Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today, December 6, is Saint Nicholas Day and is celebrated all over the world, but seems to have been overlooked by most of the U.S. However, if it wasn't for Saint Nicholas, there would be no St. Nick aka Santa Claus. 

But who is Saint Nicholas?   In short, he was a bishop who was orphaned at a young age and inherited the family fortune. He shared his money with the needy, particularly children.  Among the many legends of Saint Nicholas, he is said to have brought three children back to life, calmed the seas for sailors and rescued a kidnapped child from Pirates. It is said that he heard of a poor man who was very sad he could not provide for his three daughters. In the dark of night, St. Nicholas tossed three bags of gold down his chimney. The stories of this charitable man spread throughout the world.  After his death on December 6, AD 343, a liquid appeared on his grave that was said to heal; manna.  The anniversary of his death became a celebrated holiday called Saint Nicholas Day. He is regarded as the Patron Saint of Children, Seaman, Brides, Hungry, Scholars, and more.
Over hundreds of years, what was a red robe and bishops hat has evolved into the round red Santa suit and hat that we know today.

Like the American children who hang stockings on the mantle on December 24, European children leave shoes out on December 5 for the arrival of St Nicholas. St. Nicholas travels on donkeys, horses and sleighs, by himself and with associates, depending on where you are in the world, but he always brings treats like candy and toys to the good boys and girls and twigs, sticks and hay for the naughty. He keeps careful records in his book on attendance and behavior at church, school and at home.

As St Nicholas Day is celebrated as a children's holiday, Christmas is kept religious and a celebration of Jesus Birthday.

The Eve of Saint Nicholas and The Feast of Saint Nicholas is filled with delicious foods and drinks that you can include in your December celebrations.

Smoking Bishop (Mulled Red Wine with Port) Recipe
On the eve of the St. Nicholas party the treats served are the exchange of gifts, genuine Dutch cookies and Bishopwyn (bishop's wine). For children the wine is grape juice. But the grownups welcome the mulled Bishopwyn. With the people of the Netherlands, let us toast his memory with Bishopwyn and tell the beautiful legends of the charity of St. Nicholas. To give gifts in secret so that people would render him no thanks was surely a saintly act.

  • 5 medium oranges
  • 1 medium grapefruit
  • 36 whole cloves
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle medium-bodied red wine, such as Pinot Noir
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle ruby port

  1. Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Place the oranges and grapefruit in a baking dish and bake until the bottom of the fruit is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Using tongs, flip the fruit over and continue baking until the second side is lightly browned, about 20 to 35 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly in the dish. When cool enough to handle, remove the fruit from the dish and stud each piece with 6 cloves; set aside.
  2. Place the red wine, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and star anise in a large saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the clove-studded fruit, submerging it in the wine mixture as much as possible (not all the fruit will be covered). Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight.
  3. The next day, remove the fruit from the saucepan. Slice each piece in half and juice the halves into a strainer set over a medium bowl. Discard the seeds, cloves, and any large pieces of pulp in the strainer. Add the juice and port to the wine mixture and stir to combine. Place over low heat until the mixture is hot, being careful not to let it boil. If desired, remove the star anise and cinnamon sticks. Serve hot.

Stuffed Pork Shoulder Roast
The fruit stuffing in the roast symbolizes the good works of St. Nicholas--some done in secret, hidden from others' eyes, and some done openly.


  • 4–6 lb. pork shoulder roast Stuff with:
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh cranberries
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 2/3 cup prunes cut into bits
  • 1/2–2/3 cup raisins
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup apple juice

  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large baking pan with heavy duty foil or have a large, heavy Dutch oven with a lid ready to go.

    Place the deboned pork shoulder roast fat-side up on a cutting board. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Turn roast over and again sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. You may need to add a few cuts so that it lies open and flat.

    Poke holes in the meat with a sharp knife and insert garlic slivers into the pork.

