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.

HOLIDAY, New Year's Eve

An Accidental New Year’s Eve Party Plan

How to Literally Throw Together A Last Minute Party.

A couple of weeks before Christmas a friend and neighbor sent out a group text to a few friends in the neighborhood suggesting a New Year’s Eve get together. Not returning from their Christmas holiday until a few days before New Year’s Eve – she also noted “Nothing fancy!” She and her husband would be making hot roast beef sandwiches and each of their guests were asked to bring an hors d’oeuvre or small bite and their own liquor.

Kringle with sparkler candles.

While visiting Trader Joe’s (which isn’t often since there isn’t one in my area) I noticed a display at the entrance that had a grouping of French sparkling wine and a Cava, each for less than $7. I placed one of each in my basket thinking of the purchase as my contribution toward toasting in the New Year at my friends’ party. As I navigated my way through the store I spotted the coveted barrel filled with the Danish almond pastry near the frozen foods section, that I’ve witnessed disappear quickly each year, but I’ve never tried. I thought this would make an easy dessert that no one had to work hard at creating. A great, pre-made, delicious, inexpensive dessert that we only had to toss in the oven for a short while and then serve fresh and warm. The packaging indicated that the pastry could be frozen until ready to use. Ah! This is good – so I tossed two into my basket – another contribution. As I wandered through the store I remembered I had some sparkler candles in my party stock at home, that we could add to each piece when served for a fun New Year’s presentation. When I returned home, I dropped off the bottles of sparkling wine to my friends to chill and stored the pastry in my freezer since they didn’t have room in theirs. This confection is already baked. Just leave out to bring it to room temperature!

Well…. you didn’t expect this party planner to stop there did you? While browsing through the remaining 60% off Christmas items at Hobby Lobby, I spotted this little champagne bottle ornament that I decided I wanted for my tree and reminded me of the centerpiece I made a couple of years ago with an empty Prosecco bottle that I filled with clear bubble like ornaments from the dollar store tied to floral wire to form stems. I made a mental note to pull it out of the closet when I returned home. As I continued to wander around the store, I found a rack with New Year’s Eve party horns, confetti, feathered headbands and 2020 eye glass frames marked down 40%. I texted my friend to ask how many ladies would be attending and I bought a package of headbands for the gals and 2020 eyeglass frames for the guys in black and gold (the colors of our New Orleans Saints). Again, I dropped them off to my friend when I returned home. (As I said, they’re on holiday and I don’t have the hats and glasses to share a picture.)

Another idea would be to put a Santa hat or other solid colored chocolate kiss inside one of the favors. Whoever gets the special kiss gets – a bottle of sparkling wine.

The ideas continued… (once I’m on a roll I’m on a roll). While refilling a basket with bathroom tissue I noticed there were several empty center rolls at the bottom. For Halloween I often save these and fill them with different types of candy and trinkets, then wrap them in orange and black tissue paper tying the ends with ribbon and plastic ring spiders to hand out to the kids. Maybe I could make an inexpensive party favor for the New Year’s Eve party. Hmmmm….

I searched my New Year’s Eve board on Pinterest for something I may have saved that I could print on the outside. I dug through my leftover Christmas tissue paper and found a couple of sheets each of silver and gold. I cut rectangular shaped pieces of the tissue paper to wrap around the paper tube, and with sides that extended to gather with ribbon and taped the cylinder sides dow each. I printed a few sheets of the “Midnight Kisses” printout and used a glue stick to adhere the label over the taped seam to hide it. I then tied one end with a thin gold ribbon (purchased 60% off) and filled each tube with 10 chocolate kisses – 5 wrapped in silver and 5 wrapped in gold (found on sale at the local drug store)- and then secured the other end with another ribbon tied into a bow. https://www.createcraftlove.com/new-years-eve-printable/ Voila!!! Party crackers for the party!

