Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Christmas Cookie #1 – Coconut Pyramids (No Trip To Egypt Needed)

This is always the first cookie I make if and when I get into the Christmas cookie baking mode.  Coconut pyramids start the season off right.  Front up, I will tell you, it’s not every season I get into the mood to make Christmas cookies.  When I do, these coconut pyramid macaroons are first up at bat.  Why coconut macaroons you may be asking versus something more traditional for the holidays?  I’m not sure I know that answer other than to say they are quick to make and bake.  It’s probably a mental thing…you start off with something easy that always turns out right and then you get into a state where you start taking more challenges with more complicated recipes.  Know that the hardest part of this recipe is finding unsweetened coconut.  The only place I have found it is at my local health food store.  I’ve used the sweetened kind of coconut from the supermarket, but it just does not work.

I first baked these macaroons in 2001 when I ran across the recipe in a cookbook I had purchased.  I remember thinking that they would look like little snow drifts among the other cookies that I had baked that year.  Since everyone I gave cookies to that year was really in the mood for coconut (I guess), these pyramids received a lot of compliments and I’ve been making them ever since.  Coconut macaroons are light and chewy.  The little tip of chocolate at the end of the cookie is a nice little touch as well.  It’s the pyramid shape that I find the best part of the cookie.  It looks like it takes a long time to shape them, but it is pretty quick and painless.  You don’t have to make them your first Christmas cookie of the season, but do give them a shot this year.  It’s always nice to start a new tradition.  Why not do it with a coconut pyramid?

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 5 1/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I find mine at a local health food store)
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch salt
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vegetable shortening

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites and salt.  Add butter and extracts and combine well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Moisten palms of hands with cold water.  Roll 1 tablespoon of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball.  Place ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.

Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted.  Dip top 1/2 inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate.  Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.

For some reason, my friends, family and I find it hard to eat just one of these cookies at any given sitting.  They go pretty fast, so be prepared.  I’ll be posting a few more Christmas cookie favorites over the next couple of weeks.  I’m in the mood to bake them this year, so why not share the recipes with the masses.  Enjoy!!  What is your favorite cookie that you make for the holidays?

Deja Vu Spinach And A SARA Garden Confession

This is another story here on Acorns On Glen about planting spinach.  It’s a deja vu spinach story because I wrote about planting spinach in the Fall and harvesting it in early Spring during the beginning months after creation of this blog.  The only thing that is different in this story is the location of where I planted the new Fall crop of spinach.  I also hope that the harvesting of our early Spring spinach will be a new twist as well.  To be totally honest, I hope that my harvest of any vegetables will make it to the pages of Acorns On Glen.  If you review past posts, you will read a lot about planting and initial sprouting, but not anything on end-state harvesting other than a vegetable here or there.  Why?  Well as they say in real estate, location is everything, and so is the plot you use to build your raised bed gardens.

The trouble started in the late Fall of 2010, when I decided to have some local carpenters help me build my first raised bed garden.  I remember walking through the woods outside of our fenced in back yard and finding a spot that was clear of trees and absolutely had the bright sun hitting it for a good part of the day.  The garden was built over a few days and we actually used skinny trunks of trees to hold up the metal fencing that we used to keep the deer out of the garden.  Everything sounds great so far, right?  Yes, they were well laid plans except for one key element.  The trees surrounding the clearing in the forest which borders our house did not have leaves on their branches during my Fall scouting adventure.  So, of course there would be lots of sun shining throughout the day.  What I didn’t plan into the equation was that when the trees had their leaves return in Spring, that those leaves would block off a majority of sunlight through each and every day until they fell off again during Fall!  In other words, what I had built was a very expensive shade garden!

At first, when I realized that there were only a few hours of direct sunlight, I was in shock and really unable to process this new fact.  It had to be something else!  I sent a soil sample to my local agricultural extension, but found that I had really fertile soil.  Then I thought it was bad seeds, but maybe one pack could be bad, but 20-30 packs?  No way.  It was time to man up and face this little mistake.

Thinking back on it, I exhibited all of the signs described in the SARA emotional model.  Are you familiar with SARA?  When a dramatic event happens in people’s lives, their emotional process in dealing with the event is often referred to as the SARA model.  SARA stands for:

  • Shock–I can’t believe I could make such a stupid mistake.  That’s not like me!  This leaves on trees thing has to be wrong.
  • Anger–I am pissed that I spent so much money on a glorified shade garden!  How could this happen!
  • Resistance–I am going to keep planting and I know that these plants will grow.  It’s just a bad planting season.  This lasted most of the Summer as I planted seed after seed, plant after plant into the shaded raised beds.
  • Acceptance–I am going to plant some new Fall spinach in an empty area of my flower garden in the back yard and fit in other vegetable plants there as well when it is time to plant them.  It will be pretty.  Now where did I lay my new book on shade gardening in raised beds?