    Pack mixed berries/fruits on top of the open pork roast. Roll one side to the other, lengthwise, to enclose the stuffing and secure with kitchen twine. Place roast seam-side down in baking pan or Dutch oven. Pour chicken broth and apple juice around the bottom. Cover with a layer of heavy-duty foil and seal edges to the rim of the pan or cover with a tight-fitting lid.

    Bake about 2 hours. Remove foil and bake an additional 30 minutes until skin is browned. Center should read at least 170 with a meat thermometer. Let rest 15 minutes before slicing to serve.

    Note: Some butchers will debone the pork shoulder roast at no extra cost, while others will charge a higher price. It's easy to debone the roast yourself in about 15 minutes. (See step-by-step instructions with photos.)

    Yield: 8 to 10 servings

    Black Forest 'Good Works' Cake
    This can be bought or easily made. The cherry filling symbolize the good works of St. Nicholas, many of them hidden from public eyes, but some were openly done. The cake reminds us to live our own lives in the same way.


    • 1 dark chocolate cake mix (or your own from scratch)
    • 1/4 c. kirsch (cherry brandy)
    • 1 can cherry pie filling
    • 16 oz. heavy whipping cream
    • 1/2 c. confectioners' sugar
    • Maraschino cherries, drained, optional, for garnish
    • milk chocolate curls or shavings, for garnish


    Drain cherry pie filling in a colander to remove most of the thickened juices.Make cake, following package directions. Bake cake, as directed, in two 9-inch layer cake pans. When cool, sprinkle kirsch over both cake layers. Chill electric beaters and large mixing bowl; beat cream until it thickens slightly, gradually add confectioners' sugar and beat until thick enough to hold its shape. Using a vegetable peeler, shave chocolate; refrigerate until ready to serve. Assemble cake; place one layer on serving plate and spread its top with 1/2-inch thick layer of whipped cream and strew the cherries over the cream leaving about 1/2 inch margin around border of cake with no cherries. Set other layer on top of cherries and spread top and sides of cake with remaining cream, shape whipped cream into decorative swirls on top. With fingers, gently press chocolate curls into cream on sides of cake. Garnish top with drained maraschino cherries, if desired, or with a few remaining chocolate curls

    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Belgian Christmas Traditions & Recipes

    In Belgium, the children that speak Waloon are visited by St. Nicholas, the Flemish children are visited by Sint Niklaas and the children that speak French are visited by Pere Noel along with his friend, Pere Fouettard.

    On December 4, St Nicholas and Sint Niklaas secretly visit the Waloon and Flemish children's homes, schools, churches and clubs to figure out who has been naughty or nice. They keep records in their books and then return on December 6, the birthday of St. Nicholas, marked as the Feast of St Nicholas, to give the good little boys and girls candies and toys and leave sticks and twigs for the naughty. These are left in either shoes or baskets that are left inside the doorway.

    Pere Noel and Pere Fouettard also visit on December 6 to celebrate the feast of St Nicholas. The French children who are good receive chocolates and candy while the naughty children receive a handful of sticks.

    Like American Children who leave cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for his reindeer, the Belgian children leave hay for the Saints' horses and donkeys and wine for the Saints. 

    Families gather at church to celebrate this religious holiday and later, together for special holiday foods that include Beligian cookies called Speculoos. Usually there made with a wooden mold and resemble animal cookies, but they can be made using cookie cutters as well and taste like a gingerbread or spice cookie.

    Speculoos Recipe

  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/3 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1. Preheat oven to 350°F
    2. Sift together flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
    3. In the work bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla
    4. Add dry ingredients to mixer, a few spoonfuls at a time, mixing on low speed until combined
    5. Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 60 minutes.
    6. Place dough on Silpat or parchment. Roll dough out to about 1/4" thickness .Use bench flour as necessary to prevent sticking.
    7. 2 Great tips- 1)Place the dough between two pieces of parchment paper and roll so that the      
                           dough does not stick to your rolling pin.
                           2) After rolled to preferable thickness, take top parchment off, pick up the dough
                           with bottom parchment and lay it dough side down on cookie sheet, peel off the
                            parchment and Cut out the shapes and remove the excess from the pan.7
         7. Cut the dough into shapes.
         8. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
    After they are cooled, you can brush each cookie with melted white or dark chocolate and sprinkle with colored sugar.
      On December 24 & 25, they celebrate the birth of Jesus while attending midnight mass, gathering around the Christmas tree where family and friends will give each other gifts in honor of Christmas.  Their holiday meal is served buffet style which includes apertif(drinks) and snacks and then followed by seafood and later a stuffed turkey, cakes and Cougnou, a sweet bread representing Jesus.

