Christmas

Italian Stuffed Mushrooms1Happy Holidays! One of our favorite quick appetizers are these Italian Stuffed Mushrooms. They usually show up on the holiday table because they are so easy to make and serve.

You can even throw them together early in the day and bake them off right as guests are arriving.

Having a hot appetizer that is so easy to make is a godsend on party day. I often double the recipe because they disappear so fast.

I hope you have a great day, have to get back to cooking as I am going to be making my Lobster Bisque, it’s just not Christmas without it.

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holly-and-mistletoe.jpgMistletoe

Along with holly, laurel, rosemary, yews and the Christmas tree, mistletoe is an evergreen displayed during the holiday season and symbolic of the eventual rebirth of vegetation that will occur in spring. But perhaps more than any other of the Christmas evergreens, it is a plant of which we are conscious only during the holidays. One day we're kissing under the mistletoe, and next day we've forgotten all about it.

The Druids considered the mistletoe to be a sacred plant and believed it had miraculous properties which could cure illnesses, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility and protect against the ill effects of witchcraft. Moreover, whenever enemies met under the mistletoe in the forest, they had to lay down their arms and observe a truce until the next day. From this has seemingly come the ancient custom of hanging a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchanging kisses under it as a sign of friendship and goodwill.

Another version, however, says that this custom, which was widespread among the Anglo-Saxons, was connected to the legend of Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility. According to legend, a man had to kiss any young girl who, without realizing it, found herself accidentally under a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling. Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as North America. It was once believed that if a couple in love exchanged a kiss under the mistletoe, it was a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. So, be careful who you choose to smooch this holiday season!

coventgarden2There is something very special about visiting London during the holidays. The streets and stores are beautifully decorated and an overall "spirit" of the season is evident throughout the city. No matter where you stroll, there's "Christmas in the air" - whether it's the rows of fresh wreaths hung in Edwardian doorways, the gold holly and red berry garland that decorates Regent Street, the twinkle lights illuminating the posh shopping on Jermyn Street, the musical decorations inspired by the Rolling Stones on Carnaby Street, the Santa Land and Christmas Market in Hyde Park, the enormous fully decorated tree in Trafalgar Square, or the giant red ornaments at Covent Garden.

Of course Victorian London has had a strong role in how we celebrate Christmas today. A visit to the recently renovated The Charles Dickens Museum will remind anyone of the British influence on this festive holiday. As most of us know, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, which was published on December 19, 1843 and is often considered responsible for the revival of Christmas celebrations.

It may surprise some to know that Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870. Apart from adding to the language of Christmas, with "scrooge","bah, humbug!" and all the rest of it, Dickens' book essentially renewed the Christmas tenets of family, good cheer, feasting, gift-giving and charity as well as popularizing the phrase "Merry Christmas!"

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ImageI’m nervous. I’m not sleeping well. The greatest challenge of my life is one month away and I have yet to start planning it: Christmas dinner. Everything will be riding on it. Not just my self-respect; the respect of my gender – every man who has ever said to his stay at home wife, “Hey, I’d take your job in a minute.” Well, she gave it to me. It’s all mine. And now I’ve got to deliver. Put a stunning meal on the table this Christmas; one that lets my hard working, career-driven wife know she married the right …well …wife.

Let me be frank. I’ve survived these last few months on nothing but moxie, a crock-pot, and a copy of Cooking for Idiots. And now I’m staring at one hard cold fact: not only have I never cooked a Christmas dinner, I can’t recall having eaten one. I’m a Jew: a Jew, who pompously volunteered to cook for his Cuban wife and her family on their most important Holiday of the year. What the hell was I thinking? If some couch potato wants to firm up, you don’t tell him to enter a marathon. You tell him to walk a little, then jog a bit, see if he can eventually work himself up to a mile. Yet here I am, a couch potato running a marathon, a culinary novice planning the mother of all meals: Christmas Dinner. Yikes!

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firestonerecordI was the youngest of five boys, most of them out on their own by the time I have any real Christmas memories. Being the baby of the family, and 8-years-younger than my closest brother, I had a different relationship with my dad than they did. He was an old-fashioned father and my arrival had been quite a surprise (they were hoping for a girl.) My mother passed away when I was five-years-old and my dad was forced to raise my brother Paul and me by himself for a few years before he remarried.

Our lives as a blended family weren't always easy, but Christmas was a time for tradition and like many people we had old ones and new ones. The week after Thanksgiving my dad and I would head out to the local tree lot. We always had a real tree and it had to be a Noble Fir, which has the best branches and spacing for decorations. If Dad was going to pay good money for a tree he wanted as many options as possible and the earlier you went the better the selection. Once we found our perfect tree, up it went onto the roof of our Buick Estate Wagon for the long journey home.

Since we had to wait for everyone to be home to decorate the tree - another immovable tradition - it sat outside in our backyard in a bucket of water so it would stay fresh until the "big night." Sometimes it was Christmas Eve, some years the weekend before. I always wished it was up longer, but the rules were the rules. To set the mood my dad would put on the Firestone Christmas album he got from his local tire dealer every year and then bring down the boxes of ornaments and lights the family had collected.

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