Densons celebrate with family in historic district
BY ANN CIPPERLY
As residents in the Northside Historic District get ready for the Victorian Front Porch Tour, Tiffany and Rush Denson begin decorating their 1913 home that has remained in the family over the years. Their three children are the fifth generation to live in the historic house. This year’s porch tour begins Friday, Dec. 8, and goes through Tuesday, Dec. 12, with the walking tour on Saturday, Dec. 9, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., featuring carolers throughout the neighborhood.
While Rush grew up in the house, Tiffany is from Clearwater, Florida. They met while attending Auburn University. The Densons were living in Birmingham when they moved back to Opelika in 2015.
Rush’s parents, Rose Ann and Judge John V. Denson, who were living in the house, were ready to downsize in 2018. The spacious home was perfect for Tiffany, Rush and their children, Rush Jr. who has since graduated from Auburn University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee; Quinn, 19 years old and a freshman at Auburn and nine-year-old Sadie.
Rush’s parents moved a couple of blocks down the street, while Tiffany’s parents, Patti and Maxie Quinn, moved from Clearwater to the historic district. “We have two sets of grandparents within two blocks,” Tiffany said. “It is a gift, especially to our children.”
The handsome Greek Revival style house was built by Judge and Mrs. Nimrod D. Denson in 1913. Judge Denson’s career included serving in the state Senate, the House of Representatives and on the Alabama Supreme Court.
After his death, their daughter, Mary, and husband Yetta Samford Sr. moved into the house with four-year-old Yetta Jr. Mary enjoyed gardening and planned the landscaping on the grounds.
After her death in 1977, Rush’s parents lived in the home. His father was the third generation to serve on the Auburn Board of Trustees, while Yetta Jr. was a trustee for the University of Alabama and served in the Alabama Senate.
Rush and Tiffany have enjoyed raising their children in the house with so much history associated with both Opelika and Auburn. They renovated the kitchen, adding a large chef’s gas stove for Tiffany, who has a love of cooking.
For the Victorian Front Porch Tour, Tiffany decorates their Christmas tree at a front window in the living room. Tiffany decorates the wrought iron railing on the porch in a classic style with fresh greenery and red velvet bows. A fresh greenery wreath with a red velvet bow accents the front door. Tiffany always adds a dove to the wreath as a sign of hope for the new year.
A festive display will be in the front yard as part of the porch tour. For several years it was a Santa and sleigh.
On Friday night, Dec. 8, which is also Christmas in a Railroad Town, the neighborhood gets together for a party to kick off the tour. During the walking tour, Tiffany and Rush host a party for family and friends. Tiffany is sharing recipes for the assorted hors d’ oeuvres that will be served.
“To me, the porch tour is one of the highlights of Opelika, and it is a special few days,” Tiffany said.
On Christmas Eve, the Densons will go to church and then have Tiffany’s parents for dinner. Rush’s parents attend when they are in town. Tiffany will serve Perfect Cooked Cast-Iron Skillet Steak, Potatoes Au Gratin (their sons’ favorite), a large salad, rolls and Best Buttermilk Pie with Raspberries and Mint.
After dinner, they open packages of special pajamas.
On Christmas morning, the family gets up early, and the grandparents come over to open gifts and have brunch. Tiffany will serve an egg casserole, White Cheddar Grits, ham, cinnamon rolls, Crème Brulee French Toast that her mother brings and a big bowl of old-fashioned southern ambrosia that is a tradition from her mother’s family. Bourbon Milk Punch is served, which has been a family favorite since Mary and Yetta Samford Jr. served it on holiday mornings.
On Christmas evening, they have close friends over for a casual gathering with hearty hors d’oeuvres that Tiffany keeps in the freezer, or she serves homemade pizza with everyone making their own toppings.
“At this point, everyone is tired of rich holiday foods,” she said. “We keep it simple and play games.”
The Densons are both busy with their own businesses. Rush is owner of The Denson Group real estate company, while Tiffany has a consulting and strategist business, Guild 828. She also stays busy homeschooling Sadie. She enjoys cooking and entertaining.
“I think the key to entertaining is just to relax and realize that people are in your home to be with you, so the little things don’t matter,” she said. “I always say people come to be with you, not to look at every square inch of your home. I think the biggest key to entertaining is giving grace to yourself, and just do it with your heart and not overthink things.”
Tiffany said she is especially thankful to have both sets of parents in the same neighborhood, and Christmas is a special time for the family. The Densons said they are looking forward to the Victorian Front Porch Tour and celebrating Christmas in their historic home as they create new traditions.
CHRISTMAS EVE DIP
2 (10.5 oz.) jars red pepper jelly
1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
3/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar
Thin wheat crackers
Stir together the first 4 ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover and chill. Garnish with green onions and serve with thin wheat crackers. Can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 days.
