The Mister and I are invited to a casual party this evening, nothing too fancy. It’s more of a family party and will even include roasting marshmallows in the outdoor fireplace. I’ve never really been much of a New Year’s reveler, so that suits me fine. At 12:30 tomorrow morning, I’d rather be cozy between the sheets than three sheets to the wind.
Still, there’s something about that glamour in black and white, isn’t there?
Today will be spent putting away most of our Christmas decorations, and I plan to spend a little quiet time making some resolutions, setting some goals, marking some dates in my Filofax, and, as mundane as it sounds, planning menus.
Tomorrow’s menu, however, is already set—the traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner. When I was growing up, my grandparents usually hosted this dinner, and I have to admit it was not my favorite meal. After all the fine holiday eating, New Year’s Day dinner seemed spartan and, well, almost kind of mean-spirited! My grandparents insisted on black-eyed peas (yuck), turnip greens (yuck), cornbread (meh), and country ham (okay) and/or fatback (disgusting). I could hardly wait for the multiple bowl games to begin, in hopes of having some potato chips and French onion dip!
According to Southern Living magazine, these foods are traditional in the South because they were grown from the only crops left behind by Union troops, who considered them unfit for anything but animal fodder. Now, I find this a bit of a stretch—from what I’ve read no one was turning away food of any sort during those dark days. Nevertheless, for those hoping for a New Year of prosperity (and, who isn’t?), this could be the menu for you. The peas are said to represent coins, the greens symbolize folding money, and the cornbread stands for gold.
Admittedly, those still aren’t my all-time favorite foods, but I think tradition and taste can happily co-exist. And so, our New Year’s Day menu will be Hoppin’ John and rice, pork tenderloin, a little green salad with some grapefruit, and cornbread and biscuits. For dessert, we’ll finish the leftover sweets that are still lurking about.
For New Year’s Day, I serve the Hoppin’ John as the main course while the pork is more of a side dish. There must be at least a thousand ways to prepare Hoppin’ John, and I confess that I have never made it the same way twice, but here’s my basic recipe.
2 cups black-eyed peas or cow peas, cooked (these can be canned, dried, or frozen, which is what I prefer)
2 cups cooked rice (white works best)
1 cup or a little more chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
3 slices bacon or country ham
1 small onion, chopped
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 or 2 tsp minced garlic
Mix cooked peas and rice in a medium-sized pot and add the stock. Heat to a low simmer. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a small skillet. Remove bacon when cooked to desired doneness, and crumble or slice into small bits. Brown the onion, pepper, and garlic in the bacon grease. (Do not cook the onion and pepper until they are limp; this dish is best if they still have a little crunch.) Add onion mixture to the bean mixture and cook until heated through and the mixture begins to thicken slightly.
Serve with chopped green onions, vinegar, and hot sauce.
Feel free to add chopped celery, other beans (cooked, of course) like pintos or navy or even black beans, for a little more variety. Some cooks even add a can of drained seasoned, chopped tomatoes, and some add cooked turnip or collard greens, roughly chopped.
No matter how you celebrate this last holiday of 2010 and the first of the coming year, I want to say thank you for reading, for commenting, and for inspiring me this past year. I wish you all a bright New Year, filled with God’s richest blessings of peace and joy.
We’ve had guests here at the T&C house since December 23, so I apologize for the scarcity of posts. I hope you enjoy this slightly updated missive from last year.
“I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year,” pledges Ebeneezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Quite possibly the Mister embodies this remark as no one else. He loves Christmastime, and closing the door on the season is always a little bittersweet.
Although Christmas as a holy season lasts twelve days, concluding with Epiphany on January 6, practically—including for reasons of fire safety—it’s time to begin putting away the decorations. The Christmas tree, particularly, is looking a bit careworn. At the beginning of December, our tree looks like a lovely young woman dressed to the nines for a gala. By the end of the month, the tree reminds me of a tottering dowager grandmother, sporting two spots of rouge and a crooked lipstick application. Her eyes are still twinkly, but all she can really think of is getting out of her dress and stockings and heels.
As much as I enjoy Christmas, I’m looking forward to the clean, fresh start of the New Year. Shoving everything in random boxes and getting the goods out of sight will only lead to aggravation and stress next Christmas, however. It is more than worth the effort to put things away thoughtfully. Toward this end, we bought Rubbermaid containers and labeled them for Santa’s eight reindeer. Each year, when it’s time to decorate, we start with Dasher and finish with Blitzen. I keep a list on my laptop of what is in every bin, print it out, and keep it in my holiday notebook. When it’s time to put it all away, I jot notes on the list and then I’ll update that on the computer in the next day or two. It looks something like this:
Prancer (dining room):
old ornaments for silver bowl
pine boughs for sideboard
antlers and greenery for side table
When we pull these items out, we put anything they might be replacing (candlesticks, Imari bowl) into the appropriate bin for storage during the holidays. I know it’s hardly rocket science, but it’s a tried and true method for us.
