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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Over the Top Tree Decorating

Tree Decorator Extrodinaire, Holly with her little helper, Caroline

Tree decorator extraordinaire, Holly, with her little helper, Caroline

For most of us, putting up the Christmas tree each year is a time-consuming project.  Can you imagine that labor of love times FORTY?  Vicki’s sister, Holly, does just that – she puts up forty Christmas trees each year in her beautiful Indiana home. Holly starts decorating for Christmas before Halloween.  Some trees are stored with the decorations on them which helps speed along  the process.  Here is a sampling of some of the beautiful and unique trees that transform Holly’s house into a Christmas wonderland:

Champagne and Crystal

Champagne and Crystal

The Champagne and Crystal tree has a vintage mink stole as its tree skirt.  Holly and her husband, John, brought back baccarat crystals from a trip to Vienna.  This tree also includes many Waterford crystal ornaments.

Antique Gold with painted cameo ornaments

Antique Gold with painted cameo ornaments

Our parents vintage tree

Our parents’ vintage tree

Holly puts up her mom and dad’s vintage tree from the 1970’s.  She loves it because it has extra long needles and is in great shape, even  after 35 years.  It is decorated with vintage Shiny Brite ornaments,  sugared fruit ornaments and retro lighted candles.
Celtic Legend Tree

Celtic Legend Tree

This pale yellow tree is based on the Celtic legend of the one white tree in a forest bringing good luck.  Ornaments are mainly hand-blown European and the tree also features a rare set of composer ornaments – Mozart, etc.

Caroline's Madame Alexander Tree

Caroline’s Madame Alexander Tree

Caroline, Holly’s daughter, has inherited the family Christmas gene.  Her Madame Alexander Tree is her favorite.

Main Family Tree

Holly’s main family tree

Holly’s main tree has many types of ornaments but her favorite ones are the Christopher Radko and the Victorian sugar pears inherited from her mother’s side of the family.  Her goal with this tree is to fill it up with so many ornaments that no actual tree shows through.

"Silver Tree"

“Silver Tree”

The “Silver” tree is decorated with silverplate and sterling antique and vintage flatware from both sides of Holly’s family.  This tree also includes silver baby spoons and cups from her children – John, Jake and Caroline.

Vintage "Book" Tree

Vintage “Book” Tree

Things are a little different at Vicki’s house.  Her mother, Ann, and her father, Wyman, come down from Indianapolis each year for Thanksgiving.  Several years ago, Ann graciously offered to decorate her tree during their visit and has been Vicki’s special tree decorator ever since.

Vicki's Parents, Ann & Wyman

Vicki’s Parents, Ann & Wyman

Vicki's Family Tree

Vicki’s Family Tree

A Simple Celebration Gives Thanks


Vicki and I want to give thanks for our countless blessings.  With the support of our families, dear friends, and each other, we have been able to share our passions – cooking and entertaining.  We are happy and proud to announce that thanks to the encouragement we have received, we are able to go further with our vision. We can’t wait to share our plans with you as we expand A Simple Celebration’s website blog to include an on-line shop with offerings of basic dishware and unique entertaining pieces.

We very much enjoy sharing our recipes and entertaining advice and absolutely love the feedback we receive.  So keep following us as we share our journey into the world of another one of our passions – shopping!  More details to come soon – so stay tuned!

May all of the blessings of the season be yours during this time of thanks.


Holiday Cinnamon Pull-Apart Coffee Cake


The day after Thanksgiving means SHOPPING!!! to all the women in Vicki’s household (the men opt for golf).  In order to make sure that everyone is fed and happy before heading out, Vicki prepares this pull-apart coffee cake the night before – she whips it together while others are finishing up the Thanksgiving dishes.  The next morning, she gets up early, pops the pan in the oven, and serves the cake with fresh fruit.  She does all of this and still gets out the door by 8:00 a.m. to join the Black Friday madness!

Mary-Ellen makes this recipe on Christmas eve and serves it along with a breakfast casserole (see previous blog) on Christmas morning after presents have been opened.

