Thursday, March 19, 2020

Just a little bit Irish

While I was on hiatus last year, we held a St. Patrick's Day dinner for some very un-Irish friends

The guest list comprised Cubans, Mexicans, and to provide that necessary soupçon of Irish blood, we invited my husband.  He's the guy with the green polo by the window, who looks a bit put upon to have to pose for a picture when he'd rather be digging in!  My husband doesn't really know how much Irish blood he has in his background and is not interested in doing a search, however, the litany when he was growing up was “I'm English, Irish, French, Scottish and Italian . . .” usually things would trail off after that, but occasionally he'd add other nationalities just to keep things interesting.

I'm 2nd and 3rd generation Cuban born, my paternal grandfather having emigrated to Cuba from the Canary Islands, and my maternal grandparents born in Cuba.  One of my relatives did some research on the Grimón last name and supposedly it may have originated in Belgium.  So you see, I cannot claim any Gaelic ancestry whatsoever.

And does not explain why I'm so fond of this holiday.  I got the shamrock napkins through a friend who gave them to me with the condition that I should use them once, and then pass them on to another person that might like to use them next, and that person should do the same.  My sister-in-law, Kathy (Kathleen, and of Irish ancestry), now has them.  I can't wait to see how she uses them!

I love party favors!  So, in addition to an Oxalis Plant, everyone got to take home one of these darling miniature books with Irish blessings!

I love the green in these goblets!  Don't they look great next to the green fields in the books?

I can't conceive of this dinner without some lovely Kerrygold butter, and what better way to enjoy this treat than by giving each guest their very own butter dish?  Some things are just to delicious to have to share.  

The napkin rings reminded me of a Celtic knot and they provided a nice contrast against the simple white dinner plates.

I scattered some gold and green fake coins for an extra dose of whimsy.  

Now for the food.  Two big platters of Corned Beef and Cabbage.  It's simple fare, but, oh, so delicious!

And for dessert, Bailey's Irish Cream Bundt Cake, and Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from Baskin Robbins, my son's favorite.

We "greened" the house a bit  . . .

Hoping that a leprechaun would stop by and find the house to his liking . . .

And maybe, just maybe, we'd find his Pot o'Gold!  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Dishes:  Traditional by Apilco, from Williams-Sonoma
Flatware:  Jefferson by Reed & Barton for Monticello
Water Goblets:  Williamsburg by Reed & Barton
Butter Spreaders:  Rosewood hadles, by Laguiole
Butter dishes:  Amazon
Table runner:  Pottery Barn
Placemats:  Crate and Barrel
Napkin Rings:  Tortoise Knot by Juliska
Square Platter:  BIA Cordon Bleu, from Amazon
Cake Stand:  HomeGoods

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Anyone who has ever stopped at Mary's of Home is Where the Boat Is, knows that her blog should come with a caution sign, something like:  WARNING:  INSPIRATION AHEAD.  POSSIBLE ADDICTION AND FEELINGS OF INADEQUACY.  ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF FALLING IN LOVE!

So, when I was looking for inspiration for my Valentine's Day celebration, I discovered this gem among many, many of her Valentine's Day posts.  She calls it The Love Boat.

Doesn't that look amazing?  I immediately knew this was it.  So what if there were some minor difficulties?  I mean, I don't own a pontoon, it's the middle of winter here in the Midwest, and there's no possibility of getting out on a lake right now . . .  But!  I have some plaid and a picnic basket.  How hard could it be?  Well, it turns out that there’s so much more than meets the eye! Mary’s seemingly effortless stylings actually require quite a bit of planning, and a natural flair.

First, Mary used these darling white napkins with a rickrack trim.  I remember seeing them at Pier 1, and walked right past them as though they didn't exist.  I am not a good browser.  I usually go to the stores with a single purpose, and my brain shuts down to other possibilities.  Now they are no longer available, but I've had these other napkins for the last 10 years, and I figured they would do.  You can also find them in here, in another blog post.  They are not exactly the kind that I would take to a picnic, but this is, after all, Valentine’s Day.

Mary also used red napkins in a tiny gingham pattern, which I have in brown, green, pink, yellow and lavender, but not red.  But the larger gingham pattern is close enough.  Oh, and it so happens that I already owned the same exact cutting board from Kohl's.  Score!

As for the picnic basket, I have an old Longaberger basket from the 90's.  Do you remember those days when so many of us thought we'd perish unless we owned at least one Longaberger basket?  This one was one of the exclusive ones that only show hostesses could buy.  Lucky for me, I had a consultant that had a very practical streak, and once she became convinced that I was not party material (at least, NOT this kind of party) she let me buy the hostess specials at retail, swearing me to secrecy over her breaking the rules.  What made it exclusive was the narrower size of the slats.

JE T'AIME!  Isn't that romantic?  I headed off to World Market to see if I could find it.  

