Merry Christmas – Some Last Minute Advice

Izzy Extends His Holiday Wishes

Last Minute Gift Giving

My wife Christina and I have both been incredibly busy. Me working – with your help – in spreading the word about At Home; and, Christina on re-settling our Fairmount Avenue operation into the Franklin Institute where we have begun operating the restaurants. (Come to our Cajun Christmas Festival at The Franklin Institute from December 26th to January 3rd.) So neither of us have had much time for holiday shopping. Christina has extended the period of our holiday celebration to Twelfth Night which, over dinner last night, we calculated to be January 5th. In the event you have tighter gift giving deadlines, here are some last minute suggestions:

Dessert Wine
Dessert wines are sorely under appreciated. Read the following note from At Home and then see some suggestions below.

High-Quality Sweet Wines
They may not be very popular, but I’ve never known anyone who tasted a high quality sweet wine for the first time who wasn’t delighted and amazed. Sweet wines range in price from relatively inexpensive to extraordinarily expensive, and pairing them with food is not a simple business. With few exceptions, sweet wines are dessert wines. The pinnacle of these are Sauternes from Bordeaux and lateharvest German wines. California also produces some sweet wines of distinction. They’re generally produced from grapes that have been allowed to stay on the vine beyond a typical harvest time. The term late harvest refers to this sweet process. In sweet wine–producing regions, a fungus that occurs naturally in the soil attacks the wine grapes. The fungus effectively punctures the skin of the grape and allows some evaporation of water and concentration of the natural sugars in the grape prior to picking. This lets the winemaker ferment the wine and produce the desired level of alcohol while maintaining a natural sweetness. The high-quality product contains extraordinary depth and complexity, with a honeyed sweetness that’s not cloying. These wines are the true nectar of the gods.

The following wines should be available in Pennsylvania State Store. If not available, try to find something similar at about the prices indicated. If possible, seek the advice of a store employee. Typically you drink small portions of dessert wine so a 375 ml or half bottle will provide enough wine for 4-6 servings.

Bonny Doon Muscat Vin De Glaciere   ½ bottle  $17.99
Bonny Doon Viognier Doux  ½ bottle  $18.99
Eos Tears of Dew  $19.99
Robert Mondavi Moscato D’Oro ½ bottle $16.99
These next two are premium French sauternes — extravagant, but worth it.
Chateau Rieussec Sauternes  $93.99
Chateau Suduiraut  $93.99

A Good Bottle of Sake
I will spend more time in the new year talking about sake. But, if the only sake you know is none or not much, there is an entire new beverage world waiting for you or your gift recipient. Sake is actually brewed like beer – though other than technique there is no flavor similarity. Made from rice and served chilled, fine sake is more like fine white wine with much of the flavor notes found in wines. In Pennsylvania we have a very limited supply, but there are a few good bottles. Expect to pay at least $25 for a good sake and much more for great sake. Worth it.

A Good Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine is to gift giving as the black dress is to cocktail dresses – not original, but always appropriate. If you are going to bother giving sparkling wine, give something a notch or two up from what you would buy for yourself. You can’t go wrong with a Veuve Cliquot – a French champagne with the iconographic orange label. ($59.95) For an American selection think about a Schramsberg Brut Rose ($39.95). Schramsberg is the classic American vintner of sparkling wine.

A Promissory Note for an Herb Garden
You don’t need a green thumb to plant and nurture a successful herb garden. Giving the promise to plant an herb garden come Spring – in containers or a sunny spot in a backyard — is a very special gift and one of those proverbial gifts that keep on giving. The following is a note from At Home.

Planting an Herb Garden
Here’s a list of herbs for a nice but not exotic herb garden. Basil (Thai if you can find it). Thyme, preferably lemon thyme. Sage. Cilantro. Fennel, preferably bronze for the color. Chervil (though this is very heat sensitive and doesn’t do well in the height of summer). Lemon verbena. Rosemary. Several varieties of mint. It’s also fun to add a Thai pepper plant. Since parsley and dill are plentiful and pretty inexpensive in the supermarket, I usually don’t plant them. Also, I don’t think of dill as a summer herb, but one associated with cuisines of colder climates. Get the herbs in as early as you can. Herbs like sun, but don’t require it all day. If you get more than you can use for your normal cooking, add them to a salad. The ultimate herbal extravagance is an all herb salad with just a bit of olive oil, a touch of lemon juice and good salt and pepper.

Here are links to previous blogs about gift suggestions.

At Home’s Stocking Stuffers

At Home’s Top 5 Holiday Gifts for Home Entertainers

Last Minute Advice for Guests

1. Do Not Arrive Early. (My goal always is for your host to get one relaxed hour prior to your arrival. Your early arrival does not help my goal, or, more importantly, your host, who does not need you as an un-scheduled distraction from getting ready for you.)
2. Stay out of the kitchen unless helping or invited.
3. Help out.

Last Minute Advice for Hosts

It’s great that you are hosting a holiday celebration. Whatever you do is good enough. Do not fret. Relax. Ask for help. Enjoy yourself.

Merry Christmas

I want to thank you for the support you have provided since the mid-October launch of At Home. It is a wonderful feeling to know At Home is already helping hosts and that over the next several days lots of people will be receiving At Home as a holiday gift. I am confident they will enjoy At Home for many holidays to come. It has also provided me with great joy to have spent many an hour sitting in the amazing Reading Terminal Market “hawking” At Home. More people than I could count shared with me their appreciation of their tattered and worn Frog Commissary Cookbooks — seemingly everyone’s favorite cookbook — and their their own joy over many years dining at Frog, The Commissary and my other restaurants. It has made for a Merry Christmas for me.

Christina and I are off to brother-in-law Larry and Susan’s in Tuxedo, NY, for a Seven Fishes Christmas Eve (including my Mediterranean Seafood Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade) followed by what I am sure will be a wonderful Christmas day meal. Larry and Susan are wonderful hosts and though I am sure the food will be delicious, what is most important by far, is that family is gathering to celebrate. Whatever your Christmas tradition, my wishes for many delicious moments…at home.

Thank you for visiting. Merry Christmas.

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Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Holidays, Tips

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