Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Cozy Christmas Drinks to Put You in the Holiday Spirit

Get into the cozy Christmas mood with these festive cocktails from Claire (you know how we love a seasonal drink!). Whether you are spending a quiet night in or hosting a holiday party, Claire has you covered in the cocktail department! Let’s get mixing, Claire!

This year seems to have gone by in record time, which is good, because 2016 has been a real stinker and I’m not going to miss it when it’s done. Usually in December, all I want to do is get cozy and Christmassy, but this year I’ve been having a tougher time than I normally do getting festive. Luckily, I have devised a brilliant, alcohol-fueled plan to grease my Christmas spirit wheels, and it all starts today, as I trim my tree.

A cozy Christmas cocktail is the perfect way to fire up the holiday spirit!

As a child of a mixed-religious union, I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah, though with so many fun activities involved, Christmas always won out as the bigger deal of the two. Our family tradition was to spend Christmas day at our Grandma’s house, so we didn’t always have a tree in our house. Well, I am a strong believer in creating your own holiday traditions, so now that I have my own house, I always have a Christmas tree, no matter where I’ll be on Christmas day. The week after Thanksgiving, Pier and I go out to the tree lot, we pick out a tree, and then he helps me set it up so I can decorate it. Well, this year, Pier has had to work late all week so I went to the tree lot by myself. I tied the tree to my car by myself and then unloaded and stood it up by myself. I knew I was going to need some powerful holiday magic to get me through decorating by myself. What better than hot cocoa? I used to always make Mexican hot chocolate from scratch whenever I got a craving for cocoa, but I found that I actually wanted cocoa more often than I was willing to put the effort into the process. Since then, I have gotten smarter and/or lazier, and I have adapted my own recipe for an instant mix from Alton Brown’s own recipe (so you know it must be good).

Mix together one and a half to two cups of powdered sugar, one cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, two and a half cups of dry milk powder, two teaspoons of cornstarch, and one teaspoon of salt. Add cinnamon and cayenne pepper to suit your taste. I like a lot of heat in mine, so I go a little heavier on the cayenne. Just add hot water, et voilà, you’re in cocoa heaven. This mix can keep for a whole year in an air-tight container, but I doubt it will last longer than a month, especially if you prepare it the way I like it best. Put two spoonfuls of cocoa mix into your mug. Add some coffee if you have some made, or a little bit of instant espresso if you don’t. Pour in hot water, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Stir until everything is dissolved, then fill the space to the top with Irish cream. Top it with marshmallows (obviously) and you are ready to get cozy while you untangle your lights!

Cozy Christmas

Cocoa is nice while I enjoy the Fireplace for Your Home on Netflix, but it can be a little rich for everyday drinking. For something equally warming, I recommend mulled cider. Mulling spices make some of the best smells on the planet, and they go great with the piney smell of the Christmas tree. This will make your home smell like a cozy Christmas cabin. To make mulled cider, just pour some good apple juice or cider into a saucepan. Add a tangerine, either pierced with cloves, or sliced. Also add a couple of whole star anise, a good tablespoon or so of allspice berries, and two or three cinnamon sticks, cracked. I like to add some ginger to my cider as well, because I like the kick. Add a little wine, if you like, and bring the whole pot to a gentle boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, and strain. If you need an extra pick-me-up, bourbon, rum or brandy will all blend beautifully with your cider.

Cozy Christmas

Of course, the Christmas season isn’t just about cuddling. December has only just started, and I already have three parties on my calendar. Hot cider works nicely at a quiet dinner party or a bonfire, but for a traditional Christmas soiree, I’d say that punch is best. It can be made in large batches, so the host doesn’t have to tend bar, and it makes a festive and stylish centerpiece. There are a lot of ways you can go with your punch, but I think it’s nice to keep it simple. For this one, simply pour a whole bottle of sparking white wine (Prosecco, Champagne, whatever!) into your punch bowl. Add a cup of cranberry juice cocktail, half a cup of vodka, and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice to taste. I like to freeze a bag of cranberries and throw them into the bowl, too. They help keep the punch cold, and they add a festive flair. I also recommend setting your punch bowl on top of a bowl of ice or some freezer packs wrapped in a napkin or towel to keep it chilled.

