Friday, December 30, 2011

What're You Doing New Year's Eve?

Tomorrow night when the clock strikes twelve, we’ll wave goodbye to 2011 and welcome in 2012.

On New Year’s, everyone gets caught in the notion that the right way to celebrate is at a fancy, expensive dinner or party. But even when we’re at a party, we often still end up feeling like we’re missing the party. The last night of the year doesn’t have to be complicated, or even all that expensive. In my book, New Year’s Eve is yet another opportunity to create a tradition, with friends or family. And doing that will feel more fulfilling than any swanky party ever could.

Plan a Simple yet Special Meal
A special meal doesn’t have to be elaborate; it just has to be out of the ordinary. I take advantage of the bounty of the Pacific Northwest and serve Dungeness crab with a big green salad. This meal is fresh, delicious, and requires barely any prep. Serve a dish that is unique to the place you live, but that you won’t break your back preparing. If you’re on one of the coasts, maybe that means oysters. If you live in the Midwest, maybe that means a really delicious cut of beef, simply grilled or cooked in the oven.

Whatever you decide to make, don’t forget the champagne! Popping a bottle or two of good quality champagne makes New Year’s Eve feel special. For a pre-dinner Pacific Coast treat, my family also enjoys fresh caviar.

Decorate with Silver and Gold…or Silver and Red, or Gold and Green…
Make your New Year’s table festive. Silver and gold are traditional New Year’s colors, but don’t be afraid to incorporate some other hues into your tablescape if you have special dinnerware of a different color that you love. Mirrored or metal platters or candleholders that reflect and refract light are another great way to add some glitter to a New Year’s tablescape. 

Find Silly Favors
Silly hats or crowns are a great way to get everyone feeling festive. Masks are also a fun option. Party favors that guests can wear to feel “dressed up” get groups in a celebratory mood.

Make a Plan for Midnight
When I was a little girl, my mother used to take us outside at midnight laden with pots and pans and wooden spoons. When the moment came, we all rang and banged in the New Year together. Other ways to make the first moments of 2012 feel special might include a dance party, a polar bear jump into a nearby body of water, or singing a song together (it doesn’t have to be Auld Lang Syne, but take a look at the lyrics; it’s not a bad choice!) accompanied by lit sparklers.  

Whatever you decide to do this New Year’s Eve, my best wishes for a sweet and satisfying evening spent with people you love.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Decorating Ideas

The winter holidays have arrived! One of my favorite parts of the season is transforming a space into something festive and new with holiday decor. Whether you’re decorating simply to capture the holiday spirit, or preparing for a special event, here are some holiday decorating techniques equally lovely for both:

Light the lights! Set a mood.
’Tis the season when candlelight shines brightest. Take advantage of the winter dark to play with light. Scatter candles of all sizes all throughout the house—pillars, votives, and tapers. Place a few big candles in glass hurricanes in your entryway, or line your mantel with a flickering row of tiny votives. You can even bring the candlelight outdoors. There’s a long tradition in Santa Fe of Christmastime farolitos (Spanish for “little lanterns”). These brown paper bags, weighed down with sand and each containing a small lit votive, line the streets and buildings. I love farolitos because of the special warmth they add to even large outdoor spaces. Set out some farolitos out this Christmas and add a new tradition to your holiday repertoire. 

Ornaments: Not Just for the Tree
As the years go by, many people end up with more ornaments than can fit on a Christmas tree. To display Christmas ornaments in beautiful and unexpected way, arrange a variety in a compote, large bowl, or glass jar. 

Holiday D├ęcor Clusters
I’ve long loved collecting traditional Austrian snow globes. Rather than scattering them throughout the home, I like to arrange all of the globes on a large silver platter for a striking visual display. Another idea: intersperse the globes with candles and let the light play off the beautiful glass orbs. 

Good luck with your own holiday decorating. Be inventive. When displayed in a new way, even old decorations can take on new life.

