Notes From Swan's Nest


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Are Dinner Parties A Lost Art?

When was the last time you were invited to a dinner party? Or more to the point, when was the last time you hosted one? I don’t mean a potluck gathering or a backyard barbecue, but a real dinner party with a carefully considered menu, a thoughtfully set table, and candlelight. Do people do that anymore? Well, WE do, and lucky for us, so do some of our dearest friends.

My husband Randy and I hosted a dinner party Sunday night. We invited four couples – three of whom we knew well and one that we had met briefly a few weeks ago during a Christmas party. In fact, the initial reason for hosting our dinner party was to get to know this couple better. I’ve been guilty so many times of meeting someone during a gathering and saying, “We need to get together”, only to lose contact because I never took the initiative and followed up with an invitation. Does that sound familiar?

So this time, I sent out e-vites within 24 hours of meeting this couple. It took a day or two to nail down a date that everyone could do, which is how we ended up with a Sunday night. From the beginning, planning our dinner party reminded me why I enjoy the process, from selecting the menu to designing the table setting. I knew everyone would want a tour of Swan’s Nest during the evening, so I took advantage of this chance to give the house a thorough cleaning in the days before the party, eliminating a last-minute rush to make the house guest-ready. Let’s face it – one of the real reasons I think people don’t entertain is because it’s so stressful trying to clean at the last minute! Rule #1 – Clean early in the week!

Since I grew up with parents who entertained frequently, both for business and pleasure, and I was usually a member of the “kitchen crew” for those parties, I have the advantage of years of observing and helping my mother as she prepared for dinner parties. I believe one of the keys to success as a host is advance preparation, but the other is recognizing that hosting a dinner party is an art – an art that can be learned and mastered with a bit of practice. I always experience an underlying current of excitement and anticipation once the dinner party invitations have been extended, because I know guests regard our invitation as a personal gift.

Enhancing that gift is what thrills me as I select a menu my guests will love – most recently, creamy roasted pumpkin soup served in antique Limoges soup cups while we gather in my studio kitchen, followed by an impressive glazed ham, sweet potato medley, and buttery vegetables, served in the dining room with a selection of beautiful wines. And, to leave a lasting impression, a two-layer dark chocolate cake garnished with swirls of chocolate buttercream frosting. Next, creating a tablescape that conveys an unmistakable message to our guests from the moment they enter the dining room….”Prepare to be spoiled”! In this next step, I select a color-theme for the table, design the centerpiece, choose chargers, dinnerware, pieces of my Grandmother’s silver, crystal goblets, placemats or linens, napkins, and accessories.

In these days of social media when we text our friends and face-to-face encounters seem ever more infrequent, hosting a dinner party opens the door to exciting conversations, personal relationships, new discoveries, and laughter. If you haven’t hosted a dinner party in a long time, take the leap and plan a party this winter when folks long to spend a cozy evening together in the warmth of friendship. As I’ve discovered, the gifts of time and friendship offered to our guests during a dinner party, return to me many times over as I gaze around the table and see the joy reflected in their eyes.


Giving Thanks

There are many reasons why I adore Thanksgiving – watching the Macy's Parade on television each year as I prepare the turkey for the oven, the sense of joy I experience from the warm colors and nature-inspired textures of autumn décor throughout the house, and the intoxicating aromas-from-the- kitchen that fill our home as our holiday dinner cooks – but my favorite aspect of Thanksgiving is the blessing of gathering around the table with Randy, our family and friends.

Setting a beautiful table is one of my secrets to encouraging guests to linger in conversation, long after the final slice of pie has disappeared. This year, casual yellow placemats provide a no-fuss foundation for bronze-hued chargers, burnished ironstone dinner plates, and English china salad plates with a fabulous turkey in the center of each.

What will grab everyone's attention though, is my centerpiece. I arranged three lengths of silk autumn garland down the center of the table, added pumpkins of various colors, shapes and sizes, large pinecones I found during an outing near Colorado Springs, and loose-woven twig balls. A string of battery-powered mini-LED lights intertwined through the centerpiece and caramel-colored pillars provide a festive and romantic glow.

But at the end of the day, from the first bite of turkey to the last bite of pie, it’s not the menu or décor that make Thanksgiving so special. It's the loved ones gathered around our table, and memories of loved ones who are no longer with us, who make this day unforgettable. I'm grateful for each and every one.

My sincere thanks to all who visit throughout the year, to those who tune in to their local PBS station each November to watch A Home for Christy Rost: Thanksgiving, to my many professional contacts who support what I stand for, and to those who’ve just discovered me. You mean the world to me.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Summer Vegetable Garden - Part 1

Last year's vegetable garden at Swan's Nest was a more rewarding experience than I had anticipated. As I carried my little basket to the garden several times a week to harvest arugula, lettuces, radishes, spinach, Swiss chard, broccoli rabe, and mesclun for salads, sandwiches, or stir-fries, I felt like a mini-farmer, and could only imagine how farmer around the world must feel while harvesting crops that will feed hundreds or thousands of people. I also discovered what fun it was to create small packages of my harvest and share it with friends, while proudly saying “I grew this in my garden”.