Cozy Christmas

Whatever you’re drinking this holiday season, I hope you are with people who love you, or at least a cat that doesn’t mind sharing the room with you. Happy holidays to you and yours.

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

How to Stress Less this Thanksgiving

Stress less this Thanksgiving with some great tips from Claire. My mom and brothers do pretty much everything for Thanksgiving in my family, so I couldn’t really stress less even if I tried. For those of you who take a more active role, keep these tips in mind to help yourself get through the day. Tell us what to do, Claire!

The world hasn’t ended quite yet, which means that Thanksgiving is still going to be just next week, if you can believe it. If you’re like me, you have been so worried about an uncertain future that you have all but forgotten about the upcoming holiday. In my case, that says a lot, because the holidays where I get to cook for people are kind of my favorite. In such a time, I think we can all use a little bit of help pulling together a successful Thanksgiving party.

After a week of hand-wringing, this is what I’ve come up with to help us all stress less.

  1. Put away the Halloween decorations that are still sitting around on your front porch. I know you’ve been distracted this week, but the skeleton is sending the wrong message to your guests, who are expecting your home to be a safe space. The corn stalks and decorative pumpkins can stay because they are generically autumnal and more harvest-oriented than the rubber rats and giant spider.
  1. Speaking of decorative pumpkins, now is the time to pick up some additional seasonal gourds. The few remaining pumpkin patches might even have some on sale. They make great centerpieces and look lovely and festive artfully arranged in a bowl on the front hall table. If you are making centerpieces for your table, though, keep them on the smaller side. You want to leave lots of space on the table for dishes, and you also don’t want to block anyone’s view across the table.

stress less

  1. Pick up the tablecloth from the dry-cleaners. Remember when you dropped it off there like 3 months ago? The cleaners don’t charge storage fees, but maybe they should.
  1. Invite friends and people you love. We can’t all be with our families at the holidays, and maybe we don’t all want to be. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, why not cast a net for friends who don’t have a nearby or welcoming family? This year especially, many people will be looking for something for which to be thankful, and a warm and welcoming table is a good start.
  1. Make mulled cider. If you start it in the morning, your house will smell like heaven all day. Aside from that, if you are preparing a Thanksgiving feast, you have a long day on your feet ahead of you. You definitely want to stay sober until you sit down at the table. Sipping on cider will help you stress less; it is satisfying and warming, but not alcoholic enough to incapacitate you before dinner starts.
  1. Pick out all of your serving dishes ahead of time. Make sure you haven’t accidentally double-booked your purple ceramic casserole dish like last year and then you don’t know what you’re going to serve the stuffing in. Hypothetically speaking, obviously.

Stress less

  1. You are going to be hecka busy with that bird and that gravy and that stuffing and those beans and potatoes. Allow yourself to stress less by finding a couple of people who are willing to wash dishes as you go , tend bar, and make an emergency last-minute run to the grocery store (don’t act like you’re not going to need one).
  1. You’re not kidding anyone with that green salad. No one will have room left on their plates for vegetables that haven’t been cooked in bacon fat or cream of mushroom soup, and you’re probably going to need the roughage the next day, so you might as well save yourself the time on Thursday.
  1. Empty out your fridge this weekend so you don’t have to sort through it after work on Tuesday to make room. Order a fresh bird today so you aren’t stuck next Thursday morning with a frozen bird that will never thaw in time. Figure out what you can make ahead of time, and get it done early.
  1. If you’re attending as a guest, ask your host what you can bring or do to help. If they don’t give you any direction, just bring a bottle of wine and start doing dishes. If you are bringing a side dish, also bring something attractive to serve it in.

