christmas recap

WHEW! christmas is over and we survived! there were many, many parties this time around. i was very lucky with my schedule to be able to attend almost all of them. there were some that had big, fancy catering spreads and others that featured more modest, homecooked meals, but they were all a great chance to meet and mingle with friends.

christmas itself was quite pleasant. tony and i spent a lot of it together, enjoying the tree and trading presents. this was a practical holiday, as far as the gift selections went. socks, pajamas, t-shirts, a frying pan, a clock radio….you get the idea. no big glamour gifts this year and that was just fine. i have already been blessed with a beautiful home, a loving partner, family living nearby, many good friends and my health. everything else seems like gravy after that.

on to the food…

i did quite a bit of cooking over the weekend. on saturday i roasted a little pork loin for the two of us. into the pan i threw a gala apple (peeled and sliced), an onion and some sage from the garden. when it was done i tossed all that into the blender with some veggie stock and the pan juices, which i had deglazed with some vermouth. it made a very nice little sauce. roasted yukon golds and a big salad rounded out the meal.

then on sunday, i really got into it. after breakfast, which included some of my panettone, my sister’s famous christmas coffeecake and a little pear ginger cake, we started in with the appetizers almost immediately. white stilton with apricots; tiny crabcakes with an indian relish; grape tomatoes wrapped in basil leaves; fresh figs stuffed with yogurt cheese and wrapped in bresaola; leek and scallion dip with salt and pepper potato chips; shrimp cocktail; a block of cream cheese smothered in hot pepper-peach jam and homemade chex mix with alphabet pretzels and almonds. we nibbled away at these things as my sister and i did the prep work on dinner.

then we moved on to grandma and opa’s house for the main meal. they had two friends come in from chicago, plus tony came, so there were eleven of us in total. for dinner itself, there were two beef tenderloins. i trimmed off the ends, butterflied them open and stuffed them with a little spinach farce encased in roasted red pepper. there were two sauces to accompany: red wine & wild mushroom and a horseradish cream. my mother made martha stewart's macaroni and cheese. she also roasted some purple potatoes with rosemary, both of which were sent to her by a friend in california, from her garden. i made a huge salad with mache, arugula and baby romaine topped with pink grapefruit, red onion and pistachios. lastly, i whipped up some of james beard's cream biscuits, which are ridiculously simple and just heavenly.

once we got everything prepped, i shooed everyone out of the kitchen and treated it like a catering gig. 11 people for dinner...how hard can that be? they kept coming in and trying to help and i kept sending them back to the bar. i worked on a vodka martini and got into the zone. 90 minutes after i turned the oven on, i called them in to the buffet. i surprised even myself that it all came off so smashingly. the meat was perfectly medium rare, the mac and cheese was bubbling hot and the platter of salad was a cool foil to the richness of the rest of the meal. almost everyone had seconds and seemed to enjoy it.

then came the desserts. my sister made her traditional , triple chocolate buche de noel, to which i annually contribute the meringue mushrooms. there was also a dundee cake (loaded with figs, dates, raisins, sultanas, cherries, cranberries, prunes, walnuts and homemade candied orange peel) i had made about a month ago and kept soaking in brandy. there were platters of candies and cookies: caramel and chocolate dipped pretzels, chocolate dipped candied grapefruit peel, peanut butter fudge, cranberry walnut fudge balls, peppermint fudge, rocky road candy, chocolate shortbread, sugar cookies, almond spice cookies, lime coconut cookies, chocolate almond biscotti, fig pistachio biscotti, checkerboards, nut bars, russian teacakes, supremes, linzer bars, and chocolate mint sticks. my mother served coffee in her art deco demitasse cups and we all groaned that we had eaten too much.

an extra super bonus was that my sister and the nieces did all the dishes! hooray for them! and thanks to everyone else for making this day as wonderful as it was.


december begins

last night we had some friends over for a tree trimming party. jason came, along with another couple we know. after a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, caesar salad, and garlic bread, we got to work on the decorating. tony and i had already put up the tree, which is a martha stewart beauty. thank god for pre-lit trees! the guys all made the work go quickly and the results are spectacular. it was all very relaxed, with lots of chocolate cake, eggnog and cognac…and still it was done in a couple of hours. thanks, guys, for all the help and for the conversation. i think a tradition has been born.

i have been in the kitchen with some mixed results. two identical batches of fudge brought two very different outcomes…both of them salvageable. a double batch of peanut brittle was not so fortunate and ended up in the rubbish bin. successes have included pear ginger cakes, panettone, meringue mushrooms, rocky road candy, dundee cake, raspberry linzer bars and chex mix. my sister has been busy baking as well, and we’ll share our wares. if we stopped right now, we would certainly have plenty. i am betting there will be more coming out of our ovens, though!

we woke up this morning to our third (fourth?) snowstorm of the season. it’s just beautiful. i am grateful for the limited size of our lot. the driveway is less than twenty feet long (and only one lane wide!) and the sidewalks are quickly cleared. so far, i have not minded the shovelling. check back with me in a couple of months on that. i know it’s early for all this snow, but the views out the window are sweet.

november winds up

thanksgiving was a big success! despite a true blizzard going on out in the world, my family all arrived as promised and the dinner went off without a hitch. the centerpiece included turban and butternut squash, apples, pears, clementines, mixed nuts in the shell, boughs of fragrant mixed evergreen and enough candles to burn the house down. tony even arrived from his family’s celebration in time to join us. the turkey was moist and delicious. i made two kinds of stuffing…one traditional and the other with apples, walnuts and dried cherries. the gravy came out perfectly! it was my first time making it without my mother’s help and it actually worked. i think the trick is the roasting pan that she has been using for more than FIFTY years. it was my lucky charm. my niece (age 13) made the pumpkin pie. she even decorated it with little cutouts of leaves and stars. it was quite the hit. tony helped me with two hours of dishes afterwards. what a wonderful day. the best part for me was to have tony and my entire family all together at the table.

tony and i have been to the theatre a couple of times lately. we were invited to a chili party at the home of some friends, followed by a production of stephen sondheim’s company at baldwin-wallace college. it was a lot of fun. there were several songs from this show that i knew (the ladies who lunch, another hundred people, company) as well as being alive, which was played at the end of our commitment ceremony in march. we also went to see the cleveland public theatre’s version of david sedaris’ the santaland diaries. this is some absolutely hilarious material and it was a nice production. before this show, we braved a snowstorm to have dinner at the newly relocated snickers restaurant. it is in a lovely new space. they have kept the menu the same and it was just as delicious as I remembered.

last month i went to see philip seymour hoffman in capote. he is absolutely spot on in his portrayal. the film is definitely oscar(tm)-worthy and i would recommend it to all my readers. hoffman is amazing in this role. my only hope is that it does not end up defining the rest of his career.
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