Are You Visiting East Scarborough Fair?

About 5 years ago, my husband woke up and said to me, “Lets buy a duplex in Cleveland Heights!” I’d wanted to move back into the city for quite a few years, but he was reluctant. We’d been living in apartments for many years at that point, close to my parents so that we could keep them in their home. I had been really missing my gardens and had even made a secret wish over the Yule Log at Winter Solstice for a house that I could call home again with a lovely patch of dirt that I could turn into orchards, vegetable and herb gardens. That morning, we began to scour the real estate ads. There was only one duplex for sale so on a whim we decided to go see it. We drove up and looked at each other. It was absolutely perfect. A grand brick side by side, with 2 porches (one up and one down) the length of the whole house. The yard was large enough to be sold as another lots and the realtor proudly told me that I could pay a good chunk of my mortgage if I sold it. I was aghast. It had three gorgeous heirloom apple trees already and lots of red raspberry bushes. It already had the foundations for beautiful gardens and a lovely side yard planted with herbs and perennials. It even had two trees to string a hammock between which had been one of my secret longings. We bought it one week later and christened it  East Scarborough Fair. Living here has been a dream come true. We love our neighborhood and more than that we love our neighbors, community minded couples young and old who love the diversity and heart that this neighborhood, part of what is known as “Royal Heights” has to offer. There’s a 4th of July Parade, there are block parties. There are spontaneous cocktail parties and lots of wonderful children running around.

The holidays here are so warm and welcoming. 55921_1744039958321_4791625_o So we lived here for a year by ourselves and finally decided to try to rent the other side of the duplex which we easily and quickly did. Yet it never has felt right. I’ve always felt that this house had something else to do…something very special. This summer when the lease was up, my renter let me know that she couldn’t continue. I put ads in the all of the usual places and started interviewing potential renters. I quickly found myself frustrated and I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me. Our home wanted to be an Air Bnb.

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Last year when we went to California for the winter, we stayed in a couple of wonderful air BnB’s. What a wonderful experience they were. When you stay in one you have the experience of immersing yourself in a community. The air bnb owners were wonderful people and they all spoke of  really enjoying getting to know their guests as part of the experience. I come from a family of luxury retailers and way backwards in time, Swedish inn keepers. I longed to be having the fun with my home that our hosts were. There’s nothing I love more than providing a beautiful experience and remarkable service.

So it is with a huge leap of faith that we are embarking upon this dream. It makes so much sense to me because inn keeping runs through my veins on my mothers side, her family were innkeepers in Sweden. In her honor I’m going to use her family crest as our logo!1455063_10202453266750475_1423121320_n


An Excerpt from Stirring the Senses ~ "Merry Christmas to all and to all a Fine Feast! "

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Grande Dessert Table- Origins unknown~ You don't need a setting like this to create  an unforgettable holiday party, just your imagination!


"A cocktail party can easily be transformed into the best holiday gathering (in my mind) of all, a grand dessert buffet that usually starts at around 10:00 pm. I love to meet my guests at the door with that champagne cocktail that I just mentioned and I always serve just a few canapés, like a cheese puff or mushroom toast just in case that my guests haven’t had much dinner.

The fun of a party like this is in the dramatic way that you present it! Have all of the candles lit in the room, but keep your guests as far away from the table as possible so that they can see the flickering flames of the candles but not the food. I'd pick a fabulous piece of music to be playing (Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or something wonderful like that!) and at about 11:00 I'd throw open the doors and invite everyone to gather at the dessert table.

There are very few things as delightful to the child in all of us, as a heavily laden table just groaning under the weight of an abundance of gorgeous desserts! What follows here is just a
partial list of things that I love, because I am sure that all of you have several specialties that would be just perfect for such an evening!
Make sure that you have a bowl of fresh fruit and lots of whipped cream or zabaglione to go with it!

I always like to have one yummy jam trifle, or maybe two! Trifles are the dessert versions of a layered salad! They look simply beautiful in a cut glass bowl, or better yet, if you’re lucky enough to own a trifle bowl, use it. There’s nothing prettier than layers of ladyfingers and glistening jams, and a trifle in spite of its fancy name is among the easiest of all desserts to create.

For a wonderful gathering such as this, a Bouche de' Noel is a very traditional, delicious chocolate and chestnut and praline dessert. It is a fantastic creation, shaped like a Yule log and fancifully decorated with mushrooms and greens made from marzipan and meringue!

Displayed on your grandmother’s tea service tray and surrounded by holly and fresh greens, this is one of the most beautiful desserts of the season! There are lots of easy recipes for a Bouche de’ Noel, and I think that they are so much fun to make, but if time is short, you can usually purchase a very good one from a specialty baker!

Next, pile those wonderful little cream puffs that you can buy frozen onto any gorgeous platter and have them drizzled with chocolate syrup, raspberry or caramel, and garnished with some mint leaves. You can also simply serve them dusted with
confectioners’ sugar for a snowy effect and serve the sauces on the side in a gravy boat!

You’ll need a rich chocolate mousse, which is guaranteed to disappear immediately as well as the platter of chocolate covered strawberries served alongside of it and if you can find them, the jewel tones of glaceed fruit are so pretty on a holiday table.
The exquisitely buttery French apple tart known as the Tarte Tatin is a fine addition to your buffet and of course, you’ll need one really grand chafing dish dessert like a Bananas Foster served with a simple vanilla bean ice cream!

