Afternoon Open House

Hot Spiced Cider with or without Rum (Pum Pum Pum)

An afternoon open house is the perfect party …  No main course.  Everyone’s gone by dinner time…  And folks show up because  other commitments are for evening.  Few dishes to wash.  Food that’s easy to prepare ahead. Your goal:  everything out and ready for guests to help themselves.  Your reward:  To be able to enter your own party!

Ginger cookies, Chocolate Snowballs, Date bars–Made ahead and frozen

A couple of perfect festive drinks (Sparkler and Hot Cider), as well as a pot of strong coffee and some thick cream (for those who must dunk cookies or are heading to a serious evening party), make set-up much easier than a cocktail  or dinner party.  People come dressed comfortably.  Yes.

A festive few dishes and a candle or two.  Not much more needed.

Your best cookies,  a couple of great nibbles…Always vegetables…A bit of cheese-

Lots of vegetables–some fresh, some grilled. Herb Garlic Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts

Something they’ll remember later…like my taste-like-jelly-filled-donut shortbread sandwiches:

Raspberry Shortbread Sandwiches


Crowded is ok. They’ll come and go.

All set up ahead leaves time for visiting and listening to the great Christmas playlist you put together for the party.  Everything from Revels to Tony Bennett to Harry Connick, Jr. to Cambridge Singers.

Something  filling for those who skipped lunch.  Here, a great tapenade.  Don’t skimp on the olives; buy the best you can find.  Grill your sliced baguette on the stove if it’s too cold outside.

Spicy Tapenade with Crostini

Spanish Cava is a lovely, inexpensive sparkler.  Whatever’s leftover can be used for New Year’s or for
mimosas for brunch.  There’s usually a discount if you buy a case.  Think ahead.

Cava and Cranberries.  Back-up bottles  all chilled in the frig.


Leave flutes set up with cranberries and folks will pour the sparkler over them.


David Lebovitz famous Pretzel and Nut Mix.  No Chex Mix needed.

Something crunchy is a must.  Nuts, pretzels, chips…for the salty people.

My take on  Eli Zabar’s shortbread recipe..Bittersweet chocolate and sea salt..  I like Valrhona chocolate for dipping, but could only find Callebaut locally this year.  Makes excellent hot chocolate, too, by the way if you’ve any leftover from dipping.  Valrhona is French chocolate; Callebaut is made in many places, but is basically Belgian-French in origin.


*Hot Cider with or without Rum (I leave the rum plainly marked in a pitcher on counter.)
*Pot of strong coffee and Hot Water for tea.  The best cream you can find.  Lemon, sugar.
*Cava (or your favorite bubbly)–Add a couple of  fresh cranberries to the $1. glasses
*Cookies–4 of your favorites.  Homemade or beg from friends-even buy at great bakery.
*Garlicky Rosemary Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts and  Lots of Veggies (Recipe below)
*Spicy Tapenade and Crostini (Grilled Bread) – Recipe Below
*Cranberry Almond Bars with Tangerine You must have chocolate. Make it yourself.
*Alyce’s Go Nuts!   Salty, hot, and sweet pecans.  Great protein.
*David Lebovitz Pretzel and Nut Mix–gotta have something that crunches.

                                  Other Recipes

 Herb Garlic Cheese Dip with Pine Nuts 
12 oz goat’s cheese (chevre), softened
32 oz (4 c) ricotta cheese
Zest of one lemon
Hot sauce- a few drops
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
2T fresh dill, minced  (Can choose just one herb if you like.)
2T fresh basil chiffonade
2T fresh chives, minced
1T fresh thyme, chopped (plus a few sprigs for garnish)
1T fresh Rosemary, finely minced
1/2 t coarsely ground black pepper (or more to taste)
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced
Rosemary sprigs 

Place all ingredients except garnishes in the food processor and pulse until well-blended.  Taste and readjust seasoning.  If making the day before, the garlic will settle down a lot overnight in the frig. Store in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Spoon into serving bowl and garnish with pine nuts, peppers, and sprigs of rosemary  Serve with fresh vegetables or crackers.  If too thick, add a few drops of milk and stir well before serving.

