Sunday, April 13, 2014

No time for the blues . . .

Boy, it's been a busy few months!  What have I been up to?  Well . . .

January flew by in a blur of activity.  Just at the time of year that my body kept telling me to stay home and sleep, I was super busy at work, planning the 2014 Field Sales & Marketing Kick-Off, which took place on February 4th.  It was a 3-part event consisting of . . .


A large meeting that accommodated 550 . . .


Awards were given to the 2013 Top Performers . . .


I was even surprised with an MVP Award of my very own!


Here I am with the Sr. Director of Direct Sales . . .


There was an Expo, featuring many of our programming partners, like HBO and Showtime . . .


Ending the day with a Casino Night!   The event was a huge success and worth the countless hours of work!  Even the day before, I was holding my breath, worried about having to cancel the whole thing because of the weather.  An 8-inch snowstorm was in the forecast!  Thankfully, Mother Nature held off for one day!


I did do a little hibernating after the event, and took a few days off work to recharge my batteries . . .  I curled up in the Living Room which was in cozy winter mode, with furry pillows and snowy white carnations . . .  February was still busy at work though, and I was still wrapping up loose ends from the event all the way to the beginning of April!

But now that I had stopped working so many hours, I could think about other things . . . like my health.  I've learned the hard way that you cannot take for granted the tremendous gift of health . . .


So I did a little reading . . .


Got an amazing new appliance - a Vitamix that truly lives up to the hype!


And that came with more cookbooks to play with  . . .


I tried a recipe or two from the Internet . . . This was my favorite - Baked Salmon with Blood Oranges and Fennel.  I'll share the recipe soon!


Then I had a new passport photo taken . . .


Because in the Fall we are planning to go to Venice!  La Serenissima - at the top of my bucket list!


And now, unhindered by other “business,” thoughts of the Army consume me, as they have absorbed my every waking moment, regardless of how busy I've been, or how much interest I've pretended to have on other things:  My son, David, has joined the United States Army.  He leaves for Basic Combat Training on May 6th.

And how was your winter?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Three Kings Day 2014

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for those who, efficiently after Christmas, or at the latest, New Year's, start taking down and packing all the Christmas decorations.  By the time they are back to work, Christmas is but a fond memory and are already perusing gardening catalogs, looking forward to the coming Spring.  Not me.  For one thing, Christmas is not officially over at our house until after Three Kings Day.  We usually host an Open House on the Sunday closest to January 6th, which is when the Catholic Church celebrates Epiphany, and gather friends and family one last time before settling in for the onslaught of snow and frigid weather.

Our Open House was wonderful, despite the fact that many friends were unable to come because of the snow.  Typically, on Three Kings Day I tend to make treats evocative of my Cuban roots.  We usually serve guava pastries, turrones (sweet nougats made of almonds, marzipan, or ground almonds) and hot chocolate is a MUST.  This year, I also made sandwiches, and cookies, and an almond spice cake.  


Here is the Coffee Bar set up to keep my chilly guests warm:  Piping hot coffee, with a little something something - Butterscotch Schnapps, Kahlúa and RumChata.  

Have you tried RumChata yet?  If NOT, please put this on your "Must Try" list for 2014!  This is a new twist on Horchata (hence, the "Chata" part of the name).  Spanish horchata is a sweet, milky drink made from the chufa, or tiger nut.  It tastes a lot like almond milk.   You can read all about horchata here.  It is delicious!  If you are ever in Spain, you must try it, but to truly enjoy it you must sit in a little café under sweltering sun, and wait an hour for the waiter to notice that you are even alive.  By the time you get your icy horchata, you would be ready to swear that it's the nectar of the gods!  Mexican horchata is slightly different and often made from other kinds of nuts, or even rice!  It's still delicious.  RumChata took the next step and made it into a liqueur.  Add some to your coffee, and you'll be warm and smiling in no time!
 
The Coffee Bar also included peppermint candy canes, and homemade Vanilla Bean syrup, something sweet without the alcohol.  There were also some dark-chocolate covered almonds nearby, in case anyone had a chocolate emergency.  That happens to me once in a while, so I'm very sympathetic.


