Monday, December 28, 2009

A Crash Course in Hospitality, pt. 2

This is the rest of the story about my first time hosting a full dinner for my in-laws this past Sunday to celebrate Christmas a little early. You can read the first part here.

A little after 3pm, about 3 hours until serving

We pulled out the old, old cookbook on hosting dinner parties that my husband had picked up somewhere along the way long before he picked up me. There, in the middle of the brunch section, was what I wanted as the crowing centerpiece of my appetizer tray: a pineapple tower. It looks just like a regular pineapple, just with toothpicks sticking out. You pull a pick and a bite sized piece pops out for you to enjoy. Cute, right?

The problem is, the cookbook showed a beautiful picture, but no instructions. So, my brave husband handed me the paring knife and backed away, no-so-quietly whispering prayers that I wouldn't cut my hand off.

I think I figured out why they didn't have directions: The whole process is ridculously complicated. We ended up coring the pineapple and cutting wedges through, sticking in our toothpicks. But then, the pineapple was "structurely unsound" and kept falling over, so we constructed a scaffold of sorts inside using more toothpicks. When we'd done half of it and realized there was no way it would stand if we continued, so we stopped where we were and hoped that everyone would only want a few bites. I built a shelf out of MORE toothpicks and replaced the top (just like a pumpkin) so that it looked complete. It was a juicy mess, but it looked just like the picture! I don't think Shaune will let me try again, although I do have some ideas for making it better next time...

5 pm, 1 hour until serving

It started to snow. My mother-in-law called to tell us that they were on their way, but the roads were getting slippery and it might take them a little longer than expected. Dinner was to be pushed off half an hour. No big deal -- my meat thermometer told me that the ham still had a LONG way to go. I took a break and sat down on the sofa with a cup of tea. Shaune looked at me and said, "Everything ok?" We spent the next 20 minutes laughing about me, my tendency to get in over my head, and life in general. The whole situation was really funny.

6:30 pm, everyone had arrived and was having a good time

It all turned out OK in the end. I think my in-laws are still trying to figure me out: Who, really, spends an hour on a snowy Sunday afternoon trying to cut a pineapple? Or molding brie into the shape of a heart? (Cookie cutters do more than cut cookies.) This was my first attempt at hosting a bunch of people at my house for a formal meal. I don't think it will be the last!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Crash Course in Hospitality

I promised you a story. This is the tale of one young lady (me!) and her first attempt to serve a formal holiday meal to her in-laws.

It all started back at Thanksgiving. My father-in-law was good-naturedly grousing about having to host another holiday. He pretends to not like people. It's all a game, part of his charm, but in retaliation I replied, "Well, fine. Let's do Christmas at my house."

"Are you serious? Are you sure?"

"Why not?" And with that, I stepped off the cliff. We decided that Sunday the 18th was close enough to Christmas to count, fit everyone's work schedules, and offered me enough time to figure out what I was doing.

I spent days pouring over menu ideas. There were some important requirements: it had to be healthy, it had to be easy enough to accomplish, and it had to be cheap enough to feed 7 people without breaking my budget. I settled on this menu:
  • Spiral cut ham, on special at Aldi for $1.29 a pound
  • Scalloped potatoes with onions and cheese
  • Green bean cassarole
  • Cranberry Relish (a Holiday tradition passed down by my grandmother)
  • Dessert brought by my mother- and sister-in-law

So after a fruitful planning session and a bargain-filled shopping trip, I pushed the dinner to the back of my mind, confident that everything would work out just as I had planned without any more input from me. Which brings us up to Sunday...

12 pm, leaving Church, 6 hours until serving

"I've been meaning to get my oil changed," my husband declared. "Can we go do that now?"

I felt confident. I had 6 hours before my relatives were due. The ham was fully cooked and just needed warmed, so... "Sure, let's go."

We drove over to Sam's Club to drop the car off at their Tire and Lube while we picked up a few last minute gifts. This is officially when things began to go wrong. This is also when things began to get really, really funny.

1pm, at Sam's, 5 hours until serving

"What do you mean, you don't do oil changes?" That's right, Sam's installs batteries and tires, but doesn't actually do lube after all. But since we were already there, we decided to wander around, try the free samples, and throw things in our cart that we may or may not have actually needed (2 huge jugs of Welsh's Grape Juice?). While there, one of the samples I tasted triggered a reminder:


Which led to an hour long pursuit of brie cheese to make a snack tray. I finally found some at Shop n Save at a price I was willing to pay. I also decided to try a feat I saw once in a cookbook from the '60s -- a pineapple tower. We still had 4 hours to go, so why not?

2:30 pm, at home, 3.5 hours from serving

Shaune and I decided that, with only a few hours to go, we should really get started on some parts of dinner so that we wouldn't be scrambling once his family arrived. The ham was supposed to cook 15 min per lb, at 8 lb, was right about 2 hours. Time to spare. The potatoes cooked right at an hour. Plenty of time. I'd already changed the green beans to be stove top instead of a cassarole, so that would only take a couple minutes. Then I realized one huge, glaring, unacceptable problem with my kitchen...

