Jingle Bells

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in….the backseat of a Honda Pilot holding a mug of hot chocolate in your hand, laughing with friends, and peeping at Christmas lights!

Jeff and I had such a fun night with our friends Mark and Lu and their kids last night.  We were invited to their house for a casual dinner before our First Annual Christmas Light Ride.  Lu made three (yes, an overachiever if ever there was one and more energy than anyone I know) kinds of soup and had fixings for sandwiches.  The soups were D’licious!  She made a chick pea soup that you top to taste with fresh cilantro, a warm baked potato and bacon soup that you top to taste with shredded cheese, and a spicy lamb and veggie soup.  All were incredibly warming and homey.  And the sandwich fixings were definitely not your ordinary deli.  There were several kinds of bread including jalapeno cheese bread (mmm mmm mmm), different meats and cheeses, a bevy of condiments and toppings.  What a terrific meal.

And since Jeff and I don’t have kids of our own, it is a nice change of pace to have dinner in a house full of activity and some great sarcastic humor.  It was the funny banter between siblings that you just can’t get anywhere else sprinkled with movie quotes and an obvious love for one another!!!

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Happy Birthday, Robbin!

Last night Jeff and I were so fortunate to celebrate our friend Robbin’s birthday with her and her husband, Matt.  We went on an adventure to the Cameron/Masland Mansion at Kings Gap for the Friends of Kings Gap Music on the Mountain – Evening of Jazz.

Perhaps you’ve been to Kings Gap State Park.  For me it was the first trip, but definitely not the last.  I cannot wait to go back for a hike, to view their gardens (which are maintained by Friends of Kings Gap Volunteers and Penn State Master Gardeners in Cumberland County) and/or for a tour of the parts of the mansion we didn’t see this time.

We made our trip in the dark and didn’t get to experience the full beauty of all the park has to offer – Kings Gap State Park boasts a panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley, has 16 hiking trails, many environmental programs, and encompasses over 2,500 acres of forest on South Mountain.  But the drive up to the mansion was incredible.  The four of us agreed that it would be a great setting for a spooky Halloween ride!  The long, winding road to the top of the mountain is thickly wooded and as you drive the dark road you expect to see all kinds of glowing eyes staring at you!

We made it to the top of the mountain unscathed and ready for some great music.  We were warmly greeted and acclimated to the rooms we’d be enjoying for the evening.  There was a bar with several wine and soft drink offerings and a buffet of both savory and sweet offerings. We each ordered a glass of wine and we found a table with a nice view of the “stage” for the evening and easy access to the refreshments.

The music was played by the Steve Rudolph Trio.  If you’ve spent any time at the Hilton in Harrisburg  you may recognize the name.  Steve Rudolph presented live jazz at the Hilton from 1990 through 2012.  Unfortunately, since the hotel was recently sold, it looks like that great tradition will not continue.  The trio was exceptional, playing some ballads and some livelier numbers – most with an introduction from Steve.  I left wondering if all bass players have to make faces in order to play well!!!!

The buffet included many cheeses, fruit, vegetables, some savory appetizers (one of which was cabbage strudel, which was a nostalgic treat for me – my grandmother used to make cabbage strudel a few times a year and when she did it was a big deal), several dessert offerings, and hot beverages.

 

Jeff and I always enjoy spending time with Matt and Robbin – whether it’s at a church event, a baseball game, or an event like last evening in great company in a beautiful setting with terrific music, good food and a glass of wine.  We are honored to have been invited to celebrate with them and are glad to have learned about a great state park to which we will surely return for hiking, kayaking, to explore the gardens and to attend future events.  Perhaps the next trip will be in just a few weeks.

The Friends of Kings Gap offers two dates for Holiday Open House where you can listen to seasonal music, enjoy light refreshments, and take a self-guided tour of the stone “villa” known as the Cameron/Masland Mansion.  The dates are December 2, 2012 and December 9, 2012. So if you’re looking for a new way to begin the holiday season, I’d recommend a trip to the mansion at Kings Gap State Park.

