Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!


I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! May you enjoy the season's best with your loved ones this holiday. 

Cheers, 
David

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Snoopy Christmas Cookies

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer!  The moment that Christmas is near, I begin to want to listen to the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'.  Snoopy has always been close to my heart, because as a child, I could not get enough of this darling cartoon character.  I can clearly remember asking mom and dad for Snoopy plushes, clothing and toys while growing up.  It wasn't quite Christmas until my brothers and I would sit and watch 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'.

As much as I would like to go back to that wonderful time in my life, I can still recreate some of that magic from yesteryear for my niece and nephews, with some sugar cookies.  



Long ago I fell in love with a certain sugar cookie of Snoopy lying atop his doghouse, decorated for Christmas.  I kept that image on my computer and on my phone for quite some time.  It wasn't until I found a vintage cookie cutter online, that I set about planning some Snoopy Christmas cookies of my own.


The large Hallmark cookie cutter that you see here was made back in the 1970s (I was a 70s baby!).  It is big enough to make sugar cookies which can be decorated with a good amount of icing.  The only problem with the cutter itself is that it's rather shallow.  Because I like to roll out cookie dough to at least 1/4" in thickness, I ended up stamping the cookie dough with the cutter, and cutting the entire shape with a sharp paring knife.     


After baking and cooling the cookies, I outlined the stamped areas (Snoopy and the doghouse) with black royal icing.   


You can see just how large these cookies are.  Sitting next to those snowflakes and stockings, the 8"-9" Snoopy cookies are perfect for large cellophane bags.


Snoopy was flooded in white royal icing, including the ear, and the doghouse was flooded in red royal icing.  

With the same black royal icing and a #2 piping tip, I outlined once again, the doghouse, as well Snoopy.  In addition, Snoopy was given a plump black nose and black ears.  The entire cookie was left to dry completely.


Using some green royal icing, I attached two holly leaf candies and a holly berry to Snoopy's dog collar.  It made him look very festive!  A swag of black royal icing was piped on the roof and on the wall of the dog house to delineate a string of lights.  Dots of black royal icing were piped here an there on the "string of lights", and M&M candies were carefully placed on them.   

 Done!

This is me when I was five years old.  That green Snoopy t-shirt was a favorite of mine!  Some things just don't change. 


  
Needless to say, these cookies were a lot of fun to make.  A part of me was nostalgic for those great childhood memories, but another part of me was extremely happy that I could share the joy of one of America's most beloved cartoon characters, with my niece and nephews.

I think the little ones are going to love these Snoopy Christmas cookies.

Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snowflake Sugar Cookie Ornaments

It's a very charming and special thing to have homemade ornaments strung throughout one's Christmas tree.  Whether they're crafted by the kids at school or are made by a very creative member of the family, handmade Christmas ornaments become keepsakes that eventually turn into family heirlooms.  A lot of us have such mementos in our homes.


Homemade Christmas ornaments, however, can be of the edible variety. These types of ornaments are really meant to be enjoyed for a present-day Christmas season.  They're great if one is hosting a holiday party, as each guest can pluck whatever he or she wants.  A set of homemade candies, chocolates, and cookies, can make any Christmas tree extra special for the season.  It's a nice way to have something that's both sweet and decorative for a holiday party.

For weeks I had been thinking about the types of royal icing cookies that I would make for a small, tabletop feather tree of mine.  I knew the shapes would be snowflakes, but I wasn't set on the color palette until I remembered having some highlighters that hadn't been used.

The cookies, needless to say, turned out exactly how I conceptualized them, and I couldn't be happier.

Take a look!  


The first order of business was to bake the sugar cookies.  Using my tried-and-true sugar cookie recipe, I cut out and baked dozens of snowflakes using an Ateco cookie cutter.  I made sure to cut out a hole at the top of each snowflake before I baked them, and again, after I took them out of the oven.  This was done with a bamboo skewer.  Two larger snowflakes were cut, baked and iced for my tree topper.  Not knowing how I would secure the tree topper, I also cut a hole at the center just in case.

Each cookie was outlined and flooded in white royal icing.  After allowing the icing to dry completely, I set about "painting" each cookie with a pearl shade dust and a highlighter dust.

The green pearl shade dust was thinned out with unflavored vodka, and was applied with a small paint brush.  As much as I liked the color, I didn't like the end results of the finish.  I found this dust to clump and not dissolve evenly upon drying.  There really wasn't much I could do after the fact, so I left them as is.


