Six Hostess Gifts for a Delicious New Year

New Years Blog Post

Our mothers taught us that it’s polite to bring along something special when going to someone’s house. You might call it a “hostess gift,” but no matter the host or occasion, we just call it sweet. Whether you’re going to a Champagne-filled New Year’s Eve bash or an indulgent New Year’s Day brunch, we’ve rounded up a few things that any host would be happy to have.

1. Whisper Cake – While it’s not an official holiday item, this popular cake with it’s fruit-filled layers would pair nicely with a glass of Champagne.

2. Holiday Tart – Filled with cranberries, pecans, orange zest and caramel, this tart makes for a tasty treat any time of day.

3. Brown Sugar Shortbread Holiday Cookies – Cut into stars and adorned with crystal sugar, these cookies will bring a touch of sparkle to the party.

4. Sardinian Flatbread with a savory spread – In addition to our Roasted Artichoke Spread (pictured), we have a variety of seasonal spreads that pair perfectly with our Sardinian Flatbread.

5. Cassata Cake – Chocolate lovers swoon for our Cassata Cake (pictured) and gluten-free Mini Gianduja. Both desserts are loaded with rich chocolate flavor, but our Mini Gianduja is a triple-threat with chocolate espresso, chocolate hazelnut and chocolate ganache!

6. Budapest Coffee Cake Ring – Our classic sour cream coffee cake laced with a swirl of cinnamon, cocoa, brown sugar, raisins and toasted walnuts makes a great brunch addition.

Cookie Swap: A Christmas Cookie History

‘Tis the season for baking! Whether you’re hosting a Christmas party or having a quiet holiday celebration at home, chances are cookies will be part of the equation.

The tradition of baking and sharing Christmas cookies stretches back for centuries with its roots firmly planted in Europe. As people migrated to America, so did their cooking traditions. According to McCalls’ December 1994 issue, the earliest account of Christmas cookies in America came from the Dutch in the 1600s.

With an assortment of Ginger Molasses Cookies, Swedish Overnights, Mexican Wedding Balls, and Sour Cherry Brown Sugar Shortbread Cookies, our Christmas Cookie Box is a melting pot of cultural flavors. Like folklore, some of these recipes have been shared and modified so much their origins have become blurry, but we’ve tracked down some truths about each recipe.

Ginger Molasses Cookies

As Leslie says, ginger has a natural warming quality that’s perfect for this time of year. With its recipe closely mirroring that of gingerbread, conventional wisdom tells us that the Ginger Molasses cookie is a miniature version of the sweet and spicy cake.

Mexican Wedding Balls

These cookies are perhaps the most ragtag of the bunch. Also known as Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs and Butterballs, it’s believed that this recipe came from the Moors who invaded Spain in the 8th century. Some food historians say the recipe eventually migrated to South America and Mexico with European nuns.

Swedish Overnights

No Scandinavian Christmas celebration would be complete without Swedish Overnights. Also called Swedish Heirloom Cookies, Swedish Overnights share similar ingredients to Mexican Wedding Balls. These cookies can be dusted with powered sugar, or in this case, colorful sprinkles for a festive touch.

Sour Cherry Shortbread Cookies

A classic Scottish dessert with three basic ingredients, shortbread makes a quintessential cookie. It’s a popular choice for holidays, because it’s so adaptable and can be cut into festive shapes. We’ve added coarse crystal and brown sugars, tart cherries and vanilla to our recipe for more complex flavor.

Like those before us, we hope you enjoy sharing these recipes for many years to come!

Meet Our Family: Joni Scalzo & Liz Johnson

Joni and Liz, our holiday decorating team

Joni Scalzo and Liz Johnson, the creative duo behind our holiday decor, spread cheer one season at a time. Seemingly overnight, each of our cafés has been transformed into a winter wonderland with frost-dotted windows and pine saplings, jewel-toned ornaments and bows of greenery.

“I love decorating for Macrina,” Joni gushes. “It’s organic and creative. And I’m always surprised by the little things that can become everything. We’ll find one little thing that we’re inspired by, like an ornament, and we’ll take it apart and tweak it and turn it into something different.”

Joni’s mile-a-minute, inventive spirit is not only inherent, coming from a big, creative family, she has nearly three decades of experience with Nordstrom. During her tenure, she worked her way into its visual department, a place that has turned holiday merchandising into an art. Joni credits Nordstrom for teaching her everything she knows, including finding ingenious opportunities in each decorating challenge.

“We always have a plan but roll with everything that comes up,” she says. “If I forget a pumpkin, we’ll make it out of something else. We’re pretty organized and methodical but sometimes we’ll do something that we like better than what was planned. It just always works out.”

The day after each holiday, she and Liz begin brainstorming for next year. They find inspiration in the glossy spreads of Country Home and Coastal Living and on the shelves of World Market, Anthropologie and West Elm. Subtlety is key for keeping our customers and staff happy while infusing our cafés with a bit of festive flair, but Joni and Liz continue to wow everyone each season. They can’t help but let that spirit spill into their homes as well.

“I get really excited about the decorations at Macrina and then they’ll show up at my house!” chimes Liz. “Like those wooden disc cutouts; I put those on my Christmas list. Or burlap; I got excited about burlap a while ago, so I took framed pictures and wrapped the mat in burlap.”

Liz admits that being a full-time decorator can get a bit hairy (and dirty) at times. She recalls finding herself covered in spray adhesive and strips of birch after decorating for Thanksgiving. But, she says, it’s totally worth it.

“It can be exhausting, but when you’re done it’s the best feeling. It’s a high!”

And with that the two fall into step, discussing decorating plans for the next holiday: Valentine’s Day.