MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

Annual Mothers Tea Honoring Jane

The thing about time…

When we are young, we are so very busy. Busy getting an education, busy building a career, busy having and caring for children and their many needs and later activities, busy shopping for groceries, new shoes for the kids, hair appointments, doctor appointments, yard work, laundry, cooking, cleaning ….. and at the end of each week, there is still a list of things we still didn’t get done. It’s ok, we still have time, until we don’t.

When we are young we think we have an abundance of time just waiting for us to spend later. As a grandmother who has not yet retired (a couple of years away), time becomes more and more precious. My daughter, her husband and my three grandchildren live five and half hours away and between my work schedule, their work schedules and the ever growing busy activities of each grandchild as they grow into lives of their own, attempting to coordinate uninterrupted time together has become an impossible challenge.

I remember when my mother retired, she suddenly had time to spare and fantasized about her family all getting together to take a cruise or some kind of trip together. While she and my dad now had the benefit of time, my brother and I, and our children struggled to clear our schedules all at the same time to make this wish of her’s materialise. We all thought we still had time, until we didn’t.

My mom passed away at the age of 75 with pancreatic cancer. The biggest shock to all of us including her. She was certain she had so much more time, but time for her, had ended.

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate our Moms, but when Mom has gone to live with the Lord everything changes. Those who have their adult children and grandchildren living near, may be blessed with an afternoon brunch, lunch or even barbecue to spend time with those you hold so dear to your heart for at least a day. For those like myself that live at a distance, the day is less about me and more about my memories of my Mom and the pride I feel for my lovely daughter who is a wonderful Mom trying to find time for forming my grandchildren into beautiful little people.

My Annual Mother’s Tea was formed to gather with friends whose Moms have also gone to be with the Lord, and offers us each a place to share memories and celebrate our mothers.

Held on the first Sunday in May (so as not to conflict with the actual Mother’s Day holiday), we all have a rhinestone framed photo of our mothers that I like to think of as their crowns; that are placed before us at each place setting.

Each year we select a name from a teapot and the following year I create a tea theme that celebrates and honors that mother. Over the years we have found common ground between our mothers from different generations and drawn memories from just taking the time to sit and listen to each others stories.

This year, for our 4th Annual Mother’s Tea, we honored Kelly’s Mom, Jane Peacock. At our very first tea, Kelly recalled a memory of collecting the dried seeds of marigolds so her Mom could replant them in her garden the following year. These seed packets were created from my garden at the end of last year’s season, to use as favors for this year’s tea.

Kelly’s Mom was an eclectic lady, with passions and interests that challenged me in my effort to capture her spirit on this special day. In my previous post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2022/04/21/a-little-racey-beachy-peacock-mothers-tea/ , I explain the table decor which includes themes of peacock, beach and NASCAR.

I of course had to include some fresh marigolds, and the flowers that Kelly most associated with her Mom which were yellow roses and daisies. Daisies are not readily available in my area, so I used chamomile that resembles a floppy delicate miniature daisy in the floral arrangements. I used purple irises in memory of Lydia’s mother that we honored last year and some lavender from my garden.

The tea I chose met with the beachy theme that was carried throughout the table setting and some of the menu. This tea by Teavana, Beach Bellini was delicious. A couple of the ladies don’t like tea, and this was a perfect choice. I sweetened the pot with honey and the pineapple mango flavor was light and very refreshing. It is a perfect Spring or Summer time tea hot or cold.

While I’m honoring a specific mother, I do try to inject a little piece of each mother somewhere in the day. One friend said her mother loved pineapple sorbet that I put a small scoop of in a fluted glass and topped with champagne for a pineapple bellini cocktail.

THE MENU:

Strawberry Citrus Salad

This strawberry citrus salad with honey balsamic dressing was served in memory of Jane, who added strawberries to various salads and was what Kelly described as the first time she can remember having fruit in salad that she learned to love. A fresh nasturtium flower dressed up the colorful bowl.

Mixed spring greens and wild arugula, sliced ripe strawberries, naval orange segments, marigold petals, feta, toasted slivered almonds (chopped) and honey balsamic vinaigrette.

Finger Sandwiches:

Grilled Ham and Gruyere Cheese Sandwiches (Kelly’s memory of a lunch date with her Mom) at a diner called Mayberry’s in North Carolina.

Pineapple chicken salad wrapped in sweet brown bread tied with chives and chamomile flowers.

Cucumber Radish with herby creme fraiche on white bread when fennel fronds.

Pink peppercorn egg salad in crispy pastry cups with violas.

At the top: Jane’s favorite sandwich, roast beef on toasted rye (topped with onion chutney and tarragon blossoms.)

A Palate Cleanser…

A splash of Spring celebrated with fresh floral ice bowls created to serve a mango sorbet palate cleanser between the tea sandwich and scone courses.

The inside of one of the ice bowls. Each bowl is unique and different.

These coconut macadamia scones were served with the mango sorbet and a side of pineapple preserves. https://www.teatimemagazine.com/macadamia-coconut-scones/

My framed table photo of me and my Mom on the beach in Bermuda.

The Pastry Course

Fig, date and citrus filled pastry envelopes with edible one hundred dollar bills to capture a memory of letters from Mom filled with coupons $$$. The full story and instructions for how to make these can be found in my previous post. https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/pastry-letters-from-mom/

I also served small eclairs and small slices of gentilly cake (a white cake with whipped cream and berry filling) that I did not get a picture of. Kelly said her Mom loved eclairs, and another of our friends said her mother loved berries (so that cake was for her Mom.)

Little winks from Mom…. Kelly told us about a hidden tattoo her Mom sported of a happy face that I put on the place cards. Her daughter told me that the family always laughed about how her grand-mommy loved boiled peanuts. So I presented a serving in a little covered cup just to Kelly in elegant tea fashion that gave her a smile.

As a wink to me and my planning this tea, I was in a bakery where I purchased the pastry shells for the egg salad and on the counter was a basket of happy face cookies. This one with the wink felt like a sign from Jane in her fun and playful way of letting me know I had captured her spirit and that she would be near on this special day.

As Mother’s Day approaches and we are all grasping for time, make sure to clear your schedule now and then. Saying no to something just for one day can make all of the difference in the world for your memories in the future. Once time is up, you can never get it back. In loving memory of Barbara, Edwina, Helen, Jane, Kathleen, and Mary.

MOTHERS TEA, SIMPLY ELEVATED, TRADITIONS & TEA

(Pastry) Letters From Mom….

Love letters from Mom with a little “coupon” inside.

These Italian fig cookie filled pastry envelopes were created for my Annual Mother’s Tea to capture a loving memory my friend Kelly had of her Mom. She shared that her Mom used to write her little letters and stick $100 bills inside that she called “coupons”. (Referred to as coupons because her Mom used to hide the $100 bills in her coupon envelope so that her husband wouldn’t know.)

