Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Place Setting Boxes, Part I

We had an order for Thanksgiving themed Place Setting Boxes, which we were thrilled to make. Read below to see how they turned out.

The first order of business was to figure out which boxes the client liked best.  We offered up four styles.  What we refer to as the "puffy box" won.  This is a picture of the puffy box as it arrives from the shipper.  You will see the finished box at the end of this post.  This is a long post, so we will not go over all four choices of boxes we offered.  Needless to say, they were all cute in their own way. But the puffy box won along with one other style.

We knew that excelsior would be placed in the bottom of each box.  This is pretty standard.  The color may change, but each box usually gets essentially the same type of fill.  At least, that is what we thought in the beginning.  Read on.

Working with the client to choose their favorite box is fun and easy.  The hard part comes with finding just the right item to place inside each box.  Some clients want the boxes empty, aside from the excelsior.  They want to choose their own treat.  Others ask us to do it for them.  In this case, we were tasked with choosing just the right item to place inside.  We immediately started shopping for just the right thing.  After several different items were considered, we settled on the Godiva Pumpkin Truffles in Milk Chocolate.  Some people do not like dark chocolate.  They find it too bitter.  I am not one of those people.  But I am sensitive to those palates.  So when we go shopping for treats, I usually stay away from dark chocolate unless I have a firm assurance from the client that they are okay with including a dark chocolate selection.

Not only are these truffles extraordinarily delicious, the attention to detail that Godiva puts into each candy makes all the difference when choosing for your client.  You are not going to find these details in a general variety candy.  Our boxes are each made by hand with the utmost attention to detail.  We like the contents to reflect the same level of attention.

We started with the box, a little brown and ecru excelsior and a pumpkin truffle.  Nice.  But not really what we wanted to present to this client.  So I went shopping in my inventory of artsy craftsy stuff and found this box of autumnal leaves.  Hmmm.

I have had these in inventory for quite some time and I thought they would work perfectly for this project.  Fabric leaves in browns, oranges, yellows and greens.  Perfect.

We removed the excelsior and replaced it with two leaves of varying color, crossed, in the bottom of each box.

Then, so each guest would know exactly what they were about to enjoy, I made these little inserts describing what they were about to experience.

Leaves, descriptive insert, and truffle.  Close the box up and you have a place setting.

These little puffy boxes turned out so beautiful.  The Happy Thanksgiving insert on vellum with the little green leaf was just the perfect touch.

Later this week, we will have Part II of this post in which we will show you the other set of boxes this client ordered.  She wanted to mix things up a bit on her table and alternate between this puffy box and a standard high gloss white box with embossing.  A really cute idea.  Make sure and come back for that post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lunch On the Run Can be Healthy Too!

I'm afraid I have been a little overindulgent lately.  First came Hallowe'en.  "Oh, a piece of candy here and a piece of candy there won't hurt."  "They are just little snack size candies."  "Oh, I'll have one of those."  "Have you seen these before?"  "Hallowe'en Kit Kits!!!!"  And then came my birthday and the most delicious carrot cake ever made.  And dinner at Fire & Sage.  And another slice of birthday cake.  And this and that.  STOP!!!  I had a visit with my Endocrinologist yesterday. Fortunately, and somehow miraculously through this sea of gastronomic delights, I only managed to put on four pounds.  I was quite surprised when I stepped on the scales.  So it is time to get back to basics, ... until Thursday, of course.  That means plenty of walking and sensible lunches.

This was lunch today.  Actually, it is one of those bagged salads.  It is the Southwest blend.  I bought a pint of cherry tomatoes and added a few of those to the mix.  I also added some grilled chicken breast.  This was quite delicious with a little oil and vinegar, salt and pepper.

Into my very sturdy black, neoprene lunch carrier and off to the office!!

The bagged salads available in the produce department of any large grocery store are quite tasty and very easy to assemble.  I keep some in the refrigerator at all times.  If I eat like this in-between the holidays, hopefully I will not go over my four pound weight gain and hopefully I will lose that very soon.  So fast food doesn't have to be bad-for-you food.  Assembling these bagged salads is fast, tasty, and good-for-you food!!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Time to Plant the Bulbs - Part II

We continue with our bulb planting project.

