Thank you for your patience and check back soon!
Just as we're able to get a glimpse of our lawns , our plans for Spring come to a screeching hault thanks to the wonderfully unpredicatble New England weather. Now I don't know about you, but I am so over the whole purity of snow that I welcome mounds and mounds of mud because that means its finally over!
This weird weather reminds me of when I was a kid. My Aunt would make us wear overcoats, hats and mittens even if we had an unusually warm day in mid March. She said if the sun could see our pale skin it would get scared and disappear and not return until people could tan.
So of course I did what she said. But growing up with 5 other kids there was always one that went out with just a tshirt. And you know what, the next day I swear we'd have a snow storm or freezing temperatures all over again!
Dang it... could she be right?
Our big family, now forced indoors, couldn't wait for the huge St. Patrick's Day parade and growing up right next door to Southie (Dorchester), big boiled dinners were inevitable. So, my Aunt started hosting big dinner parties and for one weekend a year, we were not Portuguese but Irish.
Well, not exactly...ha-ha
I remember slabs of corned beef, bags of potatoes and giant heads of cabbage simmering away stovetop while linguica, ribs, chicken thighs and turnips stewed in the oven. Our boiled dinner was more "Cozido a Portuguesa" (cooked Portuguese style) than traditional Irish fare but every bit as delicious! There were never any leftovers in our house and it was good times for sure....
This year I went back to my roots and hosted a dinner party of my own. I went for Irish tradition making "Colcannon" and tweeked a few other recipes. I did "corned beef" in the crock pot and made "Shamrock rolls". I used the stovetop and the oven and offered up "Sliced Radishes with Irish butter & Seasalt" while we sipped ale. The tablescape was left simple with shamrocks I made from cardstock and a few daffodils here and there. It was pretty, it was delicious and it was another successful soiree!
The next day we kept tradition going and went to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Southie. Despite the sunny forecast, I bundled up nicely as my Aunt would have suggested but noticed many people in tshirts. One of the "5" I grew up with wore just a sweatshirt and by days end, the chill had rolled in. Then following night, ANOTHER snow storm dropped a healthy 6 inches in the City! .
Could it be that the sun got scared?...Hmmmm.....
Either way, it's annoying. And I'm just so ready for Spring!
Sliced Radishes with Irish Butter & Sea Salt
Slow Cooked Corned Beef, Carrots & Celery
Scallion Colcannon Potatoes
Shamrock Dinner Rolls
Chocolate Irish Creme Cake
I was just debating beef vs. pork. After listening for a while about how beef if "king", I made my simple and straight forward points that no matter how lowsy a cut of pork, you can always turn it into something delicious...period.
Then, silence...This just isn't the case with all the different cuts of beef out there and unless you can pay for prime or know the secrets to cooking it right, you could end up with shoe leather. Am I right or am I right?...
Thank you ...
I don't know, maybe its becuase I was brought up learning to respect food and not to toss anything out (pig ears anyone) but every time I make ribs I just can't help but feel like I'm doing some good...And I think I am, becuase people love them!
My recipe is also super easy and can be served as an hors d' ouerve or an entree. You make it right in your crock pot, no grill needed so it's pefect your next soiree or busy weeknight dinner.
I hope you enjoy it.
Make Approximately 1 Dozen Appetizers
2 lbs Country Style Pork Ribs
1 jar Ah-So BBQ Sauce (this is the sticky red stuff in the Ethnic Aisle)
2 tbs rough chopped fresh garlic
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground ginger (ginger powder)
1. BROIL ribs on high in oven, top rack, about 6 inches from the top. 10 Minutes.
2. Place ribs in crock pot and cover with all ingredients. Cook on LOW heat 6-8 hours.
3. Cut into 12 pieces with kitchen shears or meat clever.
Garnish with green onion- optional...
Hi Guys, Spicy Chorizo and Queso Fresco Phyllo Blue Corn & Shredded Iceberg Vidalia Onion Guacamole Black Beans Grilled Corn Saffron Rice Spanish Olives NY Cheddar Jalapenos Mexican Crema Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars Mexican Chocolate Birthday Cake Kahlua Brownies with Vanilla IceCream
My hubby officially turned 40 this past September and I couldn't wait to throw him a surprise party. He's been saying he's 40 since he was 35 so he was long overdue for a soiree!
The planning actually started in the Spring , not because I was planning ahead, but because I came across a huge lot of NEW sombrero hats at a yard sale. It was at the tail end. You know, when the yard sale vendor decides its been a long day and she'll do anything to part with her stuff? So I offered a buck and voila, a 40th Fiesta was born. Btw, there were like 30 hats total so yippee for me. Score!
CB & I spent a good part of that Spring yardsailing for treasures. What else was I going to do with a baby that's up by 6am? So I looked around, enjoyed my son's company and spent about $10 bucks on cool and interesting finds.
