Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Apple Season!

At our house, it is officially apple season, one of my favorite times of the year. We don't have a big backyard, but my amateur farmer husband has crammed a tiny orchard and several raised beds into the spare corners. Our orchard consists of some fairly unproductive cherry trees, a peach that is half-dead, an apricot and italian plum that look beautiful but don't give any fruit, and one 4-way dwarf apple that makes up for its lazy friends by producing bushel after bushel of delicious apples. In honor of our small-but-mighty apple tree, here are some apple favorites!


Apple Farmer Annie by Monica Wellington
One of our favorite Fall books, and one that we keep reading all year long.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Annie's Big 3-0: the food

Food is always my favorite part of any celebration! And, despite the fact that I'm not a seafood lover, the food was definitely a highlight of Annie's party.

The Menu
Sparkling Meyer Lemon and Fuji Apple Juices
Bergenost, Brie, and Herbed Boursin Cheeses with an assortment of Crackers
Sweet Potato Fries with Crushed Rosemary and Kosher Salt
Field Greens, Dried Cranberries, Sugared Almonds, and Feta dressed with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Buttered Rolls
Seafood Boil with New Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, Smoked Sausage, Crab Legs, and Shrimp
Individual Tart Cherry Crumb Cakes with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The food was a mixture of ready-made, prepared the night before, and cooked on the spot. The juices came from World Market, and were both beautifully bottled and delicious. The cheeses, crackers, and grapes all came from Costco and needed minimal preparation, as did the buttered rolls and salad. The Cherry Crumb Cakes were quite a bit of work, but they were made the night before, cooled, and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. They only needed to plated, drizzled with glaze, and topped with ice cream at the party. The sweet potato fries and seafood boil were the only things we really had to make right then and there while guests were mingling and munching on appetizers.

After experimenting a little with homemade sweet potato fries and getting disappointing results, we finally decided to buy Alexia Foods' frozen Sweet Potato Fries from Costco instead. We gave them a quick fry on a propane camp stove, tossed them with crushed, dried rosemary and kosher salt, and devoured them. They were an amazing combination of sweet, savory, and salty, and infinitely better than the ones I tried to make at home!

My husband decided to start frying our turkeys for Thanksgiving a few years ago, so we have a huge propane burner and enormous stock pot with a strainer, all of which came in very handy for the seafood boil. We seasoned the water with McCormick's Shrimp Boil seasoning, a few quartered onions and some lemon slices, added new potatoes, and brought it to a boil. Then we added Hillshire Farms Beef Smoked Sausage that had been cut into 2" pieces and a few pounds of crab legs. That's about all we could fit for the first round of cooking. **An aside: from the start, Annie had her heart set on a seafood boil, but wanted the party to be a little fancier than cooked seafood poured directly onto the table, so we decided to put the seafood into trays to serve it. The trays had to be large enough to fit quite a bit of seafood, yet small enough to fit on the table without having to clear off plates and centerpieces, and low enough that they wouldn't prevent conversation. While researching the possibility of metal garbage can lids at Home Depot, we discovered galvanized metal trays that are 16" wide and only 4" deep. Lined with a few sheets of white freezer paper, they made perfect seafood boil servers.** When the first batch of food was done, we divided the potatoes, sausage, and crab legs among the four metal serving trays and set them aside while cooking the second batch of food. Since it was just shrimp and corn on the cob, we knew it would only take a few minutes to cook and that everything would stay hot. Once all the food was cooked and divided among the serving trays, we sprinkled a little Slap Yo Mama Cajun Seasoning on top and set them out. We strategically placed a few small dishes containing lemon slices, spicy mustard, salt and pepper, and Old Bay seasoning around the table and let people go for it. And did they ever! The crab legs were a last minute addition, so we didn't have any claw crackers or whatever you use to eat crab legs. People just whacked at them with their spoons and sent bits of shell everywhere. It was pretty entertaining!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Annie's Big 3-0: the decor

Annie and I planned a lot of her party while we were sitting in a movie theater late one night waiting for the first showing of Eclipse to start; I took notes on the back of an old shopping list I dug out of my purse. The first thing Annie thought of was something she'd seen growing up back East: half of a lemon with a peppermint straw stuck in it. The entire party was basically planned around that one idea! Bob's Peppermint Sticks are really easy to find during the Holidays (we've given them as Christmas gifts to our neighbors), but not so much during the summer. You can buy them online for just a few dollars, but the shipping is ridiculously huge in comparison to the price. The other option is to buy them at Cracker Barrell, which I love to a bizarre degree. We don't have any Cracker Barrells here. Luckily, Annie was visiting her in-laws out of state and swung by one of their locations just to pick up the peppermint sticks. To get the lemons to stand up straight, I just cut a thin slice off the bottom. They looked really cute. Actually getting sweet, minty lemon juice out of them was another story, but we discovered that biting both ends off the peppermint straws and gently squeezing the lemon while sucking really hard on the peppermints sticks did the trick...for most of us.