I would also mound some chocolate truffles into lovely compote, a piece which is traditionally used to serve a spiced fruit or chutney. I might even consider filling those champagne glasses that I spoke of before with a creamy rice pudding, fragrantly dusted with cinnamon, and placed for effect on my silver pedestal cake plate! In fact, make use of all of the things that you own that have pedestals or feet. Along with a liberal use of candlesticks in all materials, shapes and sizes, as well as sparkling pieces of cut and smooth crystal, these pieces will provide height and interest to your table!
The last thing that you’ll need to round out the dessert offering is a cheese platter, with wedges of Brie, Camembert, and some really good cheddar! A Stilton cheese is very traditional cheese to serve right now, and comes directly from England, cloaked in wonderful drama and ritual. I always feature my cheeses on the sideboard with several different bottles of port and Madeira wine.

I have many cordial and small wine glasses that were my grandmothers, and this is what I use them for. Just some assorted good bread, crackers, fruit and you're all set to shine!

For beverages, a coffee bar provides a very festive end to the evening, with an assortment of liqueurs, as well as the traditional offerings of cream and sugar. You could even provide more champagne but with several wonderful choices of liqueur. Don’t forget a nice assortment of non-alcoholic sparklers, or you might want to serve a special non-alcoholic cocktail! My absolute favorite is called “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” and it’s made from sparkling water, pear nectar, a splash of lime juice and then poured into a martini glass filled with crushed ice, then garnished with a piece of candied ginger and a sprinkling of edible gold leaf if you can find it!
The last thing that I would create for the table is a wassail bowl, a gorgeous arrangement all by itself! For this I usually use my silver punch bowl, although a old cast iron cauldron or copper kettle is so pleasing to look at and historically appropriate. If you use copper, please make sure that it has a tin or steel lining so that the flavours don’t react with the metal to cause a bitter taste. I own a large copper soup kettle, and when my punch bowl is filled with eggnog, I use it for the wassail.

My wassail recipe is pretty simple, blending cinnamon stick, clove, allspice, cranberry juice, apple cider, sugar syrup, Calvados and brandy, mixed together and heated through, then served with a slice of sugared apple!

A bowl of steaming wassail is a wonderful aromatic welcome into your home, and if you’ve got a wonderful foyer, put the bowl there surrounded by masses of fresh greenery and berries “to drive the cold winter away” as the front door opens!
You may be wondering what to serve all of this on, and I’ll bet that we can find some holiday china right now in your cupboards!

You're wondering how?

Many of us have inherited stacks of Royal Copenhagen or Bing and Grondahl collectible Christmas plates. However, because traditionally they are hanging on the wall, no one ever knows what else to do with them, so they sit year after year gathering dust, when really they are the best holiday appetizer/ salad/dessert plates ever made! They are just the right size, and they can go into the dishwasher without any problem at all.

Handcrafted in such lovely wintry shades of cobalt blue and soft white, they are just begging to be given the honour that they deserve! I know of no better way to make them happy then to heap them full of delicious food.
Just an aside here, one of the most commonly asked questions about fine china is “Can I put my formal dishes in the dishwasher?” The answer is a resounding yes, and as a matter of fact, almost any plate made within the last 25 years is dishwasher safe.

It’s not the dishwasher that ruins your good dishes; believe it or not it’s the soap! Use about half of the amount of soap
recommended, and make sure that you let everything, especially the gold trim cool down, before you remove your dishes. That’s all that’s needed, and what this means is that there’s no excuse to not use the lovely things that you own. Beautiful food presentation is a feast for your eyes and uplifting to your spirit, and it’s so easy to make anything look wonderful when you put it on a silver tray or a beautiful service plate.

I’ve always gotten such pleasure from bringing out lovely old things, and inventing new uses for them. Old silver with monograms, glasses with initials, linens with fancy embroidery... all of these things make up your shared personal history. Old silver that has a beautiful hand engraved monogram is a treasure. I practically cried every time someone would bring a set of it into the store to have the engraving removed. You can’t get monograms like that anymore; very rarely do you find an engraver with that skill.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good, and bringing this bit of history into the party atmosphere connects the past with the yet unknown future, and lets your guests feel like they’ve been welcomed into a home that’s emotionally rich and very special!
Having said all of this, I realize that I’ve left out the three most magical ingredients that I know of to create a wonderful holiday party.
First, make sure that you have a gingerbread house, lots of undecorated cookies and bowls of frosting, candy and plenty of children around to decorate and eat them!

Next, a gift for each woman and child is a lovely reminder of your friendship and a continuation of such a special evening,how about several narcissus bulbs for fragrant midwinter blooms or a votive candle to light the New Year?
And last but not least, my personal favorite, LOTS OF MISTLETOE FOR KISSING UNDER!"

 

If you've enjoyed this excerpt from Stirring the Senses, please go to my Author page on Amazon!

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Hosting a Springtime Cocktail Party!

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This is a reprint of an article of mine than ran originally in my favorite perfume blog, Perfume Smellin Things. Please pay a visit and enjoy a delightful  romp through our fabulous world of perfume! We're running a contest over there for a bottle of one of the wonderful syrups that I talk about here! If you want to enter, please leave a favorite appetizer recipe as your comment on the Perfume Smellin Things site! The contest will close at 11:45 pm Friday, April the 15th.


I love cocktail parties and springtime parties are so much fun! Right now, everything’s beginning to bloom and it’s a perfect excuse to get outside and play with others! So I thought that for today’s Foodie Sunday that I’d love to give you a few suggestions for making your next cocktail party easy and fun so you’ll have no excuse not to do some of your own frolicking come the merry month of May!


In helping so many plan events over the years I’ve learned that hosting an incredible dinner party is something that we really WANT to do, but the prospect of which can fill you with total dread! The secret to delicious success is to be well prepared and completely committed to your own pleasure! After all, you want to have fun too, because sharing a meal together is still the best way that I know to really enjoy my friends and catch up with our crazy lives and if and when you’re entertaining someone unfamiliar it’s always easier to break the ice between strangers in the comfort of your home!