If you’ve had a few holiday cocktails, don’t worry – it goes together very simply.

  • 1 package Bridgeford frozen Parker House rolls
  • 1 package butterscotch pudding (instant or regular)
  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 to 2 T. cinnamon
  • 1 c. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c chopped pecans, raisins, etc (optional)

Start this dish the night before you are going to serve it.  Grease a bundt pan and place 1/2 the frozen rolls in the pan.  Sprinkle 1/2 the pudding over the rolls.  If adding nuts or raisins, also add half.  Repeat layer.  Mix together the melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar.  Pour over the contents in the pan. Place bundt pan on a cookie sheet and store overnight on kitchen counter.  This dish will rise overnight.  If it overflows the pan, gently fold it back in.

The next morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Turn onto a pretty serving dish and serve warm.  This is also good served room temperature or can be reheated in the microwave for 20 seconds.


Bringing A Simple Celebration to the Holiday Boutique

Vicki making sure her earrings matched her apron - really!

Vicki making sure her earrings matched her apron – really!

Mary-Ellen serving homemade party mix.

Mary-Ellen serving homemade party mix.

We had a wonderful time last night at the Working Women of Tampa Bay’s holiday boutique.  Special thanks goes to our friend, Andrea, for helping us load and unload boxes, set up, and give us moral support.  We also want to thank our many friends who came by to say hello.   The holiday season has officially started!

Some of the holiday entertaining items we had for sale.

Just a few of the holiday entertaining items we had for sale.

Thanksgiving “Revisited”

Leftover Mashed Potato Patties

Leftover Mashed Potato Patties

Vicki writes:

In our family, we not only love Thanksgiving Day but also look forward to our family traditions on the Wednesday night before and the Friday after. On Wednesday night we eat seafood gumbo with a salad and cornbread muffins.  The gumbo is made earlier in November when a group of friends – Glenn, Julie, Jan, Karen and myself get together to make seafood gumbo and cornbread muffins.  We put them in the freezer until we are ready to serve.  This “make ahead” plan works great because on the night before the biggest cooking day of the year, you just thaw the muffins and gumbo, add the seafood, and dinner is served.  I would blog about the gumbo, which is delicious, but it is not “simple.”

We also look forward to the Friday after Thanksgiving.  It is what we refer to as Thanksgiving “revisited.”  Here are several secrets to making the meal as good as the day before:

  • Make fresh vegetables – there is nothing worse than limp green beans.
  • Store the sliced turkey in a large glass baking dish.  Take it out of the refrigerator 1 hour in advance of reheating to get it to room temperature.  Pour 1 cup of chicken broth over the turkey.  (This will make the turkey very moist). Reheat for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
  • Add chicken stock to the dressing and reheat as mentioned above.
  • Now for the best part – just ask my kids.  Form the cold mashed potatoes into patties.  Sauté in butter until a nice, brown crust forms.  Flip over and repeat.
  • Reheat pies before serving.
  • Just because it’s leftovers, don’t forget to serve great wine!!

Make Tonight a Sloppy Joe Night

Sloppy Joe Dinner

Sloppy Joe Dinner

This time of year, or really any time, dinner can be a daunting task.  Here is a recipe that is easy, tasty, and ready in no time.  Double the recipe and freeze half to have after a night of shopping, wrapping, decorating, or when it’s just one of those nights where the thought of cooking dinner overwhelms …

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce (found in ketchup section of grocery store)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Hamburger buns

Brown meat and onions.  Drain fat and add all other ingredients.  Bring to a slow boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve on a bun with chips and a pickle.  Makes 6 sandwiches.

