CHRISTMAS, DINNER PARTY, HOLIDAY

Winter’s Night Sunday Supper

What better way to spend a cold winter’s night during this holiday season than to invite a couple of friends over to gather around the table near the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree for a cozy Sunday supper? This gathering was pulled together in a short 48 hours. I reached out to my friends on a Friday afternoon and once they confirmed they could come, I began to pull my plan for the evening together.

I always start with my table decor, It helps me to set the stage for the evening, starting with my basic gold rimmed china dinner plates and gold inexpensive chargers. A few years ago I used a wide roll of dark red velvet ribbon to cut pieces that fold over and under the chargers for an elegant touch. I fold them one on top of the other on the original cardboard roll to store the pieces away to use from year to year. Finally I placed my Lenox “Pomegranate with Mistletoe” salad plates (a gift from a friend many years ago) on top of the dinner plate for a festive pop of color.

I started collecting pieces of silver cutlery this year and had just enough place settings to use for this small dinner party. I also pulled out my special crystal wine glasses that are not used for my wine parties, but deserved a spot at the table for this ocassion.

With a bag of mandarin oranges and a jar of whole cloves I studded patterns on some of the mandarins and then added a plaid ribbon in Christmas colors to complete their look. I created a centerpiece with fragrant evergreen branches (purchased at Fresh Market) placed across the center of the table with a string of jingle bell garland and battery operated twinkle lights. A clove studded mandarin was placed in the center of each plate and some were placed over the evergreens in the center of the table.

A holiday dinner party deserves the elegance of the season. The house is filled with beautiful twinkle lights and colors throughout the house, making it easy to create a warm ambiance that is perfect for an evening such as this. Why not take advantage of the added glow in the house?

For an easy Hors D’oeuvre, I bought a package of endive (also known as chicory) that contained two light green tipped heads and one purple tipped head. I filled the bottom of the green leaves with sushi snow crab salad and the purple with a small ball of Bouisin carmelized onion cheese rolled in pistachio crumbs and topped with a pomegranate seed. A small silver serving tray presented raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, a citrus studded English cheese and toasted whole walnuts.

The Hors D’oeuvres were served with a holiday Lambrusco punch from the link below. Hint: I used all of the Autumn simple syrup from the recipe (not just the 1/2 cup per instructions). The syrup is delicious and added a lot of flavor.

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2018/11/christmas-punch/

I also made cocktail ice cubes (using the large square silicone trays) made with pomegranate juice and a little water, filling the tray sections with fresh rosemary, fresh cranberries and pomegranate seeds. One large cube was placed in each glass and the punch poured over and then garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

The Menu

Champagne Citrus Salad

Coq Au Vin with Mashed Potatoes

Sweet soy glaze and Agave Roasted brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds

Gingerbread Eggnog Custard Tarts

I started with a citrus salad to follow along with the table decor, that unfortunately did not get photographed. The ingredients are as follows:

  • Two navel oranges segmented
  • Arugula and mixed greens
  • Sliced (leftover endive) for cruch
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Dried Cranberries 1/2 soaked in orange juice to rehydrate
  • finely chopped chives
  • toasted chopped hazelnuts
  • Champagne citrus vinaigrette https://canapesandsoirees.com/citrus-champagne-vinaigrette/

Place the greens and endive in a bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Divide into 4 to 6 portions in separate plates. Top with orange segments, pomegranate seeds, rehydrated cranberries, and nuts.

For the entree I made a one pot comfort dish, French coq au vin served over rosemary roasted garlic mashed potatoes (achieved by simmering evaporated milk with a few sprigs of Greg rosemary and adding severs cloves of roasted garlic).

The side was roasted brussels (with sweet soy sauce, tamarin, a little agave tossed after cooking) and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/coq-au-vin

Finally we ended the evening with gingerbread eggnog custard tarts. I had a half a bottle of eggnog leftover from my cookie decorating gathering and decided this would be a great way to finish the bottle off. The recipe I used made one full tart with a thick filling. I decided to make individual tarts so the custard was not as deep (thick) as the single tart, but it was still delicious. I also can recommend making just the eggnog custard and serve in little bowls that was also delicious on its own. My leftover custard was poured into small desserts dishes for another day.