My mother was the master of the sophisticated cocktail soiree and over many years I watched and marveled at the way that she ran a business, raised the three of us and gave incredible parties without ever really breaking a sweat! She taught me that really good planning and preparation are essential to creating a wonderful and stress free evening, leaving you firmly in control to really enjoy your guests! I learned many useful things from her, like to never ever be without porcelain canapé plates and several tins of smoked oysters, canned stuffed grape leaves and eggplant appetizer!



I never saw her bar without several bottles of good champagne and a few after dinner liqueurs for coffee! She always had a loaf of party sized bread in her freezer, 8 chicken breasts and spinach for dip, and she could throw a party for ten with about 65 seconds notice; I saw her do it a million times Her secret weapon for stress free entertaining was a well stocked pantry and simple food, beautifully presented with a lot of laughter. Over the years, I’ve learned from her methods, and I make it a habit every time that I go shopping to add something to the cache that I keep for expected and surprise guests.

Remember that rule number one is to relax!
 

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The success to throwing a fabulous cocktail party is to keep it simple! You don't need a full bar, really all that  you need is one signature drink like a simple martini (keep it savory, nothing too sweet!) , an herbaceous aperitif like Herbsaint or Pastis  to mix with a bit of soda and sweet lavender scented syrup,  a red wine , a white wine and a champagne cocktail! If you’ve got a punch bowl (or even a large pretty bowl) I've found that there's nothing prettier than creating a luscious champagne punch and it’s very simple to do!  Just chill several bottles of nice champagne and a bottle of peach nectar.  Put the ingredients into the bowl, add clear peach schnapps and violet scented Parfait d’ Amour to taste and stir.  Now for the pretty part. Take an old fashioned ring jello mold and fill it with a little bit of spring water and add all kinds of berries and herbs.


 
Put the filled ring mold into the freezer and let it set until partially frozen. At this time add more berries, fruits and herbs and more water to the top. Freeze completely. I tend to really load up on the fruit because as it melts it's so pretty! When it’s time to serve, put the mold in a bit of hot water to loosen it and put the ice ring in the punch bowl.  My mother taught me to do this when I was first married, broke and throwing my first parties because it’s really a great way to serve a lot of people inexpensively yet elegantly! The champagne that you choose doesn’t have to be expensive or even French! All it has to be is bubbly and not too sweet and there are plenty of domestics to choose from , for this recipe my choice is usually Freixenet.

 

Hors d oeuvres for a springtime party are very simple to make because the season is so fresh! Bruschetta is a delicious Italian treat with fresh pesto and tomato on lightly grilled or toasted bread that's been brushed with a touch of olive oil. You can use many different toppings for bruschetta, fig and gorgonzola with honey is delicious or for a vegan option there’s tapenade and roasted red peppers! This time of year fresh asparagus is in season and I love to steam the spears, wrap them with fresh rosemary ham or prosciutto and drizzle them with lemony infused olive oil and some fresh parmesan. Another appetizer that is easy to make are steamed baby redskins sliced in half with each half topped with a bit  of smoked trout  or salmon, fresh dill and  crème fraiche.  Right now you can get baby heirloom tomatoes of all varieties at many local stores.  Simply cut the tops off, scoop them out and fill them with the salad of your choice. Mine is hard boiled egg, mustard, curry and currants with a bit of mayonnaise and topped with slivered toasted almonds , yours might be filled with chicken or ham salad. Use all three if you wish ,arrange everything on a lovely tray, pass them and listen for the compliments! Take your grandmothers lovely demitasse cups (you know the little ones that you’re not sure what to do with!) and fill them with a light bisque or tomato based cream soup. Simple, pretty and perfect!


The only other things that you’ll need are a simple charcuterie platter with fresh cheeses, grapes, salamis and some slices of a crusty baguette.  Don't forget to have a gluten free alternative such as a rice cracker for those who can't eat wheat! I usually make one larger thing, like a roasted pork or beef tenderloin to slice and serve alongside of the cheese platter for simple sandwiches. Simply place a pork tenderloin in a roasting dish and cover it with salt , pepper, diced onions, aromatic rosemary spears and a jar of sliced peaches in syrup. Roast  the pork according to your butchers directions, let cool and then slice thinly. Arrange the tenderloin on a platter of fresh arugula and rosemary and serve with a side sauce of honey mustard mixed with a bit of mayonnaise and bourbon.

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Make sure that you have enough cocktail napkins for everyone , this is usually the one time that I break down and buy really pretty paper ones.   Pretty melamine plates are easy to find this time of year and although expensive they are worth the initial investment  and will serve you well for many years. I've suggested food here that really needs no cutlery but you should have some available just in case. Set everything up on a pretty patio table  on a pretty spring tablecloth,    hire a high school kid to dress in black and pass the finger foods for a special touch. Make sure that your Ipod is dancemix ready and plugged into the speakers that you've strategically placed outside!



You’ll want flowers  and candles but keep them simple. A monochromatic arrangement in the French style is very pretty for this sort of party and very easy to create. Choose a favorite color and work with several different flowers in the same color family. Peonies are perfect if you can find them and so are roses or gerbera daisies. Keep the arrangements simple  ,  compact and sophisticated and perhaps tie the bouquets with beautiful cloth ribbon before you put them in the vase. You could also arrange your flowers in a pretty basket or pitcher but either way they should accentuate and not dominate, leaving the food that you've so lovingly prepared to be the  star of the show!


