My (Vibrant) Valentine

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I’m not a huge fan of traditional Valentine’s pink and red; it’s just a little cutesy for me, I guess. When putting together the space and tablescape for our Valentine’s dinner, I was inspired by a sort of moody/vibrant contrast: dark backgrounds with pops of color.

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I absolutely do not claim to be any kind of artist, but I  really wanted a piece of art to anchor our table. I created what I’ve termed my “modernish” painting with regular craft paint and watercolors on muslin. And, yes, I tacked  dark blue tablecloths to my wall…as you do. I do think the pink runner and ribbon details were more successful in person than photos, but whatcha gonna do.

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Menu

Have I mentioned yet how I really do not cook? Yeah, not so much. My husband typically does all the shopping, meal planning, and cooking but I really wanted to treat him for Valentine’s Day. On these rare occasions that I do take over culinary responsibilities, I always try to choose exceptionally easy recipes. KISS is my mantra: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Brown sugar dijon pork loin – My husband raved about the rub on this.

Rosemary mashed potatoes – Easiest side ever so, yeah, that’s what I made!

Lost Viking Spice green beans – Bryan loves Norse mythology, so I made him a viking spice blend for Christmas, and it was great on the beans.

Mixed berry envelop pastry – I used THIS recipe for the filling and THIS recipe for the execution. Incredibly delicious and easy. I made two pastries and have a ton of filling left, which I’m not at all sad about.

Sugar cookie hearts – Oh, is it Valentine’s Day? Well, let me just make you a cookie.

The Harvest Sparkle cocktail  – Really great!

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This is what it looked like just before dinner that evening. You’ll note that I hadn’t made my sweetheart envelopes yet. I was too busy running around like a crazy person.

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You can check out my inspiration board over on Ye Olde Pinterest. Hope everyone had a lovely Valentine’s: whether you were with your sweetheart, your friends, or were practicing some well deserved self care!

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Galentine’s Day!

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Last year I had a Galentine’s Day tea for some of my special ladies. Somehow I’ve lost all the photos I took on our camera, so I hope that you will bear with me as this handful of iPhone photos will have to suffice!

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Once again I recycled the paper lanterns from our wedding, using only the pinks and golds. I love those beehive lanterns. My color story was fuchsia, light pink, gold, and a little bit of peach.

I bought crepe paper from Papermart to make the fringe banners. Good ol’ dollar store paper hearts made an easy table runner.

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The ‘Cheers Ladies’ banner peeking out from behind me was bought from Confetti Bistro’s Etsy shop. Napkins, pink tassels, and straws were all duly purchased on Etsy as well.

Menu

I always want everything to look so pretty, but I’m not afraid to admit that food styling is just not my forté. I’m working on it!

Crustless mini quiches – So easy and delish.

Cucumber and chive sandwiches – White bread and a chives for garnish.

Smoked turkey with cranberry horseradish and smoked gouda – Smoke ’em if you got ’em! I love me some smoked meat and cheeses with a horseradish bite!

Tomato and feta sandwiches – Simple.

Cranberry scones w/ Devonshire cream and strawberry jam – I’d never tried Devonshire cream before – it’s tangy – and I doubt I’d buy it again, even though it was fine. My scones recipe is always a hit, but I’m still tweaking it so I’m holding off on sharing.

Mini cake petit fours – Mine were a little wonky looking, but they did taste good and were easy to make.

Mini raspberry tarts – Mine were not so mini. In fact, they were rather huge! I need a tiny tart pan: stat.

Persian rose love spell cookies – I love this recipe!

Get it girl punch – As usual, we just kind of made up our own recipe. This one was basically Prosecco and ruby red grapefruit juice.

Adagio rooibos earl grey tea – Smooth, floral and citrus perfection.

English breakfast black tea blend – I chose a simple black tea blend to cut the sweet, but I do not recall which brand I used.

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My inspiration board is up on Pinterest and, believe me, there was a whole lot of pretty I didn’t get around to doing!

Happy Galentine’s Day! Cheers, ladies!

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Burns Night for the Wee Bairns!

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My friend Kristine has an adorable, precocious daughter named Morgan. She always keeps us laughing and is such a joy!  As I was putting together our regularly scheduled Burns supper, I kept seeing these cute ideas for including children and thought that it would be so much fun to plan a separate, decidedly less adult, Burns Night party with Little Miss M. in mind.