Spicy Tapenade  (Basic recipe courtesy Tyler Florence)

2 cups pitted mixed olives
3 anchovy fillets
2 small garlic cloves
Generous pinch of crushed red pepper
Big handful of flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Tiny pinch  ea kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
Process all ingredients in food processor using steel blade.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.  Serve with crostini (Many people make this in the oven, but I am fond of grilling the bread on a large, stovetop grill if the weather is inclement.  Grilled crostini is luscious with salt and pepper, but none is needed here when serving with tapenade.)

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

This week, we’re buying a few small gifts, making a vat of barbequed brisket,  going to a choir party, taking some friends out to dinner and to a Rose Ensemble concert, baking a manger scene (yes!) and stollen, watching every Christmas movie we can, and picking up my sister at the airport.    Emily and I are getting our hair done together tomorrow, so we’ll be all cleaned up for the whole deal.  Work is slowing down, though I still have a couple of pieces to rehearse and direct.  Probably need to get that Rutter out and practice!  Dave’s week will be intense and then crawl, alternately….as co-workers world-wide try to get ready for Dell’s week-long break, but still make time for Christmas parties.

We’ll be at church on Christmas Eve, of course…it’s my favorite service.  If there’s time, we’ll stop by a couple of open houses, but we’ll come home to cookies and eggnog in the wee early hours of Christmas morning and fall into bed to listen for the sleigh bells.

Christmas Day is a different story:

For years, I never even made Christmas dinner and I’m an avid cook.  By the time Christmas Eve services were done, I was done, too.  No one’s happier to see Christmas day arrive than a church musician.  A great meat tray and the perfect basket of croissants sounded good to me.  Maybe a big bowl of shrimp and sauce and fresh veggies.  But one year Dave began cooking on Christmas Day and that continues.  I do a mean pan of cinnamon rolls and stollen and and an egg casserole for brunch after presents and he’s in the kitchen the rest of the day often cooking up something out of Tyler Florence’s books. It’s a hoot for him to get me out of that kitchen and to just putter on his own.  No timetable.  I stay in my jammies and watch movies.
Last year’s Christmas Day rolled flank steak with roasted tomatoes.
Christmas Day.  Toys, movies, the pups.
Gabby and Tuck have been good all year, but they’re still worried there’ll be  nothing in their stockings.

Maybe there are others with the same fears….

                                                                courtesy Share Our Strength


Want to feed some kids before the end of 2011?


No Kid Hungry this Holiday Season

With your help this holiday season, we can connect hungry children with nutritious meals all year long! Every $1 you donate to Share Our Strength helps connect a child with up to 10 meals. Through December 31, our No Kid Hungry Partners are matching the first $500,000 donated during the holiday season.   Click here to donate.

John O’Donohue is fond of talking about “entering your own life,” but I love the idea of entering your own Christmas.  It’s time.

Merry Days to you!   Do the fun things.

Fave Cookies-A Repeat Post

 Raspberry Shortbread Sandwiches and Valrhona Chocolate Shortbreads

 Last Year on Christmas Eve, I posted the recipes for these cookies.   As they are among my favorites, I thought them worth posting again!  Happy Cookying, my friends.

Merry Christmas, Friends, Family and other Loved Ones 

A promise is a promise and here are two more of the cookies from the tray:

 These cookies are at the right of the tray and are both shortbread cookies made from the same recipe, but finished differently.  The recipe is Eli Zabar’s  (NYC) and I took it straight from Ina Garten.  Just the end results are totally different.  And while these are not terribly innovative, they are terribly delicious.  Addictive, in fact.  Go ahead; you still have time to bake.  No?  How about for New Year’s?  Truthfully, the 12 days of Christmas haven’t even begun yet.  Get out those trays and crank up that oven.  Take a batch to a neighbor you wish you knew better or run up to the local church for services tonight and give a batch to one of the musicians.  Like me.  I’m working tonight. 

Continue reading

Homemade Tomato Soup and Fried Cheese on a Snowy Night or How’s the Second Week of Advent Goin’ for Ya?

The story goes that tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches….  Actually, I don’t know that story.  If you do, tell me.  I just can’t remember when I didn’t eat that comforting, homey classic Saturday noon meal.   My kids grew up eating it, but mama’s got a brand new bag.

This time around, I made the tomato soup myself.  No sugar, sweetheart.  Just a drop of honey to counteract the acid in the tomatoes.  And…no grilled cheese sandwich.  Not for me.  Dave had one.  Instead, I fried my cheese and gently topped my soup with it.

