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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Undecking the Halls

It's time to get out the storage boxes and return all the Christmas decorations to their cardboard prisons, to be incarcerated until Santa returns again in December of 2013, leaving me with only the memories of this very well-celebrated Christmas.  The newly inflated numbers on my bathroom scale tell me it's high time the partying ended, so I welcome the return to normalcy... and the birth of a new year.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

My Favorite Things

Luther Burbank's Home
The Christmas season is my very favorite time of the entire year, and this year my camera and I got busy in order to record some of the pieces that make up this special period.

It all began early in December with the annual open house at the beautifully decorated Luther Burbank Home and Gardens, one of my most-loved events in  Santa Rosa. Volunteer that I am, I put on comfy shoes and took my place in the Burbank greenhouse to pass cookies and serve hot spice tea to eager visitors from all over Sonoma County.

 I love that there is so much to see and do during this festive season. I attended my first cookie swap this year; I didn't even know these parties existed, though I now understand that they are quite common and enjoyed by many. Where have I been?

I arrived home with 3 dozen tasty cookies and recipes to match. My contribution, pictured at the bottom, was white chocolate coated almond clusters. The recipe also calls for dried cranberries, and the combination of sweet, salty and tart is quite delightful. The only problem was that I ate the recipe's required salted almonds, a particular weakness of mine, the night before I was to put together my yummy clusters, so I had to head out to the market in the morning in order to replace what had disappeared the night before. Oink.

Entertaining and social gatherings in general make this such a fabulous time of year; I love getting together with friends and family.

The red and green dominates and, of course, the Lennox plates jump out of their dark and lonely storage cabinet and join the festivities.

The yard is pretty much at rest during this season, but not the olives and the berries. Oh, no! They are putting on their seasonal show.

The only bad part of this is the ripened olives fall from the tree onto the path leading to the front door, get stepped on and then tracked into the house leaving their messy juices on the floor.


The round and merry berries stay on the bushes until they slowly begin to shrivel and ferment, attracting hoards of greedy robins who proceed to feast and get tipsy.


The food!!! I already mentioned the cookies, but that is just the beginning of the delicious temptations of the season: turkey and stuffing, mince pie, eggnog, candy of all varieties, and maybe a spot of Korbel Brut or sparkling cider since the occasion is so unique.  However, appearing on my table this time of year is a hearty treat: minestrone. I usually make it well before the holiday, when the weather is just starting to get cold and comfort food begs to make its entrance.

I've tinkered with the recipe over the years, and this year I added 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the mix. The pleasing result was a minestrone with a bit of a bite, very subtle but unmistakable. It's a keeper!

I've always been one to go overboard in the decorating department, loving all the glitz and glimmer. As the years have elapsed, I've toned it down quite a bit; but it is definitely still one of my favorite Christmas things.

I so enjoy  pulling loved treasures out of storage boxes, saying hello to them after a long separation, anticipating how wonderful they will look all around the house as the fun times ahead are royally celebrated.  Later, disassembling them and putting them all away... well, not quite so much fun.

I start playing holiday music right after Thanksgiving because the couple of weeks before Christmas is just not enough time to enjoy all my favorite carols and songs.

I've got quite a mix of songs I relish, from Elvis to Chanticleer; but my very favorite sound of the season is almost any version of "Angels We Have Heard on High", also my mom's best-loved holiday song. I can remember loving to belt it out when I sang in the church choir. And, hey, I still know my alto part! I sang it with Ella Fitzgerald just yesterday.

"Let There Be Peace on Earth" is a close second. What a shame all of us can't adopt the sentiments found in this lovely treasure and live them the rest of the year. In the words of John Lennon, "Imagine, if you can."

So, these are my "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" for this extraordinary time of time of year.

May your holidays be joyous.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On the Rocks's an annual tradition with me: paperwhites and vodka, surely one of the oddest pairings ever. I love to bring a little zip into these dreary December days, and nothing does it better for me than forcing paperwhites, commonly destined for early spring in the garden, indoors in a rock- bottomed glass vase. The secret ingredient, vodka, stunts the usually drooping greenery allowing the fragrant blossoms to take center stage. Here is the oh-so-simple recipe, courtesy of Cornell University.

Plant your paperwhite bulbs in sand, rocks, or marbles. Water them and let them grow to 1-2 " tall. Pour off the water and replace it with a solution of 80 proof vodka and water - 1 part booze to 7 parts water. Use this solution to nourish the paperwhites as they grow, topping off as needed. Differing from the sober water version of forcing, these semi-soused stems will be about 1/3 shorter and hold up the blooms in a wonderful, showy display of loveliness.

Go for it.