      Belgian Brownie Cocktail Recipe (Apertif)
      Ingredients(Serves 6)
    6 ounces gin
    3 ounces cognac or 3 ounces brandy
    6 ounces chocolate liqueur
    6 to taste fill with heavy cream
                                                                    6 to taste ice cube
    1. Pour the gin, cognac and chocolate liqueur over the ice cubes.
    2. Fill with heavy cream.
    3. Stir gently.


      Cougnou(Bread of Jesus) Recipe

      8 cups all-purpose flour + flour for kneading
      5 teaspoons active dry yeast
      8 ounces (2 sticks) softened butter
      1-1/4 cups warm milk
      2 teaspoons salt
      6 large eggs, room temperature
      1/2 cup granulated sugar
      1 teaspoon cinnamon
      3/4 cup raisins
      1 cup + 2 tablespoons coarse sugar crystals (the original recipe called for 2 cups)
      3 egg yolks
      3 teaspoons milk
      1) Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in flour. Pour warm milk into well. Add yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes. Mix. Add eggs, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Beat the mixture with a spoon (you can use your electric mixer if you wish). Gradually add butter. Turn dough onto a floured board and knead until dough no longer sticks to work surface. Place in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Allow to rise 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Turn onto work surface. Knead in raisins and 1 cup coarse sugar crystals. Divide dough into six balls. Lightly grease or spray 2 cookie sheets. Connect three balls, representing head, body and legs, on each sheet. Allow to rise until doubled in size.
      2) Preheat oven to 430 degrees F. Combine egg yolks with 3 teaspoons milk. Brush loaves with mixture. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons sugar crystals. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a deep golden brown. Yield: 2 loaves.

      Cook's Note: If you are unable to find sugar crystals, coarsely chop sugar cubes to desired size

            Monday, November 26, 2012

            5 Traditions that will Bring the Family Together and Make a Lasting Memory

            With the Holiday season upon us, it's a great time to begin new traditions that will make a lasting impression and create quality family moments to be shared for years to come.

            Here are 5 of my favorite traditions that I love to do or will be beginning with my family this year.

            1)Get a Little Crafty- Make homemade ornaments with your family and then pick a day to go to a nursing home or hospital to hand them out to the residents or patients to spread some holiday cheer and teach your children about compassion.
            Make sure to call ahead to let them know you are coming and your intentions so that they are ready for you and can lead you in the right direction when you arrive.
            Over the years, we have never come across a facility that wasn't happy to have us, but you want to make sure that it is within their policy to ensure a great experience for all.

            Here are some great easy ornaments everyone can make:
            Recycled Card Ornaments:


