Savoring the Christmas Season (With Rum Balls)

The Rum Ball 2013

This is the last rum ball. The last sugary bite of Christmas 2013.

We got a heavy little box of these for Christmas last year from T’s parents, who make them together as part of their Christmas tradition (you can read all about it here). We are some of the lucky people that reap the rewards of the tradition.

When the box arrived in the mail, I asked T if he got a brick of gold for Christmas. He might as well have based on the blissful smile on his face when he opened the lid to reveal perfectly packed, row upon row of rum balls. The whoosh of that sweet, cocoa-y smell filled our kitchen that day and again for months each time we dipped into the stash for dessert or late night snack. They often made us reminisce and tell stories and make plans for Christmas, even in the middle of summer.

Now here we are. Talk about taking time to savor the season. We made these precious treats last almost all year long.  Now we get to anxiously wait for the next batch to arrive.

Happy beginning of the season of expectancy, of waiting, and of warm, festive Christmas time.

Now, get to the kitchen and make some of  those famous christmas memory evoking rum balls. Thanks T-ma for sharing your recipe!

Magic Christmas Rum Balls

Dry Ingredients:

  • 1  Cup vanilla wafers crushed fine
  • 1  Cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1  Cup powdered sugar
  • 2  Tablespoons Cocoa

Wet Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons of light corn syrup
  • 1/4 Cup Rum
Instructions:
  1. In large  bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients together.
  2. Then add all of the wet ingredients
  3. Stir to combine.
  4. Refrigerate 20 to 30 min., until able to roll dough into balls in your palms.
  5. Roll each ball in sugar
  6. Pack up and mail to the people you love (after stashing a whole bunch in your own freezer).
Expert note: Sometimes we added more syrup and rum according to consistency.  A very little at a time while stirring.  Stir well.

 

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Hello Falling Leaves and Cozy Nights: Putting Summer Away

Hello Falling Leaves and Cozy Nights: Putting Summer Away

Maple Leaf

 We spent Sunday putting summer away. This wasn’t the plan, it just sort of happened. I headed out to the front of the house to trim the bushes so the trick-or-treaters had a nice clean path. T came out and helped me clean up the branches and sweep the sidewalk. We weeded and sadly pulled up flowers that weren’t going to make it through the impending frost. When we were done there we moved to the back. This is part of preparing for an Unhurried Christmas.

The back of the house is another story altogether. Our house backs onto a narrow swath of forest with a little stream. Idyllic, huh? It is, until fall rolls around and we are under an all-out assault from the oak trees. When the wind blows it sounds we are being pelted by hundreds golf balls. It sounds like those angry trees from the Wizard of Oz have taken root in our backyard. T has been known to flinch and shout: “INCOMING!” from the living room. Surveying the impact on the deck, we found this everywhere we looked:

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Acorns Hiding Everywhere

We used our mighty new leaf blower to send the leaves back to the forest as I cut back plants and emptied pots. This tomato plant (Juliet Roma) has had no concept of size or season the whole time she has been growing. We haven’t been able to reach the top of it since July. It is easily 9 feet tall. There are still THIRTY-TWO tomatoes on the vines. Far be it from me to get in the way of her overachievement; I gave it a big drink of water and left it right where it was.

Copyright Unhurried Christmas 2014

October Tomatoes!

Copyright Unhurried Christmas 2014

Post Summer Harvest

Copyright Unhurried Christmas 2014

Racing to Beat the Frost

                And just before we swept the acorns, I saw this:

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A Handful of Future Trees

Those little nuts were trying their hardest to become trees. T looked at me like I was the little nut when I said I couldn’t kill the little trees. You have to honor something that is trying that hard to fulfill their purpose. They had already survived squirrels and chipmunks and a harrowing journey from the tree tops to the ground. I couldn’t just uproot them.

So I planted 36 of them in this pot. That is all of the acorns already rooting in my other plants and between the slats of the deck. My plan is to plant any of them that become saplings in the spring. Now I am kind of rooting for them to grow.

Copyright Unhurried Christmas 2014

A Pot Full of Trees

In the end, the deck was clean, the planters were set to rest, our birdfeeder was full, the woodpile was covered and you know what?  We are ready.

We are ready to settle in, slow down and enjoy another Unhurried Christmas.