For my small bite contribution, I recently saw Katie Lee on The Food Network’s, The Kitchen introduce the audience to these individual small bite bries that I immediately recognized the packaging was from Trader Joe’s. While there in mid-December (when I found the sparkling wines and Danish pastry) I bought two bags not knowing when I would use them – but prepared. Katie’s small brie’s were topped with a bacon, maple, walnut topping. I’m actually considering adding some caramelized shallots to her ingredients for another layer of flavor. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/maple-walnut-and-bacon-brie-bites-7945376

Because I can’t leave well enough along, I added a few things to the recipe. First I cut the small wheels of brie in half and place the creamy cut side up. I topped with dry mixture of bacon, pecans, drained caramelized thinly sliced shallots chopped in small 1/2 pieces that I had added the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. I placed the topped brie in the oven 325 degrees for 5 minutes. I then placed a few tiny chopped pieces dried cranberry and chopped dates. I then drizzled with the maple syrup -cider from the pot. Finally added one drop each of balsamic crema and chili oil with a sprinkle of finely chopped green onion.

Finally, when I made a quick run to the grocery for a few final ingredients for Christmas dinner, I couldn’t resist stopping into the large fireworks tent outside. A box of medium sparklers (18 sets of 4) was only $6. I brought them home and wrapped some of my gold clearance ribbon used on the midnight kisses crackers around each bundle and placed them into a dollar store vase I had as another midnight favor when sparks fly!

I hope my friend doesn’t mind my little contributions ( I can always tell her it was an accident). She should know me by now after all of the parties she’s attended at my house, that I just can’t help myself from adding a little fun and sparkle to a gathering. With very little time and effort, and very little money – you can throw your own party. Guests sharing in bringing the food and their own drinks – this is going to be a stress free New Year’s Eve!

Oh oh… I think I accidentally put together a party…. Happy New Year Everyone! May this be your best year ever!!! Stay tuned …. more party plans are on the horizon. Cheers!

HAPPY NEW YEAR’S EVE EVERYONE!
A New Year’s Day table to share our traditional Southern black eyed peas smother cabbage (at my home) and pork loin. After a late night, paper plates are on the table!
New Year's Eve, SMALL TALK

As the New Year approaches -Resolve to be open to whatever comes into your life….tell the universe “Surprise me!”

What a ride this year has been!!! Here I am, (dressed for hiking -not a photo shoot) unexpectedly in the Swiss Alps – with the iPhone in hand that photographed the images of my more than 60 posts this year!

If you were to read the pages of my personal journal for 2019, you might think the entries you found there are a collection of fictional stories filled with faith, hope, love and optimism. My year was not fictional. My year was filled with surprising and remarkable moments shared with family and friends; new experiences and new beginnings I could never have imagined -served like colorful sprinkles throughout the year.

While my blog for the most part is about entertaining, my passions include decorating, cooking, reading, writing and traveling. What my followers may not know, is that my full-time day job is working as a mortgage loan underwriter. My role is stressful, requires a lot focus and concentration, knowledge of ever-changing guidelines, independent decision making and patience. While it is a rewarding field that enables many to realize the pride of home ownership, the majority of responsibility of what constitutes an approval, falls on the underwriter. Someone once said, an underwriter wears the combined hats of an accountant, an attorney and a psychologist all at once. So forty hours or more per week I’m required to work quickly, intensively focus and accurately.

The industry has had it’s ups and downs, and for most of my career I have been fortunate to simply coast through the rough spots without being part of cutbacks; but in November of 2018 I was part of a workforce reduction and found myself unemployed for the second time in a four year period. Yes, it hurt and yes I was a little worried about how long it would take to find another position, but financially prepared and with the help of current and previous work colleagues, my resume’ was being circulated and until the time was right I could only pray and trust that the Lord would take over the situation and use my resources to lead me to where He wanted me to be . During the wait rather than sulk, I tried to use the free time I was given to be productive in ways I usually lacked time for.

A passion is something you can do everyday for hours, forgetting to eat or noticing how much time has gone by. Writing and creating has always had that affect on me. As a young teenager I wanted to be a writer, spending hours alone in my bedroom writing poetry and short stories. As with most of us, life’s responsibilities forced me to abandon my passion for a “real job”. For years I’ve wanted to create, write and share what I’ve learned with others, and recently I realized that a blog would provide the perfect platform to do so. Both limited time and fear of how to create a blog were holding me back from this dream for a long time.

