Happy Holiday Entertaining

This article was originally published in Living TC Winter issue, here.

Cakes by Concetta Gullini, Layered Sweet Boutique

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One! ― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

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For as long as I can remember, my parents have hosted an extended family Christmas party each year. For most of my childhood, the parties were held in our home. I can close my eyes and see my extended family members walking carefully up the path to our front door, wrapped in winter coats and scarves as beautiful as their smiles and the food and gifts they carried in their arms.

My parents put forth a lot of time and effort in planning the Christmas party, but they never seemed tired of it. My brother commented of them, “Indeed, they kept Christmas well.” One thing I learned from watching them is more important than any preparations you make for hosting, is the smile and kindness you show your guests.

In my experience, the best parties are those shared with loving family and dear friends. But especially during the holidays, it is worthwhile to reach outside of one’s usual group and include those who may be far away from home or just needing some holiday cheer.

One of the simplest ways to get your guests looking forward to your party is by sending paper invitations. In a digital age where it is more common to receive an Evite, your paper invitation will be a welcome change. I also love the idea of doing place cards at the table for your guests. Mix them up. Get people chatting with new friends.

My favorite way to save myself time and effort is to order an event cake for dessert. A beautiful cake is an immediate conversation piece. I have also used it as the centerpiece for the dinner table. Surround the cake with an evergreen garland, bright cheery pomegranates and vanilla candles for contrast and you have a beautiful, holiday tablescape. I have even tied stockings on the back of chairs with a Christmas ribbon.

Setting the table the night before can help with day of prep. If you have younger children in the home, even stacking the plates, including everything you’ll need to set the table in the center out of reach will save you time. Neutral plates paired with a textured or patterned placemat and/or cloth napkins can look visually striking.

About 15 minutes before my guests are to arrive, I walk through the entire house and set the lighting. Especially on a dark, winter evening, guests will love to walk up to a well-lit home. Take some of the evergreen garland, pinecones and holly and place it on the end tables under a lamp in your home. Tea lights are a great way to create a warm atmosphere. When it comes to tea lights, the more the merrier.

To help guests feel right at home, I like to have some easy listening Christmas music playing. I recommend Harry Connick Jr., Michael Buble, Diana Krall, etc.; something light that can be heard but fade away into the background during conversation. Serve Hors d’oeuvres. It’s traditional at Christmas to serve drinks and a cheese platter, but you could do something as easy as a few placed bowls of mixed nuts.

My favorite local cakes are made by Concetta Gullini of Layered Sweet Boutique. Her cakes are homemade, using fresh ingredients. She doesn’t take the usual shortcuts that commercial bakers do and customers taste the difference. For holiday entertaining, I particularly enjoy her Chocolate Candy Cane Cake and Gingery Gingerbread Cookies. For ordering, call or E-mail Concetta: Layeredsweetboutique@gmail.com or 509-820-3654.

Book of the Week

Captured by her enemies, married to a foreigner, and a mother at age sixteen, Sacajawea lived a life of turmoil and change. Then, in 1804, the mysterious young Shoshone woman met Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Acting as interpreter, peacemaker, and guide, Sacajawea bravely embarked on an epic journey that altered history forever.

Many Waters is a testament to the beauty of an extraordinary place. From the Blue Mountains to the Columbia River, southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon, in particular the Walla Walla Valley, is a remarkable region, one that American Indians called Wallah Wallah, or Many Waters. And for good reason. It’s always been a bountiful place with its rich soils and streams teeming with fish. Included are more than 40 paintings by noted Northwest landscape artist Leslie Cain to illustrate the Walla Walla River, Mill Creek and the Touchet River as they make their way from the Blue Mountains through fertile valleys to the mighty Columbia River. Katrina Roberts and Janice King contributed six poems about the hills, farms, forests, flowers, water and rocks of the area.

Holiday Recommendations (click image for details)

Gingery Gingerbread Cookies, Courtesy of Layered Sweet Boutique

Makes 24 medium cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add egg, molasses, and vanilla and beat well. With mixer on low, gradually add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Refrigerate wrapped dough for 1 hour. Roll chilled dough between two pieces of parchment paper until ¼ inch thick. Cut out desired shapes and place on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake 12-14 minutes or until edges of cookies are just crisp.

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