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For the invitation I used THIS scottie dog template and tied on some tartan ribbon. Miss M. was thrilled to receive mail addressed to her…and only to her!

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Decor from our regular, adult Burns Night remained, but I did cut down the table size and change out the linens to something a bit more festive. Also, I found some free bunting printables HERE  and some others HERE that are downloadable if you sign up to be a member.

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I used THIS template for the name cards and again adorned them with tartan ribbon.

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Miss M. loves to color, so I made easy little books and we set up a coloring station in ‘Robbie Burns’ writing room’. iChild has great, printable Scotland and Burns inspired coloring sheets. Morgan had a good time trying to match Bryan’s tartan when coloring her kilt.

Burns Night Explanation & Ceremony for Children

I wrote a simple little explanation to introduce the evening:

Welcome, friends, to our first ever Robbie Burns Night! We are so happy to happy to see your shining faces. We will eat and drink and continue to be merry, but first let me tell you a quick history of Burns Night.

Robert Burns (or Robbie Burns as he was known to his friends) was a poet who lived over 200 years ago and was from Scotland, which is on the island of Great Britain. Because his poems and songs were so loved and because he was such a good friend, every year on his birthday – January 25th – people come together to eat yummy food, celebrate Scottish heritage, and to read and sing some of his poems! So tonight we shall do just that.

You may now take your seats at the dining table!

We kept the pomp and circumstance to a minimum, with an emphasis on fun. We did say The Selkirk Grace, piped in the haggis (sans whiskey bearer!), and read To a Haggis.

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Menu

Cheeseboard – Miss M. is a picky eater. We knew this, so we made sure to have some things we were certain she’d eat, such as cheese, crackers, cashews, and lots of strawberries.

Deviled Scotch Eggs – We used gluten free bread crumbs, with crushed rice crackers, and gluten free flour for the breading. Our first time making these! They were very good. As expected, Morgan ate the deviled egg but not the surrounding sausage casing.

“Haggis” Meatloaf – Again, we used gluten free bread crumbs. The adults loved this! I think most kids – who like meatloaf – would as well. Miss M. was having a persnickety night, though. 😉

Tatties & Neeps – Same recipe from our regular Burns Night.

Rustic Carrots – Adapted from the same recipe used on our regular Burns Night.

Chocolate cupcakes w/ Scottie dogs – I used THIS rich paleo recipe and doctored a can of store bought marshmallow fluff icing: yum! The Scottie dog shortbreads are Walkers.

Non-alcoholic Highland Mary Punch – Morgan loved this kid-friendly punch. We also put our collection of scotches, procured for our regular Burns Night, on the table to adultify the punch and let the parents of our featured guest try.

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Easy Poems

Getting Morgan to participate in reading, or to be interested in it even, was a bit of a struggle; until we started doing silly accents and singing! She loves dancing, so we asked her to do interpretive dance to our songs. I suppose it always helps to know your guests’ interests, yes? Well, this guest loves to sing and dance! Here are just a few suggestions for kid-friendly or kid-adjacent Burns poems:

On Wedding Rings – Lovely short poem that is easy to read for kids.

A Highland Welcome – A bit dark, but short and sweet and an easy read for kids.

To a Mouse – This is quite long and written in Scots dialect but, with visual aids and a bit of explanation, it can be quite nice for an adult to read.

A Red, Red Rose – Classic Burns and easily understood. This, of course, is also a beautiful song.

My Heart’s in the Highlands – A fairly easy read for children, though they may need a little help.

Amang the Trees – For an adult reader: reasonably short and you can do fun things with the ‘O’s to include the kiddos!

‘Twas Past One O’clock – I love this fun little song for an adult to sing, and Morgan had a grand time jigging to it!

Auld Lang Syne – Of course! It’s especially fun with sparklers!

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Well, I suppose I can now officially put Burns Night to rest for 2017!

You can find additional mini Burns Night inspiration on my Pinterest board! I’d also be interested to know if anyone else has included children in their Burns Night celebrations. Let me know!

Burns Night, Naturally!

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Tonight is officially Burns Night, but my friends and I  raised our glasses in celebration of the great Scottish bard this past Saturday for our Third Annual Burns Night Supper. It happened to be the day of the Women’s March, so many of our ladies and some of our men marched and then spent an evening celebrating friendship, art, and love. As I said previously, while my mind may have been in the Highlands preparing for a house full of dear ones, my heart was marching with them. We will continue to fight for all human rights, but we will continue to create magic, too!

