Category Archives: Holidays

Reasons to Gather: Friends, Risotto, and Pinot Noir

Our friends Kimberly and Scott invited us over for a taste of Scott’s famous risotto and some very special boutique wine (who could say “no” to that?). Alexander greeted us and gave us a whirlwind tour of their family’s holiday traditions: the tree decorating, the stockings (hung on the windowsill, not on the hearth), the nativity scene hand-made from corn husks by his grandmother, the nutcracker painting made by his brother Patrick, and the Elf on the Shelf game.

Meanwhile, Kimberly and Scott were preparing a knock-out blue cheese, grape, and walnut pizza (Kimberly is not a fan of blue cheese, so when I heard her rave about this pizza, I knew it had to be a winner). Scott corked some Road 31 Pinot Noir (formerly Green Truck Cellars), and we sank our teeth into the first bite of a very heavenly meal.

When we arrived, Scott had been preparing the risotto on the stove, but the boys – Alexander and Patrick – were in for a special treat: spaghetti and meatball marinara all the way from an Italian market in Cincinnati, OH. It had me wishing I had a seat at the kids’ table.

Scott didn’t let us adults down. We have been hearing rumors of his risotto for the past two months, and finally, the winter break from classes afforded us the opportunity to dine chez leur. The risotto (which included a full two cups of Albariño and a generous amount of freshly-grated Parmesan cheese) was topped with a warm sautée of sausage, onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes. Divinity!

Kimberly wasn’t about to let her husband steal the spotlight. She prepared a rich, yet fluffy, Mexican chocolate cake with walnuts. Served with a glass (or two) of Tawny Port, it was the perfect way to top off a holiday evening with friends.

We left Kimberly and Scott’s home with full bellies and a long list of restaurants and B&B’s to try in Charleston, NC. Thank you for a wonderful evening. The next one’s on us!

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Filed under Dinner, Food, Friends, Holidays, Photography, Wine

New Holiday Traditions

My husband and I got hitched in October of 2010, but we were together for three years prior to our nuptials. Thus far, we’ve spent one Christmas apart and two together. This year, we’ll return to the snowy Midwest to be with my folks. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of figuring out who to visit when and how to balance time between families, we’re trying to shape some of our own holiday traditions, as well. My favorite new Harpins tradition is by far the cartoon and breakfast cereal chow-a-thon.

(image credit: sceneunseenpodcast.com)

Typically on the 22nd or 23rd of December (before traveling to visit family) we savor bowl after bowl of kid-friendly (read: sugar-coated) cereals. Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms, Golden Grahams, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch always make an appearance, and this year, we might even bust out the Count Chocula. While indulging in the sweet flavors of childhood, we watch holiday classics – like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Elf. Lounging in our PJ’s by the “fire” (aka, a space heater), we store up on much needed R&R before heading off to busy airports and packed houses.

(image credit: abc.go.com)

What are your family’s holiday traditions? Please leave a comment. Follow this link for a video Holiday Greeting from Harpins!

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Filed under Family, Food, Holidays, Traditions

Giving Thanks

First anniversary - we made it!

I’m thankful for my husband. He puts up with a lot – my mood swings, some tears, my obsessive compulsive personality, and my long ramblings about what happened today and why it was such a BIG deal. After all of this, he still rakes leaves and gives me back rubs. He takes the dogs out at 2:00 in the morning when I’m too lazy, and he rides the moped in the cold weather because I’m a wuss.

Bella the Cat

I’m thankful for my pets. My dogs Orson and Nana jump all over me and wag their tails all around just because I come home after work each day! They also have a wonderful smell. If the verb “home” could have a smell, it would smell like my dogs. My cat Bella is a diva. She wants people to open and close doors for her (even though she can use the pet door), and she wants to be picked up and carried past the dogs (even though she knows perfectly well that they’re harmless and she could totally take them). My pets can sense when I’m having a bad day, and their temperaments change. The dogs settle down and the cat becomes more affectionate. I love this sixth sense of theirs. It’s like they have a emotional radar or something.

With Mom and Dad in Zihuatanejo

I’m thankful for my parents, who worked their whole lives so that their kids could have innumerable luxuries and opportunities. As an adult, I’m finally beginning to appreciate how much work they do everyday and that doesn’t include raising kids – because my husband and I haven’t gotten that far yet. Sans kids, the adult stuff (i.e., taxes, cars, insurance, bills, work, relationships) is really hard. I hate to say they told me so, but yes, I do miss those days when I was a kid. And yes, I do understand what life is really like now that I’m older.