All Spring and Summer long, I would be in my resistance mode and keep planting and planting.  The seeds would sprout and grow about one inch and then that was it.  The plants I grew under the grow light in my basement never really grew much more from the size they were at planting.  Final result…I harvested three tomatoes, maybe a squash and a few small radishes.  Everything else….you guessed it, there wasn’t anything else.  So here’s to the garden of 2012.  Let’s hope for a harvest (any kind of harvest) and let’s hope it starts with early Spring spinach.

There are a few areas which are fairly large in size in my flower beds in the back yard that I usually plant annuals in during early Spring.  I’ve decided to use these areas for vegetables and quit with the annuals.  I am going to plant vegetables in them to mix with all the great flowers and bushes that are present.  For the spinach, I picked an area not far from our back door to plant it in over the weekend.

Again, I used the same spinach seed as I did a year ago:  one is a traditional smooth leaf and one a savoy or curly leaf.

  • ‘Space’ is the smooth-leaf variety.  It has medium dark green leaves with are upright and smooth to maybe a little savoyed.
  • ‘Tyee’ is the savoyed-leaf variety.  It is considered the standard of savoyed spinach for its bolt resistance and vigorous growth.  Dark green leaves with an upright growth habit.  I was told it was ideal for over-wintering.

To protect the seeds during the harsh Winter, I again used a floating row cover pinned down by pegs to buffer the planted seeds from the elements.

Just like last year, JoJo, our Yorkie was there to oversee the gardening that was occurring.  She sends her love to all.

The end result was the same instructions from last year, just in a new location and new hopes for more spinach than we can eat in the early Spring of 2012.  This time around I have the seeds, the equipment and pure, bright, unfiltered sun light.  This has to work!

So when you see me post something from now on about gardening, but primarily when you see me show a seed being put in the ground, please make me post the subsequent harvest.  Help keep me honest and, more importantly, keep me from SARA in 2012.  How was your gardening results for the 2011 season?

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?

An Unexpected Thing Of Beauty During A Battle

This is a story of finding something of beauty when you least expect it.  The last couple of months have been extremely busy and stressful here at Acorns On Glen.  So busy, that we’ve not had much time to post here on the blog.  Between work, the Thanksgiving holiday and my father’s ongoing battle with cancer, there has been little down time here on Glen Road.

First off, I am the head of a large group of Accountants.  I’m sure you have heard the term “year-end” muttered a time or two at the places where you work.  Well, that is the time where the rubber definitely hits the road in the accounting world.  To successfully complete year-end requires a lot of organization and some extra time spent in the office.  There is nothing worse than taking an expense in 2012 that could have been taken in 2011 because you weren’t prepared.

Then the holidays pop up.  This year we thought we were being smart and had our favorite restaurant cook most of the food for the 17 guests that were showing up on Thanksgiving day.  We would only make a few side dishes that were family traditions.  Although we saved a lot of time in the kitchen with the food, we still worked the better part of two days cooking the family favorites, setting the table and making sure that the house was neat and tidy.

Lastly, we have spent a lot of time as a family in a new round with my father’s ongoing battle with prostate cancer.  My father had his prostate removed several years ago and, unfortunately, the surgeons were unable to remove all of the cancer cells.  After seeing his PSA levels continue to increase even without a prostate, we have had him come to us for over five years and seek medical care at Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  While it is common for men to have a small level of Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) in their blood stream, the higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that cancer is present.  Unfortunately, my father’s PSA level has become very high and he has formed a small tumor on his skull that has required radiation.  So far, we have all successfully juggled the doctors’ appointments and radiation sessions and hope to begin to see some progress against this latest flare up in the very near future.

For those of you who have or has had parents who are ill, watching them deal with their issues on a frequent basis makes you heavily reflect on your own life.  First, you feel the need to be checked for the issue that your parent is dealing with on a daily basis.  For any man, frequent PSA screening is essential–do not wait to discuss the need for you with your doctor.  Second, there is a lot of anger that you bottle up.  I constantly think about why this is happening, is there someone to blame and is my family doing enough to make this cancer disappear.  You choose to not show your anger.  It is better to bottle it up then explode and make a bad situation even worse by upsetting everyone.  Lastly, you begin to think about your own life because you realize that life doesn’t last forever.  Are you happy?  Have you made the right choices in your life?  If you could start again, would you do it the same or do it very differently?

Needless to say, all of these things that are going on have dampened the mood here at Glen Road.  You begin to think a lot about what is wrong in your life.  Then you turn a corner while driving and see something that reminds you that life can be very good to you as well.  When things are not so great in your life, remember that the bad things can quickly be out numbered by the things that are going well in your life.  This unexpected Christmas tree in a remote part of Danbury, CT made me remember that although life is not perfect right now, my family, friends and I do have a lot to be thankful for and that we have great lives even in bad times.  As for my father’s cancer, I’m thinking that this Christmas tree in the sky is God’s way of giving us proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So here’s to the unexpected Christmas tree that came to us in a time where we needed to be reminded of how precious and great our lives are.  Anyone can have faith during fair weather; but the true test of faith is how we respond during stormy weather when we can’t see our hand in front of our face.  How do you keep the faith when you are experiencing hard times?

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?

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.

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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?