While the idea seemed simple to create, it took two tries to get the results I preferred and an effort to recall all of the little baking tips I’ve learned over the years that had to be applied. For the same results, it’s important to follow the tested tricks and recipe below:

  1. You’ll need an envelope to use as a template. Mine was from a box of thank you cards 4 1/2 ” x 3 1/4 “. Gently open the envelope to create a flat template.

2. One box of refrigerated pie dough (I used Pillsbury) will make 3 envelopes. Sprinkle your surface with a dusting of flour, remove the dough from the little sealed bag and gently unroll on the floured counter. In order for all of the pastries to look the same and slightly puff, gather the dough sheet into a ball, gently knead together until smooth and then roll it out -long enough for two envelopes using the templates to measure. With a sharp point of a knife, trace the template to cut out the dough. Knead together the scraps and roll out again to create the third envelope. (See the images below that show how the rerolled dough makes a fluffier risen product. )

Shown here – on the left dough rolled out as is straight from the package; on the right the dough was kneaded together and then rolled out – creating a slight puff and prettier end result.
A scalloped pastry wheel used to trim the top part
of the envelope that will remain unfolded.

3. I was surprised by the details I had to pay attention to when making these, and learned from mistakes I made on the first try. If you look at the template I used above, the top triangle of the template is very sharp and pointed, while the folded up bottom is rounded. To add a little cute design, I used a scalloped pastry wheel on the sharp top portion of the envelope that will remain unfolded, resulting in an open envelope. Now transfer the dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet pan (only 2 fit on one sheet) and place the pan in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.

4) I decided to use my stamp set, that I bought for last year’s tea (I made my signature sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flower cookies and a stamping of each mother’s name), to stamp “Love Mom” on the outside of the envelope. Doing it correctly took to extra thought and practice.

Originally I folded the filled envelope and tried to stamp it, but because the surface was let’s say “bumpy” and soft, the stamp did not come out clear or legible. I realized I needed to chill the pastry first (after cutting out the template as instructed above) before stamping.

5. After chilling for about 5 minutes, turn the pastry over with the bottom section at the top (in my case the rounded end). Stamp the message – I used “Love Mom” with a heart so that when folded under – the words are facing the correct direction. See below that when the pastry is turned over again, when the bottom flap is folded up, the stamp is smooth and clear.

Sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flowers and every Mom’s name.

6. I then had to learn the correct placing of my filling. (Recipe further below.) At first I placed the filling over the entire rectangle that would form inside once folded. In the messy version above, you can see that the filing is exposed above the envelope pocket. On my second try I lowered the filling to just below where the side flaps would overlap. Fold in the side flaps and then the bottom flap up using a light brushing of egg wash to glue it in place. Using a fork, dock the top flap to eliminate puffing in the oven. Place the prepared pastries back into the refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Pastry with fig/nut filling and folded.
Then lightly brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sanding sugar.

The top inside flap “docked” (pricked with a small fork) to prevent puffing,

7. Finally lightly brush egg wash on the outside and then sprinkle with sanding sugar careful not to fill in the stamped message. Place into a preheated oven (350 degree F) for 12 minutes. Read the tip below to address areas that bake at different timeframes.

IMPORTANT TIP: Carefully watch the baking process around 10 minutes. If you look back at the two examples of my first and second bake, you’ll see that because I didn’t dock the top portion it bubbled (puffed) and cracked. It also baked faster than the lower filled portion. So in my second try I docked the top to stop the puffing and after 10 minutes I placed a piece of aluminum foil over the top part to stop it from browning any further, and then baked for another 2-5 minutes for no more than 15 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different, so you’ll have to watch closely to see what happens in yours.

8. Finally, one last reference to my first and second bake pictures. Originally I glued the dried edible flowers to the pastry on to the pastry with egg wash (or water was used on the cookies). My flowers are so dark, that the baking process made them darker and not as pretty. So I decided to attach the dried flowers after baking using a little store bought icing. However, if you have lighter colors to use, the baking process works fine. My edible flowers are violas that were pressed between two layers of paper towel and then pressed together with two microwavable plates. The microwave drying time varies depending on how much water in in the flower. Usually for violas or pansies it can take between 5 and 7 minutes, but only dry in two minute intervals and check after the first five minutes. When complete they are dry and fragile and feel a little like paper. Just don’t touch the plate for about 5 to 10 minutes until it cools down.

For the final touch I needed the $100 bill tucked in. So for the pictures above I just copied a $100 bill on the printer and cut the ends off of each side to tuck in. I actually ordered edible $100 bills on Etsy that are made of frosting that I will cut and should (according to the instructions) slightly melt into the pastry AFTER the baking process. (Don’t judge me if I chicken out and use the paper version.)

While these pastry envelopes or letters were used to represent a memory of someone’s Mom, they would have also made a cute dessert for a book club read involving read letters (that happens often in historical fiction) or a cute Valentine dessert with something like a strawberry filling.

What you’ll need to make the pastry envelopes:

  • Pre-made pie dough (I used Pillsbury) 1 box makes 6 envelopes
  • 1 egg (scrambled in a bowl with a teaspoon of water – for egg wash)
  • White sanding sugar
  • Dried edible flowers (optional)
  • Printed images of $100 bill or you can order edible versions on Etsy (optional)
  • Letter stamping (purchased on Amazon also optional)

How to prepare and bake – follow the narrative above that provides tips learned for the best results. Make the filling below a day ahead. These pastries can be made a day ahead and stored in a tightly sealed container once completely cooled to prevent any moisture from forming.

Cucidati (Italian Fig Cookie Filling)

The Cucidati (that my Mom called Italian Fig Cookies) are popular here in Southern Louisiana and served at the annual St. Joseph Day Altars. They were a special coveted favorite of my Mom’s, so much so that she eagerly attended an altar or two each year to seek out her little gifted bad of Italian cookies. The filling came to mind as it isn’t runny and tucked inside the pastry is very reminiscent of the cookie itself.

Adapted from recipe in the link https://www.familytabletreasures.com/italian-fig-cookies-cucidati/

  • 1 Cup Dried Mission Figs or Calimyrna Figs ,stems removed and chopped, about a 6-7 ounce package
  • 1/2 Cup Pitted Dates ,Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Candied Orange Peel ,or Orange Marmalade or Apricot preserves
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar ,or honey
  • Zest from 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice (or 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon)
  • 1/4 Cup Almonds
  • 1/4 Cup Walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark Rum, French Brandy, or Orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until a paste is formed and no large chunks are left. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to chill for at least an hour but preferably overnight so ingredients can meld together.

Edible $100 bills.

Some may ask why go to so much trouble for one of many elements of this mothers tea, but my friends and I are making a special effort to bring back to life some of our favorite memories of our mothers that are no longer with us on Mother’s Day. If you’re feeling the void we all do on Mother’s Day, consider creating your own little tradition to honor your Mom year after year. You’ll feel her spirit present with gratitude.

