Why We Love Wood.

Why We Love Wood.

Why is it that so many people love wood?  Whether it be fine wood furniture, wooden vases and bowls, hardwood floors, barn wood beams, reclaimed wood bar tops, butcher block countertops, we seek it out. Perhaps we love wood because it connects us to the natural world and allows us to bring a bit of the outdoors inside. But for me, it is more than that.

First, I love the forest. I grew up in Sherwood Forest, with a huge wooded area right across the street from my house. I spent most of my youth exploring the forest and playing with my siblings and neighbors from sunrise to sunset. We built forts, went on treasure hunts, and played hide and seek in the woods. As I grew older, I found that I was drawn to the forest as less of an adventure and more of a peaceful escape. A place to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city, to regroup and re-energize. Fortunately, I live in Arizona and can venture to Oak Creek Canyon often to hike and just sit and look at the trees.  I am just amazed at how they grow, how much history stands before me, how they survive with the weather, and how beautiful they are in aggregate. I could stare at them for hours, gently blowing in the breeze. Forests have continued to be a part of my life’s story. My husband actually proposed to me in the middle of the Coconino National Forest 27 years ago. And I just now returned from visiting my favorite place on earth, the Bamboo Forest, at the end of the road to Hana in Maui, Hawaii.

The reason I love wood is likely a natural extension of my love for trees. Wood can overload your senses, from the look, feel and smell of it.

Wood has a feeling of life, because it came from something living. And wood seems to have a story to tell. Certainly, the grain indicates the years of its life and the character of the grain can show a bit about the conditions it was grown under. Wood grain has a “visual texture” to it that I am drawn to.  Some wood species, like hickory and ash, have such pronounced and unique grain patterns. And walnut has these delightful twists in the grain and significant color variation between dark brown heartwood and creamy blond sapwood. There is much character in the feel of wood too, such that I find myself always running my hand along the top of wood, regardless of its finish.  I like to feel the rough texture of weathered barn board, the curves and dents of hand-scraped planks, the silky surface of finely sanded raw wood, and the smooth surface of fine furniture. And wood can have some glorious scents that evoke special memories: cedar wood’s unique and powerful aroma reminds me of my parents’ cedar chest and fresh cut pine always takes me to Christmastime. In Arizona, the smell of burning mesquite wood in the winter months is very common and brings back memories of camping in the woods.

Finally, I love wood because it can be crafted into functional and beautiful homes, pieces of furniture, tools, art, décor, and more. Because wood varies so much, no two pieces of furniture are identical when made of the same wood species. And so much of what we build from wood can last lifetimes.  What a wonderful tribute it is to a tree, that can grow for centuries and then be fashioned into something else that can live on for another century.

Select Your Butcher Block by Wood Hardness and Aesthetics

Select Your Butcher Block by Wood Hardness and Aesthetics

With 15 different species of wood to choose from for your butcher block, you might feel a bit overwhelmed by so many great-looking options. The purpose of this article is to help you filter your options using two important criteria: the wood hardness and the aesthetics of each wood species.

Comparing Wood Hardness

First, let’s address hardness. It’s a critically important variable to weigh when choosing a material for kitchen, commercial or industrial countertops. Your consideration set might well vary depending on whether you will be installing these countertops in a residential or a commercial kitchen; in an office or a garage workshop; in a commercial showroom or a manufacturing plant.

If you’re the type of chef who prefers a cutting board for cutting, slicing and chopping and will rely on your countertop for less aggressive tasks such as rolling and kneading dough and cutting out cookies for baking, or if the most rugged work you will do atop these counters is pushing papers or giving customers change, you will have the option of considering even soft woods, giving you many more options you might want to consider.

On the other hand, if you will be doing serious cutting, chopping and pounding, or operating power tools and maneuvering heavy hammers and wrenches for example, then of course it will make more sense to stick with a wood hardness that is less likely to suffer dings, dents and gouges. Fortunately, there’s a standardized test that’s used to measure a wood’s hardness, making it easy to compare hardness ratings different species.

