Friday Dance Party – Kelly Clarkson Has A Mr. Know It All

This is another edition of Friday Dance Party on Acorns On Glen.  It’s the time where we give thanks for making it through another week and for being alive and present here on Earth.  How do we celebrate another week of living?  We dance.  So, are you alive this Friday?  Are you and your family safe and sound?  Take a few seconds now to be in the moment and realize what a great life you truly have.  Did you give thanks for that?

Good, now let’s dance.

It is a beautiful Fall day here in Connecticut.  We’ve finally finished getting the yard ready for Winter.  The patio furniture is all covered up in preparation for harsher weather.  The garden pots are all stored until next Spring.  We’ve trimmed all of the spent plants down and we are waiting for the rest to die off so that they too can be trimmed before the first snow.  The garden is bare.  There are no more tomato plants, green bean bushes or radish tops sprouting out of the dirt.  We just can’t seem to believe that Summer is over.  Isn’t there an old saying that says the older you get, the faster time goes?  I believe it, especially this year.  Mother Nature gives us four seasons and makes us abide by each one.  You can’t make one season last longer or be shorter to suit your needs.  She sets the schedule on her own agenda to ensure the cycle of life works.  She is so smart, that Mother Nature.  Sort of a know it all.  That’s what made me think of this week’s song…Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Mr. Know It All’.  It is dedicated to Mother Nature, who knows exactly how to control the seasons whether you like it or not.  You’ve made it through another week, so go ahead and dance.  You deserve to celebrate.  Turn up your computer speakers and let it rip.  Have fun.  Have you finished all your winter preparation outside?

First Pie Of Fall – Making A Concord Grape Pie

This is a slice of our first homemade pie of Fall, a Concord grape pie.  Like many people, hearing about a grape pie is a new thing.  An oddity in the homemade pie world.  I mean, how many times have you ever seen a grape pie in your life?  I have never seen one for sale at the supermarket or at a bakery.  However, when I was a young child growing up in Iowa, my grandmother made grape pies all the time when grapes were in season.  So when I saw this recipe, I knew I had to give it a try.  Remembering the taste of her grape pie made me want to make this.  Although not a common pie, grape filling is a really good way to fill a pie crust.  I do have to disclose that my grandma’s grape pie was different from my grape pie in one major respect.  Hers always had a lot of seeds in the filling.  I remember eating her grape pie and chewing on a seed and whining, “Grandma, there is a seed in the pie.”  She would reply, “Just shut up and eat it.  Do you think I have all day to sit and seed grapes?”  It is true that the grapes you use for this recipe, Concord grapes, contain a lot of flavor and a lot of seeds.  You can spend a lot of time scraping the seeds out of the pulp with a knife, but I have discovered a way to do it in a much faster manner.  I boil the pulp for less than 10 minutes and then strain the seeds out through a sieve.  To start this recipe, you need to find some Concord grapes.

Concord grapes are large, sweet grapes that appear dark purple (almost black) in color.  They have thick skins and are in season in my neck of the woods for a very short amount of time.  Most of the time, you see them in Connecticut at the beginning of October through the middle of November.  Originating in the 1840s near, not surprising, Concord, Massachusetts, the most familiar American grape is the Concord grape.  Winter hardy, the vigorous plants can produce up to twenty pounds or more of the fruit per vine per year.  Well-established grapevines can produce quality fruit for more than forty years.  The Concord grape is responsible for making the famous and popular Concord grape jelly that we all know and loved as kids (and probably as grown ups too).  Here’s how we made our first pie of the Fall…our Concord grape pie.

