Happy New Year 2012 – Two Ways

There are many ways to bring in the New Year.  So whether you want to bring it in all sweet and sentimental or you bring it in rowdy and crazy, the choice is for you to make.  Whatever way you choose, please know that all of us here at Acorns On Glen want to wish you, your family and your friends a very Happy New Year 2012 and may even your wildest and craziest dreams come true.  We look forward to spending more time with you in 2012.  Our best to you in the New Year…………and where is the Advil for our friend below?

2011’s Top 11 – Decided By You

JoJo the Yorkie and I curled up yesterday to pick the top 11 stories that we posted during 2011 here on Acorns On Glen.  Some of us curled up a little too much.  Can you see where JoJo starts and the faux fur blanket ends?  We started this blog in February as a way for us to realize and then give thanks for all the great things that happen in our lives.  You just can’t take life for granted and this blog is a great way for us to reflect and cherish the fact that we have great family, great friends and now a whole group of great people that visit Acorns On Glen on a frequent basis.  We’ve been blown away by the number of people that stop by and read our posts.  Thanks to all of you who have welcomed us into your lives this year.  The posts that have been visited the most are varied, but the majority of the top 11 seems to show that all of you, our readers, like good food and how to cook it.  Here are 2011’s top 11 posts:

1.  Funky Italian Stuffed Peppers

Our Notorius B.I.G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) heads the list with her great recipe for cubanelle peppers.

2.  South Carolina’s Unbelievable Angel Oak

You liked our sight-seeing trip down in Charleston, South Carolina.

3.  Time For Tuberous Begonias

The story about the begonia tubers I’ve had for years is our most viewed gardening post.

4.  Lots Of Bling – Christie’s Important Jewels

You like jewelry, eh?  Yes you do, big stones with lots of sparkle is what you like.

5.  The Man Behind The Curtain

My bio….you like me, you really like me.

6.  A Toadstool Birthday Tea

Our first guest blogger shows us how to throw a great birthday tea for the little ones.

7.  Luna Moth Or Not – You Be The Judge

A truly magnificent discovery that landed on the back side of our house and stayed for a few days so that we could marvel at it.

8.  A Field Trip To Le Farm Restaurant

Just like us, you enjoyed the cooking of Bill Taibe at his Westport, CT restaurant, Le Farm.

9.  Chocolate Caramel Tart With Fleur De Sel

Who can resist this sweet-salty flavor combination?  We can’t!

10.  Thinking Of My Citrus House Guests

Our little orange and lime trees impressed this year and even gave us a few pieces of fruit.

11.  Meatball Mania With Sauce

Finishing off just the way we started, another hit dish from Notorius B.I.G.

So here’s to everyone who has helped make Acorns On Glen a success.  We are truly humbled by the response, along with your words of encouragement, and can’t wait to share 2012 with you.  We want to wish everyone a Happy New Year (wish I could pass everyone a glass of champagne now) and may 2012 bring you great joy and happiness beyond your wildest imagination.

Friday Dance Party With Some Extras – It All Starts With A Christmas Without You

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’s our last Friday before Christmas.  I hope everyone has purchased all their gifts and have wrapped the majority of them.  Unlike me, that has not even sent one box to my family back home in Iowa, does not have all their presents purchased and not one single package wrapped.  I may be in trouble, but as a woman at work told me there is always money.  It always fits and is always the right color.  I think this week it is only right to dance to another Christmas carol.  Last week, we listened to one of my favorite Christmas songs sung by Judy Garland in “Meet Me In St. Louis”.  Here is another favorite but we will need to travel from 1944 (the year last week’s song was released to the masses) to 1984 (when this week’s song was released to the public).  Yes, 1984!  I can’t believe that it was over 25 years ago that I watched the Christmas special “A Christmas To Remember” with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.  O.K., their names may make you snicker a little, but back in 1984 these two were hot, hot, hot.  They were just coming off the success of their smash hit “Islands In The Stream” and so naturally when you have a big hit you immediately turn around and do a Christmas special with some new Christmas songs to introduce.  Are you thinking Justin Bieber right now?  The same trick is being used over 25 years later.

