When planning my holiday party each year, I have some standard party dishes that are my go-to recipes, such as a variety of quinoa salads, edamame dip or hummus, stuffed mushrooms, crostini topped with veggies or fruit, and of course some type of dessert. Since folks are nibbling on food for several hours at my parties, I like to balance these lighter, mostly veggie-centric dishes with a lovely and hearty cheese board.
Not only is the cheese board always popular with my friends, but I just adore cheese! I enjoy trying new fromage, and a cheese board is a fun way for you and your guests to sample new cheeses without having to purchase a whole big piece or wheel for only yourself. Plus—and maybe I’m just a cheese nerd—it’s fun to experience and discuss new cheeses with loved ones.
To select the cheeses for my board, I usually stick to 3 or 4 farmstead or artisan cheeses, and I try to have a variety of flavours and textures. If you’re serving a few options, it’s a general rule of thumb to have one soft, one semi-hard, and one aged cheese. If your crowd enjoys the veined stuff, you can also include a blue cheese. When picking your fromage, you can also have diversity by selecting cheeses made from different milks [cow, goat, sheep]. And if making the cheese selection yourself seems overwhelming, talk to your local cheesemonger! They are very knowledgeable and would be more than happy to help you choose some delicious and interesting cheeses.
Here are a few cheeses I’ve been savouring recently to give you some ideas to get started:
Fresh Mozzarella [And it would be too messy for a cheese board, but I also highly recommend mozzarella’s creamy sibling burrata—it’s amazing!]
Photo: Whole Foods
If you aren’t used to purchasing farmstead or artisan cheeses, you might have a little bit of sticker shock at first since nicer cheeses are pricier than your regular ol’ supermarket brand cheese. But trust me, they’re worth the higher price! If you’re wanting to venture into the world of artisan cheese, head to Whole Foods between now and 24 December, as they are currently celebrating 12 Days of Cheese. [That’s my kind of holiday!] During this event, a different artisan cheese will be half-off each day. Today’s fromage is Pheasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company, about which Whole Foods says: “The only three-time winner of the American Cheese Society Best of Show, this cheese has a sweet, broth-like flavor with notes of butterscotch and fruit.” Yum! Tomorrow’s cheese is Le Gruyère, and Monday’s is Cypress Grove Chevre’s Truffle Tremor, so Whole Foods is highlighting quite a range of delicious cheeses. To see the full list, read descriptions of the different cheeses, and find beer/wine pairing notes, see here.
There are loads of different options for the actual board itself, from a marble slab to a wooden ampersand to even a slice of acacia. However, my favourite platter for serving cheese is my slate board from Brooklyn Slate. A unique serving dish, the slab of slate is as striking as it is beautiful. Plus, you can write the cheese names or festive messages on the board with the included soapstone pencil.
Honeycomb [Try a small piece with spicy cheese and a slice of green apple—divine!]
Mixed olives, such as Kalamata, Castelvetrano, and Cerignola
Assorted crackers, crostini, or sliced baguette
You’ll want to base your accompaniments on what cheeses you’re featuring, so perhaps membrillo and Marcona almonds with manchego or cornichons and slices of baguette with Gruyère. And don’t get upset if a guest uses the “wrong” accompaniment with a cheese—they’re just experimenting and could come up with a delicious new flavour combination!
This wonderful cheese knife guide from Castello is an easy reference for which type of knife you should use with which cheese. For even more information, see here.
It’s rare, but if you have any cheese left over after your party, I recommended wrapping each cheese separately in cheese storage paper or placing each cheese in a cheese storage bag from Formaticum. The paper used for these items is specifically designed for storing fromage, and they allow cheese to breathe while at the same time retaining humidity to keep the cheese from drying out.
What is your favourite cheese? If you have a recommendation, please let me know in the comments, as I’m always looking for new cheeses to try!
After learning about all the fun Raymond had in Guangzhou with our friend Aaron, I was thinking about China while perusing Etsy this afternoon. I adore this Chinese Merry Christmas greeting card with its sweet floral wreath and lovely handlettering. Send one of these cards to a loved one near or far to wish them a 聖誕快樂!
Note from Becky: This past summer Raymond had a wonderful opportunity. Aaron, a friend of the elves, invited Raymond to travel with him to China! Raymond was ecstatic and talked excitedly about the trip relatively non-stop for weeks beforehand. Below is Aaron’s recount of their fun adventure.
Our trip got off to an interesting start with Guangzhou customs officers questioning Raymond’s lack of a passport/visa.
Unperturbed, Raymond asked the officials if they knew for whom he worked. “Perhaps you have heard of him. His name is Santa Claus, though you might know him as Father Christmas.” “Welcome to China, Mr. Raymond,” said the lead officer, after validating his credentials on northpole.com. “Stay as long as you wish, and please call us if you need anything.” They handed Raymond their card and let him through.