Ingredients:

Directions:

On a lightly floured work surface, roll 1 piece of pie crust dough into a 13-inch round.  With a dry pastry brush, sweep off the excess flour.  Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing it into the edges.  Trim to a 1-inch overhang all around.  Crimp edge as desired.  Chill pie shell until firm, for at least 1 hour.  Repeat process for rolling out dough.  Using a 4-inch grape leaf cookie cutter, cut out 4 leaves from dough. Transfer to a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

So now here’s the trick for removing the seeds from the grapes in a pretty quick manner.  Remove the skins from the grape pulp by pinching the ends of each grape, reserving both the pulp and skins separately.  Discard any accumulated liquid (you don’t want your pie to be too juicy).  Literally, just pop the pulp right out of the skins with a squeeze of your fingers.  Here’s the skins:

Now, here’s the pulp:

Place pulp in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook until the seeds separate from the pulp and the pulp breaks down, less than 10 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into the bowl with the reserved skins.

Here are the seeds left over after your straining is complete.  Discard them.

Let cool to room temperature before placing in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Remove grape mixture from refrigerator.  Stir in sugar and cornstarch.  Pour into the prepared pie shell.  Beat egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Brush edge of pie shell with egg mixture, reserving any remaining egg mixture.  Transfer pie to oven; bake 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until filling jiggles when shaken, about 30 minutes.  Transfer pie to a wire cooling rack; let cool overnight.  Two things to remember on this step:

  • Do not overfill your pie crust with the grape filling.  It does expand and you don’t want it to overflow.
  • When you give your pie a little shake and see the filling jiggle, your first instinct is to think your pie is not cooked enough.  It is.  Remember all the cornstarch you put into the filling?  As the pie cools, the cornstarch thickens the juice and sets it firm.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove reserved grape leaves from refrigerator and brush with remaining egg and water mixture.  Bake until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack; let cool.  Before serving, place grape leaves on top of filling.

This pie has a great flavor.  Great flavor that also surprises the folks that you serve it to.  Maybe your friends have had a grape pie?  My friends seem to be shocked that I used Concord grapes to make a pie.  After one taste, they all want the recipe.  Since time is running out on Concord grape season, get to your supermarket and pick up some Concord grapes and make this tasty and different dessert.  You’ll be glad that you did.  Have you ever eaten a grape pie before?

The Sure Sign Of Fall – Making Pie Crust Dough

This is a the first pie crust of the season here on Glen Road.  Even though pies can be made any time of year, it seems we prefer pie more in the Fall and Winter seasons.  Our first pie is always made around Halloween and this year is no exception.  Making pie crust dough always brings about a little bit of anxiety for me.  No matter how many times I’ve made a crust, I am always nervous about the part of picking up the rolled dough and placing it in the pie plate without tearing or ripping the dough.  Even though I’ve made lots and lots of pies, I can’t ever seem to shake my crust anxiety.  That’s why it is important to find a crust recipe out there that works for you.  There are many….ones that use butter versus vegetable shortening, ones that use sugar versus salt, ones that use a pastry blender and ones that don’t.  Experiment with the many recipes out there until you find one that works for you.  Once you determine the right one, stick to it.  The more you use it, the easier it will be to make a crust that is flaky and golden.  Like they say, practice makes perfect.

My favorite recipe mixes everything up in the food processor.  It’s pretty quick and pain-free.  The crust always turns out flaky and browns very easy in the oven to golden without burning.  I make sure everything is cold when I add it to the flour, sugar and salt.  The butter is cut into cubes and then I place it back in the refrigerator to cool down again.  The water I add to the mixture is ice-cold.  After I form my crust into the pan, I place it back in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Popping a super cold crust into a super hot oven produces a flaky pie crust that does not pull away from the sides of the pan.  Cold, cold, cold!!  So here’s how I have been making pie crust dough for at least the last ten years:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

Directions:

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined.  Add butter and process until mixture resembles coarse meal, about three pulses of the food processor (remember, your butter is already in small pieces so you don’t want to chop it up much more).  With the machine running, add water in a slow, steady stream until mixture just begins to hold together.

Shape dough into 2 disks. Wrap each in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to 2 days (or freeze for up to 1 month; thaw in refrigerator before using).

