Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Chocolate Raspberry Dessert

Now who wouldn't love to have a piece of this pretty chocolate dessert. I found this recipe at Hershey's Chocolate site. I do have one warning: don't make the top chocolate layer too thick, thinking more is better. I did this when I made the cake and the chocolate hardened and was almost impossible to cut...or bite through. Everyone just lifted it off and ate it out of hand. Embarrassing but still tasty. :)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/2 cups (16-oz. can) HERSHEY'S Syrup
CHOCOLATE GLAZE(recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 13x9x2-inch baking pan.

Combine flour, sugar, butter, eggs and baking powder in large bowl; beat until smooth. Add syrup; blend thoroughly. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Spread RASPBERRY CREAM CENTER on cake. Cover; refrigerate. Pour CHOCOLATE GLAZE over chilled dessert. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Cover; refrigerate leftover dessert. About 12 servings.

RASPBERRY CREAM CENTER: Combine 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup (1 stick) softened butter or margarine and 2 tablespoons raspberry-flavored liqueur* in small bowl; beat until smooth. ( A few drops red food color may be added, if desired.)

1/4 cup raspberry preserves and 1 teaspoon water may be substituted for the raspberry-flavored liqueur.

CHOCOLATE GLAZE: Melt 6 tablespoons butter or margarine and 1 cup HERSHEY'S SPECIAL DARK Chocolate Chips or HERSHEY'S Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips in small saucepan over very low heat. Remove from heat; stir until smooth. Cool slightly.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Coconut Cake

Coconut cake is a Christmas tradition in my family. I'll be making my first one this year. This is the recipe I'll be using. The cake takes coconut milk and fresh grated coconut. While frozen or bagged coconut is okay for some things, if you're going to make a coconut cake, use a coconut!

2 1/4 cups cake or pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
10 tablespoons butter
3 large eggs

Fluffy Coconut Frosting:
2 large egg whites
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups fresh grated coconut

Grease two 9-inch round cake pans; line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper or waxed paper. Grease and flour the paper and sides of the pans; set aside. Heat oven to 350°.
Heat the coconut milk or milk with 1/2 cup coconut and the 1 teaspoon vanilla until hot. Put in blender and process until coconut is finely chopped. Set aside.

Sift the cake flour into a bowl with the baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a bowl of electric mixer, beat butter until light and creamy. Gradually add the 1 1/2 cups sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, scraping the bowl and beating for about a minute after each addition. Add the 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping sides of the bowl frequently. Slowly add about one-third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture along with half of the milk/coconut/vanilla mixture. Beat on low speed until blended. Scrape the bowl and repeat with another one-third of the dry mixture and the remaining milk mixture. Scrape the bowl and repeat with remaining flour mixture. Scrape the bowl and continue beating on low speed for a few seconds.

Spoon batter into the two baking pans, spreading evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean. Cool in pans on racks for 15 minutes. Invert onto racks which have been sprayed with a little nonstick coating to cool completely.

Frosting: Bring the 1/2 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil; cover and cook without stirring for 1 minute. Uncover and boil, stirring frequently, until mixture is hot enough to spin a thread when a little is dropped from a spoon, or to about 230°. Remove from heat and set aside. In the bowl of electric mixer -- with whisk attachment if available -- beat the eggs until fluffy and soft peaks form when you lift the beaters or whisk. Still beating on high speed, gradually add the sugar syrup in a thin stream. Continue beating until the frosting is fluffy and holds peaks.

Invert one of the cakes onto a serving plate; frost top and sides with frosting. Place the second layer atop the first and frost the top and sides liberally. Sprinkle fresh grated coconut over the top of the cake and toss coconut gently onto the sides.


My World Wednesday

I had planned to show some photos of my home all dressed for Christmas but my new camera has a problem. The flash won’t pop up because it thinks another flash is attached. Apparently this is a pretty common problem with the Canon Rebel. There is a slim chance my husband can make the repair but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for him.

Instead of talking about Christmas, I'm going in a totally different direction today. I want to share some questions from the US Naturalization Test. As I might have mentioned before, I teach English as a Second Language. Helping my students become citizens is an exciting part of the job. The test is hard even for people born in the US. See how well you can answer the first 25 questions. There are 100 possible questions on the test. Even if you aren’t a citizen of the US, think about how you’d answer the questions about your own country.

1. What is the supreme law of the land?
▪ the Constitution

2. What does the Constitution do?
▪ sets up the government
▪ defines the government
▪ protects basic rights of Americans

3. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words?
▪ We the People

4. What is an amendment?
▪ a change (to the Constitution)
▪ an addition (to the Constitution)

5. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
▪ the Bill of Rights

6. What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment?
▪ speech
▪ religion
▪ assembly
▪ press
▪ petition the government

7. How many amendments does the Constitution have?
▪ twenty-seven (27)

8. What did the Declaration of Independence do?
▪ announced our independence (from Great Britain)
▪ declared our independence (from Great Britain)
▪ said that the United States is free (from Great Britain)

9. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
▪ life
▪ liberty
▪ pursuit of happiness

10. What is freedom of religion?
▪ You can practice any religion, or not practice a religion.

11. What is the economic system in the United States?
▪ capitalist economy
▪ market economy

12. What is the “rule of law”?
▪ Everyone must follow the law.
▪ Leaders must obey the law.
▪ Government must obey the law.
▪ No one is above the law.

