A Sugar Filled Black Tie Affair

A few weekends ago, Matt and I had the distinct pleasure of attending a party at our friend, Caitlin Tormey‘s home. For 28 years, this lovely family has opened up their Staten Island home to friends and family to enjoy homemade desserts and sip champagne at a black tie affair.

The Tormey Family party is unlike anything I have ever seen before. Traditionally held around the New Year, Caitlin’s mom, Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, takes a full week of from her “day job” (chief executive officer and director of scientific affairs at the Cancer Research Institute) to apply her background in chemistry to the kitchen. For 7 days she prepares 28 different desserts; and every year the desserts are different. She then opens up her home to over 100 friends, neighbors and family members. I consider myself lucky to have been counted among these people.

We began out evening by taking the ferry over to Staten Island; something we had never done before. The views of the New York City skyline were breathtaking and definitely a sight worth seeing. After a quick ride, we found ourselves in the suburbs (or at least it felt suburban compared to Manhattan). The Tormey home sits of the edge of a hill with incredible views of the river, the Verrazano bridge, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Thankfully it wasn’t too chilly, so we were able to enjoy the views from the porch in the back of the house.

After taking in the beautiful Christmas decorations and drinking some champagne, Caitlin invited me into the dinning room for a “press only” viewing of the desserts. (I knew having a blog would get me a press pass at some point – now, if only I could use it to get on the field during a Patriots game!) When I walked in the room; I was immediately overtaken by the smell of sugar. The 28 cakes that sat before me were really amazing. How Jill managed to make 28 different desserts in one week in beyond me. How she managed to keep everything fresh and time the whole production is unbelievable. I can see myself trying this and ending up with melting cakes, stale cookies and a giant mess in our kitchen!

Once the doors to the dining room were opened to the “public” everyone proceeded to walk around the table simply looking. Then, once everyone had a chance to view the 28 choices, we went back through and picked which ones we wanted to try. I happily added 5 difference slices to my plate: peanut butter cheesecake, chocolate chunk candy cane cheesecake, eggnog torte, white mocha torte, peanut butter honeycomb cake. Matt decided to try all of the chocolate options which I believe resulted in 6 different slices. In the end, we were sick to our stomachs from all of the richness, but very happy!

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Matt and I have talked about throwing an annual holiday party; something that our friends and family can look forward to attending year after year. Unfortunately we haven’t settled on what holiday we should be celebrating. Matt wants to celebrate something that has to do with Notre Dame, while I would like to celebrate an obscure holiday like, March 13th which is National Ear Muff day.

Does anyone have any suggestions for creative and fun parties?

Guest Blogger – Team Building

I am excited to announce that we have another guest blogger today! This is someone who has been highly sought after since I started my blog a year and a half ago but always comes up with reasons why she shouldn’t/can’t write a post for me. After much begging, she finally caved!

This time of the year, people often get together to celebrate the holidays and enjoy each others company. Last night, Matt and I visited the Culinary Loft for his company party and this afternoon, I was be celebrating with my Robin Hood colleagues. And while my sister doesn’t work in a “corporate” environment, that is no reason not to celebrate the festivities surrounding the holidays. Please enjoy her post about the most recent team building activity that she did with her swimmers!

So everyone knows my sister is the just about the best baker ever and so very creative when it comes to her baked goods.

Inspired by her work with Robin Hood and Taste Buds doing gingerbread houses I decided to surprise my swim team on their last official practice with a gingerbread house making party.

We divided into classes and had a competition; at the end of the day prizes were awarded in the following categories:

 OVERALL WINNER: Seniors (they each made a house depicting their apartments on campus and put together village)

 

MOST CREATIVE: Sophomores (what they made isn’t really little things appropriate but it was hilarious)

 CLASSIEST: Juniors (a very classy and well designed house)

 

MOST ENTHUSIAM: First years (they got VERY into building their project…)

 

Thanks to Molly (and mom) for suggesting this as a team project; and thanks to my swimmers for making it fun!

