Homespun Life in the City

Planning a Progressive Dinner Party

Erin SheehanUpstate New York winters can feel cold and long. It is easy to feel lonely and isolated because most people are hibernating. In the spring, summer and fall, we meet neighbors on the porch, socialize in our front yard, and chat over the backyard fence. But all winter long we bundle up and don’t linger outside. As a way to connect during the long winter months, we decided to hold a progressive dinner party with our neighbors.

At a progressive dinner, each couple prepares and serves one course at their home. The party moves from house to house throughout the night. Even though you’re indoors for the party, you get a change of scenery by visiting different homes. It is a little less work than preparing a whole dinner party, because you just have to make one course. And, as long as your party hosts are close together, no one has to worry about drinking and driving.

We held our progressive dinner on New Year’s Eve. There were four couples and four courses: hors d’oeuvres, salad, main course and dessert. We set a schedule of one hour per house, but it ended up being more like an hour and a half. We didn’t really mind because we didn’t have a strict schedule, but you may want to have someone who is the “timekeeper” to push people along from house to house if your group is more time conscious.

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Figuring out what to serve can be fun. I used Pinterest to find invitation and food ideas. Foods that are easy to make ahead and can be plated or warmed quickly will work best. You may have to run ahead and prepare something or move something into the oven, depending on what course you are.

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You can invite people who aren’t on the “host” list, just make sure you get an RSVP and perhaps ask if they can bring wine or a beverage for the group.

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We had a lot of fun at our progressive dinner party. We were all well fed and we even made it ‘til midnight to watch the ball drop on television! If you want to get your neighbors better or just have a fun time busting winter boredom, try a progressive dinner party!

 

Eggnog Waffles

Erin SheehanI bought a half gallon of eggnog for a holiday party. No one wanted any! I love eggnog, but a half gallon is a lot of eggnog, not to mention a lot of calories. I wanted to find a way to use some of it up and when I saw a waffle recipe that called for eggnog in the local paper I knew I had to try it. I modified it a little, to add pumpkin, of course. They came out great. I will be making several batches until that eggnog is used up, I am afraid! I hope you can whip up a batch if you have leftover eggnog this year, too.

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Eggnog Waffles

1-1/2 cups eggnog
1 egg
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2-1/2 cups white flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat waffle iron and spray baking surface with oil if needed.

In medium bowl, mix together eggnog, egg, brown sugar, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Add to the batter and stir just enough to combine.

Cook waffles according to your waffle iron directions. Makes about 8 medium-sized waffles. Enjoy!

 

The Midwinter Garden

Erin SheehanWe try to plant hardy crops that will provide us with fresh food from the garden as deep into winter as possible. This year we planted collard greens in early September. On the late side for a successful crop, but it has really worked out. I picked a giant bag of collards on Sunday — December 20! Our kale is still holding on as well. I picked a good bunch and there’s still more out there. We’re also still picking carrots (we have them well mulched) and beets. I had four forgotten broccoli plants in a far corner of our community garden plot that I neglected to pull. Turned out to be a good thing — I picked a nice bag of side shoots on Sunday as well.

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We haven’t had any snow yet this year, which is good and bad. It’s good because our greens aren’t buried by snow. It’s bad because snow is the best fertilizer. The more we get, the better our garden will do come spring!

We have had an unusually warm winter so far, so things are really holding on out there. We just hope that the warm weather doesn’t mess up our garlic by making it start to grow too much and then get nailed by a hard frost.

We still have winter squash in the cold cellar, carrots in the fridge and garlic on the shelf, so we’re doing pretty well in the fresh produce department, considering it’s late December!

I hope your mid-winter garden is doing well and you still have a couple of things to harvest. If you haven’t tried late season greens like collards and kale, I recommend them. It’s special to eat fresh vegetables at this time of year.

 

Our Homespun Christmas Tree

Erin SheehanJim and I went on a “Holiday Tour of Homes” in our city over the weekend. We visited a dozen homes, all decked out for Christmas. It was something to see how hard people work to make their homes welcoming and beautiful at this festive time of year. Seeing all of those perfectly decorated Christmas trees made me think a bit about my own Christmas tree.

I know that for most people a “beautiful” Christmas tree has ornaments that match, probably a color scheme, and maybe even a theme of some sorts. I wouldn’t say that our Christmas tree looks much like that, but I think it’s pretty special anyway.

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Our tree has nearly all handmade ornaments. A close family friend has made an ornament for each member of my family for many years. My mom makes ornaments for us each year. I’m also part of an ornament exchange with two people out on the west coast, who send along homemade ornaments every year now going back about ten years. I’ve also made a few of my own along the way. Each year one or two older ornaments fall apart or get crushed in the box, but there’s a constant supply of new handmade ornaments coming in!

