Tablescaping….Christmas Eve Dinner Party…2017

I am very taken with the “after” part of a dinner party. Napkins are crumpled, wine glasses with a smudge of red left in the bottom, some candles still burning, others not…empty plates and bowls. I find this all very beautiful for some reason…..But before that part…comes this part……

My holiday table scape always lacks a certain bourgeoisie ode to finery. I do not plan ahead very much….I have no official holiday china, and lord knows what I do have does not match. I was pretty thrilled to find a box of matching wine glasses in one of my props closets to use for Christmas Eve dinner this year. I do, on the other hand, have a fondness for beauty and art and how it can be evident in the small things. Setting the table is the first part of my favorite parts of having a dinner party.

It’s not that I have anything against things that match and pay tribute to the seasons, but just that I am not interested in that sort of thing. To many matching things make me kind of nervous. I feel content and satisfied in a certain amount of controlled chaos when it comes to “things”. The silver might or might not match, the linens napkins were gifted to me, two tables are put together to make one for 8 people, chairs are gathered randomly, there were a few tiny holes in the tablecloth which were covered by a runner and so on.

On December 24th each year Wouter and I host our small family for drinks and dinner. We have a pretty zany-hilarious time without the pressure of gift-giving (we gave that up years ago). We do exchange small items such as homemade cookies or jams on occasion, a pot of Amaryllis or a bottle of wine….so we are not totally Scrooge!

First we have champagne.

I keep the food simple and pretty much make ahead. Italian of some sort…with a really good salad and baguettes all toasty hot and ready for a smearing of softened butter. Chianti & Rose’s during dinner. Jugs of lemon water to temper the alcohol on the table. After dinner coffees and Brandy if you like with holiday cookies and ice cream. This all goes on for a few hours.

We have done “Christmas Crackers”, the British sort with toys and fortunes inside, not the ones you eat, since the “children” were little. Paper crowns and mustaches seem to bring out the best in everyone!

We do not talk about politics or anything that can quickly make us all crazy. This is not a “rule”, but we all seem to leave that behind for the evening. The idea is just to have fun and we do. We are a bit loud with lots of laughing and silliness and music. This year I played part of David Sedaris reading his hilarious “6 to 8 Black Men”.  It is especially funny as we have a Dutch-American family.  If you haven’t heard this story of Christmas in Holland and Saint Nicholas, as well as lots of other things, then you must.

Anyhow….I started this post thinking it would be about one of my favorite parts of any dinner party table…the aftermath! The evidence! The mess! The most artful part of the evening in many ways. What is left  behind after use. The imagery. Almost my favorite part!

Happy New Year Y’all.

 

 

 

 

5 Readers Most Favorite Blog Posts Ever and Happy New Year and Thank you

After making this list of most popular-with-readers blog posts ever I noticed some common threads that must have made them so. One thing is there are lots of folks who respond to “boozy” posts. The exotic Buddha Hand citron is such a seductive subject in all its glory.  Sweet things are universally appealing as are family stories. Enjoy.

# 1. “Pear Infused Vodka” Holiday Gift Idea / E.A.T. #11   Folks all over the world have clicked on this post…so I figure lots of folks like boozy pears? Thanks to each and every one of you.

Homemade Pear Infused Vodka

#2. “Buddha’s Hand Good Luck Marmalade”     A few years ago I ran across my first “Buddha Hand” citron. I purchased, I blogged and for over 6 years this post has been the second-all-time most popular, hit on, reposted of all my posts. It didn’t hurt that Smithsonian Magazine included a link to my site in their story about the subject. Who knew?

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#3.  Blood Orangecello and Bootlegging    This post contains a family tale depicted in the title which must have proved irresistible to more than a few lovers of homemade hooch and blood-red, very-short-seasonal, blood oranges.

