February is a busy month in our home - Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and our wedding anniversary – all celebrated in twenty-eight short days (well…twenty-nine this year!). It seems appropriate that someone with an almost-Valentine birthday should be so focused on sharing the love, not just in February, but throughout the year. Perhaps, that’s why I’ve always loved spending time entertaining and in the kitchen, whipping up memorable occasions and decadent treats for family and friends.
My husband Randy and I got a jump-start on Valentine’s Day over the weekend by hosting a dinner party for ten. The front doorway was festooned in greenery, tiny white lights, red ribbon, and shiny hearts – with a large, shimmering, sequined heart above the door. Even our giant plush snowman – a permanent fixture on the porch during the winter – is sporting a large Valentine at this time of year.
I draped the table in a red cloth, topped with a white cutwork tablecloth purchased years ago at my favorite shop in St. Thomas. Red chargers, white-on-white china edged in silver, sparkling crystal, my grandmother’s silver flatware, and tall, silver candlesticks ensured our guests felt pampered by the festive atmosphere of this Valentine table. The centerpiece was simple, but effortlessly pleasing to the eye. I created airy clusters of white chrysanthemums with lush, red roses into four square glass vessels, and interspersed them among the candles. While many of our guests exclaimed over my table decor, it was in all honesty incredibly quick and simple to do.
For dinner, I served a glazed ham with Southern baking powder biscuits, scalloped potatoes layered with mozzarella cheese and applewood smoked bacon, roasted asparagus, a composed salad drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette, and for dessert, a choice of birthday cake for a dear friend who was totally surprised I remembered, and a warm-from-the-oven rustic apple tart with vanilla ice cream. Sharing the love can be so easy…and delicious!
Weeks before Christmas Day arrives, a cherished European holiday provides a special opportunity for Americans to spread joy to others through simple gifts and acts of generosity. December 6 is St. Nicholas Day, and much like its namesake, this feast highlights the spirit of sharing through simple gifts from the heart.
Each December, I love to share a quick and easy recipe, plus creative packaging ideas, for those who wish to embrace the spirit of St. Nicholas and share a gift from their kitchen. At a time when shopping, wrapping, mailing, and decorating are all on our to-do lists, simplicity is essential, so this year’s recipe is Gingersnaps. These spicy cookies, with the perfect balance of sweetness and spice, capture the flavor of traditional gingerbread cut-out cookies, but in an easy drop-cookie form.
This recipe is an adaptation of one given to me 40 years ago by a co-worker. They were a part of many of our Christmas celebrations until I misplaced the recipe several years ago. Imagine my excitement when I rediscovered it this fall, tucked into the pages of a favorite cookbook. It was like finding an old friend. I hope you enjoy it as much as our family and friends have through the years.
Happy St. Nicholas Day!
|3/4||cup unsalted butter, softened|
|1||cup granulated sugar|
|2||cups plus 2 tablespoons flour|
|1 1/2||teaspoons baking soda|
|1/4||teaspoon baking powder|
|1 1/4||teaspoons Saigon cinnamon|
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add molasses and egg, and beat 1 minute more; set aside.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger until they are well blended. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture with a large spoon until they are well combined.
Lightly grease cookie sheets. Roll teaspoons of dough into small balls between floured hands and place them 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until the cookies are done, remove them from the oven, sprinkle with sugar, and allow them to cool 1 minute on the cookie sheet. Transfer the cookies to a rack until they are completely cool; then store in airtight containers.
Yield: 3 ½ dozen cookies
A Step-by-Step Guide For Holiday Hosts
For many, planning the Thanksgiving menu usually involves a healthy dose of family tradition, a long checklist, multiple trips to the grocery store and farmers market in search of the ‘perfect’ turkey and ingredients for must-have side dishes, and for dessert, pumpkin and pecan pies with mounds of whipped cream. We may plan every last detail of the meal – often many days in advance – but give little thought or time to the table where family and friends will gather to enjoy our carefully orchestrated feast.