Suggested Music:

“I Remember You”- Trisha Yearwood

“Supermarket Flowers” – Ed Sheeran

“The Best Day” – Taylor Swift

“Mother” – Kacey Musgraves

“Tell Mama” -Etta James

“Mama’s Kitchen” – CeCe Winans

“Ring Off” – Beyonce

“Turned to You” – Justin Bieber

“Mother Like Mine” – The Band Perry

“Mother” – Sugarland

“Don’t Forget to Remember Me” -Carrie Underwood

“Mom” – Garth Brooks

“God Must Have Spent ” A Little More Time on You-NSYNC

MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

A Little Racey, Beachy, Peacock Mothers Tea

I’ve been putting together a plan for my 4th Annual Mothers Tea over the past few weeks. Little memories have been shared from tea to tea and I’ve tried to carefully listen and make notes to reference as each friend awaits for their year to honor their Mom. This year we will be honoring my friend Kelly’s Mother, Jane.

Marigolds

At our very first tea, Kelly told us that she had recently been planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, to protect against insects. As she was planting, she recalled an image of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden to replant the following year. Her shared memory stayed with me, and as my marigolds began to wither I collected their dried buds and created seed packets for each of our guests as a favor. (See the past post: https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2021/06/13/a-marigold-memory-of-mother/ of how I dried the flowers and made the seed envelopes in mid-June last year in preparation for this year’s tea.)

Marigold seed packets as party favors.

Every year, in preparation for the tea, I offer a list of questions to each friend to help generate memories of their Mom’s favorite things – from pastimes to favorite eats. I then do my best to give a nod to those interests, flavors and memories as part of the decor and menu. Sometimes the list is minimal and a clear direction, while others offer new challenges of interpretation. Kelly’s list presented a colorful and uncommon Mom with interesting passions. While I may not be able to incorporate all of her notes into the tea, I always do my best to capture the spirit of our honored Mom.

Beaches

Kelly’s Mom was a thalassophile who loved turtles. Beaches provide everything from “peacock” sunsets to seashells and turtles in the sand. So for the invitation I used a pretty image from a wedding invitation and cut out the center. After a lot of cut and pasting the image created a frame for my invite. (Reason for the undesired lines in the image.) I then glued small shells around the border for a 3D affect and a string a pearls to highlight Jane’s photo. (We only have 7 or so guests at each tea and I do my best to be thrifty where I can. A mailed invitation is not only more fun, but also gives my friend a keepsake. )

What is a thalassophile? A person who loves and is magnetically attracted to the ocean and the sea. Many people say they enjoy spending time at the beach, especially during summertime.

I used six beautiful scallop shells gifted to me several years ago at each place setting to capture the beach vibe and tied each plate with peacock blue ribbon for a pop of color. Plain glass plates were used for the guests and a peacock glass plate for Kelly and her daughter.

For one side of the table decor, I used a Barbie beach chair set on processed graham crackers with sugar for sand,chocolate turtles (made in a candy mold), seahorses and shells with a sprinkle of very tiny real shells. Lastly a sandcastle (a salt and pepper shaker set found at Cracker Barrel) to create a beach vibe. The beach chair was a dark pink that I toned down with a piece of ribbon to better blend in with the cool, soft blues of the decor.

Peacocks

Several years ago, Kelly told me that whenever she sees a peacock, she feels it’s a sign from her Mom. When I questioned what the connection was, she explained that her Mother’s maiden name was Peacock. Now every time I see stationary or other items with peacock feathers, I think of Kelly and her Mom. Clearly this symbol had to be at the center of my table.

Photo by NAUSHIL ANSARI on Pexels.com

It started with the invitation. To add a touch of “Peacock” I printed an image of a peacock feather, cut around it and then glued it over a peacock blue ribbon as a seal on the back of the envelope. To protect the shells from getting crushed in the mail, I wrapped each invitation in tissue paper and applied 3D daisy stickers (one of two flowers that Kelly said reminds her of her Mom) before gently slipping each into the envelope to mail.

For the past three years I have used my small form mannequin as part of the centerpiece for my table. The first year, it was an obvious choice for the Seamstress theme that I decorated with pattern tissue flowers and measuring tape ribbon. Last year we had a Nurse theme and Lydia created a little white nurse dress and a blue cape with red trim similar to the uniform she remembered her Mom wore in the 1960’s. A vintage style nurse’s cap hung from the top to complete a little nurse.

This year I used the Peacock to elegantly dress the form mannequin (inspired by a designer dress I saw online). Small peacock feathers were used to shape the top, paired with ribbon I had in my craft box. As I cut the ribbon it curled under (much like a folded peacock tail.) As I began to run out of ribbon I placed shorter pieces on the front section, all pinned with pearl tipped straight pins, creating my own specially designed dress. I reused the measuring tape ribbon on the back and the sewing charms because Kelly’s mom (we learned from our seamstress tea) was also an excellent seamstress.

It takes a while to figure out my table decor for every event, but if I quietly sit and meditate on it, ideas begin to generate and I always figure something out. Because of all of the themed entertaining I do, I have to be on the lookout for little things I might need in the future for an idea I may have been holding on to. During the holidays while in Homegoods in what I call the “booby trap” section (the shelves of items on each side of the line while waiting to get to the register), I spotted two Artistic Accents Turkish hand painted glass plates with peacock feathers. There were only two and I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but knowing I had the tea to plan, I decided to purchase them and figure it out later. I decided to use the two peacock patterned plates for Kelly and her daughter who was also invited, and plain gold rimmed glass plates for the other guests with the scallop shell tied to the center combining the beach and peacock notes.

A combination of Peacock and Beach.

NASCAR

Kelly’s Mom was also an enthusiastic RV NASCAR circuit fan. Full disclosure, this was stumped me for a good while. I originally had no idea of how to inject this into an afternoon tea, but in the end I was happy with what finally came to mind. I found clip art online to print the racetrack, NASCAR logo, finish line flags and lights. I cut out each of the figures and then attached each to white card stock with a glue stick. As it began to dry, the sides of the card stock began to curl up, similar to the stadium bleachers that surround the racetrack. So I cut it into a shape similar to the track and then rubbed the stick glue all over the outer area from the racetrack. I then pressed multicolored sprinkles to represent the crowd. I ordered two cars on Etsy that are ornaments (reason for the metal loop on the top). They are very small, but I was able to enlarge the print of the track to better match the scale of the cars and I decided I would give the cars to Kelly to put on her Christmas tree in memory of her Mom after the tea. The track was set in the middle of a white rimmed dinner plate and I used dollar store moss to create greenery around the outside of the stadium to look like trees, etc. This is being placed on the other side of the table.

NASCAR racetrack.

My table is basically ready for the coming weekend…. once Jane’s favorite cheerful flowers of daisies and yellow roses are added – it will add the final touch of brightness and light that I’m sure will attract Jane’s spirit to be with us on this special day we’ve created in her honor. Now onto the menu! Come back for the next post!

