Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recipe: Poached Pears

I made poached pears for the very first time to serve at this year's Christmas brunch. The red color and spiced, mulled-wine "broth" made it festive. And the day-ahead prep made it perfect for serving a crowd.

Doubled this recipe, using 20 small organic pears.  Let the pears soak overnight before halving, topping with vanilla whipped cream in a champagne saucers and a dash of cocoa powder.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

To Do: DIY Christmas Garland

I love the look of a Christmas garland - but the fresh kind is expensive ($3/foot here in SF) and the faux is a little too bulky for my taste. So, instead, I made my own garland this year using just a few dollars of supplies and little elbow grease. 
  • Ribbon (I used 20 feet of red velvet ribbon purchased for $6). It made enough for the kitchen windows and banister
  • Bunch of holiday greens - $5 at Trader Joe's for way more than you need
  • White twinkle lights
  • Thin gauge floral wire
  • Wire snips

How to:

Snip small branches from your greenery. Assemble three or four of them, stem-to-stem, into a little bowtie bunch about five inches across. Wrap the center of each bundle together with a few inches of floral wire.

Use two more short pieces of wire to attach the ends of your "bowtie" to the ribbon. Leave a few inches of ribbon blank before repeating.  Wrap your finished garland loosely with lights. Hang around windows, doors or around banisters.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Recipe: Christmas Ham

A giant ham is the traditional centerpiece of our holiday brunch party. This year's was a doozy - 18lbs of boneless "deli" ham from Robert's Corned Meats down on Bryant Street.  We served 30 people with this guy at the brunch, and then another 12 people the next day at a small party for my co-workers. And there's still a couple pounds left.

To prepare the ham, we take it out of the plastic wrap the night before and remove the cheesecloth netting from the exterior.  Since the ham is boneless - I've found that trussing it with kitchen twine helps prevent it from splitting and expanding in an unruly way while cooking.  Make a quick paste for the glaze with a cup of brown sugar, tablespoon of mustard, juice from an orange, a minced clove of garlic, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Cover the trussed ham in the paste, stick in a handful of whole cloves on the top and cover with foil.  Store in the fridge until you're ready to cook.

In the morning, bake the ham at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per pound. So, 4.5 hours for our ham.  Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 30 minutes before removing the twine and carving. Serve with crusty bread and truffle mustard.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Weekend: Happy Holidays!

Is there anything better than a weekend spent attending and hosting holiday parties with good friends? This was a very festive Christmas weekend. After the tragic news on Friday - the time together seemed extra special.

Friday night, Rob and I got dressed up for a party in Cole Valley with two of our oldest friends - actually, the people who inspired us to move to the city. We walked over to their house all bundled up. Brr! So cold outside. Fun party followed by a cab home at 11ish.

On Saturday, I woke up early for a hair appointment. Really cold and rainy again - very wintery. With the car out, I made a big grocery run for our Sunday brunch party.   It was time for full on party prep once I returned home. Rob and I cleaned and decorated with a homemade garland of velvet ribbon, greenery and lights:

We cooked up a storm too: peeled and poached pears, prepped bread pudding supplies and trussed the ham. All while listening to Alec Baldwin's radio show:

By dusk, the house was looking very festive and we were down to just polishing silver:

Dressed and bundled up for another set of holiday parties Saturday night.  First stop: Pacific Heights for a party of a co-worker. Then, over to Bernal Heights for another party that is an annual tradition. The hosts' dog, Ino, is just the cutest:

We left the party at 11:00 with the twinkling lights of the city in the distance and the sound of their player piano pouring out the windows - a great event!

Rob woke up briefly at 6am to put the ham in the oven. I got to work at 8 on the final steps for the party. Assembled the bread pudding, made champagne punch and did a final sweep of cleaning through the house.  Jean and Trent arrived with mustard, Nicole with loaves of bread. More guests started arriving at 11, with lots of adorable children in tow.

We had about 30 people arrive for the big brunch spread of ham, savory bread pudding, truffle mustard, smoked salmon, Acme bakery rolls and poached pears. Lots of coffee, punch and conversation! We used every single dish, glass and fork in the house.

The party started to wind down at 3, the little ones needing their afternoon naps and big ones needing to run holiday errands.

Jean and I played Lego StarWars on Xbox in between loads of dishes, before turning it over the controllers to Trent and Rob for their game.

Jean and I wrapped presents until they had to leave for the drive home. By 7:30, the house was clean and Rob and I were tucking in to a sushi delivery for dinner while the fire died down in the living room.  I love the feeling of a house after a major party. What an excellent day!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

11 Days to Go!

Yikes!  Christmas can be stressful when you're only up to "H" in your card list, 30 people are coming for brunch on Sunday, end-of-the year planning at work is piling up and you make a quick cameo on national TV (photo to come soon).  December...what a month!

{Pretty handmade-in-India ribbon found at Marshall's!}

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday nuts

I admit that I was a little obsessed with getting a bowl of whole, in-shell nuts for the living room this Christmas. It's not a tradition for us - just something that seemed a little vintage & a little fun.  Very tasty too!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Weekend: It's Beginning to Look alot Like...

The holiday season officially started for us this weekend. It's a family tradition to have a quiet period between Thanksgiving and Christmas...a nice little lull that helps me appreciate the holidays even more. 

