Notes From Swan's Nest


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Party Menu and Projects

It didn’t take long for me to settle on a menu for Saturday’s launch party at Swan’s Nest. Since we’re celebrating the national release of my television special, A Home for Christy Rost: Thanksgiving, I thought it appropriate to serve recipes from the show, plus several seasonal and buffet-friendly items from my cookbooks.

So, here’s what I selected: Roast turkey served with little rolls and condiments, Italian Sausage Cornbread Dressing, Autumn Roasted Vegetables, Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin (a dynamite recipe I developed recently for my Texas television cooking show, Just Like Home), Three Cheese Macaroni, Brown Rice with Apples, Dates and Raisins, and Green Beans Amadine with Roasted Garlic. I also have a selection of cheeses for guests to sample with a glass of wine while they settle in.

Last evening, I sewed four fabric snakes and filled them with dry pinto beans to help stop drafts under the exterior doors. They appear to be doing a great job. Next, since the sewing machine was already out, I decided to sew the lace curtain I’ve been meaning to make for the downstairs powder room for the past year. Nothing like an impending party to get one motivated to complete a few projects! During the process, I found that laying the lace on the dining room wood floor worked like a charm for keeping the lace edges straight as I measured and pinned the hems. I just followed the seams of the boards. Of course, crouching on the floor late at night isn’t the best position for one’s lower back the next morning, but the lace curtain looks fabulous.

Today I completed my grocery shopping and baked two recipes of cornbread for the dressing, plus a graham cracker crust for the Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake I offered to contribute to Angel’s dessert buffet. I also managed to hang the remaining lighted pine swag on the front porch railing, despite frigid temperatures. Afternoon sunshine helped make the job bearable, and I only had to run into the house twice to warm up my hands. By six o’clock this evening, it was zero degrees outside and still dropping.

Tomorrow will be a big day in the kitchen – a good place to be on a cold day. I prefer to make as much of my menu in advance so I’m not crazy the day of a party, which factored into my menu selection. Nearly all of the recipes for Saturday’s party may be prepared in advance and will only require warming or baking in the oven before serving. At least, that’s the plan. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Still Celebrating

I returned to Swan’s Nest last night with my husband, Randy, and it’s good to be back. I had been away for seven weeks to teach cooking classes around the country, attend a glorious Dallas party (more about that soon!) celebrating the national launch of my one-hour holiday television special, A Home for Christy Rost: Thanksgiving, and to celebrate Thanksgiving with our Dallas family.

When we reached Breckenridge last night, it was cloudy and cold with a promise of snow. This morning I woke to a steady snowfall and the breathtaking view of the Ten Mile Range I love so much. Tiny flakes, whipped by the wind, swirled and danced, and one look at the thermometer assured me it was as cold outside as it looked – single digits. It’s a good day for staying inside and making preparations for this weekend’s celebration.

Our dear friends and neighbors, Angel and Curt Caughey, who appeared in A Home for Christy Rost at the Thanksgiving table – Curt offered the blessing – are hosting a party for me Saturday evening to celebrate the launch of my first national television show. It didn’t take long for us to decide the party should start at Swan’s Nest where the show was filmed, and later progress to their home. So I’m planning a dinner buffet for our guests, which will give them the opportunity to see Swan’s Nest, and then we’ll move two doors down to Angel and Curt’s home for a tempting array of desserts and a screening of the show in their in-home theater.

The first order of business is planning Saturday’s menu. One would think being a television cook, I would have my menu planned weeks in advance, but the truth is, I haven’t had a spare moment to think about it, and traveling doesn’t help. Just like many of my readers, I’m so busy that when I entertain, it’s often a last-minute endeavor. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter though. I have no doubt Saturday’s dinner buffet will be well received by our guests, no matter what I serve. It all goes back to my belief that the main focus of any gathering should be on the guests, not on the food.

So please check back with me tomorrow. I’ll have my menu planned and hopefully, the lighted Christmas garland hanging on the front porch railings!


The Christmas Tree Surprise

The Christmas rush is over and my family and I have settled down to enjoying a post-Christmas glow.  It's a gloriously clear, cold mountain morning -- a day filled with infinite possiblilities.  Randy and our older son, Timothy are planning a cross country ski excursion, while I run a few errands and enjoy some quiet "home time" near our tall, fragrant Christmas tree.

It's a funny tree.  It's been such a busy year with the launch of our Thanksgiving television special, Randy announced a couple of weeks before Christmas that he thought a smaller tree would be a good idea this year -- 7 or 8 feet tall instead of last year's 13-foot tree.  That was fine with me, as I pictured in my mind the "perfect" seven foot Christmas tree, decorated with lights and glistening ornaments.  The afternoon we hiked into Swan's Nest's forest, we got a later start than we had intended, and the sun was already dropping near the mountain peaks.  It was cold and there was a fresh layer of fluffy snow on the trees, and as Randy and I started up the hill, I was mindful that we needed to find a tree without wasting too much time, cut it down, and head back to the warmth of the house before darkness fell.

We went from tree to tree, taking note of a few, rejecting others, but always wondering what was a few feet higher up the mountain.  At last, we found it -- a tree with a straight trunk and full branches, perched on a fairly steep slope.  It looked to be about 8 feet tall, which was close enough to our targeted height.  A few photos later, I knelt in the snow with Randy's tree saw and set to work.  Before long, the tree was cut and we were headed back down the hill toward home.  It wasn't until we reached the front porch that we realized this tree was a bit longer than it looked on the side of the hill.  In fact, once we inserted the trunk into the tree stand, we realized it was actually about 12 feet tall.  Oops!  So much for good intentions.  And what was with the lower half of the tree that looked so full against our boots?  With the hillside's sharp angle, Randy and I had been level with the tree's top five feet, which was indeed very full, but the lower half could only be described as sparse.  We couldn't help but laugh at the "Charlie Brown" tree before us -- tall, straight, thick at the top, sparse at the bottom -- and whatever happened to the branches in the back?  Okay, so it isn't a tree  that will ever grace the cover of a magazine, but hey.....laughter during the Christmas season is a good thing.  Some lights and ornaments, and it will be beautiful.

