Changing A Thanksgiving Cactus Into A Christmas Cactus – A Chilling Tale

This is my ten-year old Christmas cactus.  I really should say Thanksgiving cactus because for most of its years with me it has bloomed on Thanksgiving and never on Christmas.  This is my own fault and one I am trying to rectify this year.  It’s all in the chilling.  More on that in a second.

My Christmas cactus is from the genus Schlumbergera.  Schlumbergera  is a genus of cactus from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  Plants grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity.  Most species of Schlumbergera have stems which resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other and flowers which appear from areoles at the joints and tips of the stems.  This genus contains the popular house plants known by a variety of names including Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus.

Over the last several years, I have put my Christmas Cactus in a shady area in my back yard usually in the beginning of June time frame.  Frequent watering and feeding is about all I do to the plant.  In ten years, I have re-potted it into a bigger planter only once.  For me, I like the Christmas Cactus because it needs little care for the most part.  Here is the plant at its regular summer home in my back yard.

In the first weeks of November, when the weather gets much cooler and frost is possible, I have brought the Christmas Cactus indoors and placed it on my kitchen table.  This transition from cool to warmer temperatures has always triggered the plant to begin to grow flowers that then bloom around the Thanksgiving holiday.  I always think, why if this plant blooms at Thanksgiving do we call it a Christmas Cactus?  That’s when I made a chilling decision.

The decision was to keep my Christmas Cactus outside until the beginning of December–one month later than usual.  I’m thinking that the plant’s transition from cool to warmer temperatures is the blooming trigger, so if I delay that transition for one month then I can truly have a “Christmas” Cactus.  So that’s what I did and my plant came indoors on Saturday.  As a precaution, I did cover the plant up on extremely cold nights or nights when a heavy frost was predicted.  Here is my plant when under the covers.

While the plant looks healthy and nothing appears to have perished due to the extra month of cold weather conditions, I think that the next few days of the plant being in the house will determine its fate.  It will either make it and begin to bloom in the next few weeks or it could also shrivel up and leave us because of the additional cold it has endured over the last month.  Keep your fingers crossed with me–let’s hope it transitions without a hitch.

I’ll post pictures when the Christmas Cactus blooms (or an RIP notification if things don’t work out).  There is nothing as pretty as a bloomed Christmas Cactus with its fuchsia pink flowers bursting from all sides of the plant.  If it blooms, I can then officially and proudly call my Cactus a Christmas Cactus and all will be right in the world.  Do you have a Christmas Cactus in your home?

Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?

Using Booze To Make Holidays Even Brighter

This little drink can really make roasting chestnuts on an open fire or going over the river and through the woods a lot less painful.  It is a juice and vodka drink that we call a Pomatini.  It is made with fresh squeezed pomegranate, grapefruit and lime juices.  We made the drink on Thanksgiving morning and actually sat our Pomatini filled decorative pitchers outside so that the drink could cool down before serving.  During our appetizers before the big Thanksgiving meal, we poured, shaked and drank Pomatinis.  Wow, it sure worked to make good food taste even better.  We decided to make these drinks because pomegranates seemed so Thanksgiving-like.  If you think of it, you could really justify this drink for any holiday or occasion–the reddish color fits in well with Christmas festivities or the juice make-up is perfect for a July 4th party.  So the next time you have a get together, consider the Pomatini!

Ingredients for the Pomatini (fills half of a large decorative pitcher):

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed pomegranate juice
  • 1 1/2 cups vodka
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 cup simple syrup

Directions:

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup and then pour into decorative pitchers.  Continue recipe, making it in the proportions provided, until all of your pitchers are filled.

Add ice to chill into the pitcher or pour drink into a shaker filled with ice.  Strain drink into a chilled martini glass.

Ingredients for Simple Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water

Directions:

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat.  Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Let cool.

So why not use our Pomatini to help reduce your stress level during your next holiday get together or party?  Be warned, if you drink more than a couple of these Pomatinis make sure you use a designated driver when you go outside to drive your sleigh around.  What great cocktail recipes do you make during the holidays?  

Our Happy 4th of July Picnic Celebration

This is our second day of recovery from our July 4th celebration held on Saturday.  Our party started five or six years ago and was really a small affair.  We would invite our immediate family and close friends over for a barbecue.  The kids would swim most of the day and the adults would gossip about what was going on over the beverage of their choice.  Oh yes, we also ate…and ate…and ate.  Each year after that first party, the July 4th celebration just kept getting bigger.  We weren’t really increasing our immediate family so that wasn’t the reason for the growth.  I guess we were just meeting more friends that we felt we wanted to come over.  So this year, it was our biggest party to date.  125 people big.  So big that we thought we needed a tent for people to sit under to ward off the sun.  That was a good idea as temperatures hit 85 degrees with full sun.  The tent that we got was like a circus tent.  We were joking that later that night, one of us would be performing a Cirque du Soleil performance at the top of it.  Festivities went from 1 in the afternoon until about midnight.

Believe us when we tell you that 125 people can eat.  We had food on the barbecue grill outside and lots of good old Italian food on the inside.