Two of my guests had birthdays (one prior to the dinner and one due on Christmas day), so I put a single candle in each of their tarts so we could celebrate their birthdays.

Here’s proof that using what you have for the table and selecting a simple comfort food menu will enable you to throw together a quick festive winter holiday supper for a few of your friends or family in very little time.

However long you keep your Christmas decorations in place… there’s still time for a small gathering even once the day has come and gone.

Wishing everyone a safe and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you so much for your support! I’m looking forward to new gatherings with new themes and getting my wine club back together in 2023. See you soon!

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

Getting Into a Christmas Spirit with a Cookie Decorating Party

A last minute informal invite was sent to a few family and friends to gather on a Sunday afternoon to decorate Christmas cookies, listen to Christmas tunes, nibble on some snacks, and sip Vin Chaud (mulled wine) and eggnog.

Since the group would be small, it gave me the opportunity to use some of my collected sterling silver and vintage (looking) ornaments in the decor that added an elegant charm reminiscent of photos in the stacks of back issues I have of Victoria magazine.

With less than a week to plan, I searched throughout my home and Christmas boxes for things I may have forgotten I had to use for this quickly pulled together gathering. I also tried to imagine how I would set up the table comfortably for everyone to have room to eat while decorating their cookies.

I found my retro Santa mug that my mother made in her ceramics class in 1968. When my daughter’s family comes to stay with me over the Christmas holiday, we’ve used the mug to leave cookies and milk for Santa. I thought it would make a cute centerpiece container to hold culinary tweezers and some brushes for edible gold powder. The mug, surrounded by small bowls with various sprinkles and dragees were placed on a clear plastic lazy susan for easier access to everyone. Two layers of inexpensive plastic red tablecloths were used to protect the table.

Half rimmed baking sheets from Tuesday Morning were used to decorate each cookie. A folded piece of parchment paper placed inside. The rimmed baking sheet provides a clean surface and captures sprinkles when used. The piece of parchment can be folded and helps pour the sprinkles back into the bowl (all to control mess). The rectangle gold plates on the side are from the Dollar Tree.

I baked one per guest of three different cookie shapes, a gingerbread person, a snowflake and a detailed back view of a vintage car. I didn’t want all of the cookies to be too difficult since this was a first attempt at decorating for most of my group. However while the open freestyle cookie would seem the easier version, it took some coaxing to get everyone to tackle them. I shared photos of different snowflake cookies from instagram for inspiration.

The car cookie is very detailed, but provides exactly what you need to do. Simply coloring in the spots like a coloring book with crayons. Time consuming, but already thought out. The task of these three cookies provided just the right amount of time for a little gathering.

I used the scraps of cookie dough to cut out small stars, and place a drop of icing on each for a sample taste.

In lieu of pastry bags and mixing and coloring icing, I’ve always used the Betty Crocker or generic Walmart icings with one pointed tip that is snipped off with a pair of scissors. When I first started decorating cookies with my grandchildren, these icing tubes were only $1.98 each. They gradually moved up to $2.98 and this year they had increased to $5.00 each. I was thrilled when I found the white, red and green at a nearby Dollar General for $3.00.

While at the Dollar General (this was only my second visit there in nine years), I found these reindeer socks and luckily there were 6 – exactly enough to give as favors. So I rolled each one up and tied with some green garland ties (Michaels) and a jiggle bell (pack of 9 from Dollar Tree). I also made with jingle bell necklaces with some narrow ribbon.

I placed a copper bowl at each end of the table and filled each with one red, green, white and lavender (that I had left over from Halloween) tube of icing. On the side I had another bowl with one tube of chocolate, and other leftover Halloween colors of black and orange to share. I also found a box with four very small tubes that included yellow and blue for $3 at Dollar General that included in the share bowl.

I purchased a bouquet of evergreen branches at the grocer and laid those in the center of the table. I then nestled the bowls of icing and lazy susan over the evergreens. I used a string of battery powered snowflake bulbs to drape around the center.

Happy with the table, I moved on to the flowers and food, that were displayed on my kitchen island.