With this experience in my back pocket, I started planning this year’s garden while there was still snow on the ground so I could get a jump on all the other gardeners planting from seed. Standing in my winter jacket in our nearby Walmart, perusing through racks and racks of seed packets, was exhilarating as I envisioned how many rows of vegetables would fit in our raised garden beds.

We have a very short growing season in Breckenridge, Colorado. Situated at 9,300 feet elevation, we ‘officially’ have only 29 frost-free days, though my experience is more like two to two-and-a-half months, depending on the year. With this in mind, my first priority when selecting seeds was personal preference, and the second was the number of days until harvest. If the number of days exceeded fifty, the packet went back into the rack – with one exception. Part of the fun of gardening is experimentation, so I purchased packets of zucchini squash (57 days), cucumber seeds (60 days), and kaleidoscope blend carrots (75 days), just to see what would happen.

My husband, Randy and I arrived in Breckenridge from our home in Dallas on June 20, and I immediately set to work weeding our two raised beds in preparation for planting. Thankfully, I purchased bags of rich garden soil in the spring so I could immediately amend the garden. But, the best thing of all, was the arrival of my sister, Judy and her husband Mike Thompson the following day. Judy is a master gardener, and Mike brought his years of expertise from their own vegetable gardens. Mike completed the weeding, helped turn the soil and mix in the new soil, and added a metal garden trellis I had stored in the barn.

Judy and I formed the rows, laid out the seed packets, moved them around a few times until I was satisfied with their position in my overall garden plan, and planted each row. She showed me how forming an indentation in the rows with a long two-by-four not only formed straight rows, but created the perfect depth to plant each variety of seed before covering them with soil. We inserted small stakes at the end of each row to identify the plants, and within a few hours, the garden was planted and ready to be watered. I was amazed that five days after planting, the first tender leaves of lettuce poked their way through the soil, and within two weeks, the garden sported row-after-row of little green plants. My garden was on its way!

Please check back soon for further details on my summer vegetable garden – what worked and what didn’t. As all gardeners know, it’s always an adventure.


Traveling Vicariously

Last weekend, my husband Randy and I attended the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show at Dallas Market Hall. We’ve always loved to travel – by car, airplane or cruise ship – and the Travel and Adventure Show was the place to dream BIG!

After years of enjoying summers in our Colorado mountain home – though those first years, our efforts were entirely focused on restoring our 1898 historic home "Swan's Nest" and bringing it up to 21st-century standards – we started exploring destinations we could reach in a day or two on the road. These were places we’d always wanted to see – Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado’s Western Slope and eastern plains.

So, imagine my surprise last weekend in Dallas, with visions of faraway destinations in my eyes, one of the first booths we stopped at was the RAWAH Colorado Wilderness Ranch. Hosted by ranch managers Tim and Meg Dyer, we learned this historic guest ranch and fly-fishing lodge, established in 1948 and situated just south of the Wyoming border at an elevation of 8,400 feet, is named after the Ute word for abundance. Surrounded by snowcapped mountain peaks and wilderness, this dude ranch offers guests an authentic Western experience in unspoiled natural surroundings.

As we continued to stroll the aisles, expansive photographs of rushing water caught my eye. It was the Rivers & Oceans booth hosted by owner Robby Pitagora and his team. This Arizona-based company matches guests with their perfect water adventure, whether that means white water rafting in Africa or the Grand Canyon, sea kayaking in Baja or Belize, or expedition cruising in Alaska, Galapagos, or Antarctica.

The Amadeus River Cruises booth, hosted by director of sales David Holmwood, offered water adventures of a more tranquil nature. River cruising is immensely popular along Europe’s waterways, and offers the advantage of docking just steps from historic cities and exciting points of interest. With a fleet of eleven luxurious ships, superior cuisine, and special interest cruises such as classical music on the Danube and Christmas market tours along the Rhine, Amadeus ensures guests a memorable experience infused with Austrian hospitality.