            Salt Dough Ornaments:
            2)Vacation Memories- This is a tradition that you can start all year round and remember at Christmas. When you go on family trips or special outings, buy a Christmas ornament that represents that trip. For example, the ornament from our Maine trip a few years back, is a man looking at a globe because grandpa kept getting us lost.Every year when we unpack it, it brings up great memories that we all reminisce about and laugh.  Make sure you write with a marker on the bottom or back, the place and date, so that you can always remember which trip it is from. This is a great way to remind eachother of the fun times you've had together and start up conversations even in those teen years.
            3) Raise Your Voices- What better way to enjoy the season than to gather with a bunch of your friends and their children and practice a tradition from years gone by. Go online and print some lyric sheets, if needed, of traditional Christmas songs, bundle up and go caroling in your neighborhood. You don't have to be wonderful singers for your neighbors to enjoy it and to make memories your children will remember. Make sure to end the evening by warming up with a mug of hot cocoa!
            4)Lovin' From the Oven- As cliche as it sounds, nothing can bring on more holiday cheer and make lasting memories for a child then baking and decorating Christmas Cookies.  Even the biggest Scrooge in the family will enjoy putting eyes and buttons on a gingerbread man. When the cookies are all baked, package them up and go together to deliver them to family and friends that may not have time to bake cookies for themselves this year.
            For a creative way to package the cookies or other gifts, grab a coffee can, oatmeal container or even a shoebox, cover them with paper, pom poms and other holiday trimmings!
            5)Celebrate While Learning- There are many traditions which we do today that started in countries of our ancestors or from ideas that other nationalities began and still some that we have yet to learn. Spend a few days this holiday tasting traditional Christmas recipes, singing songs, learning cultures and creating ornaments and decorations of other countries. There are a lot of sites online where you can find information. My favorite is  or you can follow this blog as I will be writing about different Holiday traditions throughout December!
            Family Memories are easy to make in the wintry holiday season, these are just a few that I gladly share. Make sure with all the hustle and bustle that you take a little time to enjoy the little things that make living all worth while. Happy Holidays!

            Sunday, November 25, 2012

            J's Famous Peanut Butter Pie

            Before I sold the bakery and parlor, one of my top sellers was my peanut butter pie. It is a basic recipe which I changed a little, as I do with every recipe I make, to make it my own. I've been asked numerous times for the recipe as it is one that is missed, so I thought I'd share it with the online world.
            It is a great dessert to bring to your holiday parties and is so rich, a little slice goes a long way! It will surely be a favorite that you will be become famous for!


            Chocolate Crust:

            2 1/4 cups chocolate wafer crumbs or Oreo Cookie crumbs (boxes of pieces/crumbs are available at your local Restaurant Supply Store- I use

            2 tablespoons granulated white sugar

            1 stick salted butter, melted

            Peanut Butter Filling:

            8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

            1 cup creamy peanut butter

            1 cup confectioners sugar (powdered or icing)

            2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

            1 cup heavy whipping cream


            1 cup semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

            1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

            2 tablespoon salted butter, cut in small pieces


            Chocolate Crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use a 9-12 inch pie pan, I use a spring form pan.

            In a large bowl, mix together the chocolate crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press onto the bottom and up the sides of the pie pan. (If using a spring form pan, press the crumb mixture onto the bottom and about one inch up the sides of the pan. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 8 - 10 minutes or until firm. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

            Peanut Butter Filling: In the bowl of your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk on high speed, the cream cheese, peanut butter, vanilla, sugar and heavy cream and whip until a mousse like consistency.
            Pour the filling over the cooled chocolate crust and smooth the top. Cover loosely and place in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or until firm.

            Ganache: Melt the chocolate, cream, and butter in a microwave safe bowl, making sure to stir every 15-30 seconds and not to overheat or the chocolate will sieze. when completely melted, spread the ganache over the peanut butter. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight..

            If using a spring form pan, after set, slide a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to separate the ganache from edges and the slowly open the springform. Slice and top with fresh whipped topping! Voila! A Delicious Dessert that will have your guests begging you to make it for every gathering!

            (Stock image)

            Thursday, November 22, 2012

            Thanksgiving Leftovers?

            We all know what we can do with leftover turkey; sandwiches, casseroles, biscuits and gravy. Just google 'turkey leftovers' and you will see lists and lists of recipes, but did you know you can also use the carcass? That's right! You can make your own turkey stock!

            Just put all the bones, drippings, skin, left over meat, carrots, onions or other vegetables in a large pot. You can also throw in onion peels, celery leaves, carrot peelings, really any vegetable cut aways you have left over. Add salt and pepper and your favorite herbs or seasonings and cover with water. Bring the pot to boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 4-6 hours. Keep adding water to cover the contents.

            After boiling you will want to drain the liquid through a sieve and/or cheesecloth. At this point, you can either pour liquid into freezer containers or bags, can it, or refrigerate to use soon or you can add liquid back to the pot and boil a little more to make it more concentrate and then use whatever storing method you prefer.