The rest of the items were harder to get because I'm a bit , let's say, particular. But thanks to www.amazon.com and www.itzaparty.com I was able to locate the papel picado (fancy mexican paper banners) in the pattern and colors I had to have. The rest of the decor was hand made.
I used tissue paper to make colorful flowers, a cake stand, banners and pennants. I used card stock, my printer and free clipart for food tags. Mutli colored balloons were blown up and strung together with needle and thread (so much cheaper than hellium) and I made backdrops from wrapping paper I found at www.ChristmasTreeShops.com . I also found cheapy plates and napkins there.
The most elaborate of all the decor was a drunk Mexican that was lying around as if he was "drying out". He was brought over by one of our friend's that made him using an old pair of jeans, a shirt and some sneakers. Thanks S.H.! Much like making a scarecrow, you just stuff the clothing with paper and plastic bags. I provided the sombrero hat to complete the look.
There were party games to play too. I did a pin the tail on the donkey and a traditional pinata for both the kids and the adults to enjoy. Thanks to my Father in Law bringing the best tequila money can buy, (this was no "Patron") we all had a blast!
The food was absolutely titillating! I listed the Menu below and will share the recipes soon. As usual, I didn't get nearly enough pics and since this seems to be a trend as I cater more events, I'm strongly considering hiring a photographer. If I can keep hands off the food long enough and relinguish creative control, I'll be good.
Of course no soiree this important is without its share of stress and some of the challenges was finding storage places for all my groceries. Tomatos and chips hid in theatre banquettes. Beans, jarred sauce and flour tortillas in CB's toy chest and alcohol by the case load lived in my trunk for at least a week.
E didn't know what was going on and I'm sure he was confused with all the crafting. He saw me making fiesta decorations, Thomas the Train decor, and Fair food signs simultaneously. In fact, it wasn't until his 40th party that he figured it all out. For some time he thought CB's soiree was going to be a Fair/Fiesta/Thomas theme and just couldn't make sense of it. Needless to say, he was relieved come party day. E's 40th was 3 weeks before CB's 1st.
Leading up to the big day, it was unclear if E would work that day (Sat-he did) and if he'd hit the shooting range afterward. I had a backup plan and used the guise of recipe testing for a few make ahead dishes. I went as far as sampling sopapilla bars to throw him off. I did all of this with baby in tow and I'm not gonna lie, it was challenging!
In hind sight, I'd probably hire a sitter for the set up because juggling this much felt more like freak show, less like clown act, even for a super organized doll like me.
During set up, I nearly had an anxiety attack when I discovered my topiary trees were decorated for Christmas! What part of , "just take 3 different color banners, spin them exactly 70 degrees, hang them at 90, and "flank" the carriage house doors in a pinwheel style" did my pink and funky dolls not understand? The horror!...LOL .. It was fine though...No really, it was ... AFTER I made them take it all down, did a demo to show them what I meant and begged them to still be my friends after practicly forcing them to a do-over.
By the time guests arrived I was NOT ready and sweatier than Obama without a speech writer! I randomly grabbed people and put them to work. "You, do this. You, do that" I barked, and just as we were crossing the finish line, I corralled my flock of peeps. We waited for E to mosey his way down the driveway when I suddenly jumped out of nowhere, my peeps behind me, and yelled "SURPRISE"!... He was like what? with a big smile and I was like , "this is your surprise 40th...or really, your 45th since you've been 40 for 5 years now!"..
We kissed, I got teary eyed, we did tequila shots and I ate cake.
It was a hell of a 40th Fiesta!!!
Well, I hope I've inspired you to do something nice for someone you love. And trust me, anyone who says they hate surprises, is lying!
PS: Special thanks to my BFF's and some of the Pink and Funky Dolls: Anabela C, Ruthie P, Lori E, Cliffy V for setup and S.H. on ice and mexican man, Amanda V lawn games and Laura V 's amazing 7 layer dip and of course, FIL for kick ass tequila!! )))
Smoked Gouda & Caramelized Onion Quesadillas
Stuffed Jalapenos with Cherrywood Smoked Bacon
Watermelon with Mexican Crema
Hint of Lime Tortillas
Pico de Gallo Traditionale
Chipotle Cheese Fondue
Fiesta Taco Bar:
Mild Spiced Ground Beef
Adobo Style Slow Cooked Pork
Soft and Hard Shell Tortillas
The Tablescape: I used the wrapping paper as the backdrop and layered plastic table cloths and fabric. The signs were made using foam board that I taped to the wrapping paper and clip art I printed.
My Grandmother made this funky looking throw you see here. It's made out of old socks and fabric swatches she had lying around. I've kept it all these years and never knew what to do with it. I was happy to have it on display since she is no longer with us.
The 40th sign close up... I used paint chip samples cut into thin strips to mimic confetti and cut fringe into streamers for a more Fiesta feel.
Here are some more paint chip samples (free at any hardware store). I printed food tags using the Jokerman font.
The food items were all sides for the Taco Bar.
Mexican pottery I found at a yard sale for a $1.