Lounging gourmet elixirs with flowers
Now that you have everything set and ready to go, it’s time to draw a bath with something yummy ( I love Jo Malones French Lime Blossom, so sweet! ) and relax with a glass of wine. Because you’ve planned so well you’ll have plenty of time to prepare to be  the belle of your ball! 45 minutes before everyone arrives , light the candles,  arrange the food  on the table and get ready to enjoy yourself. It's all done and the clean up is easy because of the large Tupperware container filled with soapy water that you’ve placed close by but out of sight! Just have a container nearby to scrape the platters into and put the dirty dishes into the water to wait until later making the whole thing super easy!


 Now for fun!  The English lavender cocktail syrup that I've referenced above is made by Cleveland's own Lounging Gourmet. Her syrups are my new favorite mixers and they come in the most divinely lickable flavors like Andean Fire Orchid  , Antillean  Hibiscus, Damascus Rose and my very favorite which is of course English Lavender! I use them to infuse sparkling water, champagne, fresh juice and lemonade and you will love them! If you're in Cleveland you can purchase them as well as all of the delicious wine, champagne and luscious cheeses that you'll need for your party at Pat O'Briens Fine Wines  in Pepper Pike , Ohio. Just call 216-831-8680 and ask for Brett who will be happy to sell them to you!

The Lounging Gourmet website is  
http://thelounginggourmet.com/

Image of Melamine Plates courtesy of  http://www.laplates.com/



Merry Christmas to all and to all , a fine feast!

Doesn’t your heart pound madly on the day after Thanksgiving?  Once the turkey is carved and the guests have gone, our very next thoughts turn giddily towards December, for no matter which of the holidays your family celebrates, you can’t help but be captivated by the sparkle of the season. It’s magic in the truest sense of the word, a time when the world is frosted in color and twinkling lights! December is actually my favorite time of the year to give a party, because the warmth is already present, the joy found in people absolutely effervescent, and fun becomes the frosting on the cake! I love to create celebrations rich in tradition and drama for everyone including the littlest reveler to enjoy, and throughout December there are so many occasions to throw a great party! I often give intimate cocktail parties throughout the season, because they’re easy to create and so much fun! One of my favorite things to do is serve a special cocktail, like a chocolate mint martini in a wonderful glass with a chocolate kiss!    Often, I’ll serve my favorite wintry standard of a champagne cocktail , which is a glass of great bubbly,  jazzed up with  a splash of pear eau d’ vie and a slice of sugared fresh pear!  A champagne cocktail is a perfect use for all of those wonderful old saucer champagne glasses of your mother’s and your grandmother’s that you have, but never use “because it’s “so inappropriate” to use them for  good champagne! I’ve come to think of that as such a silly rule!  They say that the bubbles disappear too quickly and perhaps there are some nuances of flavor that you’ll miss by not using a flute, but in my experience the champagne never stays in anyone’s glass long enough to actually worry about it! It’s not that flute champagnes aren’t wonderful, and I have quite a few myself, but when I’m really celebrating an occasion close to my heart, I love to use the serving pieces that are meaningful to me.  

My mother has beautiful iridescent saucer champagne glasses that belonged to her mother that have marked every major occasion in my life and with really wonderful champagne! About two weeks ago, we brought them out once again to toast my husband for a job that he’d done really well. As we sat around the dining room table and lifted those beautiful old glasses, I looked around the table and thought that I caught just a glimpse of my grandparents long gone, smiling, laughing and sharing the moment with us!    Whether or not I actually did, I’ll never really know, but drinking out of those beautiful glasses, sharing an exquisite bottle of champagne with those closest to me brought me a lot of joy and brand new memories to mix with the old!

Saucer champagne glasses are also really good for serving frozen drinks like a grasshopper or brandy Alexander! They are also marvelous when used to serve a creamy dessert! There’s nothing quite as pretty as a velvety chocolate mousse or a simple dessert of fresh berries with a bit of custard elegantly dressed for the occasion in a lovely crystal glass!    

It’s a delightful and unexpected twist like this that will set the tone for a really great evening. A twinkling tree or a brightly lit menorah along with a crackling fire, and/or lots of candlelight reflecting from all of your mirrors will provide the perfect lighting for a great party! Lots of jazzy holiday music sets the tone for everyone to relax and have fun and while you’re at it, pull up your rugs to provide lots of room for dancing! Use an abundance of candles and fill up all of your old crystal bowls (you know the ones that you never use!) with colorful glass ornaments! Anything that has a reflective surface will help create soft light all around your home. One of the things that I learned a long time ago is that when it comes to a cocktail party, pretty and simple food is the name of the game! Canapé’s are easy and very rewarding to make because everyone loves them! Apple slices can be used as a cracker for anything from pate to bleu cheese. If you spread them with pate, add a slice of cornichon pickle and if you use the bleu cheese, add some chopped walnuts. Grapes can be rolled with Roquefort cheese and chopped nuts! Purchased pastry cups can be filled with salmon pate or crab dip and dusted with dill. Chevrons of smoked trout are easy, beautiful and so delicious when served with a horseradish dipping sauce. A single spear of endive can be dressed with a dollop of smoked chicken salad or boursin cheese then garnished with watercress. Filet of beef can be sliced thinly and used as a topping for a thin round of French bread, that’s been spread with a pesto mayonnaise! What about tiny new potatoes, baked and topped with a little bit of sour cream, and caviar!   Take these hors d’ oeuvres and put them on something unexpected and pretty. Old mirrors are wonderful serving platters, especially when they have great frames! So are the new lacquered service plates that are so popular right now for dressing up a dinner plate. Many of you have very old service plates that belonged to your family. They are usually drop dead gorgeous, encrusted with lots of gold and sadly serve almost no purpose anymore. They would cost a kings ransom if you tried to purchase them now, if you could even find any! They were originally intended to cover each place at the table until the serving help brought in your plate with food and took them away. Alas, there is no one in my house to do any of that magical whisking away, so I have given them new life as beautiful platters for my favorite foods!

