Sunday, December 17, 2006

What do you know about Holiday Cards?

The Mini Page from our Houston Chronicle this week talked all about Christmas cards. The article was written by Betty Debnam. I thought it was intriguing enough to post.

Americans send out about 2 billion Christmas cards every year. People also send out Hanukkah and Kwanzaa cards. An Englishman named Henry Cole was the first to develop a Christmas card he could send to all his friends. In 1843 he was too busy to send out his own messages, so he hired an artist, John Calcott Horsley, to design a card. This card shows scenes of people feeding and clothing the needy. In the center a family celebrates the holiday. Sending Christmas cards has been a tradition ever since.

Some images, such as snowmen, Santa and trees, have been popular since the mid-1800’s. Other designs and colors change with the times. In the 1930’s, for example, people were just beginning to flock to movies. Firm stars such as Mickey Mouse were popular card images. In the 1940’s, during World War II, Christmas cards were filled with patriotic messages and the hope that the troops would come home. In the 1970’s, bright, psychedelic colors and peace symbols were popular. Cards honoring the birth of Christ did not become popular until the 1900’s. Today the Nativity is one of the most popular themes. Christmas cards make up 60 % of all holiday cards sold. More cards are sold for Christmas than for all other holidays combines.

New technology adds fun to holiday cards. In regular and e-mail cards, people can open a card and hear music or movie audio clips, or can see lights and moving figures. Experts say that e-mail cards have not seemed to cut into the sales of regular mail cards. The number of holiday cards mailed has been at about the same level for the last five years. (This statement surprised me because I thought with the price of a stamp, that the amount of cards mailed would have gone down. I do have to say that I mailed out about 60 cards this year.)

The Monday before Christmas is the busiest day of the year for mailing cards and packages. About 280 million cards and letters are usually mailed out that day. (Thank goodness I already have my packages and cards mailed.) This year, this busy day will be Dec. 18. The biggest day or the postal carriers delivering the mail is two days later.

Since 1962, the U.S. Postal service has created new winter holiday stamps each year. It issues a new traditional, religious Christmas stamp and new non-religious Christmas stamps every year. The Postal Service also has created special stamps for other winter holidays. The demand for these stamps is not as great as for the Christmas stamps, so the same designs may be re-issued several years in a row. The Postal Service designs its traditional Christmas stamps with works of art about the birth of Christ. Since 1978 the P.S. has chosen a work of art featuring the Madonna holding the baby Jesus. This year, the P.S. chose a painting by Ignacio Chacon, and artist in Peru in the mid-1700’s. This painting is now on display at the Denver Art Museum. This year the P.S. has also issued stamps for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and an Eid stamp for the Muslim World.

On a side note: I read an article in our Houston Chronicle food section several weeks ago about a “no knead” bread recipe that was developed by a baker. Evidentially it was so intriguing, and revolutionary, that it caused a real stir and it had a follow up article last Wednesday. I can’t wait to give this a try, this week, and then I will write about it on my blog.

Frig Clip from the Washington Post: What is the difference between Teflon and Silverstone pans?
Silverstone nonstick coating is made with Teflon (PTFE), plus another polymer called PFA. It can be treated the same as Teflon. A word to the wise: Cheap nonstick pans, being light and thin compared to heavy (and expensive) big-named brands, will heat unevenly, developing hot spots that mimic the heat pattern of the burner beneath. Even with food in the pan, these hot spots can reach Teflon-destroying temperatures, shortening the life of the pan and raising the probability of toxic-fume emissions.

Glazed Squash:
Slice squash, up to 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Serve squash hot or at room temperature.
1) Vegetable oil, for baking sheets
2) 3 Acorn squash (about 1 ½ pounds each), halved, seeded and sliced into 1- inch thick crescents.
3) Coarse salt and ground black pepper.
4) ½ cup packed dark brown sugar.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush with oil.

Place squash on baking sheets. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle squash as evenly as possible with ¼ cup sugar. Roast until sugar has melted, about 5 minutes.

Turn squash over. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle evenly with remaining ¼ cup sugar. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

Have a great week everyone!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

December: the month for cooking….

For any of you that are doing any cooking at all this month, I have a few tips for you:

1) Pie Crust requires rolling and resting: To prevent pie crust from shrinking, stop stretching the dough when fitting it into the pan. The more the dough is pulled, the more it will snap back to its original shape in the oven. Instead, roll out the dough, and let it rest for a couple of minutes to relax the gluten in the flour. Then ease the disk of dough into the pie pan, avoiding any suggestion of stretching it to fit. Bob Fila – Chicago Tribune

2) When making cookies, remember to let your cookies sit for a complete minute on the pan before moving them to a rack to cool. They are easier to pick up and they will hold together better if you do this.

3) During this busy month, use your crock pot to cook most of your dinners….Last night I cooked spaghetti sauce in the crock pot. After a busy day, all I had to do to get dinner on the table was to cook the spaghetti strings and ladle on the sauce. There was enough sauce left to freeze for another meal later in the month. I don’t know what I would do without my crock pot. This recipe came from the food section in the Houston Chronicle and it has a wonderful ginger tang to it. Yumm........

Drumsticks and thighs hold up to long, slow cooking without drying out. If you prefer, you can substitute all thighs or all drumsticks for the combination. Cooked white rice is a natural accompaniment, but feel free to use pasta, such as fettuccine or linguine, instead of the rice. With either, there'll be enough sauce to go around.
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2/3 cup cilantro, chopped, plus sprigs for garnish
1 piece fresh ginger (about 2 inches long), peeled and cut into thin strips
5 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal (1 cup packed), divided
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 chicken drumsticks and 4 thighs, (about 2 1/2 pounds total), skin removed
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)

Slow-cooker method: In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, stir together soy sauce, sugar, garlic, cilantro, ginger, 1/2 cup scallions, vinegar, coriander and pepper. Add chicken and carrots; toss to coat. Cover and cook on low until chicken is tender, about 6 hours. Using a large spoon, skim off and discard any fat from surface of cooking liquid.
In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. Ladle 1 cup cooking liquid into measuring cup; whisk to combine. Pour into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook until thickened, about 1 minute. With slow cooker turned off, stir in cornstarch mixture.
Serve chicken with white rice, if desired, and garnish with cilantro sprigs and remaining 1/2 cup scallions. From: The New York Times/Special Features

Makes 4 servings, each 269 calories, 8.5 grams fat (2.3 grams saturated); 29.5 grams protein, 18.5 grams carbohydrates and 2.1 grams fiber.

4) A quick guide to varieties of olive oil. Did you know this about olive oil?

• Extra-virgin olive oil is the strongest olive flavor of the four varieties of olive oil. It's best used for drizzling, salad dressings, marinades, sauces, stews and soups.
• Virgin olive oil shares extra-virgin olive oil's strong flavor but is slightly more mild. It's best used for grilling, sautéing, drizzling, salad dressings, marinades, stews and soups.
• The oil simply labeled "olive oil" is much milder and better suited for cooking. It's best used for baking, frying, grilling and sautéing.
• Light olive oil is the mildest of the four varieties and is best used for baking, frying, grilling and sautéing.
Tip: For baking, simply substitute equal amounts of olive oil for vegetable oil.
From: McClatchy-Tribune

Now that Thanksgiving is past, I am in full swing for Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. I went by our church bookstore and bought a small nativity scene to give as a gift to a special friend. Our church Christmas party is this weekend and my brothers birthday party is the next day. Today I hope to get my ginger bread dough made in put in the frig for cooling. It is a tradition, in our family, to send these delicious cookies out to those that love them. If you are interested in the recipe for those wonderful Gingerbread cookies, just click here.