Referencing a couple of cute ideas from instagram, I made stacked Christmas tree turkey sandwiches with black truffle mayo.

Adapted from Gretchen’s post “She Keeps a Lovely Home” – I found water crackers in the pantry, purchased cherry tomatoes sliced in half), a yellow bell pepper (for small ornament tops); Boursin caramelized onion and herb spreadable cheese, and a few sprigs of dill to make these little festive small bites.

Icebox pecan and blue cheese crackers (a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve used for years), usually rolled into a log and sliced – updated by rolling out and cutting with a cookie cutter shapes of stars and small snowflakes to add to the cheese board. The stars are sprinkled with a little crushed pink peppercorn. (Must be made ahead and refrigerated for 24 hours before baking so prepare!)

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

An easy small bite of mini cocktail sausages, wrapped in store bought pie dough (cut into strips with a pastry cutter with scalloped edges), brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning (or sesame seeds would also work). Baked at 450 degrees (f) for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.

I also made a quick batch of sweet and spicy pecans the day before. The cheese board had raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, my pecan blue cheese homemade crackers, a cranberry cheese from England, a Black truffle sheep cheese, a honey goat cheese rolled in chopped dried cranberries and crystalized ginger and a small bunch of black seedless grapes.

For dessert, I found this Flourless Chocolate Chestnut cake. Regrettably, I’ve never eaten chestnuts. I was in New York just before the holidays on two occasions and didn’t grab the chance to try roasted chestnuts! A mistake I will not make again. This cake was light while also being rich with a truffle like texture and not too sweet. It was very lovely and everyone was a fan.

https://www.oliveandmango.com/chocolate-chestnut-cake/

My Vin Chaud was so well liked that I was making a second batch while the others were decorating cookies! Toss in a few fresh cranberries for garnish. (Note to self- make a double batch next year!)

Before departing with their wrapped up cookies, we did a small toast to the holidays and a festive day with a chilled glass of eggnog topped with a fresh grating of nutmeg!

None of us, including me, are professional bakers. Our decorated cookies prove to be homemade and we could not be prouder of them. They represent an afternoon well spent, a first attempt by some who may have been previously intimidated by the idea of decorating cookies and a lot of fun. (I think this will become a new annual tradition).

P. S. My 89 year old mother-in-law REALLY loved the cake and left with some to take home … and the star cookie samples. Happy Holidays!

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

Setting the Table (For the Christmas Season- Red & Golds)

A Vintage Nativity found in a local antique store for $15; faux or fresh evergreen branches, a silk rose with gold and red velvet ribbon purchased many years ago and a Dollar Tree gold tone jingle bell hot glued to a mini clothespin.

It’s that time of year when the boxes of Christmas decorations are pulled out of the attic or storage and the decorating begins. I’m sure like me, you have some items in those boxes that you’ve either held on to year after year, or some vintage items passed down from family members, that may or may not make the cut for this year’s displays.

This is a perfect time to look through those collected items to create your Christmas tablescape. This issue is to show you that making the table look beautiful doesn’t have to cost a lot, and that you can use things you already have to make a creative display for everyone to enjoy.

Same dishes, same napkin fold, added white glittered church ornament from the Dollar Tree.

The examples in my photos all have the same white tablecloth with gold polka dots, plain white gold rimmed china plate, a gold charger (from the Dollar True); gold tone flatware and gold rimmed glasses. Below each photo is a description of what was used to create each presentation.

The only important thing to remember, is to keep the centerpiece area low so that your guests can see and converse easily. Candlestick or votives are also a beautiful alternative to the battery twinkle lights, but in my situation I have an air conditioning vent that blows over my dining room table and usually blows the wax all over the place. So I only use candles that have a glass cylinder around them to protect my tablecloths or when I don’t need to have the a/c on – weather permitting. In the south we never know if it’s going to be hot or cold for Christmas. Always consider your elements in your room and ways to prevent small disasters.

Different napkin fold topped the same gold tone jingle bell. A red velvet wired ribbon wrapped around the charger. Centerpiece same evergreens with gold and red vintage glass ornaments and golden tree place card holders purchased at Homegoods.