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Here’s the invitation we created for this year’s soirée. Don’t you just love that tartan? It’s called the Pride of Scotland Autumn. I ordered some gorgeous ribbon in this pattern for decorating…aaaand it didn’t show up. Sigh. Maybe you’ll see it next year.

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Every year I mean to take a before picture of the room as a comparison, and every year I forget. You see, this is usually our living room. That wall on the left is typically supports a couch and is covered in a couple dozen pictures. Pretty sure I’ve said it before, but transformation is kind of my thing.

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I bought several yards of muslin from JoAnn Fabrics to make an overlay for my table – which happens to be 4 folding tables put together – for the swags that went through the wreaths, and to make the Auld Lang Syne sign on the wall. The large wood and glass piece going down the middle of the table is a beautiful old door with a full length mirror that I found in an alley years ago.

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Oh, look! It’s a rare Emily sighting!

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I made my husband a kilt using THIS super easy tutorial and a beautiful piece of fabric I found at a Village Discount Outlet several years ago.

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As always, you can find the definitive list for a tip-top traditional Burns Night running order on the BBC website; but I’ve included ours below.

Burns Night Supper 2017 Schedule of Events

6:00pm – Refreshments, Scottish music, and conversation
6:30pm – Chairperson’s Address & Welcome – Adapted from this book summary
Guests are welcomed to the table
The Selkirk Grace
First course – cullen skink
Ceremonial procession of the haggis
To a Haggis
Main course – haggis, Bryan’s beef roast, tatties & neeps
Dessert course – Cranachan ice cream & shortbread cookies
Toast to Rabbie Burns
The Entertainments
Toast to the Lassies
Toast to the Laddies
Auld Lang Syne – outside with sparklers!

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Hahaha! That photo above makes me laugh.

The Menu

We made only a couple of tweaks to our menu from 2015. I’ll call this Traditional Burns American! I do wish we could get a proper haggis here, though. Sigh.

Cullen skink – We made this last year and it was such a big hit that we knew we needed to make it again. We did substitute smoked salmon for the haddock.
The Haggis – We bought a large presentation haggis this year, as well as a veggie haggis. One of these years we might try to make our own.
Bryan’s Scottish beef roast – We always have the fear of people walking away hungry, so we can’t help but make an extra main.
Tatties & neeps – Same recipe as last year, only this year my husband did the shopping so TURnips were properly purchased instead of my mistake of buying PARSnips like last year!
Rustic carrots – Again, adapted and simplified from THIS recipe. We added some pine nuts on top.
Crannachan Ice Cream – This was a recipe that I made up on the fly, as the sticky toffee pudding that I planned was a bit of a disaster! I used store bought vanilla ice cream and it was quick and easy. I may post the recipe because it was delightful.

Cheeseboard – Including Carr’s oat and wheat crackers, GF crackers, mixed dried fruit, nuts, and a variety of cheeses from the British Isles: Long Clawson Stilton Aged Blue, Kerrygold Skellig Irish Cheddar, and Amber Valley Double Gloucester.

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Scotch Selection*

Below is a list of the scotches we had on hand this year. Such a wonderful selection: let’s just say that we were well and truly tippled!

Johnnie Walker Red – This is our go to for a nice smooth, unassuming table scotch and is great in punches.

Auchentoshan 12 Year Old -Our Lowland scotch for special toasts. Dear ol’ Rabbie was from the Lowlands, you know.

Royal Brackla 12 Year – From the Highlands, it’s motto: “The King’s Own Whiskey”. Though I wasn’t a big fan myself – I found it a bit too light and caramelly – others said they enjoyed.

Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year – I do enjoy Balvenie so! It’s fairly smooth with great depth. Our friends Chad and Abby shared this bottle with the table.

Laphroaig 10 Year – Always a peaty Highland favorite; it just so happens that this is the first scotch I ever tried, a good seven years ago! Luke and Nicole brought along a bottle to share.

We also made our own punch that I dubbed Highland Mary Punch (adapted from THIS recipe again), which was delish and a nice way to start off the night!

*As always, we keep lots of water on hand and encourage everyone to keep hydrated.