Mexican Cheesecake – NOT a Dessert

Mexican Cheesecake

Mexican Cheesecake

Mary-Ellen writes:

This recipe originated from my sister, Kathleen.  Because of the size of our family,  holidays always were, and still are, a group effort filled with “assignments.”  One year Kathy was assigned appetizers and she said she would bring something she had recently at a party called Mexican Cheesecake.   I thought it sounded like a spicy dessert, not an appetizer.  Thanksgiving day arrived that year and in walked my sister with her cheesecake.  It was so pretty, everyone was afraid to ruin it by taking a slice.  My brother, Francis, finally took the first bite and got the OMG look on his face – he loved it.  We all digged in and it quickly became a family favorite.  I often serve it at my house or bring it to parties – everyone, every time gets the OMG expression and can’t get enough.  I personally guarantee this appetizer will be a crowd pleaser at your next simple celebration – give it a try! 

  • 1 cup finely crushed Nacho Flavored Dorito Chips (put in sealed bag and crush with mallet or heavy spoon)
  • 8 oz. bag finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • Two 8 oz. packages of cream cheese – completely softened
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped black olives
  • One hot chili pepper finely chopped
  • 2 tsp. chili powder

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a springform pan with cooking spray.  Mix together all ingredients and put into pan.  Place pan on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for  35 – 40 minutes – until center is set.

Cool for about 15 – 20 min, remove from pan and top with the following in a circular pattern:  (If you are bringing this to someone’s house, put the chopped toppings in separate, small baggies and top when you arrive)

  •  One chopped green onion (scallion)
  •  Chopped small tomato
  •  Chopped peppers – half each of yellow and red
  •  Sliced black olives
  •  Sliced jalapeno peppers (jar kind)

Serve with Triscuit type crackers or Scoop Tostitos.

What’s Cookin’ at A Simple Celebration?

Here's the latest from Mary-Ellen and Vicki

Here’s the latest from Mary-Ellen and Vicki

Quite a bit is cookin’ around here.  To begin with, we are changing our name!  Our current domain name is which is just too long, so we are changing it to  It will take some time for the name change to take place, but we wanted to keep you in the loop.

Another exciting bit of news for The Simple Celebration is our upcoming debut as retailers at the Working Women’s Holiday Boutique.  We took a “road trip” to Georgia and acquired  awesome holiday (Thanksgiving and Christmas) plates, platters, aprons, and linens which we will be selling at the boutique on Thursday, November 21, at Ruth Eckerd Hall from 6 – 9 p.m.  Ruth Eckerd Hall is located at 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater.  We will be raffling off a 10-piece Cat Cora pot and pan set (they are bright blue and too cute).  So come by and see us and maybe you will be the lucky one to have new pots and pans for Thanksgiving!

The next few entries on our blog will be Thanksgiving stories and recipes from our respective families.  We hope you enjoy them and pick up an idea or two.

That’s all for now.  We are loving The Simple Celebration life and hope you are too!

Pie Party Madness – Now on YouTube!

Our producer and director, Andrea

Our producer and director, Andrea

Our dear friend, Andrea, dabbles in photography and videography.  During our recent pie making party, she set up her camera and filmed the craziness of six women making ten pies.  Click on the link below to watch the insanity and pay close attention to the real star of the show, Vicki’s dog, Bronte!

Pumpkin Pie in Minutes

Easy Pumpkin Pie

Easy Pumpkin Pie

What is your favorite Thanksgiving pie? Many of us have fond memories of Thanksgiving desserts.  We hope that this week’s pie recipe blogs have inspired you to try and bake a pie or two – do not fear the crust!  Pumpkin is Mary-Ellen’s favorite pie.  As a child growing up in New York, she would have a slice for breakfast each morning during the Thanksgiving season.  Her mother had seven children, so homemade pies were never on the menu.  This recipe is so simple, her mom could have pulled it off even with her big brood!

This pie takes an hour to bake, but the ingredients come together very quickly.

  • Pillsbury pre-made pie crust
  • 1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
  • 3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350.  Spray 9-inch deep-dish glass pie plate with nonstick spray.  Line pie plate with crust.  Puree pumpkin in food processor.  Mix in next 6 ingredients.  Add eggs one at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Gradually add cream, processing just until blended.  Process 5 seconds longer.

Pour filling into crust and bake until center is set, about 1 hour.  Cool completely on rack.  Can be made a day ahead.  Cover and chill.

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