Monday, December 30, 2013

Musings...My Most Memorable New Year's Eves

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I have spent a wide array of New Year's eves in all sorts of places, with different people, alone and in love.  I don't recall many that were memorable in a glitzy kind of way,  but I definitely remember one that was historic, another that was pretty tacky,  and yet another that was just downright embarrassing, all in a memorable way.

New Year's Eve has always been a bittersweet moment for me.  I don't ever recall looking forward to it.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, many years ago, it was the day that my world, as I knew it, came to an end.  Little did I know then that, a little more than a year later, I would be living in another country where eventually I would embrace a different kind of life from the one I had anticipated for myself.

The Havana Country Club in the 1950's

On the evening of December 31, 1958, while  most Cubans were celebrating the coming of the new year, Cuba's dictator Fulgencio Batista had already made plans to leave the country.  Most of my parent's friends were enjoying the festivities at the Havana Country Club or the Havana Yacht Club, or at one of the famous nightclubs like the Sans Souci or the Tropicana.  A few people, like my parents, had decided to play it low key and were entertaining their friends at home.   One of my cousins and a group of friends of Batista's eldest son were at the Presidential Palace where a big bash was underway.

I was too young to be anywhere but old enough to know what was going on in the country.  Things were ready to explode and they did.  Shortly after midnight the phone started ringing at my parent's house and the party came to an abrupt end.  Guests began to depart in a big hurry.  It was the same everywhere, in the clubs and in the streets, everyone wanted to get back to the safety of their own homes.  News of Batista's departure were fast circulating and the whole city was in chaos. 

In less than 24 hours, our world went from this:

My cousin Margarita Sanchez (second from left in white) at the Havana Country Club on New Year's Eve. Photo Courtesy of J.P. Rathbone

To this:

And a week later to this:

 If you have seen the Godfather Part II that is as close as you will ever come to experiencing the moment.

It is tough to top New Year's Eve in Havana 1958 but, throughout the years, there have been many spent in my new country. ..fifty five to be exact!  Some have been memorable, many have been just another night.

 One I always remember is the one in New York City, at Times Square no less, when as a college student I was stuck with my roommate's nerdy brother for the night.  She took off with her boyfriend and left me alone at her parent's apartment with someone who had no idea of what the word fun meant. Desperate for something interesting to do, all he could come up with was walking to Times Square and watching the ball drop.  I was too stupid or too shy to say no.  The worst part was walking back from Times Square to Fifth Avenue in the bitter cold.  I have to give him credit, it was tacky but it was memorable and something I will never forget, in a bad kind of way.

Kathy Bates in About Schmmidt

Then there was the one in the late 70's, in the days of Andy Warhol and the Studio 54 gang.  My husband and I attended a small dinner party of  close friends and their friends, many of whom we did not know.  Beautiful people, beautiful table, great wines and plenty of Crystal.  Shortly after midnight the beautiful people began to disappear and soon I was the only one sitting in the living room.  Everybody, except for my husband and me, was in the big hot tub, stark naked, and having a great time.   My husband, fully clad and cocktail in hand,  kept going back and forth between the two groups.  He knew there was no way I would shed my little black dress and get into that tub but he wanted to be cool about it and pretend nothing out of the ordinary was going on. To say I was embarrassed, furious and distraught is an understatement.    We left shortly afterwards and didn't speak a word until the next day when we roared with laughter over coffee and scrambled eggs!

There have been many New Year's spent skiing in Vermont or sailing in the Caribbean.  Those were just delightful, especially the latter.  There have been some spent sick in bed, as last year's, and others spent with family and friends at parties big and small.  On the eve of the new millennium I gave a beautiful dinner for close friends, one of my best efforts and proudest moments.

All in all, good times but nothing to write a book about, although I think the top three more than make up for the rest, at least in originality.  And my plans for tomorrow night? A good movie, a good dinner and a good bottle of Champagne with my daughter, the Sous Chef and the Cleanup Crew.  Now that's what I call a memorable time!

I would love to hear about your most memorable New Year's Eve, good and bad.  Grab a cocktail and tell me all about it!

Have a Happy New Year!

