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Winter Holiday Fireside Moments: Interview with Wendy Corsi Staub

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It’s that time of year when the chill in the frosty air brings us indoors to hunker down with thick comforters and mugs of steaming hot chocolate overflowing with fluffy marshmallows. When holiday music and movies become the soundtrack to our everyday home lives. When we gather ‘round the fire for company, drink, food and love. When we are celebrating and remembering those we treasure and hold near and dear. When the real meaning of the season is family – by our DNA or by our heart. When we reflect and give thanks for all we have. In a nutshell, unconditional love.

I’d like to welcome Wendy Corsi Staub to share the beauty of the season with us.

Favorite Holiday tradition?

Christmas is a huge deal in my family, and we have so many it’s hard to choose, so I’ll pick the craziest (and perhaps most original) one: the whole family does a yearly Christmas Eve conga line around my childhood home to the Boston Pops’ rendition of “Sleigh Ride”–my father is always in the lead with the youngest grandchild in his arms.

Favorite childhood toy?

My Jody the Country Girl Doll and Jody’s Country Kitchen. I just found old home movies of the Christmas Santa left that for me–1976.

Favorite childhood game?

Manhunt (I loved a good mystery even then).

Snow ball fight or making snow families?

Snow ball fight = good cardio to burn off all that rum cake!

Sleigh rides, sledding or skiing?

All of the above!

Favorite Holiday song?

“Do They Know It’s Christmas” by Band Aid. Gotta love the ’80s, and my secret boyfriend Bono with a mullet in the video.

Favorite holiday movie?

The Homecoming, from 1970, with Patricia Neal playing Olivia–it later spawned the TV series The Waltons.

Favorite holiday story to read?

I love the Christmas chapters in all of the Little House books and reread them every year, along with Little Women and A Christmas Carol (if I have enough time).

Snow on holiday eve or just a chill in the air?

Definitely snow. I grew up in the snowbelt south of Buffalo. White Christmas all the way!

Most memorable holiday memory?

I met my husband at my office Christmas party in New York City in 1988. A few days later, we went on our first date, and then our second a day after that — which involved Christmas shopping and the Rockefeller Center tree — and I knew he was the one (I didn’t tell him that, of course!). We got engaged almost exactly two years later, right before Christmas. December has always been magical for me. It’s my favorite month of the year.

Did you eat popcorn balls as a kid? If you did, do you still?

As a kid, I did. We always got one in our stocking at the Elks Club Christmas party. I haven’t had one since but I wouldn’t mind one in my stocking again.

Real tree or artificial? Green or white?

REAL!!! ALWAYS!!!

What do you holiday eve?

I’m Italian, with a huge family, so that’s the big day for us. We all go to mass together, then open gifts, eat seafood, march around the house to “Sleigh Ride” (See Question #1), and my father sits down all 7 grandkids, ages 3 to 16, and tells them a new original chapter in his ongoing Christmas story about Topo Gigio the Christmas Mouse. Last year, Topo’s cousin Pinot Grigio came to visit. :-)

What are your holiday plans this year?

I’m blessed to have the same plans I’ve had every Christmas of my life: to spend it in my childhood home surrounded by Christmas lights, food, and family. It’s been bittersweet since we lost my mom to breast cancer a few years back, but we hang her stocking, play carols on her piano, and keep her traditions alive. There are always a few tears, but it lifts my spirits that as heartbroken as my father has been without her, he always manages to make Christmas jolly for all the kids and grandkids.

What’s the one holiday dish your family can’t go without?

Spaghetti and meatballs–that’s our Christmas dinner menu.

Please share a Holiday recipe.

Holiday Rum Cake

Cake:
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans
1 18-1/2 ounce yellow cake mix
1 1-3/4 ounce (4-serving size) instant vanilla pudding mix
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup Barcardi dark rum

Glaze**:
1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Barcardi dark rum

Cake: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle nuts on bottom of pan. Combine all cake ingredients. Beat for 2 minutes on high with electric mixer. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool in pan. Invert on serving plate. Prick top with fork. Drizzle glaze over top of cake. Use brush or spoon to put extra dripping back on cake.

Glaze: Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum.

** My secret is to use another half-recipe of the glaze so that it’s extra moist–in other words, I make it with 1 1/2 sticks butter, 1/4 + 1/8 cup water, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3/4 cup rum. Then, instead of drizzling it over the cake, I use a marinade injector (looks like a large syringe!) to actually inject it into the cake. I actually only use the marinade injector for my rum cakes.

Holiday party tip?

I cut fresh greens from evergreens around my house and decorate the fireplace, shelves, and platters with sprigs of them right before people show up–everything smells fresh and Christmassy.

Favorite holiday decoration?

The Christmas right before my mom died, I bought her the most wonderful folk art crèche ever–the figurines are beaming with joy, the way we do in real life when a baby is born. She loved it. The Christmas after she died was a sad one, and I came across the crèche in the attic. I decided to take it home with me, and every year when I put it up, I remember how happy it made her, and how thrilled she was every time a new grandchild came into the world. When I look at the smiling angel in that manger scene, I see my mom.

Please share some magical holiday memories?

A few years ago, I did just that on my blog, with a new post each day in a “Twelve Days of Christmas” series that my readers enjoyed. You can read those posts and get more of my Christmas recipes here.

Wrap, gift bag or bow & go?

Wrap, painstakingly.

Gifts or gift cards?

Both, especially now that my sons, godchildren, nieces and nephews are getting older.

Do you eat fruitcake?

Absolutely not!

Do you head to the movies on the 25th?

Absolutely not! It’s family and food festivities, morning, noon, and night.

What’s in your stocking? *wink*

NOT chocolate–I’m not a candy girl.

What do you want in your stocking? *saucy wink aka swink*

Hmmm…a popcorn ball? Oh, and Pinot Grigio (not the Christmas mouse’s cousin, see above) wouldn’t go unappreciated.

Do you head out on the 26th into the madness to exchange or shop for anything?
I never exchange gifts I receive–it might not be practical, but just isn’t in me to do that. I do love a bargain–not as much as I hate the madness, though. I wait till the January lull.

Thank you so much.

You’re welcome! Merry Christmas!

Happy Holidays from my house to yours!

Wendy’s website

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About Diane Morasco