The Janka Test Measures the Hardness of Different Woods

The Janka Hardness Test involves forcing a steel ball – 11.28 mm in diameter – into a piece of wood to the depth of half its diameter. The amount of force required to accomplish this feat, as measured in pounds-force (or lbf) tells us a lot about a wood’s resistance – a proxy measure for its hardness.

The wood hardness of different types of wood will vary depending upon the orientation of the wood sample being tested. For example, testing hardness on the surface of a plank (i.e., perpendicular to its grain) provides a measure of the wood’s side hardness; whereas testing on either end of the plank measures its end hardness. Moreover, there can be variation in hardness across wood harvested from different trees of the same species and even across specimens collected from a single tree. The point of all this is that you should not view Janka readings too literally. Rather, consider them as measures of  wood hardness relative to others.

The chart below shows the wood hardness, i.e., Janka scores, for all 15 species of wood that Butcher Block Co. uses in making butcher block and plank countertops.

First, note that based on Janka scores, Brazilian Cherry is about FIVE times more resilient than Poplar. wood hardness chart

Hardest – As you can see, Brazilian Cherry is far and away the hardest of the wood types we use at BBC. It earns a Janka hardness rating in excess of 2500 pounds-force. Hickory comes in second, scoring just under 2000 lbf.

Very Hard – Next in order comes a cluster of six hardwood stalwarts: Maple, White Oak, Ash, Beech, Birch and Red Oak. All achieve Janka scores between 1200 to 1500 lbf.

Hard – Tier three includes Walnut, American Cherry and Mahogany, each registering about 1000 lbf.

Not so Hard – Softest among the bunch are Spanish Cedar, Knotty Alder, Knotty Pine and Poplar, at 500 to 700 lbf.

Considering Aesthetics

Of course, there’s more to consider than wood hardness when choosing a wood for new countertops. Odds are you’re searching for a wood that will look great regardless of its destination. Are you interested in a counter or island top that matches the room’s décor; one that slightly contrasts with surrounding cabinetry; or one that accents the room?

Of course, there’s no equivalent to the Janka score to help us standardize along the dimension of beauty, but we’re happy to share with you our own way of thinking about the aesthetic dimensions that distinguish any species from others.

In the image below we arranged samples of all fifteen woods along two dimensions; one of which is wood hardness, as already discussed. Along the horizontal axis wood samples are lined up in accordance with their relative hardness (although not to scale). And they are arrayed vertically into four tiers according to their respective visual impact. wood hardness vs aesthetics chart Most Visually Striking: Mahogany, Walnut and Brazilian Cherry

Attention-Getting: Spanish Cedar, American Cherry, Red Oak and Hickory

Subtle but Elegant: Knotty Pine, Knotty Alder, Beech, Ash, White Oak and Maple

Most Neutral – Poplar and Birch.

So for instance, if you are seeking a wood that’s harder than most AND visually interesting but not overpowering, you might want to consider one among the quartet of Beech, Ash, White Oak and Maple. On the other hand, if you do most of your food prep on a cutting board and don’t have kids on hand who are prone to toss around backpacks or laptops, you might feel comfortable sacrificing a bit of hardness (remember, it’s all relative) in order to achieve the look of your dreams exemplified by Spanish Cedar or American Cherry.

At Butcher Block Co. we appreciate the magnitude of the decision you face. We hope this guide will help you think through the decision-making process and find the wood that’s perfect for your new countertops.

During the month of April, Butcher Block Co. is offering our biggest-ever savings opportunity on BBC-brand butcher block and plank-style countertops: 10% OFF. Enter code: 10BBCCT. Good through April 30, 2017.

 

Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

Kitchen Tips – How To Clean Butcher Block

I have admitted this before…I am actually one of those people who enjoys cleaning!  I find the process to be relaxing and almost cathartic. And for me it is very rewarding because I can usually see a huge difference in a short amount of time – instant gratification so to speak! While most people don’t enjoy it the way I do, I would guess that nearly everyone would admit that after they are done cleaning they feel better, maybe “lighter,” happier, or just plain glad it is over.

Springtime brings with it a new energy. A zestfulness. And for many, the willpower to tackle some household chores that they have been putting off during the winter season. For us at Butcher Block Co., springtime is a good time to remind our customers how to take care of their Butcher Block investment.

