Archive for December, 2010

Did you notice?

December 22, 2010

The sun here on the coast of CT set at 4:24 p.m. today. But yesterday it set at 4:23 p.m. Things are looking up, folks.

I loved this poem last year, and I’ll post it here again this year, because there is nothing as joyful as knowing we have already passed the darkest day of the year.

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The Shortest Day

Winter solstice sunset

A friend posted a snippet of this poem the other day, and I loved it, and wanted to post it all here. This time of year with its mix of darkness and revelry, its hard, shiny cold and soft, welcoming warmth is always a dizzying spin of emotions, particularly when I reflect on the loss of my mother on Dec. 22.

I think this poem, by one of my favorite childhood authors, Susan Cooper, says it all just so.

And after tomorrow, the days will get longer.

The Shortest Day

And so the shortest day came and the year died.

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world came people singing, dancing to drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees; they hung their homes with evergreen; they burned beseeching fires all night long to keep the year alive.

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake they shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them echoing behind us – listen!

All the long echoes, sing the same delight, this shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land they carol, feast, give thanks, and dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.

And now so do we, here, now, this year and every year.

Julie + Jake: Winter Wedding at The Ledges

December 21, 2010

Julie and Jake were married on a sparkly New England December day, and while it was frosty, it was a day filled with warmth and love. This wedding had warm wonderful families, a couple head over heels in love, beautiful Christmas colors, a family home with decades of history, amazing food, Christmas trees and sparkly lights—the only thing missing was snow, but even a beautiful white snow cover couldn’t have made this day shimmer any more than it already did.

Julie’s mom and dad were married at this beautiful spot nearly 40 years ago.

Looking through these photos tonight puts me ever more squarely in the Christmas mood than they did just a few weeks ago at the wedding.  While this is definitely time I have ever set a wedding slideshow to Christmas music, this is also the first wedding I’ve been to with Victorian carolers and Santa, so it certainly seemed to fit.

Jake gets his first look at his gorgeous bride.

Julie and Jake at The Ledges before their ceremony

I love this one of Julie and her dad, both trying to hold back tears.

The new Mr. and Mrs!

Love these girls!

The Ledges by night, complete with carolers

Sparkle and shimmer and holiday decor–no cake could have been more perfect for this wedding than this one from Massachusetts’s famous Konditor Miester.

And no family party at The Ledges would be complete without a rousing game of toss the hat! Thanks to my sidekick Nicki Pardo for this amazing shot, along with so many others!

Click here for their slide show, with so many more pictures to share!

So join me in wishing for a white Christmas for Julie and Jake on their first married Christmas…and may all your Christmases be white!

Happy love, Julie and Jake!

xo, Anna

In Reruns: Christmas Cookies and Peppermint Bark!

December 14, 2010

A flurry of messages on Facebook last night about Christmas cookies left me thinking, wow, time to make something for that cookie party on Friday night and time to make peppermint bark for the nursery school teachers and….well, here we are. Start your ovens! From Dec. 14, 2007….

I just peeked at my stats, assuming you had ALL LEFT ME for good after not posting all week, but surprise, you have been here checking for something new every day. Your faith in me is touching, if undeserved. At least I left you with something good to look at all week.

But anyway. It’s just that I’ve been doing all this freelance work for Santa this week, and he is an absolute BEAR on the deadlines, so my blogging life suffered a bit. But I make it up to you with not one but TWO recipes today, both diligently tested at my house in the last 24 hours.

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Mine is only dark chocolate this year. Because I’m simplifying.

Peppermint Bark

You do know you don’t have to buy this only at Williams-Sonoma for $20 a tin or Trader Joe’s for slightly less, right? Because you can make it in your own kitchen, and you get to use your favorite kind of chocolate, too.

This recipe is infinitely adaptable (white chocolate! dark chocolate! layers! peppermint extract! or nooo!), but here are the basic ratios:

Crushed candy canes, to yield one cup

One pound chocolate (I like bittersweet or sometimes I layer dark and white)

(A word about chocolate: Callebaut, Valhrona are excellent choices for this confection and sold in big chunks at places like Whole Foods, but not to worry— you can also use grocery store chocolate chips like Ghiradelli or packaged squares like Bakers. Just stay away from the milk chocolate. Because that is wrong.)

1/2 teaspoon peppermint flavoring, optional

Place candy canes in a plastic bag and smash away into 1/4-inch chunks or smaller. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, and stir constantly. Combine candy cane chunks/dust with chocolate, but save some of the biggest chunks to press into the top after you pour it out.

Add peppermint flavoring at this point, if desired. Chocolate will separate a little at this point, but just keep stirring.

Pour mixture onto a cookie sheet (with edges, to contain the river of chocolate) lined with parchment or waxed paper, add big chunks of candy cane on top and place in a cold spot for 45 minutes or until firm. (Don’t use your Silpat liner here, as I learned—your bark will be etched with the Silpat pattern.) Remove from cookie sheet and shatter into cookie-sized pieces.