"Shaune, did you know there is only one rack in the oven?"

I had two things that needed in there, both at the same temperature for long periods of time. I put in my first paniced phone call to my mother.

"Well, you could take aluminum cans and put a cooling rack across it to build a shelf." But I don't have any cooling racks... "You could just put the pyrex dish on the cans." But the cans went out in the garbage, which was just picked up the other day.... "You could... try something else."

So, I pulled out my trusty crock pot. 3 1/2 hours on high might just be enough to warm it throughout. I grabbed the crock, unwrapped the ham, and dropped it in -- only to watch it land right on the edge and stay there. It was several inches too large. I ended up using the crock pot lid like a template and cutting off one large corner of the ham, praying that there would be enough meat without that bit. Then I pushed and shoved until the ham fit. I turned the crock pot on high, pushed it to the corner, and for the first time began wondering if I had gotten in over my head...


I have to dash off and take care of Christmas Eve festivities now, and this post is getting long. I have more to tell you! I hope to finish this story very soon. I hope you're laughing as much as I am. It was a wonderful time.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light
From now on,
our troubles will be out of sight

I absolutely love decorating for Christmas. It has been so much fun this year. This is the first year that my dear husband and I have actually had a Christmas -- it's our first spent together at home with friends and family. I've been collecting decorations for the past year or so. The glass balls and vases are from our wedding. I found the poinsettias for $0.10 each at Michael's.

And lest we forget the meaning of the holiday, the Nativity takes center stage. My dear parents gave this to me my last Christmas at home in the hopes it would become an heirloom for my new family. It's headed that way! My favorite piece is the angel saying "Thank You."

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore.
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

The first gathering was for my husband's family. His parents came over, as well as his sister with her husband and baby Alex. I guess he's not so much of a baby anymore -- he's 2 1/2 -- but he's limited so we still think of him as a baby. He just completed surgery this fall for his Spina Bifida. He's actually starting to crawl, which is a huge and unexpected blessing. Someday, God willing, he'll walk. He started treatment in the spring for his autism, too, so this is the first time I've seen him really be playful and trying words. He even said "eat" to me when he wanted to steal my bread! I love my husband's family. I've been totally blessed with awesome, loving in-laws.

I had a blast cooking for the family. I've never really hosted a meal before so it was all over the place. I think I'll save that story for tomorrow since it was so dramatic. But! All the food made it to the table, there was more than enough to go around, and I had more fun than I knew what to do with making this appetizer tray:

The pineapple was cut up leaving just enough to hold the structure, then reassembled. You pull a toothpick to eat a piece. The heart on the green plate is brie cheese I molded using a cookie cutter. The red cheese is cranberry/cinnamon goat cheese that was on sale at Aldi a few weeks ago. Mmmm.... I could have skipped dinner and just enjoyed this.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Lord allows
Hang a shining star
upon the highest bough.
And have yourself
A merry little Christmas now.

Next weekend, my parents, sister, and brother will be joining us for another holiday feast. Hopefully that meal will have less of a story to tell. But wait! I haven't told it yet ;-) You'll have to come back for it later.

May you and yours have a blessed Christmas this year. May it be filled with warm food, hearty laughter, and a good dose of the Holy Spirit to boost your family into the New Year

Song written by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane, 1943

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Modesty has been on my mind a lot lately. Working in the schools, I see so many 12 and 13 year old girls (and 6 and 7 year old girls) wearing things that were designed for ages 20+ specifically to draw attention to certain aspects of their figure. I've also been increasingly troubled by the immodesty of some of the members at our church. While I believe firmly that men must take responsibility for their own lust issues, we are certainly not making it easy on them.

Mrs. Parunak over at Pursuing Titus 2 has written a beautiful blog entry that hits at the heart of this issue. I suggest you read it: The Top 10 Reasons Modesty Gets a Yawn. She regularly writes enlightening posts about modesty. While some of her ideas are still rolling around in my head for consideration, she writes eloquently and backs up her claims with research. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Favorites Meme

Sarah Jane had this up today and I couldn't help myself. I'm so excited about Christmas. Last year, my husband and I were on our honeymoon, so I didn't get to decorate or cook or anything. This is basically our first Christmas! I may be going a bit overboard but I've never had so much fun leading up to a holiday.

1.Eggnog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate! But I don’t make it according to package directions. I measure using one of my mugs one mug worth of skim milk and one mug worth of water. I heat this up on the stovetop to barely simmering, then stir in 3 packets of Swiss Miss. We bought a huge box of this at Sam’s last year when it was on sale. Simmer that a little bit until everything blends nicely and some of the water evaporates. Sometimes I even stir in crushed peppermints or the occasional Andes mint. Makes the perfect rich, warm, chocolatey snack for before bed.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? We don’t have littles yet, so we’re still discussing how to handle the whole “Santa” thing. We do wrap our gifts to each other. We even wrap any empty boxes we have around to 1) Make it look fuller than it is and 2) Keep each other guessing as to what is gifts and what is filler.

3. Colored lights on the tree/house or white? We use white lights this year. They’re built into our (unfortunately fake) Christmas tree.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. I stick to wreaths and ribbons.