So, let’s review some best practices and how to clean butcher block cutting boards, standing blocks, tables or countertops…

Daily Cleaning – Clean butcher block after every use.

  • Scrape – Gently remove any food particles with a scraper or spatula. If you happen to have a varnish surface, remove food particles with a sponge so as not to scratch the surface (remember, you shouldn’t be cutting directly on a varnish finish).
  • Wash – To clean butcher block, wipe the surface with a clean wash cloth dipped in hot water and mild dish soap. Rinse the wash cloth and wipe the butcher block again. (Never submerge your butcher block in water).
  • Dry – Using a paper towel or dish towel, dry the surface of your butcher block thoroughly. Store your cutting boards on edge to dry both sides completely, and to save counter space.

Deodorizing – Keep your butcher block smelling fresh.

  • Neutralize odors before they arise.
  • Fill a spray bottle with white vinegar.
  • From time to time, after you prepare food on your butcher block, clean the butcher block then spray vinegar onto it.
  • Allow it to stand for a least 30 seconds before rinsing and drying.

 Disinfecting – Occasionally disinfect your butcher block, especially after prepping raw meat, fish or poultry.

  • Clean butcher block first following the steps above.
  • It’s necessary to kill germs, not just reduce their count. You’ll need a disinfecting solution that destroys ALL microbes in 10 minutes.
  • Use a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. You can blend your own solution using 35% food-grade hydrogen peroxide by mixing one part with 11 parts of water.
  • Pour the hydrogen peroxide onto the butcher block, spread it around using a clean sponge or cloth and let it stand for 10 minutes.
  • Rinse the solution off of the butcher block surface by wiping with a clean, wet cloth. Then dry the butcher block thoroughly with a paper towel or dish cloth.
  • Follow the steps below to moisturize your butcher block.

Moisturizing – Butcher Block with an oil finish needs to be re-oiled to keep it from drying and cracking.

  • At least once a month (more often if used heavily), oil your butcher block.
  • Use a food-grade mineral oil like John Boos Mystery Oil. Apply the oil with a plastic grocery bag, spreading the oil over all surfaces. Let the oil stand over night to penetrate the wood.
  • The next morning, wipe off any excess oil using a paper towel.
  • Whereas oil penetrates the surface of wood to moisturize it, a good board cream will leave a silky, wax barrier. Seal in the moisture with John Boos Board Cream. Apply the cream over the butcher block like you would apply a moisturizing lotion. Let it sit for a few hours or over night. Wipe off any excess with a paper towel.
  • Note – Butcher Block with a varnish surface does not need to be moisturized with oil or cream.

These helpful tips are applicable any time of year, not just springtime. So remember to clean butcher block to keep it healthy and to protect your investment. All it takes is a little tender loving butcher block care.  For more information, check out our Complete Butcher Block Care and Repair Guide.

Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

Tips for Cooking in Small Spaces

Cooking in small spaces doesn’t have to be scary if you’re equipped with the right information! Just about all of us have had at least one small apartment in our days, so the stress is likely familiar, but Sarah has some great tips to help keep you happy while you work. Let’s see if she can squeeze us in and give us a lesson?

Greetings, entertainers! I have designed the kitchen of my dreams multiple times, revising as my tastes change. It always has a dishwasher, lots of counter space, big, sunny windows, and a giant kitchen island. I have never had any of those things, but a girl can dream! Since I’m used to cooking in small spaces, I thought I’d share my tips today! It doesn’t take a gigantic, sunny kitchen to make food with big flavors.

Dedicate Space

When you’re short on counter space, the first thing to do is dedicate space for cooking and prep. I have a beautiful wooden cutting board that I try to keep clear, since that’s where I chop vegetables. This has necessitated me prioritizing my countertop space, and has led to me keeping small appliances tucked away unless I’m actively using them. My stand mixer goes in the pantry, my food processor goes in a drawer, and my coffee bean grinder is stowed away, too. I also make sure that my cutting board is clean, because that removes another barrier to me getting down to business.