Supposedly this will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator, but I wouldn’t know. (Plus, if you put it in the fridge, it will get that unsightly white cocoa “bloom”—just eat it, for God’s sake, or give it away.)

I promise to add the cookie recipe later today, but Santa is cracking the whip right now.

Like you were going to make cookies before breakfast anyway.

See you later—it’s good to be back!

And, since we live in the age of TIVO and instant gratification, you get the cookie post too, even though last year you had to wait for it.

For the love of Christmas cookies

So, I love Christmas cookies. LOVE them. And I plan to enjoy them wholeheartedly this year, because last year? Was Christmas with no egg, no dairy and no soy. And while my family came through with AMAZING substitutions (email me if you need help in that department), I still will be enjoying a healthy, if you will, dose of butterfat this year.

But anyway, that is where you come in, dear readers. I want your cookie recipes.

Please post a favorite Christmas cookie recipe in the comments, or on your site and post the link or if you scavenged it from out there in the interwebs, then share the love and post a link to that. PLEASE.

Consider it your little Christmas present to Hank & Willie, and think of the amazing cookie resource we can create. Bakers of cookies like Granny Annie’s Bourbon Balls, Jayne’s Toffee and Shannon’s Rum Balls, I’m talking to you.

Because I NEED those recipes this year.

Here’s a few on my list:

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Photo by Smitten Kitchen

Homemade Oreos from Smitten Kitchen. I’ve had the exquisite priveledge of enjoying these baked by TWO Hank & Willie readers, Clink and Lorraine. Send ‘em along if you want me to taste YOUR version. I’m a very appreciative audience.

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Photo by Milk & Cookies

Double Chocolate Cookies, originally by Martha, as adapted over at the delicious food blog, Milk & Cookies. I agree with the adaptation, because I don’t find much call for milk chocolate in my life.

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Peppermint Checkerboards by Julie, via Cookies Unlimited.

Peppermint Checkerboards, as seen in Cookies Unlimited. Version here made by Julie at A Little Pregnant who says, “I modified Malgieri’s vanilla sablé recipe by replacing half of the vanilla with peppermint extract, and then dyeing the holy Christmas shit out of half of the dough.”

And then finally, the mother lode of Christmas cookies, here at Food Blogga — a collection of Christmas cookies from readers around the world, updated daily. You even have a chance to win a dessert cookbook, Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard. So AFTER you post your recipe here, head over to Christmas Cookies Around the World to post yours and enter to win this yummy-looking cookbook. Mmmm….

Here’s what I’m entering over there:

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(Recipe and illustration by Susan Branch, Christmas from the Heart of Home)

I’ve been making these delicious, easy butter cookies for YEARS, and if you make no other cookie, make this one. It can be anything—twist this dough into candy canes, roll it out (chill it mercilessly first) and use your cookie cutters, put it in a pastry bag and squirt it through a # 2 star tip, or roll it all into one giant snake, roll it in sprinkles or mini chips or coconut and slice and bake into perfect rounds….you get the idea. The dough does need to be really well chilled to work with, though. All that butter, you know.

Annie Hall’s Butter Cookies

2 cups unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

4 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. With an electric mixer, even the hand-held kind, cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla, mix well. Suft flour and salt together and beat into butter mixture until well mixed.

When ready to bake use an ungreased cookie sheet (I use my Silpat liners, but not required.) and place cookies about one inch apart. Bake for about ten minutes, but do not brown them. Remove cookies from cookie sheet while still warm and cool on sheets of waxed paper.

And as my aunt pointed out last year, when you make these, you have extra egg white, so then you make THESE:

Surprise Meringues

2 egg whites (clearly, you WILL have to double the recipe after making those butter cookies.)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp vanilla
1 6-oz pkg chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar

Beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Add sugar gradually, beating until peaks are stiff. Fold in chocolate and nuts. Cover cookie sheet with plain brown paper or parchment paper. Drop mixture on by rounded teaspoon. Bake in slow (300F) oven about 25 min. Makes about 2 dozen, cool before removing from paper.

Or you make these, provided by Christina last year:
Christina’s Mom’s Coconut Macaroons

3 eggs white
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
8 oz coconut

Whip eggs, salt and vanilla until peaks form. Slowly add sugar while continuing to beat until stiff. Gently fold in the coconut. Drop by teaspoonful onto cookie sheet covered with brown paper/parchment paper. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes; cool before removing from paper. and then ENJOY!

Get thee to a kitchen and start baking, folks! But not before you post what you’re baking here.

Tomorrow? Shannon’s Rum Balls. You won’t want to miss them!