CARAMELIZED ONION & GOAT CHEESE BRUSCHETTA
2 large Vidalia onions, sliced into thin rings
3Tbsp. unsalted butter
1- cup balsamic vinegar
1 loaf sourdough baguette, sliced
4 oz. log goat cheese, honey flavored or mixed with local honey, softened
Cook onions in butter over medium heat until reduced and caramelized, 30 to 45 minutes.
Simmer balsamic vinegar over medium to medium-low heat until reduced by half. Let cool. It will thicken a good bit once cooled.
Crisp baguette slices on both sides under a 400 degree broiler, let cool. To assemble, spread goat cheese mixture onto baguette slice, spoon caramelized onions on top. Arrange on a platter and drizzle with balsamic reduction. Serves about 18 bites.
HOLIDAY MIXED NUTS
2 cups pecan halves, unsalted
2 cups shelled walnuts, unsalted
6 oz. whole natural almonds, unsalted
2 ¼ Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. crushed dried rosemary
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 tsp. dark brown sugar
4 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all nuts in large bowl. Pour in melted butter and coat well. In a small bowl mix remaining ingredients. Sprinkle rosemary mixture over nuts and mix together well.
Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast in oven about 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Be careful not to burn. Serve at room temperature and store in airtight container.
CAST-IRON SKILLET STEAKS
Steaks of your choice. We typically use filet mignon.
Generously season your steaks with the salt, pepper and garlic powder. Allow to rest at room temperature for an hour. Heat large cast-iron skillet at medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the skillet with avocado oil.
Cook steaks 3 to 4 minutes per side depending on thickness. Turn off heat and add a Tbsp. of unsalted butter to the top of each steak, plus several sprigs of fresh thyme.
Cover skillet with foil and allow the steaks to continue cooking (stove turned off) for 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover and spoon remaining butter and herbs back onto the steaks.
POTATOES AU GRATIN
3 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and sliced super thin
Fresh thyme (rosemary is good too)
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1 bag shredded Swiss cheese
1 bag shredded gruyere (can use shredded Parmesan too)
Heavy cream (roughly 1 to 2 cups)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Slice potatoes and place in a bowl to rest. Sprinkle with salt as you go. Once you’ve finished slicing potatoes, lightly grease your baking dish.
Begin layering potatoes, cheese and herbs and pepper. Finish layering with cheese. Generously pour heavy cream over the top of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 60 to 80 minutes at 375 degrees. Once cooked, uncover and allow to cool slightly before serving.
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
3-4 Tbsp. butter
3-4 cloves garlic
1 lb. fresh green beans
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 cups chicken broth
Drizzle olive oil in the pan and melt butter over medium high heat. Wait for all the butter to melt and look foamy.
Next, add the chopped garlic. Let garlic cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then add the green beans. Stir them around and get them as flat as possible in the pan. Cook until they turn bright green. Then add some salt and pepper.
Cook for a couple more minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add enough chicken broth to cover them, and stir. Let it come to a rapid boil.
Next, cover beans and turn the heat to medium low, venting the pan so steam can escape. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until most of the chicken broth has been absorbed into the beans. Serve warm.
BUTTERMILK PIE WITH
RASPBERRIES AND MINT
1 refrigerated pie crust 1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 stick butter, melted
Fresh raspberries and mint for serving, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Unroll pie crust and press into pan; set aside.
In a blender, put buttermilk, eggs, sugar, flour, and vanilla (not butter).
Blend on medium-high to high for 4 minutes.
Add butter; blend for a few seconds until incorporated.
Pour filling into pie crust.
Bake for 40 minutes or until just set (will not jiggle when pan is shaken).
Allow to cool before cutting, preferably several hours.
A holiday tradition passed down from Rush’s mother, Rose Ann Denson
2 cups vanilla ice cream
3 oz. Amaretto
1 oz. Kahlua
1 small scoop of ice
Blend in blender. Keep in freezer until ready to serve. Serve “slushy” in a stemmed glass.
Great for gifts and to serve with ham or
6 cups fresh cranberries (1½ to 2 lbs.)
1 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups honey
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1 medium apple, pared, cored and chopped
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
Combine berries, raisins, honey, water, vinegar and spices in large saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer an additional 15 minutes. Cool. Pour into jars. Chill. Makes about six pints.
WHITE CHEDDAR GRITS
A tradition for Christmas morning to serve with a breakfast egg casserole
2 cups grits
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
1 tsp. kosher salt (more to taste)
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Worcestershire to taste (I use a couple tablespoons.)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 block white cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
1 egg, whisked
Cook grits in broth, half and half and salt according to package directions. Once cooked, add cheese and butter to melt. Stir and add white pepper and Worcestershire. Stir in egg and pour into a lightly greased dish. Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 45 minutes until turning golden brown on top.
CREME BRULE FRENCH TOAST
Recipe from Patti Quinn, Tiffany’s mother
Cook together until smooth:
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp. corn syrup
Spread on bottom of pan.
