Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Diversity

Orange you glad ....

that there are so many splendid pumpkins to choose from these days?

Once upon a time the extent of the selection at most markets included the small sugar pumpkins or the standard carving pumpkin, both round or oval shaped with smooth, even toned, orange flesh.

To get anything irregular looking one needed to go out to the farms (not a bad option).

Today, more irregular looking pumpkins are highly desirable. Pumpkin farmers across the country are having a hay-day creating new hybrid pumpkins and growing old heirloom varieties. As a result, the selection of pumpkins, squashes and gourds available in our markets has grown broader each year.

Here are a few of our favorites:

We adore the deep orange-red or pale yellow Cinderella pumpkins, especially when they are adorned with warts, scars and and other disfigurements.

We feel an immense love for these giant pumpkins, which weigh nearly 400 pounds, and are almost big enough to serve as Cinderella's coach.

These super sized beauties make a stunning display on All Hallows Eve.

Come November...

they can become a Winter Decoration.  Click on frosted pumpkins to learn how.

On a much smaller scale, these petite "pumpkins",

from branches of a "Pumpkin Tree"(Solanum Integrifoliumare charming little gemsThough they are actually not related to pumpkins at all. The fruit is similar to a pepper.

No carving necessary: Our friends who grew this pumpkin had the brilliant foresight to scratch a smile on their pumpkin while it was growing. They used nails to attach the goard halves as eyes.

Our cool summer weather affected the pumpkin crops in the Pacific Northwest this year. The ghost pumpkins we grew did not get as large or white as we expected,

and we are thrilled.

We love these unique, petite, greenish orbs and can't wait to display them with candles to welcome our daring trick-or-treaters. If you are in the neighborhood, please DOOOOOoooo stop by.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Film Festival in a Box

It was such a Thriller to head out after dark last night to my neighborhood Starbucks store.

This store has not been tapped for beer and wine service yet, but in addition to luscious lattes, they were serving a little red and a little white from Meadowcroft Vineyards...

along with some toothsome tidbits,

                                                              and fresh popped corn.

Because, you really can't watch a movie without popcorn.

And that is what brought a couple hundred people to my neighborhood Starbucks store late last night...

a frightening festival of short, independent films, 
 from Indieflix, the creators of the Film Festival in a Box.

If you love watching movies, but feel you don't always have the time, you may enjoy the "Film Festival in a Box". The films alone are entertaining, but it also makes a fun game to play with friends. This is a splendid way to see some great short films, and give a voice to your inner film-critic. 

If you find you tire of trick-or-treaters, why not have some friends over for Halloween night? It takes just 47 minutes to view the 4 shorts (one disc). Afterwards, you and your friends can discuss the flix and choose your BOX favorite. There are many different genres, but Zombies, Chillers or Dark Comedies would be great choices for this weekend.

The store was set up with 2 different screening rooms.

And the floors were filled with rows of comfy seating.

While I loved joining the crowd to take in these dark and disturbing films, I am really looking forward my own private screening of a few LOVE stories, very soon.

Visit Indeflix to see where you can find the Film Festival in a Box near you; order a Box or to learn more about the independent film scene.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Braised Short rib sliders

Tender biscuits, flavorful sauce, melt-in-your mouth meat.... 

is a splendid slider!

I have long been experimenting and trying to develop a great recipe for Braised Shortribs, this one is the clear winner. The mix of ingredients create a flavorful sauce, and the meat is incredibly tender and succulent.  The meat is perfect for making sliders for the big game.

Another great thing about this dish is that it requires very little attention. Through culinary magic, this lesser cut of meat metamorphosizes into a luxurious meal. The meat cooks in the oven for 3 - 4 hours in a flavorful broth, while you, splendid reader, are free focus to on something else.

The other great feature about this recipe is that most of the cooking can be done a day or two in advance. The final preparation before serving your will be 30 - 45 minutes (mostly cooking time).