In reruns: The Fabulous Housewives of Stonington

December 13, 2010

Remember when I used to do Food Fridays? Remember when I used to blog almost every day? Sigh. I’m hoping my brand new spanking blog and whole new look in 2011, designed by Chocolate Creative Design, will change my deplorable blogging habits.

In the meantime, I had so much fun reading Heidi ‘s guest post on shoes over at  Glitter, Glue and Fireflies (if you haven’t been following along in the gift guide, catch up now!) that I had to go back and watch the entire Fabulous Housewives slide show. Boy, that was fun. Boy, that was a lot of bronzer. I think next up the fabulous housewives are planning a 70s fondue evening, but I’m hoping a 50s housewife party, complete with retro aprons will be on the docket someday!

Food Friday: Fabulous Housewives and a Champagne Dinner for Eight

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Who needs to be real housewives when you can be fabulous ones? A few brilliant and creative friends, (including Lucinda Wesson of creative design studio True & Wesson) recently engineered a send-off to a friend leaving our staid New England shores for sunny Florida. The send-off involved, among other things, a can of hairspray, seven pairs of false eyelashes, several pairs of tube socks and an awful lot of bronzer as we channeled a retro Florida fabulous groove in her honor.

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Thankfully, the evening also involved a fantastic progressive meal (plus a stop in a local establishment before the main course to be SURE our outfits were appreciated). The menu? From “A Party with Fizz” in the June 2007 issue of Bon Appetite. The food? Fabulous.

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The complete menu is available here, and it was just terrific, from the Shiitaki, Goat Cheese and Chanterelle Pizza appetizers,  the salad, the Roasted Shrimp in Champagne-Shallot Sauce, the delicious Orzo Risotto and the amazing Blue Lake Green Beans with Lemon and Thyme that we all raved about.

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Menu cards and table design by Chocolate Creative Design/Lucinda Wesson, china and stemware from the extraordinary and lovely collection of the bronzest housewife of all, Heidi,  who bravely hosted this dinner.

I can only take responsibility for the Lemon Cream Tart, and hardly at that because (come closer, I’m going to whisper this) I didn’t actually make the crust, but used a premade one. I’ve never done this before, and I was really surprised at how okay it was. Or perhaps it was the champagnes paired with each course that dampened my ability to be critical of pie crust. In any case, the recipe is easy and so darn good, especially with a bit of Raspberry-Apricot Compote with Champagne and Lemon Verbena on the side. I’m just saying.

Lemon Cream Tart Crust

  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large egg yolks

Filling

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon (packed) finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream

For crust: Butter bottom (not sides) of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Blend flour, sugar, grated lemon peel, and salt in processor. Add butter; blend until coarse meal forms. Add egg yolks; blend until moist clumps form. Gather dough into ball. Press onto bottom and up sides of prepared pan. Freeze crust until firm, about 15 minutes. DO AHEAD Crust can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep frozen. Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake crust 5 minutes. Press up sides with back of fork if falling. Continue to bake until golden, pressing up sides as needed, about 18 minutes longer. Cool completely. Maintain oven temperature. For filling: Whisk sugar, eggs, yolks, and lemon peel in heavy medium saucepan. Whisk in lemon juice and wine. Cook over medium heat until custard thickens and just begins to bubble, whisking constantly, about 5 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Cool to just warm, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Pour filling into crust. Bake tart until filling is set in center and begins to puff at edges, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

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If you have your own party, you’re going to need a little of this–SERIOUS hairspray and nearly illegal coral lipstick.

For the full, fabulous experience, enjoy our extremely fabulous slide show here.  And let me know if you are having your own fabulous housewives party, because I want to come!

Preview: Julie + Jake’s Winter Wedding at The Ledges

December 5, 2010

I still can hear the soaring sounds of the Victorian carolers at Julie and Jake’s amazing winter wedding yesterday—if there is anything to get you ready for the holiday season, it is a wedding like this one. Gorgeous, personal, full of joy, family and fun, these two had a fantastic day to celebrate yesterday and we were so glad to be part of it.

Julie and Jake, here’s a tiny little preview for you, and we’ll be sure to have the rest of them wrapped up under the Christmas tree before Santa arrives! Thank you for a wonderful day, we loved it!

LOOK at this gorgeous bride! LOOK at this gorgeous gown. Can you think of anything better for a holiday wedding?

 

A pretty handsome groom, too, hmm? Decor done by the whole family! (Don’t ask dad about the lights!)

Stunning, Julie and Jake. Just stunning. (And you should see Jake’s blue steel look!)


Guess why Julie is so excited? THE CAKE HAD JUST ARRIVED! You would cheer, too, if you knew what this cake looked like. AMAZING. Photos to come.

Beautiful, in every way.

The new Mr. and Mrs!

 

Happy wedding weekend, Julie and Jake, and happy love!

xo, Anna (and Nicki, too!)