It’s Officially Acorn Season

It’s always exciting for us here at Glen Road to see our first acorns of the season.  It reminds us that Fall is on its way, as well as reminds us about how our blog got its name “Acorns On Glen”.  You see, behind our house on Glen Road, there are a number of oak trees that grow acorns during the Spring and Summer.  At a certain point, the oaks, after getting permission from Mother Nature, decide to remind us about the upcoming Fall season by dropping hundreds of acorns on top of our roof for at least two to three weeks.  Sometimes so many fall at one time that it sounds like bullets spraying the top of our house from some imaginary gun in the back yard.  It has become a yearly ritual in our home and we laugh every time we hear the noise or have someone new in the house who asks us, “What was that?”.  The falling acorns also signal a period of increased barking from our Yorkie, JoJo.  She is always on the lookout for intruders (i.e., squirrels, chipmunks or the UPS delivery man) and hearing the acorns falling on the roof always brings about several barking episodes a day.  Yes, it does get a little annoying with her continual barking, but we realize she is just trying to keep us safe and sound.

When we started “Acorns On Glen” about a year and a half ago, I wrote that I wanted it to be about new beginnings and being able to better realize what was real and good in my life.  At the time I started writing my first blog post, I was pretty down about life and was only seeing and thinking about what’s wrong in it versus what was right.  The blog was a new beginning to me and I hoped it would become a vessel where I could document gratitude for all of the great things that were happening in my life.  I wanted the blog to be a chronicle about a great life….my great life.  I’m glad to say that it has truly worked and seeing the first acorns of the season reminds me of new beginnings and of just how far I’ve come in appreciating this journey called life!

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?

Friday Dance Party – David Guetta, Usher and StoryCorps

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.

Almost every Friday at 8:30 AM Eastern time, I am in my car driving to work with tears in my eyes.  Many times the tears spill out.  It really is not the most optimal way to drive a car.  Right on schedule, it happened again this morning.  Why you ask?  The answer is that I am listening to StoryCorps, which is a regular feature on National Public Radio.  StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives.  Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 30,000 interviews from more than 60,000 participants.  Each conversation is recorded and then preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.  StoryCorps is one of the largest oral history projects of its kind and millions listen to weekly broadcasts on NPR’s Morning Edition.  StoryCorps does this to remind us of our shared humanity, strengthen and build the connections between people, teach the value of listening and weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that every life matters.  At the same time, StoryCorps creates an invaluable archive of American voices and wisdom for future generations.

The one today really hit home in so many ways.  A man was being interviewed by his friend about the loss of his partner 14 years ago on December 2, 1997.  At the end of his short interview, he told a story about him and his partner with so much emotion in his voice that it was hard to listen.  However, it made me think that even though a loved one may leave you here on Earth, you will always have strong memories like the man on StoryCorps that keeps a loved one alive in your heart forever.  These strong memories are probably the only things you have that keep you from cracking up when you deal with such a loss.  Memories enable you to move on and get on with your life.  Here is what he said:

“I have this memory of looking out our bedroom window,” he says.  “It was a night with a lunar eclipse.  We looked out and watched the lunar eclipse together.  I remember thinking that it was the last one he would see, and we would see together.  I remember, I don’t know what I said, something stupid, and made him laugh.”  “And I just loved, loved, loved hearing him laugh.”

Sometimes on Fridays, we have to give thanks for our lives and dance with a little bit of a heavy heart.  This week, let’s do that and dance to “Without You” by David Guetta with Usher.  It’s for Chris and Coda and their story on StoryCorps.  Let’s give thanks that we are alive and safe.  Let’s also remember to make the type of memories that last more than just one person’s lifetime.  Have you ever listened to StoryCorps?

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?