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The Entertainments

Oh, my the entertainments!! Everyone really upped their game this year. We had so many songs based on Burns poems – both traditional tunes and entirely new compositions! The book was being passed around, and we had a couple of impromptu interpretations, as well. You haven’t heard Robbie Burns until someone has performed it Shatner beat poem style, accompanied by bass and jazz guitar!

Below I’ve listed a smattering of my favorites, but here is a great reference website, if you’d like to choose your own: Burns Poems & Translations.

On Wedding Rings
To a Louse
My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose – Always gorgeously arranged and sung by our friend Chad.
A Highland Welcome
‘Twas Past One O’clock – This is a wonderfully fun little song!
Deluded Swain, the Pleasure – A great poem to reference in a Toast to the Lassies!
My Heart is in the Highlands
A Waukrife Minnie
Saw Ye Bonie Lesley
Ah, Chloris
To a Mouse
A Rosebud, By My Early Walk

If you are looking for more Burns Night inspiration, you can take a look at my posts from the 2015 and 2016 gatherings; or, if you’d like to see what inspired me this year, take a gander at my Pinterest board!

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Happy Burns Night to all!

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Nicole.Sparkling.jpgShould auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne!

Burns Night Preparations!

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We have been working our tails off to ready for the annual Burns Night Supper this evening. We’re so very excited! I promise to share details in a post next week. Promise. ‘Til then, I shall leave you with this:

Ye banks, and braes, and streams around
The castle o’ Montgomery,
Green be your woods, and fair your flowers,
Your waters never drumlie!
There Simmer first unfald her robes,
And there the langest tarry:
For there I took the last Fareweel
O’ my sweet Highland Mary.

*Edited to note that today is a very special day. Women’s marches are happening all over the world. As our Burns gathering was scheduled for this date months ago, I knew that I would not be able to make it downtown to support in person with my friends; therefore, I donated through Crowdrise to sponsor a marcher. While I believe that it’s so important to continue to create these magical moments in life – otherwise, what are we living for – I also believe that what is happening right now in our country is not right. I march with all my sisters in spirit today.

Burns, Baby, Burns!

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As I prepare for Burns Night 2017, I’m reflecting on the successes of both our First Burns Night, as well as last year’s festivities – which I never got around to posting. Perhaps it’s because I accidentally set myself on fire…hmm. Yeah, that happened. Farewell, adorable bolero jacket! But no, dear friends, ’twas merely a matter of time getting away from me. So let us take a gander back at Burns Night 2016, shall we? 

As I plan each event, it’s important to me that I’m not just rehashing the same party from the previous year. I’d like there to be a progression; and, though we will always honor the traditions that are inherent to the holiday, we want to incorporate those that we and our guests have created, as well. The hope is that this will ensure a unique experience for our guests.

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We made our own e-invitation using Photoshop as I couldn’t find quite the right thing on Paperless Post or any of the other pre-made e-invitation sites.

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Poor Emily, my photographer buddy, badly sprained one ankle and broke the other just a week or so before the party. You’ll still notice her watermark on many of these images, because that’s the kind of badass she is.

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As you may know, there is a traditional run of show for Burns Night suppers. We adapted it in our inaugural year and pretty much stuck with it again this time, only adding the Toasts to the Lassies and Laddies. If you have writers, comedians, and/or actors in your group, ask them if they’d like to participate in this way! I’ll note, once again,you can find a definitive list for a tip-top traditional Burns Night running order on the BBC website.

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Here comes the haggis!

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And the scotch…whooph!

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Burns Night Supper 2016 Schedule of Events

5:00pm – Highland Punch, Scottish music, and conversation
5:30pm – Chairperson’s Address & Welcome – Adapted from this book summary
5:45pm – Seating & The Selkirk Grace
First coarse – Cullen skink
Ceremonial procession of the haggis
To a Haggis
Main course – Haggis, lamb, tatties & neeps, rustic carrots
Dessert course – Cranachan, whiskey truffles, & decaffeinated coffee
Toast to Rabbie Burns
The Entertainments
Toast to the Lassies
Toast to the Laddies
Auld Lang Syne

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The Menu

We made only a couple of tweaks to our menu from 2015. I’ll call this Traditional Burns American! I do wish we could get a proper haggis here, though. Sigh.