If you are having a group over and want to offer a hand held meal or snack -- how about a platter of sliders? This tender, flavorful beef is utterly stunning piled on a biscuit or dinner roll.

This recipe was adapted from one by Emeril Lagasse.


serves 6

8 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-ounce portions

1 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

1 leek cleaned, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and then sliced

2 tablespoons peeled and minced ginger

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 quart beef stock

1/4 cup sliced green onion bottoms, white part only (slice and save the green tops for garnish)

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

Juice and zest from one orange

8 ounces Hoisin sauce

Water as needed


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a wide stockpot or Dutch oven, combine the short ribs, soy sauce, beef broth, vinegar, garlic, leek, ginger, brown sugar, water, green onion bottoms, crushed red pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the orange juice. Add enough water to make sure that the stockpot is deep enough so that the short ribs are submerged in the liquid.

Bake the short ribs, covered, for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bones. Remove the short ribs from the braising liquid and cover to keep warm (or refrigerate to serve another day). 

Drain the fat off of the cooking liquid and discard. An easy way to do this (if you have the time) is to refrigerate the liquid, and then spoon off the hardened fat.
At this stage, the dish could be refrigerated and served in the the next day or two. 
Here is what to do when you are ready to serve:  Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the dutch oven over medium -high heat. Add the hoisin sauce to the liquid. Reduce the liquid by about 1/2. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer, discarding the solids. Stir in the remaining orange juice.
Return the short ribs to the stockpot or Dutch oven with the reduced sauce, coating the short ribs well with the sauce. Bake until the short ribs are heated through and slightly glazed (this should take 30 - 45 minutes, depending upon the starting temperature of the meat).  About halfway through the cooking process, pull out the pot and toss the meat in the sauce to coat.

Garnish with the orange zest and green onions.

Isn't this zest gorgeous?  To read about this fabulous zester click here.
Serve hot with jasmine rice

To make the sliders, use a pair of forks to separate the meat from any remaining bones, shredding it in the process. Toss the meat in some of the reduced sauce until well mixed.
Bake up a batch of biscuits, or buy some tender dinner rolls. Slather on a little Dijon mustard and pile the meat on high!

Click on the Foodista widget below for a printable copy of this recipe:

Beef Shortribs Splendidly Braised on FoodistaBeef Shortribs Splendidly Braised

Monday, October 25, 2010

the graveyard

The Splendid Graveyard

Do you remember these perky petals?

Well, a few weeks have gone by since they were featured and now they are ready.... 

for the graveyard.

We set up our scene in a street side plot in front of the market. This is an easy way to establish an eerie mood as people approach your abode. Just stick a tombstone or two in the ground and add pumpkins. You can make it as big or small as space allows. 

There are many ready made tombstones available in Halloween stores these days. We made ours years ago, using green foam boards (available in craft stores). We burned the words out using the tip of a hot glue gun, and painted and smudged the surfaces with shades of green, grey and black paint, to make it look like old stone.

The "eyes" between the "I" and the "C" glow in the dark.

The darkness of the tombstones is highlighted by the pumpkins, rotting marigold bouquets and the white webs that are stretched about. On Halloween night, the graveyard will be lit with lanterns filled with orange candles.

What spooky things are happening in your neighborhood?? 

If you'd like more information on creating a graveyard please click on "comments" below, or send me a message at

Sunday, October 24, 2010

splendid spooks

The Tale of five ghosts..

I was feeling that a new dimension needed to be added to the splendid graveyard this year. Something looming, tall and ghastly.....

Then, when a search for "cheesecloth" took me to an online fabric store selling 100 yards of this gauzy, flowy cotton for $32.00, my mission was defined (click on cheesecloth to learn more). The box of cheesecloth arrived promptly and I was thrilled to have a thick stack of this soft palette with which to work.