13. Name one branch or part of the government.
▪ Congress
▪ legislative
▪ President
▪ executive
▪ the courts
▪ judicial

14. What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
▪ checks and balances
▪ separation of powers

15. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
▪ the President

16. Who makes federal laws?
▪ Congress
▪ Senate and House (of Representatives)
▪ (U.S. or national) legislature

17. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
▪ the Senate and House (of Representatives)

18. How many U.S. Senators are there?
▪ one hundred (100)

19. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
▪ six (6)

20. Who is one of your state’s U.S. Senators now?
▪ Answers will vary. [District of Columbia residents and residents of U.S. territories should answer that D.C. (or the territory where the applicant lives) has no U.S. Senators.]

21. The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
▪ four hundred thirty-five (435)

22. We elect a U.S. Representative for how many years?
▪ two (2)

23. Name your U.S. Representative.
▪ Answers will vary. [Residents of territories with nonvoting Delegates or Resident Commissioners may provide the name of that Delegate or Commissioner. Also acceptable is any statement that the territory has no (voting) Representatives in Congress.]

24. Who does a U.S. Senator represent?
▪ all people of the state

25. Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?
▪ (because of) the state’s population
▪ (because) they have more people
▪ (because) some states have more people


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Muscat Poached Pears

At our family Christmas tea, the tea room we visited served a similar pear dish for the salad course. Everyone loved the sweet pears.

This recipe is for only four pears. You can double it if you have a big and deep pan in which to poach the pears. Make sure to turn the pears often while poaching to ensure they soften all the way through.

1 ½ cups Muscat or other sweet white wine
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
4 firm ripe pears, peeled

Bring first 5 ingredients to boil in heavy saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low. Using apple corer, carefully remove cores from pears at base, leaving pears whole and stems intact. Add to wine and poach until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Transfer pears to serving dishes. Garnish each pear with 1 bay leaf and 1 whole clove. Boil poaching liquid until reduced to ½ cup, about 20 minutes. Pour syrup over pears and refrigerate. Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Fresh Gingerbread Men

Actually it’s the ginger that is fresh, not the gingerbread men themselves. :) This takes a lot of ginger; grate it in a food processor.

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 egg
½ cup molasses
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup grated fresh ginger
3 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. Beat until combined. Beat in egg, molasses and vanilla until combined. Beat in grated ginger and flour. Cover and chill dough about 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375º. On a floured surface, roll dough until 1/8-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place cutouts 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are light brown. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool. Decorate as you please.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Tiny Ham and Pineapple Pot Pies

Perfect for the Progressive Christmas Tea, these little pies can be prepared up to 2 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bake just before serving. The recipe has been adapted from “Pillsbury’s Holiday Baking.”

½ cup finely chopped cooked ham
½ cup finely shredded Swiss Cheese
½ cup drained canned crushed pineapple
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion
½ teaspoon ground mustard
1 box refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon sesame seed

Heat oven to 450º. In small bowl, mix ham, cheese, pineapple, onion and mustard.

Remove crusts from pouches and unroll. From each crust, cut eight 3-inch rounds and eight 2-inch rounds. Press the 3-inch rounds in bottoms and up sides of 16 ungreased mini muffin cups so edges of crusts extend slightly over sides of cups.

Spoon about 1 rounded tablespoon ham mixture into each crust-lined cup. Brush edges of crust lightly with beaten egg.

Cut small vent in each 2-inch round. Place 1 round over filling in each cup; press edges together, pushing toward cup so crust does not extend over sides. Brush tops with beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seed.

Bake 10 to 14 minutes until crust is deep golden brown. Remove from muffin cups. Let stand 5 minutes before serving. Makes 16.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Cucumber Rounds

I'm off to make Christmas cookies with my mother today but I'll leave you with this recipe. Really, can you have a tea without a cucumber sandwich?

1 cup mayonnaise
1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon minced chives
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, basil, parsley flakes and dill weed
1 loaf (1 pound) white or rye bread
2 medium cucumbers, scored and thinly sliced
Diced pimientos and additional dill weed

In a blender or food processor, combine the mayonnaise, cream cheese, onion, chives, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings. Cover and process until blended. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Using a 2-1/2-in. biscuit cutter, cut out circles from bread slices. Spread mayonnaise mixture over bread; top with cucumber slices. Garnish with pimientos and dill. Yield: 2 dozen.


My World Wednesday: Cookbook Review

Reading a cookbook is my favorite way to relax and unwind. I always have several at my bedside and I read a few pages each night before I sleep. At this busy time of year, I make sure to have a few new cookbooks on hand. I recently picked up three that I want to talk about. You can find links to them on Amazon on my sidebar.

Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters

I have the Brass Sisters’ Heirloom Baking and use it all the time so when I saw their new cooking book, I had to have it. I’m not disappointed. It is just as wonderful as the baking book. This cookbook has so much more than recipes; it tells the stories of families and life.

Often when I read a cookbook from even ten years ago, the recipes and techniques seem outdated. The Brass sisters have taken their heirloom recipes and updated them for today. I’m not saying they make everything low-fat and low-calorie but they did leave out the lard and other ingredients we don’t use much today.

A few of the recipes I want to try from Heirloom Cooking are: Savory Tomato Peanut Butter Soup, Louella’s Church Cauliflower, Sweet Potato Salad, Mrs. Yaffee’s Pierogi, Easter Meatloaf, Hot Chicken Salad, Mrs. Naka’s Lemon Angel Pie, Orange Drop Cakes and Edinburgh Tea Squares.

Church Socials, 782 Delicious Recipes from our Church Communities by Barbara Greenman.

With 782 recipes, it’s hard to go wrong with this cookbook. Church social, doesn’t that have a nice ring to it? These recipes are homey comfort food for the most part. Some of the chapters included are: After the Service, Dinner on the Grounds, Potluck Suppers, Holidays & Special Occasions and Bake Sale Treats.

