By Ann Cipperly

With a festive wreath on the door, the tree laden with ornaments collected over 44 years of marriage and a collection of jovial Santa mugs in the kitchen, the home of Peggy and George Dyar is decorated beautifully for Christmas. Peggy has gathered her favorite recipes for creating a special dinner at Christmas.

Ornaments their children made and ones collected from years of travel decorate their “memory tree.” If Peggy could not find an ornament from a place they visited, she would purchase colorful key rings to tie on the tree with ribbon.

She started collecting Santa mugs 20 years ago and now has 52 mugs as well as ornaments with jolly Santa faces. Peggy has collected the mugs on trips, and some are gifts. “It has to be just the right Santa face,” she says. “The collection ranges with mugs from Sorrento, Italy, to flea markets.”

In the den, Christmas stockings made by Peggy hang from the mantel. Everyone in the family has a stocking except for the new grandchild recently born in Portland, Or. She will have his ready by the time he visits.

Peggy and George have two children. Their daughter, Anna, and husband Nate live in Portland and have two sons, Nolan, 2 1/2, and Alden, 4 months old, while son David lives in Cullman and is a monk at St. Bernard Abby. Brother Benedict Dyar enjoys baking specialty cinnamon raisin bread, Monk Bread, at the monastery bakery. Last year 3,000 loaves were sold at their Bloomin Festival.

Peggy grew up in Newell, a rural community in Randolph County where she and her siblings enjoyed Christmas celebrations with plenty of good food at their grandparents’ home. Her mother is 88 years old and still lives in Newell with Peggy’s brother.

Her mother and both her grandmothers were excellent cooks. “Living in a rural area,” says Peggy, “learning skills at home such as cooking and sewing were part of their entertainment.”

She remembers as a young child her paternal grandmother would let her stand on a stool at the counter when making her famous tea cakes. “Cooking has just been something that has been part of my life,” she says. “I started at a young age and continued.”

After she graduated from Auburn University, Peggy began looking for a teaching position in the area, as she was attending graduate school. While teaching at Opelika High School, she met George, who grew up in Opelika. “George’s mother was an excellent cook too,” she says, “so I have had to continue the tradition.”

While Peggy took breaks when the children were born, she also taught at Morris Avenue School and was the library media specialist at Southview Primary School.

George worked at Davis–Dyar, a business founded by his father, George H. Dyar, and T.K. Davis.

Now that Peggy and George have both retired, they enjoy traveling and spending time at their Lake Martin vacation home.

When their children were growing up, Peggy baked cookies with them during the Christmas season. Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she stood them on stools, as she taught them to roll out cookies. She remembers they had flour on their faces and everywhere, but it was a fun time.

Their children also enjoyed playing with a plastic nativity set that Peggy now lets her grandchildren arrange over and over.

The Dyars have been active at First United Methodist Church and sing in the choir. The family enjoys the hanging of the greens and the Christmas Eve service.

The weekend before Christmas, the Dyars visit Peggy’s mother and other family in Newell. Now that Anna is married, her family comes for Christmas every other year. On the years family can’t come, the Dyars celebrate with friends.

One Christmas when they were tired of turkey, Peggy enlisted her son-in-law, who does most of the cooking in his family, to prepare the Spice-Rubbed Tenderloin with Mustard-Cream Sauce, a superb entree. The tenderloin is coated with a flavorful rub, while the sauce enhances the flavor.

The Rosemary-Thyme Rib Roast and Cranberry Apple Pork Tenderloin are also good options for an excellent Christmas dinner.

One of Peggy’s favorite appetizers is the Salmon Spread, a recipe from an Alaskan cruise. The Dyars took a side trip for whale watching, and the river boat captain served the spread. Everyone wanted the recipe. Peggy uses red sockeye salmon for making the tasty appetizer.

Among the recipes are vegetable and salad recipes for delectable sides. Peggy created her own Wassail recipe that fills the house with a wonderful aroma.

Coconut Cake, Caramel Cake and Belgium Mocha Cake are popular dessert choices for Christmas. The frosting for the mocha cake originally included egg yolks. Peggy wrote “Southern Living” to ask about the frosting, and they sent her an adapted version, omitting the yolks.

Along with cakes, she is sharing recipes for a southern Sweet Potato Pie with a Marshmallow Meringue recipe as well as a Bourbon Pie from a restaurant in Meridian, Miss. Brandy Alexander Dessert is her easy, standby choice that she serves with cookies.

Look over Peggy’s recipes and assemble a fabulous Christmas menu for your family and friends.

“Christmas is our favorite time of year,” says Peggy. “I love decorating for the season. We try to make sure we have a lot of family time as well as time with friends.

“The real meaning of Christmas,” she adds, “is the baby born on Christmas, and we don’t forget that.”

