Are you planning a Hanukkah party this year?

Take a look at my feature for the 2010 holiday issue of Rockland Magazine. In it, I share my thinking on how to blend a little tradition with a lot of glamour and make this year’s Festival of Lights your brightest one yet.

My mission is always to apply a little creativity to local, seasonal ingredients. This being a Hanukkah party, potato latkes are certainly on the menu – but with a gourmet twist.

And, thinking seasonally of course, I created two other latkes as well: butternut squash-leek latkes with cumin for an exotic flair; and beet-scallion latkes with a cayenne-spiked crème fraîche.

No holiday party is complete without some bubbly – after all, what drink says celebration more than sparkling wine? For this party I’m serving two spectacular sparklers: The Blanc de Blancs from Lieb Family Cellars on the North Fork of Long Island; and the Brut Rosé from Graham Beck Winery in South Africa.

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It’s not every day that I get to cook for someone as special as Randall Grahm, the self-proclaimed “founder, winemaker, terroirist-vinarchist and prez-for-life” of Bonny Doon Vineyard.

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When Mary Lynn Mitcham, Editor in Chief of Rockland Magazine, asked me if I would write a feature about holiday desserts, she didn’t have time to finish her sentence before I wholeheartedly agreed!

This was last August, mind you, so I had to put my “holiday dessert” head on a little earlier than usual. Mary Lynn wanted me to create a special dessert for each of five different occasions: a brunch, a holiday dinner, a Christmas feast and a New Year’s Eve party, as well as one for holiday gift-giving.

I immediately started working on the concepts, and soon had sent her a list of the desserts I dreamed up. Thankfully, she loved them all. And so my journey began!

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As a junior in college and a new immigrant to this country, I was quick to adopt Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday.

We Americans may have inherited this ritual of giving thanks from the Pilgrims, but throughout history people of all nations have celebrated harvest time with a feast.

Now that’s where I get very excited about this special holiday. Cooking being my passion, having the chance to make a feast is something I anticipate with great joy each year.

When planning my own Thanksgiving menu, I follow the original spirit of this special holiday and let the abundance of the harvest itself guide me. Since I do most of my shopping at our local farmers’ markets from spring through fall, I’m familiar with the gorgeous produce they offer and the succession of crops.

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