As someone who grew up with her church’s yearly Turkey Supper, Winter Chicken and Waffle Supper, Church Picnic, Memorial Day Soup and Sandwich Lunch, Ladies’ Aid Refreshment Tables, Bake Sales and Christmas Parties, this cookbook brings back wonderful memories. No matter what part of the country, the place to find real ethnic or regional cooking is at a church meal.

Saving the best for last, Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics by Ina Garten. I love Ina. Her recipes are always stylish and elegant but easy enough for anyone to do. She doesn’t believe in food trends like foam or faux food or the crazy combinations featured on “Top Chef.” Her food is all about using the best ingredients and letting the taste of them shine through.

One fun feature of this cookbook is Ina’s top ten lists. She covers things like 10 no cook things to serve, arranging flowers like a pro, and things not to serve at a dinner party.

Ina has such a dry sense of humor throughout the book and she’s totally honest. She mentions that at one fancy holiday dinner party she was catering, a guest brought a cheesecake covered with canned cherries. She hated to add it to the dessert table but she didn’t want to offend the guest or the hostess. At the end of the party, every piece of the cheesecake was eaten and some of her fancier desserts were left.

Making old favorites in the best ways possible is kind of the theme of this cookbook. The dishes are familiar but the prep and ingredients are great, fresh ideas. Each recipe has a gorgeous photo to show how the dish should look. This is so helpful for new cooks as well as seasoned ones.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Party Pinwheels

Another recipe for the would-be hostess who doesn't cook or bake. So simple but these are such a festive and tasty dish.

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 package (.4 ounces) ranch salad dressing mix
1/2 cup minced sweet red pepper
1/2 cup minced celery
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives
3 to 4 flour tortillas (10 inches)

In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and dressing mix until smooth. Add red pepper, celery, onions and olives; mix well. Spread about 3/4 cup on each tortilla. Roll up tightly; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Cut into 1/2-in. slices. Yield: 15-20 servings.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Thai Crab Cakes

There are five common varieties of crab that we use in the US. Blue crab is our local variety here on the East coast and it really is blue before it is cooked. Dungeness crab is found in the waters of the Pacific, from Alaska to Mexico. King crab is known for their foot-long legs. Rock crab live among the rocks deep in the ocean. And finally Stone crab is found in the waters surrounding Florida. They have large, lobster-like claws full of meaty goodness.

¼ cup flaked coconut
1 egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup fine dry bread crumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup finely chopped green onions
¼ cup bottled red peppers, chopped
2 tablespoons Asian chili sauce
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons snipped fresh mint or basil
2 teaspoons finely shredded lime peel
2 teaspoons lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 pound crabmeat, picked over
2 tablespoons cooking oil

Chop coconut in a food processor until it is fine; set aside. In bowl, combine egg, ½ cup of the bread crumbs, mayo, ¼ cup green onions, peppers, chili sauce, cilantro, mint, lime peel, lime juice, salt and pepper. Add crabmeat and mix gently. Shape crab into ¾-inch balls.

In a pie pan, combine coconut and remaining ¼ cup bread crumbs. Dip crab cakes into this mixture. Place crab cakes on waxed paper and chill for 1 to 24 hours.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add crab cakes, spacing 1-inch apart, as space in the pan allows. Cook about 6 minutes or until golden brown and heated through. Turn only once. Keep warm in a 300º oven while cooking the remaining crab cakes. Serve warm. Makes about 24 crab cake balls.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Orange-Poppyseed Scones

While I love lemon, orange seems more like Christmas to me. Each year at Sunday School, every kid received a Christmas gift of a little box of candy and an orange. I always buy extra special oranges at Christmas and put one in the toe of my husband's stocking.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons orange juice

Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly flour heavy large baking sheet. Mix 2 1/2 cups flour, sugar, poppy seeds, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in 2 teaspoons grated orange peel. Whisk egg and 2 tablespoons orange juice in medium bowl to blend. Add to flour mixture; stir just until blended.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; knead gently until smooth. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut each round into 6 wedges.
Arrange wedges on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Serve warm. Makes 12 scones.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Cherry Pistachio Scones

Don’t use the pistachio nuts in the red shell because they’ll bleed into the dough. Use the tan shell nuts.

2 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter
¾ cup dried cherries
½ cup chopped pistachio nuts
½ cup milk
1 egg, separated
4 teaspoons coarse white sugar

Heat oven to 375º. Line baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, mix flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, the baking powder and cinnamon. With pastry blender cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cherries and pistachios.

In small bowl, blend milk and egg yolk. Add to flour mixture. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.

On floured surface, gently knead dough several times. Divide dough in half; place on cookie sheet. Pat each half into 6-inch round. Cut each round into 6 wedges; do not separate. In small bowl, beat egg white, Brush tops of each round with egg white and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake 17-22 minutes or until golden brown.


My World Wednesday: Dog Days

Last fall, when my husband was on vacation, his mother suffered a ruptured appendix and was in the hospital the entire time he was off. I had a root canal that went bad a day after the procedure, leaving me in agony. To say it wasn't a good vacation is putting it mildly.

My husband is on vacation again this week. So far no human illnesses but we have two pups in treatment. Mr. Seamus has had a terrible tummy ache. I won't go into details but we've almost depleted the household paper towel supply. He's getting more rest than usual as you can see from the photo below.

Now for Miss Maggie, she caught her toenail in the metal strip that goes across the bathroom threshold. I should have known something was wrong because she was hiding underneath the bed and Seamus was under there too trying to see what was going on. What a mess!

My husband is quite the emergency medical person. He had Maggie inspected and bandaged in a few minutes. After lots of cuddles in a warm bed with Mom, she, uh, we, stopped shaking and fell asleep. Doesn't she look like the saddest little girl in the picture?