Here, the reindeer bins are in the playroom, waiting to be filled on January 2nd and returned to the “Christmas Closet.”
I love having everything organized for this Christmas yet to come, and so I take a few minutes to straighten the holiday linens and serving pieces, as well.
I’d love to hear your favorite tips for storing and organizing your holiday decorations!
December 26, the second day of Christmas, is celebrated as the Feast of Saint Stephen. Stephen was Christianity’s first martyr, and the New Testament book of Acts, chapters six and seven, recounts his story. December 26 is, of course, also known as Boxing Day and is a bank holiday in Great Britain, Australia, and in some Canadian provinces, as well. Although opinions vary, most scholars generally agree that the name Boxing Day is derived from the custom of “boxing up” the holiday feast leftovers to give to one’s staff. Today, in the UK, Boxing Day has evolved to be a shopping day as well as a time to give gifts to friends and service people and, I suppose, staff, as well.
The T&C family Boxing Day tradition is to enjoy dessert with our good friends, the Rs. Although we met only four short years ago, our families “clicked,” and we have spent many, many Sunday nights together having supper and enjoying one another’s company. Because the Mister and I have usually hosted family over Christmas Eve and Day, the Rs are kind to invite us to their lovely home for a bit of a respite. This year it was especially fun to venture out in the crisp and beautiful snow.
We always have a few nibbles and a glass of wine in the kitchen before taking a seat by the fire to enjoy our dessert and coffee.
Each year, we choose a theme and then secretly draw names for a gift exchange. In the past, we have had to find gifts that began with the same letter as our intended recipient’s name. Last year’s theme was movies; this year’s was books. I received a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated as well as a copy of an Henri Nouwen devotional guide; the gift I gave was Tight Lines: Ten Years of the Yale Anglers’ Journal. I think it was a hit. I was enchanted by the arborvitae in the birch pots that Mrs. R had placed in the dining room. I love the woodland look, the perfect complement to the old Spode (I think) bowl.
The Rs’ daughter played a few carols for us. She is a student at Clemson, where she is studying history and French, and will be leaving in a few days for her second semester abroad. She will be in Belgium as well as in Paris. I am sure Mrs. R and I will need to go check on her at some point this spring. (Oh, how I wish!)
Thanks, dear Rs, for a wonderful evening and a great tradition!
The first is The Christmas Eve Eve Camp-out, which means that all three children set up camp around the Christmas tree and fall asleep on the floor looking at the lights and ornaments. When they were little and snuggled in their footed blanket sleepers, the Mister or I would switch off the tree around 11, and they would sleep peacefully until they heard the coffee maker the next morning. They were soooo sweet, sleeping so close together, so excited for Christmas. This year, two of them are over six feet tall and snore, which, frankly, isn’t all that cute. Still they’re mine, and I love that they want to keep their camp-out tradition. But, it could get weird when they’re married.
The second simple tradition that no one wants to change is our Christmas Eve menu. When our children were little, I somehow found myself in the role of Christmas pageant director at our small Episcopal church. In addition to having our three scrubbed and polished in Christmas Eve clothes, we had to wrangle them into whatever costumes were theirs for the service. When we arrived at church, I had anywhere from 15 to 20 more costumes to pin and tuck on wriggling children, so that the Nativity tableau could take place in the glow of candlelight. I was also responsible for the Birthday Party for Jesus that followed in the parish hall. Meanwhile, the Mister and I usually had anywhere from four to six overnight guests that we were hosting and that would be expecting dinner—after cake and punch, that is. Clearly, these were not the years for me to attempt standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding.
Thankfully, our rector’s wife, the mother of two rambunctious boys, shared her menu with me: Shepherd’s Pie and Angel Food Cake. Shepherds and Angels, what could be more perfect for Christmas Eve? And so it continues. For the past couple of years, I’ve asked if anyone wants to change it up a bit, but the answer is always No, we love shepherd’s pie.
And, so shepherd’s pie it will be—a humble meal to help us remember that Jesus, the Savior, was born in a lowly stable, where real animals ate and slept. A humble meal to remind us of the rough and simple men to whom God revealed His glory on that Christmas night.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12May it keep us ever mindful of the Good Shepherd, who humbled Himself for us.
