New Year’s Eve

Making a Festive Centerpiece for Any Occasion

Posted by on Jan 6, 2013

Several friends asked about the floral arrangement I made for New Year’s Eve after I posted a photo of my table on Facebook, so I thought I’d share how I made it. The technique may be adapted for any number of holidays or occasions, from baby showers to Easter.

1. Start with a large, clear cylindrical vessel about 7 inches high and 6.5 inches wide. I used the small Bosphorus Bowl from Pottery Barn.

2. Add about 1 inch of base material; here I used kosher salt to mimic snow.

3. Insert a jar, about 2 to 2.5 inches wide at the top and just lower than the edge of the outer vessel. I snagged a gravy jar from the recycling bin.

4. Fill the space between the jar and the vessel with small glass ball ornaments or other filler.

5. Add water to the jar almost to the top. Arrange a dozen roses (these are from the grocery store) in the jar. Be sure to cut the stems at an angle with a sharp pair of scissors and remove any greenery and wilting outer petals.

6. Fill in the arrangement with greenery. I picked up the evergreens shown at the grocery store, but any evergreens will work.

7. I completed the arrangement with a few noisemakers tucked in here and there for a bit of interest.

All in all, it took about 15 to 20 minutes to make this arrangement. I like it so well, I think I’ll try it for Easter with artificial grass as the base material and jelly beans for the filler. Baby’s breath or statice could substitute for the evergreens with pink roses or tulips. Hmmm. I’ve just inspired myself!

Read More

6 Tips to Get the Most from Your “Good Things” Jar

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013

If you’re on social media sites like Facebook or Pinterest, chances are you’ve seen posts about “good things” jars. My friend Carol gave me such a jar for the New Year, and it’s a great tool to keep track of all the meaningful things that happen in our day-to-day lives.

The idea is to write down good things/successes/achievements that happen during the year on a slip of paper, place the papers in the jar and collect them all year through New Year’s Eve, when you recap the year by reading all of the good things inside the jar.

Sounds uplifting and fun, doesn’t it? But like so many good ideas, good intentions only get us so far. So for those who would like to keep this “journal in a jar” all year, here are some tips to make sure you keep up with the good intention.

1. Be sure to date your notes to bring more clarity to the memory at the end of the year.

2. Decorate your jar to make it fun and eye-catching, and to make it more of a game or a pleasure to fill it up.

3. Keep the jar in an accessible area, with a pen and a supply of paper nearby. This way, you’re more apt to write something down in the moment rather than hunting down a pen or paper. When the paper supply runs low, replenish it.

4. Keep track of good things on the run with a voice memo or a quick note on your phone. Choose a time at the end of the day, week or month to transcribe them onto slips to put in the jar.

5. Expand your idea of “good things” beyond events or things that happen to you to include a-ha moments, observations of nature, amusing things your kids say to you, an act of kindness done to or by you … you get the picture. The idea is to create a beautiful bouquet of experiences.

6. Set aside time each day to reflect upon the day and write down the good things from that day. It may take some time to make this a consistent habit–or to find something good some days–but this practice alone can bring more peace, gratitude and experiences of abundance into your life.

If your jar runneth over, start a new jar! In fact, why not have a family jar or a couple’s jar and encourage other family members to participate?

By consistently taking note of the good things in life, no matter what else happens, next New Year’s Eve will be a good day as you reflect on the positive things, the blessings and the grace of the past year.

Read More

Champagne “Toast” Charms

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011

Raising a glass and offering a toast – in honor of a person or of an occasion, or as a general wishing of goodwill – has become a tradition during celebrations and ceremonies. New Year’s Eve is no exception and is one of the most “toasted” occasions.

The ritual of toasting involves saying a few well-chosen words, clinking glasses together and drinking, usually (but not always) an alcoholic beverage.Clinking glasses is said to have its origins in the Middle Ages, when poison was widely used to off one’s enemies. Although scientifically unproven, legend has it that clinking glasses would slosh some poison back into the poisoner’s glass and thus was seen as a measure of safety. The term “toast” evolved from the habit of putting a piece of charred bread in the bottom of the mug to help flavor the wine.By the 1800s, the toast was a tradition during formal meals, and the first toast always went to the guest of honor.

Keeping the tradition of toasting alive, this easy and fun project serves multiple purposes during your New Year’s celebration. These toast tags are ice breakers – what a better way for guests to say hello to each other than with well wishes – and they’re also wine charms so everyone can keep track of his or her glass.

You’ll need:

• Black card stock

• White paper

• Double-sided tape

• Curling ribbon

• Hole punch

Cut card stock into uniform pieces, about 1 ½ x 1 ¼ inches. I used a tag-shaped punch, but any shape will do. Using a word processing program, type up your toasts of choice. Use the suggestions below or create your own. (Hint: Use the table function of the word processing program to ensure that the messages are uniform in size. I set my width to 1 ¼ inches and height to 1 inch. Print; cut out the messages. (Use the table grid lines as a guide.) If desired, trim the edges with decorative shears. Apply a message to a piece of the card stock with double-sided tape. Decorate with self-adhesive rhinestones if desired. Punch a hole at top of the card stock and tie the toast onto the stem of each flute with pretty curling ribbon.

