Thursday, December 8, 2011


Food plays an important part of the holidays and our Holiday Party was no exception. Our tradition of Holiday Parties began back in Andes, New York. Back in 1998 we opened a very country inspired version of Pleasant Living where the emphasis was on painted furniture, barkcloth drapery panels and vintage fifties glassware.
Our home in Andes was always filled with friends, especially on the holidays. Every other Christmas we traveled to Wisconsin to spend the holiday with my family and on the alternate years my family would make the pilgrimage to our house for some holiday cheer. After we had opened our store we added a new holiday tradition: we opened our house to the community for wine, champagne and desserts. On those evenings hundreds of people from the town would stop by for some holiday cheer and caroling. Being up in the mountains there was usually a beautiful blanket of snow on the ground, the front porch would be lit with candles in hurricane shades and as Emmy grew, her friends and she, would play an ongoing game of hide-and-seek covering all three floors of the house.
Rosalie Glauser owned a slow food café behind our store and Rosalie and Rick would work for days preparing Coconut Cakes and Spitzbuebe a cookie from Rosalie's Swiss-Italian childhood. The spread was so magnificent that Country Living photographed if for their magazine and included it in their book, Merry & Bright.
Here in Madison the word is still having to get around but last Thursday we opened the doors of Pleasant Living and did a smaller rendition of our Andes open house. Our good friend, Julie Moskal, took over Rosalie's role and spread out gingerbread men, toffee squares and Kolaches, a Czechoslovakian pastry made from a dollop of preserves wrapped in  a puffy pillow of supple dough.
Just as we had done in Andes, we pulled out the Fostoria stemware for the champagne, white wine and sparkling cider. By the time the clock struck six the rooms were packed with guests squeezing through our narrow alleys of Christmas ornaments and gifts. By then my camera was stowed away on a shelf behind the counter and I forgot to take any more photos of the crowd. I was so glad to see so many people turn out for our first Holiday party, may it continue to be an annual event filled with more new friends


Makes 20 servings
Working time: 40 mins. Total time: 2 hrs., 20 mins.
5 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/16 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 cup whipped cream, optional
Timesaver: Substitute a jam, such as Felix's Lingonberry Jam, for the lemon curd.
1. Make the meringue: Heat the oven to 200° F. Whisk 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar, and cream of tartar until mixture is frothy and warm to the touch in a large metal bowl set over a pot with 1 inch of simmering water ? about 3 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and beat to stiff peaks using an electric mixer on high speed. Set aside.
2. Shape the meringues: Line two baking pans with parchment paper. Fill a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the meringue and pipe 2-inch coiled rounds onto the prepared pans. Pipe small stars around the rim to form flowers. Bake for 1 hour in the middle rack of the oven. Do not open the oven door. Reduce the temperature to 175° F and continue to bake until meringues are hard and dry ? 35 to 45 minutes. Cool completely on the pans on wire racks. Store in an airtight, moisture-proof container up to 2 days.
3. Make the lemon curd: Whisk the remaining 4 yolks, egg, lemon juice, and remaining sugar together in a heavy saucepan. Set the pan over medium low heat and stir constantly until thickened ? about 13 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Add the butter in 4 additions, stirring between each. Cool completely and chill until ready to use.
Fill the center of each meringue with 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon curd. Garnish with fresh whipped cream, if desired.

1 large package(8oz.) cream cheese
1 cup butter  -  beat together the cream cheese and butter
Add 2 cups flour  -  and mix well
Jam or preserves of choice
Wrap ball of dough and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 4 days. Divide dough into 3 or 4 balls and roll out on well-floured counter. Cut in 3" squares (a pizza cutter works good for this).  Put about 1 teaspoon of jam /preserves in center - our favorite is apricot or raspberry, do not use sugar free as it will just melt and run all over the pan.  Pull all 4 corners and pinch them together - we usually moisten the edges with water to make them stick together better.
Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees
Let cool completely, sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving or storing.
(This recipe came from my Mother-in-law she always made them at Christmas
time and I have been making them for the last 30 years for my kids)

I'm fascinated by the creativity this time of year can produce. Here are some ideas I've seen out there for trees that go beyond the traditional. With real trees running anywhere from $50 to several hundred I'll allow those frugal Santas the option of creating a non-traditional Tannenbaum as long as it's not a Wal-Mart special made from non-biodegradable substances with twinkling multi-colored lights.
The pinecone tree is always a favorite when space is limited and the budget is on the thin side. I had to get into the sexual activities of fir trees to verify that the male cones are the ones that drop to the ground usually in the spring after they've distributed their pollen. So if you want to collect pinecones you've got to plan ahead. Otherwise you can go to your local crafts store and pick up a bag of cones for a couple of dollars.
I love a flocked tree. Bringing the feel of snow inside by the fire is always a beautiful contrast. The problem with flocking is the mess of doing it. Buying an already flocked tree can be very expensive but when you've tried to do it yourself you'll begin to see the wisdom in having a professional do the work for you. We flocked last year and I spent weeks pulling that flocking snow out of places it should never have been in. the results are beautiful but the process is flocking ugly.
Sometimes ingenuity provides the key to getting what you really really want. I don't know whose charge card this went on but I'll bet some parent was a wee bit surprised when little Johnnie's request to purchase a tree for his fraternity showed up on his American Express statement under Big Al's Liquor Store.
You have to hand it to these parents, no messy needles, no blaming each other for forgetting to water the tree, no need to untangle miles and miles of little tiny lights to find out only half the strand is working, and they don't have to rearrange the furniture to make room for a standard three-dimensional version. I've seen more and more versions of the 2D tree this year. I don't know if it's the economy, laziness, a lack of space, or the desire to just do something different but I have to hand it to those creative souls that have thought up these unique alternatives to Christmas' biggest December 26th mess.
Even with all this imaginative Tannenbaum tomfoolery sometimes Mother Nature can leave us all in awe of the beauty that exists naked of lights and fancy ornaments just standing there majestically dressed in a nightgown of snow.

Image HFR-0308-039-12
Rodney Smith, photographer
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