BOOK CLUB, GATHERINGS

“The Undomestic Goddess” Bookclub Menu

Book selection… On a bright and cheery mid-April, Sunday afternoon a group of ten of my reading friends (members of my book club) gathered around my dining room table set with English garden decor and a slightly gourmet luncheon, inspired by our latest book selection “The Undomestic Goddess” by Sophie Kinsella. The light hearted “Hallmark like” story, started with a young female workaholic attorney who after being set up to cover up the bad actions of a Sr. Partner at the firm, flees to the English countryside and is mistaken for an applicant as a professional housekeeper. Samantha has absolutely no domestic skills, but does her best to fake it until she makes it with the help of some very kind and supportive new acquaintances she meets in the fictional Cotswolds-like town far from the hussle and bussle of London.

Nathaniel’s garden and his mother Iris’s cooking lessons lead me consider a special lunch menu with a table draped in the rustic elegance of an English garden. A photograph I found in a back issue of Victoria magazine provided the inspiration I wanted for my table setting. Having always been drawn to shades of soft blues, purples and lavenders for their casual and soothing aesthetics, I had a table runner and linen napkins in my arsenal to recreate the look. I planned to create a floral centerpiece and fill decorated clay pots filled with ferns and flowering plants that would been given as party favors to each of my members.

The Favors: Two kinds of moss purchased from the Dollar Tree in addition to bark from my crepe myrtle, were used to create layers of moss affixed with spray adhesive to terra cotta pots (also from Dollar Tree). I mixed mossy gray and green acrylic paint and then dotted a collage of color to the exterior of each pot with a sponge. Craft glue was used to then affix the bark and flowers pressed and dried in the microwave from my garden. The idea was to create pots that look like they were lying around in a greenhouse for many years. Later the use of a hot glue gun touched up the areas that may have pulled away some from the surface.

I played around with different ways of displaying and arranging the pots on the table,but remembered I wanted that pop of blue and shades of purple, violet and lavender arranged in the center of the table. So I removed several of the posts and displayed them on a small table in the corner to be distributed at the end of the meeting.

Springtime Cocktail:

A Sparkling Blueberry Lavender Bellini

The frozen blueberry puréed spheres were made with fresh blueberries in a small processor. If processed too long it becomes gelatinous as it thaws. If too loose it disburses blue chunks into the drink. I over unintentionally over processed mine (learning experience) and used it as a colorful ice cube substitute that adds a little flavor to the drink, but doesn’t water down the cocktail. It makes the glass frosty and the cocktail stays very cold.

I found this Citrus & Petals cocktail sugar at Homegoods around the holidays and set it aside for a future springtime party. But this pretty sugar idea could easily be created at home. Flower petals can be pressed between paper towels and dried in the microwave in just minutes. The dried flowers retain their brilliant color and when completely dried can be crushed to add to sugar. Lemon, orange or lime zest and dried chopped mint leaves can be set out on a plate overnight or for a few days to dry and also mixed into the sugar.

The rim of a coupe glass is gently dipped in egg white and then into the sugar mixture. I did this the day before and placed all of the glasses on a tray in the refrigerator The egg white dries and sugar and flowers were well attached for the luncheon. (I used a small paintbrush to add some egg white to the front of the glass to attach the tiny fresh flowers.)

I made a blueberry syrup by cooking down one cup of fresh blueberries with 2 tablespoons of water and sugar. Once cooked down I strained out the skins and seeds. After preparing the rims of the glasses with sugar and flowers I stored them in the refrigerator until time to serve.

To serve, I added one tablespoon of blueberry syrup and one tablespoon of lavender syrup, then placed a frozen blueberry disk in the center. Each coupe glass was then filled with chilled prosecco or cava (even sparkling water can be used for a non-alcohol version). The sparkling beverage will cause the blueberry disk to fizz slightly, similar to a bath bomb for a fun afternoon cocktail or drink. (The added syrups may require a gentle stir to mix into the prosecco or water.)

Deep blue, almost purple hydrangeas, white delphiniums, lavender stock and filler flowers that I do not know the name of, helped create a bright centerpiece.

On the Menu:

  • Chicken and Sherry Mushroom Vol au Vent
  • Mixed Spring greens, with dried blueberries, orange segments and toasted chopped pecans with a crème fraîche citrus and herb vinaigrette
  • Mini rainbow carrots with brown butter and a citrus mint marigold gremolata
  • Gentilly berry cake

The recipe was adapted for the link below. This chicken and mushroom filling is also delicious as a sauce tossed in pasta. My adjustments to the recipe included:

  • Finely chopped shallots in place of onions
  • After cooking the shallots and mushrooms down, add a half cup of white wine and simmer down to about 1/4 cup.
  • I then add the flour and cooked for a few minutes
  • Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock letting simmer about 5 minutes
  • After adding the heavy cream, I added a teaspoon of sherry vinegar
  • Chopped tarragon and thyme where the last addition

https://www.chilitochoc.com/chicken-mushroom-vol-au-vent/

It never fails… I get so busy preparing and serving (with the help of a wonderful friend) that I either forget to take pictures or don’t take the picture I really want due to rushing. I usually do a test run so I can decide what I want to add to or omit from a recipe that I’m using. The picture above was from the test. The picture below was the rushed version the day of the luncheon.

We added a couple of law books to the table – to represent Samantha’s career as a Lawyer.

A convenient scene in the book, was when Samantha’s new friends threw her a surprise birthday party. It just so happened that two of the ladies in my group had birthdays on the following two days. So for the dessert course, I purchased one of their favorites cakes, we sliced it up and put a candle on each of their pieces and sang happy birthday.

At our previous book club, I served champagne and elderflower liqueur cocktails that everyone really enjoyed. So I bought two small bottles of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and bagged them up as little gifts for the two birthday ladies with balloons.

An English luncheon must have tea. As a nod to London, where Samatha lives and works, I served London tea lattes. Steeped Earl grey lavender tea (fairly strong), lavender syrup and a little honey, topped with foamed half and half and dusted with dried pulsed lavender.

As our meeting adjourned, the next book was announced (that will be hosted by a different member in June), everyone bid adieu with their arms filled with plants, leftovers and some with birthday gifts. Until we meet again, happy reading!

DINNER PARTY, WINE CLUB

Murder Mystery at the Underwood Winery :Wine Club Dinner Party (Pinot Noir Tasting)

Let’s get back to fun and games! A few years back I hosted a Murder Mystery Party with a free script I found on Pinterest. For that party I bought six 19 Crimes wines with interactive labels. At the end of each round (of the script) we passed around the next bottle of wine to pour and taste. We had so much fun, laughing and acting up that everyone wanted to revisit this theme again in the future.

Around the holidays while visiting the local book store, I found the above Murder Mystery Party kit that once again takes place at a winery and I decided to purchase it for a future gathering. A date was decided by taking a poll from my group and then I chose the character assignments that I felt would best suit each guest.

The party set provided invitations, but I wanted something a little more attractive and festive, so I found the above version online that I glued a copy to the top of the provided cards. Inside are the list of “suspects” with character descriptions and suggested costumes. Assigned names were written next to the characters. As I read through some of the descriptions, I discovered that the fictional winery was UNDERWOOD WINERY.

