Monthly Archives: November 2011

Our Advent Calendar

Rem and I used to pick up a Chocolate Advent Calendar every year and take turns opening the little door and getting out the chocolate.  We would get them at Cost Plus and at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s actually does taste like chocolate).  They’re kind of fun but nothing really special.

One year at Safeway I found this cute Advent box!  It was on sale and came with hard candy to hide behind the little doors and some letters spelling out “NOEL” and a few little trees. The first year we went through the month taking turns getting a piece of hard candy or a letter.  But the next year I had a better idea: why didn’t we write little notes for each other?

We write on slips of paper and mention favorite memories of the past year or things we love about the other person.  Each year we take turns with the odd and even numbers and we are sometimes just getting them written and behind the door a day at a time.  The practice has become one of our most cherished Christmas traditions and the sweet little notes are much better than the small, foil-wrapped chocolates.

Another fun way to count the days to Christmas is with simple activities.  Here is a fantastic list of ideas to choose from.  I was inspired to cut out my first paper snowflake in years.

I’ve seen plenty of wonderful, handcrafted calendars.  How about a clothesline of ribbon or string with numbered envelopes or cute (upcycled) baby socks that are outgrown?  If you start saving toilet paper rolls early you can make this, or this or this  for next year. Search for “Advent Calendar DIY” and you will find loads of cute and clever variations on this theme.

If you like the idea but think it’s too late for this year – go ahead and  wait until the weekend.  You can start it a little late and still enjoy counting down the days until Christmas.  You might start a tradition.

Thanks for the visit!

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Be Loving

Be loving.  That was Rem’s advice to me when I was leaving the house to accompany my parents to a medical appointment.

The previous day they had met with the oncologist to learn the results of my dad’s recent PET scan.  Sadly, the news is not good.  The cancer, originally in his esophagus has spread to his lungs. Future treatment will be palliative.  We were all distraught and trying to come to grips with this information.

Rem saw that I was anxious; worried about my folks and distressed about the news.  He gave me a hug and said “be loving”.  It was exactly what I needed to hear and gave me comfort as I went out the door.

We all need to lean on each other, especially in difficult times.  We need to be as loving as possible and cut each other some slack.  Right now I’m trying to be as supportive, loving, strong and comforting as I can to my parents, my siblings and extended family.  I also love to make my dad laugh and I’m delighted when I do.

My friends have been compassionate, caring and generous.  They give me hugs and listen when I need to talk, hold me when I need to cry and strive to make sure I’m taking care of myself.

One dear friend touched me deeply with the loan of her beloved Lambie.  Lambie sits on our bed and sometimes at night I rub one of her ears between my fingers, finding comfort both in the soft fabric and in the tenderness of my friend’s gesture.

The women I sing with with, of the Threshold Choir, have sung beautiful songs on behalf of my dad, my mom and my whole family.  At rehearsal, where we sing with our chairs in a circle, we have a practice of giving songs to those who want them.  A reclining chair is in the middle of the circle and the person receiving the song lies down in the chair.

With women surrounding you, the a cappella singing is like a warm blanket of music. I often feel as if I’m floating on the sound and I sink into it gratefully, tears welling up and spilling over in a completely safe and supportive atmosphere.  The wisdom, love and understanding of these friends has been a blessing.

We really don’t know what the future holds.  Heartache and suffering but also conversations, music, walking the dog,  joy and laughter.  If we can be loving it will only help.

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My Grateful Heart

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.

This is a song written by Laura Fannon, a friend and singer I know from singing together in the Threshold Choir.  She wrote it on Thanksgiving Day, 2004.

My Grateful Heart

by Laura Fannon

My grateful heart, so filled with years of living

Memories flow by me, like petals on a stream

My grateful heart, forgives so many sorrows

Brings peace that last forever

Illuminates the dream

Love and gratitude to all my family, friends and readers.

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Green Tomato Chutney

A few weeks ago I made Green Tomato Chutney.  My parents had tomato plants in their backyard and as the days got shorter, fewer  and fewer tomatoes were ripening.  I suggested they make a batch of chutney and found myself the recipient of a bunch of green tomatoes.  Did I mention I’ve NEVER made Green Tomato Chutney?

Years ago I worked for a food stylist and we did recipe testing and recipe development.  I made several big batches of fruit chutney, carefully following her recipes and under her firm direction.  I remembered how delicious they were and then just days before getting the tomatoes from my folks someone mentioned she was making a batch of Green Tomato Chutney.