There's always cake on Three Kings Day, so we can bury the Baby Jesus in its batter before baking.  Whoever finds the plastic baby, is King of the Day and wins a prize.  This year's Almond Spice Cake was delicious.  My son David gave it a thumbs up, and he's a tough cake customer!


Here's another treat:  Pecan Butterballs from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  I have been making these since 1984, the year I got married.  My sister-in-law, Angela, who is a wonderful cook, gave us the cookbook as a wedding present.  I'm on my second copy right now.  It wouldn't be Christmas around here without these little gems.  They are sweetened with a little honey, and they just melt in your mouth.  Here's the recipe:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup shelled pecans, chopped moderately fine
¾ cup confectioners' sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.  Grease one or two cookie sheets.
  2. Cream butter.  Beat in honey; gradually mix in flour and salt, then vanilla.  Add pecans.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Form balls by hand, the size of quarters.  Place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven; as soon as cool enough to touch, roll in confectioners' sugar.  Allow to cool and roll again in sugar.
 Yields 36 cookies.

Guests were asking me for extras to take home!  You'll want to double or triple the recipe, if you want any leftovers for yourself!


The basket of Chocolate Chip cookies held four batches of CCCs made by my son, John!  I love it when the family gets involved in the party preparations!


On Three Kings Day I try to bring out the gold in remembrance of the Magi who brought gold to the Baby Jesus, so this year, the table is covered in a gold cloth.  The covered platter held sandwiches of Tuna Salad à la Vizcaína (Basque-style), a delightful tuna salad recipe that calls for adding roasted red peppers.
 

The Christmas centerpiece was given a facelift.  I removed the wilted blooms, and replaced them with snowy white carnations, gold balls, and a little red cardinal that begged to come out and play.


After taking a look at his little cousin outside, he realized that he got the better deal . . .


It's time to put away the extra Christmas cards!


Now we can sit by the fire and enjoy the wonderful memories we created during this joyful Christmas season!  May you have a wonderful new year!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

College graduation - I was NOT going to cry . . .

My oldest son, John, graduated on December 15th, and, as momentous as the event was for us, with the impending Christmas holiday, I hadn't had time to post anything on the blog about it, or even to digest it.

I am so enormously proud of this MAN . . . I guess I really need to get used to the word - man!




I found the official portrait above under the tree on Christmas morning.  You see, I had asked, reasoned and nagged, and had gotten a resounding no - he was NOT going to go get his picture taken.  And then, he surprised me.  A genuine, honest to goodness surprise!  I'm not caught off-guard very often . . .



Here he is with his friend, Don, who was Class Marshall - he got to wear the cool red gown - and a couple of his teachers.

This is what I'll remember most about that day:  We had to get up at an ungodly hour to be able to drop John off an hour before start time . . . It was cold that morning!  I mean, it was really cold and the wind was blowing high . . . I had a pain between my brows from frowning against the wind, even for the short walk between the parking lot and the building . . . My hair . . . I don't want to think about my hair . . . I bought coffee to warm up and ended up spilling it under the stadium seat.  David, my younger son, had to go get a wad of napkins to mop it up . . .  the seats were uncomfortable (although we had good visibility) so I shifted positions constantly, even my patient David was ready to throttle me . . . I was not going to cry . . .  This was no cozy, intimate, reflective moment . . . it was loud, the lights were garish, I was cold, uncomfortable . . . I had been to many graduations that looked remarkably like this one . . . and then the orchestra started to play "Pomp and Circumstance" . . . and the procession began . . . first the professors, then the students . . . I was not going to cry . . . slowly, this stopped feeling like an ordinary graduation . . . then I saw John . . . and the dam broke . . . 

And I don't cry pretty . . . I do the ugly cry, the kind with the runny nose, and smeared mascara, and the blotchy red face. . .  the only good thing is, I do it quietly, I don't sob, usually, maybe if I did, the rest of my face wouldn't get so messed up . . .  But I stopped . . . the thought of a blotchy face AND a messy hair was scaring me to death . . . and I was missing out on this tremendous pageantry!


My brother, Al, and sister-in-law, Kathy, were there . . . as they were on the day John was born . . .



My sister-in-law, Mary Ann, and her family were there . . . Mary Ann is a pharmacist and had just finished a 12-hour shift at work, but she wanted to be there . . . I was so touched . . .