I have been hosting parties for several years, some in the distance past, while more recent efforts have helped me to gradually excel in my efforts with some surprising results. Creating a blog would provide an outlet to share my ideas and write my stories. In preparation, I had written articles to accompany my party pictures (that over time I’ve put more effort into) and saved them to eventually insert into posts of my “one day” blog.

My knowledge of technology is limited and I feared the unknown. I didn’t have a clue of how to begin such a venture. I reached out for help, but the time was never convenient. One morning I woke up and decided I had to face my fears and prove to myself I could accomplish this and doing it on my own would make it all the more rewarding.

With nothing but time to figure the process out and the internet as my teacher, I watched multiple YouTube videos of how to start a blog. The information was more about content than how to actually step by step design a blog site, but I finally found the courage to create a domain and my first blog webpage. A year later with over 60 published posts, it seems like an old routine that I’ve been practicing for decades and challenges me to continue to create content for my followers and joyful memories for those who share in the parties and events I plan.

While not perfect the first post was created.

I remember the feeling of pride and confidence when it finally materialized before my eyes. It took a couple of days – days I would not have had if I had not lost my job. I decided that the job loss was actually meant to give me time. Time to dedicate directly toward personal things in my life that I would usually not be able to, because of my limited time off from my job.

Grandchildren grow up too fast –
those younger years are so special.

Over the next five months my daughter, who lives in another State with her husband and my three grandchildren needed my help on two occasions while her husband had to go out of town for long periods of time for his job. I was free to visit just before Christmas for a week and be with both my daughter and youngest grandson for their birthdays. I then spent another the three weeks with them while her husband was away over the months I was unemployed. Having spent four weeks with them over a five month period in addition to they’re coming into town for a family wedding in March, I’ve enjoyed more time this year than I have in the past four years with my daughter’s family.

Over those months, other family members had brief health issues that I was able to step in and help them through, again time I would have fretted over due to limited paid time off while working. I also read several great books and I planned a lovely Seamstress themed Mother’s Tea and a fun Derby themed wine party for my friends.

While I was truly enjoying life (and a mini-retirement), the months were ticking away and finally in April I received a call to work as a contract employee for my previous employer. It wasn’t a full-time position, but a stepping stone that generated an income and a sign that business was improving. Two months later I was offered two full-time positions on the same day and started with my new employer in early July.

When I started my new job, I was so grateful to a past co-worker (the Lord using my resources from over 20 years ago) who recommended me for the position that’s benefits exceeded my expectations. It’s been a very hard acclimation, but only four months into the position, I’ve grown to feel like part of the current team.

As my contract resignation period came to an end, the week between positions contained a holiday – so I took that week off. I spent the week reorganizing and cleaning the house. During that process I found a blank poster board and had a stack of magazines to dispose of. As covered in my previous post “Creating a Vision Board”, I’ve kept a vision board for years and have done my best to imagine my life evolving into the pictures I had chosen. So much of those images have materialized at some point or another. I was drawn to look over the images on my current vision board – and focused in on the areas that have not yet manifested into my life.

My board is so filled with images, that I decided there were two areas that I very much wanted to manifest sooner rather than later, and that maybe I should create a new board focused solely on those two areas. One was to meet someone to share my life with and the other was to travel after having a decade long sabbatical from both.

It has always been my dream to go to Paris and search through culinary stores, flea markets and eat my way through all of the delicious cuisine while also soaking in the art, museums and culture. For various reasons, my last real vacation took place many years ago, but it was a beautiful tour of Rome, Florence and Venice. France and England were higher on my wish list, but I hoped to travel to many parts of Europe over time.

My updated -re-focused vision board 2019.

I briefly considered flying to Boston, the week I had off between jobs to see the Downton Abbey Exhibit, but it was the 4th of July week and I knew it would be pricey and crowded. But I did find an image of the Exhibit in one of my magazines that I glued to the board. As I flipped the pages of a travel magazine, I found individual black and white images of several European countries that I cut out and randomly glued to the board under the word “Travel”.

While making my benefits elections for my new job, I was advised to enter the date of Dec. 31, 2019 into the vacation calculator to determine what my accumulated time would be by the year’s end. I was then advised I needed to schedule the time off before the year ended. I discovered I had a little more than a week of time to use and a spontaneous idea was sparked!