For those of you who check in for the recipes don't despair....  I go back to those in the new year!


Top photo Pamela Hanson
Photo # 2 John Paul Rathbone, The Sugar King of Havana
Next to last photo Lindaraxa
The rest Google

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Teddy Bear Christmas Tea At Callanwolde

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Last weekend I spent the most enjoyable afternoon of the whole year.   Together with my granddaughter, Taylor, and her teddy bear, Flora, I attended a Christmas tea at Callanwolde, the former home of the Coca Cola founders here in Atlanta.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Callanwolde was built in 1920 as the home of Charles Howard Candler, eldest son of Asa Candler – famed founder of The Coca-Cola Company.  From December  6 to December 17 the house, now a fine arts center, is dressed for the holidays by some of Atlanta's major interior and floral designers.  Every room inspires and captures the spirit of the season.


Christmas at Callanwolde offers a variety of opportunities to celebrate the season, including tours of the house and special events like the Teddy Bear Tea I attended with my granddaughter.  To say it was memorable for her, and for me, is a major understatement.  I had never been to Callanwolde but, having been to a lot of these houses in my lifetime, I sort of knew what to expect.  What I was not prepared for was the hospitality, warmth and holiday spirit of the event.  Everything, to the last detail, was carefully and beautifully planned.

The main entrance

My granddaughter and Flora, her teddy bear, arrive for tea at Callanwolde

Lindaraxa in the making

Okay Nani, this is getting boring.....

The main staircase

Taylor, Flora and Nani

The guests having tea served by volunteer members

 Each place setting had a teddy bear cookie, a wish list for Santa and real porcelain teacups!
The tea buffet, including tea sandwiches, cookies, scones, cakes

'Getting ready for Santa
Santa meets Flora
An in-depth discussion of the gift list.....(notice Santa's goggles)
And here we are....the end!

As my readers know by now,  Lindaraxa is not easily impressed.  This tea, on the other hand, will go down as one of the most memorable events I have ever attended.  I know that being there with my granddaughter had a lot to do with it but, notwithstanding, the way it was planned and presented also deserves a lot of credit.  Everything was top notch.  No paper plates or tablecloths and real tea cups with real tea! It was more, much more, than I expected.

People have asked me if I will take her again next year.  Of course I will if she wants to go; but when something this special happens by surprise, it's best to leave it alone and look forward to the next .  I have always said a good time can't be planned, it just happens.  It can be New Year's Eve in black tie or New Year's Eve in jeans by the fireplace or at the beach.  Don't try to plan in anticipation of a good time, but enjoy it when it comes and savor every moment of it.

Merry Christmas to all
and to all
a good night

All photos Lindaraxa except #2 and #9 Callenwolde

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Lunch...Maybe

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Last year, on December 21, I had planned a dinner party for neighbors and friends that I had to cancel at the last minute.  Remember the flu from hell? Of course you do, I told you about it again and again since it lasted for close to six weeks.  That time I sent the ducks and some of the hors d'oeuvres in baskets to the neighbors together with some wine.  I was so terribly sorry.

This year, on the same date, it is not the flu but the weather that is between me and my luncheon.   There is a terrible storm forecasted for the area with downpours and flooding.  My son has already called and alerted me that he is not going to risk the life of his family for a luncheon in this weather.  He can get pretty dramatic when it comes to his loved ones.  I don't blame him, neither would I.  We will know for sure in the morning but I have my misgivings.

The table has already been set and some things baked but a lot can be saved for another day.  Thank heavens we live in an era were most everything can be frozen.  My daughter and I have been thinking of inviting the next door neighbors if the weather is really bad.  Wouldn't that be a hoot! Saturn must be in retrograde.  I am only thinking of Madame Mere's fabulous Ile Flotante which I made this morning and serves 14.  Just the thought of that temptation sitting in the refrigerator makes me seriously consider inviting  the firemen of our little town whom I'm sure would appreciate a hearty meal.  Just the thought of it makes my day.

Luckily I am having the same number of people for Christmas day so the table can remain as is.  One less thing to worry about.  At least there are no flowers to consider.