I started looking up recipes online and found a wide range.  Some looked overly complicated, others plain and simple but without the layers of flavor I love in a good chutney. I picked out two  to give me the basic framework and assembled the rest of the ingredients I needed to make these unripe tomatoes into tasty chutney.

Green Tomato Chutney

Ingredients:

6 lbs. green tomatoes, cored and diced (substitute apples for all or part of the tomatoes if no green tomatoes are available)

3 large apples such as Pippins, (crisp, tart/sweet), chopped (omit these apples if you make chutney with apples in place of tomatoes)

2 large yellow onions, peeled and chopped

2 sweet bell peppers (red or yellow), seeded and chopped

1 small chile pepper, seeded and minced

2 gloves garlic, minced

1 whole lemon, seeded, chopped fine, including peel

1 3-to-4 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine

1.5 to 2 cups cider vinegar

2 to 2.5 cups brown sugar

1 Tbsp. mustard seed

1 Tbsp. coriander seed

1 Tbsp. salt

1 tsp. chile flakes/crushed red pepper

1 1/2 cups raisins, black or golden or combination

Directions:

Combine tomatoes, apples, onions, bell pepper, chile pepper, garlic, lemon, ginger and 1.5 cups vinegar in large pot. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.  Add 2 cups brown sugar, mustard seed, coriander seed, salt and chile flakes and simmer until tender about 45 to 55 minutes.

As chutney cooks, stir occasionally.  As it thickens, stir more frequently and keep a careful watch so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom.

Taste and adjust seasoning, adding vinegar or sugar as needed.  Add a little at a time.  It is easier to add an ingredient like vinegar than to subtract it if you add too much (speaking from experience). You are looking for a balance of tangy/sweet with the bits of ginger and lemon adding bright accents. If a more spicy relish is desired, increase the chile pepper and/or chile flakes.

Stir in the raisins and heat a few minutes to plump them up.  Stir often as raisins will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn easily (again, I speak from experience).  If this happens, call them caramelized and move on.

Ladle the hot chutney into sterilized half-pint  jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal and process in a water bath for 5 minutes.  There is a lot of information about canning here at the Ball Canning and Preserving website.  You can also skip the whole canning thing and store the chutney in the fridge.  But then you miss the joy of hearing the little pop as the lids seal.  Ahhh, what a satisfying sound!

Once I started eating the jar of chutney I saved for home, I wanted it with everything.  I’m at the bottom of a pint jar and starting to eye the jars that I have set aside to give as gifts.

Chutney is great with meats, curries, scrambled eggs, shaken up in a jar with olive oil, lemon juice and mustard as a salad dressing, stirred into yogurt to top vegetables (roasted cauliflower with yogurt and chutney), layered into sandwiches or spread with cream cheese on a cracker or toast.  It’s also fantastic with leftover turkey.

Thanks for the visit.

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Pumpkin Butter

 

I made “pumpkin” butter (Winter Squash Spread?) using the leftover puree from my Not-Just-Pumpkin Pie: it is a combination of baked pumpkin, butternut and delicata squash.

Not-Just-Pumpkin Butter

Ingredients:

1 Butternut Squash

3 Delicata Squash

1 small Pumpkin

Brown Sugar, to taste

Spices, such as Cinnamon, Ginger & Cloves, to taste

A pinch of Salt

Lemon Juice (optional)

The directions for the puree are the same as in the pie recipe and I’m repeating them here:

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Wash the pumpkin, delicata and butternut squash, cut in half, scrape out seeds and stringy flesh.  Place cut side up or down (either way works fine) on baking sheets covered with parchment paper or foil.  Bake until very tender when pierced with a knife, 35 to 60 minutes.  When tender let cool on pan until cool enough to handle.  Scoop out insides and discard the skin.  Process in Cuisinart or other food processor until all squash is pureed.

At this point you can make pie filling with part of that yummy puree and with the leftovers, you can make what I’ve been calling Pumpkin Butter but is more accurately Winter Squash Butter or Spread.  I guess I’ll copy the pie recipe and call it “Not-Just-Pumpkin Butter”.  You could also skip the pie and make a bigger batch of the butter.  Either way is fine.

Keeping in mind the puree will shrink down quite a bit, so you want to start with at least 4 cups.

  • Sweeten and spice the puree to your taste but keep in mind it will be concentrated with slow baking, so use a light hand.  For 4 cups of puree I used 1/2 cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, about a quarter teaspoon of cloves and a good chunk of freshly grated ginger. 
  • Scrape it into a glass casserole dish and bake it in a low oven (250) for 3 to 3.5 hours, stirring every hour until it is quite thick and dark.

