Monday, May 26, 2014

Patriotic Star Cookies

It's nice to get down to the basics when creating simple cookies for holidays and celebrations.  Often times if we're decorating sugar cookies with royal icing, our first instinct is to grab a piping bag or perhaps a squeeze bottle.  One doesn't have to do this to make tasty cookies that are equally eye catching and wonderful.  If you want to cut down on time spent making cookies everyone is going to devour in two or three bites, then search no further.

With a few baking sheets, cooling racks, a small offset spatula, baked & cooled cut out cookies and some tinted royal icing, you can turn out a large amount of decorated cookies in no time.  Save the cumbersome squeeze bottles and piping bags for those perfect cookies and baking projects that have to be picture perfect.  For times when you just want simple goodness to hand out to guests or loved ones, make it quick, make it easy and keep it basic.

Think backyard barbecues, family get togethers, bake sales or picnics on the beach or elsewhere.  These are the types of cookies the little ones can help you with because there is no right or wrong way.  It's a great project if you are going to keep them occupied while you tend to last minute decorations, tidying up around the house and getting the other items on your menu prepped and ready.

I find that stars decorated in our flag's colors of red, white and blue, can be made & enjoyed any time of year.

Let's get down to the basics with my Patriotic Star Cookies.  You're going to love making them and your guests are going to love devouring them.

Begin by rolling out and cutting dozens of star cookies using my Heirloom Sugar Cookie Dough.  For these stars I used the grated zest of two whole lemons to flavor them.  That's one of the nice things about my cookie dough; a number of zests and/or extracts can be used to enhance the cookies.  

Notice that I didn't reach for fancy cookie cutters.  I simply opened up my Ateco star cookie cutters made of tin and used the largest star.  Once baked & cooled, I lined my baking sheets with silpats (you can use parchment) and placed cooling racks over them to hold the cookies.

The royal icing was also a trusted favorite.  I went to one of my Martha Stewart cookbooks and used her favorite icing, substituting meringue powder for fresh eggs and using lemon juice along with some water.    

Sifting confectioners sugar is a must!

With a large spatula, I blended the liquid with the confectioners sugar and meringue powder until smooth.  This didn't take long at all.  Remember, I wanted to keep it simple.  No mixer required!

The icing was equally divided among 3 bowls.  One bowl was left white and the other two were tinted red & blue.  Ateco & Wilton gel pastes give a very good hue for this type of project.  I trust both brands and highly recommend them.

Note: you want your royal icing to be runny & drippy, as opposed to stiff.  You can always thin it out with a few drops of water.

Place a cookie over the cooling rack atop the baking sheet and gather the royal icing with a small offset spatula to spread it.  Let it drip down the sides of the cookies wherever it wants to go.  We want these cookies to look homey and scrumptious.

Continue with the rest of the cookies in the same way.

Set them aside while you continue to ice the rest of your batch.

Give the cookies plenty of space so that they dry out as quickly as possible.

The cookies can be left to dry as they are or you can greatly enhance them with some sprinkles, such as white or multicolored non pareils.  Sanding sugars would work equally well here.  

Note: it is a good idea to gently move the cookies around with a small offset spatula, every 30 minutes or so, so that the cookies don't stick to the racks with the drippy icing.

You're going to be tempted to pop a cookie or two in your mouth while you wait for them to dy.  In order to avoid running out of cookies, make a couple of batches of them and some extra icing.  You never know!

 ★ ★

Let's take a moment to slow down a bit from our busy lives and create some sweetness with a minimum of effort.  By keeping things simple with these cookies and making them absolutely delicious, a weekend baking project doesn't need to turn into an ordeal.  Remember the basics and keep it fun for everyone.

My hope is that many of you attempt to make a few patriotic cookies this summer that are as tasty as they are beautiful to look at.

Happy Baking!  

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Evolving Gardens at Turkey Hill

It's been seven years since Chuck & Casey Berg bought Turkey Hill from lifestyle maven, Martha Stewart, and since then they have not been shy about making changes to this idyllic estate.  The Westport, Connecticut Federal home, which many consider a landmark, is a magical site that continues to evolve under their ownership.  Changes to the main house and the carriage barn located behind it have already been documented, but it isn't until now that we've seen how the gardens have developed since Martha left.

All photographs by Rob Cardillo

My friend Colin, recently sent me the May issue of Cottages & Gardens which has a wonderful story on the gardens of Turkey Hill the way they are today. The article gives us insight as to how the Bergs felt about acquiring Martha's estate and how they wanted to fine tune it to make it their own.  This beloved and bucolic home that graced the pages of Stewart's namesake magazine, and was featured on her television shows for many years, is now a home that echoes what it once used to be.  It is indeed a living landmark of an estate on four pristine acres that is simply beautiful to this day.