I think a small amount of stress is pretty normal for hosting any kind of social gathering, but hosting this event should be fun. My way to stress less is to micro-manage and juggle the entire meal by myself, but maybe yours is to have a pot-luck! The worst reason to do a thing is because that’s the way your parents did it, so make your own traditions! And hold your loved ones close. Despite global warming, this is going to be a cold winter. Happy Thanksgiving.

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

Creative Reuse – Furniture Projects

It’s that time of year again, when I like to raise awareness of America Recycles Day and share the small part I play to make the earth a better place to live. Last year I introduced you to “upcycling” and highlighted the creative reuse furniture projects my son, Ben, completed. This year, I am happy to say the entire family has been busy in the workshop repurposing and upcycling furniture and more. So this blog is sort of a Creative Reuse – Part II.

The spirit of upcycling is to not waste that which has, or could have, useful life. It focuses on reusing or repurposing materials and has the overall environmental benefit of reducing your carbon footprint.  It so happens that bulk trash pickup in my neighborhood falls in October.  And as I walk my dog around the neighborhood I find valuable treasures in other people’s junk piles…items that definitely still have a useful life.  So just last week we picked up an old BBQ grill and restored it with some elbow grease, paint and a few replacement parts and it works like new!  We also found a huge tree stump that will soon become the base for a new coffee table! We will save that for another blog, but my blog today focuses more on restoring items we already had around the house.

We honor America Recycles Day, November 15th, with a blog featuring our latest creative reuse projects.

Creative Reuse – 100 year old Door transformed into a Shabby/Chic Headboard

Creative Reuse Headboard

The feature project is the upcycling of this old door found at a scrap yard. Ben knew immediately upon seeing it that this would become the headboard for his girlfriend’s new bed. It started with removing the old hardware and scraping and sanding off all of the old paint. The porcelain door knob was a gem, so he cleaned and polished it like new. He then created his own “stain” by soaking steel wool in vinegar for a few days. The longer the steel wool soaks, the darker the stain becomes. He applied the stain and then put a matte polyurethane finish over it. He padded the headboard by cutting plywood to fit the panels in the door, covering them with batting and a soft flannel material, and gluing them to the door headboard.

Creative Reuse – Furniture from the past Reimagined with Chalk Paint

Creative Reuse Furniture 3
My husband inherited his baby dresser years ago, which is now over 50 years old.  In its day it had a beautiful walnut veneer but over the years it lost its appeal and was relegated to a closet to be used for storage.  But now that my eldest son is moving into his own home, we had the perfect opportunity to do what all empty nesters do…turn his bedroom into a guest bedroom!  So out of the closet came the baby dresser, and with a coat of lovely red chalk paint, this forgotten dresser has now become the focal point of the guest room!

Earlier this year we went to the local “Junk in the Trunk” vintage market and discovered a 100 year old desk top which happened to be missing its legs. It had no useful purpose, as is, so we purchased unfinished legs and again used our red chalk paint to upcycle this unwanted piece of furniture into a beautiful desk to match the dresser.

Our final project was repurposing an old file cabinet.  Straight out of the 80’s, this file cabinet was golden oak in color and definitely did not “fit” in my antique gray furnished office.  It was in the garage collecting dust when I had an epiphany that it would be a great nightstand for our new guest room.  I love red, so yep, red it is.  The guest room is done in charcoal gray and black so the red accent pieces are not as overpowering as you might think.

Creative Reuse – Recycling old blogs for America Recycles Day

Finally, I thought, why not “recycle” our blog from a couple years ago, in the true spirit of America Recycles Day.  Read more helpful tips on how you can “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Every Day”.

Look around your house.  What do you have that could be repurposed or upcycled into something useful and beautiful? Creative reuse is good for the earth and good for your soul.

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day – Pomegranate Balsamic Chicken Sandwich

National Sandwich Day should happen at least once a week, in my opinion. But if I got my way, we’d all be getting paid to eat sandwiches and play with puppies and kitties  and the economy would collapse…so maybe we should leave Sandwich Day alone. I am always happy to have a new idea in my sandwich arsenal, though, which is why I am particularly thrilled with Sarah today. Not only does this sandwich look 100% phenomenal, I never knew about cilantro in a tube, and I think my life may be forever altered in the best possible way. I hope you feel the same about this creation. Sarah, if you would be so kind, show us the way to sandwich perfection.