Do you wish – just once – that your holiday dining table looked like the ones you see in magazines? Well, I’m here to help! I’ve deconstructed a gorgeous Thanksgiving table setting I created in our 1890’s Colorado cabin and divided it into four easy steps any host can follow.
Any room can be welcoming and beautiful. Our cabin presented a completely blank slate – unadorned, rustic log walls, a plywood floor painted a neutral tone with a band of dark green near the edges, and a brushed metal chandelier with no electrical power currently available. But, the room is cozy, the substantial wood table and chairs beg to be surrounded by family and friends, and the casual bookcase along the back wall provides added interest. With the help of decorative accessories I’ve had for years, casual ironstone dinnerware in seasonal colors, and luscious, but inexpensive fabrics and linens, I transformed this very rustic setting into a beautiful dining room to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, let’s do the same with your table!
Start With The Centerpiece
When I complete a table setting with a simple floral centerpiece, the flower arrangement is the last item I place on the table, but when I create a lush table setting featuring a variety of textures, levels and accessories, I’ve found it’s much easier to start with the centerpiece. That way, I can build layer upon layer in the center of the table without worrying about knocking over glassware or dropping bits and pieces of decorative material onto the place settings, particularly when working with natural items or those that shed glitter. The centerpiece pictured here begins with three squares of dark brown felt to protect the wood and anchor the decorative materials so they don’t slide on the table. Two 9-foot silk leaf garlands rest on top of the felt, providing a foundation and color scheme for everything that follows.
Add Decorative Layers
Once the autumn garlands are in place, add depth, color, and texture by incorporating pumpkins of various sizes, fruit, pinecones, additional leaves, large pillar candles in tall glass hurricanes, and seasonal placemats. Tiny pumpkins, readily found in supermarkets, rest on small glass coasters to prevent damage to the table’s wood surface.
Mix and Match Dinnerware
Tablescapes that most often elicit an appreciative gasp of surprise rarely feature matched china and crystal. Instead, blend dinner and glassware based on complementary colors, patterns, themes, shapes, sizes, and seasonality. For this Thanksgiving table, copper-colored chargers provide a rich background for heavy, rustic yellow ironstone dinner plates, paired with white porcelain soup bowls featuring a brown floral border and turkey pattern in the center. The copper chargers complement the placemats’ copper and yellow twist border and reflect the centerpiece’s coppery leaves. Ironstone plates ensure the table isn’t too formal or fussy, and the turkey bowls leave no mistake it’s Thanksgiving. Leaf-patterned napkins, secured with bronzy, metal oakleaf napkin rings, and heavy cut-crystal water glasses paired with delicate etched wine glasses edged in gold, add finishing touches to delight the eye.
Extend The Theme Throughout The Room
A buffet, china cabinet, or bookcase provide exciting opportunities to extend the decorative theme beyond the dining table, so take advantage of these surfaces if you have them. In the cabin, the large, square mirror above the glass buffet reflects light from the tall candlesticks – an important asset when there’s no electrical power! Several garlands of silk leaves are layered across the back edge of the buffet next to the wall, setting the stage for a luxurious sense of bounty. A wooden tray echoes the rustic cabin theme and provides an attractive gathering spot for turkey, pumpkin, and spicy candle decorative accents. Dessert plates with a woodsy theme await decadent slices of pumpkin pie, pumpkin swirl cheesecake, and pecan pie – the perfect ending to a memorable Thanksgiving celebration in the cabin.
This morning, my world changed forever. I became a Grandmother. Our family welcomed a precious baby boy, and I marvel at the love that fills my heart for this new little one I’ll meet in just a few days. The days to come will be filled with countless soft kisses, that sweet "baby smell" all new mothers come to know, quiet lullabyes, rocking back and forth as I hold him in my arms, diapers to change, and watching the new Grandfather read books to the baby as they cuddle – even before he understands the words.
I also look forward to preparing meals for our son and daughter-in-law, and helping with everyday household chores to ensure they can be with their new son. And, if time and the baby’s needs permit, I’d like to prepare a candlelight dinner for these wonderful new parents.