A cocktail party can easily be transformed into my favorite holiday gathering of all, a grand dessert buffet that usually starts at around 10:00 pm. I love to meet my guests at the door with that champagne cocktail that I told you about, and I always serve just a few canapés, like a cheese puff , or  mushroom toast  just in case that my guests haven’t had much dinner. The fun of a party like this is in the dramatic way that you present it! Have all of the candles lit in the room, but keep your guests as far away from the table as possible so that they can see the flickering flames of the candles but not the food. I'd pick a fabulous piece of music to be playing   (Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or something wonderful like that!) and at about 11:00 I'd throw open the doors and invite everyone to gather at the dessert table. There are very few things as delightful to the child in all of us, as a heavily laden table just groaning under the weight of an abundance of fantastic desserts! What follows here is just a partial list of things that I love, because I am sure that all of you have several specialties that would be just perfect for such an evening!

Make sure that you have a bowl of fresh fruit and lots of whipped cream or zabaglione to go with it! 

I always like to have one yummy jam trifle, or maybe two!  Trifles are the dessert versions of a layered salad! They look simply beautiful in a cut glass bowl, or better yet, if you’re lucky enough to own a trifle bowl, use it. There’s nothing prettier than layers of ladyfingers and glistening jams, and a trifle in spite of its fancy name is among the easiest of all desserts to create. 

For a wonderful centerpiece, a Buche de' noel   is a very traditional, delicious chocolate and chestnut and praline flavored dessert.   It is a fantastic creation, shaped like a Yule log and fancifully decorated with mushrooms and greens made from marzipan and meringue!  Displayed on your grandmother’s tea service tray and surrounded by holly and fresh greens, this is one of the most beautiful desserts of the season! There are lots of easy recipes for a Buche de’ noel, and I think that they are so much fun to make, but if time is short, you can purchase a very good one from Williams Sonoma! 

Next, pile those wonderful little cream puffs that you can buy frozen onto any gorgeous platter and have them drizzled with chocolate syrup, raspberry or caramel, and garnished with some mint leaves. You can also simply serve them dusted with confectioners’ sugar for a snowy effect and serve the sauces on the side in a gravy boat!

You’ll need a rich chocolate mousse, which is guaranteed to disappear immediately as well as the platter of chocolate covered strawberries served along side of it and if you can   find them, the jewel tones of glaceed fruit are so pretty on a holiday table. That exquisitely buttery French apple tart known as the Tart Tatin is a fine addition to the buffet and of course, you’ll need one really grand chafing dish dessert like a Bananas Foster served with a simple vanilla bean ice cream!  I would also mound some chocolate truffles into lovely compote, a piece which is traditionally used to serve a spiced fruit or chutney. I might even consider filling those champagne glasses that I spoke of before with a creamy rice pudding, fragrantly dusted with cinnamon, and placed for effect on my silver pedestal cake plate! In fact , make use of all of the things that you own that have pedestals or feet. Along with a liberal use of candlesticks in all materials, shapes and sizes, as well as sparkling pieces of cut and smooth crystal, these pieces will provide height and interest to your table!

The last thing that you’ll need to round out the dessert offering is a cheese platter, with wedges of Brie, Camembert, and some really good cheddar! A Stilton cheese is very traditional cheese to serve right now, and comes directly from England

cloaked in wonderful drama and ritual. I always feature my cheeses on the sideboard with several different bottles of port and Madeira wine.

I have many cordial and small wine glasses that were my grandmothers, and this is what I use them for. Just some assorted good bread, crackers, fruit and you're all set to shine!

For beverages, a coffee bar provides a very festive end to the evening, with an assortment of liqueurs, as well as the traditional offerings of cream and sugar. You could even provide more champagne but with several wonderful choices of liqueur. Don’t forget a nice assortment of non alcoholic sparklers, or you might want to serve a special non alcoholic cocktail!  My absolute favorite is  called “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” and it’s made from sparkling water, pear nectar, a splash of lime juice and then poured into a martini glass filled with crushed ice , then garnished with a piece of candied ginger  and a sprinkling of edible gold leaf!   

The last thing that I would create for the table is a wassail bowl, a gorgeous centerpiece all by itself! For this I usually use my silver punch bowl, although a old cast iron cauldron or copper kettle looks so historically correct! If you use copper, please make sure that it has a tin or steel lining so that the flavors don’t react with the metal to cause a bitter taste. I own a large Mauviel copper soup kettle, and when my punch bowl is filled with eggnog, I use it for the wassail. My favorite wassail recipe is pretty simple, blending cinnamon stick, clove, allspice, cranberry juice, apple cider, sugar syrup, Calvados and brandy, mixed together and heated through, then served with a slice of sugared apple! A bowl of steaming wassail is a wonderful aromatic welcome into your home, and if you’ve got a wonderful foyer, put the bowl there surrounded by masses of fresh greenery and berries “to drive the cold winter away” as the front door opens!

You may be wondering what to serve all of this on, and I’ll bet that we can find some holiday china right in your cupboards! Many of us have inherited stacks of Royal Copenhagen or Bing and Grondahl collectible Christmas plates. However, because traditionally they are hanging on the wall, no one ever knows what else to do with them, so they sit year after year gathering dust, when really they are the best holiday salad/dessert plates ever made! They are just the right size, and they can go into the dishwasher without any problem at all.  Handcrafted in such lovely wintry shades of cobalt blue and soft white , they are just begging to be given the honor that they deserve! I know of no better way to make them happy then to heap them full of delicious desserts or salads!