I'm thinking, maybe my husband should just work year round. :)


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Blueberry Orange Bread

This recipe is so easy; it doesn’t even take a mixer. It is a nice change from the usual Lemon Blueberry bread. You can make this in mini loaf pans if you prefer just as yesterday’s bread could be baked in regular loaf pans. Just switch the timing between the two.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
½ cup orange juice
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons grated orange peel
¾ cup fresh or frozen blueberries

In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients. In another bowl, combine egg, orange juice, water, butter and orange peel. Add to dry ingredients just until combined. Fold in blueberries. Pour into a greased and floured 8”x4”x2” loaf pan.

Bake at 350º for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Makes 1 loaf.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Little Lemon-Cranberry Loaves

This festive bread is not only great for the Progressive Christmas Tea Party but it also would be a wonderful Christmas gift for friends. The recipe makes 4 mini loaves, 6 slices each.

2/3 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, lemon juice and peel. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with milk. Stir in cranberries and walnuts. Pour into four greased 5-3/4-in. x 3-in. x 2-in. loaf pans.

Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. With a toothpick or skewer, poke 12 holes in each loaf.

For glaze, combine sugar and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved. Spoon over loaves. Cool completely before slicing.


My World Wednesday

Happy Thanksgiving

My husband and I made these little corn husk dolls almost 30 years ago. We always bring them out for Thanksgiving decoration.

I wish everyone celebrating this holiday a day filled with warmth, family and pumpkin pie.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Warm Arugula Salad with Roasted Asparagus

I always like to include a few recipes that can be used by those who don’t like to cook or bake. This pretty Christmas red and green salad is simple to put together but it looks as though it took a lot of trouble.

1 big bunch of thin asparagus
4 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup bottled balsamic vinaigrette
1 cup roasted red pepper strips, buy the jarred kind or make them yourself
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
8 cups baby arugula, trimmed and torn into pieces

Preheat oven to 400º. Rinse the asparagus spears, pat dry, and snap off and discard the tough ends. Place the asparagus in a shallow baking pan, drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake the asparagus until it just begins to take on a roasted appearance, 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the balsamic vinaigrette in a small saucepan over low heat. Do not let it come to a boil.

Remove the baking pan from the oven and toss the red pepper strips and olives with the hot asparagus. Either divide the arugula among 8 plates or place the salad in a bowl. Top it with the asparagus mixture. Spoon the warmed dressing over the salad and serve at once. Makes 8 servings.


Progressive Tea Party: Fig and Prosciutto Salad

This is a very elegant salad to offer guests whether for the Progressive Tea Party or for Christmas dinner.

3 ½ mixed salad leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼ bulb fennel, cut into thin strips
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 ¼ ounces Prosciutto, cut into thin strips
6 ripe fresh figs
4 ounces mozzarella

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper

Mix the salad leaves, mint, fennel, and shallots. To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Toss salad with the dressing. Arrange on serving platter. Snip open the figs in criss-cross pattern . Pinch from the bottom to expose the insides. Weave with Prosciutto. Add mozzarella. Serves 6.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Coconut Soup with Shrimp and Mushrooms

This is a very simple soup to prepare. Finding the ingredients might be the only difficulty. But remember, this is for a special Christmas tea so a trip to the specialty food store or Asian market isn’t out of line. Your guests will love this soup. It is one of my favorites.

3 cups chicken broth
4 kaffir lime leaves, cut into thin strands
A 3-inch length of lemongrass, finely chopped OR zest of ½ lemon, julienned
2 1/8-inch slices of fresh ginger
¼ cup fish sauce
½ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
3 jalapeno chilies, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 cup peeled shrimp
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 ½ cups coconut milk
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Combine the all ingredients except cilantro. Bring to a slow simmer. Simmer long enough to cook the shrimp. Season with salt and top with cilantro.


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Savory Tomato Soup with Herbed Yogurt

This is a very light soup topped with a low-calorie alternative to the usual sour cream. It makes a very nice way to start the Progressive Christmas Tea Party.

1 orange
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons dried marjoram
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 14-16 ounce can peeled tomatoes, undrained
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Herbed Yogurt:
1 cup plain yogurt
2 green onions, minced
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1 small garlic clove, minced

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel from orange. Reserve the fruit for another use. Heat oil in heavy saucepan. Add orange peel, onions and garlic. Cover and cook until onions are tender and golden, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Remove orange peel.

Stir in herbs, cumin and crushed red pepper. Cook until cumin is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juices and stock and bring to boil. Cover pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

Puree soup in batches in blender. Return soup to saucepan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 8 full servings or 16 smaller tea party servings.

For yogurt: Combine ingredients in small bowl. Use to top soup just before serving.


My World Wednesday

Do you have a mule in your family history? No, no, I don’t mean that as a nice way of saying your stubborn Uncle Harry. I’m talking about a real mule, a long ear. If your family lived on a farm, there was no doubt a mule or two.

Jack, Kate, Dave and Joe are pictured above. They were the mules my father-in-law’s family used. I can’t help wondering if the mules were named after real people. I think it might be more an insult than a tribute to have a mule named after you.

The next picture shows haying with mules. That’s my FIL and his brother on top of the hay. Guessing from their ages, the picture must have been taken in the late ‘30s. Today my Amish neighbors still use mules in this same fashion.

Why am I talking about mules? Blame my brother. He has a mule named Trooper. He doesn’t use him for farming but for riding. Almost every weekend, the two of them go on a trail ride with other mule lovers. In the photos, his group was on a three-day ride in an area near Gettysburg. Doesn’t it look relaxing?

I learned some really interesting things about mules. They are big on self-preservation. They won’t keep going when they are tired and they eat and drink only what they need. When spooked, they don’t run wildly like horses; they run a few yards, stop and look back to see if the danger is still there.

