Posts Tagged ‘holiday hostess’

Peppermint Twist Cupcakes; My New Favorite

November 30, 2010
Man Bait

Unique Christmas Treats

I discovered a delicious alternative to the usual holiday fare of fruit cake, cookies and almond dipped everything: Peppermint Twist Cupcakes.  The secret ingredient is Andes Creme De Menthe Baking Chips that are folded into fudge batter, which create cool pockets of tastiness within the chocolate cake.  The peppermint frosting on these cupcakes is so rich and minty, that husbands will do anything, but laundry to get these cupcakes.  Have fun and enjoy, but be warned:  You can’t eat just one….or two.

Cake Recipe
Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix; Follow directions then add:
Add 1 1/2 teaspoon Peppermint Extract
Fold in 1 Cup of Andes Baking Chips into batter
Frosting Recipe
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
8oz cream cheese (1 brick)
1 teaspoon Peppermint Extract
3 Cups of Powdered Sugar
Use hand mixer to cream butter and cream cheese.  Add peppermint.  Slowly add powdered sugar until all is incorporated.  Scoop into ziplock bag and cut tip for easy frosting swirls.  Top with red sugar or crushed candy canes.

Suffering and Raspberry Pie

September 4, 2009

“Raspberry pie.  Mmmmm. This is why we suffer.”  My husband smiled in agreement and offered no sound, but for the ping of a fork deliberately released, quiet chewing and the delicate sound of savoring as his tongue pressed the roof of his mouth and coaxed the tastes to linger a little longer.  Luscious berries, buttery crust and the crescendos of tart and sour are a symphony of textures and tastes beyond compare. 

Although I detest self-disclosure or public confessional, the contrast of suffering and a perfect raspberry pie speaks to the power of this simple and elegant dessert.  I live in Northern Minnesota, where snow is harvested by the feet, cold is measured below zero and times occur when warmth cannot be obtained, even indoors.  Summer comes in July and leaves at the beginning of September before giving way to a rainy cold fall.  This leaves just enough time to get everything repaired and secured for the next winter. ‘Why do we continue to live here?’  This is a conversation I’ve had countless times with perfect strangers huddled under four layers of clothing, teeth chattering. So began the list of ‘Why we suffer.’

This part of the country offers some spectacular treats for those willing to endure the brutal extremes of the environment.  The Northern lights, deer and fawn grazing the back yard almost daily, bunnies too numerous to name, yesterday a black bear perched at the top of a tree and the occasional fiesty racoon are part of our urban family and on the list of  good reasons for ‘why we suffer.’    Nothing, but nothing beats the raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and rhubarb that grow in this region.  They are the unexpected gifts that gently persuade the people to inhabit this unconquered real estate. So out of this bountiful gift was born an elegant dessert– Raspberry Pie.

The simplicity of the ingredients calls out to the least experienced cook:  raspberries, brown sugar, corn starch, lemon peel–add crust.  Sigh.  The truth is that you don’t have to be a suffering Minnesotan to make such a culinary delight.  Thanks to the interstate trucking system and Pillsbury pie crust, you don’t even have to travel, learn to make grandma’s crust or become a food snob to enjoy.  This is the recipe: 

2 1/2 cups raspberries

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

lemon zest

 2 Tbs butter

1 egg white mixed with 1 tsp water

Toss berries, sugar, cornstarch, a dash of salt and lemon zest  in a bowl.  Prepare crust according to package directions or use grandma’s crust recipe.  When the bottom crust is in place, brush with egg white, then pour fruit mixture into the crust. Cut butter into small squares and place all over the top of the pie before adding the top crust.  I prefer a lattice pie design for my raspberry pies.  Tip: Begin the lattice design with a giant x in the middle and it goes much smoother.  Usually, I take a little extra pie crust and cut out a heart for the top of the pie.  After all, love is the secret ingredient.

As you are scrambling to take advantage of the last fresh fruits and vegetables of the season, don’t forget to include plans to bake a fresh Raspberry Pie.  There is no excuse–even if you are not a foodie.  For me, these last freshly baked raspberry pies are a necessity–my early reward for suffering yet another cold Minnesotan winter.

Who needs a figgy pudding when enchiladas are on the Christmas menu?