One-Pot Wonders

My favorite recipes have fewer steps to prep, and with a small stove and sink, I have learned to love things I can make with one pan on the stove. These recipes usually involve browning meat, adding vegetables that cook quickly, and then adding liquids or tomato paste to make a sauce. After you’ve eaten and put leftovers away, you only have one pot to clean, so I’m done cleaning up before my hands get pruny. If you want more elements in your meal, roast vegetables in the oven while your main dish cooks on the stovetop. This gives you more flavors, and more crunch, without making a huge mess, or requiring super specific timing.

Clean Right Away

The least fun part of cooking a great meal is cleaning up (obviously the most fun part is eating it!). When cooking in small spaces, dishes pile up more easily in the sink and stove. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it feels like the kitchen is full of dirty dishes. Commit to cleaning measuring cups as you use them, and clean knives or any prep dishes as your meal cooks. Try to get your pans clean just after they’ve cooled, so any residual gunk doesn’t get crusty, which means more scrubbing.

Meal Prep

All hail the slow cooker! Planning meals ahead of time has been proven to lower your grocery bills and reduce stress throughout the week. This can be as easy as planning to cook two big meals on Sunday afternoons so you’ll have leftovers all week, or investing in a big slow cooker for roasts, soups, and more!

Slow cookers are a great solution for cooking in small spaces because you assemble and cook ingredients all in the same pot!

So if you have a busy social life after work during the week, or are just too tired to chop veggies and make sure the chicken is done, try a slow cooker meal to have something to look forward to when you get home.

Strategize

If you have an ambitious cooking adventure in mind, set yourself up for success by planning ahead. If you want to make macarons, plan where the cookies will cool while you mix up the filling. Christmas cookies? Maybe set up a small card table for a decorating station so you have enough room for multiple batches to go into the oven, cool, and be ready for frosting!

If you’re adjusting to a new small space, don’t feel discouraged or limited by having less counter space than the kitchen of your dreams. By making the most of the space you have, you’ll feel more organized and up for cooking in small spaces!

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Ever Wonder Why Basketball Is Played On Maple Hardwood?

Everyone Knows March Madness Is Played on Hardwood. Ever Wonder Which Hardwood?

In 1891 parents in Springfield, Massachusetts challenged Dr. James Naismith to invent an indoor game that would condition and tire out kids during the long, cold New England winters. Famously, he nailed two peach baskets to the railing of the balcony in the YMCA gymnasium and changed history. The gym’s wooden floor was made of hard maple (acer saccharum).

More than a century later, rock maple remains the hardwood used by local Ys, the NCAA and all but one NBA team.(1)

 

So Why Rock Maple?

Maple flooring gained popularity in late-nineteenth-century America. Among other things, it was relatively abundant and hence, affordable. Plus, maple was known to be strong, durable and stable. Less likely to expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity, maple is largely resistant to splintering. Measured on the Janka scale(2), rock maple is North America’s most resilient hardwood.

Moreover, maple’s exceptionally tight grain(3) prevents dirt and dust particles from seeping in between the wood’s fibers, making it an easy wood to clean and maintain. Finally, maple can be easily restored to look new again. These are all traits equally important for sports courts.

The ideal playing surface must be solid and consistent throughout to ensure that a basketball will bounce exactly the same (i.e., without recoil or dampening) when dribbled anywhere on the court, since even small differences can impact the game. But the ideal surface must also provide some degree of shock resistance or bounce-back, in order to minimize players’ fatigue and damage to their joints. Also, maple’s coloration is perfect for basketball, given the contrast between the game’s orange ball and the floor’s light to medium tans and browns. This helps make it easy for players to spot the ball on the court. The lightness of maple also aids in brightening arenas via the reflection of light off the floor.

 A Professional-Grade Basketball Court Will Set You Back $80 to $100k

The actual playing area of courts used by the NCAA and NBA measures 94 feet by 50 feet, but most incorporate a large perimeter, bringing overall floor dimensions to about 140 feet by 70 feet. The hard rock maple planks used are typically slightly thicker than ¾ of an inch, so it takes 80 to 100 trees to construct a single hardwood court. By the way, the NBA requires teams to replace their floor every 10 years.