Happy Birthday, Robbin – I think we received the gift!

A Treat for All the Senses

This afternoon I was in the basement looking for canning supplies and jars when my self-diagnosed A.D.D. got the best of me, which happens quite often.  I rarely start a task without being distracted by something else….in fact, I think that’s the reason I could never clean my room in less than 2 days when I was a kid!

I was walking around the basement looking at boxes that should have been unpacked by now – seeing as we moved into this house over three years ago – and a box with “Jan College” written on the side caught my eye.  Inside I found something that perhaps I should have considered foreshadowing many years ago….a writing assignment from my English Comp 101 class, the subject of which was cooking!

If you will indulge me, I’ll share this writing entitled ‘A Treat for All the Senses’ from February 20, 1999:

“Cooking is not simply a hobby for me, it is a passion.  I do not just use cookbooks, I pore over them like the lover of literature reads the finest novels.  I have often thought about becoming a professional chef – in fact, the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America thrills me each Saturday when I watch cooking shows on PBS; but I wonder, if I had to cook, is it likely that I would not want to cook?  I believe the reason I enjoy cooking so much is that this is a relaxing activity that affects all my senses.

The repetition of chopping and stirring helps to relax me.  They are activities that allow me to focus on what I am doing and forget about the problems of the day.  As I write this, I can easily recall the feeling of my arm going methodically in circles or figure-eights around a pan in which onions are sizzling in butter. Some days the sounds of the kitchen are more melodious to me than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  As I stir the onions, which I know will become the color of sweet caramel, their wonderful aroma wafts up through the air into my expectant nostrils as surely as the scent of the lilacs in spring.  However, this is just the beginning.

As much as I enjoy the actual preparation of the food, the presentation of the meal I have labored over is also important to me.  I do not merely put the food onto the plate; I arrange it as carefully as the artist places paints on canvas.  I pay close attention to the contrast of colors and textures, the arrangements of shapes, the height of the finished product and the placement of the final touch – the garnish.  I know that seeing a well-presented plate delights the eye and gets the mouth watering.  Good presentation is as important as good taste.

In my opinion, cooking does not stop when the food is on the plate.  It also includes the ambiance of the dining room, the music played during dinner, the wine served and the company in which the meal is eaten.  Each of these things, if well planned, can add to the culinary experience.  Generally, when I cook for guests, I use my finest china and linen napkins.  I take great care when setting the table.  I usually use candles and something from nature – whether it be flowers in spring and summer, pine boughs in winter or leaves in autumn – to set the mood.  I play music that is soothing and turn the lights so that people can see their plates, but do not feel as though they are in an interrogation room.  When everything is ready, I serve the dishes I created.

Many people think that taste is the only thing to take into consideration when cooking.  I, on the other hand, believe that cooking affects the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – not only of those people who eat the food, but also of those who have prepared it.  Cooking is more than a task to me, it is a delightful experience that allows me to relax and fills up my senses.”

Reading the comments of my long ago professor gives me hope that I can use this blog and my love of food to communicate with people and, in some cases, bring back memories for the reader.  The professor wrote, “You’ve described fine dining.  I miss that a lot from my mother…a lot of good food, a tablecloth, candles.  You are so right.  Your guests are very fortunate.”

As I read over my words, I realize that a few things have changed.  It’s not so important to use my finest china any more – I have aged a bit and understand that sometimes the bumps and dents of everyday life add character that the finest china cannot.  The lights are a little brighter during a meal because Jeff and I don’t see as well as we used to in dim lighting.  And ever since my mom set her napkin on fire during Easter dinner, I am more careful with the candles.

I also realize that some things have not changed….my passion for cooking, eating and entertaining, the joy I get from friends and family around the table, and the way I use food to express love to and serve others.