The holiday season is fast approaching, so here are a few new food, drink and party suggestions for holiday entertaining. Try this “gothic” pattern from Better Homes and Gardens to carve pumpkin lanterns to light your walkways and holiday tables: http://www.bhg.com/videos/m/96042975/carved-pumpkin-lantern-a-dramatic-way-to-carve-a-pumpkin.htm?q=Thanksgiving+pumpkin+lantern. Create an instant centerpiece by filling a decorative bowl, vase or pitcher with fall foliage, flowers or berries (like pyracanthus or bittersweet).
Place large kettles of spiced cider, mulled wine, and seasonal soup or stew on your grill or next to your fire pit. Remember to use oven mitts to grasp the ladles when serving. Recipes abound on the Internet for these seasonal beverages and culinary delights. Need a tasty cold beverage? Stir the following in a large pitcher: 3½ Cups chilled white wine, 2 Cups cranberry juice, 1½ Cups bourbon, ⅓ Cup lime juice and 12 oz. lemon-lime soda. Toss in a handful of frozen grapes. Serving cheese balls? Why not shape your favorite recipe into small pumpkins or apples? If you’re providing a cheese-tasting board with a variety of cheeses, don’t forget the cheese toppers, like chutney, jam or honey in addition to an assortment of bread and crackers. Create labels so your guests will know which type of cheese is featured in each ball or on your cheese board. Popcorn is an excellent munchie, especially when tossed with nuts, dried berries, and powdered blue or cheddar cheese.
Finally, dress up candy apples by layering chilled apples with melted caramel, white and dark chocolate, and butterscotch. Find recipe details at BHG.com/CandyApples.
Your Halloween party checklist seems to be complete: pumpkins, food, keg. Wait a minute! Why not turn one of your pumpkins into a keg? First, you’ll need a large pumpkin, one you might be able to put a small child inside (but don’t do that to check the size!).
To fill the pumpkin: a generous serving of a beer that doesn’t require chilling: an IPA, stout, pumpkin beer or English-style cask ale. Andy Farrell, beer director for City Tap House, Washington, D.C., and creator of the beer-o-lantern, says the pumpkin won’t impart much flavor, especially if you scoop it out well. But the finished keg will surely put last year’s punch bowl to shame. Here’s what you need to create your pumpkin keg:
Very large pumpkin, Sharp carving knife, Large spoon for scooping, Trash bag for seeds, Flathead screwdriver, Hammer, Cask spigot (available at home brewing stores, online or from a local beer bar if they’ll trust you to return it), Candle, Beer (of course!), Plastic wrap
1. Pick a pumpkin
Select a fresh one without bruises, as well as one that lies flat instead of tilting.
2. Get scooping
Cut off the top, creating a hole large enough to thoroughly scoop the seeds and inside flesh. BE VERY THOROUGH, since stray debris can clog the tap. The inner wall should be as white and gunk-free as possible. If you want, retain the seeds. They can be used in many recipes.
3. Cut a hole for the spigot
This is tricky, like executing a dainty jack-o-lantern nose. Carving shapes in pumpkins with too much force can crack the outside. Measure the diameter of the spigot, then draw it on the gourd’s surface a quarter of the way from the bottom so the beer flows nicely. Soften the flesh around the spigot’s perimeter by gently pounding a flathead screwdriver with a hammer. It may be best to lay the pumpkin on its side on the table during this step, depending on your angle.
4. Insert the spigot
Once the area around the spigot has been thoroughly loosened, pop it in. If the flesh cracks or the hole is too big, drip candle wax around the exterior to seal-in the spigot. Black candle wax creates a more festive look.
5. Fill the “Keg”
Pour the beer into the top hole, making sure the spigot is turned to the off position. Again, use a brew that doesn’t require chilling.
6. Seal Up the “Keg”
Cover the top with plastic wrap and place the pumpkin lid on top. If you wish, seal the top with more candle wax and cut away any loose plastic wrap.