Once again, here is a picture of the many different varieties of bulbs we chose for our initial planting this season.  Daffodils, tulips (of the parrot variety), crocus and hyacinth.  These will make for a spectacular spring bloom season.  

I used this organic potting mix which I am hoping will help bring vibrant growth to our bulbs.  In the upper right corner on the bag you will see "for stronger roots."  I certainly hope so.  Between this high quality soil and the Bulb-Tone, I expect great things.

I couldn't resist the beautiful blend of blues and whites and purples in this Hyacinth Blue Blend.  You see in the picture they are planted en masse, very close together, so you get a nice full look.

Here are the hyacinth bulbs ready to be planted.  Notice these bulbs are purple in color where the other bulbs were not.  I don't know this for certain, but I suspect it has to do with the final color of the blooms.

This is a picture of the bulb table before any of the pots were planted.  All of the smaller pots were planted with bulbs.  I reserved the large, center planter for the hyacinth.

I started by cleaning out the planter and amending the soil that was already there with some of the new organic soil I used for the other bulbs.

A couple small handfuls of Bulb-Tone on top of that and we were ready to plant our hyacinth bulbs.

I added a very light layer of organic soil on top of the Bulb-Tone.  Then I placed each hyacinth bulb in a circle around the metal ornamental tower in the center.

Finally, I covered the bulbs completely with more organic soil and this project was complete.  We were very fortunate in that it rained, very lightly, the evening these bulbs were planted.  So mother nature took care of watering the bulbs in rather than one of us standing out there with the garden hose or a watering can, freezing the whole time.

I wanted to show you one last picture of another pot of bulbs.  In this pot we have six parrot tulips and a hyacinth bulb in the center.  Who knows what this will look like, but if you don't try, you'll never know.  This pot had some Bulb-Tone added to the soil, then the bulbs were placed on top of that and more soil added to the top to fully cover them.

We love Behnke Nurseries Co.  They are located in Beltsville, MD.  They are closed on Thanksgiving Day, which every company should be.  But they are open on Friday and all weekend. So if you are in the area and you are thinking you might like some beautiful spring color in your garden, give them a visit over the long weekend.

NOTE:  For those who have squirrels in the yard - Sprinkle a little red pepper over the soil when planting bulbs.  That will keep the squirrels from digging them up.  You could even mix a little red pepper into the soil as you are planting.  Squirrels are relentless when it comes to digging up freshly planted bulbs.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It's Time to Plant the Bulbs - Part I

And that is precisely what we did last weekend.  Some weeks ago, you will recall, we stopped by Behnke's Nursery and picked up several varieties of bulbs.  Those bulbs have been sitting, patiently waiting for cold weather to arrive.  Finally, this past weekend, cold weather arrived and the bulbs were planted.  We are experiencing this polar vortex or whatever they are calling it this year along with everyone else in the country.  Except our friends in Florida, which we will let pass because Florida has its own issues during hurricane season.  So we will allow them a reprieve while the rest of us are freezing.

Ordinarily, I wait until the arrival of winter to plant hardy bulbs.  This year winter arrives on Sunday, December 21.  But cold weather arrived early, so into the ground with them.  Or in this case, into the pots with them.

First we gathered our clay pots together and determined which sizes to use for which bulbs.  I put a handful of fallen leaves in the bottom of each pot to cover the drainage hole.  These will work just as good as gravel or a shard of broken pottery at deflecting the flow of water.  They will also decompose over time and add essential nutrients to the soil.  A win-win.

Then I gathered all of my bulbs together and planned how I wanted to plant them.  All of one kind together in one pot?  A few of these and a few of those in a pot?  Mix up the colors a bit?  Do some thinking and decide how you would like your pots to look in the spring.  For this first pot I planted all crocus.