The Big Dance Floor Will Be Offered to the Winner

Connor Sports (Elk Grove Village, IL) made the basketball courts used for 13 different NCAA conference championships. The modules that comprise these portable courts are shipped to regional tournament sites where they are assembled and eventually disassembled after play. Connor has also supplied the floors used in the Men’s and Women’s Final Four since 2005. These floors are also modular, but one-off custom designs that are offered for purchase to the winning schools who often display portions of the floor or cut the modules into smaller segments that can be sold to alumni or collectors via fundraisers.

The manufacturing process is remarkable; it even involves riding sander machines! Click the image below to watch this video on Youtube.

Here’s another time-lapse video showing workers installing the 2015 Final Four court – made of Northern rock maple harvested from Wisconsin – at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Smartest Bet This March Madness Is on the Floor, Not the Brackets

It’s estimated that $10.4 billion will be wagered on 70 million brackets this time around (only 3% of those bets will be legal). Be smart and bet safe: for certain, all games will be played on North American rock maple!

(1) The famed Boston Garden features red oak in a distinctive parquet design, instead of maple.

(2) The Janka Hardness Scale measures the amount of pressure required to mar a wood sample.

(3) “Grain” typically means the physical structure and appearance of a wood surface and traces to the orientation of the wood’s cellulose fibers – the remnants of once-living longitudinal cells.

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Food Processor Favorite – Olive Tapenade Recipe

Are you a food processor aficionado? You should be! This versatile kitchen gadget, while large, makes short work of many tasks and will earn its keep every time you entertain. Sarah is here to share some of her favorite ways to use the food processor, along with a simple and versatile recipe for Olive Tapenade that is sure to please your palate. Alright, Sarah, get us all mixed up in this food processor world!

Greetings, entertainers. Let’s talk tech! I love kitchen gadgets, and when I was thinking around my kitchen for a favorite, one immediately sprang to mind. Not only is this gadget versatile, but it is easy to use, pretty noisy, and for me has some stress-relieving benefits.

I am, of course, speaking of none other than the food processor!

Why is a food processor so great? First, I never had one growing up, Food Processor so it went in the class of kitchen gadgets I thought of in my head as “super crazy technical and awesome” (along with the mandoline). I only ever saw them being used on cooking shows, and seeing professional chefs use them for everything made me want one pretty badly.

Fast forward a few years to when I finally put one in my own kitchen, and I’m a pretty happy camper. Do you want fresh salsa? Toss in a mango, some chiles in adobo sauce, and some fresh tomatoes. Run out of hummus halfway through the party? Never again. This thing is the king of dips, and as an added bonus, puts you in the front row to watch things being pulverized.

One of my favorite things to make with a food processor is tapenade. I usually have all the necessary ingredients in my kitchen, which mostly speaks to my love of olives (and anything salty). So let’s get down to it—how do we make this treat for your guests?

Ingredients

  • Olives. I like to use a combination of olives from the olive bar at my grocery store, but if you have a favorite, that works, too. Kalamata olives make great tapenade that turns out a pretty purple color. The key here is no pits.
  • Olive oil. Seems unnecessary, right? Wrong. Just a drizzle is absolutely necessary to getting your tapenade a smoother consistency.
  • Capers. Just a few!
  • Lemon juice. Salt loves acid. Enough said.

Food Processor

Directions

Assemble your food processor. For me, this means choosing the correct-size bowl, and determining which blade to use. I chose a smallish 4-cup bowl to keep my ingredients close together, and the standard chop blade that came with my machine. Some food processors offer doodads that julienne and add all kinds of awesome knifework to your ingredients. Olives are so small that it’s not necessary here.

Add olives! I chose a mix of dried black olives, red pepper Spanish queens, and kalamata. I used enough to almost cover the bottom of my food processor, but for a party, you’ll want closer to 2 cups.

Now capers. I used a heavy hand because I know I like the pungency. I wouldn’t use more than a teaspoon-full for guests.

I squeezed half a lemon using another favorite gadget—a citrus juicer. Pro tip—put your citrus in flat side down so that the squeeze turns the lemon inside-out.