Ann Cipperly can be contacted at


Spice-Rubbed Tenderloin With Mustard-Cream Sauce
For tender slices, don’t cook past a meat thermometer registering 130° in the center.
2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp, ground cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1 (5- to 6-lb.) beef tenderloin, trimmed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Vegetable cooking spray
Mustard-Cream Sauce (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 500. Stir together kosher salt and next 6 ingredients. Rub tenderloin evenly with olive oil. Sprinkle salt mixture over tenderloin, pressing to adhere. Cover and let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Place tenderloin on a lightly greased (with cooking spray) rack in a roasting pan.
Bake at 500 for 15 minutes; reduce oven temperature to 375, and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in thickest portion registers 130° (for medium-rare) or to desired degree of doneness. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes before slicing. Serve with Mustard-Cream Sauce.
Makes l0 to l2 servings.
Mustard-Cream Sauce
1 shallot, minced (about 3 Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Creole mustard
2 tsp. sugar
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Sauté shallot in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium heat 2 minutes or until soft; add garlic, and sauté 1 minute.
Stir in wine, mustard and sugar; bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes or until mixture has thickened and is reduced by about half. Remove from heat, and whisk in sour cream, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Makes about 2 cups.

Nana’s Caramel Pound Cake
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/2 cup vegetable oil
5 large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Caramel Frosting (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 10 inch tube pan. Beat sugars and butter at medium speed until blended. Add oil, and beat until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until yellow disappears.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract. Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, remove from pan, and cool on wire rack. Drizzle with Caramel Frosting.
Caramel Frosting:
1 box light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
5-oz. evaporated milk
Dash of salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring often. Boil, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; add baking powder and vanilla. Beat at medium speed with an electric mix 5-7 minutes or until thickened. Drizzle quickly over cake.

Potato and Gruyere Casserole
12 medium Yukon gold potatoes (about 4 lb.)
2 tsp. salt, divided
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 large sweet onion, chopped
½ tsp. pepper
2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Gruyere cheese*
Cream Sauce (recipe follows)
Peel and thinly slice potatoes. Bring potatoes, 1 tsp. salt and water to cover to a boil in a Dutch oven; cook 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat; drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add chopped onion, and sauté 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Layer half of potatoes in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish or 2 (8-inch) square baking dishes; sprinkle with ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Top with half each of onions, Gruyere cheese, and Cream Sauce. Repeat layers once, ending with Cream Sauce.
Bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 10 to 12 servings
* l (8-oz.) block Swiss cheese, shredded, or 1 (8-oz.) block sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded, may be substituted.
Cream Sauce:
¼ cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups milk
1 cup dry white wine
¼ tsp. salt
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.
Gradually whisk in milk and wine; cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, 18 to 20 minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Stir in salt.

Rosemary-Thyme Rib Roast
If you can’t find a boneless rib roast, purchase a 6-pound bone-in roast and have the butcher remove the bone for you.
1 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
1(4 1/2-lb.) boneless beef rib roast
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried thyme
1½ cups dry red wine
1½ cups red wine vinegar
½ cup olive oil
Garnishes: fresh rosemary sprigs, fresh thyme sprigs
Combine salt and pepper; rub evenly over roast.
Brown roast on all sides in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove skillet from heat, and let roast cool slightly.
Combine garlic, dried rosemary and dried thyme. Rub mixture evenly over roast; place on a lightly greased rack in an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Stir together wine, vinegar and oil.
Gradually pour wine mixture over roast. Bake at 250 for 2 hours; increase oven temperature to 350, and bake I more hour or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 145 (medium rare) or to desired degree of doneness.
Remove roast from oven, and let stand 15 minutes before slicing. Garnish, if desired. Serves 8 to 10.

Cranberry, Pear and Walnut Salad
Caramelized Walnuts:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
2 cups walnut halves
Cranberry Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
8 cups spring greens mix
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 red pear, cored, thinly sliced
For walnuts, combine sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Cook until threads form or until a candy thermometer registers 230 degrees.
Add butter, cinnamon, cream of tartar and walnuts. Stir until nuts are well coated. Spread the nuts on a plate or waxed paper to dry.
For the vinaigrette, mix cranberry cocktail concentrate, vinegar, mustard and salt in a bowl. Season with pepper. Whisk in oil gradually. Cover and chill until ready to use.
For the salad, place spring greens mix and cranberries in a large bowl. Toss with enough Cranberry Vinaigrette to moisten. Divide between 6 salad plates. Arrange red Onion and pear on salads. Top with Caramelized Walnuts. Makes 6 servings.

Salmon Spread
Peggy received the recipe from a river boat captain on an Alaskan whale watching afternoon.
16 oz. can wild caught salmon (Peggy uses red sockeye salmon)
8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
8 oz. carton French onion dip
2 to 3 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
Crackers of choice
Combine, salmon, cream cheese, dip and onion together; mix well. Serve with crackers of choice.

Peggy’s Wassail
1 gallon apple cider
6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
6 oz. frozen lemonade
6 oz. frozen pineapple juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
3-4 cinnamon sticks
Combine apple cider, juices and brown sugar. Add spices. Heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, but do not boil. Remove spices with slotted spoon before serving.

