Category Archives: Entertaining

Begging for a Makeover

For many years we’ve moored our sailboat in our backyard.  With the prospect of its permanent removal from that area the time has come to make a new plan.

Tyche in her shady slip.

Tyche in her shady slip.

I took some photographs of the back yard on the side of The Cottage.

Seen from the bathroom in the cottage this area is ready for a makeover.

Seen from the bathroom in the cottage this area is ready for a makeover.

The view from our second-story bedroom window inspires me to do something fabulous with this area.

A shot of the backyard beside the Cottage taken from our bedroom window.

A shot of the backyard beside the Cottage taken from our bedroom window.

May we should make a hidden garden room.

Source: indulgy.com via Jo on Pinterest

Or a meandering pathway that leads to an outdoor chapel.

Outdoor Chapel

Outdoor Chapel (source unknown)

Or fill the edges of the woods with ferns and layout a small patio for drinks and snacks in summer.

Source: houzz.com via Jo on Pinterest

There’s a lot to think about here.

The bare space behind these trees is begging for a makeover.

The bare space behind these trees is begging for a makeover.

And the thinking is not even half the work it will take.  And did I mention I don’t want to spend any money?

Do you discover forgotten parts of your own property?

Our First All Chopin Piano Recital

In most communities there are myriad free things to do and get involved in. We were notified by email that Brian Ganz, a pianist who is determined to play all the works of Chopin, will be performing a free recital to prepare for his third concert at the Music Center at Strathmore presented by the National Philharmonic.

Frédéric François Chopin

Frédéric François Chopin

The recital was held in the music studio of a private home.  The owner himself is a violinist and played a duet with pianist Ganz in the second half of the program.

Brian Ganz preparing to play Chopin.

Brian Ganz preparing to play Chopin.

Ganz is a very personable artist whom one feels comfortable calling Brian after just meeting for the first time.

Three musical murals were painted in the large wall over the fireplace.

Three musical murals were painted in the large wall over the fireplace. Tha wall color is peach.

The house itself was interesting because the owner had added additions to both sides of the house and was happy to have folks who had come for the recital to wander through and take a look.

Ornate Venetian glass chadelier lighted the large space.

Ornate Venetian glass chandelier lit the large space.

The studio had a balcony and with the main floor seated about 100 people.

The balcony was hung with a modern art series.

The balcony was hung with a modern art series.

The room and in fact the entire home had lots of Chinoise elements.

Three-dimensional carved cork scene approximately 1 foot long by 9 inches high.

Three-dimensional carved cork scene approximately 1 foot long by 9 inches high.

I was struck by how relaxed the host was at fulfilling the requests of perfect strangers who were all wrangling for a seat in his 2-story studio which held a 1920s era Knabe grand piano.

The inside of the Knabe concert grand featured inlaid scrolls in the metalwork.

The inside of the Knabe concert grand featured inlaid scrolls in the metalwork.

Brian told us about the Polish composer, Frederic Chopin, and the genius of his music.  He played mazurkas, nocturnes, polonaises, etudes, ballades. He took requests from the audience which included the Revolutionary etude (Opus 10, Number 12) and naturally, The Minute Waltz.  Really, the evening was sublime.

Brian Ganz

Brian Ganz

If you missed the free recital catch the concert on Saturday, January 19 at the Strathmore in Bethesda. Call 301-581-5100 for tickets.

Have you checked out your community’s free offerings? Do you attend? Even things that you’d never tried before?

Warm and Drinkable Winter Punch

Sometimes I learn new things just in the nick of time.  For example I wanted to serve a hot spiced cider at our Twelfth Night Celebration but had never really been a fan of hot spiced apple cider because it isn’t thirst quenching.

Our 2.5 gallon punch bowl.

Our 2.5 gallon punch bowl.

Back to how I learned something. Included in our Christmas traditions Charlie plays the organ for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services for nuns and worshippers at the All Saints Convent.

The chapel of the convent is attached to their living quarters.

The chapel of the convent is attached to their living quarters.

After the Christmas Eve service the sisters asked us  to join them in some hot spiced punch and cookies. Their punch was not apple cider, but rather spiced tea and it was delicious.

Trader Joe's Spiced cider has a good balance of spices.

Trader Joe’s Spiced cider has a good balance of spices.

