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!

EASTER, HOLIDAY

Design a welcoming Easter Table….

Any holiday can be daunting when it comes to decorating. While it is easy to go overboard, I’ve always felt less is more. When purchasing holiday related items, I try to make sure they will blend in with the style and colors of my every day decor each year. I also do my best to incorporate and repurpose items I already have in a new way. This method allows for changing color themes and a fresh look from year to year. Below I’ve explored different color themes, while using many of the same base items.

For the love of pink...

Over the years I’ve had a love affair with “dishes”. While I don’t have complete sets of eight or twelve, I did think ahead enough to require items were trimmed in gold allowing it to easily blend in with my china that has a simple lace and gold rim pattern. Pink floral patterns and depression glass also blend in well with my teacup collection composed of all pink and red roses with gold trim. Below are some examples of a “Pink” themed table setting.

PINK TABLE SETTING
  • Above soup cup filled with while linen napkin folded into a bunny.
  • Below: Elite Limoges tea cup and vintage etched crystal stemware.
  • The center of the table is lined with an all-purpose moss mat purchased at a craft store.

While the ceramic bunnies are simple ceramic pieces purchased for less than $10 at Homegoods, the gold edged flowers with just a touch of pink and green add a “vintage look” to each piece. The single “Mother” bunny’s ears are filled with gold, but the babies were not. I used a small bottle of model metallic gold paint to add the gold to the ears of the two smaller bunnies. A white base color can fit into any color theme.

With just a couple of changes here is a “tiffany-blue” theme.

  • Below top: Cross folded napkin, round placemat, Lenox bone gold trimmed china, cupcake pick cross & silk tulips
  • Blue and yellow: Yellow daffodils, added gold charger, blue & green stemware
  • See saw bunnies centerpiece, blue pearl eggs in covered coupe glass, simple paper plate bunny design in the center, vintage gold rimmed glassware.

Garden and carrots theme… pops of orange!

These carrot see-saw bunnies were
the inspiration for this theme. Cabbage napkin rings fresh cherry tomatoes on the vine
and radishes added to complete the garden.
  • Below top left: Orange woven placemat, burlap charger plate, Lenox gold trim bone china and paper plate in center with orange and pink trimmed linen napkin.
  • Below top right: Center plate changed to a ceramic green trimmed bunny plate and carrot print napkin. https://www.pier1.com/carrots-napkin/3811267.html?st=carrot%20napkins
  • Bottom left: Salad plate Grace’s Teaware gold polka dot, carrot print napkin tied with carrot print ribbon and faux carrot.
  • Bottom right: Napkin tied with braided grosgrain ribbon (2 orange and 1 green) and sprig of parsley.

For the love of green…

Green cameo depression glass juice glass and salad plate.
Elizabethan Staffordshire Bone China tea cup.
Egg cup with pearl green egg and buddies in the background.
The simplest of all versions still shines.

Lavender and violet are my favorite, and yet I searched my stock of things and even looked around at local stores and I could not find anything that I could use to create a table setting in this color. So I’m challenging myself to find something in the future.

All of these examples are not complicated, but show how the same items can be reused from year to year and look fresh and new. May these examples help you look at your own dish ware and table in a new way to create a festive Easter table setting. May you and yours have a Blessed and Happy Easter!