Raymond photobombing a picture in White Cloud Airport
Raymond quickly realized he would have to adjust to a new climate. His Nordic undercoat was not designed for the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. However, when he saw all the happy, smiling children, he knew he came to the right place. He wondered how the reindeer delivery team managed to get packages to so many people each year. He then remembered that Santa, through centuries of experience, had become ultra-efficient.
Raymond then began his Guangzhou tour. He liked how the large, modern city contrasted with the traditional homes and villages.
Cooling off with some iced coffee
On the first day, Raymond visited a huge underground mall with many toy stores and play centers for children. A European bakery had big Belgian waffles that reminded him of the delicious waffle he had in Brussels, Belgium. When Raymond got tired, he stopped for coffee at Starbucks (and was pleasantly surprised to find that his Starbucks card worked there). Finally, he took a boat ride on the Pearl River, which cuts through the city. The boat had an open deck, upon which he drank tea while winding along the route. This was very relaxing.
About to go on a relaxing boat ride on the Pearl River
The next day, Raymond climbed a mountain with a waterfall. The quiet, natural setting was a nice break from the previous day’s urban hustle. At the top of the waterfall was a Buddhist temple. Raymond explained to the kind monks that his job was to help the elves at the North Pole prepare so Santa can deliver gifts to children. The monks praised Raymond for such a noble vocation. They promised that many good things would come to him in return. On the way down, Raymond washed his hooves in the stream that collected toward the bottom. He chatted with some college students, who practiced their English with him and told him how popular he would be around Christmastime in Guangzhou.
Peering at the Haiyin Bridge
Raymond returned to the city for the third day. Most of the day was spent at a toy factory in an industrial park; he found it interesting to see another place where toys are made and compare it to Santa’s Workshop. Raymond and the factory managers also discussed what toys they all thought might be hits next Christmas. When the meeting was over, the factory work unit took Raymond to the Guangzhou central library. Raymond stood in awe of the multi-storey mega-library. Fortunately for Raymond, an entire floor was dedicated to books in English. Raymond quickly found the section about Western holidays, and he was happy to find several items about “Father Christmas” (Santa).
Raymond in the Guangzhou library next to a statue that represents learning & scholarship
On the last day of his trip, Raymond decided to walk around the whole city, with no particular plan about it. He saw an old, bearded man on the side of the road. The man had some papers with strange symbols on them, the most prominent of which was the distinctive “yin/yang” divided circle. Raymond realized this man was a fortune teller.
Curious, Raymond paid the fortune teller 50 RMB (Chinese dollars) and asked what lie in store for himself. The man asked Raymond to extend his right, front leg. He then used his fingers to trace the markings on the bottom of Raymond’s hoof.
“You have a generous heart and are loved by many. The people here like you very much, but you must leave soon. It will be ‘beneficial for you to forward the great water’ tomorrow.”
Raymond understood what this meant. He had had a wonderful trip to China, but it was time to go back to his home at the North Pole. He thanked the man, and then finished his solo tour.
The next day, Raymond took a taxi back to White Cloud Airport, said “goodbye” to his new friends, hopped aboard his flight, and began his return trip. (Since Raymond is a young reindeer, he flies commercial airlines to get farther north, then he uses his special magic to fly the rest of the way home.) He was sure Santa would be impressed with the plush toy samples and distribution ideas the factory bosses gave to him.
While he would miss his new friends, Raymond was happy to return home.
Another note from Becky: That sounded like a fantastic trip, didn’t it? I may have to get Raymond to show me around China sometime! Where else do you think Raymond went this year? Stay tuned to find out! 😀
With the scent of tart red currants, brandied pear, and sweet marzipan, this Happy Y’allidays Soy Wax Candle will transform any room into a holiday haven. This Etsy shop’s candles are made of natural soy wax and are hand-poured in small batches, plus they have unique Austin, Texas-related scents. Check out their other festive fragrances, such as Burnt Orange Spice, Trail of Lights, and Pecan Street.
Despite their fur, doggies can get cold in the winter just like humans do. But don’t get low temps keep you from walking your best friend or playing with him out in the snow—you just need to take a few extra precautions. For tips on how to keep your pup warm and safe during a wintery promenade, check out the infographic below!
Click on the image for a closer look! Infographic via Vetstreet
I’m a sucker for anything needle felted, so I immediately fell for these lovable needle felted wooly toys. They just look so happy! Handmade with merino wool, these red and green cuties would made a quirky addition to your Christmas decor or they would be a fun festive toy for your kiddos.
A couple of days ago, Pantone announced the 2017 Colour of the Year: Greenery. If you’re a design and colour nerd like me, you anxiously await this announcement each December, and you enjoy seeing how designers and brands embrace the chosen colour over the course of the upcoming year. To help you stay ahead of the curve, I scoured the internet for a variety of gifts in Greenery for you to purchase for your colour-loving friends and family [or yourself!] this holiday season.