Faux evergreen branches work just fine, but fresh branches can be picked up at the local hardware store and Christmas tree lot for free. Yes – places like Home Depot have a large wood bin next to the tent where the trunks of trees are being trimmed, with free fresh branches for the taking.

Berry branched napkins (from Homegoods), an embroidered Christmas cocktail napkin and Christmas ornament (frame) that a name or picture of your guest can be inserted as a place card. (Wouldn’t it be fun to have photos of everyone on Santa’s lap as a child?)

I often use place cards, just to mix up my group. The same people tend to sit together and I want everyone to visit with a family member or friend they haven’t seen in a while.

For the centerpiece, I used my small collection of Hallmark 1980’s village buildings, a clay timber cottage that was a gift from a friend who sent it from Germany, same faux evergreens, a couple of small red glass ornaments and three sets of battery operated mini string lights. I also swapped out the tablecloth for a muslin and gold stitched version and a table runner with a Christmas village, both from Homegoods.

To elevate this village landscape one step more, I snipped a few roses from my knockout rose bush and tucked them randomly into the evergreen branches.

Evergreens and lights remained, Spode round gift box tied with red ribbon, topped with the knockout roses, a trumpet ornament and two large instrument ornaments.

A string of multiple sized gold toned jingle bells added to the evergreen.

Clipped jingle bell on top of cocktail napkin.

Changed out the jingle bell clip for that silk white rose with gold and red velvet ribbon and clipped the jingle bell to the floral arrangement.

One last version, a golden angel playing a violin and an angel wing ornament. My book club read a Christian fiction novel a few years ago that was filled with angels. I found these wings on sale at a local gift shop after Christmas and bought one as a favor to give each of my members.

With a rose bud.
Without a rose bud.

I could probably find many other ways to use this same place setting. If your collection includes items of the same color tones, you can easily mix and match items, tuck in pops of color and create themes. With a little thought, you can use the same items for years to come in different ways and no one will ever know it isn’t new. I hope these example inspire you to create your own beautiful Christmas tables.

FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, SIMPLY ELEVATED, THANKSGIVING

Autumn Crunch Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette (Simply Elevated)

This Autumn Crunch Quinoa Salad with Fig Balsamic vinaigrette could be the new healthy and colorful addition you’re looking to add to your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving menu.

A combination of simple healthy ingredients with the flavors and colors of fall with the bonus of a satisfying crunch. Just a little chopping is involved, then toss together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with seeds and dried fruit just before serving. I used mini syrup pitchers from World Market for individual servings of the vinaigrette.

To create this colorful salad I used the following.

  • Cook per package instructions, 1 cup of multi colored quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature

  • One Napa cabbage (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons and then in half for smaller pieces)
  • 3 heads of endive (I found a multiple color package at Trader Joe’s) slice into 1/4 in ribbons.
  • 1 small head of radicchio (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
  • Rainbow carrots, 2 of each color – shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 container or bag of mini arugula

Toppings:

  • 1 package of diced pancetta (cooked in a pan until crispy & then drain fat)
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) toast in a dry pan until slightly golden
  • 5 or 6 dried figs (chopped into 1/2 in slices) *** if fresh figs are available -sliced fresh figs would be lovely with this instead of the dried figs
  • Shaved parmesan cheese

Once your quinoa is prepared and cooled set aside in a bowl. Serve separate from the actual tossed salad.

Toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl.

Prepare the vinaigrette.

Balsamic Fig Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp fig butter, jam, or preserves
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp honey or agave
  • 1/3rd cup olive oil (I used Kalamata olive oil)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a small bowl whisk together fig jam, vinegar, salt and pepper until thickened and creamy. For more sweetness add more honey or fig butter, if too thick you can add more olive oil. Vinaigrettes take a little tasting and adding here and there to reach your desired flavor. Salt of course always amps up the overall flavor.

Whisk until thoroughly combined and you won’t have to worry about the ingredients separating. Serve on the side to prevent greens from getting soggy.

If serving individually a few edible flowers on the side will add an additional pop of color and whimsy. I plant several viola plants in my herb garden just for this purpose.

FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS

Figgy Plum Friendsgiving 2022

This year, my party planning was thrown off by a kitchen island renovation, and it’s taken me a little while to channel my creative energy and get back to entertaining. It seems this has also been the year that most of my group (including myself) scheduled a much needed vacation after the long pandemic concerns, making it harder to get the group together. Fortunately, we’ve all settled down and I’ll have a full table of guests for this year’s Friendsgiving.

Each year I try to draw from a fruit and/or a color that inspires my table decor and menu. Last year apples were the theme. This year I was inspired by the bouquets of purple, burgundy, maroon, blush, plum, and cream flowers at the market and chose to create a “figgy plum” themed table and menu.

I tend to pick fruits, flowers or vegetables that are in season for about two weeks before my scheduled party and then they are nowhere to be found the actual week of my event! A good plan always requires a little flexibility, but I was thrilled to find a few plums the week before and fresh figs the day before my event. The universe has been kind and given me everything I imagined.

Colorful place cards and this plum cut glass candle by Rachel Zoe were part of what dressed up my table.

Braided placemat, gold charger, Royal Stafford pheasant dinner plates (England), black “cmg” bowls (Portugal), purple table runner and cloth napkins all from Homegoods.

A week prior to the scheduled event, I stocked up on what I could find and stored everything in the refrigerator (including flowers). I could only find small plums (but dark black plums were nowhere to be found) and plumcots. As an alternative, large seedless black grapes provided that moody dark plum color I wanted to achieve. Figs are so perishable I had to wait until the day before the luncheon to purchase them.

THE FLOWERS

These copper bowls with floral oasis (hot glued to the bottom) and chicken wire were used for the centerpieces. The bowls had an original tag on the bottom from Thirstystone for $33.00 each, but at Homegoods they were $6.99 each. Always love a Homegoods deal!

THE TABLE DECOR

Silver bowls collected from antique stores and Rachel Zoe plum colored cut glass with citrus scented candles from Homegoods. (The breakfast table.)

I have ten guests (eleven including myself). I can sit ten tightly at my dining room table, but not eleven – for more comfort I’m setting up three, myself and two of my helpers) at the breakfast table on the other side of the room. We are up and down so much from serving and taking dishes away, that it’s less disruptive to the main table and easier if we are together. None of these events could succeed without the loving help of my sister team of Lanie and Caryl.

While we were sitting at a separate table there were no shortcuts when decorating it. I wanted my two friends (also my guests) to enjoy the same beautiful rich colors of the flowers, fruits and candle just like the others. So the breakfast table had all of the same elements.

Silver plated antique store finds – bowls and creamer filled with large black grapes and figs.

THE PLUM FRENCH BRANDY SANGRIA

French brandy with plums, cinnamon sticks and star anise.

Three to five days before the event, start the plum brandy. I used an extra large mason jar that could be sealed tightly. Place one plum and one plumcot (sliced into wedges), two cinnamon sticks and two star anise into two cups of French brandy (I used Trader Joe’s). Store in the refrigerator to macerate.

  • Plum brandy (above chilled)
  • 1 bottle of Rioja or other red wine (chilled)
  • 1 25 oz bottle of sparkling water (chilled)
  • 2 to 3 cups of chilled apple cider (chilled)

One day before serving, mix all of the ingredients and divide into two large jars or pitchers. Place half of two sliced plums, two sliced plumcots, a handful of black grapes (halved) into each container and allow all of the ingredients to macerate for at least 24 hours.

One hour prior guests’ arrival prepare the glasses: Fill each with sliced plums, pomegranate seeds, blackberries, black seedless grapes, fresh rosemary. When the guests arrive as host you can fill each glass with sangria or allow guests to fill their own glass.

Optional : One hour prior to your guests arrival, pour both containers into a beverage dispenser so guest can self serve and refill their glasses.

THE CHARCUTERIE BOARD

A nibble board for guests to enjoy with their sangria while waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s always a good idea to have a little something to eat while drinking alcohol.