I find the planting guidelines on the packaging very helpful.  Some bulbs are planted deeper than others and this handy guide lets you know how deep to plant each variety of bulb.  It also lets you know how tall they will eventually grow and the sunlight requirements.  Very helpful to have this information right at your fingertips.

For the crocus, they need to be buried 4" into the soil.  So, I filled the pot until the soil reached 4" from the top, using a tape measure to make certain I got it just right.

Then it was time to add some Bulb-Tone.  This really does give your bulbs a boost.  Those early years when I was just learning about gardening I did not use Bulb-Tone and I had less than spectacular results.  Little by little, as I learned more about gardening I discovered the benefits of Bulb-Tone and now I use it every year.  You are lucky that you are a regular reader of Welcome to Crest Avenue because you will know about this much sooner in your gardening adventures than I.

A slight handful of Bulb-Tone added to the pot, just enough to cover the top of the soil.

I put another light layer of organic soil over the Bulb-Tone and then set about placing my crocus bulbs.  Fortunately, the entire bag of 30 fit perfectly in this ten inch pot.  Pointy sides up!!!

These bulbs are very nice.  They are all nicely shaped and firm and as you can see from the picture above, very healthy.  They started to sprout while waiting to be planted.  That's OK.  They will make it through the winter.  Do not buy bulbs that are mushy or moldy.  Those bulbs are not healthy and you will not get a good result in the spring.

Happy with the placement of all the crocus bulbs, I set about covering them with more soil.

And finally I had a full pot of crocus planted and ready to put in a somewhat secluded area for the winter.

In addition to the crocus, I planted several other varieties of bulbs.  See below.

These beautiful narcissus.  Only eight in the bag, but I planted them all together, so that will make for a spectacular show in the spring.  Here is my philosophy on bulb planting.  If four will look good in the pot, eight will look better.  Actually, that is my philosophy, ... period.  If one wreath will look good on the front door, two wreaths strung together will look better.  If two candles look nice on the mantel, five candle will look better.

And then there were the parrot tulips.  Tulips are my very favorite of all the bulbs.  But parrot tulips are even more of a favorite.  I think they are extraordinary and rather exotic looking.

More parrot tulips in this vibrant reddish/pinkish/yellow.  Really beautiful.

And finally, for this round of bulb planting, this beautiful collection of blue/white/purple hyacinth. These planted all together in one large pot.

I expect to have a beautiful potted garden of hardy flowering bulbs in the spring.  I can't wait to see what we end up with!

Part two of this post will deal with some additional important information for planting fall bulbs.  Be sure and come back to see that post.

(This is part one of a two part post on fall bulb planting)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Breakfast Sandwiches

You remember last week we talked about the new egg poacher we recently purchased which we were pleased to report made the perfect poached eggs.  I wanted to try scrambling eggs and cooking them in the same poaching pan.  So while Bev was visiting weekend before last, I got up early one morning and made breakfast sandwiches.

The first thing I did was to split and lightly butter four English muffins and place them about four inches under the broiler.  While they were toasting, I prepared the eggs.  We won't go through all the steps of setting up the poaching pan because we did that in the post last week when we made poached eggs.  This time I scrambled four eggs, added two tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of melted butter, salt and white pepper to the scrambled egg mixture.  I placed the poaching pan over the flame and waited for the water to come to a full boil,  Once the water was boiling, I poured the egg mixture into each cup until each was evenly filled and placed the lid on the pan.  I left them to cook, covered, for about 8 minutes for a good firm egg.  You want to make sure they are cooked all the way through.

While the eggs were cooking, I removed the English muffins from the oven.  Once the eggs were done, I removed them from the cups.  I placed a slice of Vermont Cheddar cheese on one half and a slice of Canadian bacon and the egg on the other half.

With the oven turned off, but still warm from toasting the muffins, I placed the tray back into the oven to let the cheese melt thoroughly and to keep the sandwiches warm until everybody started to stir.  Fortunately, everybody started to stir pretty quickly.  As I was working in the kitchen I received a text message from the guest bedroom upstairs asking if anyone else was up to which I replied, "yes."