The birth of this child has caused me to reflect and reaffirm WHY I do the work that I do. Creating family-friendly recipes, writing cooking and lifestyle books, making countless television appearances, teaching others how to entertain and how to create a warm, welcoming home, and always….always stressing the importance of family and friends.
This child and my newfound Grandmother status confirm for me that there is no greater gift than the birth of a child and the celebration of "Family". You’ll find this message in The Family Table, Where’s My Spatula?, and my latest book Celebrating Home (Bright Sky Press). I invite each of you to pick up a copy of any of these books as a gift for yourself and a friend – then share the joy of family with others. It’s truly God’s work.
Can it be true? Is autumn just around the corner? For the millions suffering through record-breaking triple digit heat around the nation, autumn must seem like a far-off dream, but at our home in Breckenridge, Colorado, I see the signs everywhere.
Although it's a beautiful August day with temperatures in the mid-70's, we've experienced a multitude of frosty mornings intermittently since mid-July. That's early even for those of us residing at 9,300 ft elevation. One of our mature aspen trees has lost its upper tier of leaves and its tiny, west-facing green leaves are beginning to fade – a sure sign they'll turn to gold before long.
While shopping at the Dillon, Colorado farmers market yesterday, surrounded by majestic mountains and boxes of juicy, ripe Palisade peaches and an abundance of tomatoes whose garden-fresh aroma made my mouth water, I discovered a box of early-Jonathan apples. I use early-Jonathans when I make apple butter in the fall, so spying them when we're barely into mid-August was a wake-up call that autumn is indeed nearly here.
Early last week, I decorated Swan’s Nest's front entry for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot, destined for their September/October issue. As I unpacked boxes of autumn garland, Indian corn, pinecones, and pumpkins in every color, shape, and size, I couldn't help but notice that the colors were reflective of what was beginning to happen in nature all around me – tall, purple lupines going to seed; meadow grasses lighter in color than the week prior; and willows in our wetlands showing the first hints of gold.
But, before it completely disappears, we'll enjoy summer's final weeks as we cook thick steaks, juicy bison burgers, sweet Olathe corn, and garden-fresh vegetables on the grill, sip glasses of rosé with friends in the sunshine, savor leisurely dinners on the front veranda while gazing at the Tenmile Range, and I'll bake luscious fruit tarts and cobblers with the berries and stone fruits I find in my markets. With that in mind, here's my recipe for the Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart I baked last week after a trip to the farmers market. You'll love that there’s no need to skin the fruit before baking!
Palisade Peach and Pluot Tart
|3/4||cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes|
|4-5||tablespoons ice water|
|1||pound pluots, about 6 medium, rinsed and sliced|
|1 1/4||pounds peaches, about 4 large, rinsed and sliced|
|1 1/2||tablespoons flour|
|1||egg, for egg wash|
|1||tablespoon clear sparkling sugar or 2 teaspoons granulated sugar|
|1||8-inch-by-11-inch tart pan with removable bottom|
Place flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until it is pea-size.
Add 4 tablespoons ice water and process at low speed until the pastry is crumbly. If the mixture feels dry, add the remaining ice water and process just until the pastry comes together and forms a ball. Remove the pastry, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes or until it is cold.
In a large bowl, gently stir together the pluots, peaches, sugar, and flour; set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. On a floured pastry cloth or counter, roll the pastry into a large rectangle. Fold the pastry in half and transfer it to the tart pan. Unfold the pastry, fit it into the pan, and trim the excess pastry by running a rolling pin over the top of the pan. Gather the trimmings together into a ball, roll it out, and cut the pastry into ¾-inch strips using a fluted pastry wheel or knife. Place 6 strips at a diagonal across the top of the tart; then turn the tart one-quarter turn and place the remaining pastry strips across in a diagonal to form a basket-weave pattern.
In a small bowl, whip the egg and water together with a fork. Brush some of the egg wash over the pastry strips and along the edges of the tart and sprinkle them with sparkling sugar. Place the tart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Remove the tart from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool.
Yield: 1 11-inch tart