Pinot Noir that inspired our tasting- Oregon (Will be the prize for winners)

While shopping at a local grocer I came upon an actual Underwood Winery Pinot Noir from the State of Oregon. After purchasing a couple of bottles, the invitation requested each couple or individual guest bring a Pinot Noir – and were assigned a State or Country to create a variety of domestic and imported Pinot Noirs for the blind tasting throughout the script. Fortunately, we haven’t had a Pinot Noir tasting in the past and for me personally, this is one of my favorite varieties.

Pinot Noir, Oregon

At the beginning of the 2020 Quarantine, the Kutchers -Ashton & Mila – worked with Nocking Wines to create this special fundraiser Pinot Noir they labeled Quarantine. I bought 6 bottles and we shared some at my Sunset Wine Party in the summer of 2020. – Everyone that attended signed a bottle that I saved for a future party -when we could all gather again. This will be our Oregon wine for the evening!

I always request that everyone send me a copy of their label prior to the party so that I can do a little research one each to share at the tasting.

The lineup for our blind tasting from top left to right, California, Chile, Italy
Australia, France, New Zealand and Oregon.

Cocktails upon arrival….

It’s been a while since everyone has seen each other, and tonight will kick off a new year of getting back to meeting the way we did before the pandemic. In addition, everyone will be excited and silly checking out each other’s costumes. As my guests arrive I always have a starter cocktail and something small to nibble on while they visit and I collect and open the wine bottles, assign a number to each bottle and then pour their contents into the numbered glasses on the table. (I usually employ the help of a couple of my guests with this task).

For appetizer bites I made artichoke balls (from someone’s family recipe card below) and Antipasto Appetizer Squares from Brown Eyed Baker who always has new inspiring recipes.

Tip: Allow to cool a good 45 minutes to an hour before cutting (otherwise you do not get a clean cut and cheese and ingredients ooze and slide out). They are just delicious at room temp.

https://www.browneyedbaker.com/antipasto-appetizer-squares/

http://www.foodgospelaccordingtoruth.com/2011/10/artichoke-balls.html

In keeping with my dinner menu, I’m serving an Aperol Spritz, made with Aperol, prosecco, a splash of soda water ( I had about a half cup of the syrup left over from the amarena cherries -for dessert and combined a teaspoon in each glass to add a little sweetness to the bitter Aperol).

While everyone is visiting, sipping cocktails and nibbling – I’ll have a chore for them while I’m working on the bottles of wine and making last minute preparations to the main dish for dinner. I bought a screen for mugshots and a little letter board from the craft store for everyone to change out the name of their character. I tacked a ribbon to the back side for each guest to hang the name board around their neck while posing for a mugshot in front of the screen.

All of my guests dressed to kill.

Now for the table…

For a bloody good place card, I printed some clip art from online and hand wrote the last name of each couple or first name each single attendee, folded over the ends and cut little slots in each side (with small scissors or exacto knife) and slid steak knives through the holes for a Murder Mystery touch.

Bloody Placecards

A black tablecloth and linen napkins with my goldware set the scene. I used seeded and leafy eucalyptus branches along the center of the table with fresh artichokes, candles and battery operated mini lights. My table is narrow and when filled with multiple wine glasses there isn’t much room for a lot of fussy decor. I like to keep it simple and elegant so that my guests who are already very tightly placed around the table, have as much room as possible and can easily converse and see each other on all sides of the table.

Scripts and clue packets set to the side of each assigned character.
Live eucalyptus, artichokes with cork wrapped pillar candles.

One to the menu.….

I’ve planned a light Italian menu that is easy to eat since we have to concentrate on scripts and acting, while tasting wines and filling our tummies.

The menu started with fresh and roasted (multi-colored) cherry tomatoes for a twist on the caprese salad. The roasted tomatoes add a rich concentrated flavor to the entire dish and the drippings from the pan added to some balsamic crema (or concentrated balsamic vinegar) further elevated the tomato flavor. Fresh herb marinated Mozzarella balls (halved), crumbled ricotta salata for a slight salty bite, sprinkled with flaky Maldon sea salt and droplets of roasted tomato drippings and balsamic crema- finished with thinly chiffonade ribbons of fresh sweet basil. (The final version may have small Thai basil leaves for a gentle spicy kick.) The dish is served at room temperature and will be plated and ready at the table when my guests arrive.

Sometimes another ingredient may present itself on the day of the party. While making the appetizer I found an extra package of prosciutto. I cut the sheets into 2 inch pieces and then crisped them in a 400 degree oven on a sheet pan for 15 minutes (ovens may vary) creating prosciutto croutons for a crispy salty bite.

The main course….

Chicken Marsala, served over artisanally made Italian Taglia Tella pasta. I use sliced baby bella mushrooms that I carmelized in olive oil and butter for an enhanced meaty bite and the sauce is created with delicious marsala fortified wine. Thinly pounded boneless chicken breast baths in the luxurious sauce that is deliciously light and satiating.

Finally for dessert….

Amarena cherries with zabaglione, and crumbled amaretti cookies for a lightly sweet finish to the evening.

The evening ended with the winning wine (Louis Jadot-France) with 5 votes out of ten and (19 Crimes- Australia ) with 3 votes out of ten; a top performer (Papa Vito) and best costume (Otto Von Schnapps) and the murderer r-e-v-e-a-l-e-d.

Remember to follow to receive notice of our next wine party…..Salute!

BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus, Uncategorized

Something in the Water Bookclub Meeting

One January afternoon, my book club met to discuss this tropical murder mystery. “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman. Catherine is a British actress who played Mabel Lane Fox on our beloved Downton Abbey. It also was one of Reese’s Book Clubs first book selections.

Another member in my group selected this book, and at the last minute wasn’t able to host our luncheon – so I pulled together a quick table decor and menu.

I served tropical chicken salad with crackers for a light lunch.

For the table I filled blue wine glasses with white sand and candles; used shell and coral printed paper napkins I purchased to create a table runner, added palm leaves from a plant in my yard; and used a wood platter to assort shells, starfish and coral that one of the other members and I had in our home collections.

I greeted my guests with sunset cocktails made with pineapple juice,grenadine and prosecco. The Bora Bora styled umbrellas were created with regular cocktail umbrellas affixed with circles cut from brown paper bags. I glued a couple of layers around the top center and then cut strips around the circle to create the thatched fringe affect.

For dessert I made bananas foster cake, banana ice cream (from frozen ripe bananas that are pureed in the blender), and a dehydrated fresh pineapple slice to garnish (that everyone ate as a crispy treat).

BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus

The Christie Affair (Bookclub Menus)

“The Christie Affair” by Nina de Gramont was a quick and entertaining read. What I enjoy the most about historical fiction (this one also with a mystery appropriately crafted from the eleven day disappearance of Agatha Christie in 1926), is that the facts about the real story can be easily searched and viewed on the internet. Whenever the final conclusion of a mystery is not completely and clearly solved, it affords writers the license to create their own imagined version of what may have happened.

