in the distance.

Just down the road we stopped at a nearby pizzeria where the small family that owned the restaurant dashed in every direction to collect orders and deliver them as quickly as possible. I don’t think they had ever experienced such a large crowd at one time. The air outside had grown quite cold and brisk and the cozy warmth of the ovens preparing our pizzas and calzones added a rosy glow to everyone’s cheeks. It reminded me of Friday nights after high school football games when we all gathered for the comforting warmth and foods of a local pizzeria.

Little did we know that the snowstorm we had seen in the distance earlier in the day had dumped several inches of snow back at our resort. Excitedly, we departed the bus knowing that this little glimpse of winter was an unexpected bonus for us. By morning the rooftops of all of the buildings and vehicles were dusted with a couple of inches of fresh snow. The warm sun would more than likely melt the remains of our brief encounter with winter, but it was a lovely touch just the same.

This tour would go on to the Shelburne Museum that offers a glimpse of American life in the 18th and 19th centuries; the Rock of Ages Granite Quarry that had an active 50 acre, 600 foot deep quarry at that time; the quaint backroads of Vermont lead us to Manchester to tour Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son, who was his only child that lived to full maturity; Stockbridge, Massachusetts – the charming town and home of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s museum displays an impressive collection of his nostalgic paintings and magazine covers. The rich colors of his paintings far surpass the images of the prints we have seen over the years and at the rear of the property is his iconix studio and famous easel. In the Berkshires area we visited The Clark Art Institute filled with an extensive collection of nineteenth century American and European paintings before heading to Cape Cod. We saw American Folk art, Grandma Moses’ school house and artwork and enjoyed traditional New England comfort food along the way. This tour was chalked full of an incredible array fo art, history and nature.

If you’ve always wanted to tour New England in the Fall you’ll definitely get a huge bang for your buck, there is so much to see and do. On a second tour a couple of years later, ventured through Concord where several well known authors resided and also has the sight of the Minute Man National Historical Park and the North Bridge. The sights and experiences are enumerable. It is best to start planning and reserving for your trip before the beginning of summer.

As the leaves upon the trees are fading and falling away with only the skeletal limbs of their trunks and branches remaining – grab a cup of steamy apple cider and make a toast to the nature’s more amazing and colorful annual spectacle – Fall.

BOOK CLUB

Where the Crawdads Sing… Bookclub Meeting

When one of our members read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, she immediately knew it was the book she wanted our club to read. The only problem was that the waiting list at the library was extensive. A few of us bought the book and passed it on to another member over a period of four months until everyone had a chance to read this amazing work of art. Once the club meeting was scheduled, our group of eleven, reduced to only seven in attendance due to scheduling conflicts – but we still had a great meeting.

When a book lends us a theme, we often try to bring it into our meeting. Kya lives in an old shack of a house, with nothing but basics, and sometimes even less than that.

Nate befriends Kya with a variety of beautiful bird feathers that she adds to a collection of those she has also found herself. I ordered a pack of 25 natural bird feathers on Etsy to scatter on the table and tuck into the twine wrapped around our napkins along with a plume from a grass plant that made me think of marsh grasses.

Originally I just sprinkled the bird feathers on both sides of the table, but then I saw these wood disks that I wanted to use for my Gal Pal Alpine Friendsgiving in a couple of weeks and remembered that Nate left a bird feather on a tree stump. I placed the feathers on the wood disks to represent Nate’s gesture, that coaxed Kya toward trusting him.

The member who chose the book brought a textbook from the 60’s, her hurricane lanterns and shells …. Kya’s lessons with Nate, the lantern that she worked to buy oil for and the shells along the beach of the marshes.

The Menu:

Mini Chicken Pot Pies with puffed pastry lids. https://lovelylittlekitchen.com/chicken-pot-pie/ The filling can be made a day ahead and the puffed pastry added the day of. Brushed with egg wash around the sides of the ramekin and top of the dough, an Italian flat leaf parsley leaf on top.

Black eyed pea salad. https://thecafesucrefarine.com/easy-black-eyed-pea-salad/ Also can be made the day ahead. I used frozen peas that I cooked according to the package. They still had a little crunch to them afterwards rather than soggy from the can. I used a peach instead of mango that seemed more appropriate for a southerner, added agave instead of sugar and white balsamic vinegar.

Madeleine corn muffins. 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix, 1/3 cup of evaporated milk, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Mix in a bowl until well combined. Cooking spray on madeleine pan, one full teaspoon of mixture into each mold. Bake 15 -20 minutes.

After a lively discussion about the various characters and events of the unique story, assisted at some points with questions from a book club kit found online, we collectively agreed that Ms. Owens’ book was quite a literary journey that we very much enjoyed.

This meeting would be the last of this our fifth year. We have read a total of 25 books together with a vast variety of tales and topics and look forward to the new adventures upon written pages we will experience during our sixth year in 2020.

TRAVEL JOURNAL

New England Tour… The Cape Cod – Kennedy Experience.

🍂🍁🍂Past Itinerary Series🍂🍁🍂

Earlier in the year, the Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit was highlighted on one of the morning news programs. The exhibit was in New York and I wished I could have traveled there to see it. At the time it seemed like an impossible thought.

Our first scheduled stop on the second morning of our tour was the John F. Kennedy Library Museum. Just minutes before our arrival, the tour guide announced that our tour included admission to the museum, but as an added bonus if anyone was interested, the Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit was on display at the museum for an additional charge. I couldn’t believe my luck. I of course bought a ticket straight away and only after seeing everything in the clothing exhibit did I venture over to the JFK Library Museum.