Happy National Sandwich Day, folks! I am a big fan of putting things between bread as a meal, as well as the season of FALL, and so when I discovered that National Sandwich Day happens to be in November, I knew we had to cook up a hearty fall sandwich to celebrate.

I have always been enamored with “weird” foods. This may have begun when my dad brought home a coconut from the grocery store when my brother and I were little kids. We cracked it open with a hammer and chisel, I think, and while none of us really cared for what we found inside, I retained the fascination with food that required a little bit of work to get to the good stuff. Shellfish, avocados, mangoes, and pomegranates are huge favorites of mine, possibly for this very reason.

Not many things speak “fall” to me more than pomegranate—we’ll leave the turkey and cranberry to Thanksgiving (which is SO SOON, you guys!).

Today we will be making a Pomegranate Balsamic Glazed Chicken Sandwich with Smoked Gouda, Anjou Pear, and Cilantro Aioli.

Ingredients:

  • Good loaf of bread
  • Cooked chicken (you know my favorite shortcut is a rotisserie chicken)
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¾ cup pomegranate seeds (about 2/3 of a pomegranate)
  • Sriracha
  • Ginger
  • Cilantro
  • Mayonnaise
  • Smoked Gouda
  • 1 Anjou pear

Let’s get started! The first step is to open your pomegranate. After googling this lazily (I believe my search keyword was “open pomegranate”) and clicking on the very first video, I found an acceptable method which only requires a bowl of cold water and a knife. The idea is to score the pomegranate along its sections (I followed the splits in the top of the fruit with my knife), break it open with your hands, and proceed to pull the seeds apart from the casing in the water. The dense seeds sink to the bottom, while the vaguely pool noodle-like outer skin floats. This science checks out. It took the longest for me to break the thing open, but start to finish I think I had all the seeds out in about ten minutes.

sandwich

Once you have your pomegranate seeds, chuck them in a small pot with ½ cup of balsamic vinegar. I let mine come to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. You basically want to cook the vinegar until it thickens and loses its bite. I can’t leave things be, so I added a squeeze of Sriracha and a squeeze of ginger (herbs in a tube are the BEST shortcut) to amp up the tart pomegranate and sweet balsamic flavors.

While the glaze was thickening, I cut up my pear into thin slices, sliced my Gouda, cut two thick slices of what my grocery store told me is “Tuscany bread,” and broke down my chicken into vaguely bite-sized pieces. Now would also be an excellent time to toast your bread and cheese, if you want a toasted sandwich. The pear adds some crunch, but not quite as much as I wanted. I think next time I make these, I’ll definitely go toasty.

Once your glaze is making thick bubbles and doesn’t have a watery consistency (taste it, too—the vinegar “bite” should be mostly eliminated), throw it (pomegranate seeds and all) into the container with your chicken and coat well.

Now it’s aioli time! Guys, aiolis are the easiest things to make. You know the fancy, creamy dipping sauces you get in some restaurants. “Sriracha garlic aioli” is usually mayonnaise with a squeeze of Sriracha and some roasted garlic (this is over-simplifying things—but not much!). Let’s make a fancy-sounding super tasty cilantro aioli with—wait for it—two ingredients. I took a small container, added a squeeze of mayonnaise and about a teaspoon and a half of cilantro from a tube (I love fresh herbs, but this stuff packs a lot of flavor and doesn’t go bad quickly) and mixed it together. Congratulations, you’ve made a fancy, restaurant-quality dipping sauce. Spread it on your bread!

sandwich

So the steps of sandwich-building today are going to go: aioli Sandwich and pear on one piece of bread, Gouda and chicken on the other, then quickly slap them together. I apply some pressure to kind of hold this guy together, and cut it in half to make this less unwieldy to eat. The Gouda brings creaminess, the chicken has a nice sweet flavor thanks to the glaze, the occasional pomegranate seed gives you some tartness, while the pears are a bit crisp, and the aioli adds a bit of salt.