Reminiscent of “The Timeless Mansion”. Candlelight, dinners of tinned meats, tea, bread and wine while the rest of the country was vehemently searching for Agatha Christie.

Ms. de Gramont’s version is told from the perspective of Archie Christie’s (Agatha’s husband) lover and then second wife Nan O’Dea. [Nancy Neele (1889-1958) was the lover, and eventually, second wife of Archibald Christie. They had a son, also named Archibald, in 1930.]

I also enjoy drawing inspiration from books and create a themed luncheon. When I finished the book, the memories that stood out were those of Nan’s homeland of England and her love for Ireland where she met Finbarr. With that in mind I decided that an English-Irish fusion menu would be appropriate.

Irish Leek and Potato Soup and Irish Guinness Stout Bread.

While Finbarr and Agatha nourished on loaves of bread, apples, and tea – your guests may better appreciate this Irish inspired menu formed from Finbarr’s homeland and the place where Nan fell in love with both Ireland and Finbarr.

Above is a simply prepared potato leek soup made with a combination of both pureed and small chunks of potato, garnished with crispy bacon and chopped spring onions or scallions. If my chives were blooming I would have added a chive blossom, but it’s not quite Spring yet. (recipe in the link further below)

Also above, a Guinness Stout Bread. Very easy and quick to make. No rising or kneading required! I purchased a stout with coffee and chocolate notes – very interesting and delicious with both bitter and sweet notes. I decided this might be more flavorful than the traditional Irish Soda Bread – but maybe not. You choose. https://www.platingsandpairings.com/guinness-beer-bread/

https://thedeliciousspoon.com/wprm_print/4533

https://themondaybox.com/lemon-shrewsbury-biscuits/

NOTE: My variation to the above recipe was using the zest of an entire naval orange, adding 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste and two pinches of kosher salt. Otherwise follow the recipe exactly.

For the dessert course, I brought in Nan’s English homeland with Lady Gray tea (that has citrus notes) and made these English biscuits scented with orange. While it’s appropriate for the English, it also reminds me of the Timeless Manor candlelit moments of meals created from tinned meats, bottles of wine, loaves of bread slathered with marmalade and hot steaming cups of tea.

I read so many books, and as an entertainer can’t help but imagine how I would create a themed table and menu after finishing each book.  “The Christie Affair” by Nina de Gramont was selected by Reese’s Bookclub and sparked my interest.  Ironically, just this past weekend there were two Agatha Christie movies on PBS this past weekend – one with Agatha having disappeared with a very different story line.  I hope for those who are interested in hosting book club meetings will be inspired by the ideas I will share in this new series on my blog – “Bookclub Menus.” Happy reading!

BOOK CLUB, DINNER PARTY, GATHERINGS

An Afternoon with Coco Chanel

Our first book selection on 2022.

Two Thousand twenty-two marks the eighth year anniversary of my Social Writes Book Club. We’ve had a couple of members that have left the group, and few new members creating a strong membership of 11. To begin this new year of reading, it was important to select a book that was both interesting, entertaining, and inspired a theme that was festive and fun.

One late Fall afternoon, I stopped at the local bookstore in search of something new to read. Far behind the larger display of current new fiction, stuck in a small corner, one book’s cover caught my eye. The striking cover sparked my interest and I picked it up then turned it over to read the blurb on the back. Earlier in 2021 I had read “The Chanel Sisters” by Judithe Little that chronicled Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s life as a young orphaned girl who would eventually find a path to becoming a famous designer. The book I discovered by chance on this day described Coco Chanel’s life during the war and hinted at her being a spy for the Germans. Intrigued I decided to buy the book and headed home.

The Chanel Sisters: Historical fiction that covers Gabrielle (later Coco’s) life as a little girl brought to an orphanage, where she learned her sewing skills; her life’s journey after the orphanage to seamstress, singer, mistress, hat designer and beyond.

Later that evening I sat to look over the book more closely, the name of the author seemed familiar to me. I searched the internet and the photo I found confirmed my thoughts.

Several years ago, when my book club was just in its second year of inception, I was at a local store waiting for assistance to purchase a fruit tart for my meeting. Pamela stepped up beside me and as we looked at each other with quizzical expressions (wondering if anyone was going to assist us), I explained that I was buying a tart for my book club. I told her we were discussing “A Paris Apartment” by Michelle Gable and I was trying to do as the French do – buy dessert from a local patisserie (or basically from what we had available in Mandeville, Louisiana. )

She responded by saying, “You should read one of my books.” I was taken aback and asked her name, wrote it down and told her I would look for some of her books. She also explained that she was in the process of writing a book set in Paris that would be published in the future (something about The Queen of Paris). Surprisingly, here it was in my hands five years later. Pamela resides here in Louisiana, just a few miles down the highway from me. It was quite interesting how a store filled with so many books would accidently lead me to hers and the memory of this chance meeting and brief conversation.

As I read the book, that I thoroughly enjoyed, I realized that without having read “The Chanel Sisters” by Judithe Little, it would have been harder to understand why Coco would eventually do the things she had to do to survive the war and try to protect her financial future. As a result, I recommended that my group read both books. Overall I find the two books together, cover Coco’s story in a way that explains why she is so determined to succeed and for the most part made unscrupulous choices to to so. She had a unique gift of creativity that even she was unaware of and with all of her difficulties found a way to build an empire that still exists today. What could be more interesting than an afternoon with Coco Chanel?

Setting an elegant table with a formal handmade menu adorned with pearls and Coco’s favorite flower the white camellia because it had no scent to compete with her signature
parfum Chanel No 5.

I wanted a light, but elegant French menu. After some thought I searched for savory soufflés and decided on a brie soufflé. It’s important to test a new recipe in advance to avoid day of the event failures. I also like to add my own twist to the ingredients and confirm the actual portions to determine if I’ll need to double the recipe to ensure I’m not short on servings.

The test bake went well, but I felt the flavor needed a little boost. I remembered I had some white truffle butter in the freezer that I decided to use in place of the salted butter in the recipe. It turned out great. A small bistro salad will be served on the side with warm breaded goat cheese croutes.

The test bake went well.

The recipe that inspired my White Truffle Brie soufflé is in the link below. I added 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the batter and I used this white truffle butter in place of the salted butter in the recipe. I also buttered the souffle dishes with the truffle butter before filling with the batter.

TIP: The batter can be made ahead and set aside. Whisk the egg whites just before ready to bake and fold into the batter base.

https://www.platingpixels.com/easy-cheese-souffle-brie/

The soufflé will fall quickly, but are still beautiful.
Bistro side salad: spring mix tossed in a red wine mustard vinaigrette, topped
with a few haricots verts and warm panko crusted honey goat cheese.
At the top of the picture a slice of truffle chicken liver pate’ and baguette crisps.

On to the table decor. I used a black table cloth, my Mom’s black and gold bone china and goldware. Champagne flute glasses will be used for the Champagne cocktails of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur and bubbly garnished with a pale pink rose petal.