A mule is a hybrid, the offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. Each mule has his own unique whinny/heehaw. They are sure-footed, carefully placing their feet in rocky terrain and they can actually see their back feet. They can even run backwards.

As for their reputation for being stubborn, from the stories my brother told, it sounds as though they are. When they were used for farming, most farmers took a dinner break around noon. The mules would always stop at the same hour, without wearing watches, and they would not budge. It didn’t matter if the farmer wanted to keep working because rain was on the way. The mules were the bosses.

My brother offered to take me for a ride on Trooper. And he was serious. I think I’ll just stay on the ground. He's an awfully beautiful animal though.

Trooper and my Brother


Progressive Christmas Tea Party: Menu Suggestions

Here are some ideas for the progressive tea. I’ve given a couple options for each course. Don’t think that all items should be served at this tea.

The Soup Course:
Savory Tomato Soup with Herbed Yogurt
Coconut Soup with Shrimp and Mushrooms
Homemade Crackers

The Salad Course:
Fig and Prosciutto Salad
Warm Arugula Salad with Roasted Asparagus

The Scone Course:
Orange-Poppy seed Scones
Very Cherry Pistachio Scones
Lemon-Cranberry Tea Bread
White Chocolate Blueberry Tea Bread

The Savory Course:
Thai Crab Cakes
Tiny Ham and Pineapple Pot Pies
Christmas Pinwheels
Cucumber Canapés

The Sweets Course:
Old Fashioned Coconut Layer Cake
Chocolate Raspberry Dessert
Muscat Poached Pears
Cookie Plate with Gingerbread Men
Chocolate Truffles


Progressive Christmas Tea Party

I love visiting friends’ homes at Christmas. What fun to see the decorations and the tree, each uniquely expressing that family’s style and taste. But it isn’t always easy to find time to visit everyone I’d like. My solution is to have a Progressive Christmas Tea Party.

A progressive party starts at one home and the guests travel to consecutive homes for every additional course. Teas have five courses so that’s five different homes everyone will get to visit. No hostess has the entire burden of the tea; a progressive party is much less stress.

Begin the progressive tea party with soup at the first house, salad at the second, the third offers scones, fourth is the savory course and finally the last stop is for dessert. Allow time for admiring and lingering but make a definite time to leave each home so the next hostess can be ready.

The five hostesses should coordinate the food they’ll offer. No one wants shrimp in the soup, in the salad and as a tea sandwich filling. But the decorations, the table and the music should express each hostess’ taste.

This Progressive Christmas Tea Party works well with a small group of friends as guests, as well as, with a whole Sunday School class. Two or even three seatings is very easy to accommodate.

It is nice to incorporate a gift-giving element into any Christmas party. Have each guest bring an item or cash donation for a particular charity. Or for a small group of guests, a needy family might be adopted and gifts provided for them.

Do a little charity research to find a cause that touches your heart. Check Charity Navigator to make sure your money is going to be used as you’d want. If, like me, you don’t want your donation going to a charity that has a CEO making $300,000 a year, look for one that uses most of their money for their cause.

Tomorrow I’ll have menu selections for the Progressive Christmas Tea Party. Recipes will follow in the coming days.


Little Thanksgiving Teas: To Go

Send your guests back home after the Thanksgiving holiday with tea for the road. A thermos of hot tea and a bag of chocolate chip cookies will be most welcome. And you'll have some cookies left over for yourself.

Everyone has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Here's mine. It makes a chewy cookie with tons of chips. The surprise ingredient is vinegar. It cuts the sweetness of the cookie and lets the flavors of the chocolate and butter shine through.

3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups flour
3 cups chocolate chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Cream together the butter, sugars, corn syrup and vinegar, then beat in eggs. Beat in vanilla, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in the flour and chips.

Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes or until just set. Remove and transfer to a rack to cool. Makes 4 dozen.


Little Thanksgiving Teas: Visiting

Yesterday I suggested sending your guests out on Friday for a bit so that you could relax and recharge on your own. Now Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend is your time to go visiting. And you don’t want to go empty handed. Pop this Chocolate Chip Bread in your bread machine and you will have an absolutely effortless gift to take along. Pack a few of your favorite tea bags or servings of loose tea to share too.

Chocolate Chip Bread

Makes 1 ½ pound loaf

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons softened butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 cups bread flour
¾ cup chocolate chips
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dry milk
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon bread machine yeast

Add all ingredients to bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select Sweet cycle, light crust color.


My World Wednesday: My FIL, the Bushmaster

Since yesterday was Veterans' Day, my husband and I got out some of his father's WWII items. I want to share a two of my favorites.

My FIL was in the famous Bushmasters Infantry which served in the South Pacific. They were called American's Jungle Warriors. The Bushmasters had almost two dozen American Indian tribes represented as well as Hispanic Americans and Japanese Americans who had joined the Army from their internment camps.
My FIL created the little flag below from a small parachute. He listed each man he served with. The drawing in the center depicts a palm tree and a red sun rising. Because the flag was kept in the dark, it is still very easy to read each name; it never faded.

The next thing I want to show is a pair of Army shorts that he'd saved. They are as small as a bathing suit, actually probably smaller than bathing suits at that time. My father-in-law was 6'2" and all leg. I wish we had a picture of his actually wearing those shorts. But it was terribly hot and I suppose it was a relief to wear those tiny shorts.

My father-in-law spoke to my husband and me of his actual service only one time and it isn't something I want to repeat. But he often mentioned the men he served with and he had such an admiration for the American Indians and Hispanic men he got to know so well.

There is a Bushmasters Museum in Arizona. We would like to donate these items if they'd want them. The Bushmasters still exist today and are deployed to Afghanistan.