Using a 24 karat gold 'highlighter' from Sunflower Sugar Art, I used the same technique of applying it with unflavored vodka and a paint brush.


A small amount of the highlighter was placed in a dish, and unflavored vodka was added to it, drop by drop.  I immediately noticed how smoothly it dissolved upon contact with the alcohol.


Using the small paint brush, I evenly distributed the highlighter to mix it well.  It was literally liquid gold!


Using long, even strokes, each cookie was quickly painted with the gold highlighter.  I found that I had to work fast because the gold dried quickly upon contact.  After one coat of the highlighter, I checked for any uneven spots and gave them a second coating.

Beautiful!

As soon as every snowflake cookie was completely dry, I used stiff royal icing (in white), and with a #2 plain piping tip, I added the spokes of each snowflake as shown.  Dots were applied throughout the cookie as I saw fit.


Because I wanted to avoid any mishaps, I baked two tree toppers.  Although I had cut out a hole on each topper, so that I could string some twine though it, I changed my mind at the last minute.  After thinking about how I was going to set the tree topper on the pinnacle of the tree, I remembered my pastry couplers!  They were the perfect shape for anchoring the cookie(s).

Stiff royal icing was applied to the backs, and I carefully wedged a coupler in the center.


Now I was ready for some decorating!


I chose a very sturdy earthenware crock to hold my ostrich feather tree.  These crocks were originally made here in Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century to store sauerkraut.  I thought it would be the perfect vessel for my tree.


Every cookie was securely tied with this waxed linen thread from Ireland.  The green just happened to match the green snowflakes.  


It took a while for me to fiddle with the branches and the ornaments, but I was able to piece together a Christmas tree that was both festive and harmonious.  





It doesn't take much to create a small cookie tree this holiday.  With a little bit of creativity, a few supplies and tools, your very own Christmas tree can be the center of a delicious holiday dessert table.  Remember to make your cookie ornaments extra special and undoubtedly tasty.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Fruitcake

'Tis the season to partake of fruitcake.  Fruitcakes have been around for millennia, and they have developed throughout the centuries based on what was available and what was allowed by religion.  Countries around the world are known for their own distinct versions of this holiday sweet.  Panforte in Italy, Birnebrot in Switzerland, Stollen in Germany, Le Cake in France, Bollo de Higo in Spain, Christmas Cake in Canada, Black Cakes from the Caribbean, and our very own American Fruitcake which is rich in nuts, candied fruits, brandy or other liqueurs.


My very first memories of fruitcake were from the time I was around five years old.  My father's cousin, Rachel, and her son would bring us homemade fruitcake several weeks before Christmas, and although us kids never ate any, mom and dad loved having it.  I can still see my cousin Peter walking up our driveway holding that small loaf of baked-from-scratch fruitcake.  The thing that seemed odd to me, though, was how our cousin would only give us half of a large loaf.  I suppose cousin Rachel thought it was more economical and best to hand out cake halves to the family.  Who knows?


During winter I crave a slice of fruitcake, but as much as I vow to make my own every Christmas, I never seem to make the time for it.  It's my fault, really.  

To get the craving out of my system this year, I decided to try a fruitcake that several of my friends recommended.  The fruitcake from Wendy Kromer Confections is really good!  Made with butter,  sugar, eggs and flour, each cake is packed with scrumptious raisins, walnuts, pecans, cranberries, glace├ęd cherries, figs, molasses, allspice and bourbon.  I have to say that the addition of dried figs seem to make these extra tasty.

In my opinion, rich fruitcakes don't require any embellishments.  They are best served as is and in small slices.  A cup of tea is always nice though with a helping of fruitcake, but so is coffee.  

Wendy Kromer's Fruitcakes

If you're ambitious enough to bake your own fruitcakes every winter and perhaps would like to try a new recipe handed down through the generations, I highly recommend that you bake my friend Andrew's.  His recipe for Christmas Cake has been in the family for almost one hundred years.  It gets baked every single winter by the Ritchies, who have made it a tradition to involve the entire family when mixing the batter.  Each family member adds an ingredient to the bowl, giving it a good stir, and then makes a special Christmas wish before the cakes are baked in the oven.  It's a time honored practice for the family.