No luck.  However, I did find this other beautiful bottle, and, after all, isn't that how we should always choose our wine, by the look of the bottle?

I do not own any of those beautiful Skyler dishes that Mary used, but these pretty ones might work.

It’s called Pink Toile by Churchill, and depicts several idealized scenes from the English countryside.  The scene below shows a gentleman is getting ready to jump a fence with his horse, if you look to the right, his hound seems to be hiding among the bushes.

Further to the right a young man is holding a fishing rod, a swan swims nearby, and in the center of the plate, cows graze in a bucolic setting.  Yes, indeed, perfect for a picnic.

I found some heart-shaped crackers at World Market, too!

So here's my basket . . .

Now for the cheese tray.  Crackers, cheese and fruit . . . check!

My Nantucket dish by Wedgwood is even similar to Mary's . . .  I served some of our favorite cheeses:  Provolone, Port Salut and Wensleydale with Cranberry.

Because Valentine's Day fell on a Friday -  a work day for me, we had our picnic at night, and because it was dinner time, we needed something a bit more substantial, so I prepared some chicken salad and placed it on a bed of radicchio . . .

It came together very quickly by using a rotisserie chicken and adding onion, celery, roasted red peppers, cranberries, salt, pepper, a little mayo, and lemon juice.  It's one of our go-to dishes when we are busy, and my husband never seems to get tired of it!

Well, we sat on the floor by our fireplace and had our own Winter Picnic for two, while the fire crackled and some love songs played in the background . . .

We opened the champagne, which was delicious!

I pulled out our Waterford Millenium Flutes with the Heart Design . . .

I couldn't resist getting two different kinds of the Chocolove Chocolate Bars, my favorite flavors . . .

They were both excellent, but I must confess, I loooved the Orange Peel. 

And both of them came with poems printed on the inside of the wrapper!

Our "Love Boat" Picnic was wonderfully romantic, and, on a day when the wind was howling outside, we cuddled by the fireplace and celebrated our 36th Valentine's Day together.  Thank you, Mary, for helping me plan it!  Hoping that your day was filled with love.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Valentine's Day 2017

Love is in the air with Valentine's Day right around the corner, and it made me think of this table for two that I prepared for me and my honey to celebrate the day.  And that means, for me, that it must start with the flowers.  It had to be red roses ...

The toile placemats depicted such a lovely romantic scene!  He's on his knees, asking for what?  Is he asking for her favors?  Is he proposing marriage?  Methinks the lady needs further convincing ...

In another intriguing scene the lady seems to be listening to the ... troubadour?  No, it can't be a troubadour, his hose and shoes seem so fine.  Is he wooing her?  If so, his technique needs improvement.  He really needs to look into her eyes.  Or maybe he's trying to tell her to go away . . .  Alas!  Men often don't understand a woman's heart.

I have been, once again, transported by another romance from Alexandre Dumas.  Are you familiar with The Sphinx?  I thought I was an AD connoisseur, but I hadn't heard of this one!

Save it for your next vacation, when you can linger, and pay attention to the various strings of the plot and it's many characters.  I loved it!

I used all my French-looking patterns.  The dishes are Mikasa French Countryside, and the flatware is Jefferson, by Reed & Barton for Monticello.  Both have the "fiddle and thread" pattern typical of the 18th century.  The plaid napkins are from Pottery Barn, several years ago, and, finally, the wooden heart I found at Joann's and painted myself.  I needed a heart on the table.

Red goblets were a HomeGoods find several years ago, and the champagne flute are Chartres, by Atlantis, now discontinued - they were given to us at our wedding.

I forgot to photograph the food, but because St. Valentine's fell on a weekday, the menu was simple:  Strawberry Spinach Salad with Sliced Almonds and Poppyseed Dressing, Roasted Chicken with Steamed Broccoli, and for dessert . . .

Two proven aphrodisiacs, at least at our house:  Chocolate and strawberries!

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Three Kings Day Open House 2020

2019 will always be to me "The Year of the Hiatus" - I stopped blogging last year because ... I'm not sure, too busy at work, to unfocused at home, Facebook ... but I've missed the journaling, and my blogging friends, and having a visual record of what I've done.  So, with a great deal of caution, careful not to over commit, here we go again.

We held our almost-annual Three Kings Day Open House on Sunday, January 5, and we were lucky enough that my oldest son, John, was still with us on Christmas vacation.  John is now living in Charlottesville, Virginia, and we had not seen him since the previous Christmas!

Here he is with some of his college friends that came to the Open House.  It was so wonderful to see these cute faces!  I've missed them!

So, I've had a lifetime of trial and errors with this Open House.  It started as a small gathering with just my brother's family, which included three nephews which are about the same age as my two sons.  I wanted to teach them about our Cuban tradition of gift giving on Three Kings Day, and to celebrate Epiphany, the revealing of the Christ-child and the light of God to the world.  Many European countries and those of Latin and South America also celebrate Three Kings in their own way.