From left to right caperberries, Mini basque sheep’s cheese, deli meats, Spanish manchego cheese, blackberries, cornichons, soft blue gorgonzola, and Trader Joe’s pumpkin cranberry and fig olive crackers.

FIGGY PLUM MENU

AUTUMN CRUNCH SALAD WITH QUINOA

WITH FIG BALSAMIC DRESSING

The recipe will be shared in an upcoming edition of “Simply Elevated”.

ROASTED SWEET POTATO AND FIG SOUP WITH CRAB

Those who are familiar with Erin French of The Lost Kitchen will recognize this method for serving soup. The bowls were set out across my kitchen island filled with a mound of fresh Louisiana lump crab, microgreens, edible flowers, a swirl of lime creme fraiche and a parmesan crisp. After the salad course, a bowl was placed in front of each guest with instructions to wait for the soup to be poured.

The soup that was prepared two days before was reheated. The juice of a lime was added and some heavy cream. The hot soup was ladled into a white pitcher and poured into each bowl at tableside (Erin French style).

The recipe for this can be found in the most recent Simply Elevated post (Fall Soup)

DESSERT: PLUM, FIG AND FRANGIPANE TART

WITH FRESH WHIPPED CREAM

To end the meal, I made simple puffed pastry tarts cut into squares filled with frangipane, fig butter, sliced plums and one slice of fresh fig with the corners pulled together over the top. All were prepped before everyone arrived and placed in the refrigerator until the soup course was served.

During that course the trays were pulled from the refrigerator, brushed with egg wash, sprinkled with chocolate sea salt and baked 25 minutes. Fresh from the oven each placed on a plate, dusted with a mixture of powdered sugar and Chinese five spice with a side of fresh Chinese five spice whipped cream.

This very low sugar fresh fruit dessert was a great way to end our fall themed menu, featuring the end of season plums and figs while filled with gratitude for another year of books and wine shared with these special friends in a celebration of Friendsgiving.

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!

GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK, WINE CLUB

Let the Music Play….

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Whether the table is set for my wine club, book club, mothers tea, Friendsgiving or any of the many other entertaining dates I’ve planned, the one thing you can’t see in the party pictures is the music!

I usually begin experimenting a week or two prior to the scheduled event in search of the best music selection I can find, in search of background melodies that don’t overpower the conversation, but like a subtle soundtrack in a movie, creates the appropriate mood and ambiance for the gathering. Until recently I chose the Pandora App where the variety of options or countless for nearly every theme you can dream up. Simply search with the theme, such as Italian love songs, Mardi Gras music, French Cafe’ or the individual name of a favorite artist. As technology advances, so do the options. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo players or Google Play can provide musical options from Pandora, Spotify or their own musical programs with a simple verbal request.

In the recent year as I visited small shops in our area, the sound of classic French music, smooth Jazz or piano instrumentals caught my attention, and when I would ask what was playing I was informed over and over again that it was YouTube music. Videos created into various music themes that can be played up to 10 hours has become another favorite. I originally streamed the music from my TV, but Google or Alexa will play the music if requested also.

The point of entertaining (dinner party, wine party etc.) is to have shared discussions and conversations. So I choose music that isn’t distracting, but provides a soothing background for the evening at a soft audible level. Below are some suggestions/examples of options I’ve made part of my party planning.

Capri – Italian White Wines Night

For an Italian themed night: (Capri) Andrea Bocelli Radio, Italian Summer Radio, Italian Cooking Music Radio, or Italian Traditional Radio. Romantic Venice, Italian Restaurant Music

Christmas Cocktail Party

Holiday/Christmas Cocktail Party– Jazz Holiday Radio, Diana Krall (Holiday) Radio, Michael Buble (Holiday Radio), Nat King Cole (Holiday) Radio, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Radio, Christmas Radio.

Derby Themed – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds

Derby Theme : Kentucky Derby Radio, Frank Sinatra Radio

Symphony of Whites (Wines) – Austria, Germany

Symphony of Whites (Wine): Classical Dinner Party Radio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio, Antonio Vivaldi Radio, and many more.

Holiday Dinner Party: Acoustical Guitar Christmas, Jingle Bells (Frank Sinatra (Holiday); Christmas Bells (Instrumental – Classical)

French Cafe’ themed small luncheons.