As I browsed through the exhibit, I remember thinking the dresses looked like they belonged to a larger woman than I had imagined; it was so exciting to see the beautiful iconic fashions worn during such a series of important events in our history. During most of the decade it represented, our family had a black and white television; so to see these garments in color was a bit shocking.

As a little girl I remember staring at black and white pictures of my mother dressed for her prom in the late 1950’s. Without asking her, I instead decided the color of her dress was red. Many years later at my grandmother’s house, she pulled a crumpled dress made of tulle, satin and sequins from a back closet that I immediately recognized as the dress in the photo. Much to my surprise it was emerald green. I was kind of disappointed. It just didn’t seem right – I had decided it should be red!

I found myself having the same experience as I browsed over the Kennedy garments. I’m sure back during that time the reporters described the color of her dresses, but I was just a little kid and didn’t care much at the time to listen, I’d rather imagine. Now as I discovered the truly bright yellows, blues, pinks and reds of her garments, I would gaze over at the black and white photos nearby with a newly informed eye (but it wasn’t the color I had envisioned.)

Ironically, the following year I took my daughter to Washington D.C. and without knowing again, we discovered a gallery where the exhibit was currently on display and this second time I shared the experience with my daughter, who only knew of Jacqueline Kennedy from her history books, but still wanted and enjoyed the opportunity to see the exhibit.

Later as we made full circle ,the tour ended in Cape Cod. There we visited St. Frances Xavier Church in Hyannis where the Kennedy family attended mass. Information from the website: “St. Francis Xavier Church, located on South Street in Hyannis, was the church Rose and Joe Kennedy chose to attend after buying their home in Hyannis Port in the 1920s. St. Francis Xavier became the summer parish for most of the Kennedy family. It was also the site of several important family events, so much so, that the locals often call it the “Kennedy Church.”

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy regularly attended mass here, at the St. Francis Xavier Church. Cape Cod and the St. Francis Xavier Church were the Kennedy family’s catholic spiritual center. Until her death in 1995 Rose sat in the front row in the east wing of the church. When her first son, Joe Kennedy Jr., brother of JFK, died in WWII in 1944, the service was held here. The main altar of the church is now a memorial to Joseph Kennedy, Jr. President . John F. Kennedy attended Sunday Mass here with his family during the summer time. Church historians recall that the Kennedys would sit in the second row of pews while Secret Service Agents would bracket the president in the front and third rows. Senator Ted Kennedy’s youngest son Patrick was baptized here. It was here in 1986 that Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s daughter Maria married Arnold Schwarzenegger. The funeral mass for Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, was held here in 2009.”

This place, like so many others along our tour, deserved pause. Everyone was racing around taking pictures and looking around the ordinary, but historical church established originally as St. Patrick’s in 1874, now St. Frances Xavier Parish as of 1903. The pew where the Kennedy family sat for each service was labeled. They like so many of us, at some point chose a pew to sit in and every week returned to the same spot as if it had been assigned or claimed as theirs. I chose a pew to sit in and surveyed the church surroundings that the Kennedys had gazed upon during their attended services over the years; I sat in the faith they felt and prayed in the place they prayed.

With all of the successes and financial privileges that the Kennedy family possessed, they also suffered a lot of loss and heartache. This small humble church was their choice to celebrate some of the new and loss lives of their loved ones very much as we would. In some small way, the spirit of history was once again palpable.

As we reached the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, images of the Kennedys sailing across these choppy waters in their yacht came to mind. In groups we set out to find a lunch spot and most of us ordered lobster rolls. While it may seem like an old cliché, it can’t be found where I’m from and who in their right mind would say no to lobster?

Afterwards we boarded a boat that steered out into the deep waters of the bay in search of whales. It was a sunny, but bitterly cold and windy day – so most of us took shelter in the cabin of the boat until we reached our destination. As we moved further from the shore. the view of the town and Pilgrim Monument could be better appreciated.

The National monument to the Forefathers, formerly known as the Pilgrim Monument, commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims opened in 1910.

Fortunately for all of us, there were several whales out that day. The problem was trying to photograph them. They so quickly leaped from the water’s surface into the air and just as quickly dipped back beneath the choppy waters, making it difficult to snap a successful photo. Afraid there wouldn’t be an abundance of whale activity to capture a picture of, I spent most of my time trying to figure out the timing of their rise and fall so I could capture an image before their large tails vanished back down below the deep blue water. After taking several shots, I realized this was an opportunity to just watch and enjoy the playful flips of these beautiful, massive creations of nature and resigned to just enjoying the opportunity to be so close to these amazing mysterious creatures. I was relieved when my film was later developed, that I was successful in capturing some of those impressive moments.

That evening we enjoyed a delicious buttery traditional lobster dinner at a dark cozy restaurant, with nautical touches and a fireplace blazing to tame the chilly air. The room was filled with the scent of baked apples and the warming spices of Fall – the atmosphere spilling over with New England style, traditions and romantic charm. While this isn’t the end of my itinerary memories of this trip, it was the last evening of my long awaited New England Fall tour. On to the leaves…..🍂🍁🍂

Note: The Jacqueline Kennedy Clothing Exhibit appears to be on permanent display at the JFK Library Museum. https://www.jfklibrary.org/visit-museum/exhibits/museum-artifacts/first-lady-jacqueline-kennedy-clothing