Cheesus Christ!

When I put together the menu for my Solstmas celebration, I had a creeping suspicion there was too much cheese on the menu.

If you’re like me, you might say “Impossible!” But let’s take a hard look it. Of course, I started with a bountiful cheese plate, with Point Reyes Blue, a cranberry-studded Wensleydale, a cute little bloomy-rind soft cow’s milk cheese (whose name escapes me), and of course a big wheel of Brie. Two, if you count the one that never made it out of the fridge.

The Solstmas cheese platter

In addition to that I served several sliced cheeses, like Cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss, and Muenster along with the Niman Ranch ham.

And for some reason I bought a big log of goat cheese … for reasons that escape me at the moment, other than my profound love of coagulated milk products.

Then, a few days before the Solstmas party, I was given 6 pounds of cream cheese that were left over from another event I attended. Despite my avowed love of bagels and cream cheese, I need another way to use that much cheese, so enter the pumpkin cheesecake and a heaping bowl of dip made from cream cheese, sundried tomatoes, and Kalamata olives.

But here’s where I really went off the rails. For the last few years I’ve made a cheddar-ale soup for the Solstmas party. You see, I own a crockpot, which makes soup one of the few hot dishes I can serve at an all-day buffet that sits on the table for almost 10 hours. And since I prefer to make a vegetarian soup, for those who don’t eat ham, cheese soup just seems the most festive, Christmasy option available to me.

Now, all of this wouldn’t have been so bad if so many of the guests hadn’t brought cheese dishes as well. There was macaroni and cheese, and a big plate of various goat cheeses and crackers, and another small cheesecake as well.

Suffice it to say, I have a ridonkulous quantity of cheese left over from the party. Like, several pounds of cheese. This is perhaps a tenth of the surplus fromage.

And this is after days of eating cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. Cheddar-ale soup for lunch. Brie and crackers for dinner. And cheesecake for dinner. Ugh. Last night I made the Cocktail Host pick us up some Chinese takeout for dinner, because I just couldn’t face the prospect of consuming any more lactose.

For tomorrow night, I’ve engineered a dish using leftover goat cheese, Wensleydale, and Parmesan, along with some remnants of bread, ham, eggs, and vegetables to make a strata. But otherwise, help! What is a cheese-loving girl to do when she just can’t stand it any more?


Solstmas 2010

Matthew and Sharona

This week we had our sixth annual Solstmas party, and by my count there were around 70 guests slurping up Champagne and chowing down on bread pudding all day long. As usual, I failed to take many pictures, but luckily a few of my guests snapped some shots along the way.

Though my own offerings of food and drinks were nothing special, the real highlight was the cocktails made my Mr. Manhattan, who came up with this delightful menu.


Photo by Sharona Gottlieb

He kept himself busy for hours …


Photo by Jennifer Lieberman

… making crazily great cocktails for the guests. In addition to Mr. Manhattan’s cocktails there was Scott’s delicious (and positively deadly) eggnog …

as well as my own Campari punch and (nonacoholic) Flora Pomadoras

Is it any wonder that some folks had to double-fist their drinking to keep up?


Photo by Sharona Gottlieb

Many thanks to ever adorable Sharona  and the beautiful Jennifer L. for use of their photos!

Sharona and Jennifer

… and the hostess was stirring …

It’s 6:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, and I can’t sleep. I’m all atwitter, of course, because in less than 8 hours the hordes will descend upon our house for our annual Solstmas open house, possibly the largest event I’ll host all year. And although I can’t say there are exactly visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, there are at least visions of cheddar-ale soup, and glazed ham, and a carefully constructed ice ring for my punch, which I hope I can unmold without it falling apart. It’s the calm before the storm, and I really enjoyed watching the sun rise over San Francisco from my kitchen, where I had already assembled various pitchers and serving platters in preparation for the party.

The calm before the storm

Twas the night before Christmas …

… and I’m 15 hours away from one of the biggest parties I throw every year, an all-day open house where 50 to 80 friends and family members arrive for a full day of drinking champagne, eating a ginormous ham, and consuming ridiculous quantities of pumpkin pie.

Solstmas Party 2008. Photo by Sharona Gottlieb.


And yet, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last month shopping for Campari, combing through the thrift stores for more flatware, and making baroque “to do” lists (both for myself and to delegate to my husband), I haven’t written a peep about it on my blog.

In the last week or so I’ve been wondering why this is. At first I decided that I’ve simply been busy. Whenever I have a few free moments after a full day of work, I’m more likely to spend my evenings looking at recipes for cheddar-ale soup or dithering about what kind of punch to make than to sit in front of my computer and write. But in the last day I’ve thought of a few more reasons.