Little Thanksgiving Teas: The Day After

Friday afternoon send your houseguests out, out shopping, out for a walk, out to visit other friends or family. Take a quiet moment for yourself. Sit down in your favorite chair with a mug of strong Yunnan tea (Upton has a great one, here) and a turkey sandwich.

Make your turkey sandwich as big or small as you like. Leftover turkey, cranberries, lettuce, even stuffing, all taste almost as good as Thanksgiving dinner itself. Close your eyes and savor the flavor.


Little Thanksgiving Teas: Thanksgiving Morning

Thanksgiving morning is such a hectic time. If you’re like me, you are tearing around your kitchen trying to get the dressing made and into the turkey and then getting the turkey in the oven so dinner will be on time. Making breakfast for houseguests is the last thing I want to think about.

My simple solution to having hungry houseguests is to prepare a quick breakfast tea. The easy coffee cake takes only 5 minutes to mix up and 20 minutes in the oven. Do this before starting the turkey and it will be ready before the bird goes in the oven.

Offer some fruit and a pot of tea and your guests can serve themselves in another room, another room far from the kitchen. You might even consider making up a tea tray and leaving it outside your guest room so your guests don’t have to get dressed before coming down to eat.

For a great breakfast tea, go with a traditional English Breakfast Tea or Earl Grey. Slip a tea cozy over the pot and the tea will stay hot all through the breakfast hour.

This tasty coffee cake recipe came from the back of the Bisquick box and has been around for years. It was one of my mother's family dessert standards. Add chopped fruit or nuts if you like to jazz it up a bit.

Streusel Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Streusel:
1/3 cup Original Bisquick mix
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons firm butter or margarine

Coffee Cake:
2 cups Original Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk or water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease 9-inch round pan. In small bowl, stir streusel ingredients until crumbly; set aside.

In medium bowl, mix coffee cake ingredients until blended. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with streusel.
Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.


Little Thanksgiving Tea Parties

If the idea of hosting a tea party over the Thanksgiving weekend sends shivers down your spine, you aren’t alone. After preparing the big feast, you’re exhausted, your fridge is already stuffed with leftovers and lots of your potential guests are out of town. Nope, no big Thanksgiving tea party. BUT you can still enjoy tea at this busy time of year. Coming up are five little ways to share tea all through the holiday.

The first tea is for Wednesday evening. Welcome your Thanksgiving houseguests with these delicious Pumpkin Bars and decaf tea. Their travel stress will be eased with Bigelow's Constant Comment tea. And who doesn’t like a snack before bed. I call this The Arrival Tea Party.

4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup raisins, if desired
Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 package (3 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup nuts, walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts

Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease bottom and sides of 15x10x1-inch pan with shortening. In large bowl, beat eggs, granulated sugar, oil and pumpkin until smooth. Stir in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger and cloves. Stir in raisins. Spread in pan. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 2 hours.

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, on low speed until smooth and spreadable. Spread frosting over bars. Sprinkle with nuts. For bars, cut into 7 rows by 7 rows. Store in refrigerator.


Tea Party Food for a Crowd

You might not have 50 people in your home for a tea but you might one day be in charge of a fundraiser tea or the Mother and Daughter Tea at your church. It can be really confusing to know how much you’ll need to serve your guests and how many ingredients to purchase to make each dish. Here’s a chart of amounts for cooking for 50.

Soup – 2 ½ gallons
Salad – 6 pounds of bagged salad mix, with 6 sliced cucumbers and 4 boxes of cherry tomatoes
Salad dressing – 1 ½ quart
Tea sandwiches – 1 of each kind per person
Quiche – 8 nine-inch pie plates or 50 individual mini quiche
Chicken or ham salad – ½ cup per sandwich if served on a roll – 1 ½ gallon chicken salad or ¼ cup per sandwich, if using ½ slices of bread - ¾ gallon chicken salad
Cheese – 3 pounds
Deli meats – 3 to 4 pounds
Crackers – 2 pounds
Potato salad or coleslaw – 1 ½ gallons
Fruit or veggie dippers – 16 dozen pieces
Dip – 1 ½ quart
Fruit salad – 6 quarts
Strawberries – 2 pounds large
Grapes – 4 pounds
Melon – 3 pounds
Pasta salad – 7 cups dry pasta
Nuts – 2 pounds
Pickles – 2 quarts
Lemonade – 3 dozen lemons, 2 pounds sugar, 3 ½ gallons water
Coffee – 1 ¾ pounds
Punch - 2 ½ gallons
Tea – Brewed – 38 cups water, Loose – 1 cup, Bags – 50
Cakes – 9x13 – 3 cakes
Assorted bars – 2 per person, 36 pieces per 9x13 pan
Cookies – 8 dozen
Ice cream – 2 gallons

It is always better to have too much than not enough to offer each guest. Extras can always be frozen, divided among the helpers or un-opened, un-served items can be donated to a soup kitchen.


My Top Ten List of Favorite Kitchen Helpers

I remember my grandmother’s using a big, scary butcher knife that looked as though it had been through the Civil War. Except for a candy thermometer, she never had most of the items I consider essential to my cooking and baking. She’d probably shake her head at my over-flowing kitchen. But I’m all about making life in the kitchen as easy as can be and the items I’ve listed below either improve efficiency or make things easier.

Stand mixer – My mother-in-law has had her Kitchenaid since the ‘40s and I’m sure it could go several more decades. Mine is much newer but just as strong. It is so wonderful for mixing up bread dough as well as making simple mashed potatoes.

Heat-proof spatulas – My husband put one of these in my Christmas stocking a few years ago. Before that, I’d been using the old rubbery kind, the kind that chipped, melted, got hard and whose heads often separated from their sticks at the most inopportune time. My new spatulas make baking soooo much nicer.