    Puree spread in baking dish, ready to bake

    Looking good after 2 hours.

  • Taste and adjust sweetness and spice level.  

I added a pinch of salt after it was finished cooking and reduced down to a thick spread and a squirt of fresh lemon juice to balance the rich, creamy, pumpkin-y flavor.

It makes a delicious, thick, jammy kind of spread that is really delicious on pancakes, raisin toast or cinnamon/raisin bagels.

Done!

I’m sorry I didn’t take prettier pictures but believe me, the results are really wonderful.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Not-Just-Pumpkin Pie

I’ve never liked pumpkin pie.  I like pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread, but pumpkin pie is too wet and eggy for my taste, and I’d rather have apple or pecan pie, thank you.  On the other hand, I love the mellow sweetness of baked winter squash (such as acorn or butternut) plain or dressed up with a little butter and even cinnamon and brown sugar.  I decided I wanted to make a pie that captured that baked squash flavor but avoided getting too custard-y.  In other words a pumpkin (or pumpkin-type) pie that I would love!

Since I like baked winter squash I knew I would be using butternut squash in my pie.  I also had another one, new to me, that I had just tried: delicata squash.  This is smaller than butternut squash and it doesn’t have such a tough skin.  It is even sweeter and creamier than the delicious butternut.  If you can find it, you might give it a try.

While looking at different pumpkin pie recipes online to see one I might adapt, I found this recipe for pie dough at Comfortably Domestic and the name was enough to convince me to try it: No Excuses Pie Dough.  I’ve made pie crust from scratch before but I’m not a pro at it and so usually opt for the refrigerator kind that comes folded or rolled – Trader Joe’s makes one and I’ve also used Pillsbury crust.

I convinced Rem to help me with this project and we decided to spread it out over several evenings.  The first evening we baked a pumpkin and a delicata squash in the oven and whipped up a batch of No Excuses Pie Dough.  It was as fast and easy as the recipe said it would be.  However, I kind of messed it up.  More on that later.

The pumpkin was one we bought for Halloween and didn’t carve but sadly once roasted we agreed it was bland, stringy and watery.  The next evening after work I came home with a butternut squash, more delicata squash and chose another (smaller) pumpkin to try.

I cooked the squash until it was very tender (the delicata was done before the other two) and let it cool enough that I could handle it.  Then I scraped the flesh out of the skin and pureed it in the food processor.  The pumpkin was more watery than than the other two so I let the pulp sit in a fine mesh sieve to drain a bit before I pureed it.

The recipe I adapted for my Not-Just-Pumpkin Pie has more pulp than most pumpkin pie recipes.  It also has has just  less heavy cream than typical pumpkin pies.  Instead of two eggs it has one egg but three egg yolks. The texture is dense and creamy, and the pie is rich with a deep flavor of pumpkin and squash warmed with fresh ginger and other spices.

While the pumpkin, delicata squash and butternut squash were baking, I pulled out a disc of No Excuses Pie Dough to roll out.  I’d read that blind baking or partially pre-baking pie crust when making a custard type pie was a good idea to avoid soggy or underdone crust.  Since I wanted the best pie ever, I decided to include this step.  Bad idea.  I rolled out the dough, put it in my glass pie plate and pricked it a few times with a fork.  I put it in the oven while the squash were still baking and checked it after about 4 or 5 minutes.

The dough had melted down the sides of the pie plate to the point that the sides were almost gone! All the buttery pastry had slid down into a soft puddle of dough. I grabbed it out of the oven, I mushed the melted dough part way back up the sides of the pie plate.  I had a thick, creamy, lovely pie filling waiting to bake and I wasn’t going to let a little melted pie crust stop me.

It was clear that the filling was going to go higher up the sides of the dish than the crust, so I spritzed some nonstick spray on the sides of the pie plate and poured in the filling and put it in the oven with my fingers crossed.  If and when I make this again, I will consider doing it in a graham cracker crust.

Not-Just-Pumpkin Pie

Adapted from Lauren Weisenthal’s recipe on Serious Eats

Ingredients:

4 cups pureed, baked winter squash (combination of butternut, delicata and pumpkin)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 egg

3 egg yolks

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger root (or 1 tsp. ground ginger)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. cloves

pinch salt

pinch black pepper

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Wash the pumpkin, delicata and butternut squash, cut in half, scrape out seeds and stringy flesh.  Place cut side up or down (either way works fine) on baking sheets covered with parchment paper or foil.  Bake until very tender when pierced with a knife, 35 to 60 minutes.  When tender let cool on pan until cool enough to handle.  Scoop out insides and discard the skin.  Process in Cuisinart or other food processor until all squash is pureed.

