A New Year

More posts coming soon, lots of projects in progress, check back often. You can follow me on Facebook. I will link up there with updates.

Please contact me with questions, comments or suggestions at

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Secrets for a Low-Stress Holiday

Pick one piece as the focal point, then decorate around it.

Choose one dish you do well.

Host one big open house instead of lots of smaller events.

Shop online, when it’s convenient for you.

Select seasonal items for can’t-miss gifts.


The fig is considered to be one of the most sensual of fruits with its tempting, luscious flesh that is at its best when it has been left to ripen in the sunshine. The ancient Greeks recognised the health benefits of figs and included them in the diet of the athletes for the first Olympic Games. Some prefer to peel the fig before eating but the whole fruit is edible and should be eaten at room temperature, as chilling suppresses the flavor.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eau de Vie

[oh duh VEE]French for "water of life." This term describes any colorless, potent Brandy or other spirit distilled from fermented fruit juice. Among the grape-based eaux de vie are: eau de vie de marc, eau de vie de lie, and eau de vie de vin (from wine). Probably the two most popular eaux de vie in the world are Kirsch (from cherries) and Framboise (from raspberries).


Parsnips are a much-loved root vegetable. They actually improve with a frost because the effect of freezing the living root converts some of the starch into sugar. Parsnips are very versatile and can be cooked in much the same way as potatoes. They are delicious parboiled then roasted until they caramelise golden-brown, mashed with cream, braised, steamed or deep-fried in thin slices to make parnsip crisps, a contemporary garnish or snack. They also make wonderful, creamy soups and partner well with apples, spices, ginger and cheese. They often have a tough core which many cooks prefer to discard. They should be scrubbed, not peeled, as most of the flavor lies directly below the skin.

Selecting Wine for Your Holiday Meal

Even avid wine lovers can be struck with a temporary case of oenophobia — fear of wine — this time of year. The prospect of choosing a bottle that will please all of your guests and complement all of your dishes can perplex the most confident holiday host.
Here are a few helpful ideas:
Begin with bubbles. Offering guests champagne flutes along with hors d'oeuvres helps get everyone in a festive spirit.

Pick fruity wines for the table. Fruit-forward reds — such as Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel and unoaked whites provide the most food-pairing flexibility. Among whites, look to Riesling. Serve a white and a red. Some guests invariably drink only one or the other.

Plan a happy ending. Pour a memorable dessert wine: Tawny Port would shine with a chocolate dessert, which has such a delightful, lingering finish that it just might accompany your guests all the way home.


WAHS-uhl, WAHS-ayl]Ves heill, Norse for "be in good health," is an old toast and the origin of this word. Wassail is a drink consisting of ale or wine sweetened with sugar and flavored with spices. This brew is traditionally served in a large "wassail bowl," garnished with small roasted apples and ladled into serving cups.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
8 cups larger-style beer
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons simple syrup (see note)
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
4 cups dark rum
Apple slices, for garnish
Lemon slices, for garnish

In a medium saucepan, combine beer, simple syrup, lemon juice, nutmeg and ginger. Heat over medium-high until hot, about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not let boil. Add rum and stir well. Place apple and lemon slices in a heat-proof punch bowl. Add punch and stir 3 times.

Note: To make simple syrup, bring 2 1/2 cups water and 3 cups granulated sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat slightly; let boil slowly for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely, then transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use. Yield: 4 1/2 cups.