On Friday, I spent the day volunteering at a local community center with my office. We set up a surprise party for the kids complete with crafts, hot cocoa and cookies.  In the afternoon, I came home to rest and prep for our fancy night out. Before the company party, Rob and I met up with a friend to pass off a big bag of toys for donation. It afforded us time for a walk on our old favorite neighborhood pier:

The office party was really lovely. We took over a waterfront hotel and tent with lots of drinks, music and food.  I bought a fun (short!) sequined French Connection dress on sale last winter and had been saving it for this occasion.

Rob and I slept in (and slept off the martinis) the next morning. Spent a bit of time cleaning the garage, generally pretty lazy. In the afternoon, Jean and Trent arrived to help us get our Christmas tree from the neighborhood lot.

Rob and I have a routine with our tree: Every year we pick one rather blindly from the stack of trees still wrapped up with twine from the farm. We carry it home on foot, sigh unseen. The jolly ex-cons who work the tree lot as part of an amazing rehabilitation program with Delancey Street have a great time teasing us for being nuts. We get lots of looks on the way:

And the tree always turns out to be amazingly beautiful, and even bigger than the year before's. The reveal happens when the tree is already in the living room stand. Seeing the branches unfold - and drop a massive quantity of needles - is quite a sight!

Our pick this year is a spectacular 9 foot blue spruce that fits the bay window perfectly to the centimeter and smells divine. Jean and Trent helped decorate and also took our Christmas card photo during the process. So cozy! This old victorian house is really made for the holidays:

The four of us went for an early Thai food dinner down the block. After eating, Jean and I baked sugar cookies and made pomanders with of oranges in the kitchen. Played Lego video games until late at night.

Another very quiet morning on Sunday. I'm still fighting off this cold and used the excuse to stay in bed until almost noon reading.  Rob and I worked on the Christmas card photo and spent an inordinate amount of time at the camera store having prints made. Lunch of ceviche tostadas from a neighborhood taqueria.  Nicole came over in the evening. We walked down to get manicures in the neighborhood. We stopped on the way home to pick up a baguette from the corner cafe. Casual fondue and salad dinner together.

The best news is that the Christmas tree has emerged as an excellent antidote to our apartment's continuing cat pee smell problem. Awesome for December...will be a little harder to display a fresh cut pine in February!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

What to Wear: Velvet Pants

I think I've been watching too many British Christmas movies while sick - this outfit has a decidedly UK flair.  It all started with the velvet legging!

Blazer - A camel basic from J. Crew.
Sweater - Chunky white basic from Gap.
Pants - I've been a little obsessed with these velvet and corduroy leggings at Anthropologie. But it's harder than I thought to pair them with other clothes, so I might pass after all.
Hat - A dark beanie from H&M.
Sunglasses - A retro-styled pair from Forever 21.
Bag - Madison Leather Carrie bag from Coach.
Boots -  Basic black boots.
Mistletoe - To complete the look.

Monday, December 03, 2012

To Do: Embroider Kitchen Towels

Hello Oh Happy Day readers!  That beeswax candle project is a great one for the holidays and here's another one of my favorites. When I need something special for a bridal shower or holiday gifts, it just takes a bit of time to personalize dish towels with easy embroidery.  I did this set over the weekend using bright flour sack towels from Cost Plus.

You just need embroidery floss, needles, a loop and a couple sparkly beads to get started.  Backstitch delivers clean, sturdy lines for most of these patterns. For the designs, I pretty much wing it - sometimes sketching out ideas in white pencil before starting.  I like that they're not perfectly even. 

The finished product can be used as a standalone gift or as wrapping around a wine bottle or other treat!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Weekends: Rainy

It has been raining for nearly a week here in San Francisco - an unusual streak of bad weather that has the whole city in a tizzy and our walk-based routines disrupted.   The holidays charged ahead regardless of the rain!

We started the weekend on Thursday night, celebrating Jean's 30th birthday at the Academy of Sciences.  Had so much fun with Jean showing us her favorite exhibits and talking science. She even made friends with giant rodents:
On Friday night, we walked down the street in the rain to celebrate Rebecca's birthday at a local cafe. She arranged a night of short story telling and hot chocolate. She's always so creative with party ideas!

I slept in Saturday to fight off the head cold that had been following me around all week. Margaret and I met downtown in the afternoon for Christmas shopping. I stocked up on hostess gifts including holiday scented hand soaps and velvet ribbon on beautiful wood spools. 

Rob called at 3:00 needing us to pick up the car and meet him at the ballpark. During the annual Supermarket Sweep bike ride for the Food Bank, our friend Liam had tried to carry 570 lbs of donations on his bike...and quickly bent his wheel.  We picked up the stranded food in the car and delivered it to the food bank in time for an official photo with Rob.  Liam was just one of several riders who damaged their bikes trying to deliver massive food donations - the holiday spirit in action!

Lazy night at home after running some errands and dropping Margaret off. Rob and I watched When Harry Met Sally, I hadn't seen it in years! Still pouring rain outside.

Woke up on Sunday morning feeling the worst of the cold so far. What kind of crazy cold gets worse on the 5th day?  So I canceled my fun plans and curled up in the den with movies and embroidery projects.  Personalizing tea towels for the holidays is exactly the kind of craft I like: easy, inexpensive and endlessly creative.

Slept, ate and watched more movies. A thoroughly boring day.  All this rest had better help buck my annual tradition of being sick straight through from Thanksgiving to Christmas.