French Bistro Theme– French Cafe’ Radio, Edith Piaf Radio, French Cooking Radio; Spotify : French Cafe’ Lounge Music, French Romantic Music, French Bistro Music, French Mornings-Emily in Paris Vibes, French Jazz Cafe’

Rio De Janeiro Carnival– Brazilian Radio, Tango Radio, Spanish Guitar

Romantic Valentine Theme- Classical Piano Love Songs, Country Love Songs Radio, Diana Krall Radio, Michael Buble Radio, Chris Botti Radio, Romantic instruments

Mother’s Tea – I play a lovely song in honor of remembering our mothers just before starting to help focus our thoughts and hearts in the right place. “I Remember You” by Trisha Yearwood; “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran.

Whatever your party, theme or no theme, while preparing the list of things to do, include a selection of soothing musical entertainment that is sure to enhance the enjoyment of your event.

HOLIDAY, SMALL TALK, VALENTINES DAY

Day of Hearts… Heart-filled Gestures

The Cupid Cook

It’s time to thank the kind hearts that have cared for not only my Dad, but the loved ones of many others at a local Sr. Living Residence. Those tumultuous days, weeks and months of 2020 pushed right into 2021 with a renewed vengeance. Suddenly the director, nurses, and care partners who had managed to keep the residence COVID free for the majority of 2020 with only a few cases, were challenged with the care of a dozen elderly residents who tested positive for COVID in early 2021. While we refrained from taking Dad out of the residence during the holidays, and he rarely left his room, somehow he was among those who tested positive.

We found ourselves feeling the same helpless emotions described by so many when faced with the inability to enter the building and care for our loved one. We had to totally trust and depend on the staff to nurse our Dad back to health. The director lovingly transported each resident one by one to the local hospital for antibody infusion appointments, and the staff stepped up to provide the care and attention that we, the families could not.

While the separation throughout the entire pandemic has been difficult, this was the most frustrating period yet. When Dad finally tested negative and was able to sit up and talk to us again, the relief was overwhelming.

Free clip art found online.

I sent little gifts of appreciation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but with Valentine’s Day just a week away I decided to bake heart shaped cookies, each individually hand decorated, to send to the entire staff and other residents. When I shared this idea with Dad he got very excited about the idea of riding around in his electric wheelchair (with some assistance) and handing out each cookie with a friendly “Happy Valentine’s Day” greeting.

Both of my parents loved to give, not only to their family, but even total strangers. If someone in line ahead of my Mom at the grocery store started pulling things off of the conveyer belt because they didn’t have enough money (especially if they had a child in the shopping cart) she would tell the cashier to add the items to her bill – was just one tremendous examples of her giving heart.

Their giving nature was instilled in both my brother and I as well, and while Dad is limited in what he can do, we do our best to provide opportunities for him to still enjoy giving.

Cut with a paper cutter to make each look professional.
Using a hole punch, I punched hole in center of the heart to pull the ribbon through
for a Victorian vintage look.
Pretty floral paper use as a background in the bag for the cookie presentation.
Dollar store bags 20 count for $1.00

I baked four batches of my sugar cookie dough on Friday evening and asked a neighbor- friend if she would mind helping me decorate them. I was challenged with baking, decorating and individually bagging 60 cookies and knew I would need help. I brought 25 of the baked cookies to her the following morning to decorate, while I ran my Saturday morning errands.

I was so surprised when I saw all of the cheerful, fun ways my friend (and her husband) had decorated the cookies. I was so focused on getting so many baked, that I hadn’t considered more than one or two ways to decorate them. I was especially drawn to and inspired by the heart flowers she had created.

When I had finished another round of baked and cooled cookies, I started decorating and had so much fun making designs I would not have thought of without their creative collage of inspiration.

I baked and decorated well past 9 p.m. and started again Sunday morning. I had completed decorating and bagging around 11 a.m. Sixty cookies ready for Daddy “Cupid” to deliver this Valentine’s Day. The joy it will bring him in the giving, and to those in the receiving was worth all of the time and effort and I’m so grateful for the help of my friends.