I don’t know what it was then, but my friends and I that watched this special loved this song.  We bought the album (yes, it was an album) and have listened pretty much every year to this song (from album, to cassette tape and now to CD).  We have actually used it to tease several of my divorced friends.  What better way to tease someone divorced than to play “Christmas Without You” over and over and over.  Call us cruel, but this “inside joke” has helped keep the song alive for us over all these years.

This week, I’ll admit finding that one perfect Christmas song for us to dance to was tough.  I have a lot of favorites.  Let me share with you some of my runner-ups.  If Dolly and Kenny aren’t your style, here are a couple of alternatives:

I love me some Amy Grant!

A Nat King Cole classic.

I still have the original album in my collection.  It’s the same album cover as in this little goodie.

I hope you liked this little Friday Dance Party with a twist.  Pick your favorite from the music above and just dance.  It’s the holidays and we’re still alive and kicking.  Here’s to us!!  I wish all of you a happy holiday season and let’s pray for peace on Earth.  What are your favorite Christmas carols or other holiday music?

Christmas Cookie #4 – Cashew Brittle (Not A Cookie, But We Can Pretend)

This brittle has always been a Christmas staple in my household.  I can remember my mom making this brittle as a very young child.  It’s funny about old memories.  My memory of my mom making brittle is as clear as it was when I was actually watching her.  I can remember what the pan looked like that she used, I can remember the exact spoon and even what the candy thermometer looked like.  I can also remember eating pounds of it, including it at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Over time, I have taken her recipe and made some modifications.  The biggest one is that I replaced peanuts with whole cashews.  The cashews give the brittle a little more crunch and a little bit more creaminess.  I also try to eat only a few pieces now versus half the container like I used to do when I was a kid.  One thing I haven’t changed from my mom’s recipe is that I try to stretch the brittle as thin as possible.  It is a lot more delicious when your pieces are thin versus thick.  Here’s how we made the cashew brittle this year:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups salted, roasted cashews
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Directions:

Butter a large baking pan; set aside.  Combine cashews, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.  Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Insert a candy thermometer.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until temperature registers 295 degrees, about 6 minutes.  When sugar begins to brown, stir nuts gently to ensure even cooking.  Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in the butter and baking soda; the mixture will begin to foam up, so mix quickly.  Pour onto the prepared baking pan.

As soon as the brittle is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to stretch the brittle as thinly as possible over the baking pan.

Allow the brittle to cool completely, about 45 minutes, then break into bite-size pieces.

This cashew brittle is salty-sweet perfection.  Be careful though, it can become addictive.  You won’t be able to stop eating it once you start.  I like this brittle as well for all the memories it has brought me through the years.  It’s nice to include something in your Christmas cookie collection that reminds you of Christmas past.  So there you have it.  Our Christmas cookie and treat selection for 2011.  I love how the flavors are all unique and stand up well on their own, but also how they complement each other when you make a tin up for a friend.  Coconut pyramids that look like little modern pieces of art, the long biscotti with its red cranberries and green pistachios in the mix, the pretty cookie press cookies that are too cute to eat and the salty-sweet cashew brittle.  The four of these really make a nice little treat for Santa, but better than that, for you and your family to enjoy over the Christmas holiday.  Thanks for baking with us!  Do you and your family eat all of your Christmas baked goods or do you share them with other family and friends too?

The Evil Little Theater Cup

This is the heart of Broadway and what it looks like outside a theater when a show finishes.  There are cars there to pick up the stars and fans lined up and down the sidewalk to get a look at or talk a little bit to the stars.  Hugh Jackman gets quite a crowd who wait for him each night.  He should–his show is great.  See the people who are waiting on the left?  Usually after a show lets out, my group always runs out of the theater and starts looking for a cab.  It’s hard to get a cab when everyone else who has been to a show is trying along with you.  We usually have dinner plans too so we need to get to the restaurant pronto.  It was different this night.  There was no need to rush.  Why rush?  This was different.  Why the change from hurried to mellow?  What had changed inside of me on this night of theater?