In Cuba, we wrote our letters to the Three Kings, not to Santa, and we knew their glorious, albeit mythical, names:  Melchior, Gaspar (or Caspar) and Balthazar, and we knew from where they came!  After receiving our gifts, we'd have breakfast and for mid-morning merienda (snack), we'd have Roscón de Reyes - our version of Three Kings Day, always bought at bakery.  I don't know anyone who actually baked the yeasty treat at home.  One thing I've loved about America is their ability to take a tradition and make it their own, so I've adopted this particular approach for the Open House, and the day is as much a reflection of my whim, as it is about tradition.  You'll see what I mean ...

First a Hot Chocolate Bar.  The Spanish, from where our traditions are derived, love hot chocolate.  And I've been intrigued by the many hot chocolate bars I've seen on Pinterest, so I decided to set one up.

I've been playing with a program on my iPad called "Layout" and it makes some very easy collages.  The Hot Chocolate Bar included Candy canes, Williams-Sonoma Dark Chocolate Peppermint Bark (this one is now a staple at our house, it is so delicious!), decorated marshmallows (also from W-S), Dark Chocolate Caramels, Peppermint Poles, Chocolate-covered Coffee Beans, Chocolate Hazelnut Pirouettes Wafers, and RumChata to go with some very delicious Hot Chocolate (from W-S).  I draped one of my plaid throws over a basic white tablecloth, and pulled out my Mikasa French Countryside mugs.

It was a cold day, so for the adults that preferred something less sweet, and perhaps with a little alcohol, we offered some Mulled Wine and kept it warm in a crockpot.

And it was served on my Irish Coffee glass mugs ...

The Open House was held beginning at 2 P.M.  It was supposed to end at 6 P.M. but friends kept dropping by, so we actually walked out our last guests at 7:30 P.M.  Planning food for this event can be challenging.  There are those that come earlier and are looking for something light.  For them, I made a tea sandwiches:  Basque-style tuna sandwiches on Oatnut Bread, and Cucumber Sandwiches on White Bread.

Here's the super easy and oh-so-delicious recipe for the Basque-Style Tuna Spread:

4 5-oz. cans Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil, drained
2 8-oz. Philadelphia Cream Cheese
½ jar Roasted Pepper Bruschetta (about 5 oz.)
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 shakes of Red Pepper Flakes (optional)

With a fork, combine tuna, softened cream cheese, and Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta and mix until fully integrated.  Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  This will yield enough filling for three loves of Oatnut Bread.  Basque cooking is noted for their inclusion of local red peppers ad Spanish smoked paprika.  This bruschetta, although Italian, mimics the flavors beautifully.  Oh, and take the leftover bruschetta and serve it over boiled, roasted or mashed potatoes.  Yum!

There were treats aplenty, including the Honey Pecan Butterballs that are a staple in our home.  I've blogged about them here.

I ordered canolli from a nearby bakery ...

My son made his famous Black and White Chocolate Bark with Pistachio and Cranberry ...

I baked a Flan ...

And a cake with the fève baked inside and whoever found it was declared King or Queen for the Day ...

Oranges have a deep connection to Christmas in many cultures, symbolizing the gold balls that St. Nick left for a poor girl, or the bright star that followed the Magi, or the fact that they were considered a special treat during the Depression, and so, a prized gift at Christmas.  They are also in season at this time of year, and I decided a while ago to adopt the custom of having something orange during Three Kings, so I spread Orange Slice Candy around the house.

I know my peeps, and there are some (mostly guys) who start prowling around the kitchen, looking for something more substantial to eat, so I made Pulled Pork Sandwiches (for which I have no pictures!), and I also made a Hot Buffalo Chicken Cheese Spread ... I made four recipes of it during the party. Thank goodness I had enough supplies!

So many lovely friends!  All these photos were contributed by friends since I was too busy having fun to remember to snap pictures.

We ended up with both, a King and a Queen, since one of my friends brought a special Three Kings Day cake with the fève, or bean, inside ...

And everyone took home a goody bag ...

The goody bags included gold chocolate coins, an  assortment of candies, a Godiva Blood Orange Dark Chocolate Bar (my current favorite), a lottery ticket, and a little cardboard box ...

The little box contained a paper scroll with a House Blessing, and a piece of chalk to mark the door of the house ...

The blessing is another European tradition that I tried out one year, and it's become so popular that I now find myself shopping for white chalk in late December to include in the loot bags.  Some friends have panicked on the few years when I haven't had the Open House, and I've actually had to make some to give away.  This year, the door would be marked 20 + C + M + B + 20.  C M B stands for the names of the Kings - Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar.  It also means Christus mansionem beneficat - Latin for "May Christ bless this home."

And a star to light our way ...

It was a lovely way to start the year, and it never fails to fill me with joy and gratitude.  Happy New Year!