Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year! . . . but it's still Christmas . . .

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a-milking . . .

Here's a Raisin Spice Cake with Caramel Sauce - a sweet treat to end the year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ahh! . . . The swans . . .

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me . . .

. . . sevens swans a-swimming!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The birds are back!

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six geese a-laying . . .

And here is another little bird from our tree . . . but this one didn't make it to the song . . .

Monday, December 28, 2009

Five golden rings

On the fifth day of Christmas 2002 . . .

  . . . my true love gave to me . . .

Five golden rings!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Three French Hens . . . and Four Calling Birds

On the third day of Christmas 2001, my true love tried to speed up the song, so that year I got many more feathers . . .

Three French Hens . . .

And Four Calling Birds . . .

My true love decided to pace himself after that. I mean, you can only stuff so many pillows with all those feathers . . .

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Turtle doves . . . but no Y2K bug . . .

On the second day of Christmas 2000, while it seemed the whole world was stocking up on supplies in preparation for the new millennium, I was admiring the two turtle doves my true love gave to me . . .

This year, on the second day of Christmas we've had LOTS of snow . . . Au revoir, sweet herb pots! See you next spring!

And on this second day of Christmas we made our Cuban Christmas dinner. We have two menus that we rotate on Christmas Eve: The Beef Filet dinner and the Cuban Pork Roast dinner. This year, by majority vote, the Filet won, but there were some disappointed diners, including my son, David. The debate went on all the way to the cash register at the grocery store, so we also bought the fixings for the Cuban menu. Today, we had our second Christmas dinner. David and Lee alternated shoveling snow throughout the day, while visions of black bean soup danced in their heads. John was so disappointed to miss the fun - he had to go to work!

Here is the menu: Roast loin of pork, black bean soup, on a bed of fluffy white rice and yuca con mojo (more on this later). There is a lot of garlic in this menu, no vampires are going to be sneaking up on us tonight, that's for sure! The roast is prepared by inserting garlic slivers in slits cut all over the roast, then the pork is roasted in a citrus marinade.
The black bean soup also calls for several cloves of garlic. At the table, Cubans like to drizzle a little more olive oil and wine vinegar over the beans. Lately I've been using balsamic vinegar, which adds a little more depth. Then, this year, my friend, Sandy, gave me a bottle of Fig Balsamic Vinegar for Christmas, and . . . well, let's just say that it's taken this recipe to a whole new level. I'll never go back!
Yuca is the root of the cassava or yucca plant and has a texture similar to the potato. It's served boiled and drizzled with mojo, a dressing made from garlic, sautéed in extra virgin olive oil and made to sizzle with the addition of fresh lime juice. The dressing is poured over the yuca and turns this simple tuber into something sublime.

And then, for dessert . . . (what else?) . . . Flan!

And how was your second day of Christmas?

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Twelve Days of Christmas . . . begun.

On the first day of Christmas (1999) my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree . . . or at least it was hand-painted on a Limoges porcelain snuff box . . .

Here are some Christmas day pictures . . . Christmas pajamas . . .

Drinking morning coffee by a toasty fire . . .

David's new exercise ball . . . John's dirty socks . . . Ah . . . the children are home . . .

Goblets drying and a brand new, flamboyantly red teapot, a Christmas present from John and David, has found its home on the stove top.

It's been a lovely but quiet Christmas. We've been given time to truly enjoy each other, to nap by the fire, and, at least for me, to pray. I've prayed for our loved ones, spread out all over the United States, may they be healthy and safe, and have found joy in their celebrations today. I've prayed for our soldiers, so very far from home, that they be safe and able to return to their families soon. I've said so many prayers . . . but Lord, if you hear only one, then grant us peace . . . peace . . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

The table is set for "A Woodland Christmas"
The centerpiece consisted of an 8-inch birch pillar candle, placed in a bed of Christmas evergreens and included holly, pinecones, gold Baby's Breath, winterberries, and Star of Bethlehem flowers.
The tablecloth's basketweave texture added another rustic element, and the gold napkins provided contrast . . . and a comfy bed for the chocolate reindeer.

A fishy appetizer - Shrimp Cocktail on shot glasses . . .
My parents were with us in spirit, and represented by their 25th anniversary goblets. It seemed fitting that we use them on the year when we celebrated our own silver anniversary. Here's the whole gang . . .
My sister-in-law, Kathy, my nephew, Kevin, and my brother, Al.
And here are my husband, Lee (I wonder what he's looking at), my son, David, my nephew, Colin and my son, John.
For dessert: Chocolate pudding topped with a hazelnut cookie star, Sweet and Salty Almond Bark, Hazelnut Star sandwich cookies filled with apricot and raspberry preserves, and apple pie!
The little favor boxes contained pewter Christmas ornaments from the Plow and Hearth catalogue. For every ornament sold, Plow and Hearth donates a tree to the National Forest Foundation. The owl, moose and hedgehog belong to Lee, John and David, respectively. A little gift, that hopefully will keep on giving . . .