December 2, 2008

The Holidays are one of my favorite times of the year.  They are appealing because they are the ultimate in aesthetics and sensory indulgence.  The festive soft lighting, fresh winter green wreaths, Eggnog Lattes and Bing Crosby crooning my Christmas favorites are a cocoon of safety and bliss.  All of this atmosphere, good food and gathering with co-workers (haven’t we gathered enough throughout the year?), family and friends can lull a person into a fall sense of serenity.

What the Holidays are really about are a calling to the carpet on what you believe and if your behavior falls in line with those beliefs. For this reason, the holidays can be a very uncomfortable experience.  Last minute dishes are prepared for potlucks the night before work at midnight.  Cookies, once made with care from scratch are broken from squares and baked in a mock effort to “be it all for everyone when sleep is the constant victim in life and something has got to give and making homemade cookies for the class is not going to happen, this week, this year.”  Relatives come into town and sheets need washed, the dog needs bathed and can I fit one more thing in that closet to create the illusion of a “clutter-free” life?  Wealthier relatives turn gift-giving into a competition and although it is not your values to engage in the materialism of Christmas, you feel railroaded into doing so…makes a person long for the simple BBQ life of The Fourth of July.  Sigh.

All of this sensory input, parties and expectation can jostle a person into an unhappy Holiday depression.  I would like to offer this recipe for getting through the holidays with your sanity intact, values secured and forward-looking perspective to go from “surviving the holidays,” to “enjoying the holidays.”


1/2 cup of FLEXIBILITY



dash of HUMOR

Establish your parameters for the holidays on these fronts:  guests, feasts, gifts and family traditions. Is your family going to host out-of-town guests?  Establish the time limit and prepare for their arrival a week in advance by delegating the preparation to the whole family. 

Feasts:  Are you cooking?  Are you hosting?  This year I was overwhelmed with work.  Normally, I’m the woman who goes ten extra miles to make a meal.  This year I had guests from out of town and opted to have the meal purchased in advance from a fine foods store one mile from my house.  It was an elegant solution.  I actually ENJOYED my family and we taste-rated all the foods and marveled at the idea of Thanksgiving dishes fitting into ONE dishwasher load.  Remember: only Martha is Martha…so let it go. 

Gifts:  Are you buying, baking or making?  Decide now and keep it simple. Do not bend your will if spending money isn’t in the budget or true to your values.  Instead make a CD with the whole family’s favorite Christmas songs instead.  Include the baby’s first coos or words or the sound of your family singing a Christmas carol.  Include the voice of an elder family member reading scripture or telling a story.  This would be treasured for many generations to come and can recruit the whole family–including those tech-savvy teenagers.  If you bake, keep the portions small and the wrapping extravagant.  Six chocolate striped macaroons in a beautiful box is better than 3 dozen sugar cookies on a paper plate and a heck of a lot less work. 

Family traditions:  Keep it real.  Keep it simple.  Use this opportunity to bring what is meaningful to light.  Incorporate faith and family into the holidays.  Begin thinking about your childhood traditions and work to create meaningful new ones.  It’s easy to forget in the bustle of the holidays and the attitude of “just surviving December.” 

When I was kid we used to eat at “Casa” this Mexican restuarant on Christmas Eve with my uncle and his family.  It was amazing.  While everyone else was eating figgy puddings, my family was chowing down on enchiladas in an empty restaurant where the staff started their festivities along with us and it felt like crashing a loving and loud work party.  After dinner we would go to my unlce’s house and the dads would go out for “Champagne.”  Actually, they did the work of Santa’s elves and cemented the illusion that Santa visited our house “while we were out.”  This led to my sister’s and I being the only kids who maintained the belief in Santa until a very embarassing age.  We opened our presents on Christmas Eve, listened to Alvin and the Chipmunks one million times (thank you mom and dad) and the parents slept in on Christmas Day.  What a beautiful memory.  No stress.  Unconvential and creative. 

I encourage you to take charge of the holidays.  Form your battle plan on the fronts of Feasts, Gifts, Guests and Tradition.  Understand serving others or being a hostess to your family, colleagues and children involves some discomfort, some sacrifice and yes, the loss of more sleep.  The key to being a good hostess is to suffer with a smile and enjoy the outcome of your efforts; to serve, to relieve, to empathize, to improve, to nourish, to nurture, to love.