Classic Coconut Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups self-rising flour, sifted
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 egg whites
1 cup white corn syrup
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flaked coconut for top and sides of cake
2 (10-oz.) jars lemon curd
Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.
In a large bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Slowly add sugar and continue beating until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk and flour alternately to butter mixture, mixing well. Stir in vanilla extract.
Divide batter equally among prepared pans. To minimize air bubbles, tap cake pans onto counter top 2 or 3 times. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake tester inserted into center comes out clean.
Cool in pans 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto wire rack and cool completely.
To prepare frosting, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. In medium saucepan, combine corn syrup, sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.
Pour syrup mixture slowly over egg whites, beating constantly with electric mixer on high speed. Continue beating for 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla until mixed.
To assemble cake, split layers horizontally with serrated knife. Spread thin layer of lemon curd filling between split layers. Frost top and sides of cake with frosting. Sprinkle coconut on top and sides.

Belgian Mocha Cake
2 ½ cups sugar, divided
3 Tbsp. water
2 (1-oz.) squares unsweetened chocolate
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
4 eggs, separated
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 or four 9-inch round cake pans. Line with waxed paper, grease and flour.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, water and chocolate. Place over low heat until chocolate melts. Set aside to cool.
Combine remaining 2 cups sugar and butter; beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg yolks, beating well after each addition. Stir in chocolate mixture.
Combine flour, soda and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until frothy; add cream of tartar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into batter.
Pour batter into pans. Bake for about 25 minutes or until tests done. Cool on wire racks.
Spread with Mocha Frosting. Store in refrigerator. Cake is better made a day ahead.
Mocha Frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
2 Tbsp. instant coffee granules
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. coffee liqueur or 1 Tbsp. whipping cream
Stir together first 3 ingredients. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add powdered sugar mixture, beating until spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla and coffee liqueur.
Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue Topping
1 deep dish pie crust
1 cup sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1 can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. self-rising flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon flavoring, optional
Marshmallow Meringue (recipe follows)
Combine all filling ingredients. Pour into pie crust. Bake 45 minutes at 375. Remove from oven and increase temperature to 400. Cover pie with Marshmallow Meringue and bake 6-7 minutes.
Marshmallow Meringue
3 egg whites at room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 (7 oz.) jar marshmallow crème
Beat egg whites, vanilla and salt on high speed until foamy.  Gradually add sugar 1 Tbsp. at a time, beating until still peaks form.  Beat about 1/4 marshmallow crème into egg white mixture; repeat until remaining crème has been added.
Beat until smooth, about 1 minute.  Spread on cooked pie.  Bake at 400 for 6-7 minutes or until lightly browned.

Spinach and Artichoke Casserole
Two 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained well
14-oz. can artichoke quarters, drained and cut into chunks
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup coarsely crushed Ritz crackers
1/4 butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9×13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook spinach according to directions on package and drain well. Sauté onion in butter and add to drained spinach along with sour cream, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.
Place artichokes in bottom of casserole dish. Spread spinach mixture over artichokes.
Top with crushed Ritz crackers, drizzle with butter and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serves 8.

Blue Moon Inn Cheese Spread
1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives, chopped
1/3 cup bottled chili sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 (l0.oz.) block sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
Garnish: sliced pimiento stuffed Spanish olives
Assorted vegetables and crackers
Preheat oven to 350. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Cool 5 minutes; finely chop pecans.
Stir together mayonnaise and next 3 ingredients until well blended. Stir in cheese and pecans. Garnish, if desired. Serve with vegetables and crackers.

Bourbon Pie
Weidman’s Restaurant, Meridian, Miss.
1 box (8 1/2 oz.) chocolate wafers*
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
21 large marshmallows
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
4 Tbsp. bourbon
1 cup heavy cream, whipped with 1/4 cup sugar
Grated bitter chocolate
Assorted seasonal fruits
Crush chocolate wafers with rolling pin or blender. Stir crumbs and melted butter together; pat into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake in a 350 oven until set; cool.
To make filling, melt marshmallows in hot evaporated milk, stirring over medium heat until melted. Cool.
Fold whipped cream into marshmallow mixture. Stir in bourbon. Pour into chocolate crust. Chill 3 to 4 hours.
Top with whipped cream mixed with 1/4 cup sugar. Sprinkle grated chocolate over top. Garnish with a wreath of fresh fruit around the edges.
*If you can’t find chocolate wafers (usually with ice cream toppings), use Oreo chocolate cookies with the filling removed.

Brandy Alexander Dessert
Serve with cookies
Vanilla ice cream
3 jiggers crème de’ cacao
2 jiggers brandy
Place ice cream in blender; add crème de’ cacao and brandy; blend until mixture is a liquid. Pour into stemmed glasses. Garnish with a dash of nutmeg.

Cranberry-Wine Punch
10-oz. pkg. frozen strawberries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brandy
48-oz. bottle cranberry juice cocktail, chilled
1 (750-millilIter) bottle sparkling white wine, chilled
1 (28-oz.) bottle club soda, chilled
Mash strawberries with a potato masher or fork in a large bowl; stir in sugar, brandy and cranberry juice. Cover and freeze 8 hours. Transfer to a punch bowl; add wine and club soda.
Makes 4 cups.

Magnolia Blossoms
1 (6-oz.) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
3 cups Chablis
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup Triple Sec
Orange slices (optional)
Combine first 4 ingredients; mix well. Serve over ice. Garnish with orange slices, if desired. Makes 6 cups.