Next year, if you hear I'm having a Christmas Party on December 21st,  PLEASE SHOOT ME! or remind me:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

All photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Almond And Apricot Rugelach

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I must have some Jewish blood in me because these are one of my favorite cookies.  They are so easy to make and look so complicated.  People think you are a real artist and baker when presented with a plate of these for afternoon tea.

I like to bake rugelach at this time of the year for those I call the weary travellers.  You know, the ones who arrive by car or plane in the middle of the day, too late for lunch and too early for a drink.  I always feel I have to offer them something but not too much to spoil the evening cocktails just around the corner.  These and a cup of tea or coffee fit the bill. 

This recipe is a mix of an old one I had and Dorie Greenspan's method for making the dough. 

Almonds and apricots are a match made in heaven, but feel free to substitute your favorite jam.

Almond And Apricot Rugelach

For the Dough
4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp almond extract

For the Filling
1/2 cup apricot jam or marmalade
3/4 cup slivered almonds finely chopped

For the Glaze
1 large egg beaten
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Makes 32 cookies



 Let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes — you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.

Put all the dough ingredients in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds — don't work it so long that it forms a ball on the blade.

Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (Wrapped airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)

Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (Silicone baking mats are great for rugelach.)


Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. If it is too firm to roll easily, either leave it on the counter for about 10 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 11- to 12-inch circle. Spoon (or brush) half the apricot jam over the dough, and sprinkle over half of the almonds.  Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch.

Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges, or triangles. (The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters, then to cut each quarter into 4 triangles.)

Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll-ups on one baking sheet, points side up, and refrigerate.

Repeat with the second packet of dough, and refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking. (The cookies can be covered and refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; don't defrost before baking, just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.)

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat the egg and using a pastry brush  paint this glaze over each rugelach.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until they are puffed and golden. Transfer the cookies to racks, sprinkle with confectioners sugar  and cool to just warm or to room temperature.

STORING: The cookies can be kept covered at room temperature for up to 3 days or wrapped airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Coco's First Christmas Tree

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We had just finished putting up the Christmas tree when Coco decided that this was a tree she could nap under.

Needless to say, the Sous Chef was not pleased,  particularly since the spot Coco had chosen was right under her favorite ornament....the white teddy bear!

Years ago, right from the time she first saw it, Lucy decided that the white teddy bear ornament was her toy.  Every year we find the teddy bear on the floor.  Every year we move it and down it comes again, and again.  We don't want to put it up too high for fear she will jump right into the tree to get it.  If you don't believe me you don't know the mind of a terrier...especially a Westie. 

Coco, on the other hand has spotted the white doves and the owl up top but can't decide how to tackle the climb.  Too many ornaments luckily stand between her and the bird.  

Think I'm kidding?

That's her up top coming down

My heart stood still when I spotted her yesterday, again circling the tree, with her eyes fixated on that owl.  Bad idea but too late to take down.  Luckily, she decided to take a nap instead.  Another disaster averted...for now.

There must be a way...Sleepy


Dead to the world

I wonder how much Purina would pay for this shot

Between now and Christmas I will be posting more often than I normally do.   Those of you who read my blog with coffee on Sunday mornings will find postings during the week instead, as Lindaraxa also has a social life,of sorts, and will be busy as a bee during the holidays.

Tomorrow I take my five year old granddaughter and her teddy bear, Flora, to a Christmas Teddy Bear Tea  at Callanwolde in Atlanta.  Callanwolde is a magnificent Gothic Tudor house and the former home of the Candler family, founders of Coca Cola.  It is now a fine arts center.  Every year the house is decorated for Christmas and there are lots of holiday events including this sit down tea and visit with Santa.  I can't wait and will definitely post about it.


There are lots of Christmas recipes and menus on the blog so check out the Master list or do a search.  You know the drill.

All photos Lindaraxa

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chanterelles With Madeira Over Crispy Baked Polenta

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I know at this time of the year I should be posting something Christmasie, like holiday cookies or a menu for Christmas Eve; but cookies are not my strong suit plus these were too good to pass up.