When the Bergs took over the property they opted to keep the parcel intact; others wanted to subdivide it if you can imagine!  That they have kept many aspects of Martha's plantings, trees and flowers, is a testament to Stewart's thoughtful consideration to the landscape.  Having said that, however, it was only natural for Chuck & Casey to make the gardens of Turkey Hill more suitable for their tastes and needs.  With a trusted landscape architect on their side, the couple quickly began to give the property their own stamp of structured serenity.

Head gardener, Levy Froes, is perhaps the most important element to the success of the gardens.  Having been employed by Martha for many years prior to selling the estate, it was only natural for the couple to keep him on as steward of the acres.

Walk through the evolving gardens of Turkey Hill.

This is looking out towards 'Martha's Garden'.  Although the Bergs have kept many of Martha's plantings, they have added a lot more.  The apple orchard is just beyond the small shed.

Those peonies that I simply adore continue to thrive many years after Martha had them planted.

With new garden ornaments, the Bergs provide visual interest to the outdoor spaces.

These majestic trees that guard the entrance to the old tobacco barn, which Martha used countless times for entertaining, continue to thrive along the bottom of the hill.

The dwarf apple trees in the orchard stand proudly next to one another.  

Who doesn't remember the old shed where Martha first began filming garden segments?  The weathered shingles and moss-covered roof give this building a sense of permanence in the landscape.

Where once rectilinear spaces set the standard for Martha, it seems that the Bergs have introduced  some curved areas for their cutting gardens.

This tranquil spot adjacent to the porch is so inviting and restful to the eye, don't you think? 

As much as the former version of Martha's Turkey Hill will forever be ingrained in our psyche, the living landmark under the Berg's care continues to evolve, change & thrive.  We are told that Martha returns to visit Turkey Hill every now and then.  It seems she is pleased that someone else is taking such good care of the place she once called home for so many years.  A progression of Good Things to be sure. 

Read more about the gardens of Turkey Hill here and if you wish, request a copy of this Cottages & Gardens issue.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dear David ~ Do I Keep My Depression Glass?

At the suggestion of a friend of mine, I thought I'd try an 'advice/opinion' column here on Good Things by David as a way to answer some of your questions.  On any given month I get many emails from individuals asking about this or that, which I try my best to answer in a timely manner.  Many of those queries leave me thinking that a lot of my readers would benefit from sharing this back & forth dialogue.  Why not do it in an open forum here on the blog and have you see what others are asking?

I don't pretend to be an expert, but I do have opinions, I do have experience and knowledge in areas that I blog about (otherwise I wouldn't be doing so) and I think I have an eye for spotting a "Good Thing" when I see it.  

Let's keep this fun, informal and open.  I don't want anyone to feel inhibited or shy about asking questions regarding the home, baking, cooking, collecting, style, etc.    

Dear David,

I have Fire King and Depression Glass tea cups and saucers and bowls I may never use. They would set a very pretty table when used with the same patterned plates, but how often will I serve tea in glass cups? 

Do I keep them for that once in 15-25 year period, or give them up?

With thanks,
I Should Set Tables for Martha


I think Depression Glass is beautiful as is Fire King.  I own both and use them from time to time.  Here are a few things to consider.

Are you the type that needs to have everything matching at your table? I am a big proponent of mixing and matching dinnerware, glassware and silverware at the table, because it creates texture.  As long as you set your table with some kind of harmony through colors & materials, I think having your Fire King and Depression Glass pieces mixed with other dinnerware may get you to use it more often.  

For instance, consider Fire King jadeite.  One of the nicest pairings, to my mind, is mixing Restaurant Ware with white bone china or a creamy earthenware, such as Wedgwood Queen's Ware.  If your Depression Glass is colored, using pristine white bone china or white porcelain will really complement it very well.  It will enhance the color and make it quite appealing.

Those cups, saucers and bowls can be used during the holidays for eggnog, mulled cider or tea.  Also, it might be a good idea to do a rotation of your Depression Glass, and certainly your Fire King, and store it in your kitchen cupboards.  Fire King is sturdy and beautiful enough to use every single day!  

Here's something else to ask yourself.