The easiest and most delicious Quesadillas you'll ever eat! I assembled them ahead of time, cut into wedges and then pan fried in oil just before serving. Recipe: 3/4 parts Smoked Gouda to 1/4 part mozzerella (Gouda doesn't melt well) plus caramelized onions ,(enough to cover entire tortillas well) all nestled in store bought flour torillas.
More sides for the Fiesta Taco Bar. The tin pans you see were free at a yard sale. I just lined them with foil.
DIY Fiesta Banners I made using raffia, a glue stick and colorful tissue paper. I cut more fringe into the paper to get this effect.
This is actually the cake stand that I made for Eric's birthday cake but it ended up not being used. This is what you get when friends help and you can't be at all places at all times.
If you can picture it, the chocolate cake would've sat on top of this and been adorned with the "Happy Birthday Eric" sign I made using tissue paper, a font print out and 2 wooden skewers.
It was made out of just an ordinary box I wrapped in tissue paper, then glued on streamers that I also cut fringe into and layered it on.
And this was the cake topper. Really?... someone thought it belonged in the pico de gallo? See , this is what I get for not doing it myself- LOL
Another awesome yard sale find for a $1!!! The fabric was free since I had it left over from another project.
Here is the drunk Mexican. Like I said, just stuff old clothes with paper or plastic bags...done.
Here I took a cheapy pin the tail on the donkey from a party store and I made it more grand by cutting it out, mounting to foam board and embellishing with tissue paper flowers I made. I added a pretty paper blind fold instead of using the smaller one that came with the burro...
I HAD to have these banners and finally found them on Amazon.com. They're plastic so they can be used again, and believe me, they will be
Setup in progress... I decided againt tables AND chairs and just did chairs. I used my trusty slipcovers in white and had a sombrero hat sitting on each one. 'Should really have snapped a picture of this from the front. oh, well...Anyway, this was a smaller soiree. I only invited 45 of our closest friends and family and I was lucky to have enough seating for all without having to rent anything.
The bar station. In addition to plenty of beer and tequila, I offered guests Sangria, Margaritas and Red Wine.
The pinata...Lots of fun after a few drinks
The balloons, hand strung. Just blow them up and string together with needle and thread. Obviously you are threading the balloon knot... Big time saver and money saver since you can do this ahead of time.
The party in action. These are just some of our favorite people
Ahh...refreshing. That's me in the background taking a much needed break. I wore a red dress with a fusha bolero jacket, yellow and white jewlery and a turqiouse flower in my hair ala Chiquita. It's a damn shame there weren't any pics taken of me and E. Same thing happened at CB's Christening. See what I mean about hiring the photographer? I know I do it all, but it's nice to fantasize that I don't have to.
Christian Blake Hammond.. aka Senor Christian...and yes, that's a mustache I drew on with eyeliner. I just couldn't help myself
The best $7 bucks I ever spent! Guests were lining up to get their pictures taken. So much fun!
And what outdoor soiree would be complete without a firepit and MORE food! Below CB is chowing on the pulled pork.
We sat around the fire and sipped cocktails until Midnight. It was a great soiree indeed!
Happy Birthday E
Spicy Chorizo and Queso Fresco Phyllo
Blue Corn &
Cheesecake Sopapilla Bars
Kahlua Brownies with Vanilla IceCream
I've finally had a chance to sort through hundreds of pics taken at CB's 1st Birthday Bash and I'm sharing them with you!
Since it was in October, I decided that I wanted a "fair" theme but CB also loves trains so a nice marriage happened when Thomas met Fair Food.
It was so much fun to sit down with my brain and imagine such treats as "cotton candy covered peanuts" and "peanut butter pickle chips" but it was even more exciting to bring my ideas to life!
The menu had to be kid friendly but also please a crowd of hungry grown ups, many Portuguese, that would definately not be ok with eating a hot dog alone OR... standing.... So, the planning began...
After going back and forth with how fancy I wanted to get, I set up a table in the playroom that seated 15 and this is where I seated my very "particular " older relatives. (aka- slightly high maintenance-ha-ha ) Thankfully, E's family is much more casual and totally ok with standing as are our friends so it all worked out.
As guests arrived I served "Cotton Candy Cocktails" and " Mudslide Milkshakes" . Yes, these had alcohol but there was plenty of drinks for the children too. From Lemon Water and IceTea to Fruit Punch and Hot Chocolate, there were plenty of options for all.
Now, if you follow me, then you already know that AnyDaySoiree is all about Easy Entertaining inspired by Portuguese Cuisine so it's no coincide that the OVER ABUNDANCE of food options stemmed from my childhood soirees where we had everything from cheese curls to roast beef at our birthday parties...
Spinning off of my roots, I made Garlic Green Beans, Sweet Potato Mash and Apricot Glazed Chicken just to name a few but no 1st birthday , Portuguese style, would be complete without a bunch of people talking over each other as they chatted it up . ha-ha... Laughter and joy could be heard for miles , especially when we hit the activities...