We will try now to the best of our ability to document all the food that we enjoyed.  I am sure we forgot a lot, but here’s a good try:

  • 20 pounds of hot dogs
  • 30 pounds of hamburgers
  • 20 pounds of skirt steaks
  • 30 pounds of baby lamb chops
  • 20 pounds of boneless chicken thighs
  • Large tray of chicken marsala
  • Large tray of eggplant parmesan
  • Large tray of sausage and peppers
  • Large tray of penne marinara
  • Large tray of rigatoni with sausage and broccoli rabe
  • Tomato brushetta with ricotta salata
  • Filet mignon on toast points with carmelized onions and balsamic reduction
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Potato croquettes
  • Antipasto (cheese and sliced meats)
  • Pigs in the blanket (because it is not a party without pigs in the blanket)
  • Italian sausage wrapped in phylo dough
  • Salad
  • Bread, buns, rolls (you can’t imagine how much starch there was)

Now the dessert.  Our Brooklyn Italian Grandmother put out the call for all Brooklyn and Staten Island bound guests to hit their best Italian pastry shops.  You can imagine the results.  We had so many pastries, cookies and cakes that we actually took many of the leftovers to the homeless shelter the next day.  There was no way we could eat all of the desserts that entered our house on Glen Road.  Here are some cupcakes (which are always a favorite):

Each year, I also ask one of my best friends to make her famous flag cake which is from Ina Garten.  She always obliges.  The flag cake sort of ties it all up here…you know, a symbol of why we are celebrating.

So Happy 4th of July to all of you from all of us here on Glen Road.  We also want to take this opportunity to thank all of our women and men in the armed services who risk their lives to protect all of us.  We appreciate your dedication.  By the way, if you are looking for us, we are still recovering from the big party.  Our beverage of choice was not lemonade, so that fact, coupled with the number of hours that we partied have made all of us Glen Road old people tired.  Thank God we have to go back to work tomorrow.  At our age, work is much easier than partying.  What are you doing today to celebrate the 4th of July?

Memorial Day History

This is a little history about Memorial Day.  On Monday, Americans will be celebrating Memorial Day.  Considered by many to be the opener to the summer season, the holiday actually has roots that stretch back through the nation’s history to the Civil War.

That history, shared by the  Department of Veterans Affairs, started when the head of an organization of union veterans, called the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day on May 5, 1868.  The day was meant to be a time for citizens to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.  Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that it should be observed on May 30, possibly about the right time so that flowers would be blooming all over the country.

Congress declared Memorial Day to be a national holiday in 1971 that would be celebrated on the last Monday in May and would honor all soldiers who had died in the nation’s wars.  In addition to that, the National Moment of Remembrance Act passed in 2000 suggests that people pause wherever they are at 3 PM local time on Memorial Day to remember those who have died in service.  What will you be doing this Memorial Day weekend?

Easter Bunny Martini

This is a martini recipe to help you celebrate Easter.  It also helps calm your nerves if you are cooking for a large group or if you are around family members that are annoying you.  Don’t let the look of the martini fool you.  While it looks like a creamy chocolate milkshake, there is enough vodka in it to make any Easter (or any day) a good one.  It was made by Jeff the Bartender at Toscana Restaurant in Ridgefield, CT, http://www.toscanaridgefield.com.  If you live in the area, go there for some great Italian food.  Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

  •  1/3 combination of Absolut vodka and Absolut vanilla vodka
  • 1/3 Godiva chocolate liqueur
  • 1/3 dark creme de cacao
  • 1 small chocolate bunny (for garnish)

Directions:

Place ingredients into a martini shaker with ice.  Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.  Using a small knife, make a slice upwards under the ribs of the chocolate bunny.  (Attention animal lovers:  this will not hurt the bunny).  Hook on the rim of the martini glass and drink.

Enjoy your bunny martini and have a Happy Easter…..if you can remember it after drinking this martini.  What holiday themed drinks do you make for your family and friends?

Happy Valentine’s Day With History

This is Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2011.  I like the holiday only because I have someone who buys me cards and wishes me a happy day……and yes, this person loves me.  I did not like it when I was single.  I have a friend who used to go out with me on the evening of Valentine’s Day.  It seems we were always dressed in a depressing manner….you know, lots of black and other dark hues.  We would sit in a random bar/restaurant and moan, groan and laugh at all the couples who were together for this special night.  Love, who needs it.  We were jealous!  So now that I have someone special in my life, we always try to go out with our single friends on this special day so that they aren’t left by themselves to make fun of  any couple who ventures out to express their affection.  Anyway, hecklers tend not to be in fashion on this special day of love.  So this morning, I asked myself where did this idea of a special day get its beginning?  Is there such a person as St. Valentine?  A little research across the web and, low and behold, a history I obtained from Yahoo Buzz that I thought you might enjoy.

“So how was Valentine’s Day created?  Who was St. Valentine?  Was he a great lover a la Casanova?  Was he even a real person?  According to Catholic Online, St. Valentine was very real, but he probably wasn’t a smooth operator with the ladies.

“Valentine was a holy priest in Rome, who, with St. Marius and his family, assisted the martyrs in the persecution under Claudius II.”  For his trouble, Valentine was beaten and then executed after authorities were unable to get him to renounce his faith.  His death occurred on February 14.

As with many events that occurred so long ago, other theories abound.  Indeed, there were several different Valentines, and nobody is 100 percent sure which one was which.  Some believe he was a priest, others believe he was a bishop, some believe he was a combination of the two, and still others believe he was someone else entirely.  All that said, there is little doubt among experts that Valentine did exist in one form or another.

As for how the holiday came to represent love and kisses, there are a few different theories for that as well. According to a blog specializing in saints, “some believe the Romans had a mid-February custom where boys drew the names of girls in honor of the sex and fertility goddess, Februata Juno.”  Others feel the custom of greetings “stems from the belief that birds begin to pair on that date.”

So today, if you are frantically searching for flowers, a box of candy or sitting at a bar/restaurant looking to sneer at anyone who looks romantic, remember….it’s all thanks to the one and only St. Valentine, whoever he was.