Turn your food processor on low to blend your ingredients. I let it go about twenty seconds, or until the food stops moving around the bowl.

Once your olives are all stuck to the sides of your bowl, turn the processor off, remove the lid, and scrape the sides. Now, the magic. Add a little bit of olive oil, and turn it back on low. I’d recommend about a tablespoon, or enough to keep the pulverized bits moving around the bowl as the machine goes.

Do the check, scrape, add olive oil thing until your tapenade is the consistency you like, and then serve with pita chips or pita bread (I’m a sucker for pita bread with tapenade!). If you want to make it extra fancy, toast your pita in a pan on the stove first with a little butter.

So what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Any that were a childhood dream realized as an adult (I know I’m a huge nerd)? Happy entertaining, hosts!

 

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut Butcher Block Tops

Walnut butcher block has become incredibly popular over the last few years, and we totally understand why: it is GORGEOUS! A while back we had a customer who needed to exchange his blended walnut butcher block countertop for a different finish. The top was 107″ long and absolutely beautiful, and it just so happened to be in Phoenix. A couple of us here at Butcher Block Co. decided we could find use for this beauty, so we each embarked on a DIY journey to create our own masterpieces.

We hope these two projects will help inspire you to bring walnut butcher block (or any butcher block) into your home!

Candice’s Island Top

About 10 years ago I inherited a kitchen island that was originally used as a store display, and I have wanted to refinish it ever since. I got as far as replacing the wooden knobs with cute ceramic ones, but the improvement wasn’t exactly notable. The biggest problem was the top. It was cheap and too soft to use as a butcher block, not to mention completely unappealing to my tastes. Thankfully the perfect solution presented itself in the walnut butcher block being exchanged by our customer. It was already the ideal depth at 30″, and I only needed 51″ in length to give my island a nice 2.5″ overhang on each end, expanding my work surface a bit more than the previous top.

After a couple hours of wrenching the original pine top off my island (seriously, there were something like 18 screws…a little overkill!), I was able to start sanding the base so it could be painted. Unfortunately I do not possess quite enough upper arm strength to power sand 25 years of buildup off a table base, so I enlisted some help at this point. I bought some spray paint in a nice almond shade, went out of town for a week, and came home to a fully transformed kitchen island (do I have the best dog-sitter/friend or what?!)!

The oil finish already on this block was the right option for me, as I am using this as a prep table to do all my chopping. My favorite part of every month is when it is time to oil my block – there is just nothing quite as beautiful as a freshly oiled walnut butcher block. My ugly old island has become one of my most prized possessions.

Walnut Butcher Block

Kathleen’s Kitchen Table

My son was moving into his new home and we gifted him the oak breakfast nook my husband designed 25 years ago. It was a perfect excuse for us to finally upgrade to the kitchen table of our dreams.  We have always wanted a bar height kitchen table to match our dark mahogany colored kitchen cabinets. And luck would have it, we were able to repurpose this blended walnut butcher block countertop that was returned to Butcher Block Co.  Using the “other half” of the top Candice used, we were able to make a kitchen table 59”L x 36”W.

We started with an oil finish blended walnut top, our “half” was 56”L x 30”W x 1.5”. We sanded it down to completely remove the oil finish that was applied at the factory.  This table was a little small for us, so we added a 3” mahogany rail on the sides and a 1.5” wide rail on the ends using a biscuit joiner.  We chose a 3” thick rail of mahogany so that the finished table appeared to be a chunky 3” thick, even though the butcher block was just 1.5” thick. Further sanding smoothed out the seams. We did not have any desire to cut upon this butcher block, so we decided to stain it to match our cabinets, using a Zar brand wood stain. And because we were looking for a low maintenance table top, we knew we wanted to go with a polyurethane finish, applying 4 coats to the top.

The base of our table consists of 2 bar height metal disc bases.  We hired a family friend to weld the custom foot rest that attaches to the metal base. Then we sent the bases and footrest to a local business to powder coat them to match the metal on our bar stools. Our finished table is gorgeous.  The walnut colored stain brought out the beautiful grain patterns in our blended walnut butcher block. And this top is so low maintenance that all I need to do is wipe it clean and use Pledge on the top to keep it looking new.