7. Now, Party Down!
Looking for some Halloween decorating tips? Well, here’s an idea you and your children can create in no time at all! Convert your home (or at least a front room) into a witches’ den. Begin with flickering candles to illuminate the way. You could use a star-shaped craft punch to dress up the candleholders or trace star, skull and bat shapes onto black, orange, yellow or white construction paper and cut them out. Attach to tumbler-style glass candles and line your walkway with them.
You can create a cauldron that bubbles by using a large black pot (cast iron if you can find it) and filling it with spray foam. Let the foam dry, then paint it a proper yucky color like gray or pea-soup green or dingy yellow. The kids can perfect the brew with rubber spiders, toads, and other critters. Use the cauldron as a centerpiece on a table indoors or place it on your deck or porch. Arrange glass jars near the cauldron or on a shelf or the floor to display the ingredients for your witch’s brew.
Witches and Martha Stewart are not compatible! Change your house number sign to something devilish … like 666 Witches Way … with appropriately colored cardboard, cutouts or rubber stamps. Establish a parking area for brooms. Make your own by wrapping twigs and grass around wooden dowels. Light windows to set a backdrop for your spooky silhouettes cut from black craft paper. Now, your witches … and warlocks will feel right at den (er, home)!
Previous: Oktoberfest Beer Tasting (10/9/2014) I mentioned the vertical format (one brand, several varieties). Other formats include blind: one style, several brands with guests tasting and naming which brand is which. Another is microbrews from lightest in color and alcohol to darkest in color and highest in alcohol. Or several brands of one style appropriate to the season (Oktoberfest, summer ales, etc.)
Set up a large table anywhere as the stage for your tasting. Since guests will be swallowing and not spitting out their beer when tasting, provide water to rinse tasting glasses and a “swill” bucket to empty them between each beer. Guests should have a clear tasting glass, glass of water, and pen and paper to take notes. If available, provide beer guides or style books for your guests’ convenience. Also handy is a beer menu: each beer tasted (in order), brewer, style and other relevant information.
Cheeses, fruits, and breads and crackers, maybe some deli meats and patés pair well with beer. Or pair your food to the style of beer. Oktoberfest beers pair with German food but also with baked ham, barbecued beef or pork, pizza, grilled veggies and chicken, and steak.
Celebrating Oktoberfest can get expensive for you and your friends, especially with cover charges for live entertainment. Instead, invite friends to your home for a beer tasting!
Beer tastings are gaining popularity. They can be less expensive than wine tastings, although some craft beers and microbrews can be pricey. Create a budget covering the costs of the beers you select plus food. Plan to serve at least four varieties (at 3 ounces per guest) for the tasting plus additional beer (of any type) for post-tasting enjoyment. Add seasonal lights to my 20-inch planter with trellis and it’s a decorative cooler for the beer.
One tasting format is the vertical tasting: one brand, several varieties. For example, Samuel Adams has different beers for assembling a good “flight” for your tasting. Its Web site has sample flights assembled by others and provides a way to choose your tasting’s beers. One sample: Sam Adams Boston Lager, Oktoberfest, Maple Pecan Porter and Harvest Pumpkin Ale. Many local liquor stores might not stock many varieties, but they might steer you to stores that do or will special order them for you. Next: Another Tasting Format plus Food for Your Tasting
Planning on reseeding your lawn? Try a dethatching rake to cultivate soil and cut back weeds like clover, strawberry and crabgrass. Dig out violets and similar weeds. The grass seed requires good soil contact and daily watering. Need to totally renovate a weedy lawn (not merely overseed your existing lawn)? Use an herbicide first to kill the vegetation. It may take two or three applications of non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate, Wait at least a week after last application to sow the fresh lawn (follow label directions).
Hedges “tired”? Shrubs overgrown? Plan now to clear beds and select fresh plant material. Match your replacement plantings to soil and light conditions and size of space. You may find that perennials are more appropriate for a particular space than another woody plant. Deadheading improves a plant’s looks, prevents seediness and may promote reblooming. Remove the flower to a healthy set of leaves or entire stalks, if necessary.