Here is the original, handwritten copy of that delicious recipe.  As you can see, it has been used quite a bit by members of Andrew's family.


This dark, rich cake is studded with fruits and nuts.  Click here to get the recipe.




I hope that many of you have a bit of fruitcake this Christmas season.  As much as one can joke about these desserts, they really are delicious if made with great care and quality ingredients.  You may end up making your own fruitcakes this year or being the recipient of one, so remember to give them a special place on your holiday dessert table.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

My Thanksgiving Table in 2017

I want to show you our Thanksgiving table before we sit down to dinner in a few hours.  This year is all about setting a table with earth tones that connote the season's best colors.  I love gold, black, caramel, deep yellows and and creamy taupes.  With that in mind, I took out a good Wedgwood pattern that gets used a lot here at home, and then I complemented it with a golden-colored linen tablecloth, some black linen napkins and mismatched bakelite.  The glassware was etched Depression glass.

I love the simplicity of our table.


This is an overview of the table looking toward the kitchen.  The sheaves of wheat centerpiece was surrounded by a flock of caramel glass, L.E. Smith turkeys.  These are going to be used to hold cranberry sauce for guests.


The flatware is vintage and not-so-vintage bakelite.  I didn't want to set the table with silver this year, so I completed a mismatched place setting for each guest.


The wine glasses are quite old, and I absolutely love them because they are beautifully etched with some gilding.  The pink Depression glass tumblers are also etched.  My dinnerware is Wedgwood drabware made for the former Martha by Mail catalog.  I love the gilded plates.  Water will be placed in the drabware pitchers at each end of the table.


Do you see what I mean about the beauty of the glassware?


Each guest gets a salad and dinner fork, along with a spoon and dinner knife. The black napkins, as well as the wheat-colored tablecloth, are double hemstitched European linen.  As I said earlier, the dinner plate, the salad plate and the saucer (used for rolls) are all from the same pattern of Wedgwood.


Rather than having individual salt cellars, I used silver salt and pepper mills and shakers at each end of the table.  On this end, I have a set of Chiarugi silver salt and pepper mills made exclusively for Martha by Mail.


On the other end, I have silver salt and pepper shakers made for Williams-Sonoma.


A quick overview of our Thanksgiving table.
I hope all of you have a delicious dinner
and are surrounded by good company.


From my home to yours, Happy Thanksgiving! 

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving to every one of you celebrating the holiday!  I wish you good health, plenty to eat and a warm home filled with friends and family. 

I am giving thanks for the love that our Lion gave us for the eighteen years that we had him in our lives, for having rescued baby Henry Aloysius and given him a good home, for being surrounded with good friends, and for having a loving family.  

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sheaves of Wheat Centerpiece

Every Thanksgiving table should have a centerpiece, whether it be fresh flowers, a cornucopia of fruits and nuts, or a crafted arrangement of seasonal items.  I have been wanting to make a simple centerpiece using sheaves of wheat, and this year was the perfect time to do so.  Nothing could be easier than tying up a bundle of wheat for an earthy table arrangement.


Preserved wheat bundles can be purchased from many different sources.  The stalks lend themselves to so many uses for table settings, and if you want to get really crafty, you can even make a giant wreath.

If you buy a small sheaf, the bundle can quickly be assembled into a festive centerpiece for Thanksgiving.  You can, however, break up the bunch and make many smaller sheaves for individual place settings, or to place down the length of your dining table.


These beautifully preserved wheat stalks sitting next to my collection of Martha by Mail caramel glass are ready for assembling.  Depending on the length of the stalks that you buy, you may need to trim them down to have them sit on the table.

Use a sharp set of pruning shears for this project, and make sure that you have plenty of table space.  Once you begin cutting, you will have a shower of wheat grains and stalks all over your table, so have a small dust pan and brush handy.


Stack and arrange the sheaves into a nice bundle, and with some waxed linen thread, floral wire or even a rubber band, bunch and twist the stalks into a very tight bundle.  Tie well and secure the arrangement.  

Using the sharp pruning shears, trim the bottom of the bundle until you have a length suitable for your table.  The bunch shouldn't be taller than the tallest guest seated at your table.  At eye level, while seated, is perfect.


It's up to you how you want to finish the centerpiece, but if you happen to have some thick satin ribbon in an earth tone, use it.  I love glossy, chocolate-brown ribbon for Fall decor.