Cullen skink – I never thought I’d love a creamy fish stew, but this was the best!
The Haggis – We got a cheater haggis again this year, as well as a total cheater veggie haggis. You can neither get real haggis nor any of the proper entrails to make a proper haggis in the states.
Bryan’s Scottish lamb – Once again Bryan created his own main.
Tatties & neeps – Well, sort of. You see, I did the shopping and accidentally purchased PARSnips instead of TURnips. Oops! I tell you what: it was still good!
Rustic carrots – Adapted and simplified from THIS recipe.
Cranachan – Again I made one without whiskey for my non-drinking friend and made sure that the oats were gluten-free for my GF guests.
Chocolate whiskey truffles – Served with the Cranachan and, for my non-drinking friend, I substituted vanilla and cinnamon for the whiskey. Still tasty!

Cheeseboard – Including smoked salmon, Carr’s oat and wheat crackers, and a variety of cheeses from the British Isles.

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Scotch Selection*

Once again we used scotch/whiskey blend Johnnie Walker Red for general toasts and the table. Our lowland scotch for special toasts was Auchentoshan 12 Year Old. We also made a Highland Punch (adapted from THIS recipe), which was a big hit! Our friends Chad and Abby also brought along a bottle of Old Pulteney, though I’m afraid I forget the year. Per their website, Old Pulteney “is one of the most northerly distilleries on the Scottish mainland” and is becoming one of my favorites! They also have a nice blog post with some Burns Night pointers.

*Drink responsibly, friends!

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The Entertainments

I assigned additional readings to our guests to either do in addition to or in place of what they’d done the year before. It is always a pleasure to see and hear what people will do. The ridiculous and sometimes pretty excellent accents are pretty much my favorite part. We had a few newcomers to the evening this year, so it was also great fun to see how much they got into the festivities! There were far too many performed – including a couple of songs – to list here, so I’ll just give you this great reference website so you can choose your own: Burns Poems & Translations.

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I know this photo has hideous soda cans in it, but there’s something about it I love because it is so evocative of those waning moments of a gathering.

As we prepare to raise our glasses to dear Rabbie Burns in 2017, I will leave you with this lovely video of our friend Chad singing Red, Red Rose….

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*If you’d like more Burns Night inspiration, head over to my Pinterest!

Lovely Ladies Holiday Tea

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The holiday season typically extends far beyond December in our household. Midwestern winters tend to be cold, grey, and harsh, so the twinkle lights and greenery  continue to add a little festivity and brightness right up until around March 1st. All that to say, here’s a little Christmas blog in January!

In mid December I held a small ladies’ tea for my main group of lovelies. It came together last minute and I was determined to do it on a budget as 2016 had been an expensive year (graduations, weddings, etc.) and, of course, Christmas was hovering. I was pretty satisfied with the results and, besides, the company is always the best part!

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Oh, hey, I made a thing…with one of my husband’s ties and a vintage brooch.

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Though our holiday decor leans toward English traditional, I wanted to keep this party light and bright. My Mikasa Christmas Holly china – a gift from my dear aunt – helped set the tone.

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Lovely Ladies Holiday Tea Menu

Tea Sandwiches – Classic roasted red pepper and cucumber

Oven Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese – Beets are the new brussel sprouts…or something like that.

Rosemary Cheese Crescents – A cheater recipe, for sure, but scrumptious all the same.

Cranberry-Orange Scones – I made mine without the glaze. They were particularly delicious with marmalade.

Brûléed Persimmon Tarts – The crust for these was divine, but the filling is a bit too sweet and rich for me. I think next time I’d make these smaller with a custard filling.

Cranberry Buttermilk Upside Down Cake – We were so full that we didn’t even cut into this! Ha! It made for delicious leftovers, though.

Chocolate orange slices – I sprinkled smoked sea salt on some for a little kick.

Rudolph’s Tipsy Punch – A nice Southern Living recipe. We drained this dry.

Fortnum & Mason Spiced Christmas Tea – Fortnum & Mason is my favorite department store in London. Their tea section is out of control.

Cranberry-Rosemary Infused Water – Put rosemary in anything and I’m a happy gal.

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Happy new year to you and yours! Let us all strive for more love, laughter, and compassion in 2017!

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*As always, photos by the talented Emily Schwartz are marked. The handful of others are mine.

If you’re interested in more merry, winter party inspiration, check out my Pinterest board!