Merry Christmas to all! Now I've got to go put out some cookies for Santa . . .

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hazelnut Stars

These hazelnut linzer stars came from a Christmas cookie magazine that featured favorite cookies produced by the White House chefs during different presidential administrations. These were a favorite of Ronald Reagan and are simply wonderful! After baking the cookies, they are filled with apricot and raspberry preserves and dusted with confectioners' sugar.

My sons won't touch anything but plain chocolate chip cookies, silly boys, so if our guests don't finish these on Christmas Eve, I guess Lee and I will have to eat them. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it . . .

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy birthday, Al!

Today, my baby brother is turning 50! Yikes! Somehow, this is harder to process than my own 50th birthday which happened almost two years ago!

Here is a picture of the two of us at Al's 3rd birthday party. Behind us is the Nativity Scene that was part of our Christmas celebration. The desert landscape in the background was painted by my uncle Armando on a canvas that was rolled up after Epiphany and reused every year.
I remember being in love with my dress, which was made of black gingham with yellow rick rack trim forming a band at the bottom of the skirt. The party hat I wore was made of yellow shredded tissue paper, with white trim and pom-pom. I recall, as only an older sister can, Al being a brat that night. He was given a party horn and wouldn't stop blowing it right in my ear! Even when this picture was taken, he wouldn't let go of it. Finally, the photographer talked him into hiding it behind his back. Happy birthday, Al! And many, many more!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Santa Claus is coming to town . . . in four more days.

I'm so glad I'm on vacation! It's amazing how much you can accomplish when you have some time off! Now, as I tackle the details, I begin to once again see the joy in the season and to get caught up in the fun!

If you have an iPod, download from iTunes Andrea Bocelli's "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" from his new Christmas CD "My Christmas." It's my favorite version of this song and a great one to play while wrapping Christmas presents, especially with a cup of hot cocoa cooling on the table and scenting the kitchen with its wonderful aroma. The Christmas spirit is upon me!

John and David: Beware! Your mother is in full Christmas mode and she's liable to embarrass you with an excess of holiday cheer. She might develop sudden urges to kiss and hug you and thrust candy canes at you! Do not, under any circumstance, offer her any caffeinated drinks! It might just put her over the edge!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sweet and Salty Almond Bark . . .

. . . made by my son, John, with a newly acquired recipe from the wilds of North Dakota, which everyone in the family knows is a bastion of culinary delights . . . well, at least one particular house is . . .

Four more days to Christmas Eve! Yikes! O.K. Deep breath. It'll all get done . . . right?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yemitas and saints

Yemitas, "little yolks," are the Cuban version of "Yemas de Santa Teresa" (St. Theresa's Candied Egg-yolks). In the Middle Ages, Spanish wine makers used egg whites for clarifying their wines, and they would donate the left-over egg yolks to the nuns of nearby convents, who would then use them in making treats such as these and selling them at a small profit. The influence of the Moorish occupation of Spain, combined with the availability of egg yolks, are two important reasons why there are so many egg-based dishes in Spanish cuisine.

These candied egg yolks were originally made at the famous convent in Avila, which was founded by St. Theresa. The Cuban version is very similar, but the candies are smaller, and are rolled in granulated sugar, instead of confectioners' sugar.

The yemitas are left out overnight, so that they dry a bit and form a "skin." The resulting candy will be crusty and crunchy on the outside, and will have the texture and consistency of fudge on the inside, except flavored with cinnamon, lemon and vanilla.

Yemitas were a special favorite of my godmother, Mama Lala, who would make them every December 3, for the annual vigil of the Feast of St. Barbara, a saint to whom she is devoted. There was a yearly gathering on this day at our house, and I have a memory of Mama Lala, dressed in red (the color associated with St. Barbara) passing a tray of yemitas to the guests.

I hadn't made these in a very long time, and had forgotten how much work they are to make. It occurs to me now that only poor nuns in desperate financial straits would ever want to make these on a regular basis. And, after all that work, the recipe didn't even yield very many of them. Of course, the work was worth it for the wonderful memory it brought back . . .

And this beautiful tray was a Christmas gift last year from my sister-in-law, Angela. I think the colors work rather nicely together . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Place cards

Here are the chocolate reindeer place cards for the Christmas Eve table. I bought these at World Market, after my pals, Julie and Kitty, savvy shoppers with photographic memories, suggested them.

