Holiday Edition: Virtual Progressive Dinner

With all the hustle and bustle of December: school holiday shows, class holiday parties, staff holiday parties, volunteer opportunities, holiday gifts. . .  All good things, but this time of year often leaves me feeling ragged and gasping for breath! But we're almost there: Winter Break!!  This is a reposting from December 2018 of favorite ideas for the holidays!

Not that I need the holidays as a reason to gather, but there's nothing I love more than spending time with good friends, eating good food, and talking about good books! That's where this idea of a virtual progressive dinner comes in!
As I was chatting with my We Teach So Hard podcast partners, we were bemoaning the fact that we are spread out around the country. We all love dinner parties and talking good books,  so although we are in different time zones, we can pretend to be together, as we enjoy the following drinks, meals, and books! Welcome to our virtual progressive dinner party!

Who doesn't love a cheery party drink? This poinsettia cocktail is a simple, yet pretty cranberry punch with a hint of orange that’s fun and festive for the holidays! (It can be made for adults or  it can also be made individually in a cocktail shaker and served straight up; chilled with no ice. Garnishing with fresh cranberries and orange slices or an orange twist also makes for a fancy drink.  Freezing cranberries or cranberry juice into ice cube trays keeps this cocktail cold, yet they won't dilute the drink.  Click HERE to download the recipe card!

If fruity is not your thing, then nothing says the holidays like candy canes. . . candy cane-infused vodka, that is! Super simple: pour vodka or vanilla vodka into a quart size mason jar. Crush 5-7 red and white candy canes in a ziploc bag (crush with a rolling pin) or use a food processor. Add the candy cane crumbles to the mason jar and seal with the lid. Place mason jar in a dark pantry for 2-3 days. The candy canes will have dissolved, but if there are any pieces still left, strain through a cheesecloth. Now what to do with this jar of tastiness? Click HERE for a peppermint vodka martini recipe from Delicious Table; it sounds amazing! Or if you want to serve a warm drink, add the candy cane-infused vodka to hot cocoa!

 My very favorite food any time of year is soup. I could eat it every day! Soup works well with a crowd and you can prep it ahead of time, then keep it warm in a crockpot!  An Olive Garden copycat recipe, Zuppa Toscana is one of my family's most asked for meals. Yes. . . it IS a meal, not just a side dish! This is a hearty and delicious soup made with just a few main ingredients: potatoes, kale, sausage (or sausageless sausage. . . yes, that's a thing). Everyone from my 88-year old father to my carnivorous husband to my 13-year old vegetarian daughter requests this dish! This soup is perfect for dipping crusty French bread into. Add a salad  and your meal is complete! Click HERE to download the recipe card! Or read more about this recipe from Genius Kitchen.

And no dinner is complete without dessert! I found this mouth-watering EASY recipe for slow cooker brownie pudding (think lava cake with a bit more crunch and substance). Again, this is a minimal ingredients, SIMPLE dessert made in the crockpot. Imagine the scent of melted chocolate wafting through the house. . . Scoop out the gooey goodness into a mug or bowl, top with ice cream, maybe sprinkle crushed candy canes over the top to keep with the holiday theme. Click HERE for the recipe from Crazy for Crust.
Now that dinner and dessert have been devoured, it's time to sink back into the couch with a cozy afghan and a compelling book. I tend to read a lot of historical fiction but I've read so many fantastic realistic fiction novels lately, that I had a hard time choosing just one to share! So I'm sharing a few! As I picked the following three titles, I realized there's a theme emerging in my reading life. These are three very different books, yet they all deal with race and misconceptions, current and timely issues, the disparity between socioeconomics, and characters finding their true selves. They all take place in the South; very different from southern California, where I live! I was fascinated by the culture and people in each book. You will fall in love with these characters and their stories!
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson is a page-turner with several twists throughout the book. Teenager Arlene Fleet made a deal with God. She would stop being a slut, never lie or fornicate again, and leave town for good after high school graduation. All He had to do was hide the body of the boy she’d killed. When an old schoolmate turns up at Arlene's door in Chicago asking questions about Jim Beverly, former quarterback and god of Possett High, Arlene's break with her former hometown is forced to an end. At the same time, Burr, her long-time boyfriend, has raised an ultimatum: introduce him to her family or consider him gone. Arlene loves him dearly but knows her lily white (not to mention deeply racist) Southern Baptist family will not understand her relationship with an African American boyfriend. Reluctantly, Arlene bows to the pressure, and she and Burr embark on the long-avoided road trip back home. As Arlene digs through guilt and deception, her patched-together alibi begins to unravel, and she discovers how far she will go for love and a chance at redemption.
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin had me holding my breath and dreading what would happen next. Amid so much wealth and privilege of her exclusive private high school, Lyla doesn’t always fit in—and her loving, yet overprotective single father doesn’t help. In most ways, she’s a typical teenaged girl, happy and thriving. Then one photograph, snapped on a cell phone in a drunken moment at a party, changes everything. As the image spreads like wildfire, the school community is instantly polarized, buzzing with controversy and assigning blame. Characters question their closest relationships, asking who they really are, and searching for the courage to live a life of true meaning.

As a mom of three daughters myself: a teenager and two 20-somethings, the reality of social media and peer pressure are real. This book was terrifying, yet hopeful that resilience and power can come from poor choices.
Calling me Home by Julie Kibler is based on the true story of the author's grandmother. It is an unlikely friendship between an 89-year old white woman, Isabelle McAllister and a black single mom, Dorrie Curtis. The story shifts between present day and the 1930's. Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family's housekeeper―in a town where blacks weren't allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle's first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.

I could not put this book down! I held my breath in many places, cried and was angered by the injustice done to Isabelle and Robert. I was sad when this book ended; I loved the characters so much!
Click HERE to download a beautiful bookmark for your new books and a couple of recipe cards for your next gathering! Take some time for yourself during Winter Break. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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  1. These are great suggestions! I will try them. You write great book reviews. Please let me know if you ever want to read one of my romantic suspense novels, and I will send you a free copy to review. Happy Holidays to you!

  2. These recipes and books sound fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy holidays.