Blame it on the evil theater cup!

I saw my first show on Broadway in 1986.  It was “Song & Dance” with Bernadette Peters.  I have been going to see shows on Broadway ever since.  One thing in all these years has remained constant.  You are not allowed to bring any food or beverage to your seat.  That is the law of theater!  You can eat and drink before a show or at intermission, but do not bring it back to your seat.  If you even tried to break the rule, you would be hit with a flashlight beam and there would be an usher telling you to hand it over.  No eating!  No drinking!  These ushers would have the meanest face when you looked up at them from your seat with your bottle of water or your last Milk Dud in hand.  These ushers would make prison guards nervous.  Now all of this has changed.

It might have been sooner, but this year I’ve noticed a change.  You can take drinks to your seat in the shows I’ve gone to as long as the drink is in the evil little theater cup.  Think of this cup as a sippie cup for adults meaning that if you drop them, they don’t spill.  All that is on top of the cup’s lid is a little hole you open up and stick a straw through.  At the bar, the bartenders will fill you up with your beverage of choice.  Soda to the top of the rim.  For $11, you get a cup that is half full of wine.  For $21, you get your cup filled to the top with wine.  For me, nothing says “classy night out on Broadway” more than sitting back watching a show with a sippie cup filled to the top with Chardonnay.  If you time it right, you draw your last sip through your straw at the end of Act I.  Then you go back to the bar at intermission and get another cup full.  This time around it is $16 because you get a discount if you bring your cup back to be refilled.  Then right before the 11 o’clock number, you are sitting there in your seat with your empty cup in hand and you realize “I’m drunk”.  You then do things you have never done:

  • You have an ugly cry for all to see during the last song of the show.
  • You give a standing ovation to the star while all the while hooting and hollering and making a spectacle of yourself.
  • You stumble out of the theater telling people you don’t know that you just spent $37 on wine.
  • You proceed to tell your friends that next time you are going to save money and just buy a bottle of wine at the liquor store and have the bartender hold it for you because you can fill your own cup.
  • You don’t run like hell to catch a taxi.  The restaurant can wait!
  • You realize that the evil little theater cup is a blessing and a curse.

Now I know that the invention of the evil little theater cup was probably done to boost sales during the slump in the economy.  However, I think it is also a great idea to use for shows that are not very good.  If I could have had my two cups full of Chardonnay in years past, I might have stuck around for the end of “A Moon For The Misbegotten”.

I wouldn’t have fallen asleep during “Top Girls”.

Lastly…..yes, I’ll publicly admit this……I wouldn’t have wished I could get a musket and shoot all of those revolutionaries on stage in “Les Miserables” just to make it end.

So, I don’t like change very much, but I think that the evil little theater cup is a keeper.  It makes a great show even better and I hope to also use it someday to see if it can make a bad show at least a little more bearable.  Oh, as with everything, moderation is key when using the evil little theater cup.  Who am I kidding?  I would sit there and drink wine out of a bottle with a straw if they’d let me.  Enjoy your next show, with or without a little booze.  What do you think of being able to eat and drink at your seats?

Christmas Cookie #3 – Cookie Press Cookies (Depressed With My Press)

This cookie press recipe was a true test of my baking and decorating patience.  As most of you know, a cookie press is nothing more than a hollow tube fitted with a decorative nozzle at one end and a plunger at the other.  You insert your cookie dough into the hollow tube and then you press a trigger that makes the plunger press out the dough.  The dough is pressed out through the decorative nozzle and a pressed cookie is formed.  The nozzle holds discs that turn the dough into various shapes-hearts, wreaths, Christmas trees, flowers-the list is long and covers most of the major holidays.  Here is the cookie press I used at the start of my baking.  Little did I know that two more would follow.