Food Processor – I know women who say that they’d rather just chop things with a knife because they don’t want to have to wash a food processor. I just throw mine in the dishwasher and it isn’t any more a problem than a dirty bowl. I’ve had the same Cuisinart for about 30 years and it is still growing strong. My food processor grates cheese and mixes up dough as well as slices and chops. I would be lost without it.

Silpat liners – What a relief to throw away my rolls of parchment paper. Nothing sticks to a silpat and even boiling caramel can be poured directly onto them. The sizes available fit into my baking sheets, unlike parchment which has to be cut. And they clean up with a quick wipe.

Whisks – Again, don’t buy the supermarket kind. They are flimsy and the wires often tangle. Oxo sells whisks with soft, comfortable handles that I love.

Candy thermometer – You can get by without a candy thermometer but you’ll risk grainy fudge and limp candies. It is such a simple thing to heat your candy mixture to the proper temperature and not have to fuss with all that soft-ball and hard-ball, mixture in cold water business.

Tongs – I never used kitchen tongs until I saw how the TV chefs used them. Now I use mine at every meal. For turning, for grabbing, for reaching things on the top shelf of the cupboard, nothing works better.

Good knives – Yep, they are expensive but once you’ve used a quality knife you won’t go back to the cheap kind. Look for knives that can be sharpened and then learn how to sharpen your own knives.

9 x 13-inch baking pans – I have four. My favorite has a domed lid which allows for lots of fluffy icing. I have metal ones for baking and heavy ceramic and glass ones for cooking main dishes and casseroles.

Microplane grater – In many surveys I’ve read, the microplane is everyone’s favorite kitchen gadget. They really do make grating lemon or orange peel a breeze. They also make the prettiest dusting of chocolate over desserts. I use mine for onion and garlic when I don’t want big pieces. I don’t know who the first person was to come up with this idea but I’m grateful to him/her.

So there’s my list. What’s on your kitchen favorites list?


My World Wednesday: Gravy

I have a confession: I can’t make gravy. Growing up we had gravy every time we had mashed potatoes, all kinds of delicious gravy from chicken to roast beef to turkey. I can remember well my mother’s standing at the stove whisking a slurry of corn starch and water into the meat drippings.

When I first got married, I tried making gravy. Instead of nice, smooth, rich gravy, I had goopy, lumpy, greasy ickiness. My husband, who normally eats everything in sight, wouldn’t even touch it. For the next several years, I used gravy mix that came in packs. Just add water and you have gravy. Only it was really terrible too.

Next I tried jarred gravy. A step up from the packets but there was always an off taste that screamed not-homemade. For years I bought this kind of gravy whenever I had guests for dinner. Maybe I could pull off passable gravy and maybe I’d have to reach for the jarred stuff. I never took a chance.

My husband and I eat our mashed potatoes plain or maybe with a pat of butter. We’ve given up on gravy. The only problem with that is one must have gravy for Thanksgiving dinner. Really. I think it is a law.

On many Thanksgivings, I’d always ask my mother to make the gravy at the last minute. She was usually dressed up and it wasn’t very nice of me to ask her to risk getting gravy all over herself. But as always her gravy was good and everyone poured it on.

Then a few years ago Woman’s Day magazine had an article on fool-proof gravy. I tried it and it worked. The gravy was beautifully smooth, tasty and the recipe made a lot. And most of the work was done in advance. I’ve used the recipe ever since.

Since the holidays are coming up and your family might be expecting gravy, I want to share the gravy recipe with you. If your gravy isn’t the best, try it this way. I usually start this as soon as the turkey goes in the oven. It simmers gently while I'm doing other things and since nothing else needs the stovetop at that time, it doesn't cause congestion.

Turkey neck and giblets
6 cups chicken broth
2 large onions, sliced
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup dry white wine or water
½ cup celery leaves
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
¾ cup flour
Turkey drippings
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the first six ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours.

Remove the giblets to a cutting board. Strain the broth into a large cup measure, pressing the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the veggies. Add extra water to the broth if needed to make 6 cups. Chop the giblets and neck meat. Refrigerate them.

Mash the butter and flour with a fork until blended into a paste. Break it into 4 chunks.
Bring the broth to a boil, reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the flour mixture, 1 chunk at a time until well blended. Whisk until thickened and boiling. Boil for 3 minutes to cook out any floury taste. At this point, I usually take the gravy outside to cool and wait until needed. If it isn’t cold where you are, of course, stick it in the fridge.

After the turkey is cooked, pour the pan drippings into a 2-cup glass measure. Spoon the fat from the top and discard. Add enough water to equal 2 cups. Pour the mixture back into the roasting pan. Stir in the giblets and neck meat. Heat over medium-low heat scraping up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, until hot. Season to taste. Serves 12.


Vote Today!

You know what he wants you to do. So pack up your patience, your umbrella and folding chair, a couple snacks (but no tea, you don't want to have to pee) and go vote today!


Lists, Lists and More Lists

When preparing for a tea, a party, when hosting a fundraiser dinner or a dinner for friends in your home, lists can help you keep your sanity. You won’t have to suffer that feeling of having something in the back of your mind telling you that you’ve forgotten something. With lists, you’ll know for certain what you must do and when.

Start your list keeping with the names, addresses and phone numbers of the guests you’ve invited. You’ll be able to see who has responded, who is definitely coming to your party and whom you need to phone. You can then give the list to your honored guest, in cases of a bridal or baby shower, so she can have a handy way to address her thank you cards.

The next list should be the food list. Decide what foods you want to serve and write them down. By listing them, you can see if you have too many similar foods or ingredients. You don’t want every dish to be rich with cream cheese or sour cream; watch out for that. Mix up the flavors, the colors, the ingredients. Try at least one new dish.