In her book Ham Biscuits, Hostess Gowns, and Other Southern Specialties, one of my favorite essayists, Julia Reed writes:
“These days when I think of Christmas at home, I think first of cheese straws and roasted pecans. . . .And by cheese straws, I don’t mean the ubiquitous and tasteless parmesan-coated, puff pastry twists found in every gourmet shop in Manhattan; I mean ridged rectangular wafers made of the heavenly combination of cheddar, butter, flour, and cayenne pepper that melts in your mouth . . .They’re crunchy in texture, sharp in flavor; there is almost nothing I’d rather eat.”Um, yes. And, if you’re having them or serving them with cocktails, G&T is the way to go. Trust me.
Now, to make these delights is easier than you might think, considering how folks down here do go on about them. For more than 20 years, I have relied on the top-selling Junior League cookbook of all time, Charleston Receipts.
As you can see the recipe, or receipt as Charleston cooks prefer, is quite simple. Using the best ingredients available is key.
Charleston Receipts was first published in 1950, but many of the recipes are much, much older. This recipe is my starting point, but I believe our modern palates enjoy a bit more kick or bite than in the original.
Apparently, I’m not alone because the charming Matt Lee and Ted Lee, of Lee Bros. Southern foods and cooking fame, have also spiced up their cheese straw recipe, as has Southern Living, which features several lovely presentation ideas for cheese straws and wafers in its December issue.
Here’s the adjusted recipe I’ve come to use:
Cream together in a large mixing bowl:
1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated fineWith mixer on low speed, gradually add:
1 stick salted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I use White Lily)When the mixture is coarse crumbles, add:
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp half and halfMix just until mixture is smooth. Shape dough into two logs or flat discs before wrapping tightly in parchment paper. Then place in zip-top bag and freeze for up to two months.
My grandmother always made her cheese wafers round like little cookies, and she topped each with a toasted pecan half. I do like the idea of a little pecan crunch, so before wrapping I pressed crushed pecans into the sides of the dough. These two logs went into the freezer yesterday, but tonight we decided to slice a dozen wafers to share before dinner. After unwrapping, let the dough warm for about 10 minutes before slicing thinly with a sharp knife. Bake the wafers at 350 for about 10 minutes. Do not let them brown. Remove from the oven and let them rest on the baking sheet until cool. (Good luck with that, by the way.) Store in an airtight container. I’ve had middling success re-crisping these in the oven; I think it’s best to bake them as you need them.
I am pleased with the pecan edging. For the next batch I plan to use three-quarters of a cup of white extra-sharp cheddar with about a quarter cup of Parmesan.
What’s your favorite holiday savory?
First, I went on a Sunday evening while Little went to her small group meeting down the street. Little and I went together on Tuesday night while the Mister and Middle were at Boy Scouts. Then, on Thursday, I attended again with a friend right after lunch. So, what kind of party starts at one o’clock on a Sunday afternoon and continues from nine in the morning until nine in the evening Monday through Friday, and then, finally, wraps up on Saturday? A wrapping party, of course! And it’s one of my favorite parties of the year. Our hostess, C, is in my Tuesday morning Bible study group, and this was the second year I was blessed enough to be invited. C has kind of a thing for wrapping paper. And ribbon. She has been collecting it for years. And she’s extremely organized, storing the paper in her attic by color. Seriously. C also enjoys her girlfriends—from the neighborhood, from church, from her PTA days. I doubt she has ever met a stranger! About four years ago, she found herself wrapping presents in a back bedroom while her sons and husband were enjoying the ambience of their beautifully decorated tree in the family room. She figured if she was wrapping in a secluded fashion then her friends might be, too, and that’s how the idea for the wrapping party was born. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that she had so much paper! So, early in December, C sent invitations to about 150 of her closest friends. And she invited them to bring friends as well. Then, she bought some wine, and she made some cider and some iced tea. And some white chicken chili. And what is known around here as PTA Pasta Salad. And some spinach dip. Oh, and some cookies. C tends to be fairly energetic. I think she’s probably been described as a fireball once or twice. She stocked up on scissors and tape—the shiny kind and the matte kind. (And she will not let you use the matte kind on foil paper or the shiny kind on kraft paper. She’s particular--in a good way.) She rearranged her living room and dining room furniture to accommodate her friends, and she set up tables for wrapping. Her ribbon is organized by color, also; although here it is a bit of a jumble because many hands had been plowing through it minutes before I took these photos. C likes helping everyone find the ribbon that suits the paper best. All the girls, as we optimistically call ourselves, bring our gifts to wrap and our own boxes. Someone asked C if she’d thought of having a “men’s night” for wrapping, to which she replied that she just wasn’t interested in having a bunch of men in her house on Christmas Eve!
