Category Archives: Holiday

July 4, 1968

While I was growing up my family had a set routine for celebrating the “Patriot” holidays. Washington’s Birthday was spent at Aunt Margaret’s house. Her husband, Bert, and my grandfather and the other white males in town spent the night at the Mason’s Hall in sacred rites and a fair amount of liquor. The women and children had dinner back at the house followed by charades and story-telling, possibly some entertainment at the piano. On Memorial Day we went to my grandmother’s house which was conveniently situated on a hill above the parade route and watched the veterans of the foreign wars and the fire company go up Jerome Ave. and down Tunxis from our picnic on the lawn. July 4 was spent at the middle sister Mildred’s house. Uncle Raymond stored the watermelons in the dairy cooler and we rode our bicycles at break-neck speeds around the old barn foundation. There were bruises later, and road-rash, and fireworks in the field at night. Here we’ve been dragged away from our fun and lined up for a mugshot.

1958

Folks will have to help me out with identifying everyone – there are no names on the back of the photo. I’m on the far right in the blond pigtails and woe-is-me expression. Is that Stevie W. in the checkered shirt to my right? Are the twins in the middle John and Russell C.? Who is that in the overalls, and the one in back with the helmet? I bet somebody out there might recognize themselves. . . think back, folks, and let me know?

Spritz!

Spritz cookies with a 60's influence, FTW.Spritz cookies are a wonderful tradition this time of year, and an easy treat once you have the little machine that squeezes the dough out in shapes. I have an old copper and aluminum Mirro cookie press, which I guess is not available any more. There are battery powered versions on the market for those of you who need to make these cookies by the gross, I guess? The rest of us mortals should buy the ubiquitous screw-down cylinders and save our money for all that butter we’ll be using in the basic recipe.

1 C unsalted butter softened, or melted and cooled; 3/4 C sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 1/4 C white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar well, beat in egg and extracts. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Fill cookie press and form on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 37 degrees 10 – 12 minutes. Yields @ 60 cookies.

A few hints:

  • Don’t chill the dough. The cold dough will be harder to push through the die and won’t stick as well to the cookie sheet, but
  • DO chill the cookies once they are shaped on the cookie sheet. The shapes will hold up better in the oven.
  • Avoid handling the dough. It will soften almost immediately in the heat of your hands. If you need to scrape the sides of the barrel or clean residue off to change dies (and you will), use a spatula or a kitchen knife.
  • If you use food coloring don’t color the dough all at once. Instead, fill the press canister with plain dough and add a few drops of color near the top. As you press cookies out, add more plain dough and then more food coloring. Better than tie-dye, and makes the dough less “stiff” than mixing it in.

Serious cookies

Today I took off from work – somehow a day off is even better when it’s a really bad idea – and made cookies. I did errands, cleaned the house, visited my mother, cleaned the house some more, put up the tree, and made cookies. That last item is the important part, because these are serious cookies – you need the whole day.

I lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s and had a wide selection of part time jobs while I went to art school. Around Christmas-time I worked evenings at an Italian bakery that had plaster models of fantastical wedding cakes in the windows and specialized in traditional, labor-intensive treats for the holidays. We made anise biscotti and weird sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, almond crescents, white fruit cakes studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with gold leaf, but mostly we made seven-layer-cookies. Pink, white and green almond cake layers with apricot filling and a chocolate frosting on both sides, we made them in huge sheet pans, sold them all to happy housewives the next day and spent the night making more. I know all about how to make them in a bakery , with a walk-in freezer and professional ovens, but I’d never thought of making them at home until I read this post at SmittenKitchen.

I love this site and I’ve found that I can completely trust her work. So – hop right over there and read the recipe, study the comments, and then take tomorrow off to make cookies! Let me know how it goes.

One hint that’s not on SK’s list – at the bakery we added a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the batter, and were free to add a Tbs (or more, if the ovens were blasting heat) of cream to the colored divisions right before laying them out in the pan. Both additions made the batter easier to spread in a thin, even layer. As a bonus, here’s a pic of the pink layer (colored with Ameri-Color Super Red gel paste) cooling on the table. Doesn’t that look like a fun way to spend an afternoon?

OMG PINK

PS Because I just posted this and someone is already asking, the other cookies on the plate (equally delicious and a lot easier) are Excalibur cookies from Food from the Field’s blog. Great stuff!