I soon heard the pitter-patter of adult feet making their way to the kitchen as they followed the scent of breakfast.  And what did they find upon entering the kitchen.  The most delectable breakfast sandwiches every made.

These are so easy to make and just incredibly delicious.  A great weekend treat for the whole family and something that I am certain guests will love also.  Make breakfast sandwiches at your house this weekend!

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Baxter Was Just a Pup

I found some pictures this weekend as I was going through some old files of everyone's favorite miniature wirehaired dachshund.

He was probably seeing Crest Avenue for the very first time in this picture.  We drove to Beaver Falls, PA on Friday after work to pick him up.  We spent the night there and picked him up the next morning and drove back to Dewey Street.  We stayed there the rest of the weekend, so I imagine this was taken on Monday when we returned to Crest Avenue.  You wonder what must be going through his little mind.  He here is in a new place with people he does not know, no longer in the company of his one lone brother who was the only one of the litter left when we got him.  Probably wondering what on earth was going on.  But he has a very good life.

In the tv room, on a blanket on the sofa.

In the kitchen.  He hopped up onto the dishwasher door.  Such an inquisitive little thing, he was.  And still is.

And only a short time later we had our first snowfall, so he got a chance to see what snow was all about very early in his life.

From this tiny little fellow in November 2007,

to this gorgeous and handsome boy seven years later.  I love him so much that I can't stand it some times.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A New Egg Poacher

A poached egg.  A little shredded cheddar cheese.  An English Muffin on the side.  That is a spectacular breakfast.  A "Breakfast of Champions" as far as I'm concerned.

We recently purchased a new 4 cup egg poacher.  We had a good result which you will read about below.

I ordered this from Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I had a 20% off coupon that was burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to use it to make this purchase.

This is a very nice pan, very heavy, high quality pan with a heat-proof handle.  Always remember to check and see if any cookware you are buying has a heat-proof handle.  That is very important.  My Cooks Essentials brand has heat-proof handles.  Not that you can't grab a pot holder when working with cookware that does not have heat proof handles, but why deal with that if you don't have to.

For poached eggs, add one-half inch of cold water and one teaspoon of white distilled vinegar to the pan.

The egg cups are non-stick, but I sprayed each with a little Pam Butter Flavor just as an added precaution.  It certainly doesn't hurt to do this.

Take the cups out and spray them and then put them back in.  Otherwise, you'll have cooking spray all over the stop of the pan.  It's just easier to remove them, spray and then put them back than to have cooking spray all over everything.

As I said earlier, a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar added to the water in the bottom of the pan.

Place the pan on the stove top with the lid and let the water come to a boil.  It is only a half inch of water, so this step takes hardly any time.

I cracked each egg directly into the egg cups.  Before I knew it, they had already started to firm.  For my taste, I like poached eggs well cooked.  I like the center to be nice and firm.  No runny eggs for me.

The directions state to let the eggs cook for 3 - 4 minutes.  If you want the yolk very soft and not fully cooked, that will work.  If you want them firm. leave them in for at least another 3 - 4 minutes.  As the water boils it rises and covers the bottom of the egg cups and that hot, steaming water is what cooks the egg.

I felt like shredded cheddar cheese this morning.  But you could just as easily add a slice of Canadian bacon and some hollandaise for an eggs benedict breakfast.  You could make egg muffins using English muffins.  Add what you like or what your guests like.

Using this pan makes the whole process of poaching eggs so easy and fast.  If you are preparing for a crowd, this is the only way to go.  Also, if you remove the insert with the egg cups, it makes a wonderful little saute pan.  You could easily put together a fresh hollandaise sauce in the same pan you poached the eggs.  Or a beurre blanc.  Whatever you like.

This is a very nice pan which I highly recommend.  It retails at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $29.95.  That may sound a little pricey for an egg poacher, but it is worth it.  The quality is great.  It has a nice thick, heavy bottom which distributes the heat evenly.  And if you have a 20% off coupon, you will save $5.99.  You will never go wrong buying quality cookware.  And this is quality.

Happy poaching!!!