This is a heavy, but well-balanced sandwich, in my opinion. Perfect to welcome fall and get ready for sweaters and blankets and bonfires and raking leaves in the crisp air.

What are your favorite fall flavors? Would you toast this sandwich (I should have toasted this sandwich)? What kinds of aiolis are you inspired to make this season? I think I want to try something with figs…

 

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Over the past four years, I have seen all sorts of creative uses for butcher block. One of my very first projects was for a customer making a shuffleboard table. A high quality shuffleboard table can run several thousand dollars, and this customer was a skilled craftsman, so he figured he could make it himself. He ordered a 14-foot long maple butcher block countertop to use as his playing surface since he didn’t have the equipment to fabricate something that long in one piece, let alone ensure its stability and level surface. He built his own base for the table and put it all together, saving himself thousands while creating a one-of-a-kind piece of functional art.  I wish I had had the foresight back then to follow up with him and get photos!

We love seeing our customers’ creative uses for butcher block!

Now that we are much more social media savvy, we regularly encourage our customers to send in photos of their projects, whether they are showing off their kitchen, laundry room, office, or something even more unique.  We certainly love seeing butcher block in its traditional role, and get a special thrill when it’s applied to an unconventional base (like this block attached to a vintage sewing machine base), but every once in a while,  we see something totally unexpected, and it just makes our day!

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

A few weeks ago I received a call from someone ordering a Boos dining table top. She had a few questions and when we got to talking, it came out that she was using it as a speed bag platform. Amazingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve sold a butcher block for that!  I only know of two instances, but this has me wondering if it’s more common than we thought.  This customer was kind enough to send us some photos showing the setup, and I’ve got to say, it’s pretty dang cool! Who knew a speed bag could look so sleek?

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Another fun project comes from Ben, whose neat ideas we have featured in the past. Ben used a Boos round cutting board (with feet removed) as a topper to a vintage milk can to make this super unique end table. It’s an unexpected use for butcher block, but it sure looks cool and makes a great conversation starter! Simple projects like this are easy to accomplish and make a big impact. It’s just a matter of getting creative!

Creative Uses for Butcher Block

Have you come up with any creative uses for butcher block? We would love to see your projects!

California Wine Harvest Celebration

California Wine Harvest Celebration

As if the beautiful weather, colorful trees, and pumpkin recipes weren’t enough to make us love Fall, it is also wine harvest season! Claire gets in on the wine harvest celebration every year, and she’s here to tell us all about it. Grab a glass and join us as Claire takes us on a little wine tasting!

It can be difficult to remember sometimes that nearly everything on our tables comes from a farm somewhere. Most of us buy our groceries from supermarkets, far away from their farms of origin. In a post-agrarian culture like ours which mercifully makes hamburgers possible, but which disconnects us from the rhythm of growing seasons, we can sometimes forget that autumn is also the harvest season. The symbolic cornucopia that graces our Thanksgiving greeting cards has lost its significance for most of us, but for those few who still tend the field or the flock, this is one of the busiest times of year. Agriculture is California’s biggest industry, and though we are the country’s leading producer of fruits and vegetables, I am personally most fond of the vineyards.

Wine

I grew up in a family of alcohol-appreciators, especially when it came to wine.

My parents aren’t exactly snobs, but they’re not too far off. Wine I remember visiting my aunt and uncle in San Francisco with my parents once when I was a kid, and they took us up the Sonoma Valley to taste at Ravenswood and Gundlach Bundschu. I was too young to drink, but I still remember the trip quite clearly. Fast forward something like 20 years, and naturally, the first time my mom came out to visit my home in California, my then-boyfriend and I took her wine tasting. At her request, we visited the Sextant Wines tasting room. An hour later, my boyfriend and I were slightly tipsy, packing up a case of wine and signing our first wine club membership. Being a wine club member affords us some privileges, like discounts on bottles and free tastings, and best of all, discounted tickets to winery events. We joined Sextant in the spring. That fall, we got married at city hall and we celebrated with our closest friends at the annual Sextant lobster boil. Since then, Pier and I have gone to the event for our anniversary dinner every year.

