Easy Brunch Cocktail

This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch, but it's also perfect for any party this season. It's great for a crowd too!

Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and I am thrilled to be guest posting today to bring you a festive holiday cocktail: pear prosecco punch.

In my house, I always make a huge Christmas brunch to enjoy after opening presents. The feast starts with sausage balls & pigs-in-a-blanket (oldies but goodies) and coffee for breakfast while we all tear through gifts. Late morning, I pop everything in the oven, and we sit down to a huge brunch complete with berry French toast, quiche, fruit, and of course, a festive cocktail. There are only three of us every year, but we always manage to have a full-fledged feast. This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch.

One trick: freeze a bag of cranberries and keep them on hand in your freezer. Warm prosecco isn’t tasty. Frozen cranberries can be used in place of ice to keep your cocktails cold. They won’t water-down your beverage, and they’ll look festive, too!

Pear Prosecco Holiday Cocktail

Let me know if you give this a try! I’d love to hear what you think. Happy holidays!

xo, Nicole

Pear Prosecco Punch
serves 1

You will need:

– 2 oz Pear concentrate (I use Looza)
– 4 oz Prosecco
– Rosemary sprigs & frozen cranberries for garnish

To prepare:

Pour pear concentrate into a champagne or wine glass. Top with prosecco. Add a rosemary sprig and frozen cranberries for garnish.

photos by Nicole Letts

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Homemade Salted Caramel Candies

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Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and like many of you, I am counting down the hours until Christmas vacation. This year, thanks to the pandemic, I was hoping to lean into a relaxing holiday season. Ironically, while parties and gatherings have been canceled, I have still found myself wrapped-up in the usual holiday bustle. I’m truly hoping that by next week, I can take a welcome break from my computer, settle in with some holiday movies, and relax.

One of the things that I’m hoping to do during my holiday nesting is bake something…anything. As a cookbook author and entertaining expert, Annette has a ton of recipes in her repertoire. I asked her for a suggestion, and she sent over Martha Stewart’s homemade salted caramel candies, a recipe she has successfully made before.

I love this suggestion for two reasons: caramels will last well beyond the expiration date of a cookie, cake or pie, and I can also package them up for friends and neighbors. Who doesn’t love a sweet porch surprise?! I’m hoping to try these homemade salted caramel candies next week. Let me know if you do too!

xo Nicole

Homemade Salted Caramel Candies

You will need:
– Vegetable oil, for baking sheet
– 2 cups heavy cream
– 2 1/4 cups sugar
– 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
– 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
– 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
– 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To prepare:
Lightly brush bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides; lightly brush parchment with oil.

Bring cream, sugar, butter, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes.

Immediately remove caramel from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Pour caramel onto baking sheet, and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

Lifting by parchment overhang, transfer caramel to a large cutting board. Cut into 3/4-by-1 1/4-inch pieces; wrap each piece in waxed paper or cellophane.

Recipe by Martha Stewart.

Photo by Heidi Geldhauser

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It’s the Little Things

This year more than any other, I think that the holidays will be about the little things. We will all be staying home, and cooking for a small crowd. What better time to try new things, like new recipes, and new ways to make your table setting really special? Below, I’m sharing a few ways to really make the holiday season special.

Flower Arranging:
How about honing your flower arranging skills. I personally love combining grocery store flowers and pumpkins and gourds, with branches and herbs I forage from the garden every year. It’s a great time to use an unexpected vessel, like an old pitcher or a soup tureen.

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Here are some easy tips on flower arranging:

While it might seem like a daunting task, arranging your own flowers can be simple yet stunning, and honestly, nothing gives me more pleasure than to arrange flowers for my own home or parties. If you follow a few easy steps, you’ll be arranging your own flowers in no time!

When beginning the design process, I start with what’s available at my local market (and even Trader Joe’s!), and I try to select a strong color theme. Selecting just one color flower, but choosing several varieties in that same color, is an easy way to pack a punch without a lot of thought. It honestly cuts way down on the stress, especially if you’re not quite ready for combining colors.

Step one: clean the bottom of the stems, and make a fresh cut.

Step two: place all the fillers in your container. For this arrangement, I’ve chosen a pitcher for my container, and Queen Anne’s Lace and Baby’s Breath as fillers.

Step three: add in your larger blooms. Be sure to work your way around the vase or pitcher. Either move around the table as you work, or spin your container to make sure your stems are even.

Step four: step back and fluff your arrangement as needed. Try to change the water every 2-3 days, and cut the stems on a diagonal every few days, too. This will keep your arrangement fresh and pretty! You can add the gourds and pumpkins around the table, maybe add a few smaller vases as well strewn around the table. More is more and more is better.

Making a Charcuterie Board:

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Create a special Charcuterie Board for your family. I usually prepare this as lunch. It’s super fun to design and even more, fun to eat. You can nibble while your main course cooks. Great if you’re watching games or working on a puzzle.

Setting the Table:

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This is R. Woods Tablescape small but lovely

I think that setting the table with a glass of wine in hand the night before is always fun. I like to put on some festive music and take my time.

Some of my go-to affordable table sources are Zara Home, Ikea, and Pottery Barn. Every year I try to buy some little addition to my table. This year I bought more candlesticks just to make the table even more glowy and happy. I also ordered some new colorful table wares from my friend potter Rebecca Wood, she also offers Ikebana Floral Lessons if you’re interested.