An interview with Narciso Moreno, Puerto Rico Tourism’s director of sales for North America brought back many fond memories. Randy and I have visited Puerto Rico on three occasions, and I fall in love with the island every time. It’s turquoise waters and white sand beaches always beckon me, but most of all, we love exploring historic Old San Juan – a designated World Heritage site founded in 1520 by Ponce de Leon. Narrow cobbled streets perfect for strolling, windows accented with black iron rails sometimes overflowing with flowers, impressive government buildings painted pale yellow with stark white trim for an air of Caribbean elegance, and fascinating shops and restaurants for every taste. For me, a trip to Puerto Rico isn’t complete until we’ve visited one of the old fortresses, where hundreds of years of history come alive. Puerto Rico’s flavors take center stage during the annual Saborea food and wine festival – a weekend of food, drink, music, culture, and fun that has made Puerto Rico the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean”. This festival features local culinary stars as well as international personalities. Speaking of food, Narciso introduced me to a sweet Puerto Rican tradition – Panetela de Guayaba – Guava Panetela Cake, tempting, tender layers of yellow cake with guava filling and a generous dusting of powdered sugar. And who can forget Puerto Rican rum!

Because I can never spend enough time in the Caribbean, I also visited with PJ Douglas Sands, senior manager of the Bahamas Tourist Office. The islands of the Bahamas are one of the ultimate escapes for fun, relaxation, and exploration, where they boast a full calendar of events such as Carnival, FIFA beach soccer world cup, and summer festivals. For families on a budget, PJ recommended Grand Bahama Island, where many vacation packages feature Kids Under 12 Eat Free, and kids can swim with the dolphins. For the golfer, PJ suggested the Greg Norman-designed courses in Nassau and championship-designed courses of the Exuma Islands. Popular with millennials and girls’ getaways, Bimini offers superb snorkeling and diving in sapphire waters during the day, and lively casinos for evening entertainment.

Throughout the Dallas Travel & Adventure Show, informative destination seminars were offered, so I took an opportunity to learn more about the U.S. Virgin Islands from department of tourism’s Heather Gibbs. St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix make up the U.S. Virgin Islands, and each features a distinctive experience. This year, St. John celebrates 100 years of being a U.S. territory. The island, which is two-thirds National Park, offers eco-tourism experiences, farm-to-table cuisine, the opportunity to explore the underwater trail of Trunk Bay, the most intact sugar plantation ruins in the Caribbean at the Annaberg Sugar Plantation, and gorgeous beaches. St. Thomas, which I’ve always referred to as “the shopping capital of the world”, offers everything from food trucks to Five-Star dining, a sophisticated downtown atmosphere, unlimited shopping, safari taxis to take guests everywhere around the island, and walking tours that explore food establishments and history.

African safari companies were well represented at the Dallas Travel and Adventure Show, and I was drawn to the Wild Rainbow African Safaris booth by the genuine, friendly smile of owner and guide, Jody Cole. Jody went on her first safari in 1998 and found “It moved me on a profound level”. Several safaris later, another guide asked her to assist with their safaris, which eventually led to the founding of her own company in 2004. Today, Jody is considered one of the most qualified female guides in the industry. When I asked why most of her clients decide to take a safari, she replied that it’s usually a life dream, which may explain the 18% increase in travelers from the U.S. in the past year.

The travel show also provided guests an opportunity to glean useful tips and travel inspiration from celebrities such as Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg, Angel Castellanos, and Jack Maxwell. I had the privilege of interviewing actor Jack Maxwell, host of Booze Traveler on the Travel Channel. In preparation for our interview, I visited Jack’s website, where I viewed a brief video in which he explained his passion for his South Boston hometown and connecting with people over a cocktail or beer. For him, it’s all about the stories that unfold, and the life experiences shared, no matter where in the world folks gather. I found that same genuine passion and connectedness during our interview, albeit there were no cocktails in sight. Our 15-minute interview became 25 minutes, and I could easily see what makes Jack’s travel show so popular.

There are eight Travel and Adventure Shows annually in major cities across the U.S. To attend one near your home, please visit

Happy Travels!


Mardi Gras Magic

You don't have to be in New Orleans this year to add magic to a Mardi Gras celebration. It's easy to create a festive atmosphere at home, even at the last-minute. Mix traditional Mardi Gras colors of green, gold, and purple into your table setting, and you’re on your way to a special celebration of Fat Tuesday.

When I create a tablescape such as the one pictured, I begin by selecting a predominant color that sets the theme for the entire table. In this case, amethyst Waterford crystal champagne flutes and a matching crystal vase I recently received as a gift were my starting point because they’re a bold Mardi Gras color. On the other hand, inexpensive glassware in a similar shade would have worked just as well, or even clear glassware on a purple coaster or cocktail napkin.

Next, I searched my cupboards for accessories in other shades of purple – chargers, napkins, and candles. To expand the three-color theme, I chose gold-rimmed dinnerware, antique salad plates with an elaborate gold raised pattern, wine glasses trimmed in gold, and finished off the table decor with colorful masks and an abundance of green, gold, and purple beads. The overall effect is simple, but dramatic. Open your cupboards and see what kind of Mardi Gras magic you can create! Laissez les bons temp rouler!