Happy holidays,

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette from Anna Post

Recently I was able to meet Anna Post. Naturally our conversation turned to the similar philosophies of etiquette, entertaining, and creating traditions. I am honored that she accepted my request to write a guest post for Table Talk about holiday etiquette. Her advice is both contemporary and timeless. Thank you Anna.  

Compliments of the
Emily Post Institute
It was my pleasure to recently visit Seattle for the first time while there to promote my new book, “Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition.” One of the highlights was a trip to Rosanna, Inc. and the wonderful opportunity to sit down with owner Rosanna Bowles. Rosanna was kind enough to show me her world—and I found our opinions on entertaining, traditions and kindness to be very much in tandem. Rosanna’s beautiful creations represent easy elegance, entertaining for the pleasure of bringing people together and the values of tradition. These are also the goals of etiquette.

Rosanna asked me to share with you, her readers, what interests people most at this time of year. Not surprisingly, I hear lots of questions about gift-giving etiquette, so compiled here are some of the most popular—which I hope will help you enjoy your holiday season.

Should I bring a hostess gift to a holiday cocktail party? What would be an appropriate gift?

Hostess gifts are totally optional for a cocktail party. A bottle of wine or a batch of blueberry muffins for the next morning are both appropriate. You might also get in the festive spirit of the event and select a holiday goodie or an ornament for your host. Always enclose a small signed gift card as your hostess will want to know who brought the gift and may not have time to receive it from you—much less open it—at the party.

Rosanna's French Perfume decoupage
make beautiful hostess gifts

Should I bring a hostess gift to a dinner party?

Yes. But keep it simple. Anything that distracts your hostess from the tasks at hand may be a nuisance. Food or flowers that need to be tended to are not the best options. A candle or soaps and a soap dish, a small potted plant or flowers already arranged in a vase, are better bets. Wines or chocolates are also nice, though don’t be surprised or offended if your host saves them to enjoy later, as he or she may already have their menu for the evening planned. Overall, keep it uncomplicated and under $20, and base your selection on your host’s taste.

Is it necessary to write thank-you notes to family members?

If you’ve sincerely thanked someone in person for a gift, a thank-you note isn’t obligatory. But, it’s never wrong to write a thank-you note. If you receive gifts from friends or family that you won’t see to thank in person, write them a thank-you note—both to let them know their gift arrived and that you appreciated it. Keep thank-you notes or personalized stationery and stamps on hand to make it easy to check them off your list.

Since I'm single, my brother and his wife only give me one gift, but I buy one for each of them as well as gifts for their two children. It's a bit much for my budget. Would it be inappropriate if I gave them just one house or family gift?

Not at all. Tell your brother and sister-in-law that your affection for them remains the same, but you're planning to adjust your gift giving this year. A house or family gift is a great idea. Other suggestions: some families adopt a “kids only” present policy; or, they draw names out of a hat so that each person concentrates on buying only one gift for one person. Discuss your ideas in advance—they may even welcome the news. And there’s more to the holiday season than gifts. Spending time with your brother’s family instead of showering them with gifts may be just as enjoyable for all involved.

I have a friend who's unemployed. I don't expect or want her to spend money on a gift for me, but should I buy a gift for her? I don't want to make her feel guilty.

If this is someone that you usually exchange gifts with, she’ll probably welcome a gift hiatus this year. It may be uncomfortable for her to discuss her financial situation, so you may want to bring it up yourself. Suggest an afternoon or lunch outing—on you—instead of the traditional gift swap. Of course, there’s no rule that friends must exchange gifts of equal value, so your friend may opt to continue the tradition—with homemade or less expensive presents.

Every year I get at least one party invite that asks guests to dress “festive”. What does that mean? Would it be rude to call the hostess to ask?