            Not only is it a great way to squeeze every penny out of your turkey and veggies, and reduce waste, but you can fill your pantry and it also tastes wonderful in any of your dishes or soups!

            Tuesday, November 20, 2012

            Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

            While shopping for our annual Turkey Feast-second annual for my family, (no, we did not just arrive in this country and no, we were not boycotting the holiday because of political beliefs, but because we had been vegetarian for 16 ½ years- that’s a long story for another day)   I overheard a woman telling someone she was just getting cabbage to make coleslaw because her church was making a traditional Thanksgiving meal and I thought….hmmmm…coleslaw?  I would put that in a traditional EASTER meal, but have never had it for Thanksgiving, which led me to think about what everyone considered a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  

            Growing up my mother always made the standard turkey,regular Stove Top and oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, sweet potatoes or yams, carrots and other assorted vegetables, biscuits, cranberry sauce (the jellied can shaped kind, of course) and mmmm…pumpkin pie.   And that pretty much stayed the same for me as an adult except we used either  Quorn chik’n cutlets or a Tofurkey, both of which are quite delicious and even meat eaters should try them, and our stuffing was homemade vegetarian stuffing. To me these are the foods to eat on the fourth Thursday of November, but are they traditional?

            If you know anything about me by now, you would know that I can not just leave it at that, I had to research the answer. It appears that for the past 200 years, Americans have generally stuck to Turkey, potatoes; mashed and sweet, stuffing, gravy, biscuits, carrots and other root vegetables,corn, cranberry sauce and pie, but that is NOT what the pilgrims and the Wampanoags had on their three day harvest festival.


            Turkey was likely there, as Governor Bradford had written about their first autumn in the new world,  “there was a great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc.”  Edward Winslow wrote that four men went hunting and brought back large amounts of fowl. These very likely included ducks, swans, geese, passenger pigeons, turkeys and even eagles.   It is also in the first hand accounts that the Wampanoags brought five deer to the occasion.


            Potatoes, however, a staple in many American Thanksgivings,as well as a lot of everyday meals, was not a native crop and had not been brought to America at this time, so mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes would not have been at this first harvest meal.


            The pilgrims did not have ovens at their first Thanksgiving,so bread was not available to make stuffing, but they did stuff their birds,even the small ones. They used onions and herbs which flavored the birds wonderfully.


            The pilgrims and Wampanoags did have corn, but not as we know it.  The corn that they had was course and multicolored, the corn we use as decoration today, Indian Corn or FlintCorn. This corn was crushed and made into meal and then turned into a porridge,pancakes and or corn bread type food, very different from what we know as cornbread today and since their was no dairy there at this time, it did not come with butter on the side.


            Dried and fresh vegetables would have been available for this three day feast.  The pilgrimscalled these herbs and included carrots, turnips, spinach, cabbages, onions, parsley,sage, thyme, (just missing rosemary- sorry I cant type those words without singing Scarborough Fair) and marjoram.

            They also very likely had dried beans of different varieties,dried berries like blueberries, gooseberrys, cranberries, and  strawberries, plums  and grapes and various nuts that were available in America such as chestnuts, beechnuts and walnuts.

            CRANBERRY SAUCE?

            As we do know cranberries were available and if they were served,it was probably in the Wampanoags dishes and were most likely tart, not sweet.  As cooking cranberries with sugar was a known recipe at this time in England, with the cost of sugar and the availability to the pilgrims, it is highly unlikely they were able to make this sauce.

            PUMPKIN PIE?

            Unfortunately, the party-goers at this first celebration did not have pumpkin pie. Pumpkins, yes, pie, no. They had no butter or flour for a crust. In fact, the recipe for pumpkin pie was not even created until decades later and was not the pie we know today but rather more like an apple pie with sliced pieces of pumpkin, fried and then placed in the crust. Speaking of apples….there were none of those either. They, neither, are native to American soil.


            That’s right! And it makes sense, too.  The first Thanksgiving meal most likely included eels, mussels, bass, lobster, cod, salmon and oyster which Massasoit and the Wampanoags would bring to the new settlers.