Sisters don't let sisters get married without lip gloss

I’m thankful for my sister. She’s so smart, beautiful, and hardworking. She’s my confidant, my adviser, and my friend. And she’s the only person who can eat more ice cream, more often, than I can and still not have it “go to her hips.” Way to go girl. No matter what my sister does in life, she’s going to be successful. Caitlin, if you’re reading this, take a break from the books and have some fun.

Peter and Kate on their wedding day

I’m thankful for my friends Peter and Kate. They are two of my best friends who happen to be married to one another, which makes it really convenient for me to keep in touch with both of them. They are always there to support me in good times and in bad, and they’re always down for a fun time. I’m amazed that a med student and a future business tycoon (the good kind) have time for a crunchy-granola friend like me. Peter visits RVA once a month, and Kate calls “her wife” religiously. Gracias amigos!

St. Christopher's students and faculty in formation for the commemorative Saintennial photo

I’m thankful for my colleagues at St. Christopher’s and St. Catherine’s. I’ve never felt so welcomed by a community in all my life. Literally, I have felt at home since my first day at both of these schools. The faculty are amazing. They can switch from talking about pedagogy to tatooes in about 30 seconds. I’m proud to be a small part of such an accomplished and fun group.

Who wouldn't want to pet-sit for these angels???

I’m thankful for my neighbors Gene and Julie Bruner. These guys are rockstars. Not only do they manage their own jobs, family, and pets, but they also pitch in once every two weeks to help us with our pets. We couldn’t ask for more generous and kind neighbors. Oh, and did I mention that they’re both runners and Gene is a bad-ass kayaker and stand-up-paddler? Totally cool. My neighbor can out run and probably beat up your neighbor.

I’m thankful for blogging, because – aside from cooking – it’s my only outlet for creative expression. I’ve never been able to draw, paint, or sculpt; I stopped playing the piano in high school; and I definitely can’t carry a tune. I’m not much of a fiction writer (in fact, I don’t consider myself much of a non-fiction writer either), but I do find that blogging about my life, my family, and my reactions to the world around me is a fantastically cathartic process. I wish I had more time to blog (and to cook). Perhaps I’ll take the Post-a-Week Challenge in 2012…

Happy Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?

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Filed under Family, Friends, Holidays, Pets

Angel Food Cake with 7-Minute Icing and Summer Berries

Every Fourth of July my Grandma and I make an angel food cake (from a box) with 7-Minute Icing (from scratch). Fourth of July is probably the only hot holiday in Minnesota, so we take full advantage of the “summer heat” by preparing a suitable light dessert. Independence Day also happens to be my birthday, and aside from the usual “Born on the 4th of July!” comments that I get, a lot of people want to know why I want to make my own birthday cake. I think it’s less about the work (after all, I am using a cake mix) and more about the time I get to spend with my Grandma. We’ve been baking this cake since I was in high school, and it’s one of my favorite summer rituals.

Here I am a high schooler, with my traditional bday cake and my beautiful grandma Louise!

I won’t bore you with how to make a box angel food cake – the Betty Crocker package instructions are quite accurate! – but I will share a few tips we’ve learned along the way, as well as a recipe for making  7-minute icing.

The first thing you want to do when you take the cake out of the oven is to turn it upside down right away. They sell angel food cake pan “stands,” but a bottle of Tabasco hot sauce works just as well.

When the cake is fully cooled, use a knife or flat spatula to loosen the sides and remove it from the pan.

Gently remove any crumbs from the cake, as they can be a nuisance when frosting. Allow the cake to cool completely.

To make the frosting, create a double boiler out of a medium saucepan and a medium mixing bowl. Fill the saucepan with water until the level is just below the bottom of the mixing bowl (do not let the bowl sit in water). REMOVE the mixing bowl from the saucepan before you heat the water. Turn the burner on high until the water boils, then reduce to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together 2 egg whites, 1/3 c. water, 1 c. plus 2 T. sugar, 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt in the mixing bowl. Once combined, place bowl over simmering water and beat mixture on low speed for about 1 minute.

Gradually increase the speed of your mixer to high, until the frosting forms stiff peaks (about 5 minutes). Be sure to periodically lift the side of the mixing bowl slightly to allow some steam to escape. You don’t want to end up like my great-aunt and have 7-Minute Icing all over your kitchen walls!

Remove mixture from heat and beat for 2 minutes more.  Gently fold in 1 T. vanilla.

Frost the cake immediately. For best results, begin frosting the cake from the top (use more than you think you’ll need)…

…then spread the extra frosting over the sides. Use a flat spatula or knife to smooth the top and sides.

For Independence Day, we decorated our cake with blueberries and fresh strawberries from my uncle Jamie’s garden.

Happy (belated) Independence Day from Chef Louise and Sous-Chef Sarah!

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Filed under Birthdays, Family, Food, Grandmothers, Holidays, Nostalgia, Recipes, Traditions