If you have a Costco near you and are lucky, really lucky, you will find chanterelles in the produce area this week.   By that I mean the cold storage area where you have to walk in with a fur coat.  I found a box of these babies a couple of days ago for less than $6.  Since then, I have been pondering what to do with my treasure, knowing full well that when you have something this good you don't gild the lily.  So, into the pan they went with butter, shallots, garlic and some Madeira.  Good enough,  but over what ?  After eliminating toast because it was the evening meal and spaghetti as too plebeian,  I came to seriously consider polenta.  But how?  I didn't want it to be so good and creamy as to interfere with the mushrooms so I decided on baked, very thin and slightly crisp.

Chanterelles are not only my favorite, they are also one of the most important and best edible mushrooms. As a group, they are generally described as being rich in flavor, with a distinctive taste and aroma difficult to characterize. Some species have a fruity odor, others a more woody, earthy fragrance, and still others can even be considered spicy. The golden chanterelle is perhaps the most sought-after and flavorful chanterelle, and many chefs consider it on the same short list of gourmet fungi as truffles and morels. They, therefore, command a high price in both restaurants and specialty stores.

There are many ways to cook chanterelles. Most of the flavorful compounds in chanterelles are fat-soluble making them good mushrooms to sauté in butter, oil or cream. They also contain smaller amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavorings, which lend the mushrooms well to recipes involving wine or other cooking alcohols. Many popular methods of cooking chanterelles include them in sautés, soufflés, cream sauces, and soups. They are not typically eaten raw, as their rich and complex flavor is best released when cooked.*

 Chanterelles have an enormous amount of water and have to be cooked twice.   First to take out the water and second to brown and finish off, quickly.  I had no idea were it not for one of my Bibles,  La Cuisine de Ma Mere which features a couple of recipes for girolles as they are also called.  Goes to show you what one finds out when one has a food blog and can't afford to mess up.  As you can see, I wasn't kidding.

To say I enjoyed them immensely is an understatement.  They were probably the most flavorful mushrooms I have ever eaten and perfectly cooked.  Although I had had them in restaurants, I had never cooked them at home.  Frankly, I had never found them in season anywhere until this week at dear old Costco.  Who would have thought!

 This dish is great for a light meal, lunch, or first course.  You can enjoy the mushrooms alone as a side dish with steaks or over toast. It goes well with a salad, especially arugula.  Serve a good red wine such as the one I had below.  Don't skimp.  These are too good and too special to serve with bad stuff.

Chanterelles With Madeira Over Crispy Baked Polenta

Serves 4 

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.


1/2 cup polenta or stone ground grits  Cook as per instructions.

1 lbs Chanterelle mushrooms
1 Tb olive oil
4 TB butter
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, mashed and diced
1/2 Cup Madeira wine, you can substitute a dry Sherry
Parsley or tarragon, optional
Parmigiano Reggiano


Make the polenta first.  For 4 people I made 1/2 cup polenta. Follow the package instructions but make it simple, with milk and plenty of butter.  Spread thin in an 8X 8 square pan and let it cool until it sets.

Cut out the stems and chop 1 lbs of Chanterelles into large pieces.  Chop the stems into small dice.

In a skillet, melt 1 TB olive oil on medium and add the mushrooms.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  You will see how much water comes out.

Transfer to a colander and squeeze out as much water as you can with the help of a wooden spoon.  I had over 1/2 cup which I saved for another use.

Melt 2 TB of butter in the skillet.  Add 1 shallot diced and two garlic cloves, mashed and diced.  Cook until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Turn heat back up to high, add 1/2 cup Madeira wine and reduce by half.  Add the mushrooms, toss and reduce by another quarter, leaving some in the pan.  If you want, add parsley or tarragon.  Off the heat add 2 TB butter. Let it rest until the polenta is ready.

Bake the cool polenta for 10 minutes at 500 degrees.  Turn the heat down to 450 degrees and bake another 10 minutes until it is a golden yellow.  Turn the broiler to high and broil about 5 minutes or until it begins to crisp and brown.  Take out and let it rest for about half an hour.

Cut the polenta in squares, add some Parmesan Cheese and top with the mushroom ragu.

Enjoy with a good French Bordeaux like a bottle of La Chapelle de la Mission Haut Brion 2003, the second wine of the famous chateau.

All photos Lindaraxa

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