5. When do you put your Christmas decorations up? This is the first year I’ve decorated! Last year we were on our honeymoon, so I didn’t do much beyond setting up the nativity set. This year it’s been an ongoing process. The wreath went up on the door on Thanksgiving, I just hung two more ribbons today, and there’s more ideas still flooding my little head.

6. Favorite holiday dish? Cranberry Relish! I wish this was made more often. Fresh cranberries, oranges segments, sugar, all roughly chopped together. I can’t do the cranberry jelly though. Just the relish.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? My favorite holiday memory is that we were always at home. Several years from my childhood have blended together because they were so similar and so peaceful. My sister and I would always get up super early. Whoever got up first would go into the other’s room and sit on her bed. We had to stay in our rooms until 7am. Then, we’d creep into my parents’ room and sit on their bed grinning at them until they woke up. Finally, they’d sigh and make a big deal about us bothering them (all in jest of course). Daddy always had to “check” to see if Santa had come, so he went downstairs first to set up the video camera and plug in the tree lights. When he gave the all-clear, we’d rush down. We always read the Christmas story out of the Bible and “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” After opening stockings, we made blueberry muffins with crumble topping. We’d play with our new toys while they were cooking. Only around 8:30 would we even get to the gifts from each other. One person opened at a time while the others looked on. We never finished “Christmas Morning” before 11. We also never traveled on Christmas. It was a happy family time.

8. When did you learn the truth about Santa? I don’t remember, but I do know it didn’t bother me or surprise me very much. What was strange is that my parents chose to have the best gifts from “Santa” instead of from themselves. My brother’s 9 this year and I think he knows that it is Mom and Daddy but is playing along because they enjoy doing it so much.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No! Never! Christmas Eve is for candlelight service at church and a relaxing (usually make-your-own-pizza) dinner.

10. How do you decorate a tree? As I said, this is the first year I’ve gotten to decorate, so I’m so excited! We decorated our wedding with those glass ball ornaments in white, silver, and various shades of purple, so I have literally 1,200 to work with. This year we’re using just the large white and silver ones. Mixed in with those are big red silk poinsettias I got on sale at Michael’s on a Black Friday sale – 10 for $1. I think I may stick some candy canes on there too… it’s a work in progress. Other than the balls, though, we don’t own a single ornament.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I love snow, but only if I can stay home. Although having a little snowball fight with the neighborhood children on my way to school yesterday morning was pretty special. I love watching it fall. But I only want it to stick around if it stays pretty.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes! Shaune and I met at an ice skating party, actually, so we love to go to the open air rink in Forest Park, Saint Louis. It brings back good memories. Now, am I a good ice skater? NO! I can go forward. Most of the time.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? I have several favorites from different stages of my life. When I was 8, I received my first American Girl Doll. She’s the beautiful Asian “Girl of Today” (my parents encouraged multiculturalism – I also have Josephina from Mexico and Kirsten). She was my best friend for many years and became my dress form for pattern design as I grew. I learned so much about how pattern pieces work from her! My second favorite was when I got Helen Joseph-Armstrong’s Patternmaking for Fashion Design. It’s a textbook all on flat-pattern drafting. It coached me through two prom dresses and countless other projects. Either the year right before or right after that gift I also got the Better Homes and Gardens Baking Cookbook. Mmmmmm… Oh! And, the year I got engaged, my parents gave me the entire Willow Tree Nativity set. You know, those neutral-colored angels with no faces? So classy and beautiful.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays to you? To de-clutter the schedule and truly enjoy the process of shopping, cooking, and being together. To remember why we are celebrating and be certain that God is honored throughout.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Pretty much all of it. Dessert is my favorite part of dinner.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? We just started this tradition this year because I saw it in a magazine. We made a rice krispy treat train to be a centerpiece for the table during the season. This is instead of a gingerbread house. I’ve already got plans for how I want to decorate it and what cereals I want to use for the next several years!

17. What tops your tree? A plaid bow. It’s made from the same ribbon I’m using elsewhere in the house.

18. Which do you prefer-Giving or Receiving? Giving is so exciting for me. I love the process of saving money, thinking carefully, shopping for that “just right” gift, and watching my family open it. I could go without receiving, actually, I get so much fun out of giving.

19. Favorite Christmas song? “Mary, Did You Know.” I get shivers every time I hear this. I’m hoping Hubby will learn it for guitar this year so we can sing together.

20. Candy Canes-Yuck or Yum? I decorate with them but rarely remember to eat them. I do like them though.

21. Favorite Christmas show? Do you want to know the sad truth? I’ve never seen any of the classics. The only two Christmas movies I’ve ever seen – both of which I love – are The Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Charlie Brown is the best though.

22. Saddest Christmas song? There’s a new one out right now about a family member being in the Middle East for Christmas and “maybe next year you’ll be home.” It makes me cry.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Made It!

I officially made it through 4.5 years of undergraduate studies! My portfolio review was Friday morning and I passed with flying colors. To celebrate, I have spent the whole weekend decorating for Christmas. Pictures soon, but I just had to share my joy.

What a huge sigh of relief. I can finally relax.