I really hope you will join us!

 


PS: After all of the yardwork, here is what I made for dinner to welcome fall:

Roasted Delicata Squash

(Did YOU know that there is a squash that doesn’t need to be peeled? Me either!)

You can flip the squash midway through, but I didn’t. We couldn’t get enough!

Happy Fall!!

Adventures in Limoncello

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2013-11-22 18.16.01It all started with the black plastic bag that screams: “Hey world, I just came from the liquor store.”

Actually, it starts a mile before I got that bag. When I was in Italy a few years ago, a serendipitous turn of events landed me and Lola in the beautiful coastal town of Sorrento. Sorrento is far and away one of the most magical places I have ever been. The whole coast captured my heart, from Amalfi with the pebbly beach and strings of lemons hanging from the door frames and painted on every flat surface in homage. It is the stuff books are written about.

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Sorrento, on the other hand, is the kind of place where you could see yourself living. The winding streets and hidden alcoves of frescos and streets lined with vespas—the passages leading to hidden courtyards and the open town square complete with a bright yellow church and a glimpse of the rocky cliffs above the Mediterranean which is just a small swath of blue between Sorrento and the island of Capri. When we were there one rainy late morning the weather broke one and we took a walk. We wandered around and tried on backpacks and purses in deep greens, indigo, and jet black. We sorted through silk scarfs and fine linens, and we bought lace hankies tatted by nuns.  When we were though shopping we followed my patented method for avoiding tourist trap restaurants and getting an authentic meal—pick a street, then make the first right and the first left. Your restaurant will be right there (this method has never failed me—and you can never get lost). We walked down three stone stairs and sat at one of four tables in an empty restaurant. There were cruets of olive oil on each table. We stacked our packages to the side and we waited for whoever was rumbling behind a curtain like the Great and Powerful Oz to come out and take our order.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen a man with salt and pepper hair emerged, he had a carafe of red wine and a basket of warm bread in his hands. I am sure we squealed. We ordered in Italian and the bashful man disappeared behind the curtain again. When he came back he was all apologies…”signora, no Bolognese.” Bummer. He was out of what I wanted. I touched his hand to stop the flow of “Mi, dispiace!” and I told him to bring me whatever he wanted. The bashfulness cleared and his face erupted in a smile. When our food came, it came with a vengeance. There were so many bites to try. I don’t remember all of it but I remember the lasagna. Mmm Mmmm. Lola and I talked and ate and revived.

We started to make a move for the check when our waiter, the owner it turns out, came out with a stout carafe filled with a vibrant yellow liquid. He poured us each a sip and one for himself. We all clinked glasses, said “cin cin!” and tapped our glasses on the table before taking a drink. It was an icy burst of lemon followed by the warmth of the alcohol sliding down your throat. When we out on our coats our host walked close to me and I held out my hand (such an American). Lola said, “Aw! He was going to ciao you!” And with that we did traditional kiss on each cheek and it felt like we were leaving lunch with an old friend. Lola and I still refer to giving a good bye kiss as ciao-ing someone 🙂

When I was first dating T I told him this story. This led to a Godfather movie marathon where he would wow me with caponata and I showed off with my ancient cannoli recipe, and of course we had to have limoncello, which I promised to get. The only problem was I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched high and low and couldn’t find it. That is when I placed a forlorn call to Lola to tell her this tragic tale of woe. How? How could we possibly watch The Godfather without the limoncello?  We wouldn’t!  I got bottle in the mail a few days later  (three cheers for Lola!). It contained a tall frosted glass bottle of Limoncello and two tiny glasses with cherubic babies riding lemons with wings on them. It still makes me smile to think of sipping out of those glasses. Now we never have to have it delivered because we can make it at home!

On to the bowl of lemons…

I started with a recipe but I made some changes as I went:

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Start with ten washed lemons and a vegetable peeler. Peel the lemon skin (just the yellow, not the white). This part took a while. I actually ended up doing it in front of the TV (see my remote?). The long skinny, vertical peeler did the best job (I tried three).

2013-11-22 22.56.25When you have a bowl full of peels, cover them with 750 ml of vodka. I have read that a higher proof vodka (100+) does a better job of extracting the lemony color and flavor than a standard bottle of vodka. I don’t know if this is true, but what I chose (a triple filtered 80 proof, unflavored potato vodka) worked just fine.