Every October, right in the middle of harvest, the hard working crew at Sextant changes pace for one week. They clean up their working area and turn it into a beautiful outdoor escape, lit with café lights and surrounded by working wine barrels. They invite their members to join in their harvest celebration with fresh lobster and prawns, and they open bottle after bottle of their fall releases to pour for us. We look forward to this event every year, and it never disappoints. I absolutely love lobster, but I love lobster and Chardonnay even more. And I love lobster and Cabernet Sauvignon the most!

We are indeed privileged to be so close to the Wine vineyards here and to have access to the incredible wines that are coming out of this region, but the world is getting smaller and smaller every day. Only 40 years ago, the rest of the world scoffed at the idea of Californians becoming vintners, but now the Sonoma and Napa Valleys are some of the most respected wine regions in the world. What I’m getting at here is that quality wines can come from anywhere, and anyone; even those of us who stock our wine racks at the supermarket can have access to really excellent bottles of wine at nearly any price point. There are hundreds of tasting guides out there, and though I am an enthusiastic drinker of wine, I don’t flatter myself that I can offer any fresh insights that the experts may have missed. All I need to know is that my meal is merrier with a bottle of wine on the table. So what do you look for in a bottle of wine?

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

Now that it’s starting to cool down a bit in the evenings, we can turn our thoughts to soup. There is nothing quite like a nice, cozy meal to bring family together, and Claire is here to share a recipe from her sister for comforting White Bean Soup. This is the perfect recipe to ease us into soup season. Grab a spoon and come along for story time and soup with Claire!

I have two sisters and I love them like crazy. Like a lot of siblings, we fought a lot when we were kids, but as we got older and less obnoxious, we became much closer. Though we all live far apart now, we speak on the phone often and try to get together as frequently as we can manage with our busy schedules. One of the side effects of our relatively infrequent face-to-face interaction, though, is that my older sister and I came to realize that we probably didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. In an effort to remedy that, we have been trying to spend as much time together as possible so we can become reacquainted. Over the summer, I got to spend my vacation week at the lake with her, but by the end of my trip, I still wanted more one-on-one time. I found a relatively inexpensive flight to Denver and I planned a long weekend for some more quality time with my big sis, and, let’s be honest here, a break from the California heat.

We managed to pack three parties, three meals out, and several hours of crafting time in just Friday and Saturday, so when Sunday rolled around, we agreed that we needed a day to just sit around. We sat and knit Christmas stockings and chatted. We vented about family frustrations and work. We made plans for this Christmas and next summer, and then when we got hungry, we made plans for dinner. Unlike in California, in Colorado, the weather is actually starting to cool to boots and jean jackets temperatures, so I requested one of my all-time favorites from my sister’s dinner recipe arsenal: white bean soup.

This white bean soup is perfect because it is hearty and filling, but not heavy.

It’s easy to cook, so it fits with a lazy afternoon, and the addition of a simple green salad and some bread or crackers turns it into a good, square meal.

To make this soup, you will need:

  • 2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 bacon slices, chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

White Bean Soup

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon and onion and cook until bacon fat is rendered, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since we are using canned beans instead of dried, there is no need to cook the beans, but simmering time will allow the flavors to deepen.

Next, blend the soup until it is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, you can achieve this step right in the pot. If not, you can use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.

When the soup has reached a smooth, consistent texture, stir in the cream. Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.

White Bean Soup

Soup is easy, but relationships are hard. They take work and dedication and willingness to be open and listen, but they reward us with a sense of kinship and emotional fulfillment. By the end of my trip to Denver, I felt like my sister and I had both revealed new facets of ourselves. I think I know her better now than I did before, and I hope she feels the same about me. Also, I hope this white bean soup tastes as good when I make it at home as it always does at her house.

