December 31, 2011

Why do we watch a ball drop on New Years Eve? New Year's and Time Balls

As the end of the year approaches, we are all busy preparing for parties and New Year’s resolutions.  At 11:59, we’ll look to Times Square (or watch it on TV) and anxiously watch as the ball begins to drop. But what are we really watching? What started out in 1907 as an advertising ploy has become a national tradition. 

The Times Square Ball was erected in December of 1907 to advertise for The New York Times. It has been dropped every year since except for 2 years during WWII due to mandated blackouts.  The ball has been remade 6 times since the first dropping. 

While dropping a ball seems like a bizarre custom to us today, it seemed obvious to the creators in the 1900s who were familiar with real time balls (also known as signal balls.) Time balls, wooden balls held on poles above tall buildings near bodies of water, had been used since 1829 to help seamen calibrate their marine chronometers and watches. Marine chronometers of the time were imperfect and needed to be reset each time in port to keep navigation calculations correct.  

A popular time ball, erected at Greenwich Conservatory in 1833, dropped daily at 1 pm to a sea of waiting ships. It became the standard for time. Time balls in the United States dropped at 12 PM. 5 minutes before the hour; the balls were raised half way to signal the hour was approaching.  When the hour struck, the ball was released. Many seamen would stare at the balls, waiting for the drop, like we do today counting down to the new year. 

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has a fun and safe celebration tonight. 

December 25, 2011

Virtual Christmas Tour of Longwood Gardens

 Merry Christmas!

A few days ago, a friend took me to Longwood Gardens to celebrate the end of the semester. I am a native Pennsylvanian who lives about 30 minutes from Longwood Gardens; but I haven't been there since I was little. For some reason, we tend to write off the places that we are close to as nowhere near as exciting as those places farther away. :D

I wish I could have wrote more, but it's Christmas. I hope all of you have a good holiday and enjoy the photos. 

December 19, 2011

"Kiffle" Recipe: A Christmas Pastry

Kiffles seem to be a Pennsylvanian take on a traditional Hungarian pastry called "kiflis." A kiffle is a triangle shaped piece of dough rolled will a fruit filling, baked, then topped with powdered sugar. Typical fillings include apricot, poppy seed, lekvar (prune,) nut, and raspberry. This pastry is virtually unknown in my section of Pennsylvania but is widely known in the Lehigh Valley. It seems as though, these popped up some time in the 1980s and have traveled the area by word-of-mouth and recipe swaps until they became a ubiquitous Christmas pastry in the area.

I got these recipes from Andy's Aunt Linda, who is known as the best kiffle maker in his family. She graciously taught us how to make them on Saturday and they really are delicious.   

The Recipes 

Apricot Kiffles


- 1/2 lb Butter
- 1/2 lb Margarine
- 16 ounces Cream Cheese
- 4 cups Flour 
- 4 cups Apricot Filling 

Mix all ingredients together, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut the dough into 8 equal parts. Remove one piece and place the others back into the refrigerator. Roll 1 piece into a ball, then roll out thin on a floured surface. Spread 1/2 cup of filling onto the dough, leaving a half of an inch gap at the edges. Cut into 12 pieces as if you are slicing a pie. Roll up each piece and bake on parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes on the bottom rack and 7 minutes on the top rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar directly before serving (optional.)

Combine all ingredients.
Mix with hands.
Spread with filling and cut like a pie.
Roll each piece up
Bake, sprinkle with powdered sugar, enjoy!

For the Nut Version:


-1/2 Lb Butter
-1/2 Lb Margarine
-4 cups Flour
- 2 Egg Yolks (save whites)
-1 ½ cups Sour Cream


-4 cups Ground Walnuts
-3 cups Sugar
-2 tablespoons Cinnamon 

These are made the same as the apricot ones except that the egg whites are spread on the dough and the nut mixture is sprinkled on top. 

They are surprisingly easy to make, and the nut ones look really pretty. I hope everyone is having a good holiday season so far! I can't believe the month is almost over.

December 15, 2011

Colonial Christmas Cookie Recipe

This is technically a Federal Era Christmas cookie recipe but as with most recipes, it was most likely baked prior to when Amelia Simmons wrote her book American Cookery in 1796.
At this time baking cookies was not associated with Christmas. Cookies were just a part of traditional celebration fare and there are few denoted recipes for Christmas Cookies until the 1830s. Christmas was the beginning of the holiday season that lasted until "twelfth night" or January 6th. Many of the traditions now associated with Christmas were originally a part of New Year's celebrations of people in the 1800s such as cookie baking and gift giving. New Year's cookie recipes from the 1800s are far more prevalent than Christmas ones. The recipe before this one in the book was just titled "Cookies." This recipe is generally accepted as the first American Christmas cookie recipe ever printed. 

This recipe will make a truly hard cookie. But, as the recipe says, they soften up after 6 months! :D

Amelia Simmons' Christmas Cookie Recipe

-3 cups Flour
-1/2 cup Sugar
-1 1/2 sticks Butter
-1/3 cup ground Coriander Seed, powdered
-1 teaspoon Pearl Ash (use modern Baking Soda)
-1 Cup Milk (you may need more to make the dough pliable)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream butter into sugar and coriander seed in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients until it forms a pliable dough. Roll out dough to 3/4 of an inch and use a knife or cookie cutters to make shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes.

I am thinking this is probably a good batch of cookies to make Christmas tree ornaments out of. They would probably smell delicious hanging with some gingerbread cookies.  This cookies pictured at the right were made by Miss Elisabeth at Reflections & Adventures of a Muser for their Christmas festival at the beginning of the month. It was a lot of fun and we made lots of yummy Christmas treats. 

December 8, 2011

The End is Almost Near!

Really! Finals are almost over and I can't wait to post about all of these things I've wanted to post about! This semester has been the worst and I really can't wait until it is over!

I have included an image of what college students look like at 1 am studying for finals. :(

I am so excited to finally be able to clean the house, read books that aren't for classes, research, and write again!

 The good news is that the torture ends December 16th! I look forward to hearing what everyone has been up to!

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