Have you used any of these pieces in the last year?  If you haven't let the glass from your collection see the light of day and you don't feel like they're somehow missing from your table settings, then it may be time to let it go.  I have been going through portions of my various collections doing just that and asking myself if I can live without this or that. Sometimes it's quite alright to let things go.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Mailing Treats the Good Way

If I'm baking cookies for individuals and plan on mailing them a box or two of treats, I like to make sure that I've done a good job of packaging, labeling and parceling out the goods.  It is tempting to just put cookies into those reusable plastic containers which one can readily buy at the grocery store; there's nothing wrong with this.  However, if you do want your package(s) of treats to stand out in some special way, then I highly recommend purchasing some clear cellophane bags, some baker's twine (these come in many colors) and last, but not least, a labeled sticker which tells the recipient who made what they are receiving, and/or what the sweets are.  Taking these extra steps always makes the person receiving the baked goods feel special.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to make several dozen cookies for her family and friends to enjoy at an event.  Without a moment to lose I baked what she requested and gathered my packaging materials, assembly line style so that I could send her treats quickly.  When I do plan on mailing someone baked goods, I try my hardest not to wait more than one day to ship out whatever it is I'm sending.  I like my cookies and other items to arrive as fresh as possible.

With only a few crafting items, even the most humble of treats can be made to look like they arrived from a top notch bakery.  It's all part of elevating the every day into la creme de la creme.  Nothing is difficult about any of this.

Mail some treats to your loved ones today!

I cannot stress enough that you use the best ingredients whenever possible, because it makes all of the difference in the final product.  Organic, free-range eggs, pure cane sugars, unsalted butter, the darkest of cocoa powders from France and high-quality chocolate are just a few of the ingredients I like to use.  Whether they're stored in clear glass jars on your counter or in other containers inside a pantry, make sure that your ingredients are fresh.  Using anything that is over a year old is not going to produce good treats. 

The baking always begins as close to shipping time as possible.  If I'm icing cookies, I have a bit more time to create those because my Heirloom Sugar Cookies & Chocolate Cookies have a good shelf-life.  Other types of cookies require that they be sent as soon as possible.

When the cookies have cooled off, I stack them high onto a lined baking sheet and move them to my "assembly station".

These are the basics for me.  Clear cellophane bags in various sizes to hold the cookies, butcher's twine or waxed linen twine to close the bags and, of course, a label.  It's so much fun creating labels for these types of projects.  My current label of "Good Things by David" happens to be the oval with dotted border.  It's my new favorite.

Depending on the size of the cookies, you can drop two generous portions into one bag or...

Stack them by the half dozen.  This is a nice way to get a lot into one package.

Here's a small overview of what my station can look like on any given day when I'm about to walk out the front door with treats.  

Those brownies which you see in the center are SO good.  I promise to share that recipe with you very soon, because I know you're going to want to make a batch.  So fudgy, so sinfully rich!

Whenever mailing cookies, I make sure everything is packaged correctly.  Sturdy cookies require padding, tissue paper and packing peanuts.  More delicate cookies, like the ones I decorate with royal icing, require extra care (that will be a future blog post).

Don't forget to add that personalized note to the recipient.  I know you may think it's over the top or a bit old-fashioned, but trust me, it's a nice touch.

Sharing the sweetness is what it's all about.  Mailing that sweetness the good way, well, it's bound to make you a legend.

Happy Baking!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

I hope the mothers in your life, past or present, are remembered this Mother's Day with love and respect for all that they have done.  To my very own mother, I thank you for being a wonderful teacher, listener, friend and parent.  I couldn't have asked for a better mother.

Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mailing Fine China

If you should ever find yourself having to mail a few pieces of china or an entire set with dozens of items, there are a few points to consider before doing so in order to avoid any accidents.  Let's face it, these heirlooms and cherished possessions are, indeed, investments.  All types of china no matter whether priceless or meant for the every day need to be protected during transit.  One cannot put a little bit of bubble wrap and a few packing peanuts and hope for the best, because inevitably, boxes will get handled many times before they reach their final destination.  This is why it is of the utmost importance to get the right materials for the job.

It turns out that I just mailed a nice set of my beloved Wedgwood Drabware to an individual who was enthusiastic about acquiring this classic dinnerware for his home. Without a moment to lose, I gathered the pieces and set them aside in my office so that I could package and send them safely.  Boxes, bubble wrap, packing peanuts and newsprint were assembled before packaging.

As I was putting thought and care into the process a few days ago I realized that I was doing this as if I were to be the recipient of these pieces of fine china.  I asked myself: how would I want someone to package and mail china to me if I wanted it to get there in one piece?  You see, it's that simple.  Putting a little bit of thought and effort into packaging whatever it is you're sending will pay off in the long run.