And this lovely centerpiece below came from a Christmas party I attended for work. It was hosted by a company with whom we do business. I'm not quite sure how I ended up with it, but now it's gracing my kitchen table and making it oh-so-Christmas-y!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A pansy with a lot of heart

I look at our tree and realize that, in a way, it's an interesting family vision board. A lot of the things we love are represented in it. Here's one ornament, given to me by my friend, Julie, that drew me from the minute I laid eyes on it.

Is it just me, or does this look like another heart?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Two Christmas hearts

We drove to Miami, Florida that first summer after John was born, and stopped at a wonderful Christmas store by I-95 that beckoned tourists to stop in and check out the largest Lionel Train set up in the state!

We picked up a few ornaments, including this blue heart, in John's honor . . .

And then we repeated the experience when David came along . . .
We tried to find the store on our last trip to Florida three years ago, and we didn't see it. Either it no longer exists, or we've forgotten where exactly it was located. Too bad, I would have liked the boys to have seen the train set up that covered the entire second floor of this huge converted barn. And I don't know if we'll ever attempt that 23-hour drive again. It's such an awfully long ride!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wrapping Paper

Here are the party favors for the Christmas Eve table. I made a special trip to The Container Store just to buy the perfect wrapping paper, only to find out that it was sold out. This was my second choice, but now I like it better than my original choice. The content of the little boxes is a surprise for Christmas Eve . . . It's so hard to keep a secret . . .

And, by the way, The Container Store is one seriously dangerous place to visit. I was saved this time by the first winter storm of the season, which was coming down hard while I was in the store. Then the heater in my car wasn't working and I was worried about too much ice building up on my windshield if I stayed in the store too long. I was tired and was still facing an hour and a half drive home, and the weather was nasty . . . Thank God! Otherwise, I would probably have put a serious dent in my bank account. What a terrific selection of Christmas wrapping papers! And then they have all those wonderful storage solutions . . .

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chaos reigns

This is the point in the holiday season when I go a little nuts: The decorations are only partially up . . . the baking hasn't been started . . . the Christmas shopping not only isn't finished, but I'm still thinking about what to get some of the people on my list . . . My brother Al's birthday is December 22, and his son, Kevin's, is December 21 - and I haven't bought presents for them yet! (There ought to be a law banning birthdays in December!) . . . And I haven't even begun addressing the Christmas cards!

This doesn't mean I've been idle, I've done a little of a lot of things, including making final plans for the Christmas Eve dinner . . . In the next few days, I'll post pictures of the components of what I hope will be a welcoming table. Here's a hint: I'm stepping out of my comfort zone . . . Bad hint? O.K. here's another one: Bambi would feel right at home . . .

Here are two sweet Christmas ornaments that remind me of why we do it all . . .

They are worth every second of insanity . . .

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Poem for Salt

The biggest snowstorm to hit Denver in twenty years.
What is the world to do, freed from the shackles
of the eight hours needed to earn its daily salary?

Only on a day such as this does salt overshadow gold.
Salt, with its lips of blue fire, common as gossip,
ordinary as sin. Like true love and gasoline,
missed only when they run out. Salt spilling
from a blue container a young girl is holding,
along with an umbrella, on the label of a blue
container of salt that the woman across the street,
under her umbrella is pouring behind her left rear wheel,
to no avail this discontented, unbuttoned December
—Leroy V. Quintana

Monday, December 7, 2009

St. Nicholas Day Pajamas

Every year, St. Nick stops by on December 6th, leaves pajamas for the boys and some candy, and picks up their Christmas wish list.

This year, St. Nick (me) was up at 4:00 a.m. to lay David's pajamas by his bedroom door, when David, simultaneously, started heading towards our bedroom to let us know that the intercom key on our phone was stuck and he could hear our conversation.

We ran into each other in the pitch dark hallway, not expecting anyone else to be up and about at this hour . . . and scared the wits out of each other! The pajamas and candy went flying out of my hands. We were both so startled! Then we laughed and I handed him his present.

I went back to bed, now wide awake, wondering how long the intercom button in our room had been stuck . . . The possibilities are a bit unnerving . . . I mean, had we been snoring . . . ?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December 6 - St. Nicholas Day

And, full of faith, when at last she woke,
She stole to her shoe as the morning broke;
Such sounds of gladness filled all the air,
'Twas plain St. Nicholas had been there.

In rushed Piccola sweet, half wild—
Never was seen such a joyful child—
"See what the good saint brought!" she cried,
And mother and father must peep inside.

Now such a story I never heard!
There was a little shivering bird!
A sparrow, that in at the window flew,
Had crept into Piccola's tiny shoe!

"How good Piccola must have been!"
She cried as happy as any queen,
While the starving sparrow she fed and warmed,
And danced with rapture, she was so charmed.