I’ve discovered that my right arm has gotten incredibly strong.  That’s because my squeezing of the cookie press trigger achieved pressing out five dozen cookies, but, on the bad side, it broke three cookie presses.  Yes, three presses that broke-two triggers broke off and one shaft that holds the dough cracked into two pieces!  Is this bad luck or what?  I got my cookies done, but had to order a new press at the end as a result.  This time I paid a little bit more and got a “heavy-duty” press.  I’m hoping this solves the problem.

These cookies are very tasty, with a rich butter and vanilla taste.  The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of vanilla, which seems like a lot, but really works well with the dough.  After the cookies had cooled, we decorated each one with a glaze made out of confectioner’s sugar and a variety of cookie decorating supplies-colored sanding sugars, melted chocolate, tinted glazes, chocolate sprinkles, etc.  Most of it was purchased at the supermarket so just have fun and get whatever supplies catch your eye.  With cookie decorating, there really is no bad way to do it.  Here’s the steps:

For the cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
  • Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Food coloring, preferably gel-paste, for decorating
  • Sanding sugar, for decorating
  • Other favorite items, to use for decorating

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add egg yolks, flour, salt, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.

Fit cookie press with desired disk and fill with dough.  Press out shapes onto prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, tint confectioners’ sugar glaze as desired (dividing it among a few bowls to make different colors, if desired). Dip cookies in glaze and decorate with sanding sugar, nonpareils, or dragees.  Let set until the glaze dries, at least 1 hour before serving or storing. Cookies can be stored, between layers of parchment, up to 1 week at room temperature in airtight containers.

For the glaze:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Mix confectioners’ sugar and the water to achieve an easy-to-pour consistency, adding more water as necessary. Use immediately.

These are a great cookie.  They taste great and look great.  Impress your family and friends with a cute little decorated cookie.  They will be impressed.  At our house right now, none of us want to eat my cookie press cookies.  Not because they don’t taste good, but because they are so pretty.  Knowing how we like to eat, this mood will change soon and we will devour them.  It’s the holidays right?  Overeating is expected!  Do you make any decorated cookies during the holidays?

Friday Dance Party – Getting Into The Spirit Of Christmas

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’s official…we are most definitely in the holiday season.  Besides coconut pyramids and cranberry-pistachio biscotti, Christmas carols are always needed to get me into peak Christmas spirit.  So given we are a little over a week away from Christmas, I thought it was only appropriate to pull out one of my favorites.  There is none better to me than Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from the 1944 movie “Meet Me In St. Louis”.  I love this song on so many different levels.  First off, Judy Garland can sing this song with a voice so clear and sweet how can you help not loving it.  The way it was shot is also fantastic.  Every time I watch this clip, I feel like I am sitting there in that cold room with them looking out over the snow in the yard.  The lyrics about friends and family are great.  Isn’t that really what the holidays are all about?  I also love the back story on the movie.  Judy Garland was 21 when she was filming the movie and it was the movie that successfully transitioned her from child star to an adult superstar.  The movie was also directed by Vincente Minnelli, who fell in love with Judy Garland during the filming and eventually became her husband.  From there, I’m sure you all know that this union produced a daughter, Liza Minnelli.  Margaret O’Brien, who is the little girl in this clip, won an Oscar for her work in this great movie.  The song is also special to me even more than it has been in years past.  It’s because this year I won’t be with my parents and brother for Christmas day, so the lyrics really hit home because I think this is only the second time in my life I have not been with them.

Someday soon, we all will be together,

If the fates allow,

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

So join me in getting into the spirit of Christmas and listen to this little carol.  Turn your speakers up and I assure you that when the song is over you will be a little more in the mood for this holiday.  I hope you like it as much as I do.  What is your favorite Christmas carol of all time?