[Note: One butternut squash, two or three delicata squash and one small pumpkin will yield more cooked squash than you need for this recipe.  You have several options of how to make the best of the leftovers: freeze and use later; bake a second pie; bake in custard cups; make pumpkin butter.]
Turn oven down to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients up to the crust, stirring with a fork until well mixed.  Pour into unbaked crust and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until just barely set in center.  Cool before serving.

Serve with sweetened whipped cream with a bit of vanilla extract added.

Baked in Custard Cups
I haven’t tried this but my sister and my parents enjoy baking pumpkin pie filling in custard cups so they skip the crust entirely.  Make pie filling, as in recipe above, pour into custard cups up to an inch from the top.  Set in baking pan and pour hot water into pan to the level of the pumpkin mixture.  Bake in 350 oven 25 to 30 minutes until center is barely jiggly when custard cup is gently shaken.

However you fix this recipe – whether in a crust as a traditional pie or in custard cups, your house will smell heavenly while it is baking.

I’ll write about Pumpkin Butter in another post soon.  Thanks for stopping by!

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Copper Foil Tape Leaves

Here is another project using copper foil tape: simple leaf shapes hung on a bare branch.  The leaves would also look great tucked into an autumn wreath for your door or scattered on the table.  I can imagine them used in place of name cards for Thanksgiving (write names on with a Sharpie) and I plan to hang a few on our Christmas tree.

This is very similar to the pumpkin pin here but with a few differences.  If you purchased the tape for the pumpkin pin, you should have plenty left over to make these beautiful leaves.  If you didn’t buy it yet, you just might consider this project and pick up a roll.

In case you missed in in that previous post, this tape is sold in hardware and gardening stores and it is designed to repel slugs and snails.  Making these leaves, in my opinion, is both more lovely and more creative than using the copper tape for its original purpose.

Supplies:

Copper Foil Tape

Card Stock

Leaf Stencil or Pattern about 2 1/2 inches from stem to tip (I used a rubber stamp, stamped onto thin cardboard and cut it out.  You could trace a real leaf or find a leaf image in clip art.)

Scissors

Pencil (not too sharp)

Glue Pen (optional)

Ultra-Fine Copper or Gold Glitter (optional)

Small Hole Punch (if hanging leaves on branch or attaching to wreath)

Thin Copper or Gold Cord

For Tabletop Decoration:

Branch

Black Spray Paint

Container

Foam Brick (such as Oasis for holding floral arrangements)

Dried Black Beans (to cover foam brick and weigh container down)

Directions:

Start with a piece of card stock just large enough to fit the shape of the leaf.

Cut four strips of foil, two for each side, large enough to cover the card stock.

Peel a corner of the backing paper from the first piece of foil (don’t peel the whole strip off because the foil has a tendency to roll back up and stick to itself), and lay it down, aligning it with the edge of the card stock, peeling the rest of the backing off and pressing to the card stock as you go.

Start the second piece of foil the same way, aligning it with the first piece of foil.

Repeat on the reverse side of the card stock.  You now have a sandwich: foil on either side with card stock in the middle.

Put your leaf pattern down so the seam between the two piece of foil on one side are more or less lined up with the center vein of the leaf.  Use the pencil to carefully trace around the leaf.

Cut out the shape.

Draw veins onto both sides of the leaf with the pencil.

Using a glue pen (I love the 2-way Glue Pen by Stampin’ Up!), go over the veins on one side.

Cover the leaf with glitter.  Tap off excess.

Set aside to dry briefly before doing the back side. (I found it simplest when working on multiple leaves to do all the steps for about 4 leaves at a time)

Repeat glue and glitter on reverse side of leaf.

Punch a small hole at the base of the leaf.  Thread a thin piece of copper or gold cord through the hole and tie a knot.

For the branch:

Rem spray-painted a branch with  black paint for me.  If I did this again I would be more careful about the  branch.  This one would have been have been better if I had cut it down a bit shorter.  It doesn’t have to be painted black but I think it looks more finished.

Put a chunk of foam block such as Oasis into your container.

Push branch into foam block.

Fill container with dried black beans until foam is covered.

Hang leaves from branch.

Enjoy the beautiful fruits of your labor.

Thank you for the visit.

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