I used to try to coordinate all my papers each year, but I’ve loosened up a bit (still no stick-on bows—not now, not ever!) and this year I just chose papers I liked. And I like red. I love the plaids and the retro Santa paper, too. I don’t usually go for modern, but Little really liked these fun prints. And for Miss Little, I sneakily chose a few girly papers and ribbons for her gifts. It is such a great feeling to know that ninety percent of the wrapping is finished, and wrapping presents with C and friends was such fun!This year’s party was a bit bittersweet because C and her husband are moving to Dallas in a few months. She will be terribly missed, and I think her new guest room is already booked for the first year! Thankfully, she and her husband have family in our area, including two sons, so I am sure she will be back to visit often. In the meantime, I’ve heard that several of her closest friends are considering making next year’s party the Wrapping Road Trip!
Now, wouldn’t that be something?
Thanks, C, for including me and inspiring me this season! Merry Christmas!
Sewn from fun winter print flannel, these pillowcases make their appearance the first of December. Even though Big, Middle, and Little are hardly small children anymore, they are still eager to put their “Christmas pillowcases” on their beds.
If you sew, I think these would be a great gift for someone on your list, or perhaps for your own family. I love ours, in part for their simplicity—they’re easy to launder and they’re easy to store. They make for an uncomplicated tradition—just jump in bed and let the visions of sugarplums begin. Of course, the main reason I love them is because they remind me of my Dear Friend and the many happy times we’ve had as well as the prayers we have said for one another through the years.
I’d love to hear about your simplest holiday traditions. In the meantime, sweet dreams!
Still I don’t want the T&C House smelling like athletic shoes and Clorox either. So, welcome my new favorite scent—the perfect blend of pine and paperwhite and peppermint with the smallest whiff of spice. Yes, it’s a soap not a candle or potpourri, but once it’s unwrapped from the lovely packaging, the scent fills a room without overwhelming.
Made by the family-owned Greenwich Bay Trading Company in Raleigh, North Carolina, the soap is made of domestically sourced vegetable oils with no animal testing. Inks are soy-based and printed on post-consumer recycled paper. The entire product is designed, manufactured, packaged, and shipped from Raleigh. It is available in a hefty 10.5 ounce bar as well as a petite 1.9 ounce bar, which is perfect for unwrapping and placing in bowls on a bookshelf or on the top of a cupboard to let the fragrance bless the room.
Heck, you can probably even wash with it.
What’s your favorite holiday scent?
Trained as a physician, Poinsett was a congressman, the Secretary of War under President Martin Van Buren, and a cofounder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts (a forerunner of the Smithsonian Institution). detail
He also served as the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, which is where he studied the native poinsettia and determined to introduce it to South Carolina. An amateur botanist, Poinsett was successful, and the flower is no longer considered a rare and exotic hothouse bloom.
Poinsett’s legacy lives on in other ways, as well.
Above is the Poinsett Bridge, near Travelers Rest. Built in 1820, the stone bridge was part of a road from Columbia to Saluda Mountain. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge is part of a 120 acre preserve.
The Poinsett Club is the Upstate’s finest private club, home to the season’s Debutante Ball as well as wedding receptions, private parties, and charity events. The crab cakes are amazing, and the corn sticks are legendary. The Poinsett Hotel is a terrific place to stay, should you happen to be in the area. It is now a Westin property, and it was used in several shots in the George Clooney/Renee Zellweger film Leatherheads several years ago. This time of year, it’s the annual Poinsettia Christmas Parade that brings Santa Claus to town.
Poinsettias growing in the wild in Mexico and South America tend to grow as leggy shrubs, often preferring steep terrain. It was the Eckes family of southern California, who through hybridization, created the bushy, long-lasting flower that we associate with Christmas here in the United States. The Eckes family continues to be the largest commercial grower of the poinsettia. No doubt, you’ve seen poinsettias in different colors, spangled with glitter, marbled and mottled; I’m not sure who deserves the credit for those atrocities, but I can’t imagine Mr. Poinsett would be pleased.
Still, today we celebrate Poinsettia Day, and I may have to add a small one to the T&C house. I found this photo on the Southern Living website, and I think I could do something similar but smaller with a little fern and ivy and a small poinsettia. It might be a fun way to offer a bit of history to Big, Middle, and Little.
And to honor Mr. Poinsett, of course.
Do you decorate with poinsettias?