Saturday, January 25, 2014

Holiday Cheer

It's a month since Christmas Day, but we've only just returned home to Sydney from America-- hence this post's title. I hope you had moments of peace and joy with family and friends. Following a pre-holiday celebration with the hubs' parents in Sydney, we spent Christmas in Nashville, Tennessee with a crowd of family. It was the first Christmas we've had in the USA for a couple of years now, and it was a blast to catch up with cousins and relive old family traditions while creating some new ones.
summer Christmas pre-dinner spread in Sydney @ Southern Spoon blog
summer Christmas pre-dinner spread in Sydney
One of my family's most treasured culinary traditions is my late paternal great-grandmother's rolls, known as Mamaw's Rolls, and always spoken of with reverence for the patient, kind-hearted woman who made them in her tiny, gas-powered kitchen in rural Louisiana. I've mentioned these before-- impossibly soft, melt in your mouth, yeast rolls-- very difficult to replicate. One of my aunts, however, has mastered her own adaptation, and she gave a demonstration for all of us while we were gathered in Nashville.
cooking in the kitchen at Christmas @ Southern Spoon blog
my aunt in Nashville teaching the cousins how to make perfect yeast dinner rolls
like our Louisiana great grandmother used to make them
The secret to the rolls' lightness is time: allowing the dough to rise once for a few hours, then again overnight in the fridge (or outside on the porch, if it's cold enough). My aunt has also come to recognize the perfect consistency of the dough, adding flour until in looks and feels just right. She then used half of the dough to make regular dinner rolls, cut with a small drinking glass and placed closely together in round metal trays. She rolled out the other half of the dough into a large rectangle, covered it in a chocolate filling, and rolled the dough into a log to cut cinnamon roll-style sections. These she baked in a large rectangular pyrex, and they were phenomenal!
Christmas brunch in Nashville, Tennessee @ Southern Spoon Blog
the kids make Christmas brunch
For the first time ever at our large family holiday gathering in Nashville, the older generation decided that we, the kids (ranging in age from 25-32), could take responsibility for one of the shared meals. Via email we planned to cater for Christmas brunch, sending recipe ideas back and forth across the US and Australia until we had a menu that reflected our various food interests and regional delicacies. Our contribution was cheesymite scrolls, made into a festive Christmas tree shape (idea borrowed from Camille Styles).  I used the recipe here at Aussie blog The Organised Housewife, and they turned out perfectly. The final spread included stewed tomatoes and black eyed peas, cheese grits, honey baked ham, kale chips, cheesymite scrolls, cranberry bread, a seasonal fruit salad, and my uncle's infamous eggnog (like drinking heavily spiked whipped cream, aka heaven).  The parents and grandparents were duly impressed, and decided that the kids can take a more active role in meal planning from now on. Hooray!
old fashioneds, Texas style @ Southern Spoon blog
old fashioneds back in Texas with the fam
After Nashville we had a wonderful time in Texas staying with family and visiting friends. I soaked up time with my siblings and bestie, loved sipping on pre-dinner Old Fashioneds with my parents, and squeezed the cheeks of friends' new babies. We also ate the top of our wedding cake, even more delicious than it was in 2010 (we haven't yet been in the US together around our anniversary since the day we married!), thanks to my mom's Southern belle ninja freezer-proofing skills.

wedding cake topper @ Southern Spoon Blog
our wedding cake still delicious after a three year deep freeze
After a killer NYE in downtown San Antonio, I traveled to Chicago for a work conference, then joined the hubs in Los Angeles for another few days of work. Due to the polar vortex and a packed conference schedule, I wasn't able to venture out to see much of Chicago. But I did sneak into the newly opened Eataly to pick up some of their incredible produce and a few organic breakfast items. I ate lunch at the bar of Eataly's pasta restaurant, watching the chefs pull together dozens of fresh pasta dishes simultaneously. The food was fresh and the atmosphere lively-- highly recommend checking out their locations in Chicago or New York City. 

pappardelle arrabbiata at Eataly, Chicago @ Southern Spoon Blog
parperdelle with arrabiatta, fresh baked bread, and olive oil at Eataly, Chicago
In Los Angeles we stayed with good friends and enjoyed some homecooked meals with them, leaving a couple of opportunities to grab food out on the town. I had perfectly prepared scallops over pomegranate quinoa and the hubs had spicy fried chicken over maple-glazed waffles at Wood & Vine, a restaurant-bar with a cute al fresco dining area sandwiched between its neighboring high rise buildings.
scallops for dinner at Wood & Vine, Los Angeles @ Southern Spoon Blog
incredible scallops at Wood & Vine, Los Angeles
The Reel Inn on the Pacific Coast Highway just south of Malibu served up the freshest grilled fish and cajun rice. Eating on their sunny patio looking over the ocean made it feel like we were back in Sydney summer. We also ate more than our share of double fudge cake and german chocolate cake at Doughboys on 3rd Street (famed for their red velvet cake-- but it's full of artificial coloring, no thanks). Their coffee was the best American-style drip coffee I had during my entire stay in the US. Even the meal we had at Wolfgang & Puck in LAX was delicious-- who knew such a stellar mushroom, garlic, and pesto pizza could be found in an airport? 
cajun fish at The Reel Inn, Malibu @ Southern Spoon Blog
grilled fish and cajun rice at The Reel Inn, Malibu
It was a fabulous time sharing the holidays with loved ones and eating great food in homes and restaurants across four states. I hope you, too, had a special holiday season. We're adjusting back to Sydney life and soaking up the end of summer here... regular recipe posts to return soon!

Balmoral Beach, Sydney @ Southern Spoon Blog
end of summer drawing near back in Sydney

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