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, glaceĆ©d 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. 



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Happy Halloween Sugar Cookies

Every single year, I love to bake and ice sugar cookies for Halloween.  Whether they're meant for trick-or-treaters or for individuals who are near and dear to me, I make sure to create cookies that are colorful, a bit spooky, and infinitely delicious.  It's nice to see people devour one of my cookies in a few bites, and then tell me that it was so good.  This is what every baker strives for!


This year I baked dozens of cookies with some new cutters that I recently purchased.  With a little help from the Sweet Sugar Belle shapeshifter cookie cutters found at Michael's, I cut out and baked many toothsome Halloween cookies for some people in town.


I love the triangular cookie cutter that makes those wonderful candy corns, along with the skull and tombstone cookie cutter shapes.  The large pumpkin shape (not part of the set) is one that I've had in my pantry for many years, and every Halloween, I always reach for it because it makes such a great cookie.


For this project, you can either use my Heirloom Sugar Cookie Recipe or my very delicious Sugar and Spice Cookie Recipe for the base.  A couple of batches of royal icing, some gel paste colors in black, orange and lemon yellow, and you're on your way to making treats worthy of your Halloween party.


Let's decorate some cookies!


The candy corn cookies are so adorable.  I actually am one of those people who loves candy corn.  In fact, I like to pick out the pumpkin candy corns and keep them all to myself because I like them so much.

Ice the top area in white royal icing and the bottom area in a bright-yellow royal icing.  Let the icings set for at least one hour.  Ice the middle part of the candy using a tasty orange-colored royal icing.  


Let the icing dry completely.  This is the cookie: easy, peasy!!


Cut out the skulls using that wonderful shape, and with the stencil provided in the kit, trace the eyes and nose using a food-writer pen.  Using a #1 piping tip and some black royal icing, outline and flood the eyes and nose.


Using the white royal icing and a #3 piping tip, outline the shape of the skull, and outline the eyes and the nose as shown.  You want to provide a dam for these areas so that the colors stay put.


Immediately flood the rest of the skull in white royal icing and let the skulls dry completely.


For the pumpkin cookies, I outlined and flooded the bases in either orange or white royal icing.  Some pumpkins were then immediately enhanced with some black dots, which were then swirled with a decorator's modeling tool.  I LOVE this effect.


Other cookie bases were left plain.  Once the bases were dry, I then piped spider webs with some black royal icing.  My favorite part of all of the pumpkins was the "candy corn" stem.  Aren't they cute?


While I was in the middle of this cookie decorating project, I was edgy because the royal icing was taking longer than normal to dry.  Due to the humidity and our warm temperatures, my royal icing has not been happy lately.

If you experience this same problem, dedicate a small tabletop fan to speed up the drying process.


The tombstone cookies were given a black bottom and a gray-colored top as shown.  Pipe these areas with either a #3 or a #4 plain piping tip.  Let the bases dry completely.


To finish the skulls, use a #1 piping tip and some black royal icing to pipe the mouths.  The tombstones are given a R.I.P. decoration with a stencil and some black royal icing.  White dots are added to the perimeter of the cookies.

Done and done!



Nothing could be easier than a set of these Halloween sugar cookies. Presented on antique and vintage wire cooking racks like these, anyone's Halloween party will be off to a good start.  If you want your guests to take these treats home with them, provide a set of some jack-o-lantern and kitty cat treat bags in a bowl, so that each person can package up their treat(s).  

From my home to yours, have a safe and Happy Halloween this year!  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bridal Shower Cookies

Making any type of sugar cookie decorated with royal icing requires some planning, time management, and very good ingredients.  I like to begin these projects several days before the event, so that I don't run into problems.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making some bridal shower cookies in the shapes of tuxedos and wedding dresses for a dear neighbor.  Although I have never created any wedding cookies before, I do own several cookie cutters perfect for such an occasion. 


The wedding dress cookie was made with a copper cutter that I purchased from a very good friend several years ago, and the tuxedo top came from a recent purchase of Sweet Sugarbelle cookie cutters at Michael's.  If you don't own the shape shifters set from Sweet Sugarbelle, I highly recommend getting it because the cookie cutters lend themselves to so many things.  

After baking the cookies, I made several batches of royal icing in black and white.  For this project, I made sure to have a flooding consistency icing, as well as a stiff royal icing in both colors.  


I altered the dress-shaped cookies before I even baked them.  The original shape of the cookie cutter had a skirt with a scalloped bottom, so I decided to trim the scallops of the cookies using a "trim edger cutter" from that set of shape-shifters I mentioned earlier.  After baking and cooling the dresses, I traced a sweetheart bodice, and a two-part skirt with a Wilton Food Writer pen.


The gowns were then iced in several stages.  The outside areas of some of the ball gowns were outlined and flooded in white royal icing using a #3 piping tip.  I then placed either white or pink pearl candies along the centers as shown.  The areas were left to dry completely.  I then outlined and flooded the center areas of the skirts  with the same white royal icing, and left them to dry completely.  The sweetheart bodices were then outlined and flooded with white royal icing using a #2 tip, and were immediately flocked with either coarse, clear sanding sugar (for sparkly tops) or with white nonpareils (for pearly tops).  The cookies were left to dry completely.  Any stray sugar crystals or nonpareils were removed after the tops were dry.


White royal icing dots were added to the neckline of the cookies with a #2 tip to create a delicate pearl necklace, and more dots were placed along the edges of the gowns as shown.  The center area on some of the skirts were enhanced with a super-white edible glitter; dip a small brush into the glitter pot and carefully paint it onto the dried royal icing.  The glitter won't immediately stick to the icing, but if you leave it alone, it will settle.  I treated the bare areas of the cookies with the same edible glitter.  Voila!


The tuxedo tops of the gentlemen were made using the adorable "gift box with ribbon" cutter from Sweet Sugarbelle.  Her set of cutters comes with recipes and decorating instructions.  She had a version of this tuxedo top that I fell in love with, so I used it!  The tuxedo jacket areas were outlined and flooded with black royal icing as shown.  These areas were left to dry completely.


Don't they look spiffy already?


Bow ties were outlined and flooded with the same black royal icing using a #1 piping tip.  A single drageĆ© was placed in the middle of the bow tie.  This area was left to dry completely.  I then used a #2 piping tip and some white royal icing to fill in the shirt, and while the icing was still wet, I piped black shirt studs down the middle.  The cookies were then left to dry completely.  

The lapels and the edges of the bow ties were piped with a #1 tip, and some black royal icing (it has to be stiff).  Done! 


As you can see, I modified the skirts and the bodices on most of the gowns to give some variety.  All of the tuxedos, though, were exactly the same.  I loved the way the wedding gowns sparkled!


Wrapped in clear cellophane bags and tied with white ribbons, the Bridal Shower Cookies were ready to be placed on platters for gift-giving.


It's a certainty that you will know of a bride-to-be in the near future.  If you happen to be adept at making royal icing cookies, consider making a set of cookies for a bridal shower.  Use these cookies as a guide or create your very own edible works of art.  Make sure that you make a cookie for everyone attending the bridal shower.  In fact, make extras just in case.