60 cookies ready to go

While Valentine’s Day is mostly associated with Sweethearts, romance and love, in these trying times where we’ve had to rely on others to lovingly care for our family members – Valentine’s Day for me is about those who have shown their “sweet” giving hearts; those who have done their best to fill in as a family member and demonstrate that no matter how difficult things get, human kindness far outweighs all the difficulties. Who has shown their “heart” to you lately? Find a way to show them yours.

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, TRADITIONS & TEA

T’was the Teddy Bear – Jingle Bells Tea

The New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel (formerly The Fairmont Hotel) hosts an annual event called Teddy Bear Tea during the holiday season. It’s a very elegant festive celebration with a traditional afternoon tea, and activities that include Santa visiting the tables around the room, and taking pictures with children; Christmas stories are read, there are an array of Christmas lights in the halls, a beautifully made enormous gingerbread house along with other activities and each child receives an annual teddy bear.

A friend of mine has taken one granddaughter to this event for several years, and as the number of granddaughters increased (now currently 6 in all) they’ve attended as group to the festive event. This year, as with all things 2020, my friend decided she wanted to try to recreate some of the sparkle and charm from the event closer to home and called me to help her brainstorm possible venues. Within less than 10 minutes I had given her enough ideas and inspiration to convince her she could host a Teddy Bear Tea in her home. And so the story begins…..

T’was the month of Christmas and throughout the world, gathering was discouraged, not even for little girls. An annual holiday tradition, shared with their Nana, would have to be rethought with some magic from Santa. A call was quickly made, to one of his elves and suddenly ideas were flowing in delves. Nana didn’t want fancy, stuffy or bore; she wanted pretty and playful activities galore.

The Elf scratched her head and wrinkled her nose, conjuring memories began to flow. Remembering a cookie decorated with little hands, icing, sprinkles and sugary sand. Little cupcakes topped with fairies, or mini cheesecakes filled with cherries. Mini sandwiches rolled like candy, or tiny Christmas Tree pizzas would be quit dandy.

Inspiration found on Pinterest

On to the pantry, the Elf searched through her cutters and found the large teddy bear that was used and worn more than others. These cookies were made since her own daughter was little, then decorated with icing, sprinkles and shared giggles.

With icing and sprinkles all in their places, the bears 🐻 would come alive with their wardrobe and faces. With small candy eyes and a large chocolate chip nose; or a variety of options from their heads to their toes.

While the tradition is a tea, only hot chocolate will do, and she’d just seen a version that was festive and new. Filled with mini marshmallows, and hot chocolate mix, these hot chocolate bombs would be just the right fix. All that is needed, is the perfect sized cup, to pour hot milk over then drink it right up!

Hot Chocolate bombs.
Nana’s selection of cookies, sandwiches, mini cup cakes, fruit and a hot chocolate bomb.

When the weekend arrived, the elf decided to bake, knowing the difference her effort would make. Teddy bears ready and snowflakes for sweets – Nana could add to her basket of treats. Tightly wrapped and ready for the day, all Nana had to do was whisk them away.

Looking for ribbon, the Elf searched a box – that rattled and clattered as she opened it up. As she peered inside what she found made her glow, “I can make jingle bell necklaces with little red bows!” How special the day is going to be, the girls will surely be tickled with glee!

As the time grew nearer the ideas were still spinning, small pieces of wrapping paper had the Elf grinning. Carefully she began to trim right away, creating a bed where the bear cookie would lay.  Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose I say, it’s so much better than throwing away!

The table set and the bears at the ready, the girls would be thrilled to meet their new Teddy! Nana read Christmas stories and they played fun games, then decorated their cookies giving each one a name. Filled with giggles, sugar and memories; their decorated cookies and brand new teddies, the day was such fun, yes a great success – now Nana was left to clean up the mess! But the day was lovely with it’s new rendition and I believe Nana has a new tradition.

As the girls returned home with their teddy bears in tow, dreaming of presents, Christmas trees and snow; relaxed and snuggled warm in their beds, joyful memories of their day with Nana would dance through their heads. With the young girls happy and dancing with cheer, we wish a Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!

The End.