A cocktail or aperitif at the ready is important as the guests arrive and Coco would expect champagne. For my cocktail, I’m using a French Crémant with a rose petal and splash of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur.

As part of my planning and searching for items to set the table, I found and purchased some Chanel ribbon. Originally I thought I would use it to tie the napkins, but due to the small amount I had (2 yards) and the number of guests I would have 11 – it pained me to think of cutting the ribbon into such small pieces. That’s when I came up with the idea of forming the linen napkin into a “Little Black Dress”.

Cinched high at the top with black and white ribbon and then tied tightly in the back, the ends formed into loops to create a bow, with a flat backed pearl in the center –
creating a “Little Black Dress”.
The backside with a little bow. Turn the napkin over and slide hand inside of the bottom to fluff out the skirt into a little black dress.

With my two yards of Chanel ribbon still in tack, I searched for ways to use it. Then I remembered my small form mannequin that I use for my annual mothers’ tea. After all – Coco was a seamstress who became a designer. Of course there would be form mannequins! I draped the ribbon from bottom to top and tied the ends into a bow. I made a small white flower with gift bag tissue paper (like her favorite camellia) and pinned it to the center. I also repurposed a necklace with a small spool of thread, scissors and soft pink rose that fit in perfectly. Finally it had to be draped with pearls to be truly Coco.

An afternoon discussion about Coco wouldn’t be complete without Coco Chanel quotes. I found and wrote out several, on these gold embossed Eiffel tower cards with pink borders (tucked away in my stationary drawer for several years) and sealed each into their envelopes with ribbon and a wax stamp. Each of my guests will pick an envelope to open and read a quote to the rest of the group.

Coco Chanel’s infamous quotes.

A simple, inexpensive square glass vase was given a Chanel No. 5 label on all four sides for the entire table to see from all angles and filled with lush pale pink roses for a pop of color.

French architectural paper luminaries I found several years ago at Tuesday Morning were each $1.49. I had tucked them away with my stationary knowing one day they would be of good use for one of my parties. On this day they will make their debut.

I use place cards to help mix up the group at the table, otherwise the same people always sit together. Sitting next to someone new encourages everyone to become familiar with one another. I dug through my stash of supplies (little finds that attract my attention and I somehow feel I will use in the future) and found these little tote bags with a white flower that I’ll pretend is a white camellia for Coco’s sake, and two pages of gold letters.

First I had to open the package of letters and spell out everyone’s name to ensure I had enough letters. One name (Stephanie) was shortened to Steph in order to complete the names of my other guests. I then centered the little tote bag on to the same soft pink cardstock I used for the menu and underlined the name with the pearls also used on the menus. Calligraphy or hand written names would be appropriate to the era, but I had these letters and decided to add a little golden glam to the table.

Champagne with elderflower liqueur and a rose petal.
I only drink champagne on two occasions,
when I’m in love and when I’m not.” -Coco Chanel

Time for dessert….. Strawberries are plentiful during the month of February in the south. Not so far from where I live is a town considered the Strawberry Capital (Ponchatoula, Louisiana). Strawberries are often associated with champagne, so I decided to make a champagne sabayon to pour over fresh strawberries and then lightly brûlée the sabayon just before serving. The sabayon can be made early in the day or the day before and placed in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The recipe I referenced is below.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/champagne-sabayon/15061/

Fresh strawberries with champagne sabayon.

One can’t have a French luncheon and not serve chocolats français. As luck would have it, stores like Homegoods have a variety of chocolates from various parts of the world in stock for Valentine’s Day. When I saw this box – I grabbed it!

A plan can be made, but never set in stone. The Saturday prior to our luncheon I drove to Trader Joe’s about 45 minutes from where I live expecting to find beautiful fresh roses and an edible flower I could use for the salads. I was there before the doors opened only to find mixed floral bouquets as the only available option. There were other items I hoped to purchase while I was there that were also unavailable. The cashier explained that the winter storms that blew through Texas the two days before had delayed their trucks. I spent a few hours going to every grocery store and even some florists to find they also had not received shipments. So I had to pivot – the word we’ve heard used so much over the past couple of years.

Afraid I wouldn’t find the pale pink roses I wanted, I bought two bouquets of pale pink tulips. Many years ago I learned a trick for how to make tulips last longer. On the left the tulips lay on their side after arranging. Pretty, but if left this way they would continue to extend out and not look so attractive.

As soon as possible, I had been taught to trim the ends and place the bouquet into a jar of cold water and refrigerate overnight. The next day, using a straight pin, prick a horizontal hole through the stem just below the flowerbud. For some reason this encourages the water to come up to heal the hole. The following morning notice what happened in the picture on the right. The tulips are all standing up straight.

My diligence paid off and I finally found one slightly shabby bouquet of pale pink roses for the table, but no one knew the difference. They were too busy savoring their champagne cocktails, white truffle brie soufflés, bistro salads with truffle chicken liver pate’ and finally strawberries with champagne sabayon and chocolats français with a rich cup of coffee discussing the life and legacy of Gabrielle Coco Chanel.

What a lovely ladies lunch we had! It was so fun to gather everyone together again. So looking forward to the next 📖!

Don’t forget to wear your pearls now and then. As Coco said: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
DINNER PARTY, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, New Year's Eve, WINE CLUB

Wine Club: Toasting to the New Year with an Asian Theme

The past two years have been filled with social distancing, masking, pivoting, and mountains of challenges and uncertainties. Depending on your field of work, like mine, it also may have been and continues to be stressful. Like most of you, I was ready for an escape from it all, and wanted to host a holiday gathering with my wine group of friends before the year ended. When fielding date options, the majority of my group were only available for New Year’s Eve.

With the date decided, I found myself now trying to figure out how to host a party on a Friday, after a full eight hours of work. For a couple of days my mind spun with ways to put everything together the weekend prior, and a simple way to have food and spirits, when the idea of a large tray of sushi came to mind. I thought of all of the special heavy meals enjoyed over the holiday season, and thought that an Asian themed party might be a nice change in cuisine to end and begin the years, while allowing me to order and pick up fresh prepared sushi with no worries of cooking, keeping warm and so on.

Chinese Lanterns to greet my guests.
A Sake and Plum wine tasting.

I shared my idea with the group and asked everyone to bring an Asian dish and a wine or possibly Asian beer that they would like to drink at the party. I would supply a couple of bottles of sake to taste and a plum wine. The selection of options were minimal, and I have no knowledge of sake, but the bottles I did find were nearly sold out, so I took that as a sign they were at least considered acceptable. Below are the notes I found on each.

Tyku Junmai Ginjo (black bottle) drops the sweet grain and banana of the Junmai for classic Ginjo flavors of melon and pear. However, overall aromatic and flavor intensity takes a hit. Fortunately there’s enough sweet melon flavor on the finish to save it from tasting bland. Like the Junmai, what’s here is good but the sake tastes too simple and too gentle.

