Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Larchago Rosé, Rioja 2015

Perfect for lunch or dinner, Larchago's 2015 Rosé from Spain's Rioja region is such an easy summer sip.  I love Spanish wines made from tempranillo grapes, so it's no surprise that I find this 100% tempranillo rosé to be worthy of keeping in stock for summer entertaining.

Its rich salmon color hints at the notes of fresh raspberries and strawberries. Furthermore, its low acidity makes it suitable for hors d'oeuvres, such as canapés, antipasti and cheeses. 

Enjoy a glass or two of this flavorful wine at your Fourth of July gathering or simply because you feel like having some rosé this summer.  You might as well pick up a second bottle to keep on hand because it is a good bargain, and a lovely vintage.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Star Spangled Banner Cookies

It's one of my favorite times of the year.  Whenever I look at the calendar and realize that the Fourth of July is approaching, I long to make sugar cookies in the colors of our nation's flag.  I've made several different designs of iced cookies in the past showcasing our red, white and blue, but nothing beats making flag cookies.

Having a variety of star spangled banner cookies for your Independence Day celebration, is a great way to usher in the summer holiday.  I love the way they look on white cake stands, such as these from my milk glass collection.

While going through my cookie cutter sets, I immediately reached for some from Martha by Mail that I had never used before.  The large Flag & Shield cookie cutters are great for making generously-sized cookies, but you have to be careful with the flag's pole.  It has a tendency to break off when releasing the cookies onto lined baking sheets (if it does, simply wedge it back into place before baking).  The other cookie cutters that I used were a star, a rectangle and a sunflower shape.

My sugar cookie recipe is always reliable, tasty and easy to work with, and so is the royal icing.  Mixing the right shade of navy blue and red royal icing is key.  I like to add a little bit of black to these in order to darken them slightly.  You must be extra careful, though, to add black food coloring in small amounts.  Usually one drop is enough to darken a two cup portion of red or blue royal icing.

For the star cookies, I traced two smaller stars within the cookie, using food coloring markers, and filled them in with royal icing as shown.  It's up to you how you arrange the red, white and blue colors, but I do advise you to fill in the middle star first, then work outward.  

Once the areas are filled in with royal icing, it's up to you what you want to do with them.  I placed silver drageés along the white areas of my stars while the icing was still wet.

As you can see, the drageés are optional, but a nice touch.  Outlining each star with a bead of royal icing is not essential, however it does give the cookies a nice edge to them.  The sunflower cookies remind me of bursts of fireworks.  These are made by flooding the bases with white royal icing.  Red and blue dots are placed throughout the cookie while the base is wet.  This is then left to dry completely before outlining the entire cookie in a contrasting color.  Don't they look nice on this Fenton glass Spanish lace cake stand?  

Large rectangles were cut out with Ateco cutters for these fun cookies.  Using a blue icing for the canton, outline and flood a rectangle on the upper-lefthand corner.  Using the white and red royal icings, pipe stripes down the flag.  Don't worry about trying to fit thirteen stripes on these cookies.  They're cookie representations after all.  Let the icings dry completely before continuing.

Note:  if you want to carefully place silver drageés on the blue field, you can do so while the icing is wet.  Moreover, white dots can be dropped into the icing while it's wet, should you wish to do so.

I piped white dots for stars on top of dried icing for these cookies.  I outlined the canton and the stripes with beads of icing using a #2 plain round piping tip to give the cookies a polished look.  The cookies sit proudly on my large Pitman Dreitzer Colony cake stand.  Absolutely beautiful!

For the large flag cookies, I piped the blue canton and the stars and stripes in the same manner as the rectangular flags.  Because the Martha by Mail flag cookie cutter has that undulating shape, it makes sense to create waves in the stripes.  This closeup of the cookie shows you how I applied the beaded borders of icing along each stripe of the dried base.  Not necessary by any means, but I think they're quite spiffy this way.