I looked into renting a play train that ran on tracks but the $1500 price tag was not exactly what I had in mind. So, once again I relied on my creativity to come through. My cousin was bringing a a radio flyer wagon as a 2nd gift for CB anyway, so I decided I'd transform THAT into our "train". A few designs on the computer and a color printer and voila, a choo choo train was born! (yes, I also made all the decorations myself- thank you clipart)
The plan was to make sure the chidren weren't bored so I created a "Train Schedule" with activities. We started in the backyard with the "train" that CB and his bestie, Carter, sat in. I pulled them around in circles 2 or 3 times while the other children followed behind in a train of their own all while blowing a whistle I got for 25 cents at a thrift shop. It had a Canada emblem on the side so I just covered it with a Thomas image I printed. the kids went crazy over this simple idea!
Next we all marched into the theatre (inside) where I had the kids "crawl through the tunnel" which was really just under our pool table. Then it was onto the "it's time to bowl" area where they tossed a ball at a bunch of pins I got for a buck followed by an "optional" punch at an Obama punching bag we own. Hey, it was election season after all and even though some people opted out, most got a good chuckle out of it.. What can I say, my Democrat friends have a good sense of humor...
After that I used a baby swimming pool and a bunch or small duckies that were given to me (FREE-yippee ) and I had the children pick one duck. They matched their shape to a basket of stuffed animals I had and that became one of their take home favors.
The visit to the "zoo animals" was next where the kids could imagine looking at the doggy in the window and pick a pet to care for. This was another take home favor and cost me , wait for it...ZERO dollars! Yup, got all those stuffed animals for free and the kids had a great time picking their pets.
We finished the festivities with a final train ride outside and a chance to break open the train pinata that was stuffed with candy! Thanks to Halloween being just around the corner, there was lots of savings there too.
Needless to say, it was a HUGE success and even better than I imagined it would be....
$1500 for a train alone?...ha!...I did this whole soiree on a budget and the memories are PRICELESS!
Now, I definately made a TON of food and decorations, but you could make only a few and still have a fabulous party.
Anyway, I hope my ideas spark the imagination in you...Happy Entertaining!
CHRISTIAN BLAKE's 1ST BIRTHDAY MENU
Chocolate Covered Cashews &
Honey Dijon Almonds
Peanut Butter Pickle Chips
Cotton Candy Covered Peanuts
Ham & Swiss Donut Holes
Lumber Cart= Pretzel Rods
Coal Cart= Black Olives
Produce Cart= Broccoli
Dairy Cart= Vegetable Dip
Soft Pretzels with Apple Butter
Roasted Tomato & Cannellini Bean
Soup with White Truffle Oil
Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Caramelized Onion, Spicy Sausage,
Fig & Arugula Pizzas
Pepperoni & Sausage Pizza Bites
MAIN COURSE STATION#1
Brown Butter Kielbasa with Granny Smith
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with
Applewood Smoked Bacon
Garlic Green Beans
Sweet Potato Mash
Apricot Ginger Chicken Kebabs
Sweet Italian Sausage with Onions & Peppers
MAIN COURSE STATION #2
Gourmet Hot Dog Bar
Classic Burger Sliders
Old Fashioned Cany Corn
Chocolate Covered Candy Apples
Tootsie Rolls & Pops
Dots & Assorted Candy
Chocolate & Vanilla Birthday Cakes + a smash cake exclusively for CB
The invitation I designed on Vistaprint.com.
Lawn sign also from Vistaprint. It was on sale for about $7 and so worth it.
An idea brought to life!
I gave suggestions on how to turn an ordinary dog into a gourmet one and of course had all the fixings...
Since we're fortunate enough to have a 12 seat home theatre (proud to say we own real movie seat chairs and have stadium seating), we also have a concession stand. That's where the Hot Dog machine came from but you can also rent them. (Yes, we own a hot dog machine , a popcorn machine and a bunch of other movie theatre favorites.)
I used dollare store wrapping paper to cover my painting and used painters tape so it wouldn't ruin the art. Labeled ramekins on cake stands housed the condiments and fixings for all those dogs. I had 70 hotdogs in that machine and there was still room for more. (It holds about 80-90 dogs)
Free Clipart with added text on paper stock is what I used for personalized decor.
I always have cellaphane treat bags on hand so those were free and I just printed up some custom labels using, again, free clipart and added text. The gift inside was 2 small bottle of bubbles I got for free at a yard sale. I thought it could mimic the steam coming out of the stack of the choo choo train.
This was the table setting for the older Portuguese folks I set up in the playroom. I used that dollar store wrapping paper again as the table runner and inexpensive stock plates and napkins from the party store. I always like to use the solid color plates and then splurge on a theme napkin. You'll be surprised how much money you can save this way and I think it looks so much better. The clear glass carafes were later filled with Red Portuguese Table Wine so they wouldn't have to get up. Bagged peanuts in their shells added to the fair food menu and was a great muchie at the end of the night when the wine dwindled down...