Here are some suggested toasts:

Here’s to good intentions … and better actions!

May the future be pleasant, the past a bright dream, and our friends remain faithful and dear.

May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.

In the New Year, may every today be happier than yesterday!

May the most you wish for be the least you get!

To happy times … may they come often and stay long!

Love to one, friendship to many, and good will to all.

May the friends of our youth be the companions of our old age.

Cheers to you, cheers to me, have a Happy New Year’s Eve!

To prosperity … and the wisdom to use it well!

Read More

Bubbly 101

Posted by on Dec 30, 2011

Champagne … the very word just sounds fizzy, doesn’t it? It conjures images of royalty, celebrations, launching ships, weddings and, of course, bubbles. But, unless it’s actually made in Champagne region France, it’s just sparkling wine.This New Year’s Eve, whether you’re serving Champagne or sparkling wine, there are several things you should know before popping the cork: how to select your wine, how to chill it, how to serve it and how to store it.

(c) Freefly - fotolia.com

Choose it

Most Champagne and sparkling wine are a blend of three grape varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (a less-known cousin of the Noir). If the wine is something other than a blend, it will be noted on the bottle (see below).

There are several terms associated with champagne and sparkling wine, some which refer to the sweetness level (the percentage of residual sugar) and others which describe the grapes used.

Brut: very dry and savory; typically the best quality

Extra dry: a little sweeter than brut; just off-dry

Sec: medium dry; good for drinking at parties or champagne breakfasts

Doux: sweet dessert wine

Also on the label you may see one or more of the following terms:

Non-vintage (NV): the wine is a blend of two or three vintages, meaning more than one year’s harvest.

Vintage: made from a single harvest, signified by a year, and usually the best grapes from that year.

Blanc de Blancs (“white from whites”): made only from white Chardonnay grapes; a fruity, elegant wine.

Blanc de Noirs (“white from blacks”) made only from the two black pinots, resulting in a fuller wine.

Rosé: made by blending some still red wine into the sparkling wine.When shopping for bubbly this year, keep the above terms in mind.

Do you like sweeter wines? Then sec or doux is for you. A fuller, richer wine? Look for a blanc de noirs. And although a good French Champagne can cost hundreds of dollars, your New Year’s Eve libation need not break the bank. Several good sparkling wines are available for under $30. My personal favorite is étoile Rosé (about $40) from Napa Valley’s Domaine Chandon winery, although every sparkler I’ve tried from Domaine Chandon (the American arm of the famous French winery Moet Chandon) is nice and drinkable.When in doubt, ask the staff at the wine shop for recommendations. They can usually suggest something, no matter what your budget.

Chill it

Champagne and sparkling wine should not be overchilled; if you have a wine cooler, keep it at about 45 degrees since that is the ideal serving temperature. If you’re starting from room temperature, pop the Champagne in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes; resist the urge to put it in the freezer since the cork can explode.The best way to chill sparkling wine is in a champagne bucket with a mixture of water and ice. You’ll notice that champagne buckets are wider than an ordinary ice bucket or wine bucket for that very reason: it accommodates the larger Champagne bottle and more ice to chill the wine faster.

Open it

My dad always made a big deal of uncorking his favorite Asti Spumante, making us all stand well away, covering the cork with a towel and looking the other way when he uncorked it. A little dramatic, for sure, but there is some validity to his precautions. Always remember the contents are under pressure. There’s a reason why the French monks called champagne the “devil’s drink” because the corks kept inexplicably exploding from the bottles! Always keep the bottle pointed away from other people, windows and light fixtures. The cork can release at any time, causing injury or damage.

(c) rbgdigital.co.uk - fotolia.com

Remove the foil wrapper from the top of the cork. Keeping one hand on the top of the cork, pull the little wire handle away from the cork and untwist and remove the wire cage. Grasp the cork with one hand, and twist the bottle (not the cork!) slowly until the cork releases. It should whisper or sigh, not quite “pop.” The louder the noise, the more gas is escaping, thus resulting in fewer bubbles to experience in your glass.

Pour it

Selecting the appropriate glass can make all the difference between simply drinking champagne and experiencing it.The wide, shallow “coupe” glass, although perhaps the most traditional style we think of, is not the best for sparkling wine; the bubbles dissipate too quickly and spillage too often occurs. Rather, the “flute” – tall, thin and small-mouthed – is a better glass. The shape shows off the color of the wine while giving the bubbles lots of wiggle room. Stemless flutes are all the rage this year, too. Wine enthusiasts are also touting the “tulip” style of glass that is used for many still wines– wider on the bottom and only slightly narrower at the top.