The day before the party, Annie, my little ones, and I went to a nearby u-pick flower patch and picked all of the flowers for the arrangements. Well, Annie, my oldest, and I picked flowers; my youngest played in the mud. I was wondering why she was being so good. The flowers were about $20 total, which I think is pretty amazing. We arranged them in clean #10 cans, and I have to say, they looked pretty darn cute. When I did the arrangements the night before the party, the white snapdragon spikes were gracefully drooping down, but I couldn't fool mother nature for long and by the next morning they were standing straight up in the air, and I couldn't even twist them around without destroying everything. Still, the lovely mix of white, yellow, red, and pink looked absolutely beautiful together.

Somehow, we didn't have to rent much for the party, just the chairs. We borrowed the banquet tables and white table cloths from church, and used my in-laws' folding tables covered in freezer paper for food prep. Annie and I both have plain white dishes, natural woven wicker chargers, and silverware. We used 8 of her sets, 8 of mine, and alternated them. I think I actually liked it better than if every place setting had matched perfectly. The table runner was just a long strip of burlap from JoAnn's. I bought 3 yards for $2.99/yard, cut the whole thing in half, and overlapped the two strips right in the middle of the table under the center flower arrangement. A few white tea-lights in mismatched mason jars, striped name tags hanging from striped ribbon, and red striped paper straws from Hey Yo Yo completed the rustic, country effect.

Annie did the favors herself: a scoop of sanded lemon drops in a brown kraft box, sealed with a red and white striped label.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Annie's Big 3-0: the location

The key to this whole party was the location. Annie has always dreamed of having a party in the middle of a big field. Luckily, my husband and I just bought a big, 2-acre field a few months ago! Yes, we will build a house on it someday, but in the mean time, it is perfect for a middle-of-a-field party.

The field has a beautiful view of the hills to the north, and a gorgeous antique barn--which we dream of buying someday--to the south, so it was almost perfect to begin with. Still, there were a few large hurdles to jump over before we could be sure the party would work there, namely power and plumbing. After considering asking our neighbors (who we don't really know) if we could borrow a bathroom and an electrical outlet, and deciding against it, we came up with the idea to pull a trailer onto the property. Since we live in the RV capital of the world, we figured someone we know would have something we could use. We hit pay dirt when the front desk at my husband's office and her husband loaned us their enormous 5th-wheel for the night. They were more than happy to set it up, show us how to turn on the generator and the lights, and let us have free reign for the entire evening. I love nice people! In addition to a bathroom and a generator, the trailer provided us with a large, shady area where we set up our make-shift kitchen and serving station.

So, big field--check. Lights strung over the tables--easy. We bought six 8-foot long 2x2's for $1.26 each at Home Depot, cut the ends into points, and drove them into the dirt with a sledge hammer to make a 12x24' rectangle. We had many, many strands of white globe lights left over from our wedding reception all those years ago. They've just been sitting in my parents' garage waiting to be used again. It only took four strands to go around the entire rectangle. The lights looked lovely while the sun was still up, and amazing once the sun set and we turned on the generator.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Annie's Big 3-0!

I have a good excuse for my lack of posts in the past few weeks: a fabulous 30th birthday party that needed to be planned and executed. A few months ago, my friend Annie mentioned that she wanted to throw herself a big bash for her upcoming 30th birthday. Of course I couldn't let her do all the work--and have all the fun--herself, so I volunteered to help.

The party sounded great on paper: white globe lights strung over long tables in the middle of a field; fresh-picked flowers and candles dotting the table runner; fresh seafood, bubbly drinks, and homemade dessert. But it didn't come together until literally 30 minutes before the guests arrived, so it was one of those times when I wasn't sure if it was going to be spectacular or a giant flop! And then, magically, it was beyond gorgeous. Friends arrived, we all chatted, feasted, and most of all, wished a very happy birthday to our very special friend.

The birthday girl, her belly, and some sweet potato fries

I meant to get pictures of each couple, but this is the only one I actually took!

Guests admiring the lovely setting

Even better after dark, under the globe lights and stars, of which we could see millions!

Everyone playing an Annie Trivia game

Jake serenading his wife with a sweet, acoustic love song surprise

For more details, tune in throughout the week!!