"Festive dress" usually means dressy with a nod to whatever holiday you are celebrating: something a little more fun than what you’d wear to work, something not quite as fancy as what you’d wear to a black tie event. Bring in the holiday element with color or something shiny or sparkly. It’s certainly fine to call the hostess and ask her intentions, too. Who knows? Maybe she’s thinking Santa hats and elf shoes. . .

For more on party attire, visit the Emily Post web site.

If you've only been dating someone a short while, how do you decide how extravagant to be with your holiday gift?

The amount you spend on the gift should be based on your affection for the person and your budget, as well as the seriousness of your relationship. Anything too expensive or extravagant would probably be awkward at this point. Don’t let something like a holiday gift get in the way of a new relationship. There’s no downside to keeping things simple. Think little things for the kitchen or house, something to do together like games or outdoor equipment, or even tickets to an event or dinner out.

Should I give a seasonal gift to the mail carrier?

It’s a nice gesture. The U.S. Postal Service has rules about holiday gifts, though: No cash and the value of the gift can’t exceed $20. Also, be sure to enclose a thank-you note and say something like, “Thanks for all you do throughout the year.” It’s okay if you don’t know their name.

For more information on holiday gifts and tips for service providers visit the Emily Post web site.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Holiday Rituals

In the third of our Holiday Entertaining Series Collaborative posts between Rosanna's Table & Family Eats, we look at the Tradition of Christmas.  Be sure to gather ideas and delicious recipes from the Family Eats article, Celebrating the Art of Giving: Gifts from the Kitchen.

The winter months give us many opportunities to establish traditions that can last for generations.  The repetition of traditions and rituals helps us grow roots; it allows us to take part in the legacy spanning many generations.  When we practice a tradition, we are in fact linking ourselves to the chain of human history, providing a continuation of the kind of life that humans have lived since the beginning of civilization.

Our family traditions begin when we decorate the Christmas tree.  I make hot toddies (see recipe below) and my mother's Christmas sugar cookies.  I play a variety of Christmas music, including jazz renditions sung by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and classical pieces by Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.  For my family, this night represents the beginning of winter holiday festivities.  Together we transform the house, and when we're finished, we find ourselves surrounded by the magical beauty of the holidays.

Another special tradition is to prepare a special Italian dinner every Christmas Eve: risotto with osso bucco.  My family looks forward to the evening not just because it's a holiday, but because they know we'll be eating one of their favorite meals that comes around only once a year.  When I set my table, I always use the same Rosanna holiday dishes that I've used for years.  Sometimes I also mix in my mother's vintage silver and porcelain serving pieces, which in turn came from my grandmother's china cabinet.  I incorporate these family heirlooms to create a table that shows the layers of our family's history.

My daughters always look forward to gathering by the tree after dinner to open one Christmas gift.  The room is lit by tiny lights and candles, and perhaps a warming fire.  In these moments we share memories of past holidays and fond memories of the past year.

There are many ways to celebrate the holidays of the season as there are many nationalities and religions and cultures.  (Family Eats shares a recipe for Grandma's Bohemian-Czech Hoska Bread.)  With such a variety of ceremonies and rites that have been passed down through the ages, you can simply choose to continue with established cultural traditions or create brand-new traditions with special significances that are distinctly yours.  Tradition is the glue that binds us together and makes the holidays a time that everyone looks forward to celebrating.

Rosanna's Hot Toddies
They are very simple to prepare and warm the body as well as the heart when the festivities are taking place.  Make sure to use good-quality lemons and oranges; they make a difference in the flavor of the toddy.  The oranges should be sweet and juicy.  I prefer Cognac, but brandy, rum, or Irish Whiskey would be delicious, too.  For children's toddies, simply omit the liquor and add an extra slice of orange.

serves 1
3 strips lemon zest
1 slice of orange
1 sprinkle of cinnamon
1 sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg
1 jigger Cognac
Boiling water

Muddle all the ingredients except the water in an oversized porcelain Rosanna holiday mug. Fill with boiling water and let steep for a few minutes.