Christmas

ImageBiscotti, the popular Italian cookies, can be enjoyed any time of the year, but I find them especially appealing for the holidays. Typically made with almonds and called cantucci in Tuscany, these little treats can include any combination of nuts and dried fruits. Bright red cranberries and green pistachios are ideal for Christmas. I make them every year to share with neighbors and friends who stop by between the two holidays. They go great with coffee and tea and are perfect for dipping.

Traditionally quite dry, biscotti go well with beverages or, as the Italians enjoy them, with the dessert wine Vin Santo. The name "biscotti" translates to twice-baked. First, they are baked through and second, they are dried out. This method of preservation dates back to Roman times, when biscuits were made to last for journeys as long as months. I wouldn't recommend keeping them around for that long. However, they can be stored nicely in a tightly sealed container. But I'm sure they will disappear soon enough.

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tvm2162_072707_coconutcake_l.jpgWhen I was growing up, my favorite grown-up restaurant was SCANDIA in Hollywood.  Run by Ken Hanson, this award-winning Scandinavian eatery was the place my family flocked to for holidays, not just birthday dinners and Sweet 16 luncheons, but also un-Hallmark events—like when I cut my head and all I wanted was Scandia’s Swedish meatballs so my dad got them on his way home from the set of “The Untouchables” episode he wrote. 

At the time, there wasn’t a big L.A. take-out scene, but Scandia accommodated because it was elegant enough to be casual.  Scandia was the treat I always chose when my mom and I collectively took the day off from life (for me, high school; for her, writing/editing and house stuff) to hang out together.  And a few years after my mom died, I chose Scandia to go to the night a movie I wrote opened.

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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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mainesnow.jpgHere in Maine we await a "super storm" that is huge and rushing across the United States, or so they say. Six to twelve inches of snow, turning to freezing rain with high winds.  Sounds  like Winter weather in Maine, not too unusual. It isn't the size of the storm it's what you find to make it fun that counts and I have a plan to enjoy it!  In between plowing I will be making our Mother's tortiere pies and perhaps having a slice for lunch and another with a pot of hot tea in the afternoon to warm up.

What is tortiere pie? To my family it is a ground pork and beef pie flavored with chopped onions, spices and thickened with mashed Maine potatoes then put into a double butter crust. I said my family, the Gagne family, my Mother's recipe, made the same way for at least 5 generations. It isn't like the Belanger's who add no beef just pork, a totally different spice mixture and a Crisco crust or the Bourassa family that adds small chunks of pork instead of ground pork, they add no potatoes, quatre spice and a lard pastry crust.

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thinkgreenplainwreath.jpgMost always, I find nature as my inspiration for arrangements and décor, thus green becomes my “MO” for all things fresh, natural, and beautiful. Green is nature’s neutral – found in different hues and shades in every wood, vale, forest and dale! Here are a few tips on “thinking green” for the Holidays and year round decorating as well!

I always like to have a green base to build from when making an arrangement, tablescapes, or even holiday décor. Choose your greenery wisely – it will be your support and skeleton, your contrasting tone, and your “roux” that brings the arrangement together.

Use what is in seasonfor the Holidays, I like the traditional greens like holly, boxwood, cypress, cedar, and magnolia. Add some pizzazz by contrasting shades of green like the dark of the holly and magnolia (use those velvety brown backs as well), lighter green from cypress and blue greens from cedar or junipers.

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