 

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

Homemade Soup – Slow Cooker Thai Chicken

A big bowl of homemade soup is just the ticket for these cold winter months, and with this Saturday being Homemade Soup Day, now is the perfect time to share a fantastic recipe that will warm you right up! It is also most definitely slow cooker season, so we’ve got Sarah here with a souper (sorry…) easy dish to come home to on a chilly night. Warm us up, Sarah!

In the dead of winter, I know I can always warm up from the inside out with a good bowl of homemade soup (and good bread!). I live in the snowbelt and experience a wonderful phenomenon known as the lake effect, which means I can expect a foot or more of snow overnight without Mother Nature blinking an eye. It’s great when you’re in school because there are snow days, but as an adult with a job, the traffic jam that doubles my commute home means that I am looking forward to dinner being ready when I get there.

Enter the slow cooker, one of my favorite kitchen appliances. You can throw raw ingredients together in the morning and come home to a fully-cooked meal.

My favorite homemade soup this winter has been a creamy coconut milk-based Thai chicken soup.

Adapted from this recipe, this soup is tangy and a little bit spicy. It gets better as you get deeper in your bowl.

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Soup

  • 1 ½ lb. chicken (3 frozen chicken breasts)
  • 1 bunch cilantro (or 1 squeeze from herbs in a tube)
  • 1 heaping tsp ginger
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bag frozen peas
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 TBS red curry paste
  • 5 TBS fish sauce
  • 1 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS peanut butter
  • 4 TBS brown sugar
  • 2 TBS soy sauce
  • 1 TBS sriracha

Instructions on this one are pretty simple: Load up your slow cooker, turn it on low, and go about your day. I turn it up to high for a bit when I get home from work. I doubt it does anything, but it FEELS hotter. When you are ready for dinner, remove the chicken breasts and cut them up (lazy girl shortcut). This is great served over rice, but I love a brothy soup (as evidenced by my midnight whiskey chicken soup obsession). The combination of peanut butter, red curry paste, and fish sauce will keep you dipping your spoon until you’ve eaten a bowl or more. So good it sneaks up on you.

Homemade Soup

My favorite serving suggestion with Thai chicken soup is thick, crusty bread spread thick with good butter. A diced red pepper wouldn’t go amiss in this concoction, and I wouldn’t turn my nose up at tossing in baby corn or plain frozen sweetcorn.

What are your favorite deep winter recipes? What is the best side to serve with homemade soup? Do you like your soup piping hot or more lukewarm? I am in camp “hot enough to burn my mouth,” just like my mother, and I will never learn.

A New Year Brings a New Pantone Color of the Year: Greenery

A New Year Brings a New Pantone Color of the Year: Greenery

A yellowish green, Pantone’s Greenery is reminiscent of nature and reminds us all to slow down a bit and smell the great outdoors. 

It’s critical that artists, designers, manufacturers and printers around the world “speak” a common “color language.” Toward that end, Pantone’s proprietary Color Matching System helps ensure standardized reproduction of colors across geographies, users and applications. Pantone’s system includes over 1000 unique colors, each of which can be simulated with a specific mix of 14 base pigments. Each color is assigned a distinct, numeric identifier.

Like other companies involved in the design industry, Pantone stays abreast of evolving trends and changes in consumer tastes. Each year the company selects a representative “Color of the Year” that it believes best captures the world’s collective mood. They think of it as a snapshot of worldwide cultural trends at a particular point in time.

For 2017, the company sees Greenery, Pantone 15-0343, as best fitting the bill. It’s a soft and warm shade of green that Pantone describes as “refreshing and revitalizing” and “symbolic of new beginnings.”

They believe Greenery connotes “flourishing foliage and the lushness of the great outdoors,” reminding people to “take a deep breath, oxygenate and reinvigorate.”

“Considering the harried pace of society today and the rapidity of technological change, Pantone’s message seems timely and spot-on,” suggests small-business owner Mark Shook. He and his sales team at Butcher Block Co., an online-only store specializing in kitchen furniture and equipment, much like the color trend-setters at Pantone, are in position to observe changing consumer tastes. “Homeowners and apartment dwellers view kitchens as their safe rooms – quiet and soothing places where they can get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. That’s why many are opting for naturally beautiful wood countertops and John Boos butcher block kitchen islands and tables with bases painted Basil Green or Clover Green,” Shook opines, in support of Pantone’s 2017 selection, Greenery.