While I wanted a spooky stand out, I also wanted something that would blend in with the gardens. Looking around the market I was able to find some natural materials with which I could easily create structure for my splendid spirits.  Look around -- maybe you have some things in your surroundings, which could easily be converted, with simple shrouds of cheesecloth, into a lovely, billowing decoration for all hallow's eve.

Here's what we found. Corkscrew willow and other branches made the perfect "skeleton" for some freestanding ghosts in the graveyard.  I used a tall piece for the height, crossed with a shorter branch for arms, and secured the branches in place with brown duct tape.  To create a little more shape, I created a skirt of leaved branches, pruned from a tree.  I bound the "skirt" to the body using more brown duct tape, for Mrs. Ghost.

Once the "bones" were in place I began cloaking the form in sheets of cheesecloth.   I gathered the first layer at the "waist" and secured it with kitchen twine. The length of cheese cloth was approximately 2x her height so I could fold it over her body. The cheesecloth fibers easily separate to make a hole for the "neck". I added about 3 more layers of cheesecloth, draping and wrapping as I went.

For her head, I used a white foam pumpkin (available in craft stores). One can cut a face design in these pumpkins with a carving knife.  A couple of layers of cheesecloth helped to soften that "plastic" head.  

So, this is how she turned out...pretty good. But, in my opinion, not quite splendid.  Maybe she just looks too cheerful. Read on to learn about her transformation.

Mr. Ghost was created in a similar fashion, only I used 4 longer sticks for the body and skipped the "skirt".

A plastic skeleton head was used for his topper.  He was draped and wrapped in cheesecloth of various layers.

Pretty good..but maybe a little...I don't know...too white??

When I gazed at this wall covered with mature climbing roses, I saw more than canes and thorns...I saw ghosts... can you see them?

I outlined the figures in colored, blinking lights (2 in orange, one in purple lights).

For faces, I used a glue gun to attach pipe cleaners, shaped into facial features, to pieces of white netting.

Then I gathered up the netting and a double length of cheese cloth with some kitchen twine (making sure the face was low enough on the netting to allow for the face to stay flat after it was "gathered".

The fabric ghosts were tied to the rose canes (only a few thorny interactions).

They looked good, 

especially at night..

But in my Virgo mind, they needed a little something more.

It's hard to know precisely where our creative thoughts originate, but it may have been this skirt that started the wheels turning for my ghost perfection project. It's from the Spring 2011 collection of Proenza Schouler and was featured on the wonderful blog, Slim Paley. Slim Paley kindly featured our Chocolate Covered Tarantulas in this piece as well (thank you for the mention, SP!)

With yards of cheesecloth to work with, I knew I could create the depth and texture to my phantoms needed.

I turned to a trusted friend, Mrs. Stewart.  Have you ever used her bluing?  A few drops in the wash really helps to keep white towels looking bright.

I cut several lengths and let them soak in a basin with some of the bluing.

Other pieces of cheese cloth had a much darker destiny. After getting them wet, I put them in a bag and shook them up with pieces of charcoal and ashes (from the fireplace).

Arabella didn't seem to be very impressed.

I put a third batch in a vessel of water with yellow food coloring.

I unfolded the pieces of cloth and draped them over the shrubbery (here's the perfect lazy-lady method for making ghosts).

So to my pure, white wraiths, I added lengths of the colored cloth.

I put the yellowish cloth in the dryer to get this bumpy texture.

I put one sheet of white cheesecloth over the face of the rosebush ghosts, and gathered the rest of the fabric pieces behind the face.

I folded the fabric over, tied it up with kitchen twine, and tied it back to the rose canes.

The colors are subtle, and not that noticeable in this photo, but the they make the ghosts to show up much better against the white wall.  

Mrs. Ghost was looking far too happy for my taste, so I had to do a little reconstruction work on her face.  I drew on a frightening looking face and turned her head sideways, using (what is left of) the stem for a nose.

Oh the evility! 

The added shrouds give the graveyard ghosts the more weathered and aged look I was seeking.

Whew, thank goodness, that project is I really need to get a manicure.