To pour the wine, place your thumb in the dimple at the bottom of the bottle and splay your fingers around the bottle. With your other hand, hold a napkin or towel and support the neck of the bottle as you pour a small amount into each glass; go back and top off each glass. If using flutes, remember they overfill easily, so resist the urge to pour too much too quickly.More glass tips: the surface of crystal glasses is rougher than ordinary glass and will result in more bubbles. Also, glasses should not be washed with soap; any residue can interfere with the bubbling action. Simply wash the glasses by hand with warm water. Dry them with a linen towel, so there is no lint transferred to the glass.

Store it

f there’s anything left in the bottle, it is possible to keep it for later. You may have noticed that the cork is mushroom-shaped and cannot be replaced. Specialty corks are available from wine shops that create an airtight seal while keeping the cork safely in the bottle.

So there you have it. Perhaps more than you wanted to know about Champagne and sparkling wine, or just enough to pique your appreciation of this effervescent New Year’s Eve staple.

Read More

NYE Trend: Go Stemless

Posted by on Oct 29, 2011

Stemless champagne flutes are appearing everywhere and they’re sure to be the trendiest pieces of partyware at hip New Year’s Eve parties this year! They’re incredibly stylish and oh so practical. Much less top-heavy than their stemmed cousins, these bubbly vessels are less susceptible to being tipped over by tipsy guests.Snap up these trendy glasses at stores such as Cost Plus and Pier One (shown) or online at cb2.com. With prices from $2 to $8 each, this is one trend that is also affordable. Cheers to that!

Read More

New Year’s Nibbles

Posted by on Dec 28, 2010

Whether you’re staying in, having a few friends over, or going to a full-on New Year’s Eve bash, satisfying snacks make a good accompaniment for the evening’s libations. Here are a few ideas for a simple buffet that is sure to please your palate and fill your stomach:

Meat and cheese display. Browse the specialty cheese section of your favorite grocery store for a few choices, maybe one bold flavor profile like a garlic cheddar; a creamy, mild Brie; and a middle of road Manchego – mix it up! Add in a dry salami or a prosciutto and serve it all up with some nuts and dried fruits and it’s a buffet on a platter.

Herbed onion focaccia. With some help from the market’s refrigerated section, this crowd pleaser takes about 30 minutes to prepare. (Recipe follows.)

Crostini trio. Three simple spreads – a roasted tomato bruschetta, a Tuscan white bean hummus, and an olive tapenade – can be whipped up in minutes and served with garlic toast. Guests help themselves to their favorites. (Recipes follow.)

As always, have plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages on hand. If you’re having a party or going to one, be sure to have the number to a taxi service or a safe ride program so you can enjoy your evening knowing you’ll be safe, not sorry, in the New Year.

Herbed Onion Focaccia

1 package (10 to 12 oz.) refrigerated focaccia dough

¼ c. olive oil

1 T. each fresh basil and oregano, chopped

2 or 3 thin slices of red onion, separated into rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the focaccia dough on a non-stick rimmed baking sheet and spread it out with your fingers until it’s even. The shape doesn’t matter. Dimple the dough with your fingertips and then prick with a fork 12 to 15 times. Brush the dough with the oil and then sprinkle with the herbs and onion. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until it’s golden brown. Allow the focaccia to cool on the pan at least 20 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.

Crostini Trio

Garlic Toast

1 French baguette

2 cloves garlic

Slice the baguette at a slight angle into ½ inch pieces. Heat a grill pan over high heat and place the bread slices on the grill pan, turning once when nicely browned. Remove the bread slices and, while still warm, rub with garlic clove. Allow to cool.

Tuscan White Bean Hummus

Creamy, garlicky and satisfying. You may never go back to chickpea hummus again.

2 cans cannellini beans

3 cloves garlic

½ c. fresh oregano leaves, loosely packed

1 lemon

1 t. salt

½ t. black pepper

¼ c. olive oil

Rinse and drain the beans. Place the beans, garlic, oregano, the juice of 1 lemon and the salt and pepper into the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the beans are broken down and nearly smooth. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture is smooth and thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to blend. Yield: 2 ½ c.

Olive Tapenade

This spread also makes a great puttanesca sauce for linguine pasta.

1 6 oz. can whole black olives

1 5.75 oz. jar green olives

1 or 2 cloves of garlic (to taste)

6 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil

¼ c. grated parmesan cheese

Pinch of red pepper flakes

¼ c. olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the olives are finely chopped. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture just holds together. Yield: 2 c.

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

Fresh summer tomatoes make the best bruschetta, but in the winter, a quick roasting brings out the flavor of the tomatoes.

1 container grape tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, peeled

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

¼ c. chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, just enough to coat, about 2 T. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix to evenly coat the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Discard the garlic. Cut the tomatoes in half, allowing the skins to slip off. Strain the tomatoes if necessary and mix with the basil in small bowl. Yield: about 1 ½ c.

Read More