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#4. Blackberries, A Snake and An Upside Down (Gluten Free) Cake  One of my favorites. It has a story about a dramatic blackberry picking experience with my Grandmother that left a definite impression on me as a child. I cannot hear a store of blackberry picking without thinking of it. The cake recipe is pretty good too.

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#5.  Give Me Some Sugar, Sugah!   Sugars flavored with so many good things such as ginger, lavender, star anise, vanilla beans and citrus peel just to name a few appealed to the sweet tooth in so many readers. This story was also an homage to all the real aunts, aunts-in-friendship, grandmothers and mothers who could never get enough of our sweet “sugah” when we were young.

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“Memorial Day Pimento Cheese”

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“Memorial Day Pimento Cheese Sandwiches with Arugula”

Graveyard Cleaning Day was what I thought Memorial Day was when I was a child. I have vague memories of going to visit & clean up family graves with my Grandmother & Aunts. Raking & tidying up all the winter debris that had collected around the headstones, maybe leaving a fresh wreath. As with all Southern ritual outings food was involved. Simple sandwiches, maybe some chips and pickles, sweet tea.

 I know that I am a child of the South when I get out the jar of Roasted Red Bell Peppers/Pimentos and the slab of Cheddar cheese, start chopping and grating, dolloping mayonnaise, sprinkling black pepper & a bit of salt into a bowl for “Pimento Cheese Sandwiches”.

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I cannot remember a time I did not love Pimento Cheese spread. My Grandmother, my Mother, real Aunts, surrogate Aunts, Mother’s of friends all made it for quick and easy run-out-to-play food, cool food for hot summer days, sandwiches to take along in cars to visit the deceased.  When I was a child it was always spread on slices of soft white bread, no arugula or fancy lettuces, maybe a slice of homegrown tomatoes….that was all.

Gussied up a bit….good white Cheddar & roasted red peppers chopped… all mixed together with a generous dollop of mayonnaise, freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt, thickly spread over sliced whole grain bread…this is the Pimento Cheese I made for my girls. They still like it and every now and then ask for it. We do not visit the graves of our departed, tidy up and leave wreaths, but on this Memorial Day/Grave Cleaning Day/Decoration Day we will be together and enjoy our ‘mento cheese sandwiches.

Here is what you will need:

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1/2 cup chopped Roasted Red Bell Peppers

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2 cups grated White Cheddar Cheese

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Mayonnaise (to your liking)

Salt & Black Pepper

Arugula

Here is how you do it:

1. Mix it all together in a bowl. Adjust salt & pepper to suit your taste.

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2. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid until ready to make your sandwiches. Spread on slices of whole grain bread. Add arugula.

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Bite. Chew. Enjoy. Celebrate.

Hunger in America, “The Day the Welfare Man Came”

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“The Day the Welfare Man Came”

As if it happened yesterday I can see my Mother open the front door of our little house in West Tennessee for the Welfare Man. He followed her into the kitchen, his arms loaded with paper bags full of groceries. He sat them gently on the  table. The light in the room was dim as I quietly and with shame watched from the doorway. As an adult I can only imagine the shame & sadness my Mother must have felt.

My father was off on one of his sporadic “disappearances” and we were left with no money for food. I do not know at what point my Mother broke down and made that phone call for help, but she did and the Welfare Man consquently stood awkwardly in our little kitchen, arms full of groceries. She did what she had to do to feed us. All I wanted at that moment was to feel not hungry, not to be ashamed and not to be sad.

This is how millions of people in America feel every day who do not have the resources to feed themselves or their families.

There are so many things we who have resources can do to help others and to educate ourselves about hunger in America.

Click on this site:

http://www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table

to learn more about what you can do to help and to see a clip from the new film “A Place at the Table”.  You can find out from this site simply by entering your zip code after clicking on “Take Action”, events and needs in your area.  Write your senators & congressmen, local politicians & officials to let them know that you, as a voting citizen, care deeply about this issue.

We should all have a place at the table without an empty plate.