Printer-friendly recipe: White Bean Soup

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

Baked Apples – The Taste of Autumn

My only encounters with baked apples have been on camping trips, when we would wrap stuffed apples in foil and throw them in the fire. While delicious, they were quite messy…and there was no ice cream, so really what’s the point? I like Claire’s approach better, as it involves staying indoors and using real plates. And these baked apples just look SO GOOD! They are the perfect way to ease into Fall baking. Let’s get to it. Claire, usher us into Autumn with your spectacular baked apples!

Well, it’s eighty-three degrees in the shade today, and California is still on fire, but I am ninety-three percent sure that I felt a cool, cool, autumn breeze last week, so I am already gearing up for fall. I am packing up my summer wardrobe, planning my Halloween costume, and breaking out the knitting needles for sweater season. Just joking; this is California. I just wear all dresses all year. I also plan my Halloween costume and knit year-round, obviously. I’m not joking about the breeze, though. I have lived here long enough to know that one cool week means nothing, except that we’re about to have another month of dry, relentless heat. In fact, in my experience, the first week of October has a habit of being the most unbearably hot week all year. All that aside, I am ready for fall, whether Mother Nature likes it or not.

Across our great nation, Trader Joe’s and Starbucks are ushering in the autumn with pumpkin spice everything, but for my money, the most supreme fall fruit is still the apple. Whether pressed into cider or baked into pie, the combination of apple and cinnamon is distinctly, undeniably autumnal. Now, my grandmother taught me well and I make a damn good pie crust. Still, sometimes I find myself in a bit of a time crunch and have to turn out something delicious and impressive in a third the time of a pie. In a case like that, I will choose to forego the rolling and chilling and latticework and egg wash and skip right to the bake.

This very hot autumn, my go-to dessert is baked apples and vanilla ice cream.

  • 4 large Honeycrisp or other good baking apples
  • 1/3 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped very fine

Preheat your oven to 375°. Using a sharp paring knife and a spoon, hollow out the cores of the apples, leaving just enough at the bottom to form a basin. In a medium bowl, mix together the rest of your ingredients. Fill each apple to the top with the spice mixture and place them in a baking dish. Pour half a cup of water into the bottom of the baking dish and bake for one hour until the apples are soft.

Baked Apples

Let the baked apples cool slightly. With a slotted spoon, gently lift each one into its own bowl or plate and top it with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream. These evoke all the comforting warmth of an apple pie without the fuss of the crust, and, as a bonus, they will make your home smell like heaven. For as simple as these treats are to make, they really make a stunning dessert, and a quintessentially autumnal crowd-pleaser.

Baked Apples

Furniture Industry Growth Is Driven by Shifts to E-Commerce and Environmentally-friendly Products

Furniture Industry Growth Is Driven by Shifts to E-Commerce and Environmentally-friendly Products

Like other mature industries, the U.S. furniture market is experiencing shifts toward E-commerce and environmentally-friendly products. These are two key findings recently revealed in a market research report issued by Conlumino, a retail research agency and consulting firm.

The report notes that the furniture sector is strongly outperforming the economy as a whole, with sales increasing 6 to 7% annually, thanks to a pickup in new home sales and the increasing ease of shopping online and U.S. consumers’ increasing confidence in purchasing online. Demographics are also favorable, in that millennials stuck in parents’ basements will at some point join the homeowner ranks, further fueling demand for home furnishings. Notably, this age cohort is especially interested in environmentally-friendly, sustainable and renewable materials and products – a segment that’s increasingly important.

One company that seems well positioned to capitalize on these trends is John Boos & Co., with headquarters and manufacturing plants in Effingham, IL. Not only is Boos – a maker of wood countertops and butcher block tables, islands and carts – a leader in the home furnishings industry; it relies on online dealers (as well as brick and mortar distributors) to deliver its goods to consumers; and nearly all of the company’s residential products can be described as environmentally-friendly.