The shopping list is very important. After you’ve chosen the foods you want to serve, write down every ingredient you’ll need. Don’t just guess. Pull the recipe to be sure you have everything written down. It will be a snap to see that you’ll need two dozen eggs total and you won’t over or under buy.

It's not a list but I suggest printing out all the recipes you'll be using for your party. It often takes valuable time to locate a specific recipe if you have lots of cookbooks and cooking magazines. With all the recipes at hand, you'll be able to quickly check baking times, ingredients and special instructions. Just be sure to double check that you've typed everything correctly.

Once you have your shopping list, break it down into lists of the individual stores you’ll be visiting. A wholesale club is great for bulk purchases but their selection is limited. A place like Walmart has good prices on many things. Your deli, your bakery, your farmers’ market might all be on your shopping list. If you are familiar with the layout of the store, arrange your shopping list aisle by aisle. This will save missing something and having to retrace your steps. Cross off each item as you put it in your cart.

The to-do list is where you can write down all those ideas that come to you when you’re doing something else, like sleeping. Keep this list close by and when you remember that you need to borrow that platter from your Aunt Betty, write it down. It is a comfort to see items being checked off this list and knowing you haven’t forgotten anything.

The next list is the master food list. It has the following categories: the food item, the day you’ll prepare that item, a block for checking off a completed item, any special to-do instructions, the pan you’ll cook the item in, how you’ll store the item from the time you prepare it until the time you’re ready to serve it and the dish you’ll use to serve it. As you fill this in, you’ll probably adjust your timing. It is easy to get too many foods that need to be in the oven at the same time so switch them around or make them and freeze. The same is true with refrigerator space; make certain you’ll have room for everything. With this list you’ll be certain you have enough space, time and serving pieces.

The final lists are daily time sheets. You’ll need these on heavy cooking and baking days and the days before the party. Include not only the time schedule for the food but also things like getting out the punch bowl, ironing the tablecloth, going to the florist and even getting your hair cut. On party day, you’ll know exactly when the main dish goes in the oven, when the dessert must come out of the freezer and when you need to put the water on to boil for tea.

You’ll see your lists evolve and change as you decide to drop or add dishes. Keeping the lists on your computer works well but you’ll need hard copies that you can carry around with you. I keep mine together on a clip board.

You can even keep a list of things that went well and things you’ll do differently in the future. Don’t throw your lists away after the party. They will be great resources for future parties. For example, I keep my Thanksgiving lists from year to year since that menu rarely changes. I don’t have to write a store list and I know that the baked corn goes in the oven at 11:15.

If you too are a list keeper, you’ll understand my methods but if you never keep lists, you’ll probably think I’m a little compulsive. Give lists a try though and you’ll see how much they help you get ready for your party and reduce your party anxiety.


Happy Halloween

The Internet goblins are hard at work today and my connection is a mess. I can't post pictures so I'll simply say HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


More Birthday Party Details

The menu for my mother’s 75th birthday party was not extensive and there wasn’t a drop of tea to be found. But I did use several of the recipes that I’ve featured on this blog. Here’s what we served:

Barbequed pulled pork sandwiches
Chicken salad on croissants
Sweet and sour meatballs
Slow baked beans
Macaroni and shrimp salad
Cole slaw
Pimento cheese and crackers
Veggies with dip
Chips, pretzels and nuts
Pickles and olives
Deviled eggs
Birthday cake
Brownie bites
Pumpkin cheesecake cream puffs
Pink swirl cookies
Daisy chocolates
Fall mints
Sweet local cider

Space was a big concern when planning the menu. I used three chafing dishes and they take up a lot of room. In addition to my large dining table, I needed three card tables, my sideboard and a high stool for holding the coffee pot.

The other thing I needed to consider was how to heat everything. My cousin, who lives just a couple blocks away, offered her oven and I had an extra crock pot. But what I found most helpful was using electric roasters. I’ve had one for years but bought a second when I saw them at Sam’s for $39.99. I’m so glad I did this. Those roasters really do take the place of an oven.

Last Christmas my basement fridge stopped working (with all my Christmas dinner supplies in it.) We finally replaced it before the party with a scratch and dent model from Home Depot. My husband had waited all year for just the right fridge. I think he was considering kicking a showroom floor model so it would have to be discounted. :)

My decorations were also simple. I had one large florist’s bouquet on the dining table, two pink cyclamen on the room divider and small arrangements of pink roses on each of the five tables where people ate. Mother received a beautiful arrangement from John’s daughter Pam and that sat beside her on a small table. As you can see in some of the pictures, Mother had a pretty pink corsage too.

I wouldn’t normally use plastic table covers but since I knew there would be at least two seatings at each table, I wanted a quick between-diners clean up. I used a white bottom cover and a pink runner for each table. In addition to the roses, each table had pink candles and glass water pitchers. I also used milk glass containers full of pink M&Ms.

I had many gracious offers of help with this party. But I wanted everyone to just be able to relax and be a guest. I relied on only a few people, my brother, Neil, his girlfriend, Kim, Mother’s friend, John, and John’s daughter, Pam. My niece and nephews blew up all the balloons, parked cars for guests, sliced rolls and served as taste-testers. And most importantly, my husband was my biggest help and support. He did everything I asked without one complaint, from lugging in huge tables to moving all our middle parlor furniture to the second floor to running for supplies time after time. I thank them all.

After the party, we had food left over. Monday my husband took chicken salad croissants and cake to work for his guys. Tuesday he took in pork barbeque and shrimp macaroni salad. My friend Luda said yesterday, "So you made your mother happy, you made your guests happy AND you made all those guys happy." Not to be immodest, but I think I did!