And I guess it has to be done . . . Here is our little family . . . not the best picture we've ever taken, but one that will be sure to bring back a lot of memories . . . (Besides, I'll show you our Christmas card picture tomorrow . . . it's really much nicer).


John completed two separate degrees, so he received two tassels.  The brown one is for the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and the blue one is for the Bachelor of Science in Education . . .  Hmm . . . brown and blue . . . is there a tablescape color scheme in there . . . ?

This has been a hectic season . . . Busy, exciting, emotional . . . and unforgettable.

I'm joining The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Romantic Christmas Eve

I was going to call this "A Very Paisley Christmas" in honor of the Red Caroline Paisley from Pottery Barn that captured my heart a while back.  You can see a little bit of the napkin here in this Valentine's tea post from last February.


But then, I decided to fold the napkins à la fleur-de-lis to show off its gorgeous pattern . . .


The centerpiece from Teleflora.com had pretty red roses in a mercury glass container . . .


 I love the look of mercury glass . . .


But the arrangement seemed a bit too dark to me, so I added some Baby's Breath . . .

 

Suddenly, the romance of it all struck me . . .


It reminds me of a Victorian-era table . . .  Hmm . . . would Mr. Dickens approve . . . ?


Each little box contained Godiva truffles.  Everyone should wake up to truffles on Christmas morning, don't you think . . . ?  The little packages were tied with red ribbon and I added a Christmas ornament, to be hung on the tree later on . . .


We had a toddler in our midst this year, so we dug up the table and chair set that my boys used when they were little, and set up a proper table for this young man . . .


Oliver, my brother's first grandson, and my great-nephew, stole the show, in the same way that he's stolen our hearts.  What a cutie!


Here's the family, as we sat down to say grace.  The menu:  Waldorf Salad on Baby Romaine, Filet of Beef Au Jus, Mashed Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli . . .


And for dessert a Cookie Tower.  I became a baking fool this Christmas with the help of my son, John, enabler and invaluable assistant.  The phrase "visions of sugar-plums danced in her head" could have been applied to me!

The tower included Cranberry Pistachio cookies, Magic Bars (Chocolate Chips, Butterscotch Chips and Coconut with a gooey center), Double Chocolate Chip Peppermint Cookies, Pecan Butter Balls, Almond Cream Cheese Cookies, Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps, Chocolate Chip Cookies, with semi-sweet chocolate drizzles, Almond Raspberry Thumbprints, Potato Chip Cookies, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Blossoms . . .


A closeup of the Almond Raspberry Thumbprints, Potato Chip Cookies and Peanut Butter Chocolate Blossoms . . .


The chocolate chip cookies are on the right, because it isn't Christmas around here without your basic CCC, and to the left . . . Pecan Butterballs, recipe from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  Let me tell you, those Butterballs are the essence of winter, they are kissed with HONEY and seem to melt in your mouth . . . fabulous . . .


Here you can see the Chocolate Espresso Snow caps and the Almond Cookies a little better.  These are not the best pictures but I was snapping away as fast as I could before the cookies were devoured . . .


The Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps were a new addition to our cookie repertoire, I found them in Pinterest but they are Martha Stewart's.  The were delicious and so pretty, too!  Here is the link for the recipe. 

My sister-in-law, Kathy, also brought a gorgeous, delicious flan to share!  I wish I had taken a picture of it.  It was a beautiful thing.  It can be tricky to bake a flan to a proper consistency, but hers was perfect!  Oh, if only we could slow events down a little bit so we could capture everything on camera!


And here is the photo that still makes me smile:  My son, John, trying to hold on to a slippery Oliver, and my other son, David, in the background with a half-smile on his face.  He seems to be thinking:  “Better you than me, bro!”  Oh, what a wonderful Christmas Eve!  I hope yours was, too!

I'm joining Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch and Let's Dish! at Cuisine Kathleens!  Please stop by for inspiration!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Poinsettia

Scarlet shades of red
Liven holiday decor
Christmastime again
—Milton Toran

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas garland

There's nothing like a fresh evergreen garland at Christmastime . . .


with its wonderful cedar and pine aroma . . .  Throw in a little red . . .
 

 Add some loopy string and ribbon . . . some silver bells . . .

 
and you'll be walking around the house singing Christmas carols in no time . . .