How to Care for Your Fresh Christmas Tree

When a Christmas tree is cut, over half of its weight is water. With proper care, you can maintain the quality of your displayed trees. Below are a number of tips relating to the care of displayed trees:
Displaying trees in water in a traditional reservoir type stand is the most effective way of maintaining their freshness and minimizing needle loss problems.
Make a fresh cut to remove about a 1/2-inch thick disk of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. Make the cut perpendicular to the stem axis. Don't cut the trunk at an angle, or into a v-shape, which makes it far more difficult to hold the tree in the stand and also reduces the amount of water available to the tree.
Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible. Most species can go 6 to 8 hours after cutting the trunk and still take up water. Don't bruise the cut surface or get it dirty.
If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket that is kept full of water.
To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter. Devices are available that help maintain a constant water level in the stand.
Use a stand that fits your tree. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
Keep displayed trees away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight). Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.
The temperature of the water used to fill the stand is not important and does not affect water uptake.
Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged in water.
Drilling a hole in the base of the trunk does not improve water uptake.
Use of lights that produce low heat, such as miniature lights, will reduce drying of the tree.
Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set.
Do not overload electrical circuits.
Always turn off the tree lights when leaving the house or when going to bed.
Monitor the tree for freshness. After Christmas or if the tree is dry, remove it from the house.
Go to www.realchristmastrees.org and type in your ZIP code to find a recycling program near you.
Never burn any part of a Christmas tree in a wood stove or fireplace.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas Tree Characteristics

WHITE PINE: The largest pine in the U.S., the White Pine has soft, flexible needles and is bluish-green in color. Needles are 2 ½ - 5 in. long. White Pine’s have good needle retention, but have little aroma. They aren’t recommended for heavy ornaments.

WHITE SPRUCE: The White Spruce is excellent for ornaments; it’s short, stiff needles are ½ - 3/4 in. long and have a blunt tip. They are bluish-green - green in color, but have a bad aroma when needles are crushed. They have excellent foliage color and have a good, natural shape. The needle retention is better in a White Spruce than it is among other spruces.

FRASER FIR: The Fraser fir branches turn slightly upward. They have good form and needle-retention. They are dark blue-green in color. They have a pleasant scent, and excellent shipping characteristics as well.

COLORADO BLUE SPRUCE: Often used for stuffing pine-pillows, these sharp needles are 1 - 1 ½ in. in length. This species is bluish-gray in color and has a bad odor when needles are crushed. This Christmas Tree has good symmetrical form and has an attractive blue foliage. It also has good needle retention. CONCOLOR FIR: These small, narrow needles are around 1 - 1 ½ in. in length and occur in rows. They have good foliage color, good needle retention, and a pleasing shape and aroma.

DOUGLAS FIR: These soft needles are dark green - blue green in color and are approximately 1 - 1 ½ in. in length. The douglas fir needles radiate in all directions from the branch. When crushed, these needles have a sweet fragrance. They are one of the top major Christmas tree species in the U.S.
BALSAM FIR: These needles are 3/4 - 1 ½ in. in length and last a very long time. This tree has a dark-green appearance and retains its pleasing fragrance throughout the Christmas season.

SCOTCH PINE: Approximately 1 in. in length, these needles don’t even fall when they’re dry, providing excellent needle retention. The color is a bright green. The most common Christmas tree in the U.S., the scotch pine has an excellent survival rate, is easy to replant, has great keepability and will remain fresh throughout the holiday season.

NOBLE FIR: These needles turn upward, exposing the lower branches. Known for its beauty, the noble fir has a long keep ability, and its stiff branches make it a good tree for heavy ornaments, as well as providing excellent greenery for wreaths and garland.

Monday, November 26, 2007


The process of siphoning off the clear juice from the sediment that has fallen to the bottom of the container either naturally or with the help of fining agents. During the winemaking process, racking can occur three or four times before the wine is clear. After racking, some wines are also filtered prior to bottling to remove any remaining miniscule particles.

Selecting a Real Tree for Christmas

Be sure you know what size (height and width) you need before heading to the retail lot.

Go to a retail lot that is well-lit and stores trees in a shaded area.

Often, a tree obtained soon after its arrival on the retail lot will be very fresh because it was cut recently. Consumers should ask the retailer when they get the trees: are they delivered once at the beginning of the season, or do they obtain several shipments during the season.

Do a freshness test on the trees. Green needles on fresh trees break crisply when bent sharply with the fingers -- much like a fresh carrot.