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I love our homespun tree. When I look at it I see the love that has gone into each of those ornaments, and the beauty of that love outshines anything I could ever find in any store. Each ornament represents the spirit of person who made it. I treasure those ornaments, and I treasure our Christmas tree.

This year, take a moment and make up a Christmas ornament or two for your loved ones. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just made with love. Your family and friends will cherish your ornaments, and have something to remember you by someday. What could be more keeping with the spirit of Christmas?

Pumpkin Waffle Recipe

Erin SheehanIs there any food that doesn’t benefit from a little pumpkin? Or better yet, a whole lot of pumpkin? A favorite in our house at this time of year is pumpkin waffles. They make a nice Sunday brunch entrée or a special treat to share with your family.

I bought a waffle maker at a garage sale about five years ago for $3, having long wanted one. Since then I’ve managed to use it nearly every weekend. It was certainly a good buy, although I suppose eating all of those waffles hasn’t helped my waistline very much! Waffles do have quite a few calories and are carb-heavy, but they are so delicious, how can you resist?

Here’s one of my go-to waffle recipes. Super easy to put together and has enough sweetness that you may not need syrup. The recipe happens to be vegan, too! I guarantee you will not miss the eggs. Enjoy!

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Vegan Pumpkin Waffles

1-3/4 cups almond, coconut or soy milk
2 cups pumpkin puree (1 15-oz can)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup white sugar
2-1/2 cups flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Preheat waffle iron and spray baking surface with oil.

In medium bowl, mix together milk, pumpkin, oil, lemon juice and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Add to the batter and stir just enough to combine.

Cook waffles according to your waffle iron directions. Makes about 8 medium-sized waffles.

Pumpkin Apple Pie Recipe

Erin SheehanFor Thanksgiving I couldn’t decide if I should make a pumpkin pie or an apple pie. There were only seven of us so I didn’t feel that making both would be a good idea, unless we wanted lots of extra pie left over. Not always a bad thing, I admit, but I want my pants to fit!

I compromised with this pumpkin/apple pie. It has a layer of apple pie and a layer of pumpkin pie. It’s very unique. It is a lot like eating an apple pie and a pumpkin pie at the same time. If you are tired of plain pumpkin or plain apple pie, give this recipe a try. It does take a while to make, but it’s worth the effort. I used pumpkin from our garden and apples we foraged from abandoned city trees.

Pie

Apple and Pumpkin Pie

1 pie pastry

Apple Layer:

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced apples
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons white flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice (you can use less if your apples are very tart)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Pumpkin layer:

2 cups pumpkin puree
1 can evaporated milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Topping:

1/4 cup white flour
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons cold butter
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Roll out pastry and place in 10-inch pie plate.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a large bowl mix apples, sugar, flour, lemon juice and cinnamon. Place apple mixture into prepared crust.

Beat together pumpkin, milk, eggs, sugar, salt and spices in another large bowl. Carefully pour over apples.

Bake 35 minutes.

While baking, mix topping ingredients in food processor or use a pastry cutter to cut in the butter. Remove pie and sprinkle topping on. Return to oven and bake another 35 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy!

Growing Late Season Greens

Erin SheehanBeing from Upstate New York, I never really had the idea to grow collard greens in the garden. But my husband had tried them before and liked them, so we gave it a go. Turns out they are a great late-season vegetable and last well into the winter, so you can still be picking fresh greens even in December.

Collard greens taste far better after a hard frost. You can plant them in the spring, but you’re better off waiting. You can use the garden space in the spring and summer for other things — beans, peas, garlic, anything that will clear out of the garden by late summer.

Sow your seeds right in the ground about six or seven weeks before your first frost. The package will tell you 18-24 inches apart but I crowded mine closer to 12 inches apart and they are thriving. They germinate in about a week. You can plant them in a slightly shady area but they will do better in full sun.

Collards

Other than a little watering and weeding, collards don’t require much care. One advantage to a late summer planting is that you shouldn’t have a huge problem with weeds or even pests. We planted our crop at the community garden, where they have every pest under the sun, but the collards have been pretty much untouched. I imagine it’s just too cold at night now for most bugs.

You can start harvesting your collards after about six weeks, but if you wait until a hard frost you will be a lot happier with the taste. They lose their bitterness and get a whole lot sweeter after a frost.

The only drawback to collards is cooking time. They need at least two hours on the stove to soften up, but it’s well worth the wait, they are delicious!