Halloween Owl

This morning someone came by and dressed Social Capital Owl as a rather formal tiger for Halloween. There’s a bowtie involved. . .

The mystery neighbor even taped the ears to the plastic owl “horns” so they’ll stand up to the wind and rain, and took away the summer costume of a child’s yellow sun dress and flower garland. Nice job!

Hot Crossed

We had family over for dinner last night. We have a few friends who go way back and a few more who know they don’t have to take their boots off to come inside (long story, maybe a future blog entry), and sometimes family members drop in from out of state. This couple were attending an orientation at the college their son will be attending next year, so they’re going to be a fixture for at least four years. We’ll be on good enough terms that I can feed them weird food, which is what family means in this house.

Last night we started with homemade dulse crackers and Cabot cheese. I never admit to making the crackers unless someone asks me for a brand name. This group ate the whole batch, but where I got them never came up. I love experimenting with cracker recipes. Next we had vegetarian chili with extra vegetables. I add a sweet potato, carrots, red onions and a pound of spinach to the regular spices and three varieties of beans. It doesn’t bear much resemblance to the best chili I’ve ever eaten (working for the cook at the jail in San Bernadino), but that was nowhere near vegetarian. Then we had hot cross buns!

This is adapted Martha’s recipe or, as we say around here, “Mawther”. Some homemade hot cross buns are too doughy, some are too cakey, these are perfect. The recipe makes 24 buns which, if you’re going to go to all this trouble, there should be more than six. Everyone loved these, and tonight I had one split in half with strawberries. Yum.

Hot Cross Buns

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for bowl and baking sheet
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons plus one pinch salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose, flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/3 cups currants
  • 1 large egg white
  • About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  1. Generously butter a large bowl. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, heat 1 cup milk until it is warm to the touch.
  2. Pour warm milk into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook (actually, I used my food processor). With mixer on low, add yeast, granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and beaten eggs.
  3. With mixer on low, add flour, 1 cup at a time, until a soft, slightly sticky dough forms around the dough hook, about 3 minutes. Continue kneading, scraping down hook and sides of bowl as necessary until smooth, about 4 minutes longer. Add currants, and knead until combined, about 30 seconds.
  4. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface. Knead by hand to evenly distribute currants, about 1 minute.
  5. Shape dough into a ball, and place in the buttered bowl; turn ball to coat with butter, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour 20 minutes. For a richer flavor, let dough rise in a refrigerator overnight. (I highly recommend rising it overnight. My house is fairly cold, so I just left it out on the counter)
  6. Generously butter an 11-by-17-inch baking sheet, or use a Silpat. Turn dough out onto work surface, and knead briefly to redistribute the yeast. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, about 2 ounces each. Shape pieces into tight balls, and place on baking sheet, spaced 1/2 inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until touching and doubled in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  7. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack positioned in center. To make egg wash, whisk together egg white, 1 tablespoon water, and pinch of salt in a small bowl; brush tops of buns with egg wash. Using very sharp scissors or a buttered slicing knife, slice a cross into the top of each bun. Transfer pan to oven, and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Make frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon milk, an egg white*, confectioners’ sugar, and lemon juice. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin. Put the frosting in a stout plastic bag and clip one corner to pipe crosses on the buns.

*Use commercial pasteurized egg whites if you’re not sure about your eggs – this egg white remains uncooked.

Exacompta

The New Year is almost upon us – must be time to start a new daybook. I use the Exacompta “Space 24” weekly desk planner. At @ 6 x 9 inches it has plenty of space to record weather, appointments and lists day to day, a generous “notes” area, and the paper lends itself beautifully to drawings. Meetings, conference calls and on-line seminars are just doodles waiting to happen.

The Donut Dragons

The amount of stress relief available from a black pen on smooth, heavy, finely finished paper is amazing. The Exacompta books start with the month of December of the prior year, so I’ll be switching over to 2011 tomorrow after recording notes about the “Boxing Day Blizzard of 2010″ (15” of snow over two days here on the island) and what we had to eat on Christmas day in 2010. It’s always a wonderful feeling to start in on newly opened pages. Below is a small beastie from a short staff meeting in 2010 – Happy New Year!

Devils on Horseback

“Angels on Horseback” are oysters wrapped in bacon and broiled. It only seems natural that someone who loved that concept, but not oysters, would create “Devils on Horseback” which have prunes standing in for the mollusks. These are absolutely delicious.