I never did find all the ornaments this year.  I remember packing them carefully, wrapping each fragile glass swan in tissue paper before placing them in the boxes.  Countless trips to the upstairs storage room and up to the barn proved futile.  No doubt, I'll discover the box of swan ornaments months from now when searching for something else.  Somehow, their temporary loss seems appropriate for our surprise of a tree this year.  With fewer ornaments, its quirks remain easily visible, but the best part of this year's tree has been the joy we've found while gathering around it.  Our time together as a family has been rich and full, like the top five feet of our tree.  We'll laugh about this tree for years to come, but the sweet memories will last a lifetime.

The Launch Party

Our launch party this weekend to celebrate A Home for Christy Rost: Thanksgiving was an overwhelming success. The doorbell rang precisely at 5 o’clock when Angel and Curt, our dear friends, neighbors and organizers of this party arrived, and the remaining guests quickly followed. Hugs were exchanged, gifts were given, and everyone got down to the serious business of sipping wine, sampling cheeses, and getting acquainted, all while standing in the kitchen – naturally.

Most of my menu was prepared the day before or earlier in the day, so my main task as the party got underway was putting all the casserole dishes into the ovens – Italian Sausage Cornbread Dressing, Autumn Roasted Vegetables, Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin, Brown Rice with Apples, Dates and Raisins (I substituted dried cranberries this time), and Green Beans Amadine with Roasted Garlic. Oh, I almost forgot the succulent 20-pound turkey I roasted the day of the party!

I had intended to serve Three Cheese Macaroni for the kid in all of us, but ran out of time, so that recipe fell by the wayside. Yes, even the most experienced cooks run out of time on occasion, especially when this particular experienced cook is also the housekeeper and party decorator!

About an hour after folks arrived, and after plenty of cheese and beef sausage had been consumed and I had led tours of Swan’s Nest, the buffet dinner was served. Obviously, no one seemed to mind having turkey again so soon after Thanksgiving, as the 20-pound bird was nearly wiped out. Another big hit was the cornbread dressing, followed by the brown rice dish and the sweet potatoes. And then there were the green beans with all that roasted garlic, and….Okay, I guess the entire menu was a hands-down winner. There’s no doubt about it – these guests came to EAT!

Around 7:15pm, everyone reconvened two doors down at Angel and Curt’s lovely home for dessert and a screening of the show. Angel and Curt’s home was a beautiful holiday vision. In the dining room, a gorgeous selection of glazed fruit tarts awaited guests, as well as a Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake.

Once guests were served, I introduced some of the guests and told a little bit about them – Jon Clark, my A Home for Christy Rost director; Bill Tinker, owner of All-Electric and a featured character in the show; Sharon Bellina, the artist who restored and transformed Swan’s Nest’s woodwork; Mary Ellen Gilliland, a prolific author and Summit County historian who provided a historic perspective of Swan’s Nest in the show; Phil Stevens, who painstakingly restored our 111 year-old fir floors; Bud Wheeler, an expert in foam insulation; Tim Seeling, who crawled through Swan’s Nest’s every nook and cranny to document and create house plans before any construction began; JD Bidwell, the carpenter who installed all the new cabinetry in the “new” kitchen wing and designed and built closets in the master suite and a phenomenal new pantry in the kitchen addition, our dear friends and neighbors Al and Liz Wickert and Angel and Curt Caughey, who appeared in the show around our Thanksgiving table, and last but not least, my dear Randy, who did a masterful job in the show and as Swan’s Nest’s general contractor.

At last, it was on to the screening. Eleven guests settled themselves in the state-of-the-art theater Curt installed downstairs, while the remainder of us cozied up on sofas, leather chairs, and bar stools to watch the show upstairs. I handed out red and white striped cardboard popcorn boxes filled with homemade Hazelnut Caramel Popcorn, and the show began. There was hardly a sound from our guests as they absorbed every facet of the show – the holiday cooking and decorating segments, the bits of history provided by Mary Ellen, and the fascinating highlights of Swan’s Nest’s restoration. For many, this was the first time they saw themselves on film, and they didn’t want to miss an instant of their national television debut.

It was a memorable evening of celebration – one Randy and I will never forget – nor the kindness of Angel and Curt in making it possible. But there’s one more celebration I can’t wait to share with you….An elegant launch party held a couple of weeks ago in Dallas, Texas. Please check back to read about the kindness of my Dallas friends that resulted in another wondrous celebration.


1 ½      cups chicken broth
1          cup water
1          cup brown rice
¼         teaspoon coarse salt
1          tablespoon olive oil
1          apple, cored and chopped
1          large shallot, peeled and minced
1          stalk celery, diced
1/3       cup golden raisins
1/3       cup chopped walnuts
2          tablespoons chopped dates
In a medium saucepan, stir together chicken broth, water, rice, and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook 45 to 55 minutes, or until the rice is tender and all the liquid has evaporated; set aside and keep warm.
Preheat a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Add apple, shallots, celery, raisins, walnuts, and dates, and sauté 5 minutes until all are tender.
Add the rice to the sautéed mixture and stir to combine well. Spoon the rice into a large serving bowl and serve.
Yield: 6 servings.