Tozai Junmai Nigori Snow Maiden Sake and fresh with a lovely ricey and fruity combination. Flavors of honeydew melon, raw pumpkin, and radish. Creamy texture and full body. Try with spicy foods, crab, pork, or spicy tuna poke.

Gekkeikan Black & Gold California – This versatile sake has a smooth, mellow flavor and can be enjoyed warmed, room temperature or chilled. Serve from this traditional “”tokkuri”” container that was used when purchasing sake in the old days. Full-bodied with hints of honeydew, papaya, anise and roasted nuts. Well balanced, finishes long and smooth. A great sipping sake.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S3C3jWlHvk

One evening I searched through Pinterest for some inspiration, and found this Youtube video of how to fold a napkin to look like a kimono. I remembered I had these floral paper napkins and thought the print was perfect for my Asian theme. The embossed textured borders folded nicely and provided texture and interest to the finished fold. I used the kimonos as placeholders for the chopsticks, with my purple linen napkins just beneath.

I had just enough time to order two sets of painted black wooden chopsticks that pulled together a place setting of purple, greens, blacks and golds (inspired by the sake bottles). While looking through the flower selection at my local Fresh Market, I found one lone package each of purple and a variegated green/purple chrysanthemum that were the perfect colors and looked very much like the flower on my kimono napkin. It never fails that I’ll find exactly what I want two weeks before the party and then can’t find a single replacement the week of the party. Fingers crossed I’ll find the same lovely version again, or I’ll have to figure out an alternative.

One of the comforting traditions of Japanese restaurants are the small fragrant steamy hot towels (called an oshibori) they hand out along with the menus. My best friend and I often had lunch at one such place and each time we were so tempted to wipe our faces in addition to our hands, which would have resulted in destroying our makeup. Always a lovely surprise to me when the tray of steamy towels arrived and I’ve prepared to do the same for my guests.

Japanese restaurants often provide a small hot towel called an oshibori. This is to wipe your hands but not your face. You may see some Japanese wiping their faces with their oshibori, but sometimes this is considered bad form. If you must use your oshibori on your face, wipe your face first, then your hands.

While searching for chopsticks I also found these vellum gold trimmed chinese floating lanterns. I don’t have a lake or a swimming pool to float lanterns in, but I thought they would be lovely, lite and simply placed all across the front lawn. (Below is just a quick test I tried before Christmas to see how they would look.) The package of 20 will create a warm, celebratory scene for greeting my guests. I also placed a few on the table.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B011OURNTU?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2_dt_b_product_details

Asian meals traditionally end with fortune cookies. A friend of mine made large versions years ago for Christmas gifts dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, so I thought they shouldn’t be that hard to make. I learned they were a bigger challenge than expected, but somehow I got through and used red ribbon for a pop of color with a New Year’s wish for each of my friends. The first recipe I tried was an epic fail, so I went to my trustworthy mentor Martha Stewart. The technique takes a little time to master and leaves the baker with slightly burning finger tips, but eventually I got the hang of it and filled a bowl with the number I needed.

My modest effort at fortune cookies are individually wrapped with red ribbons and stacked in a large bowl to serve to my guests.

The next addition were paper glittered 2022 eye frames that I wrapped around the bottom of the lanterns on two sides and placed New Year’s crackers at each place setting.

Bowls and spoons set up for Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup
Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup with cilantro and thai basil blossoms.

While there will be wine and sake, we will still have bubbly for midnight.

To crank up the party atmosphere I strung lights on the wall with a Happy New Year banner that can also be used as a backdrop for taking pictures. I’d like to order black, gold and white helium filled balloons to rest along the ceiling in the dining room, but that may be a challenge to pick up prior to the party (remember I’m working that day), but if I can make it happen – I will.

All I have left to do is order my platter of sushi for pick up on Friday afternoon. My guests are bringing items some of which are potstickers, chicken satay, spring rolls, edamame salad and a couple of other items that haven’t been shared with me yet.

Photo by Anton Mislawsky on Pexels.com

A friend from our group has offered to come help me with some ideas for an Asian charcuterie board. I found only one example on Pinterest that included sugar snap peas (that would be good in a little sesame oil with black sesame seeds), thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, edamame, pineapple, mandarin segments, dumplings with dipping bowls of peanut sauce and soy sauce, and some Thai spiced potato chips. We’re looking to see what we can find to make our own version.

Photo by Rathnahar Sriom on Pexels.com

There is no need to buy fireworks because folks in my neighborhood put on an incredible fireworks display every year that we can simply step outside among the chinese lanterns and enjoy. I’m so looking forward to bringing in the new year with the company of friends, good conversation, laughter and of course good food.

Happy New Year everyone! We are all ready to feel the joy again in our lives and share time together to form new memories. Blessings and joy to you and yours!

Photos from the actual party.

Asian nibble boards with sake tasting bottles.
Sesame sticks, red chili crackers, pickled carrots and
asian pickled cucumbers, sesame sugar snap peas.
The food was amazing and plentiful, in the far back, forward, chicken satay, potstickers, spring rolls, a variety of sushi, krab salad, asian stuffed eggs, edamame salad, teriyaki salmon bites, pork tenderloin.

My neighborhood fireworks – photo taken with a drone.

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, SMALL TALK

The Perfect Christmas Card

Year after year I search through stacks of boxes of Christmas cards in search of one that expresses the true meaning of Christmas. For several years I picked cards with beautiful angels on the front; others with manger scenes, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus and sometimes the three kings in the background, and every now and then I grab one just because it’s a beautiful picturesque scene that makes me remember the joyful festive streets of New York from a couple of occasions when I was fortunate enough to be there when all of their beautifully decorated buildings and windows, glowed from every direction.

I’ve received many versions of Christmas cards over the years, some more thoughtfully chosen than others, and some so special that I’ve kept them tucked away with my box of Christmas stationary and read them once each year.

One year (I don’t even recall how long ago, but it could be as long as two decades) a long time friend who was residing in Germany at the time sent what I have claimed as my favorite Christmas card of all time.

Simple, elegant, and straight to the point, I couldn’t help but praise the wonderful person who designed this beautiful card. As I slowly unfolded each of it’s accordion folded pages, I wondered how even after all of these years I’ve never seen another card with this same beautiful message.

As I opened the pages to read my special card this year, the thought came to me to share this beautiful card with all of you. As I centered on each page to take a picture, I noticed that when I took the picture of the final page (above) a warm light glowed through along the trunk of the tree. I knew my decision to share it was validated.

I send out far more cards than I ever receive these days. I miss seeing the beautifully unique script handwritten signature of each family member and friend who once sent them to me. Some were once filled with beautiful handwritten letters sharing a few notes about their year (as were mine). As this once very special tradition gets lost in the chaos of texting and posting, rather than personally writing and mailing – I suppose life won’t slow down enough for these old traditions to find their way back again. Fortunately, I’ve held on to the best so I can enjoy reading them again again for years to come.

Special thank you to my lovely friend Vivian who is always filled with faith and devotion to our Lord Jesus. God Bless YOU! An a very Merry Christmas to all of you!