A friend of mine was currently house sitting in England. She at some point was moving on to another sitting position at a house in Germany. I knew nothing about where or when, but I asked her if I could fly over and spend a week with her. Within days, I discovered another of our friends (from the wine club) was going to meet her and I scheduled a flight to arrive a day later than her arrival (based on the time I could get approved for time off.) The house was located in Southern Germany very near the borders of Switzerland and France. If you take a look at the images of countries I randomly glued to my new board, can you see any resemblance to what I just wrote -to the vision board above??? Seriously??? Front and center – Germany, Switzerland and France!

The lovely 300 hundred year old part time home we occupied during my visit in Germany.

I’m usually someone who plans months and weeks in advance, having a neatly prepared itinerary, and hours of research to create an informative understanding of where I’m going and what I’m going to do or see. With only an airline ticket and packed luggage in hand – spontaneity I’m not known for, a brave face and churning stomach, I boarded the plane for a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany.

Traveling to a foreign country with a language I didn’t understand, alone was terrifying, but the unexpected kindnesses I experienced along the way got me through. A couple was seated across from me at the airport in Atlanta (our connection flight to Frankfurt). A polite smile was exchanged, but it didn’t take long to realize they were German. When the boarding process began, we both stood in the same area to wait our turn and I noticed they had a shopping bag from California. To open a little dialog I asked them where in California they were coming from. We chatted for a while with their limited English and then boarded the plane. I had told them I was very nervous and this was my first time flying to Germany. They told me most of the people spoke English and I shouldn’t be concerned. Later on the plane I noticed they were seated in the middle section of the plane just a couple of rows back from me.

At the end of the flight, I made my way through immigration and found my bags. From there I asked for help to get to the train the would bring me to my final destination. I had boarded the shuttle bus that I was directed to that would bring me to the train station and within seconds the German couple jumped on to the bus just before it was about to leave. My hand rose to my heart when I saw them. I was so happy to see them because I needed help with the whole train situation.

They stayed with me to assist with buying my round trip ticket. Afterwards there was an hour before the train would arrive, so we visited over coffee and tea at a Starbucks in the station and then they helped me to the gate where I needed to board the train which was further up than their gate. My gratitude for this lovely couple is beyond anything I can express, but they were not the only kind people I fell into the care of. At every point of concern of how I would manage to get further, someone would materialize from out of nowhere and help me carry my bags up steps, or direct me to the right area to find what I was looking for or had to go to. We even had other travelers from other countries give us Swiss Francs to put into a parking meter when we only had Euros. Each experience restored my belief that people of the world can be amazingly kind.

Even now it still feels like this last minute- spontaneous trip was all a dream. In fact the entire year has been a bit of a dream, all started with the loss of a job and followed by so many joyful gifts. When something shocking or unexpected happens in your life, it will be scary, it will be stressful, and you may not know how you’re going to work things out. Give your fears to God; lean in and be open; try to see it as an opportunity to discover something new in your life; rely on your resources; reach out to people who know the hard worker you are, reignite a talent you’ve been suppressing for years, and trust that your new beginning was meant to lift you higher and give you more.

In this New Year -resolve to be open to whatever is coming with love and gratitude. Tell the universe “I trust you! Surprise me!” It’s incredible what amazing blessings can enter into your life when you invite them in. Usually the year feels like it passes more quickly year after year, but this year my life was so full, I accomplished so much that makes my heart happy, that it felt like more time has passed than what actually did. It felt like it’s been two years rather than one. Maybe when you fill your life with everything you love and open up to new unexpected experiences – life is simply fuller.

My intention when I started my blog was to share ideas that would bring people together. Resolve in this new year to be kinder, to practice random acts of kindness and thoughtfulness; resolve to regularly gather with family and friends, resolve to try new things and share what you learn with others, to open yourself to what’s coming instead of fearing it! Cheers to new beginnings! Wishing all of my followers a very Happy and Fulfilling New Year!!!

Jesus Calling: December 21

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when time is right, the way before you suddenly clears — through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world, and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
     Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles — and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory. 

Psalm 63:2
English Standard Version
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.


2 Corinthians 5:7
English Standard Version
for we walk by faith, not by sight.

John 11:40
English Standard Version
Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?