Holiday Cheer with Tara Manderino

by Anna on December 20, 2013

Thanks so much for letting me participate. The holidays are such a magical time of the year. To spread the joy, I’m giving a free download of my Regency Christmas novella, Stirring Wishes. To claim it go to Enter code AR52P at the checkout to get the novella for free.

Egg nog or hot chocolate? Is this a trick question? How can you possibly decide? Love them both though I tend to drink more hot chocolate than egg nog. Since I seem to be the only one in town to drink egg nog, it’s difficult to share.

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Christmas Eve dinner.  My dad was Italian, and my mom is Sicilian. Christmas Eve has always been about having family gather. My dad would do the Feast of Seven Fishes. After I was married, I took it over.  It’s a great time to gather. We gave up having a sit down dinner years ago – there were too many church schedules to work around with someone singing in a choir at this Mass, or this church, kids being altar servers. We just gave it up and now I still make all of the traditional dishes but have open house. So if someone is working late or at church, they don’t miss anything.

What is your favorite holiday song? That’s a tossup between O Holy Night and O Little Town of Bethlehem. Then there is The Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear. They all amaze me with their humility.

What is your favorite holiday movie?  I don’t know that I can choose ONE. Most are the older movies. The one fairly recent one that I try to watch at least once a year is Snow.  Of the older ones, I love White Christmas, The Bells of St. Mary’s and Desk Set.

What is the most important thing about the holidays for you?  The gathering of family and friends. All of the warmth of being surrounded with these great people takes the chill out of the area.

What do you leave for Santa? When the boys were little, it used to be biscotti and milk, and a carrots for the reindeer.

What do you do on Christmas Eve? Have family and friends over for the Feast of Seven Fishes. After that, who knows. Sometimes people break into groups and sing Christmas carols, or someone plays the piano, someone else will drag out their guitar. A few times, most of the group had cleared out early and we would jump into our cars and make it to Midnight Mass.

Do you have a Christmas morning tradition? Usually it’s going to church. When the kids were little, they were only allowed to open their stockings before church, if they were awake enough to do it after the Christmas Eve excitement. When they would come home, they would open presents. We still pretty much keep to that schedule. Even when the boys got older and went to church at different times they would only open their stockings until we got back from church. We make sure the tree is lit, the Christmas carols playing, and everyone is armed with hot tea or cocoa and cookies (or left over calamari). 

Do you have a real or artificial tree? Artificial. I used to alternate years, then decided the artificial one just fit my lifestyle better. It didn’t matter if I decided to get the tree and decorate it in the middle of the night.

What tops your tree? I have an angel on top. But since I can never have anything  straight (including the tree) the angel often looks like she’s going to jump in the fray of life below.

What color lights do you put on your tree? I have white lights on my tree. I used to use colored ones in a different house, but somehow the colored lights just don’t look right in this one. My tree stands in front of my large front window so it serves as my indoor and outdoor decoration.

Do you wrap as you go or do you do a marathon wrapping ‘party?’ Definitely wrap in one (or two sittings). If I wrapped as I went I would never remember what went where.

What is your favorite holiday book? One story I try to read every year is, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Do you have a favorite holiday decoration? My angel. I made an angel years ago. The head and shoulders are of cloth on cardboard and the body is white tulle and yards long. I hang the top of it near the lintel of the front door and drape the tulle across the corner of the wall.

What is your favorite holiday dish? Calamari in sauce.

What is your favorite holiday treat (pie, cake, cookies, etc)? Basket Cookies! I don’t really know the name of these little gems, but they’re awesome. My husband’s grandmother used to make them. (She was Italian.) They are made with olive oil, wine, salt and flour. Rolled into a rope, cut into pieces, rolled on the special basket (hence the name), then deep fried. When they’re cooled, they are dipped in honey. Awesome. And they are only made once a year—mainly because they are so labor intensive.

Christmas 6

Aside from the Basket Cookies, the dessert that everyone looks for when they come on Christmas Eve is the Brownie Trifle.

Brownie Trifle Recipe 


1 pkge brownie mix (13” x 9” pan size)

1 Pkg instant Chocolate pudding mix

2 cups milk

12 oz. whipped topping

3 Heath candy bars (1.55 oz each), chopped


Prepare and bake brownies according to package directions. Cool.  Cut into cubes, or break into pieces of about an inch.

Mix chocolate pudding and milk according to directions. Let stand until soft-set

In a 3 qt trifle glass or bowl, layer a third of the brownie cubes, pudding, whipped topping, and candy bits. Repeat layers. Top with whipped topping and sprinkle with candy bits. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.



A gung ho PR person in charge of getting a reclusive country western singer to perform live at a small function is responsible for him possibly losing his ranch for children. Tyler Davidson would rather deal with a large concert hall audience than come face to face with a few people. Such thoughts are beyond Abie Halloway’s thinking, but as she learns to understand what the ranch means to Tyler and comes to care for him, she realizes she does not want to be the one to cause his downfall.


She accepted the platter from Tyler with a smile, and using the serving tongs, took a piece of chicken and put it on her plate before passing it to the young man sitting to her right. Then she turned her attention back to her main objective.

“Thank you for inviting me,” she said to Tyler.

He looked at her, waiting for her to go on. She gulped. He knew darn well he hadn’t invited her.

“I really enjoyed your singing today.” How inane could you get? But he hadn’t told her to shut up yet.

“Thank you.”

She laid her fork and knife on the edge of her plate and leaned toward him. “Look, I have to admit, I’ve tried to contact your manager, and haven’t got a response.” At least not one she could accept. Anyone else would realize no response meant no. Honesty forced her to at least be truthful with herself. “I’m trying desperately to meet a deadline.”

Tyler lay his own silverware down. Abie noticed some of the others at the table were definitely interested in what was going on. Just what she wanted.

“What do you think I can help you with, Ms. Halloway?”

“Abie,” she said automatically. “The City’s Centennial Committee is putting together their gala and they would love to have you there.”

Tyler nodded his head. “Certainly I’ll buy a few tickets. But Paul would have been happy to handle that.”

Abie tried not to squirm, wondering if the man was being purposely obtuse. “Umm… They want you to sing.”

Tyler leaned back in his chair, totally at ease. “I don’t do small performances.” His tone was matter of fact. It might have dissuaded a lesser person.

“Why ever not?” The words were out of her mouth before she thought to phrase it a little more diplomatically.

“It’s a rule I made some time ago,” he said. His voice was even, but she couldn’t ignore the steel underlying it. “I never do that kind of thing.”

“What’s ‘that kind of thing’?” Sure, she wanted to know because it would keep her from her goal, but she genuinely wanted to know. It made no sense to her.

“It is not open to negotiation, Ms. Halloway.”

“Of course,” Abie nodded. That didn’t mean she was finished. She turned to the young man on her right, determined to make polite conversation. All the while, one part of her brain worked on how she could convince Tyler to change his mind. She knew the man did concerts; she wasn’t asking for anything different. She had to admit he had sounded pretty final. Not that it mattered to her. Final was just an additional challenge.

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