Purchase “sandwich picks” to make these beauties. They are heftier than toothpicks and stand up to prolonged baking, although they may brown a little bit. Soak them in a cup of water for at least two hours before using.

Take a pound of thin sliced center cut bacon and cut the strips in half – I find that a pair of very sharp kitchen shears works best. Wrap each prune in one half strip and pin together with a pick. This is one time when regular, grocery store prunes will work better than the sundried natural variety because they’re softer and more malleable. Lay them out on a cookie sheet covered with oiled foil or your trusty Silpat and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, turning once. The bacon should be cooked through and the prunes soft.

Devils are VERY hot right out of the oven – don’t just pop one in your mouth. These are good appetizers if you have to travel. Scooped off the cookie sheet hot from the oven and transferred to a heavy serving bowl and covered with foil, they’ll stay hot for quite a distance. Then maybe, someday, you’ll be inspired to try the Angels.

Merry, Happy

Tonight there were stuffed tortillas with roasted pumpkin-seed sauce and great conversation – it’s so nice to have the Boy home! Tomorrow there will be Anglo roast beast and Saxon Yule Log, with some Armenian dried fruit and Yankee parsnips. A merry End tonight, and a Beginning tomorrow to all, wherever you may be!

Pfeffernusse

“Pepper nuts” are small, firm molasses cookies that taste of anise and spice. They are traditionally dredged in confectioner’s sugar after baking. Store them in a tightly closed tin with a slice of apple to keep them from drying out.

Pfeffernusse

1/2 C shortening (I use Crisco, not butter), 3/4 C brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 C molasses, 3 drops of anise oil, 3 and 1/3 C flour, 1/2 tsp soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 Tbsp hot water. This makes a stiff dough, so I use a food processor to mix everything thoroughly. You may have to redistribute the ingredients a few times.Try to find anise oil, not anise flavoring, for the most authentic taste.

If you have time, let the dough sit in a cool place or the refrigerator for a few hours.

Now, the fun part: use a melon baller to scoop out the dough. You may have to gently re-shape an edge here and there, but this method makes quick work for about 8 dozen perfectly sized little nuggets that will bake uniformly and look great on a plate of assorted cookies. Bake about 12 minutes at 350 F, until slightly more brown on the bottom. Leave them on the sheet to firm up after removing from the oven, then cool on a rack. I like to use a large tupperware container with a cup of confectioner’s sugar in it to dredge the cookies when cooled.

Enjoy with a strong cup of black tea and a napkin!

Pre-game

The menu for Thanksgiving Dinner 2010 stands as follows:

Martha Stewart’s Gruyere Thyme refrigerator crackers, made with Seal Cove mixed milk aged cheese “Olga” instead of Gruyere. Thank you for the delicious sample, Betsy! The crackers are incredibly simple to make but do need to chill overnight, so I’m making them in between blog posts. They will be our appetizer, with. . .

Fruit: Forelle pears (here on Peanut Butter Etoufee – welcome, pull up a fork!), Red Globe grapes and Courtland apple slices.

We will have turkey. R received a beautiful-but-deadly Wusthof 4″ boning knife for his birthday, so we’ll have a rolled, boneless turkey a la Julia Child – pan roasted in butter, and then finished in the oven in a remarkably short period of time. It will share oven space with sweet potatoes in maple syrup and turnips, par-boiled and then roasted with sea salt. Oh, and stuffing! This year the Morning Glory Bakery in the village provided 15 cup bags of their assorted breads cubed and baked – both savory and efficient. I added butter (duh), chopped onions, shallots and celery, vegetable stock, Black Mission figs and Northern Spy apples. R. will roll some up with the turkey and we’ll serve the rest on the side for the vegetarians in the audience.

We’ll have Savoy cabbage, carrot and apple slaw in the big wooden bowl with Susan’s favorite dressing for which I promise I will find and record the recipe (sorry, Susan!). There may be rolls.There will be cranberry sauce with local berries, sweetened with pomegranate molasses, which makes the sauce explosively tart and gives it a wonderful dark color.

Then there will be pie! Just two this year: Fannie Farmer pumpkin made with the New England pie pumpkins we grew over the incredibly balmy summer of 2010, and Martha Stewart’s (again) Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie, because it is just so good.

Recipes for what makes the grade to follow over the weekend. Keep warm, everybody.