Pines have different indicators because of the fibrous nature of their needles compared to firs. The needles on fresh pines do NOT break, unless they are very dry.

Look for other indicators of dryness or deterioration: excessive needle loss, discolored foliage, musty odor, needle pliability, and wrinkled bark. A good rule-of-thumb is, when in doubt about the freshness of a tree, select another one. If none of the trees on the lot look fresh, go to another lot.

Some species last longer and remain fresh longer than others in different climates. Ask your retailer which tree performs best in your climate.

Ask the retailer about recycling Christmas Trees in your community.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas Lights Safety Tips

Choose Christmas lights that have been tested and deemed safe by a reputable testing laboratory, the best are UL or ETL. Christmas lights listed as safe by these laboratories will note that on the packaging.

Try to use the cooler-burning "mini" Christmas lights as opposed to the traditional larger bulbs. The older style burns much hotter.

Only use Christmas lights that have fuses in the plugs.

Inspect each set of Christmas lights - old or new - for damage. Return or throw out any set with cracked or broken sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections.

Replace burned out bulbs promptly with bulbs of the same wattage.

Want Christmas lights outdoors? Use outdoor Christmas lights. The packaging will note whether the lights can be used indoors, outdoors, or both.

All outdoor electrical decorations should be plugged into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). You can buy portable units for outdoor use, or you can have them permanently installed by an electrician.

Use extension cords properly. Outdoor cords can be used inside or outside. Do not overload extension cords - they can get hot enough to burn.

Stay away from powerlines or feeder lines (these go from the pole to the house).

Secure outside Christmas lights with insulated holders (never use tacks or nails) or run strings of lights through hooks.

When you leave or go to bed at night, turn off your Christmas lights.

Never pull on a string of Christmas lights, it stresses the cords and can lead to fraying. Store Christmas lights loosely wrapped for the same reason.


Most people conjure up warm memories of roasting them on a cold winter's day. The smell is very enticing and the nut is deliciously moist and sweet. Chestnuts are also important as a baking ingredient because they can be dried and ground into flour for making cakes. Boiling or roasting makes their skins easier to remove and they are perfect served whole with Brussels sprouts. They can be chopped into stuffing for turkey and goose. When buying fresh chestnuts, choose nuts that are heavy and have shiny, smooth skins. They should be used quickly, before they start to dry out when their skins become tough and the nut loses its flavor.


[KEEN-tah]Portuguese for "farm," used to refer to a vineyard site or estate. Quintas, which are similar in connotation to the chateaus of Bordeaux, grow grapes for port, as well as for other wines. Many of the wines end up in house blends, but the concept of single-quinta wine, including single-quinta vintage port, is becoming more popular.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


[ga-MAY]The full name of this French red wine grape is Gamay Noir a'Jus Blanc. Gamay wines have gained prominence in France Beaujolais region where this grape, which represents 98 percent of all vines planted, reigns supreme. They're so associated with Beaujolais that winemakers outside of the region often try to imitate the style of immediately drinkable, light- to medium-weight wines with high acid and low tannins. These light purple, fruity wines suggest flavors of bananas, berries, and peaches.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Making of the Christmas Train Show

Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais nouveau is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is the most popular vin de primeur, fermented for just a few weeks then officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November. This "Beaujolais Day", or "Beaujolais Nouveau Day" sees heavy marketing from the producers, with races to get the first bottles of the vintage to different markets.


The cranberry was an important staple in North America, even before the Pilgrim Fathers arrived. To this day, New England, the West Coast and the Canadian borders are the biggest producers of this tart little fruit. Cranberries grow in wetlands and bogs and during harvest, in the autumn, growers use machines resembling large egg beaters to comb through the low vines shaking the fruit off. The bog is then flooded and the cranberries float to the surface, where they are easily collected. Cranberries are too tart to eat raw and are always processed, usually into drinking juice or into a sauce used as a filling for pies and tarts, as well as a relish for turkey. Dried cranberries can be used in baking cookies, muffins and cakes.

Happy Thanksgiving