More of my homemade decorations. This was the train schedule. I used tissue paper to wrap old foam board from another project (again, free) and then used more free clipart. I hung it next to the bathroom so people could read it as they waited to...you know...
This sign I made for the "dining cart" in the dining room. The tablescape was cute too. I used red streamers and made a track down the middle to put my homemade cardboard train.
More diy decor using a simple print out and layered craft paper...
Ahhh...My Thomas train I was so proud of! I made it using 1 diaper box, 1 wipes box, 1 coffee canister and a smaller cardboard box for the steam stack. I glued it together with hot glue, painted it with black acrylic paint (like 70 cents) and then made the wheels out of more layered craft paper. BTW- I ALWAYS save my scraps because a) that crafty paper can be pricey and b) you can run out and its a pain to try and match it later . So, I keep the scraps in a ziplock baggie and then always have stuff to work with. A little goes a long way. I printed the Thomas face on regular paper and then just glued him on.
Not perfect, I'll admit, but pretty cute I think...
The ONE sign was also made from recycled foam board and I saved it after this soiree for a future soiree. Using painters tape allows you to do that and that ziplock bag I told you about is where these "scraps" can go later. Thanks Tia Celina for teaching me to recycle Christmas paper before "recycling" was a trendy thing!
My diy signs for the activities were made using tissue wrapped foam board and wooden skewers as "stands" to hold them up. We played this game in an alley section of the movie theatre...
I still can't believe how much fun these kids had just crawling under the pool table as they imagined they were on the Thomas Train going through a dark scary tunnel. Of course, I put that thought in their heads but it worked !
I couldn't resist having my Obama punching bag on display. Like I said, punching him was optional but my son took a swing without too much coercing. Good job CB!- ha- ha...calm down people, Obama won...let it go......
This was the visit to the "duck pond". Originally I had water in there so the ducks would float but then realized they were all tipping over. No wonder they were free-ha-ha...I emptied the water and used it dry and it worked out just fine.
The zoo animals and pets. I printed out all these cute pics, again from free clipart, and made the sign. I numbered each pic and matched it to the stuffed animals that were in the basket. Another totally free and cute game for the kids.
Ahhh...from my brain to plate...peanut butter pickle chips and ham and cheese donut holes...
Homemade candy corn. These were so good and I made them about a week ahead of time.
All the candy you see here was on sale thanks to Halloween. I couldn't resist the cuteness of these that fit so nicely into my theme.
Cotton candy can add up if you go to box stores. Trust me, I researched. BJ's had the best deal. 15 bags for about $7. Can't beat that! The whole thing also doubled as table decor. I used about 2 bags for the peanut covered cotton candy appetizer.
More candy on the dessert table...
I fell in LOVE with that black and white polka dot streamer so I bought extras for the future. FYI: If you want your soirees to look really professional, pay attention to your existing home's decor and use those colors. It will all blend seamlessly.
I used left over invitations as decor to fill in here and there.
More DIY party decor...
I guarantee you have never had covered bacon like this before!.... SOOOOO GOOODDD!!!!
I used extra candy sprinkles for color, texture and added sweetness.
These donut hole sami's were so good!
Mini granny smith candy apples were a huge hit!
I HATED how messy they came out but LOVED how much everyone enjoyed them anyway
Store bought pretzels and cake below (carrot) with homemade applebutter mustard. Surprisingly easy and so delicious!
Who needs a fancy bakery cake that can cost hundreds? (for realsies...I checked)...
BRING ON THE DIY CAKES!!!....
I just embellished store bought cakes with Thomas the Train toys ,more diy decorations and some tube frosting. I decided on making mini pennants to match the rest of the soiree decor.
The dessert table...
CB's Smash cake...
Some of the kid friendly beverages...
Smoked Gouda Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in Roasted Tomato Canellini Bean Soup with White Truffle Oil... To the right is the Mudslide "Milkshakes"... I cut straws in half and used plastic bathroom cups from the toothpaste aisle at the supermarket. So much cheaper than buying from a party supply house.
More yummy fun food....
This pizza is a HUGE hit every time I make it. You can find my recipe in the archives.
OMG! This is the ULTIMATE mac and cheese! Even better, dare I say, than my heavenly lobster mac and cheese. Recipes for this and other will eventually be shared....
My cute Thomas train centerpiece again. Hi Thomas
70 hotdogs... That's ALOT of weiners!
Easy, cute and fun appetizers. No cooking required!...
The Cotton Candy Cocktail was AMAZING!!! All I did was use an entire bottle of Pinnacle Cotton Candy Vodka & 2 cans of pineapple juice + ice. SOOOOO GOOD!!!
You can also see the other "train" I made in front of the drink dispenser. I bought plastic, stackable trays at the dollar store for about $2 bucks and then filled them with "LUMBER" (pretzel rods), PRODUCE (broccolli) and so on...