It was creamy, crunchy and fulfilled all those grilled cheesey longings while I skipped the bread on a cold, cold night with the snow flying across the piano window:


Here’s how:

Homemade Tomato Soup with Fried Cheese

In a food processor (or by hand, chopping) fitted with the steel blade, place:

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1-2 peeled carrots
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 of a lemon, including the peel

Process pulsing until the vegetables are evenly and quite finely minced.

In a 4-6 qt stock pan, heat over medium heat

  • 1 T olive oil

When quite warm, spoon in the minced vegetables and let cook 5 minutes until softening.

  • 1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes (I like Cento tomatoes.)
  • 1/2 cup white wine or water
  • 1tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp of chili-garlic sauce or a few drops of Tabasco

Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer.  Let cook slowly about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.  If desired, puree using an immersion blender or by carefully returning (1/2 at a time) mixture to food processor.   Taste and season again, if needed.   Lower heat to very low and make the fried cheese:

Fried Cheese

You’ll need 1 large, thin slice of cheese for each serving.   I used low-sodium Swiss Cheese, but Cheddar would also work well.  Don’t use too soft of a cheese.

Directions:  In a small skillet, heat 1T olive oil over medium heat.  Place the cheese slice in the pan, and watching closely, let melt well.  Meantime, ladle the soup into the bowl. Scrape out the melted cheese into a bowl full of soup and put the skillet back on the heat briefly.  Using a good spatula, scrape the now crispy leavings of the cheese into the bowl.  Eat while hot.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

It’s the second Sunday of Advent.  In my world, we’re moving daily through the journey toward the stable.  Trying to figure out how to be ready for God to be born in our hearts.  Taking a good look at what we’ve stored in there over the last year as it’s been that long since we took inventory and marked down the things that didn’t sell.   Looking in dark corners.  Blowing away the dust and sweeping away the cobwebs that can’t be there if we are to prepare him room.  While it can seem odd, we are continually waiting for Jesus to come again. 

So today, we sang and talked, and lit candles.  Took communion together and sang, “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.”  Jody played the accordian and the sounds of the guitars, banjo, organ, piano, and steel guitar raised the roof to praise God and to make alive our wonders and wanders.

At home, we’ve got the tree, but it’s not up.  Had a great day Saturday at Bachman’s looking at the decorations and buying a new tree, but it’ll sit out in the garage a while.  The Christmas dishes are out.  The table has the Christmas candles to grace it, and the many boxes of butter for the cookies are ready in the freezer.  Down in the basement, there are stacks of flour, sugar, and chocolate.  Almonds, raisins, and pecans.  Invitations went out today to draw friends in for a bit of cheer on a Saturday afternoon not too far away.  We’re finishing chores like the painted trim in the kitchen and getting curtains up…  “What?  Are you waiting for Christmas?” takes on new meaning.

The choir is working hard to be ready to sing our cantata next week.  Joseph and Patricia Martin’s “Canticle of Joy” is our offering and our study…our way and our journey this year.  All over the world, I’m comforted to think choirs are doing that same thing.  Moving in on the music, getting it in their hearts, and making it one of their priorities.  Makes you learn the story with your whole body when you sing it.

Here are a few at our rehearsal  with Cabrini for Thanksgiving service.
At Bachman’s looking for a tree….

Did you ever see a blue or purple poinsettia?

Elephant topiary next to the poinsettia tree.

Which one?

Beautiful, but out of our price range.

Finally getting our curtains up once we got home.

The Tuckster’s been eating snow.


And so things are getting ready for Christmas… slowly, but surely.  And at your house?  Here’s a bit of Advent reading I thought I’d share:

Richard Rohr

When we demand satisfaction of one another, when we demand any completion to history on our terms, when we demand that our anxiety or any dissatisfaction be taken away, saying, as it were, “Why weren’t you this for me? Why didn’t life do that for me?”, we are refusing to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are refusing to hold out for the full picture that is always given in time by God.

When we set out to seek our private happiness, we often create an idol that is sure to topple. Any attempts to protect any full and private happiness in the midst of so much public suffering have to be based on illusion about the nature of the world in which we live. We can only do that if we block ourselves from a certain degree of reality and refuse solidarity with “the other side” of everything, even the other side of ourselves.

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 5, 7

Sing a new carol,