The flag poles were simply iced with a white icing and were dredged in clear sanding sugar.  Our nation's flag has never looked sweeter in my opinion. Next to that firework burst, I think that they're going to be popular with the lucky friends of mine who are getting some this year.  

My interpretation of an American patriotic shield is very easy to do.  Trace a small star shape in the middle of the shield, toward the top, using a food coloring marker.  Outline and flood the star in white royal icing.  Immediately outline and flood the top third of the cookie in navy blue royal icing; while the icing is still wet, carefully place silver drageés as shown.  Pipe alternating rows of red and white royal icing as shown  Let the entire cookie dry completely before adding beads of royal icing along the canton, the center star, and stripes, as shown.


Star spangled banner cookies are great to commemorate our nation's independence. 

Now that I've shown you how easy it is to make some festive and patriotic star spangled banner cookies, gather a few cookie cutters and make a couple of these for your Fourth of July celebration.  Bake extras to hand out to family members, close friends and to anyone who needs a bit of sweetness in their life.  It's a guarantee that they will be a hit with everyone.

Happy Fourth of July! 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Martha by Mail Seashore Cookie Cutters

The highly collectible Seashore Cookie Cutters from the former Martha by Mail catalog are ideal for making sugar cookies this summer.  Manufactured from solid copper, the set of five cookie cutters were inspired by images of the beach. The cutters range in size from 3-1/2" to 5-1/2", and come in the shapes of a starfish, a scallop shell, a horn shell, a crab and a conch shell.

Make some seashore cookies as part of a summer project for the kids.  Let them read all about the types of shells that one can hunt for on the beach, and then decorate some baked and cooled sugar cookies with colorful royal icing and sanding sugars.  Pack some to take to the beach as a treat!

Starfish, Scallop Shell, Horn Shell, Crab and Conch Shell.

As always, the Martha by Mail sets of cookie cutters came with their very own decorating card, complete with instructions.  The text below is from the back of the decorating card.

Decorating Seashore Cookies

Use these guidelines and our "Creating Cookies" booklet to decorate cookies like the ones shown here.

  • Conch:  Brush darker "shell opening" with egg white, and sprinkle with violet sanding sugar.  When dry, tap off excess sugar.  Outline and flood rest of cookie with icing.  Flock with blue sanding sugar.  Let dry.
  • Starfish:  Outline and flood the cookie with colored icing.  While icing is still wet, use a brush to paint the areas between points with darker icing as shown.  Let dry, then paint the whole cookie with egg white;  immediately flock with white sanding sugar.
  • Crab:  Outline and flood with icing.  Let dry.  Outline the body with icing.  Flock outline with yellow sanding sugar.  Let dry; tap off excess.  Pipe dots onto body.  Add two silver drageés for eyes.
  • Scallop Shell:  Outline and flood with icing.  Let dry.  Pipe lines of icing from every second dip along shell's edge to base.  Flock lines with white sanding sugar.  Let dry.  Pipe dots between lines.
  • Horn Shell:  Outline flood the "shell opening" with icing.  Let dry.  Outline and flood the rest of the cookie with icing.  Let dry.  Pipe around the opening and along "coils" with icing, then flock lines with white sanding sugar.  Let dry.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A Tour of Turkey Hill with Martha Stewart and Friends

Martha Stewart led an intimate tour of her former Westport, Connecticut home and gardens for a few of my friends this past weekend.  From the photographs I've seen of that special day, it was an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime by those who were in attendance.  As much as I regret not going to this momentous occasion, my friends were kind enough to allow me to share their amazing photographs here on the blog.

Let's take a tour of Turkey Hill with Martha Stewart and a few of my friends. Without the kindness of Jeffrey Reed, Dennis Landon, Darrin David, Anthony Picozzi and Colin Eastland, this post would not be possible.  It must also be stated that the fundraising event was graciously hosted by the current owners of Turkey Hill, the Bergs.