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This a table from the Zara Home Collection

My takeaway message is to make it special even if this year is so much different than every other year. Count your blessings and stay safe. Next year will be a big year to celebrate all the sacrifices we made. Keep the faith and keep your distance. And use this extra time to learn a craft and next year you’ll be a decorating pro. Happy Holidays.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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My Hanukkah Latkes

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I make homemade sweet potato + Yukon potato latkes with homemade applesauce every year for Hanukkah. This year might look a little different from the usual holiday celebrations, but that doesn’t make them any less special. If you’re celebrating Hanukkah this year, give my yellow and gold latkes recipe a try. Actually, give these a try regardless of your celebrations; everyone loves latkes!

Yellow and Gold Latkes
serves 4 to 6
You will need:

– 3 medium size sweet potatoes
– 3 medium size yukon gold potatoes
– 2 eggs
– 1/4 cup matzo meal
– 1 small yellow onion diced
– salt and pepper to taste
– 1 cup olive oil
To prepare:

Prepare a paper towel-lined cookie sheet for finished latkes.

Hand grate potatoes, so they are shredded. Add salt and set aside for 10 minutes.

By hand, squeeze the liquid out of the potatoes, transfer to another mixing bowl.

Add eggs, matzo meal and diced onion and mix.

Note: if the potatoes still have some water, it’s fine to add 1 more egg and more matzo meal to bind.

In a large skillet put 1/4 cup oil and heat. Drop-in latke mix with a spoon forming small pancakes.

Fry in the oil until golden and crispy.

Place cooked latke pancakes on the towels to drain oil, and continue to fry the latkes and drain. You will need to continue to add oil to the skillet as you continue to fry the latkes. Place the cooked, and drained latkes in the oven on low until guests arrive.

Serve with homemade applesauce, sour cream, or non fat plain greek yogurt.

xx Annette

Latkes photo by Stephanie Meyer for Food & Wine

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The Florentine holiday lights in 2020

IMG_9214 I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Alexandra Lawrence, when we visit with guests in Florence she is my go to tour guide. She’s one to put into your contacts and make sure to book her early.

I know we all miss travel to Italy, so today I am taking you all to Florence to tour the Holiday Lights in Florence. I’ve invited Florentine Alexandra to join me on the blog as a guest contributor to tell you all about the lights this year. The Holidays lights of Florence are always an exciting subject. In fact she will take us on a virtual tour on Wed. Dec. 9th at Noon ET on my IG LIVE so mark your calendar and be whisked away to Florence to see this year’s holiday lights in Florence.

Take a moment to read as Alexandra explains the meaning behind 2020’s holiday lights.

Take it away Alexandra:

It’s no secret that Italians love to commemorate things. Ceremonies, exhibitions, and conferences are constantly being dedicated to an artist’s 500th birthday or to the 1000th anniversary of a church consecration. Some of the commemorations come and go without much notice (there are a rather lot of them), but others are rightfully treated as a ‘big deal’.

The upcoming celebrations surrounding 700 years of Dante Alighieri are of the latter variety.

Born in 1265 in Florence, the great poet was exiled from the city in a particularly explosive moment of political drama at age 27. Already quite famous for his verses—mostly love poetry—Dante spent the rest of his life wandering the Italian peninsula serving various noble courts. He brought them prestige, and they let him use their libraries.

It was there, in those libraries, where he wrote his epic poem—a journey he claims he actually took down through the underworld, up the mountain of purgatory, and straight-up through the heavens. He called the poem the Comedy. (Another Florentine author one generation removed, Giovanni Boccaccio, would add the superlative ‘Divine’ to the title.)

The Comedy was an immediate smash—copied and recopied, read and re-read out loud for all to hear and to enjoy. As the first epic poem since antiquity to be written in the vernacular, Dante’s journey was meant to be understood by everyone, not just scholars and nobles.

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graphic by Betty Soldi

Dante fills his tale with well-known names from history, from The Bible, from Greek and Roman mythology, but also with contemporary figures—ones that would raise eyebrows and elicit both hidden smiles and out-loud-gasps from readers. It is just one way he ensures that we are there with him, adventuring along with the poet-pilgrim on this terrifying and exhilarating ride.

It is a salvation story and a hero’s journey all rolled into one. It is, Dante tells us, also our story—if we want it to be. Offering a sort of existential road map to a happy ending, the Comedy is proof, to paraphrase Robert Frost, that the best way out is through.

All of us who have lived through this incredibly trying pandemic year know a little something about that kind of resiliency now. It is a truly glorious thing that we can read Dante’s Divine Comedy 700 years after it was written and find that universal truth inside. And that alone is worth celebrating.

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We hope you will join us on Wednesday, December 9th at 12 PM EST, 6 PM CET for on my IG Live for walk through of the Florentine holiday lights, which are dedicated to Dante Alighieri for the very first time.

Alexandra Lawrence is an expert in the language and art of Italy. She has lived in Florence for over 20 years, where she is a lecturer of art history and contemporary Italian cultural studies. While completing her graduate work in Italian Language and Literature, Alexandra concentrated primarily on writers and poets and their relationship to the visual arts—a subject that continues to inform her work.

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Alexandra is an accredited guide for Italian museums and archeological sites, and has worked with several high-profile clients including England’s royal family. Her walks are featured in Condé Nast Traveler as one of the ‘Best 16 Things to Do in Florence’.

In 2020, she founded Forma Sideris, a space to have guided conversations about Italy and its art, literature, culture, and history. She is currently offering a virtual 6-week course on the Divine Comedy which will begin in January 2021. For more on ‘Divine Dante’, please see the course page here.

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