A better look at that train...
This was the last activity we did so these pics are out of order but you get the idea.
Here I am with CB at the pinata. He loved it!
:Bowling" in the theatre...
Like mother like son...what can I say. My boy is already a Republican- ha- ha
The duck pond...
The radio flyer wagon turned party train...
CB with his BFF Carter. I dressed him as a conductor. He didn't seem to mind. Might as well do it now while I still can. I'm sure when he's 5 he'll decide what he wants to be and I'll just have to go with....
Me, CB and my AMAZING husband that absolutely NEVER stands in my way of doing what I want and love! So supportive in every way possible, thanks E for being you and letting me just be me
The grand finale, CB and his smash cake!!
Happy 1st Birthday Christian Blake!!!
You've filled our hearts in places we didn't even know were empty!
Maezinha e Paezinho
Crowded malls, wrapping paper scraps, volunteering, charity donations, a gi-normous to-do list and more events to attend than we all have time for?...Alas the holiday season is here and alive and well ...
"Christmas time is so stressful" many of us say and you know what, it IS, so rather than fight it, I say embrace it and try to look forward to your families traditions no matter how annoying they may seem. Are they too annoying to handle? Then just say NO and start a new tradition. It's that simple really. And if things get too hectic as they did for me this year, call your pink and funky dolls, cancel a soiree, and have dinner and drinks at a restaurant instead. (Thanks Laura and Amanda, I needed that break )
For me, growing up with the traditional Portuguese Christmas revolved around baby Jesus and a Nativity scene and of course, a huge feast! We'd arrange figurines carefully, decorate with moss and put an empty baby crib under the tree.We'd hang our stocking on the mantel, all 13 of them, and listen to stories of how our parents put their shoes by the chimney instead. We were told how lucky we were to have a Christmas tree since they didn't have them in Portugal until the early 70's. And Santa Claus? Who was he but a made up character somehow created for people that weren't Christian. Still they never knocked Santa, just made sure we knew that gifts came from hard working Moms and Dads that were blessed to have jobs and that they give gifts to their children because the Kings did this when Jesus was born.... There were LOTS of stories and lots of extra visits to Church.
We'd do the tree with huge outdoor lights that I'm sure were a fire hazard but so pretty with the multi colors! We'd go to downtown crossing and see the "montras" where the windows were always well light and festive. We'd pack into my Uncle's van and drive around the city, sometimes venturing to the suburbs to see the lights and we'd ou and ah all the way home.
Christmas Eve was always the biggest deal of all. We'd have poached cod, potatoes and steamed kale with tons of garlic and olive oil or "caldeirada" (fisherman's stew). Crusty bread that's called "broa" (like cornbread but more dense) and lots of pumpkin and squash cakes.
There was always shrimp or some kind of shellfish, sometimes we'd have "arroz de marisco" (paella like-rice with shellfish) but we never had "7 fishes". We just ate fish as the final day of advent preparing for the next day's feast which was always leftovers and a big portion of some kind of meat. It was usually lamb or kid.
Our American friends must have thought we were nuts since we didn't have to go to bed early to wait for "Santa" to come in the morning. No milk or cookies here. More like Port with a side of Bolo de Rei. But some of them celebrated Kwanza and they had their own traditions.
We'd eat and play and sing Christmas carols until about 11:30pm when we'd get all bundled up and walk to church for midnight mass. I didn't mind going to church all the time, it gave me a sense of security I guess, but Christmas Eve was my favorite because I knew we'd go home and open presents.))
One year I asked my Mother for a chalkboard so I could "play" teacher and I never imagined I would actually get it since we were always the kids that also received gifts from Toys for Tots and other charity organizations. Thanks to places like Club Lusitania that handed them out, my brother and I never went without.... To my surprise, I opened it up and saw what it was....WOW!!!...super cool...a chalkboard!!! And I played "teacher" with my cousins until that thing was so worn out you couldn't write on it anymore)).
Another thing I remember that I have to say I wasn't too fond of as a kid was this "Bolo de Rei" I mentioned earlier. (with the side of Port)...(aka: King's Christmas Cake). It had nuts and dried fruit and would sit out all night on Christmas Eve and we'd usually have it for breakfast the next morning. It always tasted weird, what I later found out was the word "stale" in English. -ha-ha
As an adult, though, and thanks to the fine invention of saran wrap and tupperware, I've grown quite fond of this cake we only have once a year. It seems more complicated to make than it actually is but so worth it! If for nothing else, stirring a place of nostalgia within me that all the presents in the world couldn't replace!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to ALL!