Many thanks to the Berg family for opening up the property.

Turkey Hill is the Federal style home that was purchased, renovated and landscaped by Martha Stewart and her then husband, Andy, back in 1970.  It was here that Martha began her career as a caterer, author, gardener, television personality, entrepreneur and America's leading lifestyle expert.  

The famed property became the launching point and source of inspiration for many of Martha's ventures.  It is this particular home and garden that America fell in love with the moment Stewart entered our lives.  How can we forget segment after segment of her television shows taped in her gardens, kitchens and various outbuildings found on Turkey Hill Road?  The commercial kitchen equipped with her Garland stoves where Martha began filming her cooking and baking, the tobacco barn where her traditional Thanksgiving dinner how-to was taped, the garden equipment shed where Martha first uttered the words, "it's a good thing", are now classics woven into the fabric of our country.   

The grounds of Turkey Hill are accessible by two driveways.  The main driveway, pictured here, is guarded by an iron gate painted in that wonderful color, drabware.  In fact, the entire house and various outbuildings are also painted that particular shade created by Martha Stewart many years ago.

My friend Jeffrey is standing on the porch of the main house holding a copy of Martha's Gardening book.  He's ready to take us on a tour.

Let's go inside!

As you step inside the center hall of Turkey Hill, you can see that the reproduction Rufus Porter mural is no longer on the wall against the staircase.

Standing at the entrance to the North parlor, the Bergs have kept the room intact and have furnished it with pieces suitable for such a room.  Martha told us that the dentil crown molding was not original to the room.  She installed that herself when it underwent renovation in the early 70s.

The dining room, which was originally a library, is seen here.  I'm not sure if this Baccarat chandelier is the original one that Martha had while she lived at Turkey Hill, but it looks very similar.  

As you walk down the center hall on the thick pumpkin pine floors, and are standing under the keystoned arch, you can see how nice the view of the house is.  The opened door to the left is the library.

The library still has the built-in bookshelves on the lefthand wall, but the Bergs added some drawers for storage.  The right-hand shelves were removed with the hope of finding a hidden fireplace to the room.  No such luck though.  This room used to be the original dining room, and Martha used it as such for many years, until she decided to switch the roles of the library and dining rooms.

When the Bergs purchased Turkey Hill, they decided to do some renovations to the house, but were mindful to leave the various parlors of the main house just as they were.  The kitchen, however, was opened up and extended to include a glassed-in breakfast area overlooking the gardens.  This photograph shows the built-in cabinets that were originally made by Martha's brother, George, when she undertook the last renovation of Turkey Hill.

This is the breakfast area that now adjoins the sunny, glass-enclosed sunporch.  The sunporch on the left is the same one gracing the cover of Martha's first book, 'Entertaining'.  

Here is an outside photograph of the breakfast room and the sunporch.  At the base of the steps that lead from the doorway of the porch, down to the pool area, a wisteria tree planted from Martha's childhood home in Nutley, New Jersey, still stands proudly.

The driveway at 48 Turkey Hill Road curves into this area, where the main house meets the carriage house.  When Martha owned Turkey Hill, both structures were freestanding.  The Bergs merged both buildings with an enclosed breezeway.  If you look closely, you can see the new porch directly across from the cherry tree.  The three-car garage to the right is where Martha had her catering kitchen, equipped with 4 ovens, 16 burners, and multiple refrigerators and freezers. 

Martha Stewart is standing here in the middle of the enclosed breezeway welcoming the guests.  I've been told that Martha was just as happy to be there as were the handful of fortunate visitors.

Here is a view of the carriage barn.  Martha taped so many segments of Martha Stewart Living Television from this building.  Who remembers her Christmas special with Ms. Piggy in which they constructed a giant gingerbread mansion or the first commercials for Martha by Mail?  There is so much history in this structure.

