I’ve always felt that counting your blessings was better than counting long-stem roses in a box. I’ve assembled 12 of my recent “roses” to share with you. In the coming year, make the time to enjoy your own bouquet, filling it with new places, fond memories, nature, nurture, home cooking, celebration, reflection, humor, music, friends, family, and faith.
1. My first rose or gift to you would be the inspiration to visit one of nature’s cathedrals. You need not travel further than your backyard, but in early December my son Richard and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Tiburon, CA, across the bay from San Francisco. You might remember our hostess, Trig, from an earlier newsletter on “Brownie Points”. We saw her in action, delivering boxes of her brownies to the Golden Gate tollbooth workers and hotel doormen, as she gave us a tour of the city that claims her heart. The place that claimed my heart was Muir Woods. Talk about long stems … my baby, 6’6″ Richard, and the redwoods.
2. Wisdom is a rose, especially when it’s easy to remember. At Domaine Chandon winery in the Napa Valley, we learned about The Half Rule. This can encourage you to visit a local winery, even at the last minute, when you have the urge to celebrate with something bubbly … and it prevents freezer explosions.
The Half Rule: To chill a warm bottle of sparkling wine, fill a bucket half with ice, half with water, and partially submerge the bottle for half an hour … and it’s ready to open.
To Open: Peel off plastic/metal covering. Keeping your palm over the wire crown and cork, make six twists to unwind the wire tail. Then, gently turn the bottle, keeping the cork cupped firmly in your hand until the cork releases. It should release with a whisper, not a pop. (Note: This takes some muscle and patience, but don’t worry, you have both!)
Domaine Chandon Herbed Cream Cheese Spread
8 oz. cream cheese
2 oz. blue cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Chop walnuts, chives and parsley briefly in food processor. Toss together with crumbled blue cheese and mix well. Process cream cheese until creamy; add blue cheese and walnut mixture; blend until thoroughly combined. DO NOT OVER MIX. Serve with French bread or crackers.
4. Marina came home from Vesalius College, Brussels, for the holidays and her beau Ziggy joined us for two weeks. On his first visit to the U.S. Ziggy wanted to see the White House, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, and the field where the Woodstock Festival took place.
On the spur of the moment, I decided to chauffeur them on a day trip to the Bethel (NY) Woods Center for the Arts, located on the bluff of what was once Max Yasgur’s dairy farm and, in August of 1969, three days of peace and music. The exhibit at the center (closed for the winter, reopening April 2) features artifacts, photographs, recordings, and newsreel footage from the festival and the times, setting the social, cultural, political, and music scene of the Sixties. Earlier in the month, I read a quote by Anita Milner: “I’m now old enough to personally identify every object in antique stores.” As I was leaving Bethel Woods, I realized I was old enough to have the years of my youth featured in a MUSEUM.
5. A woman in my faith-sharing group really saved me this Christmas. Terry always brings great snacks and reflections to our get-togethers. This holiday she brought jars of Sugar-Coated Pecans, with the recipe attached. One nibble and I was hooked, and I whipped up batches for all of my relatives.
Terry’s Sugar-Coated Pecans
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water
1 lb. pecan halves
1 cup sugar
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 250° F. Grease one baking sheet. In mixing bowl, whisk together egg white and water until frothy. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Add pecans to egg whites and stir to coat evening. Remove the nuts and toss them in the sugar mixture until well coated. Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet. Bake at 250° for 1 hour. Stir every 15 minutes. Store in airtight jars.
6. Sometimes you just have to breathe deep and make permanent the memories. If you have ever driven in the Fleur-de-Lys neighborhood at night between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, you undoubtedly have seen Clarence’s Christmas display at the former Eagle Point Hotel. This year I was taken by the magic it seemed to hold over Magoo the Bouvier. I’d take him out for his nightly sit (no, I didn’t forget an h) – he’d sit on the hill next to the carriage house and just watch and listen to the tiny, twinkling lights and the tinny songs, a maze of motion and merriment – captivated. Then, when a car passed by, we’d hear, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas,” and he’d cock his head and wonder. Each night we repeated our ritual as I drank in the scene so it would last me a lifetime.