Bolo de Re
6 eggs @ room temp
1 1/4cup softened butter
2 1/2tsp active dry yeast
3/4cups + 1/8 cup warm milk (NOT hot, just warm)
1/3cup Port Wine
1/4cup pine nuts
1/4cup chopped walnuts
1/4cup slivered almonds
1/4cup golden raisins
1/3cup red and green candied cherries
1cup assorted candied fruits cut up (pears, apricots, peaches, lemons, oranges- whatever you like and what you can find)
Warm up the milk in a pan. Dissolve the yeast with 1/3 of the warm milk until totally dissolved. Sift the flour and put 1 cup in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast with the milk, a pinch of sugar and sprinkle some flour on top. Leave for 10 minutes to let the yeast rise. (If it doesn't rise it's not active and your yeast packet was dead- sorry but you'll have to start over)
Once it rises, put the rest of the flour ( 6 cups) in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the flour and yeast from the bowl, the sugar and the remaining milk. Attach the flat beater and mix slowly to combine. Then mix at medium speed to get a stiff dough.
Add softned butter a chunk at a time, then the Port wine, salt and eggs. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each one. Mix on medium until the dough becomes glossy. (It will stick at first then turn into a ball)
When the dough starts to unattach from the sides of the bowl change the flat beater to a spiral dough hook and beat at medium speed for 15 to 20 minutes. The more air you get in there, the lighter and more moist it will be when cooked. The dough will be very soft, elastic and very very sticky.
Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour, cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place to rise. (on top of the dryer after its done a load is perfect, stove-top after baking your morning bacon works well too )
Let it rise. It should take about an hour and a half and double in size but may take less time if the area is warmer. Then punch the dough to deflate or as my Aunt used to do, toss it in the air and beat it back in the bowl until flat. Then add it to the mixer using your dough hook again and add all the nuts and candied fruit. Add these slowly to get it well incorporated.
Now you're almost ready to bake it!...
Roll the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a wreath. Make sure you flour your hands, its a sticky mess... Then put an oven safe bowl in the center of the wreath. You can use a bowl, can, cookie cutter, whatever is round than will prevent the hole from cooking together. (And trust me, it will lose its shape if you let it !) Put it all on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and be sure to butter the edges of the bowl (or whatever object you're using) in the center of the wreath. You can also use some extra parchemnt there if you'd like. That'll insure it won't stick.
Now, Cover it again and let it rise for a second time. No need to punch it down this time...This seems laborious but is so worth it.... Let it double in size again. ( about an hour or so)
FINALLY, preheat your oven to 275 and decorate the cake however you'd like using larger pieces of the fruit and whole nuts (whole walnuts halved look nice) Use cherries, apricots, whatever.
Bake in the middle rack for 30 minutes. Remove the center object and cook another 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown. While it's still warm, spread apricot jam all over the top and let it melt into the cake. Then dust it with powdered sugar.
Voila! The best ever Bolo de Rei!
I can't believe it's November 1st already and you know what that means... we hit the polls on Tuesday. Ha-ha... ...No no, this time I was actually talking about the Holidays that are just around the corner. I know, where does the time go, right?
When I was a kid, my Mom would take the week before Thanksgiving off of work. A welcomed and well deserved break from her normal 16 hour days, 6 days a week. But she didn't spend her time at the Spa. Instead, her joy came from entertaining in our make-shift, heat-less city apartment, up in the attic where we lived in Boston.
She'd set up a table, dust off her best china and press the linens. We'd drink from glass goblets, even us kids, and we were allowed to sip, (rather), taste wine. This , btw, completely legal in Portugal where there was no drinking age at the time so no need to worry. Most of us hated the flavor anyway so we drank lots of orange soda instead. I always sported an orange smile, then complained of a belly ache because I drank too much of it...
With every detail taken care of by the time Thanksgiving day rolled around, you would've thought the King and Queen were coming to join us. All the food prepared by Mom , every dessert, every appetizer, THIS was HER event and the rest of the family, all 22 of us (and many times upwards of 30), just couldn't wait to sink our teeth into her
While the adults started the meal with what the Portuguese called a
"Martini" (this was actually Italian Vermouth made by Martini & Rossi and they called it a "Martini"), we, or at least, I, was already scoping out the dessert table. My favorite? My Mom's super rich and decadent chocolate cake adorned with walnuts. An absolute melt in your mouth recipe that I later made when I was old enough to cook in the kitchen without help.
I was handed the torch when I was 8 and been cooking ever since. The infamous chocolate cake becoming one of my many responsibilities to help Mom out during Thanksgiving. My cousin Kevin loved it as much as I did and we'd always split the last slice...
My parents moved back to Portugal in 97' and sadly, Thanksgiving has never been the same. No more hockey games, no more Ouija boards, no more sleep overs and my family has grown with cousins getting married and having children of their own. We're now scattered all over the place and it's kind of sad really.
I've tried so many different things over the years to re-create that nostalgic feeling and I'm proud to say that I've got the turkey and stuffing recipe down for sure. Still, something was missing and it seemed everything I tried failed to compare to Mom's original spread. Then one day, magic happened....
Enter, my chocolate almond truffles recipe ....
The perfect balance of rich and decadent chocolate morsels and crunchy sweet slivered almonds with just a hint of salt. This dessert dances around in your mouth and leaves you begging for more.