Just an aside here, one of the most commonly asked questions about fine china is “Can I put my formal dishes in the dishwasher?” The answer is a resounding yes, and as a matter of fact, almost any plate made within the last 25 years is dishwasher safe. It’s not the dishwasher that ruins your good dishes; believe it or not it’s the soap! Use about half of the amount of soap recommended, and make sure that you let everything, especially the gold trim cool down, before you remove your dishes.  That’s all that’s needed, and what this means is that there’s no excuse to not use the lovely things that you own. Beautiful food presentation is a feast for your eyes and uplifting to your spirit, and it’s so easy to make anything look wonderful when you put it on a silver tray or a beautiful service plate. I’ve always gotten such pleasure from bringing out lovely old things, and inventing new uses for them. Old silver with monograms, glasses with initials, linens with fancy embroidery… all of these things make up your shared personal history. Old silver that has a beautiful hand engraved monogram is a treasure. I practically cried every time someone would bring a set of it into the store to have the engraving removed. You can’t get monograms like that anymore; very rarely do you find an engraver with that skill. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good, and  bringing this bit of “you “ into the atmosphere connects the past with the yet unknown future, and lets your guests feel like they’ve been welcomed into a home that’s emotionally rich and very special!

Having said all of this, I realize that I’ve left out the three most magical ingredients that I know of to create a wonderful holiday party.

First, make sure that you have a gingerbread house, lots of undecorated cookies and bowls of frosting, candy and plenty of children around to decorate and eat them!

Next, a gift  for each woman and child is a lovely reminder of your friendship and a continuation a such a special evening ,  how about several narcissus bulbs for fragrant midwinter blooms or a   votive candle  to light the New Year?

And last but not least, my personal favorite,

LOTS OF MISTLETOE FOR KISSING UNDER!

From my family to yours, I send a wish for you to enjoy a holiday full of love, delight and a peaceful and prosperous New Year! 

                             Beth Schreibman Gehring


Recipe for a great New Years Eve Party!

Subject: New Years Eve!

Just some thoughts!

Hello Barb,

What I would do if I was having your party!

I would probably begin at about 10:00, and have all of the fires lit and welcome everyone with my favorite champagne cocktail at the door!

Pear Champagne Cocktail

1 ounce of pear eau de vie (chilled!)

5 to 6 ounces of very chilled champagne

1 strip of pear (chilled)

Pour Eau de vie into a champagne flute(glasses rimmed with sugar!), fill with champagne and garnish with the pear!

For the bar

I'd serve champagne with several different aperitifs to put into them. (lots of sugared glasses) Peach liqueur, Midori, Lillet,Chambord, Creme de Cassis

I would also have a coffee bar with lots of different liqueurs(Baileys, Kahlua, Jamesons Whisky, creme de menthe) and a huge silver bowl filled with fluffy whipped cream and the usual cream and sugar on the side.

The last thing that I would do is a wassail bowl which is a gorgeous centerpiece in itself!

Cinnamon stick

cloves

allspice

cranberry juice

apple cider

sugar syrup

Calvados

Brandy

Mix together and heat through ,serve with a slice of sugared apple!

I usually take my punch bowl and put it on the center of the table inside of a gorgeous wreath of greenery!

I'd serve an appetizer with the first glass of champagne, something like a little cheese puff to help soak up the alcohol from before. A chicken salad triangle or crab puff is nice too. Nothing eggy like quiche...BAD with that much alcohol!

Now for the drama.....

I still think that it would be wonderful to hang sheer black curtains in your entry between the dining room and the foyer. At the very least, how about huge black velvet bows that could be united with a flourish when it's time to go in. I'd have candles lit on each small table in the dining room.  I'd have dancing start immediately (remember to have a couple or two primed to start!) At about 11:00 I'd throw open the porch doors so that everyone can just be amazed by your DESSERT table! Have all of the candles lit in the porch ,but the doors shut so that they can see the flickering flames but not really the food. I'd pick a fabulous piece of music to be playing when you open those doors (Tchaikovsky's sugarplum fairy or something cool like that!)

Now......For the desserts, and believe it or not this is EASY!

First off, make sure that you have a bowl of fresh fruit and lots of whipped cream or even better, a bowl of custard to go with it!

I would definitely have a great trifle maybe two!

For a wonderful centerpiece dessert, a buche d' noel (Yule Log) if you don't have a recipe, I have thousands! You can probably buy one, but it's really simple to make!

Go to the grocery store and purchase those little cream puffs (frozen) and serve them  on a gorgeous platter with chocolate syrup or raspberry or caramel, then garnish with some mint leaves.

Have a huge bowl of cherries, (very medieval) for Christmas!

If you can bring yourself to make a Tarte Tatin (French apple tart) it's great with tons of whipped cream. Besides it's a great excuse to go and get the mauviel copper tart tatin pan from Williams sonoma!( Now you know what I'm serving for Christmas dessert!)

A platter of chocolate truffles is really good with all of this!

A huge crystal bowl of chocolate mousse( possibly the easiest thing in the world) garnished with cinnamon flavored whipped cream.

AND.....for fun, one chafing dish dessert like a bananas foster, with really good vanilla bean ice cream. Much easier than you think!

If  they are in season let Douglas make chocolate covered strawberries, you can usually get decent berries from California right about now. Have them be white and dark chocolate.

Then you need a cheese platter, BIG, wedges of Brie, Camembert, A stilton is good (especially that cranberry one) and a few more. Just some plain crackers , apples and pear and you're done with that.

Make sure that you have a gingerbread house for the kids to eat!