Here is another view of the carriage barn with the prominent cupola.  I had no idea that there was an outdoor stairway (to the right) that led right to the top floor apartment.  The guest apartment was featured in a Martha Stewart Living magazine story entitled, 'Color it Black'.

Standing in front of the carriage barn, the main perennial garden leads the eye to the lush acres of Turkey Hill.  If you look closely, you will notice the iron armillary sphere that the Bergs have prominently placed in the garden.  Martha says that she originally had a giant urn in that spot.

Martha was ecstatic at the flowering digitalis and poppies.  She joked about being careful not to accidentally brew tea made from the leaves of the foxglove plants!  

The hornbeam hedges planted along these areas are absolutely spectacular.  Not only do they delineate the areas of the garden and provide shelter, they create intimate rooms and focal points throughout the acres.

The tree peonies, foxgloves, alliums and poppies are amazing!

The rose cutting garden is located in a different area of the property.  It is a very orderly spot lovingly maintained by the head gardener of Turkey Hill.

My friend Dennis (left) is standing with the head gardener of Turkey Hill, Levy Froes.  Levy worked for Martha at Turkey Hill Road right up until she sold the property.  The Bergs, knowing how much care, time and preparation went into shaping the Turkey Hill gardens, asked that Levy maintain the stewardship of the acres.  He continues to keep order on the grounds of the property just as if Martha were its owner.

The small potting shed located at the end of the main garden is still standing proudly.  

Here is an equipment barn located in the center of the property.  This is where Martha Stewart first coined the phrase, "it's a good thing".  The rest is history!

A few friends gathered in front of the shed to share a Martha moment.  

This photograph was taken while standing along the second driveway.  The area houses the two greenhouses and the chicken coop.  In the distance is the main house.

The beautiful chicken coop and greenhouses stand empty.

Look at Dennis standing there between the structures.  He's in heaven!

When Martha resided at Turkey Hill, she had dozens of chickens in this coop which laid the most beautiful eggs.  The hues of the eggs from the Araucanas, Ameraucanas, Bantams, Marans, Cochins, among others, became the source of inspiration for an entire paint line through Fine Paints of Europe.

My friend Jeffrey looks like he was having the best time here!

Here is another view looking down at the shaded chicken coop.

This tiny smokehouse was built by Martha decades ago.  She used it for many years to smoke a variety of meats.

At the bottom of the second driveway stands the old tobacco barn.  This beautiful building was bought by Martha as a birthday present for her then husband.  Every last piece of wood, shingle and stone was laid down by the Stewarts themselves.  It is a gorgeous barn!

Another view of the tobacco barn shows the prominent chimney.  Martha was photographed here for the cover of her 'Great American Wreaths' book.

The doorway pictured here leads into the barn's kitchen.

Here is another view of that area.

For years I had wondered what the kitchen of the tobacco barn looked like.  I don't think it was ever fully explored in the pages of Martha's magazine.  We now have answers!  It's simple and very clean.

The inside of the barn still looks the same.  It's such a great place for entertaining a crowd.

Martha's chow chow, Genghis Khan, was in attendance.  He's such a sweetheart and gentle soul.

Jeffrey couldn't resist taking a photograph with G.K.!  

The pool located next to the main house is still the same, except for one tiny difference.

A set of steps and a spa area were created at one end of the pool.

I think that Turkey Hill is in great hands.  The Bergs have lovingly maintained the property with the help of great architects, gardeners and managers.  

When Martha spotted her visitors, she was delighted!  

To think that several of my friends were fortunate enough to have walked through the home and gardens on Turkey Hill Road, is simply amazing.  I know that I speak for many when I say that we are indebted to them for their photographs, stories and experiences with Martha at Turkey Hill.  It is indeed a special moment in time to remember for many years to come.

Turkey Hill is such a magical place steeped in so much history.  Let us hope that perhaps one day the property can be willed to a land trust so that it is preserved forever, and made accessible to its devoted fans and admirers.  

Many thanks to my friends, to Martha Stewart and to the Berg family!