Like I said earlier, everyone you know has a different technique for making pie crust dough.  I like the easy technique the food processor provides.  My friends over at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide make their pie crust dough with a pastry blender.  The choice is yours.  At the end of the day, you want a recipe that provides delicious, flaky and golden brown crust that you enjoy eating.

Also experiment with the edges of your pie crust.  There is nothing more beautiful than a pie with a gorgeous finish on the edge of the crust…whether its a simple fluted edge or one decorated with cut-out dough shapes into forms like leaves, hearts or flowers, that attention to detail makes a good pie a great one.  Have fun making your crust and don’t get nervous…like me.  How do you make your pie crust dough?

Friday Dance Party – Loretta, Shake It For Luke Bryan

This is another edition of Friday Dance Party on Acorns On Glen.  It’s the time where we give thanks for making it through another week and for being alive and present here on Earth.  How do we celebrate another week of living?  We dance.  So, are you alive this Friday?  Are you and your family safe and sound?  Take a few seconds now to be in the moment and realize what a great life you truly have.  Did you give thanks for that?

Good, now let’s dance.

If you had to pick a type of music for the old-fashioned barn party we went to last weekend, you would most definitely choose country music.  This music is just so synonymous with family, friends, apple pie, barns and America.  Growing up in Iowa, I used to listen to and love country music.  If you ask any of my friends today, they will also tell you that I still have a soft spot for country music.  I used to be embarrassed by my love for this music, especially when I moved to California and then to New York and Connecticut.  I guess I was a little embarrassed by my country roots.  All that has changed now and I am proud to be from the Midwest and to be a country music lover.  Believe it or not, the twangier the better.  From Carrie Underwood to Dolly Parton’s Bluegrass…..from Blake Shelton’s ‘Honey Bee’ to Conway Twitty, I love them all.

There was only one time in my life when I turned against country music.  It was only for a day.  It was a time way back in Iowa during my early high school years.  In my hometown, most old timers were either farmers or coal miners.  Iowa had quite a few black coal mines where men would ride down into tunnels and pick for coal that would be carried to the surface on rail cars.  My paternal grandfather and my great uncles were coal miners; my maternal grandfather worked in a strip mine, which was a different way to gather coal.  To commemorate this coal mining heritage, my little town used to host a coal miner’s day celebration each June, including a parade, food, games and entertainment (a lot like our old-fashioned barn party).  For the parade, many of the town merchants would build floats, which were flat beds pulled by trucks that were decorated around certain themes.  The year I turned against country music was the year there was a float entitled ‘Coal Miners’ Daughters’ based on the Loretta Lynn song.  The float was decorated with plastic flowers stapled all over the flat bed and actual coal miners’ daughters sat on chairs and cubes all along the flatbed.  As the float drove closer to my little brother and me at the parade, we could see someone dressed up to resemble Loretta Lynn.  This person was lip synching to the song ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’.

Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter,
In a cabin, on a hill in Butcher Holler,
We were poor, but we had love,
That’s the one thing my daddy made sure of,
He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar.

IT WAS OUR MOTHER!

We were horrified.  Each of us ran to hide at the sight of our mom in a big curly black wig, long dress and big microphone with a cord.  It is hard enough to be a teenager without your mother doing this to you.  It took us many years to recover and even today we grimace every time we hear someone mention Loretta Lynn.

Other than this one time, country music has been a great source of joy for me.  Given our barn party and that we haven’t danced to a country song in a long time, let’s celebrate this week by dancing to a little Luke Bryan.  If you are a country girl, go ahead and shake it for me him.  We’ve all made it through another week and deserve to celebrate.  Let’s dance!  Are you a country music lover?

