Cranberry Mold

Many years ago, at one of my earliest Christmas parties, a friend brought this dish. She also gave me the undated clipping with the recipe from the Long Beach Press-Telegram, so to be accurate I need to give credit where credit is due: Thank you, Colleen, for bringing this salad, and thank you, Evelyn Tietsort of Long Beach, who originally submitted the recipe. It’s really good, has unusual ingredients, and is a snap to make if you can use a food processor. Jello molds are ubiquitous with Southern dinners, so of course, I included this in my Southern-Thanksgiving-do.

1 lb. fresh cranberries
1 orange
1½ c. sugar
1 pkg. (3 oz.) lemon gelatin
1 pkg. (3 oz.) raspberry gelatin
1 tsp. grated ginger
2 c. boiling water
1 can (20 oz.) crushed pineapple
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. chopped celery

In a food processor, grind cranberries and orange (including peel). Add sugar to fruit and allow to stand overnight in refrigerator.
In a large bowl, combine gelatin with boiling water. Chill in freezer to consistency of egg white (40 mins. or less). Add pineapple, nuts, celery, and ginger, and stir gently. Pour into a 13”x9” pan or a 3-qt. mold. Chill thoroughly.
Makes 12 servings.

Flaky Angel Biscuits

This recipe is wonderful for parties, because the dough can be made and kept, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks before your guests walk in the door. I roll it out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, press out the shapes I want (at Thanksgiving, I usually use a 2½” acorn cookie cutter), pull away the scraps, and pop the cookie sheet straight into the oven. I re-roll the remaining scraps onto a second parchment-lined cookie sheet. It takes all of about 8 minutes to get these treats into the oven. And your kitchen smells divine as they bake! My sister-in-law found the recipe in the LA Times many years ago, and I have used it every year since.

5 c. flour, plus more for rolling (but only a little, if the dough is chilled)
8 t. baking powder
2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 T. sugar
¼ c. butter, chilled (I use unsalted)
½ c. shortening, chilled
5 t. dry yeast
½ c. warm water
1 ¾ – 2 c. buttermilk (warmed 1 min. in microwave)
¼ c. milk

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (except yeast) and mix well. Cut in the butter and shortening with a pastry blender until butter and shortening are the size of small peas. Dissolve yeast in the water (ideally warmed to about 105-115° F), stir and allow to swell (about 6 mins.). Add yeast and buttermilk to dry ingredients, and toss with fork to blend and moisten, creating a soft dough.
Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 8 hrs. or overnight; dough can be kept in refrigerator up to 2 weeks.
To bake a few biscuits at a time, remove portion of dough. On lightly-floured surface, roll dough to thickness of 1”. Cut into similar-size rounds or wedges with knife or biscuit-cutter. Brush generously with milk.
Place on baking sheet. Bake at 425° F until lightly browned on top, 12 – 15 mins. (makes 24 – 2 ½ “ biscuits).

Hawaiian Dinner Party

Time flies – whether you’re having fun or not – so we might as well party! Ten years after I threw a luau to celebrate my husband’s 50th, it was time to celebrate another decade. What with kids and the economy, we haven’t gotten back to Paradise as often as we would like, so it seemed natural to try to rekindle some great memories right here at home. And so I planned another Hawaiian-themed party for my husband’s 60th; this time it was a smaller-scaled Hawaiian dinner party for just very close friends and family. But like the luau, it was delicious, and we all had a really lovely time.

My kids were too busy with school to help with invitations, and our guest list only required 14 invitations, so I did them myself:

Then I planned the menu, with a little (well, a lot of) inspiration from Roy Yamaguchi.  I used his book, Roy’s fish and seafood for the entree; and I used his Banana-Macadamia Nut Bread recipe for party favors, from Roy’s Feasts from Hawaii.   

A few days before the party day, I raided my old supplies of luau stuff to set up for the party. Beach sheets (subbed in for tablecloths), Hawaiian-inspired tumblers, umbrella picks, coconut candles, and of course, fresh tropical flowers from Island Florals, and we were ready.

E komo mai, aloha!

Hawaiian Luau for a 50th-Birthday Party

A long time ago, my husband turned 50.  Fresh from a typical, fabulous vacation in Hawaii (is there any other kind?), I decided to throw him a luau to celebrate.I knew I could not really replicate the professional luaus in the islands, but I had read somewhere that a truly authentic luau was the type hosted in a kama‘āina’s backyard. Okay, I’m not a local, but I am a haole wahini, so I figured, why not?  My kids were little then (aged 5 and 7 years), but very enthusiastic, so I knew it could be a party that we would all enjoy.