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

Contact Info:
Name: Kathleen Grodsky
Organization: Butcher Block Co.
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Christmas Cookies – Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

Christmas Cookies – Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

Need some simple, yummy Christmas cookies to make for your holiday cookie exchange? Or just to have on hand because, well, Christmas cookies are delicious? Sarah has an easy, tasty recipe to share with us today that will surely please a crowd.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people who bake. People who love to bake, and people who wish it wasn’t quite so… involved. The holiday season brings with it the anticipated (or dreaded) holiday parties and cookie exchanges. I, for one love any chance to be a little extra festive and fancy (and enjoy a few cocktails, clearly), but I also want an “easy” button.

Today’s recipe—Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies—is a little less involved than other Christmas cookies I’ve made, and the end result tastes great!

This recipe was a challenge for me, because I love to tweak things I already know, and I knew this recipe was good using lemon juice and lemon zest. I also had a dark red cherry liqueur on-hand. And it’s the Christmas season… I really wanted these to be pink cookies with green lime zest on top, but we don’t always get everything we want from Santa, either. The cherry flavor from the cherry liqueur is much more subtle than you think it will be in the finished product, and the dough soaks it right up, so feel free to use a heavy hand.

Cherry Cordial Cream Cheese Cookies

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • Cherry liqueur (approximately 5/8 to 3/4 cup)
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

-Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar together. This will be a crumbly mixture with a clump of butter and cream cheese stuck to your mixer paddle. Don’t panic.

-Add the egg. Hooray for egg! This will give you something more akin to a standard cookie’s wet ingredient mixture.

-Add the cornstarch, baking soda, and salt.

-Add the flour and cherry liqueur alternately. Mix half a cup of flour into your wet mixture and turn your mixer on for a moment to combine. This will get crumbly. Stop your mixer and add 2 tablespoons of cherry liqueur, then turn your mixer back on to combine. Repeat until you’ve added 2 ½ cups of flour and then balanced it out with cherry liqueur.

-This is an opportunity to either chill your dough, or the start of the period of time where you need to work quickly. Use your hands to form balls of dough about ½ an inch to 1 inch in size (I am terrible at uniform cookie sizes), and space about an inch apart on a greased cookie sheet. I am a big fan of shortcuts in the kitchen, but my best tip today is to use the biggest baking sheet that will fit in your oven, so you’ll be making fewer batches of these bad boys.

-Bake 8-10 minutes at 350°.

These cookies beg for some sugar, and maybe some citrus, so you have two (easy!) options to finish them. The first is to top them with powdered sugar and lemon or lime zest. This takes seconds, looks nice, and adds a hit of sweetness. I used my zester to sift the powdered sugar, since I don’t own a sieve. Scoop a small spoonful onto the backside of your zester, holding it horizontally over your cookies. Tap the side of the zester lightly and voilà! Rinse your zester and grate some lemon (or lime—green for Christmas!) zest on top.

Your second option is to make a glaze. This is going to require some time to dry, and may make transporting the finished product more difficult. However, a glaze adds a massive hit of sugar, which is beneficial to a more muffin-y cookie. Mix half a tablespoon of milk with half a tablespoon of your flavoring of choice—lemon juice or cherry liqueur are good choices in this instance. Add confectioner’s sugar bit by bit until you have a dippable consistency (about ¾ of a cup). Dunk the tops of your (cooled!) cookies in the glaze and let dry on a rack or plate before storing (or snacking—or not, I can’t tell you how to live your best life!).

These Christmas cookies are not pink. They are not super sweet. They do not punch you in the face with bold cherry flavor. But they do have a very moist, dense consistency thanks to the cream cheese. And with a glaze or dusting of powdered sugar on top, they are a perfectly balanced bite that you and your cookie exchange participants will enjoy sharing while celebrating the holidays. Happy everything to you and yours!