We elves love all of the handmade goodies on Etsy so much that we feature one unique item from them here on the blog every single day during the holiday season. From felt ornaments to knitted goods to ceramics and more, Etsy has gifts for basically every person on your list, as well as loads of holiday decor items to make your home nice and festive. If you’ve never purchased anything from Etsy, now’s your chance because if you spend $50 or more on your first purchase, you’ll get $10 towards your next one. This offer ends next Monday, 12 December, so click here to peruse the crafty wares.
Over the past couple of years, Raymond and I have visited Rome and Venice, Italy. On both of these wonderful trips, one of things we enjoyed most was the food. Italian cuisine is one of my favourites, and Raymond is quite partial to it as well. As vegetarians, we both love all of the food options we have when in Italy.
Well, at the beginning of this year, Raymond and I had a hankering for pasta, pizza, and the like, so we travelled down to Italy for a few days to nosh and relax. We walked quite a bit each day, which was good since we ate a lot, too!
Warning: You might want to grab a snack because if you aren’t already hungry, you sure will be by the time you finish reading this post 😉
On our foodie excursion, we spent most of our time in Venice. As soon as we arrived in this ancient city, Raymond and I popped into a pizzeria where we shared a pizza topped with spinach and egg.
Raymond about to dig into pizza con spinaci e uovo
While walking around the town, we kept seeing these giant cookies in bakery windows, so we grabbed one to nibble on back at the hotel. It turns out these cookies are called pan dei dogi, and they are unique to Venice. They come in different flavours [ours was pistachio] and are topped with almonds or hazelnuts.
With our pan dei dogi al pistacchio
There are no roads or cars in Venice; therefore, everyone gets around either by walking or via vaporetto, which is a waterbus. So the following day Raymond and I took a vaporetto along the Grand Canal to our next delicious destination.
Enjoying the ride along the Grand Canal
Hidden down a side street, Friedland offers pasta and other dishes in take-out containers. Don’t let the unassuming appearance fool you—Friedland’s handmade pasta is extremely tasty and served piping hot.
Walking into the tiny space occupied by Friedland
The yummy pasta al pomodoro from Friedland was only €3.99—a steal!
Raymond and I then walked around, just exploring. We figured we needed some exercise since we were planning on eating a large meal later. And we may have stopped at GROM for gelato, but we were too busy enjoying our ice cream and forgot to take a photo.
Later on when dinnertime rolled around, we hopped on a vaporetto to visit another restaurant.
Peering out the vaporetto window
For dinner, we ventured to Spaghetteria-Pizzeria 6342 A Le Tole. We had seen this restaurant on a previous day and promised ourselves we would return because they had gorgeous fresh pasta on display in the front window. Raymond and I are so glad we made sure to go back because the food was incredible!
Maccheroni al pomodoro at 6342 A Le Tole
We must’ve been going through a pomodoro phase since we had it twice in one day, but it’s just so good. After cleaning our plates, Raymond and I could not figure out what dessert to order because they all sounded mouthwatering. But why decide when you can just split 2 different desserts, right?
Since we were in Venice during Carnival, not only did we get to see all of the amazing masks and costumes, we also were able to try a dish that is only served during this time of year: frittelle di Carnevale. These donuts come with a variety of fillings, but ours were filled with custard cream and came with warm chocolate to dip them in. Delizioso!
Raymond eyeing the frittelle di Carnevale
The other dessert we shared was—of course—tiramisù. Despite not liking coffee, I LOVE tiramisù. Raymond had never tried it before, but he’s definitely a fan now.
6342 A Le Tole’s tiramisù
After a few tasty days in Venice, we travelled farther south to Rome. We were craving pasta, and we knew our first meal in Italy’s capital had to be cacio e pepe. This Roman specialty is a very simple dish of spaghetti, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper.
Raymond says, “Mmm…”
If you are ever in Rome, don’t walk—RUN—to Pinsere. This award-winning pizzeria serves the classics as well as some unique flavour combinations. For our final meal in Italy, Raymond and I shared a gorgonzola, walnut, pear, and honey pizza, and we agreed that it was one of the best [if not THE best] pizzas we’ve ever had in our lives. The delectable crust and balance of flavours took this pizza to a whole other level of yumminess.
This pizza was a thing of beauty
Raymond and I had so much fun eating our way around Italy. We may have to take more food-centric trips in the future. And I should’ve heeded my own warning and gotten a snack because writing this post has certainly made me hungry! I think I’ll wander on over to the Kitchen and see what Mrs. Claus is baking.
Where else do you think Raymond went this year? Stay tuned to find out! 😀