Scrumptious and easy to make, my recipe is going to become one of your favorite go to's of the season. They're perfect for making and sharing and since you can make them ahead, store or freeze, you'll have plenty of time to set up for your own holiday feast.
I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do!
Oh, and one more thing, the webisode you're about to view was shot when C was only 2 months old. Proof that no matter how busy you are, Any Day can be a Soiree!
Chocolate Almond Truffles
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5oz can evaporated milk
1 3/4 c milk chocolate morsels
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sliced almonds lightly toasted
Melt sugar & evaporated milk in saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate. Combine until well melted together. Refrigerate to harden. Roll into balls and roll in almonds. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
It was suggested the other day that perhaps my new cooking show include how busy women still have time to whip up homemade baby food. Now while I appreciate the compliment, you most likely won't see that happen...
Don't get me wrong, I mean, every time C eats my creations, it looks like there WAS a party! ...and this definitely fits into the whole "Any Day Soiree" concept , but really...how many purees could you possibly stand watching me make?...YAWN...NOD...SNOOZE...right?
In any case, I thought I'd still share a few of my tips so you can see how easy and do-able it really is to provide your baby with the most wholesome, nourishing and affordable food possible. BTW, if your not a Mom but have a friend that is, why not make up a bunch of it and give it to her as a gift? I'm certain she will appreciate it!
So, this is what you'll need to do...
First, go out and get yourself some good ole' ice cube trays. I bought the "Fresh Baby" brand on Amazon for about $11 bucks which is nice because they come with lids for storing, but any trays will do and you can just cover them with plastic wrap or foil. Had I known this, I would have saved $11 bucks but hey, I was hormonal and a novice at the time...
Then, ask around for people that buy commercial baby food and get their used glass jars and lids . Craigslist could be a good source for this but be sure you sterilize them in boiling water for 5 minutes. You'll want to be sure you've killed off any yucky residue that may be lingering.
Another option is that you buy a bunch of commercial baby food yourself, feed your dog, and then save the jars ... You laugh? Have you ever even tasted baby food? My Zeus would have loved the turkey in broth.- R.I.P. Zeusy. ...I digress...
Finally, you could just buy a dozen or more small 1/2 cup tupperware containers and then you'll be all set... Oh, except that you'll also need labels and ziplock freezer bags... ( I use the smallest labels I can find from Staples.
Ok, so NOW you SHOP! Yippee!!!...
Scope the produce isle for a few, and I mean a FEW produce items and then visit the butcher and fish monger. I also do rice and such. One large sweet potato for example, will fill an ENTIRE ice cube tray and then some and you'll want variety. Make sure your fish is not pre-frozen. ASK! Oh, and block off 1 hour per month to make this homemade food thing happen...
Now get cooking...
Below is a list of just some of the staples that I usually buy. I also take whatever hubby and I and C don't eat at dinner and run it through my food processor on pulse. C is 11 months now so he likes his food with lots of texture and things he can pick up himself but if your making food for a baby that is just starting solids, you'll need to puree it or mash with a fork really well. No need to buy the fancy "Baby Bullet" either. Just use your food processor. In any case, these mini meals are perfect when I send him off for the day and great when I'm pressed for time.
Now , don't freak out when you see some acidic foods on my list. You certainly do not have to follow this to a T. Obviously you know your baby and you'll need to use your own judgement based on allergies, sensitivities, blah, blah, blah . Having said that, I am proud to tell you that C has been eating everything from Lobster and Shrimp to Filet Mignon and Chili since he started eating solids and he is THRIVING! Of course, he still drinks 24oz of breastmilk every day so that could be a factor as well...Pedi says he will most likely be about 6'4" based on his growth history so I guess I better start saving now for his future afternoon snack attacks- Yikes !
Have fun, experiment and remember that taking just a little time getting organized in advance can save you much more time and less aggravation in the future.
Happy Entertaining ..In this case, your baby.
NOTE: Everything here is either boiled, poached, steamed, or roasted with the exception of some fruits which I've noted. There is no added sugar or salt. After items have cooled, put into ice cube trays and freeze. When frozen, remove from trays and sort into individual , labeled ziplog bags. I've found its easier to keep like things together so I'll do one labeled fruit, starches, veg, etc and use smaller baggies inside , also labeled, to keep things organized. I prepare C's meals when he's going to be away from me the night before and its fun to put these meals together. For example, the banana, pineapple and strawberry mix well together and its like my little guy is drinking a smoothie!
-Apples, steamed with water, then peeled, cored and mashed
-Peaches, steamed with water, peeled, cored, mashed
-Pears, steamed with water, peeled, cored, mashed
-Sweet potatoes- boiled and sometimes roasted
-Russet potatoes, boiled , mashed
-Green beans- steamed and put through processor...this important to get rid of the strings
-Red and green peppers-roasted, skins removed
-Pasta- cut into morsels