            I realize Thanksgiving is only 2 days away, but maybe next year, if you want a REAL traditional Thanksgiving, you can celebrate with three days of Thanksgiving with the foods that they ate at the very first American Thanksgiving!

            Try this updated, more palatable version of Indian CornPudding:
            Indian Pudding - A Sweet Ending

            A Sweet Corn Bread Pudding

            The Pilgrims did not serve dessert separately. They put the dessert type dishes out with the rest of the food. Today, Indian Pudding is frequently served with ice cream on the side. My recipe here is a twist, I've added pumpkin to the recipe.

            Pumpkin Indian Pudding


            1 quart plus 1 cup milk
            1/2 cup Indian meal (aka cornmeal)
            1/2 cup molasses
            1/2 cup canned pumpkin
            1 cup sugar
            2 eggs, beaten
            1 teaspoon salt
            1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
            1 tablespoon butter
            *Ice cream


            Combine the cornmeal with 1/2 cup cold milk and add this to the hot milk stirring very well! In a baking dish blend together molasses, pumpkin, sugar, eggs, salt, spices, butter and remaining 1/2 cup of milk. Bring a quart of milk to its boiling point but do not go into rapid boil. Add the cornmeal mixture to the baking dish spreading out evenly. Bake for 3 hours at 300 degrees F. Serve while hot and with ice cream on the side.

            Saturday, November 17, 2012

            Project Self-Esteem

            After just walking into a war of insults my three pre-teen sons were slinging at each other during a game of Lego Rock Band and sending the older two to their room after the youngest boy ran away in tears, I have come up with Project Self-Esteem. It seems we all could do with a little boosting in this house, not only myself.

            I could sit here and analyze why my second child whom is a bright, witty, encyclopedia of knowledge feels inadequate next to his older, just as bright, "cool", outgoing brother. Or why that oldest brother feels the need to bully his siblings in jest, which he thinks everyone including the one being bullied should see as equally as funny as he does. Or why my youngest boy, the life of the party, the kid that every other kid his age runs to in stores even in neighboring towns yelling his name as if he's their long lost best friend, should feel he isn't capable of being as smart or as talented as his older brothers. But I won't, even though I'm famous for over analyzing and diagnosing everything. I just know I need to fix it.

            This is where Project Self-Esteem comes in.

            This week, being Thanksgiving week, a week we should be grateful and thankful and a week where my children will be together every minute of every day, they will have plenty of time to help build each other up instead of tearing each other down. Beginning at waking hour and each hour after until bedtime, everyday this week, we will all give each other a compliment. Not just, "I like your hair", or something mundane, but something about them as people. I know that they will find this silly and make fun of it as they are doing it, but I also know that what is being told to them about themselves may hit a chord and plant a seed of confidence that may have not been there before and will also, hopefully, show them the importance of treating each other nicely and with the respect and admiration that they themselves want to be treated.

            I will update you all on how the project is going and has gone this week. Wish us luck! :)

            Tuesday, November 13, 2012

            Tea Party Tuesdays

            As a newly, once-again, "stay at home mom", I am enjoying every moment I can with my almost 4 year old daughter. The last few years have been so busy for me that I didn't have much time to do the the girly things that I looked forward to when I found out my fourth child would be a girl, so I am making up for lost time.

            One of the activities we have started and I hope to continue is our Tea Party Tuesdays. Sometimes this consists of dessert plates with cookies or fruit and other times the plates hold little sandwiches and fresh veggies as our lunch, but it always consists of one-on-one time with my daughter whom will be older and onto greater things before I know it.

            In order to make it special, I move her little table and chairs into "mom's living room", the one with my breakables and no tv. I cover it with a white linen tablecloth covered in lace and fancy linen napkins. I even put out part of one of my china settings. We get dressed up, on most days, and always put on lots of jewelry. Sometimes even her stuffed animals join us in the gathering.

            After the first tea party, I realized even the fruitiest or weakest of teas was not going to satisfy my little one, so our teapot is usually filled with hot cocoa.