An Old Fashioned Barn Party

This is the entrance to our friends’ barn in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Every October for the last several years, we have met at this barn to take part in an old fashioned barn party.  The barn on my friends’ property is very old and is constructed of stone and wood.  The top has a floor made of wooden beams with several stalls on top that most likely once housed larger animals like cows, horses or pigs.  Underneath is another level that most likely housed equipment and smaller animals like chickens, ducks and geese.  Over the years, my friends have restored their barn to its original appearance and the party is held to help raise money for old barn restoration in the area, to sell high-end craft items to the guests and general public who attend and offer up a great way to see old friends and family one more time before the holidays.  We also ate lots of food and drank lots of drinks (from coffee to wine to champagne).

This year the barn party also tried to teach guests a few tricks of the trade from local artisans.  There were booths and workshops where guests could see the looming of thread, hear live music played by a local musical group, learn to knit, learn to tie a fly for fly fishing or learn to make some wine among other things.  Of course there was an apple pie baking contest followed by a cookie baking contest with prizes for the top three finishers.  Come enjoy a few of the pictures that we took during the day.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By the end of the day, most of us had a bag full of craft goodies, a full stomach and an introduction to a new skill.  I am now a novice knitter learning in the class with some yarn and chopsticks for knitting needles.  It was also great to catch up with everyone, especially those that we don’t see on a regular basis.  It was a big day and a lot of work, but everyone had a great time.  Here’s to next year’s party!!  What Fall festivities go on in your neck of the woods?

A Sweet Little Drink From The Devil Sisters

This is a sweet little drink we enjoyed this weekend at a party in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  From the three open bottles of champagne, you can tell that it was pretty popular.  It is a drink that is on the sweet side.  What could be better….a sweet drink to enjoy on a sweet day.  My two friends that grew up in Iowa with me (they are sisters) from Peonies From Heaven had this drink and then made it at the party.  I don’t recall hearing the name of the drink.  I’m sure they didn’t invent it (although I’m sure they would claim that they did if you asked them), but I’ll go ahead and name it in their honor.  Because they have a wild streak and take every opportunity to harass me (I don’t deserve it) along with it being close to Halloween, I’ll name it ‘The Devil Sisters’ Champagne Brew’.  All kidding aside, this champagne brew is delicious.  Make sure to have the following ingredients on hand:

  • Champagne of your choice
  • A bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • A bottle of orange bitters
  • Sugar cubes
  • Fresh oranges

The Devil Sister’s Champagne Brew:

Take a champagne flute and fill it about 3/4 full with your favorite chilled champagne.  Then add about half of a shot of the elderflower liqueur into the flute.  Next, drop in one sugar cube that is generously soaked in the orange bitters.  Garnish by dropping in a slice of fresh orange peel.  Enjoy!!

I’ve seen more and more drinks that are being made these days with the elderflower liqueur.  I’ve read that it is an artisanal French liqueur made from hand-picked elderflower blossoms.  The starry white flowers are gathered by 40-50 folks pedaling the Alpen French countryside picking the flowers that is then distilled into this liqueur.  It is blended with a small amount of citrus and natural cane sugar to accentuate the subtle flavor of the elderflowers.  The resulting liqueur is delicate and balanced with fresh floral aromas and flavors and hints of pear, apricot and grapefruit zest.  So if you are looking for a sweet little brew, go ahead and give this one a try….and let me know what this is called if you know its name.  Have you ever used elderflower liqueur in any of your drink specialties?

“Fall”ing For Pumpkins And Gourds

This is the easiest (and prettiest) way to know that Fall is here.  It’s the appearance of pumpkins and gourds almost everywhere you look.  From pumpkin patches, to pumpkin and gourd decorations on doorsteps of homes across the state and even in the aisles of our local supermarket, seeing pumpkins and gourds is one of my favorite Fall reminders.

I’m always amazed at the colors that pumpkins and gourds come in at the patches we go to find and buy them.  There are the traditional orange pumpkins and green gourds, but there are also ones in ivory, yellow and variegated to name a few.  The odder the color, the more I like it!  Are you seeing pumpkins and gourds everywhere you look in your community?