I would definitely have a favor for each woman to take home, how about a lovely,inexpensive little votive candle to light the New Year? (wreath scented!

TONS OF MISTLETOE FOR KISSING UNDER!

Love and Hugs,

Beth


Loving Thanksgiving!

Hasn’t it been an incredibly beautiful autumn? Watching the leaves turn their magnificent shades of russet and gold puts me in the mood for fires, feasts and long evenings spent with my family, eating comforting foods and quietly enjoying each others companionship. Because it’s soon to be Thanksgiving, I’m already planning my menu and of course trying to decide how to set my table, which is for me always the most fun of all!

I’ve been thinking for quite sometime now about family gatherings, and what they mean to us. As I was growing up, there were beautiful things that my mother always used on her table, seasonal items that made each celebration unique. When I was very young, she taught me to fill her traditional wicker cornucopia at Thanksgiving with an overflowing abundance of fruits, nuts and flowers, a centerpiece that I still create today.   This beautiful symbol of harvest abundance has long been associated with the turning of the wheel of the year towards autumn. For many years, traditional woven cornucopias were difficult to find, but thankfully almost any craft store sells them year round.   It is also possible to create the same effect with a lovely basket, made from wicker or any other material.

Many of us have beautiful pieces of antique silver, gorgeous family pieces, stashed away and rarely used.  I encourage you to examine those long forgotten treasures for a suitable vessel to create your holiday centerpiece.

Many pieces of silver can be used as centerpieces, even if this was not their original purpose. I’ve even used a tea service as a beautiful seasonal arrangement by filling each piece with flowers and surrounding them with gourds, fruit and nuts. Single salt cellars or antique cordial glasses each filled with a small bouquet can be used as individual centerpieces on your table, making each guest feel very special. Initially clean them with some Hagerty’s silver foam, and every now and then after the first polishing wipe them down with some low abrasion organic peppermint toothpaste. This is all that’s needed to keep your family silver lovely, and shining for many generations to come. Using the toothpaste is also better for the environment and safer for you!  Once you’ve chosen the piece to work with, the fun begins! There is nothing subtle about a horn of plenty, so have fun arranging it so that all of the lusciousness and sensuality of the season spills out everywhere!

A simple trip to the grocery store will provide you with lots of inspiration! Mini pumpkins, bunches of grapes, French chestnuts, pears and apples, squashes and gourds, the choices are endless! Don’t forget some lovely mums, sunflowers or even roses to poke in and out of the abundance of fruit. If you use roses, don’t forget the florist’s tubes so that they stay fresh. If you have children, don’t forget to add some lovely foil wrapped chocolate turkeys and pilgrims! My son Alex, who is now 17, still looks for them as soon as we walk into his grandmother’s house Thanksgiving eve! If you have young children, send them outside for acorns, rosehips, seed pods and beautiful leaves to bring a bit of wildness into your holiday arrangements.

For many years while I was setting tables at Schreibman’s, the most commonly asked question was  “ My dishes always look the same, no matter what I do , so how can I make my table look festive and seasonal?” Color and texture will make the difference between the same old standard and a look for your table that’s fresh and new! Accents of strong color that you personally love will always do great things for your holiday spirits. For example, even a plain gold and white dinnerware pattern can be turned into an elegant autumnal expression with the addition of a different salad or soup plate. For a smaller investment than an entirely new set of dishes, you can create a table that is uniquely yours. If your dinnerware is heavily patterned, why not use a lovely colored wine or water glass that matches your plate! I love to play with fabrics this time of year, in colors of chocolate, plum and gold...anything that evokes the peace of the season.  A floral or toile tablecloth will completely change the look of any dinnerware that you own, dressing up a casual dish, or warming up a very formal setting. One of my favorite tables mixes velvet and tapestry, to create a look that is very rich and warm. A velvety tablecloth cloth in a deep shade of burgundy, with the top draped in tapestry changes the look of the simplest dish. Add an oversized napkin in a colorful crepe and stuff it into the water glass, or tie it with a beautiful fabric ribbon and you have a table that everyone wants to linger at. Lots of candlesticks, always in odd numbers finish the setting.  Don’t be afraid to mix pewter, silver, brass and copper.  Anything goes as long as you love the way that it looks. Choose one color for the candles and enjoy the glow!

Every Thanksgiving I make a pumpkin soup,   spiced with curry, onion and peanut butter to begin our meal. I love serving soup in many different ways, but a beautiful soup tureen is always closest to my heart. I’ve often said that if I had a serving piece that I would refuse to part with; it would be my Spode soup tureen in the Woodland  pattern. Covered with beautiful transfer ware prints of game birds, and bordered in chocolate brown, it moves through the seasons effortlessly. If I’m not using it for soup, it turns into a grand centerpiece for my table with the addition of about three small pots of flowers and masses of fresh herbs and ivy! A soup tureen is portable, and you can use it in the living room with all of your demitasse cups for an elegant start to the evening. No one ever uses demitasse cups for their intended purpose and almost everyone that I know has inherited huge collections of them. Because they have handles, and a place to rest the spoon, soup is a fabulous way to use these often overlooked pieces! I've also served this particular soup many times in a large hollowed out pumpkin that has been placed in a wreath of gilded greens and fruits, yet another easy and gorgeous centerpiece!

  A lovely glass of wine and a bit of cheese and /or pate served with the soup while you’re putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal makes waiting for dinner a celebration in itself and a delightful way to begin the family evening. Because I’m serving the soup this year in Armetale pewter bowls, those same demitasse cups will be filled with a creamy pumpkin mousse for dessert (with chocolate shavings of course!)   alongside of the traditional apple and pumpkin pies!  