So this year I brewed up a pot of caffeine free tea using 2 regular tea bags and 2 cinnamon spiced tea bags per pot and heated it with a bottle of Trader Joe’s Spiced apple cider. (They also sell spiced pear cider which is good, too.)  Plus 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar per recipe depending on one’s sweetness preference.

The igredients for a warming and thirst qunching spiced cider that's also economical.

The ingredients for a warming and thirst quenching spiced cider that’s also economical.

The resulting hot toddy was accepted by our guests with the comments that if straight cider had been used they could have only had one cupful but instead they drank  cup after cup all evening.

Have you been inspired to create a new drink? Food?

Even If You Don’t Like Cheesecake

For our Twelfth Night Party I made cheesecake.

Before the party

I made a large cake for the pedestal dish in the middle of the photo.

A couple of my friends said that they usually don’t care for cheesecake because it’s so heavy. But they love my cheesecake because it is light and fluffy.  And I add a twist to the crust that really puts it over the top.

The ingredients for the filling are:

  • 4 – 8 ounce packages of cream cheese
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups of sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

The crust is made from:

  • 26 Oreo cookies and
  • 1/4 cup of melted butter

And the topping:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar

In a large mixer bowl combine the sugar and cream cheese and allow to come to room temperature.

Cream cheese and sugar -- it's a large cake.

Cream cheese and sugar — it’s a large cake.

Mix the cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time while beating.

Break the eggs into a pitcher or measuring cup and let them slide into the batter one at a time.

Break the eggs into a pitcher or measuring cup and let them slide into the batter one at a time while mixing.

Add the cream cheese and vanilla. Mix for 20 minutes with an electric mixer.

Once all the ingredients are added mix for a full 20 minutes.

Once all the ingredients are added mix for a full 20 minutes.

Don’t cheat on the time!

Notice the increased volume after 20 minutes of beating.

Notice the increased volume after 20 minutes of beating.

In the meantime crush the Oreos either in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor until the crumbs are uniformly fine.  Add the melted butter and mix together.

I pulled out the food processor with a chopping blade to pulverize the Oreo cookies.

I pulled out the food processor with a chopping blade to pulverize the Oreo cookies.

Press into the bottom of a large springpan.

Press the Oreos up the side as farr as possible but it's not necessary to be thorough or neat.  Patch any holes in the bottom of the pan.

Press the Oreos up the side of the spring pan as far as possible but it’s not necessary to be thorough or neat. Patch any holes in the bottom of the pan.

Pour in the cream cheese batter and bake for 45 to 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Aluminum foil around the bottom of the spring pan will catch leaks while the cake is baking.

Aluminum foil around the bottom of the spring pan will catch leaks while the cake is baking.

The batter might rise above the top of the pan during cooking.  After the allotted time leave the cake in the oven with the oven turned off and the door ajar for another hour.

As the cake cools large cracks will form.

As the cake cools large cracks will form.

Allow to cool at room temperature, spread topping of sour cream with sugar to hide the large cracks that inevitably form.

Cool the cheesecake in the refrigerator with its sour cream topping.

Cool the cheesecake in the refrigerator with its sour cream topping.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. The cake is best eaten at room temperature.

The crunchy Oreo crust against the creamy smooth cheesecake is a bite of heaven.

The crunchy Oreo crust against the creamy smooth cheesecake is a bite of heaven.

Mmmmmmm!

Do you tinker with recipes?

January Twelfth Night Party: The Menu

One of the fun parts of party planning for me is making the menu. I like a menu of comfort food, maybe something a little different from the everyday, foods I can cook without a recipe.

Here’s the menu for our Twelfth Night Party:

  • Hot spiced cider punch – punch bowl and extra cups
  • Coffee, tea, Glade Fizz
  • Cole slaw – trifle bowl (Saturday)
  • Corn pudding – Polish pottery baking dish (Saturday)

    The crusty bits of corn pudding are my favorite.

    The crusty bits of corn pudding are my favorite.

  • Turkey breast Roast chicken – Christmas tree platter (Saturday)
  • Stuffing – Evesham baking dishes (Saturday)
  • Gravy – Gravy boat or hunting pitcher (Friday)
  • Cranberry sauce – Footed bowl (Thursday night)

    Cranberry sauce - or relish - ready for the table

    Cranberry sauce – or relish – ready for the table

  • Good bread/rolls – Silver platter
  • Mayonnaise – crystal bowl
  • Pickles – pickle dish
  • Cheesecake – cake stand (Friday)
  • Petite popovers with powdered sugar

    Mini popovers are exqusite.