(Excerpted from “Piccola” by Cecilia Laighton Thaxter)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas as a metaphor for life

“Shall we liken Christmas to the web in a loom? There are many weavers, who work into the pattern the experience of their lives. When one generation goes, another comes to take up the weft where it has been dropped. The pattern changes as the mind changes, yet never begins quite anew. At first, we are not sure that we discern the pattern, but at last we see that, unknown to the weavers themselves, something has taken shape before our eyes, and that they have made something very beautiful, something which compels our understanding.”
—Earl W. Count, 4,000 Years of Christmas

This beautiful and glorious season begins . . .

Thursday, November 26, 2009

First Thanksgiving and Cranberry Goodness

Below is a photo of our first Thanksgiving in the U.S. spent at my cousin Manolito's house. The lady on the left is a friend of the family. The food was absolutely wonderful - Manolito and his wife, Gladys, were known for their lavish, delicious dinners - but the meal could hardly be called a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, not with so many Cubans expecting their rice and beans. However, I do remember that roasted turkey was among the dishes served; and there was pumpkin pie.

Forty years later I'm still trying to figure out what constitutes an authentic Thanksgiving dinner. I suppose it's a little bit like trying to define what constitutes an authentic American. However, I've come to believe that cranberries must have a place somewhere on the menu. It appears very likely that those early settlers feasted on them, but, more importantly . . . I just love them.

Cranberry sauce made from scratch is simply marvelous, and, thankfully, very easy to make. I add oranges and Grand Marnier to mine, although it's doubtful the pilgrims had those ingredients at their disposal. I feel so sorry for them. And then, there's Cranberry Bread . . . This recipe, which calls for golden raisins added to the batter, balances beautifully the tart with the sweet. It is so good! But there are so many other variations to try out. Do I stop now or do I continue on this happy quest?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

About treats and not expecting the unexpected

O.K. So this was a little weird . . . I brought my Thanksgiving treats to work yesterday and everyone thought I had bought them ready-made at a store. Typical exchange:

Me: Here's a little Thanksgiving treat for you.
Co-worker: Oh, this is nice. Where did you get it?

Hmm . . . Better modify my presentation . . .

Me: Hi, there, I put together these treats over the weekend. Here's one for you. Happy Thanksgiving!
Co-worker: Wow! Thank you. I've never seen these before. Where did you get them?

Hmm . . . O.K. Let's try it a little differently . . .

Me: I found this cool website and this one was one of the ideas they had for the holidays. I made a batch to celebrate the holidays. Here's one for you. Happy Thanksgiving!
Co-worker: Cool! This is nice! Thank you! So you ordered them from this website?
Me: No, I just got the idea from the website. I made them.
Co-worker: You made them?
Me: Yup.
Co-worker: Huh. (Now looking over the bag suspiciously). Where did you get the labels? (Sigh)

And on it went all day. I guess on one level I should be flattered that the bags looked nice enough to have been bought at a store. On the other hand, there was a lot of love and attention put into those little bags and I didn't want people to think that I took the easy route and just bought the darn things.

And then when I walked in the house last night I found . . . John! His classes were canceled today so he came home a day early. What an unexpected joy! I really don't feel like going to work today. I want to stay home and play with my boys. But I'll have a special treat waiting for me tonight: John has promised to cook and make his Chicken Fricasee dinner.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thanksgiving Blessing Mix

I was inspired to make these by my always creative sister-in-law, Angela, who found the idea at Organized Christmas. I'm bringing them to work tomorrow and sharing them with my co-workers. I can't wait!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A letter to knock the socks off any woman.

Here are my parents on their wedding day, November 20, 1953. I just love the hat my mother is wearing - and she could carry it off with such panache!

This was my father's second marriage, so they were not able to marry in the Catholic Church, to my mother's everlasting sorrow. If there was ever a couple that ought to have been allowed the religious wedding of their choice, it was this one. To my mother, the sun rose and set with my father, and I think it was the same for him. They were married 32 years until her death in 1985.

Here is one of the letters he wrote to her while they were dating, I hope my translation does it justice. The letter was not dated but I think it was written in 1952:

"Dear Enriqueta:

'To tell you that I love you, that I adore you and all that you mean to me, I have sat down in front of the typewriter, hoping to be able to crystallize my feelings in words. You are the sweetest of brides, the most beloved and the one who has been able to understand me and give me ease. Aside from an immense love, I owe you a debt of gratitude, because you have returned to my spirit the tranquility that I so need."

"Sometimes, the shadow of doubt comes upon me, and then you, with your sweetness that touches me so deeply, with your beautiful words that caress me, with a look that penetrates the deepest recesses of my soul, you return my coveted calm."

"For this, and for all the good things you possess I adore you."

"I kiss your beautiful hands, "