Saturday, December 25, 2010

A White Christmas

This is a special Christmas. Snow is gracing our landscape, falling gently and steadily all day. What a beautiful sight. And it's perfect packing snow for a friendly snowball fight! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

A miniature snowman made by my husband.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Brunch

This year we are gathering with family for brunch. There will be egg and sausage casserole, potatoes, fruit salad, pumpkin bread, and Mimosas! I'll be bringing this cranberry upside-down coffee cake, a recipe from Cooking Light that I first tried three years ago. It was delicious. Here's the recipe. Enjoy!
Cranberry Upside-Down Coffee Cake
cooking spray
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted dates
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 cup butter, softened and divided
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. To prepare cake, coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray; dust with 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside. Combine cranberries, dates, walnuts and orange rind in a bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, 2 tablespoons orange juice and cinnamon. Cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour brown sugar mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle cranberry mixture evenly over brown sugar mixture.
3. Combine 1-1/2 cups flour with baking powder and salt in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Place granulated sugar and remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to granulated sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Spoon batter over cranberry mixture.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack; run a knife around outside edges. Invert cake onto a plate and let cool.
5. To prepare glaze, combine powdered sugar and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. Drizzle over cake. Cut cake into 12 squares.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gifts from the Kitchen

As holiday gifts, I like to make treats from the kitchen. A couple of my tried-and-true favorites are sweet and spicy almonds and chocolate-walnut rum balls. Past gifts have included fudge sauce, truffles and white-chocolate fruit-nut clusters. I enjoy the process of making and packaging these homemade yummies, and they're always well received, which makes it even better. Here's the recipe for chocolate-walnut rum balls. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Walnut Rum Balls
Makes about 45-50
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (about 6 oz)
1 cup sugar, divided
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
½ cup dark rum
2½ cups finely crushed vanilla wafer cookies, about 10 oz. (see note)
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Mix vanilla wafer crumbs and chopped walnuts in a medium bowl to blend; set aside. In top of a double boiler over simmering water, stir chocolate chips until melted and smooth. Remove from over water; whisk in 1/2 cup sugar and the corn syrup, then the rum. Add chocolate to vanilla wafer crumbs and stir well to combine. Place remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a shallow bowl. For each rum ball, roll 1 scant tablespoon chocolate mixture into a generous 1-inch ball. Roll balls in sugar to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 5 days.

Note: I use a food processor to make the vanilla wafer crumbs, and a knife to finely chop the walnuts

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Tis the Season

Here are a few of the ornaments on our tree. I hope you and your family are enjoying the spirit of the Christmas season.

The Christmas Carrot (we also have a Christmas Pickle)

A friendly little chipmunk

One of our "new" old ornaments.
Other vintage decorations are to the left, and Snoopy is in the background.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Vintage Holiday Postcards

I have a small collection of vintage postcards, most of them Christmas-themed. Cards like these can be readily found at antiques malls. They are usually quite inexpensive, but recently I saw some gorgeous ones that were as much as $25 each. They were in pristine condition, and they featured Santas in all shapes and sizes. They were quite lovely. The cards in my collection cost anywhere from 50 cents to about $4.00 apiece. They provide a nice, old-timey feel for very little money.

What appeals to me most are the illustration and old-fashioned typefaces. But I also like cards with good postmarks. As you see below, these are from the early 20th century: 1909 and 1911. Others are a bit later: 1917 and 1924, around the time our house was built. During the holidays I like to display these cards in a little green, mid-century planter. The one above is marked Cookson.

The messages are also fun to read. One card was sent to a Mr. Davis in Maine. It reads, "Hope your indigestion is better Ernest and that you will have a Merry Xmas and a happy New Year." I'm sure the sender never imagined her postcard would end up in a box at an antiques store!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Tree and Some Garland

Today we bought our Christmas tree. We've been going to the same tree lot for years because it's close to home, the sellers are very nice (and always drop the price for us), and most important, the trees are good quality. We put our tree up about two weeks before Christmas and take it down some time in January, usually after the 6th. Tonight we'll decorate it while listening to our favorite Christmas music, like "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

We also bought some garland to decorate with. Paul attached it to the porch railing and around the front door, then he added white lights to the railing. There was enough garland left over for the window sills and the mantle, below.  

I love the green tile on the fireplace. It was the first thing I saw when I first walked through the door and I thought it was so pretty. Notice the Craftsman design of the brackets below the mantle. The steeple clock is from the 1800's. When we bought it there was no face, but we like seeing the gears and inner workings. The sunset photos were taken by Paul and the antique green vase is a piece of Weller pottery. I love how its color goes with the tile. The fireplace was originally coal burning, so it's very small inside. Some day we want to convert it to a gas coal basket.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A French Breakfast

When my husband and I traveled to France two years ago, one of the things I quickly became accustomed to was the classic French breakfast (petit déjeuner), which consists of a crusty roll or flaky croissant with butter and jam, and coffee, or in my case, chocolat chaud  the most delicious hot chocolate I've ever had. Paul, who likes strong coffee, opted for the café noir. Because they don't give refills, he always ordered two.

So now, whenever I want to enjoy a French-style breakfast, I'll treat myself to a slice of crusty white bread, toasted, with butter and jam, with hot chocolate. My favorite jam is Bonne Maman cherry preserves. And if you've never tried Kerrygold Irish butter, you must. It's delicious.

Here's my recipe for hot chocolate mix, which I store in a big jar so it's ready when the mood strikes. Because it uses dry milk, you only have to add boiling water.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
4 cups instant, non-fat dry milk
1 cup unsweetened cocoa
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix ingredients together and store in a jar.
To make cocoa, use 1/4 cup dry mix to 1 cup boiling water.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Winter Decorations

Out with the fall decor in the dining room, in with the winter. This weekend we'll put up the Christmas tree! One challenge of small-house living is where to put things like a Christmas tree when you have very little extra space to work with.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Please Answer Promptly

Part of the fun of owning and decorating an old house is buying vintage and antique items. I like to mix old and new. My taste ranges from modern country to just plain modern. My husband and I enjoy the hunt for old things that work well in our eclectic home. 

Several years ago, we went to an antiques show where there was a dealer selling beautiful, refurbished antique telephones. We couldn't resist and bought two. This one, which requests that you "Please Answer Promptly," hangs in our kitchen. The ring volume is adjustable and has a lovely sound. Notice the Bakelite handle and brass accents!

The second phone is in our living room. It is very loud and startled me every time it rang, so we disconnected it. I love the way it looks on the end table, so now it's for decoration only. There are a few nicks in the enamel finish, which occurred during our use of the phone. I think the heavy Bakelite handle caused them. I'd like to have it repaired one day, but I wouldn't dare try to do it myself, or I might make it look worse.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Vintage Christmas Ornaments

A couple of weekends ago, I bought these vintage ornaments at an antiques mall. They are so delicate. It amazes me they have stood the test of time. The small gold one is 100 years old, according to the seller's tag. Searching for and bringing home these lovely, delicate ornaments really puts me in the holiday spirit.

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