Then you cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it out at room temperature for four days.

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On day four, strain the peel from the vodka. It will now smell like a lemon grove and have a pale yellow color. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan combine a cup and a half of sugar with two cups of water and melt over medium heat. The goal is to create a simple syrup here, so if you want it more or less sweet, follow your bliss.

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Pour the COOLED simple syrup over the vodka and lemon mixture. Cover and let stand overnight.

The last step is to strain out the lemon peels and pour your limoncello into a pretty bottle. It tastes best and is traditionally served ice cold.

You will notice you now have ten peeled lemons and it would be a shame to waste them. Stay tuned for my next lemony adventure in the kitchen. Until then, ciao!

Chicken Wing Dip. Because Its Delicious and I am from Buffalo

I have long since given up finding good wings south of Buffalo. There was a brief and shining moment when we found good wings at a great old neighborhood restaurant within walking distance from our house. They had a fireplace, loud live music from time to time, and the bartenders knew our wing order as soon as we sat down. But alas, they lost their lease, and again, we find ourselves wingless.

Enter Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip. It takes ten minutes to make and it saves me a trip north, and saves my boyfriend my  impassioned  tirade about what real chicken wings taste like 🙂 I offer it to you as something quick to pull together for a party. It has also stood in for dinner more than once at this house.

Step one: Gather up chicken (this is canned chicken breast),  a cup of Franks Red Hot Sauce (there is no substitute),  a cup of Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing (this one is “light” which is kind of funny when you consider this whole dip is predicated on a block of cream cheese), one block of cream cheese, a 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and a big bowl.

Step two: heat the cream cheese in the microwave until it is soft (about a minute).

Step three: Shred the chicken and stir into the cream cheese.

Step four: add all other ingredients and stir until smooth

Step five is choose your own adventure–you can either bake it and make it all bubbly, put it in a crockpot to serve warm, or dive in as is. I prefer the last option 🙂

Baking Someone Happy

Ready to be filled with goodness.

Ready to be filled with goodness.

Today is a really special day and to celebrate I had the time to do something I haven’t done in a LONG time; bake! I used to make wedding cakes, shower cupcakes, pies, cookies, the works. I even had a room in my house reserved for just this purpose. But work, among other things, ended that years ago.

But this week I am back! I spent time whipping, mixing and, truth be told, licking the beater of my Kitchen-aid Stand Mixer as I made the perfect wedding cupcakes with love for my friends who are tying the knot in Baltimore this weekend. I spent time in the cake supply aisle picking out the perfect frosting tip and considering every sparkle, sprinkle, coloring and topper. It was WONDERFUL.  

I also bought disposable pastry bags, because, you know what? Regardless of how unhurried I am, time scrubbing out the small end of a pastry bag is precious time wasted!

If my house were on fire I would grab family photos and my Kitchen-Aid.

If my house were on fire I would grab family photos and my Kitchen-Aid.

I hope you can take some time to relax and bake, and because this is the season of giving, I am about to divulge a cupcake recipe that I have taken years to perfect. Consider it  a wedding present.

Wedding Worthy Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes a dozen and a half cupcakes
Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

Ingredients:   butter, sugar, eggs, really good vanilla extract, baking powder, salt, flour, milk.

How to Make it Happen:

  • Preheat oven.
  • Beat 1-1/2 sticks of butter at medium speed until smooth.
  • Add 1-1/2 cups of sugar and beat well.
  • Then Add 2 eggs, 2 tsps of vanilla, 2 1/2 tsps of baking powder and a 1/2 tsp of salt and mix until combined.
  • Add in 2 1/2 cups of flour a 1/2 a cup at a time until incorporated
  • Finally add 1-1/4 cups of milk and beat until it smooth and creamy.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to get into individual baking cups (about 2/3 full).

These really are dense, moist, and delicious. I will let you know how they go over on the big day.

A little sparkle makes everything taste better.

A little sparkle makes everything taste better.

I also found some other recipes that I am going to add to my list to try… and a one controversy that I didn’t even know existed: American cupcake vs. English Fairy Cake. I am thinking there is room for both on the dessert table of life 😉