The first thing we did were the invitations:

It helped knowing a few Hawaiian words to add some flavor to the invitation and the party: aloha (hello, good-bye, I love you), Aloha nui loa (very much love), E komo mai (welcome), hale (house), haole (foreigner), Hau‘oli lā Hānau (Happy Birthday), kama‘āina (local resident of the islands), imu (underground oven), kahuna (expert), keiki (child or children), lei (flower necklace), ‘ohana (family), ‘ono (delicious, also mackerel), Pūpū (appetizers), Wahine (woman), wikiwiki (hurry), Ali‘i (chief), ‘a‘ole pilikia (no problem), mahalo (thank you)…

Then I decided on the menu.  I was lucky because I had a few friends and family who were happy to help (well, that’s what they said!).

Party supplies (dinner plates, dessert plates, dinner napkins, dessert napkins, beverage napkins, and plastic forks, knives and spoons in solid tropical colors) came from Party City, and Oriental Trading provided a few more supplies and all the favors (tablecloths, assorted souvenir glasses for everyone, and more kid-oriented stuff for the keiki – children).

Tropical flowers came from Island Florals in Costa Mesa, California. I selected anthuriums, heliconia, ginger, orchid stems, ti leaves, bird of paradise, and palms – enough to fill vases for the dessert, beverage, and buffet tables, the dinner tables, and my living room mantel and coffee table.Arranging the flowers took about two hours the day before the luau, but the time was worth my trouble. Nothing says “paradise” like the flowers of Hawaii…

Set-up was straight-forward the morning of the party: I used my dining room table inside for the deserts, which would be arranged before the party (except for homemade ice cream, which I’d pull out last-minute).I set up the “Bali Hai Bar” on a patio outside, along with simple coolers to keep drinks cold. (I recruited a few friends the day of the party to skewer banana, strawberry, and pineapple wedges on the essential umbrella drink-pick…)Appetizers were set up on our backyard picnic table, and when dinner was ready, I cleared that table and set out the dinner buffet.Rented tables, chairs, and heaters had been arranged by the party rental company that morning also.Every island souvenir, tropical serving dish (including some from my mother-in-law that she had brought back from Guam in the 50’s), and relic of Hawaiiana I owned, was pulled out and used somehow.

Because this was a family-style luau, there were all ages.  Entertainment for the keiki was pretty relaxed.  The one planned activity for them took advantage of all the pineapple tops I had cut for the meal: every family went home with their own newly planted pineapple plant (directions linked here), courtesy of their keiki. And yes, I did try to involve my kids in the set-up and hosting: they were responsible for dressing up native teddy bears, greeting our guests with a lei, and filling out their name tags.  After that, it was every kid for themself!

The music we played was classic beach and luau: Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and assorted Hawaiian CD’s we’d picked up at Hilo Hattie’s…

As the party wound down, each guest left with their pineapple plants, souvenir glasses, and leis.  They also took home a small scroll printed with the definition of aloha. live alohaThese wise words were written by Pilahi Paki, a Hawaiian sage who recognized the need for Aloha in Hawaii back in the 1970’s when tourism became airborne.  Her acronym says it all.  Thank you, Auntie Pilahi, and aloha to all of you reading!

Nutcracker Tea

Little girls and ballet… little girls and tea parties… and at Christmastime, little girls and Nutcracker. When my daughter first started dancing in a local production of Nutcracker, I could not resist planning a Nutcracker tea party to celebrate her hard work and performances with her dancing friends and their moms. So I did, and they came, and we had a lovely afternoon.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker story involves a battle royale between an enchanted Nutcracker aided by his toy soldier Hussars, and an evil seven-headed Rat King and his mice henchmen. Marie, the young ingenue, sacrifices her sugar doll collection to the Rat King to save her magical Nutcracker, who is really a bewitched (and handsome) Prince. With her help, Nutcracker is able to vanquish the Rat King, return to his original form, and woo Marie. So, Nutcracker, as it’s originally written, is really a coming of age story about a young girl learning to stand up for those she loves. (The Kirov Ballet is most faithful to this version of the story – their Marie ultimately grows up and accepts the marriage proposal of her Prince. Most of the other ballet productions seen are similar to the Balanchine version, in which Marie wakes up to find that her escapades with her Nutcracker Prince are just a dream – most unsatisfying!)

But my point to all this, is that the Nutcracker ballet stories are filled with references to food: the Nutcracker and nuts, French shepherdesses – merlitons – and marzipan, Arabian dancers and coffee, Russian Cossacks and chocolate, Spanish dancers and spices, Chinese dancers and tea, the Sugar Plum fairy, Mother Ginger and the gingerbread cookies, the Land of Sweets, Lemonade River…
So, planning a Nutcracker Tea Party is pretty easy, if maybe a little indulgent with the sweets!