For me, satisfying entertaining has everything to do with keeping the evening warm and personal, even if you’ve got a real crowd on your hands! One of our favorite family traditions is to go around the table and have each person share what they are thankful for that year. Another is to have everyone who joins us bring something to share that they ate with their families, in a serving piece that is special to them. Don’t leave the table without letting everyone sitting there know just how much they mean  to you.    Take a pear, a gold or silver marker from the craft store and handwrite your guest’s names on each one for a quick and easy place card so they know just how much they belong! My mother always buys little tin pans from the grocery store, so that everyone takes home a bit of the meal for their lunch the next day. Why not share your family recipes, perhaps copied onto pretty paper or recipe cards so that you can give them out. (Don’t be modest; you know they’re going to ask!) This year, teach your children or grandchildren to cook with you, or let them help you set the table, and arrange the flowers so that they’ll always know what to do when they have families of their own. We can all discover new ways of connecting the old with the new, ways of creating traditions that are personal and related in a world that is quickly losing its sense of peace and security. Those are a few of mine; I’d love to know some of yours!

  To quote  the simple words found on a jar of Thanksgiving Tea from the charming Village Herb Shop in Chagrin Falls, “A delicious orange spice flavored black tea, combined with colorful calendula petals for joy, rosehips for the fruits of love,, orange peel for generosity and  coriander meaning “your closeness is welcome”. How about those wishes served in front of a crackling fire along with dessert!

                              Wishing much love and a very Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!


A truly wonderful teapot!

Lately, I've really been craving a good cup of tea.....actually, not just craving,but obsessing over the thought. I've reread every book about tea that I owned, and went out and bought a few more. I've been fantasizing about a tea room , or perhaps a salon where friends could come and have a wonderful cup of tea and a sandwich (or two or ten!)!
This fascination about afternoon tea has been with me for a very long time, actually ever since I was a little girl. Fortunately for a child like me, I have a mother with wonderful taste, who made it a point to introduce me to the art of afternoon tea very early in my life! Some of my most favorite memories are of the darling silver child sized tea set that she owns, that she used to let all us us play with whenever we wanted.My mother has a lot of beautiful things, but we always joke and say that the little tea set is the one thing that we'll all fight over when she's sadly gone. We've decided that we'll share it and send it happily back and forth between us all year! Such is the power of extraordinary memories!
This same wonderful mother, used to bring me tea and breakfast in bed when I was sick, on beautiful blue and white breakfast dishes. Somehow, I always got better quickly, but not until I'd milked at least two more days of lavish spoiling out of her!
No matter where I've been in the world with my mother, we've always made time for tea. (Martini's too, but that's another story!) High teas, breakfast teas, luncheon teas, bridal teas ,tea dances...whatever the occasion we can create a tea party for it! So many of the promotions that we did for our store were tea parties, there's just something about little sandwiches ,wonderful cookies and Wedgwood teapots that just makes anyone, even a very masculine man feel very romantic!
Ah, but I've digressed...I was talking about my current preoccupation with tea! When I was in North Carolina , I fell in love with that oh so Southern specialty....Sweet Tea! Everywhere you travel in the south, when you order an iced tea, the waitress will say to you with that lovely drawl....."Wouuuuudd you like regularrrrrrr tea, orrr sweeeeeeeeeeet teaaaaaaaa!" I've recently given up coffee, and you can blame it on that sweet tea! It's just wonderful, really good tea brewed, with the addition of a simple syrup, and heavily iced! Naturally ,when I came home I wanted to never be without it!
So, I returned home, made a wonderful simple mint syrup, (which is just as good in mint juleps on Derby Day!) and went to brew a pot of tea. Imagine my horror when I realized that even after two decades in the family business where I handled the most beautiful china, crystal and silver that you could imagine, that I didn't even have a simple teapot with which to brew a some really good tea! Now all of my former friends in the china business won't speak to me after I say this, but say it I will...I don't believe that you can brew a really good pot of tea in a fancy teapot! Now, nothing is more wonderful than tea served in lovely Spode ,silver or Limoges teapot...just not brewed! The English (who have made an entire lifestyle out of tea!) , know this well, which is why they created the teapot that I set out to find....The classic Brown Betty!

"Brown Betty Teapots are still made in Stoke-on Trent, formed from clay which comes from the same area where Elder Brothers found clay in 1695. The method of producing was known as'Jolleying' but over the years it has been modified to slip casting which gives the pot an even thickness and a smooth finish both inside and out. Generations of Englishmen have proved that the Brown Betty, as these Red Ware teapots are affectionately known, make the best pot of tea in the world. The shape of the pot causes the tea to be gently swirled around as the boiling water is added. The Red Terracotta Clay with its Rockingham Glaze, holds the heat better and gives the perfect cup of tea."

Well now that's quite a reputation to live up to, but I have discovered this to be the finest teapot that I've ever used! She's quite full bodied, with a lovely round shape dressed with a beautiful brown glaze inside and out, made with solid red clay thso earthy and warm to the touch! I warmed her up with hot water while I waited for the water for the tea water to boil, dumped the water out and put the tea inside and added the boiling water. Then I waited bloody impatiently for the requisite 5 minutes that it takes to brew a great pot of tea!
Well to make a long story short, it was wonderful, and actually the best pot of tea that I'd ever made.
I found a lovely Staffordshire cup, and added the mint syrup! It was Heaven, better than I'd ever imagined!
You can find fabulous loose tea almost anywhere these days, and the choices to be made...black or green? Herbal or Gunpowder? are almost endless. For loads of fun and an almost endless selection of fine loose teas go quickly to www.republicoftea.com
Coffee, and it's endless jitters willl soothingly become a very distant memory!