7. A musical rose blossomed the night my nephew Andre performed his guitar solo “Marie”. The energy and tempo of the instrumental composition matched that of his grandmother, the matriarch of the Fedon family, and won her instant approval. (That’s Marie and some of her boys with the Nittany Lion. Andre is in the middle, riding the lion.)
8. In December, my friend Dina, her son, and I went to the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center for Christmas on the Farm. The center, part of Kutztown University, captures rural life on an 1800s farm. It was a charming event where we tasted old-fashioned treats and got spooked by Belsnickel. On New Year’s Day, Dina had a gang over for traditional pork and sauerkraut. She was inspired by the sauerkraut we tasted at the Heritage Center that was cooked with apples over a wood fire in the kitchen hearth. Historical authenticity isn’t as high on Dina’s list as convenience. To prepare the feast she opened a pouch of store-bought sauerkraut, dumped it in a pot on her stove top, tossed in chopped apples, sprinkled some brown sugar, added a pork roast, and cooked it for a good, long simmer. We all had seconds and thirds.
9. I started 2011 with knee surgery and a new insurance deductible – who says we don’t need health care reform? The evening after my surgery, with Marina as my nurse, I was sacked out on the living room couch, knee iced and propped up by pillows. As I rested there in the dark, I listened to Ziggy preparing a special “thank you” meal for me. This fellow knows his way around a restaurant kitchen, so he was completely at ease in mine. The lights were low, the pellet stove was burning, and yeah, I was on some heavy-duty painkillers. I lay there listening to the chopping, dicing, and whipping, and I enjoyed a symphony of sounds that created a musical masterpiece, as well as a culinary one.
10. Ziggy prepared a “starter,” followed with a steak fit for the Queen of Fleur-de-Lys, and finally, strawberries dipped in white chocolate, mousse, and a luscious berry puree.
Chop a half bulb of fennel in little cubes and cut bacon in tiny slices. Saute until the fennel softens and then add a bit of cream. Make sure the cream does not cover the fennel-bacon mixture. As it starts cooking, remove from stove and add enough Parmesan cheese so that everything sticks together.
Sauce: Take two egg yolks and add a tiny bit of vinegar and water in saucepan. Beat the mixture until it foams. Then heat on the stove at a low temperature, and keep beating. Just before it starts to cook, you take it off the heat (otherwise you have a scrambled egg). Add pepper, salt, and ”some of that lovely pesto of yours … hehe!”
Scallops (12 large): Salt and pepper scallops and then grill at a high temperature for about 45 seconds on each side “otherwise you’ll get ping-pong balls, haha.”
Assemble: Center a portion of the fennel mixture on a salad plate and sprinkle with watercress. Top with three scallops. Spoon a pool of sauce on either side. “Voila.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have exact amounts,” he wrote the other day. “I never really do but I’m sure you’ll make it perfectly fine. The only hard part is the sauce. It’s the same method as making a béarnaise sauce. Smakelijk!” (Flemish for “bon appetit!”)
11. When Celso returned from the holidays in Brasil, he brought with him homegrown and home-preserved gifts from his mother, Tania. The first was a jar of preserved guava with cloves that I savored for a week or so mixed with yogurt for breakfast. Then, there was a bag of “pinches” – teeny guava-filled pastries, about the size of peanuts. They were gone in a day or two. Tania knows I have a passion for guava, and I can’t wait until May when we can find other common loves (besides Celso, of course). She and her husband are visiting for Celso’s graduation from Kutztown University.
12. “The heart is forever unfaithful, and the feelings of love will come and go, but true love is not about what you feel. It is about what you do.” “The Lost Diary of Don Juan” by Douglas C. Abrams
A bouquet for your thoughts – Laurie Lynch