Ted Gravenhorst, Jr., Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the company, indicates that, “Boos only uses wood harvested from North American hardwood forests that are managed for sustainability. Suppliers must be members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA, whose focus is replenishing forests through reforestation). Not only does this enable Boos to satisfy today’s demand for natural, wood counters and butcher block kitchen furniture, it ensures that the U.S. will have an adequate supply of domestic hardwood to satisfy future generations’ needs for recreation plus beautiful, natural home furnishings.” Gravenhorst went on to explain that, “Boos makes sure no wood is wasted. Leftover wood staves are used in end-grain island tops and cutting boards, and pieces that aren’t long enough to be repurposed are ground into sawdust that’s burned to generate steam to power kilns used to dry out fresh lumber.”

Gravenhorst says he is encouraged by the report’s conclusions and optimistic about prospects for Boos’ continued sales growth. “All we have to do is keep designing, making and marketing great-looking wood furniture that’s made to exacting standards and perfectly priced,” he quipped.

The information herein was compiled by Butcher Block Co., a leading online seller of home furnishings and accessories made by such manufacturers as John Boos, Catskill Craftsmen and others.

For more information, please visit https://butcherblockco.com

Contact Info:
Name: Kathleen Grodsky
Organization: Butcher Block Co.
Address: 10448 N 21st Pl
Phoenix, Arizona 85028

 

Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

Oktoberfest Food – Beer Cheese Recipe

I am always ready for some delicious Oktoberfest food and beer! It’s too bad Oktoberfest doesn’t last all year. But if you’ve got a simple and delicious recipe, you can have Oktoberfest at home any time you want! Claire is here to share just such a recipe, and I can’t wait to try it. Cheese us, Claire!

Oktoberfest is just around the corner, and though I’ll be far away from the Bavarian tents, I am still on the edge of my American seat to partake of this year’s batch of Oktoberfest food and beer offerings. The official Oktoberfest in Munich is the largest beer festival in the world, and is in its 186th year! And what better way to get into the spirit of the fest than a party? I’ve been invited to just such a party this year by a very close friend, and unlike Labor Day BBQs with strangers, a German beer festival with friends is something I can fully get behind. This one is going to be potluck style, and this friend actually lived in Germany for a couple of years, so I worry that any Oktoberfest food I bring to the table will be judged pretty carefully. With this in mind, I spent a good couple of days combing over the German foods I could think up off the top of my head trying to decide what to make.

My first thought was fresh pretzels, but honestly, even if I cheated with a bread machine for the kneading process, who really has the time to deal with the dough rise and the baking soda bath and everything else? But thinking of pretzels led me right to beer cheese. Pretzels and cheese is one of my favorite snacks, and if the cheese is good enough, I think we can excuse some store-bought pretzels. After a quick Google, I found a few recipes for Obatzda and headed to Trader Joe’s with a short list. I was also lucky enough while I was there to find some tiny Bavarian-style bratwurst, along with some apparently very traditional pumpernickel pretzels, if the cartoon German on the front of the bag is anything to go by.

This recipe is as simple as it is delicious. To make it, you will need:

  • 1 pound of Camembert, rind mostly removed
  • 3 ounces of cream cheese
  • 2 ounces of butter
  • 1teaspoon of paprika
  • Half of a small onion, minced or grated
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Up to 3 oz German Weizenbock or Hefeweizen
  • Chives for garnish

Let the cheese and butter come to room temperature. With a potato masher or a hand mixer, work the brie until it forms a pretty consistent blob. Add in the cream cheese, butter, onions, and paprika. Gradually add the beer until the mixture is your desired flavor and consistency. If you like a drier cheese spread, you can leave the beer out entirely, though you’ll certainly want to chill that beer and drink it heartily while you eat delicious cheese spread on pretzels or potatoes or maybe even slathered all over a traditional Bavarian bratwurst. I scooped my Obatzda into a little wooden bowl, garnished it with some chives from my front yard, and surrounded it with pretzels and celery (for color, mostly… no one is going to actually choose celery over pretzels, obviously). I am fully ready to drop this platter on a long table with some sausages, sauerkraut, and other Oktoberfest food, and raise a glass of liquid gold to friends and ‘fest!

Oktoberfest food