Did you read all of your suggestions below? So many good ideas for must-have holiday music! I had a handful of them among my collection already, but was pleased to add a bunch more.
(One thing I forgot to mention -- if you haven't heard them already, Diana Krall does a bunch of the Vince Guaraldi holiday songs and they're amazing. If you like that kind of thing. But then, I LOVE the heartbreaking rendition of Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," so there you go.)
Thing that REALLY surprised me, though, is how many of you are familiar with the dulcimer. How is that possible? How did you learn of it?
Once when my family and my friend Emily's family were in Disney World on vacation together, Emily and I (and our moms) ended up at the American Pavilion in Epcot Center. There, one of the outdoor stands featured and sold dulcimers. The young dulcimer salesman, dressed in a turn-of-the-century costume, demonstrated how the instrument was played. He was the one who told us that the dulcimer was the only instrument genuinely native to America (I do not know that this is true, Liz - I am repeating what a costume-clad Epcot-based salesman told me) and that it was designed to be a stringed version of bagpipes. Then Emily and I, having such rich musical backgrounds, tried to play them ourselves, and managed to plunk out a duet of (I think) "Amazing Grace" in full harmony. We attracted a small crowd. Which meant, of COURSE we HAD to HAVE the dulcimers, of COURSE we would continue to play them, we're practically NATURALS at them, of COURSE this was a smart, if not cheap, purchase. And yes, of COURSE the dulcimers went from "musical instruments" to "wall ornaments" about three minutes after we arrived home.
In other news, I hope you (Americans) have had a lovely holiday weekend.
Following a long and complex series of "plans" (We are going to Phoenix! No, Ish's family is coming here! No, just his parents! No, not until Friday!), at the last minute we ended up hosting three people on Thanksgiving itself, not including ourselves. While not exactly raucous, this turned out to be wonderful, because it gave me a chance to see if I could actually produce a meal of several components for five adults -- including a turkey which I've never prepared before -- without burning down my kitchen or giving anyone food poisoning.
And there was no pressure at all, because my friends would be happy if I served them cold cereal as long as it came with enough wine. (This is why, in fact, they are my friends.)
But then I'm not sure why -- maybe because all the pressure was off? -- I kind of went a little crazy. I did all of my holiday decorating early. I got fancy candles and some silly decorations and thought long and hard about the table setting and centerpieces.
You can't tell, but those are white trees up on the black shelves on the right,
and we hung lights from wall to wall (where the regular lights usually hang).
You can kind of make out the white trees now.
They were only $3.99 at Michael's!
A close-up of nothing in particular.
Those are sparkly red candles on top of the piano you can't see.
I determined I would brine the turkey before roasting it and spent days searching for the right recipes.
So now, since I NEVER ever blog about food I prepare (mostly because I don't ever do it) OR wines we drink, I will now regale you with details of our Thanksgiving dinner. With photos. (For those of you who haven't already seen them on Facebook, that is.)
I should begin by pointing out that at no point did I set anything on fire, and the closest thing we had to a mishap was the cat puking up bites of the autumn leaves that adorned the table.
I picked up real leaves from trees in Redwood City.
And because I thought the table was pretty,
I took about 40 million pictures of it.
You can sort of see that the houseplant (whose name is Victor)
has lights on him. That was no easy task.
The menu was basic but wonderful. We had the turkey, of course. Between Williams-Sonoma and Alton Brown, Tom turned out pretty darn well!
Ish poses with the turkey.
We had a million sides. I made a wonderfully light and fluffy sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top (the secret to "light and fluffy"? I added two beaten eggs and mixed it well with a hand-mixer. Who knew? I've been making heavy casserole for years...). I made an apple-pecan-cornbread stuffing/dressing. Ish rocked out with his family's corn risotto (yellow and white corn sauteed with some cream and jalepenos), and also made pumpkin and pecan pies from scratch. Be still my heart. Bemily pulled up the rear with some smashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and Ben's family's traditional "cheese spaghetti" -- some noodle, egg, cheese concoction that involves bacon. We started with a baby spinach salad. (This all followed the fancy-pants hors d'oeuvres that Tony brought.)