            I enjoy watching her eyes sparkle while telling me about something her brothers did or how silly daddy is and look forward to the day when she and I will discuss the happenings in her pre- teen, teenage and young adult life. My plan is to continue our once a week dates and keep our one-on-one communication flowing. What better way to begin this than with our Tea Party Tuesdays.

            Sunday, November 4, 2012

            Rustic Fireplace Cooking- string roasted chicken

            One of my obsessions, er, I mean, hobbies is history and the idea of being able to be self sufficient or live like those before electricity and indoor plumbing did intrigues me. As my family, myself including, have grown accustomed to the modern world, other than camping, gardening or dabbling with chickens, we've done very little to be self sufficient or living rustically. Although the idea never leaves the hidden corners or my mind. ;)
            During the preparations for Hurricane Sandy, I was researching cooking in the fireplace incase of loss of electricity and I found several sites, including videos, explaining how to cook a chicken in front of a fireplace. Well, once the seed is planted, until I see it through, it begs to be watered.
            Last night, I just couldn't ignore it any longer. I stopped by the store and picked up all the necessary tools; whole chicken-check, meat thermometer- check, trussing needle- didn't have one, so I picked up a set of nut cracking tools which had a long scraping thing to get the excess nuts from their shells hoping it would work, and butchers string- again, the store didn't have it, but I went to the meat department, asked the guy if he knew where I could get it and he gave me a bunch from the store for FREE. Gotta love that!
            On arrival from home, I put the video on youtube on while I used the spices and seasonings I had available in my pantry to season the chicken. First, I rubbed in salt and pepper, then ground ginger, then rubbed olive oil, red wine vinegar and a little soy sauce on top. Then I decided garlic cloves may be delicious, so I rubbed those on too and then shoved those under the skin in multiple places. I covered with plastic and let it sit about a 1/2 hour.
            Next came the tricky part, trussing the bird. Let me inform you that I was vegetarian for 16.5 years and my children, except for my 3 yr old were vegetarian as well. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I started craving meat and at the same time my preteen boys wanted to try meat and well, we've slowly become meat eaters ever since, with exception of my 8 year old. So as you see, cooking meat is relatively new for me as is shoving a needle like object into something that looks rather like a baby, but I try to make it less gross or intimidating and held the chicken up like a puppet to lighten the mood. Seeing as though the nut scraping tool does not have a place to thread the string, I tied a knot, which after many different trials, I placed the tip into and then wrapped the string around the tool and began to truss the bird as best as I could ensuring no hanging body parts and making the bird secured to the string to be hung.
            Next, I made sure a nail was placed in the center of my mantel so I could tie the string and that it could hold a heavy bird. I tied the string around the nail so that the chicken was about 6 inches from the hearth and placed a pan to catch drippings underneath.

            This is where I believe I went wrong. Even though my fire had been going for hours, we had let it cool down and I should have heated it up so that there were very hot coals, but I tied the bird up thinking that it would take at the most, an hour and a half. I made sure I basted the chicken with the oil, vinegar, soy sauce and salt and pepper anytime it looked dry and I kept the string wet with water so it would not catch fire. Also the bird spins due to the heat but sometimes it needs a little turn to keep it going.
            The directions said to check the temp at an hour. It wasn't even near warm. So we waited some more. Two hours in. Nope. My husband decided the chicken wasn't close enough so he hooked a wire to the fireplace to loop around the string to bring it closer and it helped. The chicken began to roast beautifully.
            Tons of firewood and FIVE hours later and the chicken finally reached the correct temp so I cut the chicken down, covered and let it rest for 15 minutes. Even though it was now 12:30 am, I had to try it. Honestly, it was the best chicken I have ever tasted! Not sure if it was worth the long wait or the amount of firewood we went through and it has me second guessing my original plan of cooking the turkey and pie in the fireplace for Thanksgiving, but I can add it to the list of things I've done that are out of the norm and a little glimpse of what it might be like to be homesteading. I definitely recommend trying it if you ever have the time!