Harvest your herbs for drying and storing. Pick thyme, oregano and basil leaves in early morning. Harvest mint at midday; oils are at their peak at that time. Plant fall-blooming perennials to give your garden a pop of color. Chrysanthemums, asters and goldenrod are great for beds, borders and containers.
(Continued from post of August 29, 2014)
Plant a Final Crop
Plant a final crop in September. Many vegetables mature from seed to table in four to six weeks, providing a harvest by late October or early November. Radishes take about 25 days, and some leafy greens like spinach grow in as little as 40 days.
Plant Shrubs and Saplings
Autumn is the best time to add trees and shrubs, because it allows their roots to establish while avoiding the heat of summer sun. Plant trees and shrubs a few weeks before the first frost. If you live in an area with colder temperatures and heavy snows, wrap branches and leaves in burlap to protect them from their first winter.
After your garden has gone to seed, trim your perennials. This will tidy an overgrown garden, encourage more energy in the plants for the coming year, and discourage problems like powdery mildew or insect infestations.
While your lawn might appear dormant for the season, a little care in the fall guarantees a lush, green garden for the spring. Beneath the soil your lawn is still establishing a strong root system. You can boost this process by distributing a good mix of phosphorus-rich fertilizer.
As summer gardening season wanes, it’s time to get the most out of the end of the growing season and set up your garden for next year.
Plant Spring Bulbs
Plant bulbs like tulips, irises and crocuses in the fall, since they need a winter freeze to begin their growing process. Plant when temperatures are in 40s and 50s but several weeks before a complete freeze.
Stock Up at Discount Prices
Purchase gardening equipment, seeds and plants at discounted prices, as many garden centers slash prices in the fall to clear out unsold inventory. Store seed packets in the freezer to maintain freshness, and maintain seedlings indoors until safe to replant them in the spring.
Repot Overgrown Plants
If your plants have outgrown their locations, replant in larger containers or move to a location that will accommodate their size. Signs that plants are root-bound and require more space are dense or compacted soil, poor drainage, or roots growing out of the bottom of a planter.
Plant Winter-Loving Specimens
Summer isn’t the only time to grow vegetables. Depending on your growing region, plants like kale, lettuce, broccoli and chard can thrive in colder temperatures and even tolerate occasional frost. As long as there’s no snow on the ground and the mercury doesn’t linger below freezing, these plants will grow well into the winter. (Continued)
Fountains and small ornamental pools built among complementary landscaping provide cooling, soothing reminders of creeks and rivers and, many owners attest, relief from the stresses of work and family obligations. Aquatic features also pull the garden together visually by focusing eyes on the water and may increase a property’s value.
However, water features can set off other problems – mosquitoes, clogged filters and leaky liners, for example – that require sometimes costly attention. As a result, many people wind up spending money on maintenance they may not recover when selling the property. In addition, many house shoppers are intimidated by fish ponds or a fountain, no matter how well designed, because of the thought of the cost and effort required for maintenance. The same concerns can frighten away prospective buyers when they see swimming pools.
If you decide to add a water feature, fountains and pools can run smoothly – even year-round – with the right planning and design. Also, if properly installed, a water feature need not require a lot of maintenance. For example, aquatic plants are key to keeping the water clean. Water lilies, water hyacinths, cattails and other vegetation increase oxygen levels and filter and shade the water. The water will be cleaner the more plants there are. Approximately 66 percent of the water surface should be covered with plants.
Try adding goldfish to your water feature. The fish benefit the pond’s (and your) health by eating mosquito larvae and algae. The fish will require water at least 18 inches deep; I recently read about one owner whose pool is 2½ feet deep so the water doesn’t freeze, and the fish are kept alive, during winter months. Absent plants and fish, some ponds and pools may suffer from too much sunlight and low oxygen levels; and, as a result, an abundance of slimy algae develops. You can solve this problem by adding chemicals to the water. Or, tossing a few (about five to seven) pre-1982 copper pennies can prevent algae growth in bird baths. Pennies issued before 1982 contain copper, a natural algicide. A small piece of copper pipe or tubing or other copper coin will work, too. Don’t use this trick in ponds or pools containing fish, as the metal may be detrimental to their health.