From left to right: Salad and turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole,
cheese spaghetti, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, corn risotto.
Note: nothing is on fire.
As for cocktails...
I mulled cider, and kept it going all day in a crock pot -- smells so good! Everyone has their own mulled cider recipes, but I prefer to use the Williams-Sonoma mulling spices, and lots of 'em. I bring the cider to a rolling boil with the spices in, and then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Delicious! Then I put a bottle of bourbon out next to it, so guests can spike the cider if they see fit.
Bemily brought some drink they'd made called the Apple Pie. It was a deadly and delicious concoction of cider and scary booze. Everyone had a taste of it to start the afternoon, and then avoided it so as to remain standing by the end of the evening. I avoided it altogether, fretting as I was about sticking to the dinner-oven-menu schedule. It is a bit unclear how much Ben may have ingested, and that is probably for the best.
We did, however, break out some of the best wines in our collection. (I say "our collection" as though I've had anything to do with obtaining any of these wines. Note: I have not.)
A gratuitous photo of "our" wine collection, which lives in this new
wine fridge that Ish's parents got "us" for Ish's birthday.
Just before dinner, we opened a Zonin Prosecco that Tony brought and a Gloria Ferrer blanc de noirs. For whites (which were sipped througout the day), we had a Bighorn Chardonnay and a Jonata Sauvingnon Blanc. I hate Chardonnays that taste buttery and oaky, which most California chards do, and I avoided the Bighorn for this reason. Everyone else enjoyed it. The Jonata sauv is the fanciest white we own -- Jonata is hard to come by -- and it was tasty, but also not my favorite. When we moved on to reds, we served a Copain Pinot Noir and a Donum Pinot Noir. At the end of the evening, we served a Jonata dessert wine that is the best dessert wine I have ever tasted, bar none.
All in all, it was lovely.
The following day, we got up early(ish) to revisit the grocery store and to get a Christmas tree. That afternoon, we re-hosted a Thanksgiving re-meal -- again, no pressure! -- with leftovers galore. Ish's parents came over, along with my Cousin Nate and his fiancee, Liz.
The boys get amorous. Did I mention that
the "Apple Pie" drink had EVERCLEAR in it?
The boys get amorous. Did I mention that
the "Apple Pie" drink had EVERCLEAR in it?
Sidebar: I have mentioned this before, but I don't know if this is the sort of thing people who aren't related to me care about. But here is a brief series of fun facts, Sammis family-style, in case you happen to be interested: In college, my dad became good friends with a man named Roger. Roger has many ties to Maine and to Cliff Island. Through my dad and Roger's friendship, my entire family has been traveling to or living in Maine since. In fact, my Aunt Kathy (my dad's sister) and her husband actually lived on Cliff Island for a few years...with their sons, my cousins, Matt and Nate. Liz is Roger's daughter. This means that Liz and Nate have known each other for their whole lives (Maine can be a little small, but Cliff Island is VERY small), but they never even considered dating each other until a few years ago. And now they live in San Francisco together and are getting married. Crazy and awesome.
So Nate and Liz and Liz's brother came over on Friday, along with Liz's mom, Maura -- who I have always thought of as an aunt -- and Nate's mom, Kathy, who actually IS my aunt. And us, and Ish's parents (who got to meet members of my family, hurrah!), and a few friends thrown in for good measure.
I don't know why I'm telling you all this.
But now you know what all I've been up to. (Erm, for the most part.)
And for what it's worth, I'm feeling very festive lately. I suspect it has to do with the fact that Ish and I are getting married. And not for silly-dumb reasons related to getting married, either -- good, solid reasons. I don't feel as groundless and rootless as I've felt these last seven years in San Francisco. I have LOVED every second of living here, yes, but I have also been without much of a plan. And while I don't -- erm, WE don't -- have any idea where we're headed, either, we at least know we'll be together.
That's a whole lot more certainty than I've had in a long time. And it feels good, and sweet, and special, and like I should indulge while I can.
It's like emotional eggnog.
Putting up the tree.
This photo was taken with flash.
The tree really loses something with flash.
Just, you know, trust me, it's pretty.