The first is that despite the fact this is the biggest party I throw I almost every year—actually, because it’s the biggest party I throw—I don’t try a lot of new things. I bake a ham. I put out a bountiful cheese platter. I make a bowl of punch. There is a such a crazy onslaught of guests (we invite practically everyone we know, and plenty of people we don’t know), that in large part I just have to stock up, batten down the hatches, and hope everyone has a good time. I don’t have the time to fiddle with delicate puff pastry or beautifully garnish canapes—the stuff that seems to me more worthy of blogging about. What is there to say about the fact I bought seven packages of crackers or five loaves of focaccia?

The second is that food prep on such a large scale isn’t very photogenic. Taking pictures of food prep requires a fair amount of time, and pretty meticulous approach to assembling dishes. But when I’m preparing for an event on this scale, my kitchen is in a constant state of chaos as I try to simultaneously make a quadruple batch of candied nuts, wash all my glassware, and fold the laundered kitchen towels.

Food at Solstmas 2009. Photo by Sharona Gottlieb.

At any rate, it’s given me a new appreciation for bloggers who write about their parties, and food and cocktail bloggers in general. And if I didn’t manage any posts on my party planning, maybe … just maybe … I’ll remember to pick up my camera tomorrow and document some of the fun. But I wouldn’t count on it.

The Flora Pomadora

My ladyfriends have been working overtime in the reproduction department. Just yesterday my friend Denise give us the gorgeous Oona Liv,

and a few weeks ago the beautiful Magnolia Harper was introduced to the world thanks to my friend Kathleen.

And a least a few more friends have buns in the oven that are due to be fully baked in the next few weeks or so. This means I’ve had more opportunities (i.e., baby showers!) to work on my mocktails lately.

I think mocktails are a tricky thing. Often they just end up tasting like fruit juice. Refreshing, but it doesn’t exactly satisfy the hankering for a well-made cocktail.

My approach is to try to incorporate some herb or spice into my mocktails, to give them that little indefinable something that tricks the palate into thinking you’re drinking something more dangerous than you are. Some of my mocktails contain a lavender-infused honey syrup, and I’ve played around (a bit less successfully) with hibiscus flowers. The fresh muddled mint makes the virgin version of a mojito (which I call either a fauxjito or a nojito) mighty tasty, and you can mix things up a bit by trying other herbs, such as thyme.

But for years one of my favorite mocktails has been some version of this drink, which gets a subtle spicy punch from an infusion of cloves. For a long time this drink didn’t have a name, but then a few weeks ago I attended a baby shower where I made this drink for the guests. When I learned that the code name for the baby-to-be was Flora Pomadora, I knew I had the new name for this wintry pomegranate drink.

Here’s how to make them yourself. If you don’t want to shake these individually, you can also serve them in a pitcher or punch bowl by multiplying the recipe by 8 or 16 and doubling the amount of sparkling water, which should be stirred in at the last possible moment to preserve the drink’s fizz. When I’m serving it this way, I like to freeze the pomegranate seeds inside decoratively shaped ice cubes (I actually make flower-shaped ice cubes using a Bundt pan that makes miniature rose-shaped cakes).

Flora Pomadora

1 oz pomegranate juice
1 oz mango nectar
1/4 oz clove tea (see below)
1/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz chilled sparkling water
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

Combine the pomegranate juice, mango nectar, clove tea, lime juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a cocktail glass. Top off with the sparkling water and garnish with the pomegranate seeds.

Clove Tea

In heatproof bowl, pour 1 cup boiling water over 3 tablespoons of whole cloves. Let steep overnight, strain, and discard the cloves. The tea will keep for at least a few weeks, covered, in the refrigerator.

Bargain-basement margs

My love of fine cocktails is well documented in this blog. I adore cocktails made with fine cognac infused with fresh cherries …

Fresh cherries and cognac

Any cocktail made by Scott Beattie, like this beautifully garnished mai tai.

Mai tai at Spoonbar

Often I’m lucky enough to enjoy a glass of some truly world-class wine, like this oustanding 30-year-old Chateau Climens Sauternes, which I drank a week ago after Thanksgiving dinner.

Chateau Climens Sauternes

But this week I’m in Houston, and they do things a little differently here.

$1.25 margaritas at Don Pico's

Yep, you read that correctly: $1.25 for a margarita. Add 75 cents for “flavor.” I don’t even want to know. I was informed by my dinner companions tonight, who apparently visit this place weekly, that until a few weeks ago the drinks were only $1.00.

Were they great drinks? No, of course not. Can I make a better drink without breaking a sweat? I like to think so.

But did I drink three of them?

Why yes. Yes I did.