Tie a simple knot around the bundle and you are done!  There is no need to do a bow.



How easy was this?  The nice thing about this kind of arrangement is that you can reuse it again next year for your table or you can place the arrangement on a coffee table, a mantle or even a console in the hallway throughout the year. You can even surprise a host or hostess with one of these if you are attending a Thanksgiving dinner elsewhere.

Cheers!  

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Baby Henry

It is often said that we don't really choose our pets, they're the ones that choose us.  I found out how true that really is a couple of weeks ago.  My neighbor and dear friend Pam was taking a walk near a client's house the other week when she heard some crying coming out of a drainpipe.  When she took a peek, she found a little abandoned kitten.  Rather than going straight to the vets she brought it over to me at the cafe and asked if I wanted to provide the baby with a home.  I was instantly smitten!

Henry loves to be held.  He's so tiny in my arms!
This was the first time I held Henry in my arms.

I remember Pam holding this tiny little bundle of black fur and feeling instantly like I had to protect the little one and give it a home.  I won't forget how his meowing stopped the moment I held him in my arms.  I think he knew that I could be trusted and that he would be safe with me.  The decision was made right then and there.  

He could sit with us for hours if we let him.
After spending a week at our fantastic veterinary hospital making sure he was healthy enough and eating properly, my baby came home to us several days ago.  

It's all about the power naps.

I wasn't exactly prepared to have another kitty after the passing of our beloved Lion, but how could I turn my back on this baby in need?  He's so adorable!

Henry is enjoying our tea breaks.  

It's been a learning experience for us here at home with this tiny one pound baby cat.  Henry loves to eat, he enjoys running around our home and he's already keen on sitting on our laps for tea break!  Because he is only four weeks old and so small, we have to be very vigilant about where he is at all times so that he doesn't get under our feet.  I think I've dropped everything that I thought was important this past week just so that I could bond with Henry and spend as much time with him.  He is getting around the clock supervision (yes, he has a baby sitter during the day!) and is loving the attention.

I'm not sure what Lion or Mistress would say about little Henry, but I am certain that we've made the right decision.  Our friends have told us that this kitty just won the lottery because they know that we will provide him with a good home and a lot of love.    

Let's hear it for baby Henry!

Friday, November 3, 2017

November Days

The trees this year have taken their sweet time turning, but I'll have whatever they give us because it's my favorite season.  For some reason the Beech trees seem to be some of the most beautiful specimens around the property.  Tall, healthy and long-lived, each tree is absolutely perfect.  The landscape would be incomplete without them.    


I was having a long discussion with a loved one about old-growth trees and how vital they are to the ecosystem.  We recently noticed that a couple of neighbors have had the impudence to cut down such trees on their properties, much to our horror.  There is nothing worse than seeing large healthy trees being cut down, and left sitting in great, big heaps waiting to be chipped.  I can't think of any good reason, other than having a diseased or dead tree, to remove an old-growth tree just to tear down a home and perhaps erect a larger "stately" home.  It's extremely unsightly. 

Alas, not everything thinks the way we do.


Making my way around the property, I've noticed that certain things have remained the same over the years, while others have changed dramatically. Diseased trees have been removed, many other specimens have been planted by the dozen throughout the field, and the healthier trees that have been here for decades are very prolific with nut production.  Acorns and black walnuts are everywhere. 


Our weather has been erratic here in the Northeast.  Some days are cool, brisk and windy, which should be the case on any given November day, and yet, other days feel like early September.  Warm and humid days don't seem right in November.   

How is it where you live?


You can see some examples of the reforestation that is going on here.  Saplings get extra protection from the elements and the wildlife with those sturdy wraparound tree guards, also known as tree shelters.  

Standing in this area and looking down onto the driveway is something I love to do when the foliage is changing.  Each tree is different and every specimen takes its time.



One thing I've always been taught is to respect mother nature.  From the time that I was little, my parents, especially my father, instilled in us to always be mindful of not littering, disturbing the wildlife or spoiling our trees.  I can still remember helping dad plant apple, apricot and peach trees in our backyard decades ago.  It was my job to help water them when they needed it and to feed them accordingly.  

In fact, dad has always been a proponent of planting, caring for, and respecting trees, so that further generations can benefit from them.  My hope and wish is that you get to plant a tree or two in the coming year, and help maintain any older trees that you may possess.  

Respecting mother nature is something I will always do.