Kim - The Christmas Cat soothed Jesus in your book. Did any of your pets bond like that with your daughters when they were babies?
Maryann - My daughters' first pet didn't arrive until they were three and six years old. He was a ginger Tom they named "Tiger." They adored him and he was extremely patient with them, allowing them to dress him up in doll clothes and parade him around our London garden in a buggy. Tiger met his match in the form of the Golden Retriever puppy we got when our girls were nine and twelve. He hissed at her and scratched her nose. But, recognizing him as the only other furry, four-footed member of the family, she gave him nothing but love in return. Gracie was a true grace. When our children had troubles at home or at school, she was always there, always happy to be with them, and always ready to give and receive love.
Kim - The kitten gave Mary and Joseph the gift of peace and quiet, something, as a mom of six, I can relate to. What has been the best Christmas gift you've received?
Maryann - Once, when we were living in London, my husband had a wealthy client from the Middle East. This generous man always wanted to show his appreciation for my husband's committed work by giving him gifts, as was common in his culture, but my husband always turned him down. So one Christmas, this Muslim man had a beautiful box delivered to our door from the famous British department store, Harrod's. It was addressed to me. When I opened it on Christmas morning, I found a gold-plated box with an onion dome. Inside was perfume from Oman, perfume scented with frankincense, one of the most lovely scents I've ever smelled.
I've kept that golden container and I continue to spray the perfume on for special occasions, always remembering that it came, as did the frankincense that was presented to Jesus, from a man who came from the East. All that was missing was the myrrh!
Kim - You've lived all over the world. What are some Christmas traditions from other countries that you incorporate into your own family celebration? (or wish you could)
Maryann - In France, the buche de Noel, a chocolate Christmas log, is often enjoyed on Christmas Eve. People attend midnight Mass and have a celebratory dinner afterwards. I learned to enjoy this custom of attending Mass on Christmas Eve and then having big meal afterwards, leaving Christmas Day to relax and enjoy our tree and presents. Smoked salmon, mince pies and Christmas pudding crept onto our Christmas menu when we lived in England. My husband used to go to Billingsgate, the London fish market, to buy the best smoked salmon. We served it to friends and family both on Christmas Eve with cranberry punch and on Christmas morning, on bagels.
Kim - Which Christmas albums are the favorites on your playlist?
Maryann - My favorite Christmas album was given to me by a friend. It is a collection of holiday favorites played on the piano by her friend and neighbor, Art Labriola, and is called simply Silent Night. I also start listening to George Winston's piano playing on his album, December, early in the season. My daughter Alison gave me Traditional and Modern Carols by the Pro Arte Singers and the Indiana University Children's Chamber Choir some years ago. It contains exquisite "early English favorites, Shaker and shape-note carols, and 20th-century gems," as the liner notes say. Other favorites: Celtic Christmas III, a Wyndham Hill sampler; Old Time Country Christmas, (hammered dulcimer, autoharp, guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo) produced by Mark Howard; and The Three Tenors Christmas, a powerful combination of the voices of Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.
Kim - Christmas goodies --- what is the one thing on your yearly table that "makes" it Christmas? Would you like to share the recipe?
Maryann - Can I make that two things? Both are a snap to make with children.
We always have cranberry punch in my grandmother's cut-glass bowl on Christmas Eve. First, we freeze cranberries and bay leaves into a block of ice. Then we pour a large bottle of cranapple juice, a container of pink lemonade and a couple of cans of ginger ale into the bowl…that's it! It is delicious, festive and pretty.
We also make our own no-bake version of the buche de Noel. First, we whip a couple of cups of cream with a little powdered sugar and vanilla. Then we layer the cream between chocolate wafers, stacking the wafers vertically to make a log. When it's long enough, we "frost" the outside of the log with the remaining cream, using a fork to make snowy-white "bark." Refrigerate it for 8 hours, then dust the log with dark cocoa powder and serve on a pretty plate. It's gorgeous sliced on the diagonal, and there's never any left over.