Bundling like-pieces securely and nestling them on layers of bubble wrap and packing peanuts are just a few of my suggestions.  Not stacking too many pieces together or oddly-shaped items into one box, and putting boxes within boxes are other considerations to take into account.  Package the dinner plates in one or several boxes, teacups & saucers in another, and platters and serving bowls into other boxes.  What you don't want to do is stack, cram or jam pieces haphazardly, because you will come to regret it.

When choosing methods of shipping I highly recommend going with a service that is quick.  A contact of mine at the post office suggested I go with Priority service because individuals handle those packages.  If sent ground or parcel, a machine handles them and tosses them (my contact says they get thrown!) without any sort of consideration.  Get insurance for each box (better safe than sorry!) and make sure that the mailing service stamps Fragile all over the boxes.

This is how I packaged the fine china.

Dinner plates of this Drabware set were put into stacks of three.  To begin I placed a long 48" piece of bubble wrap on my work surface (top left).  Next I situated a plate right in the center.  Four layers of bubble wrap were then cut into 12" squares and were placed on top of that plate (top right).  The next dinner plate was stacked in the same manner.  When I had 3 plates assembled like this, I decided to bundle them together.  

I'm not entirely comfortable stacking more than 4 dinner plates when making these bundles, because I feel you increase the likelihood of having them break.  

The long 48" piece of bubble wrap was wound around the stack of plates tightly and was taped securely.  The middle photo (above), shows you the exposed plates.  Don't be tempted to stop here.  Those dinner plates can shift and slip out of those layers and chip or break.  

Cut another 36" or 48" piece of bubble wrap and wind it around crosswise to close off the exposed plates.  Tape it down well.  The bottom right photo shows you the secured bundle, which is now ready to get placed into a box.
I do highly recommend packaging china in boxes which will fit the said pieces snugly and then putting those into a larger box with plenty of space all around.  This concept of a box within a box greatly diminishes the chances of breakage.  

Fill the bottom of the box with a layer of good-quality packing peanuts and then place a double layer of bubble wrap over that.  

Gently nestle the wrapped bundle of plates in the box and then do the same to cushion the top of the box.  Add a double layer of bubble wrap and then cover that with packing peanuts.  Give the box a gentle shake to make sure that nothing is moving.  If everything is secure, tape the box shut and continue with the other plates/pieces.

Find a box that gives you plenty of room all around and then layer the bottom with peanuts and crumpled up newsprint.  Remember that the bottom of this box is going to take the brunt of the weight from the plates, therefore it is imperative to secure it properly.  Crumpled up newsprint packed in tightly all the way around and at the top is also something I highly recommend.  

Note: things do settle with weight during transit, so you want to have a tight package in order to allow this.

Cups should get bundled up by placing 12" squares of double-layered bubble wrap around the top, sides and bottoms.  Tape these well.

Again, layer the box with packing peanuts and place the cups in more bubble wrap.  I make sleeves out of the sheets of bubble wrap so that nothing is shifting or rubbing up against another cup.  Add more packing peanuts and stuff them into any crevices so that you have a stable box.

For the saucers I used a tall narrow box which could accommodate their depth.  This pattern of Wedgwood happens to have deep saucers which are absolutely stunning.  I treated this box in the same manner as the rest of the other boxes.  

When you're done packing everything up, make sure every box is securely taped shut, have all of the printing labels made out so that you don't run into problems.  

Transporting pieces of fine china always requires forethought, planning and good packing materials.  If one is mailing any type of china, then it's absolutely a must to take everything into account before heading out the door with boxes.  You can't imagine how many times I've had pieces of pottery or china arrive at my doorstep in broken pieces, all of which could have been prevented had more care been put into the packaging.  

I know many of us recycle packing peanuts, bubble wrap and those air packets that come with shipments in the mail.  This is fine as long as there is still air in them and are capable of cushioning your delicate wares.  There is no point in using old bubble wrap which is flat & without loft.  Throw it out and get a new roll.  If you plan on sending a lot of china, visit an online shop which specializes in packing material so that you get these items in bulk.  It's very cost effective.

No matter what shipping company or service you end up using, buy insurance and tracking!  You just never know what those boxes are going to encounter during transit, so I highly recommend adding this peace of mind.  Tracking your packages online is easy.  Besides, it's nice knowing when to expect something in the mail.  

Mailing Fine China doesn't have to be a headache.  Package well & protect your investment!