A Holiday Tradition

Ginger can be traced back to Europe during the 11th Century when explorers came back from the Middle East with the spice ginger. In the middle ages, medieval ladies gave gingerbread cakes to their favorite knights. Different shapes were used for different meanings. The heart was used to ward off evil. Ginger was very plentiful in Germany because it became the center for spice trade. Craft people created special baking molds of animals, fish, and bible scenes sometimes weighing over one hundred pounds. In the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I presented guests with gingerbread made to look like them.

During the nineteenth century, gingerbread was modernized. It quickly became popular, especially in Germany. The Brothers Grimm, who wrote Hansel and Gretel, the tale was about two children who walked through the dangerous forest and they came upon a house made of gingerbread, made gingerbread houses even more popular. In some villages, each family would bring a model of their home to a central location where the village was recreated in miniature. Then, on New Year’s Day, the children break the houses apart and eat them to celebrate the New Year.

Gingerbread houses became popular in America after this time. Competitions still exist across the country to see who can build the most lavish Gingerbread house.

Since 1991, the people of Bergen, Norway have built a city of gingerbread houses each year before Christmas. Named Pepperkakebyen (Norwegian for “gingerbread city”), it is claimed to be the world’s largest such city. Every child under the age of 12 is permitted to make their own house with the help of their parents.

 One of my favorite holiday activities growing up was decorating ginger bread houses. I remember doing this in school when I was younger, using milk cartons and graham crackers. Inevitably the walls of the house would fall down and/or crack but it was always fun to try to put as much candy on the house as possible. Later on, we progressed to more advanced houses that were made of actual gingerbread and were held together with royal icing that hardened, holding the walls in place. Abby and I would try to out-do each other by adding singles to the roof or brick walkways that lead up to the doors.

When I moved to New York, I was lucky enough to help my friend, Jessi Walter who had just started her kids cooking company, Taste Buds. Over the month of December, I probably helped her run about 10-12 gingerbread house parties around the city. I definitely honed my gingerbread making skills during these classes and learned many tricks of the trade (most important – assemble the houses ahead of time!)

This past weekend I was able to put that knowledge and expertise to use on Saturday when we took approximately eight Robin Hood families to one of our homeless shelters that focuses on helping families stay off the streets. After a quick intro about the facility and work that they do, the families were led on a tour that included a stop at a playground that Robin Hood built a few years back.  The final stop was in the rec. room where we lead 30 children in gingerbread making.

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It was an incredible experience for everyone involved. I am so grateful that I was able to help carry on this holiday tradition with so many deserving  children.

p.s. Don’t you love that it is snowing on the Little Things? I do!

Cookie Swap

Tonight, Matt and I are going to the annual Taste Bud’s holiday party. I missed this glorious event last year and got to hear all about it from all my other “Taste Budders.” Right then, I knew this was not an event I wanted to miss again. So when I got my paperless post invite, I reserved the date on my calendar and started to get excited.

The party is a cookie swap, where everyone makes their favorite holiday treat and brings enough to distribute to the group. So you come to the party with a tray of your favorite cookies and leave with a tray containing an assortment of Taste Bud’s finest! With Taste Buds being a company that runs cooking classes and parties for kids, I knew the stakes were going to be high. I had to come up with a delicious, yet festive, cookie.

I decided to go with Gingerbread Snowflakes. These have been my “go to” cookie for the past 2 years. They are beautiful, as well as delicious, something of a rarity in holiday cookies. So after baking the cookies Tuesday night, I spent last night piping royal icing onto dozens of Gingerbread snowflakes. It was a lot of work, but my sous-chef did a great job helping out!

I will certainly capture the moments of the Taste Bud’s celebration. It is sure to be a great evening filled with some of my favorite people and delicious food!

For the  Gingerbread Snowflake recipe, please click here.