Cut French or Italian bread into 1 inch thick pieces. I just slice the bread lengthwise (each section about 1 inch thick) and cut off the length to fit the size of the pan.
5 extra large eggs
1 ½ cups half and half
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. Grand Marnier, optional
1/4 tsp. salt
Pour over bread. Refrigerate 8 to 24 hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until puffed up and brown.
BOURBON MILK PUNCH
1 1/2 to 2 oz. bourbon
4 oz. milk – the guys like whole milk
2 tsp. simple syrup, recipe follows
Vanilla ice cream
Fill highball glass with ice, pour in bourbon and milk, mix in simple syrup, add a scoop of ice cream and garnish with nutmeg.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Mix water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, then return to simmer until it slightly thickens. Let cool to room temperature before using. It will thicken more as it cools.
Note: Try and do this ahead of time so it is ready when you are ready to mix drinks. Also, store the simple syrup in a clean glass bottle or jar in refrigerator for up to 3 months.
For about 16 to 18 drinks in rocks glasses
7 ½ cups cranberry juice
2 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup lime juice
1 cup Cointreau
4 cups tequila (I like clear agave tequila.)
Note: It may be easier to find pomegranate and cranberry juice mixed together already. Plain pomegranate juice is harder to find. You can use 5 cups cranberry juice and 4 cups cranberry/pomegranate juice. You just don’t want equal parts pomegranate and cranberry juice in total in this recipe as it doesn’t taste as good.
Mix all ingredients (except the frozen cranberries) together with a large spoon.
Chill mixture in refrigerator for a couple of hours prior to serving if time allows.
Serve mixture on ice. I set a bowl of ice next to my beverage dispenser so guests could easily fill their glasses. If you add ice to the mixture directly, it will get too watered-down.
HOT CHEESE BITES WITH BACON AND ALMONDS
Can freeze ahead
2 cups (8 oz.) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
½ cup (2 oz.) slivered almonds
6 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
1 small onion, grated
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
8 oz. jar good mayonnaise
½ loaf good quality white bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together cheese, almonds, bacon, onion, Worcestershire and mayonnaise.
Remove crusts from bread and cut each slice into 4 triangles or squares. Spread one side with cheese mixture.
Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10 minutes or until bubbly and lightly browned. Serve immediately. Makes about 40 bites.
Note: These freeze well. Before baking, place cheese bites in single layer on cookie sheet and freeze. When hard, remove from cookie sheet and put in large freezer bag. Store in freezer until needed.
SIMPLE CURRY DIP
1 cup good mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. grated onion
1 Tbsp. curry powder
Dash of kosher salt and hot sauce
Stir together and serve with fresh sliced raw veggies.
EASY SUGARED JALAPENOS OVER CREAM CHEESE
A staple in our refrigerator year round
12 oz. jar sliced jalapeños (in pickle section of store).
1 cup sugar
Zest of 2 limes
Drain jalapeños and stir with sugar and lime zest. Return to jar. Refrigerate for a week and shake the jar occasionally to combine. I keep a jar in my refrigerator all the time as it will last for several weeks.
To serve: Spoon jalapeños over cream cheese and serve with wheat crackers or tortilla chips. May garnish with cilantro, if desired.
OLD SOUTH PIMIENTO CHEESE
2 cups ( 8 oz.) sharp orange cheddar, grated
7 oz. jar pimientos, drained and chopped
¼ cup green onion, chopped (use both the green and the white parts)
½ cup good mayonnaise
1 tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Tabasco to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and stir with a rubber spatula. Serve immediately with crackers, or cover and refrigerate to blend flavors.
ROSE ANN’S EASY BROWNIES
1 box brownie mix of choice (My favorite is Ghirardelli.)
2-3 extra-large Symphony almond and toffee bars
Make the brownie mix according to the box directions except replace water with coffee.
Pour half the prepared brownie mixture into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan and use a spatula to smooth it out.
Place Symphony bars in an even layer across the pan. If they don’t fit perfectly, break off a few squares until they do.
Pour remaining half of the brownie mixture over the top and use the spatula to smooth it out. Bake according to package directions and test for doneness. Cool completely before slicing.
Recipe from Leslie
Register, author of Leslie’s Party Diaries.
1 lb. (1 box) light brown sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 ½ cups pecan halves
In a large micrwave-safe bowl, heat sugar and whipping cream on high for 11 to 13 minutes, until hot and bubbly. (Cooking time may vary slightly with microwaves.) Do not let it burn. (I cook the mixture for 11 minutes in my 1200 watt microwave.)
Remove from microwave, and add butter, combining thoroughly until completely melted. (I like to cut the butter into smaller pieces, to allow it to melt quickly.) Add pecans, and stir to combine.
Drop pecan mixture immediately onto wax paper with a spoon or small measuring cup.