    Mini popovers are exquisite.

  • Nuts

Next to each item on the menu I note the day I’m making it and the dish in which I plan to serve it.  I try to decide these things in advance to simplify the hectic “day of the party”.

Before the party

Before the party

Next item is to make a grocery list (including staples) based on the menu.

Grocery list:

  • Turkey breast  Whole chickens
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Rolls
  • Cream cheese
  • Oreos
  • Butter
  • Sour cream
  • Eggs
  • Cider
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Vinegar
  • Mayonnaise
  • Orange juice
  • Sugar
  • Cranberries
  • Red apples

Finally I check the grocery store sale circulars and change items that might have a similar or better value.  This week whole chickens are on sale but not turkey breasts so I’ve made that small change.

A couple whole chickens can replace a turkey breast.

A couple whole chickens can replace a turkey breast.

This particular menu is slightly labor intensive on the day of the party but basically leaves me free during the party to entertain our guests.

What’s a party without food? What’s your favorite party food?

Getting Ready for Twelfth Night: The Mantel

The turquoise and green Christmas decorations are giving way to greens and burnt oranges to welcome the arrival of the Magi and their gifts to the Christ child.

Three Kings bring gifts to the Christ child.

Three Kings bring gifts to the Christ child.

I wanted to highlight them on our mantel. Any bona fide eastern king would be traveling with camels and so we definitely have camels.

Carved wooden camels

Carved wooden camels

In my stash of vases and pottery I found a lovely Oriental vase with some lovely coordinating colors featuring a peacock.

The peacock vase lends a feeling of the Orient from when the Wise Men came.

The peacock vase lends a feeling of the Orient from whence the Wise Men came.

I asked my friend if I could have some dried grasses from his yard because they look like feathers and  give the whole arrangement height.

Dried grasses add height and interest to the mantel.

Dried grasses add height and interest to the mantel.

Then for a little glitz I added some green ribbon and candles.

Ribbon and crystal candle holders add a bit of sparkle.

Ribbon and crystal candle holders add a bit of sparkle.

And glass balls.

Glass balls in brown and orange and silver ball-shaped candle holders add some interest.

Glass balls in brown and orange and silver ball-shaped candle holders add some interest.

The mantle is decorated for our Twelfth Night celebration.  Next is the dining room.

We'll light the candles on Twelfth Night being careful not to ignite the grasses.

We’ll light the candles on Twelfth Night being careful not to ignite the grasses.

Happy New Year!

What’s new at your house?

12 Drummers Drumming

We’re having a Twelfth Night Celebration. And we needed a quick invitation. I could have featured a big “12”.

I could have cut the invitation in the shape of a 12.

I could have cut the invitation in the shape of a 12.

I knew the 12th Night celebration on January 5th (12 days after Christmas if Christmas is Day 1) precedes Epiphany celebrated on January 6.  Epiphany is the day Christians recognize the arrival of the Kings who followed a star to find the Christ.

The Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer

The Adoration of the Magi by Albrecht Durer

I looked up some information about Twelfth Night and found out that once upon a time Christmas was the beginning of the celebration and lasted for twelve days — instead of beginning six weeks before and fizzling out the day after. How it came to be twelve days is a long and mysterious story but one thing is certain: the feast of Christmas is the beginning, and January 5th is the 12th night. .

The back of the 5.5" by 8" card tells some of the 12th Night story.

The back of the 5.5″ by 8″ card tells some of the 12th Night story.

That still leaves me without a theme for the invitation and, therefore, for the party.  My research led me to the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on which a gift is given for each of the 12 days.  The 12th day’s gift is “12 drummers drumming.”

Cool green drum

Cool green drum

Now that’s a theme.  So I printed up some invitations on grey card stock with a drum image suggesting partyers bring a drum of some sort with them: tambourines, tom toms, bongos, etc.

Time, place, theme and purpose are all included on the front of the invitation.

Time, place, theme and purpose are all included on the front of the invitation.

As usual some invitations will go out in emails, some will be hand-delivered and some mailed in the traditional way. It ought to be a noisy time.

Do you theme parties?  Where do you get your inspiration?