Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recipe Box of Friends and Memories

Do I have a story for you. I recently ran into my friend Lesley when I was out shopping and she proclaimed, "I'm so glad I ran into you; I've been meaning to call; I bought something for you!"

My first thoughts were, "What? Why would you buy something for me?" and then I quickly came around to, "How fun!" 

Lesley and I met through the Junior League of Birmingham around 1997 and we saw each other all the time when we were volunteering.  Now our schedules are different and it feels like we never get to see each other anymore. We did talk for a long time on the phone when I was about to "live" on and off in Seattle. She introduced me to her friend, Kathy in Seattle, who became my friend Kathy in Seattle.  Isn't that great? 

Lesley told me that she had recently been to an estate sale in our area and noticed among the clutter, a recipe box shaped like a house. And it was still full of recipe cards! Being a sentimental girl, Lesley couldn't bear to leave such a personal item behind. 

She told me that as she stood there, with a lifetime's worth of possessions for sale around her, she decided that I should be the steward for this very feminine relic. 

I completely agree. I love cooking and friendship and collecting. This treasure is the intersection of all three.  I like looking at the different styles of recipe cards from years ago and at the distinct handwriting of her friends. There are years of friendships here and I only wish that I could ask her about each and every woman. Was the lasagna recipe from her supper club? Was the lemon cake someone's pride and joy? There is a story here, I just know it.

My heart tells me that her family removed any recipe cards that were meaningful and that I have the cards from outside the family, and that suits me just fine. 

I think Lesley is both thoughtful and intuitive to find a way to keep this woman's friendship box alive. I may not know its history, but I will honor it just the same.

Have you ever found yourself looking after another person's treasure? 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cath Kidston Jam Jar Kit: The Power of Cute

Never underestimate the power of cute. I would never say that homemade jars of jam need decoration.  People have been making and giving jam for as long as it has been possible. It is truly a gift.

But when you can doll up your jars, why not?

I am a Cath Kidston devotee.  I have loved her modern Laura Ashley-esque style for years (oilcloth tablecloths, polka dot fabric and darling dishes) and have visited her stores in New York City (sadly, now closed) and London. She makes me want to be British.

There are very few places in the United States that sell Cath Kidston products, so my heart skipped a beat when I noticed her Jam Jar Kit on the shelf of Pacific Fabrics, a sewing shop in Seattle. 

I knew I would be buying some fabric and ribbon, but a jam jar kit? Clearly this store is interested in bringing delight. The kit includes sweet label stickers and a variety of scalloped paper circles in some of Cath Kidston's signature prints that you fold down over the sealed jar lid and secure with a bit of coordinated elastic cord. 

My raspberry jam and peach jam now look so good that I've made it a little harder for my friends to remove the cover and dig in. I actually keep the paper lid and elastic on the counter and replace it after breakfast. Why not?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time and Tea at The Royal Park Hotel

My friend, Nancy and I had tea for two at The Royal Park hotel in Rochester, Michigan just before Christmas and it was lovely. In a hustle bustle season, it felt wonderful to steal an afternoon for ourselves. 

My favorite thing about having high tea is that it requires a certain mood and pace that cannot be rushed.  The tea hostess at The Royal Park is Mary and she is a gem. Kind, efficient and delighted that you can enjoy tea under her watch, Mary makes her guests feel welcome. She gives her guests Time and Tea. The cell phones are off and we have the luxury of a good chat. Besides, sandwiches this pretty need to be savored.
The sandwich tier includes roast beef in pretty puffed popovers, piped egg salad and a cheddar cheese brûlée, all of which are picture-worthy. You can see the entire tea menu here.
Did you notice the pair of gingerbread men on the dessert tier? A sweet touch in December, and very delicious.
Nancy is a Catholic children's author, and we talked about writing stories, blogging and our desire to always produce meaningful content. We understand each other and it is always wonderful to hear Nancy's perspective on things. We had a chance to really talk things over under the guise of tea time protocol. 

If you can, make a reservation for tea with a friend. You will have time and tea - what more could you need?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Frame Beautiful Christmas Cards as Art

Now that the holiday decorations are all tucked away, do you still have a stack of Christmas cards on your kitchen desk?  I know lots of cards have family photos on them (so cute!) Did you receive any that have an imageI want to show you how a pretty card can become a permanent piece of art. 

I know it isn't ground breaking to imagine framing a pretty card, nor is it hard to do. But sometimes you need concrete evidence of how worthwhile the effort is.

My pen pal Renate lives in England (remember when she collected souvenirs from the Royal Wedding for me?) and is a lovely friend who takes great care in choosing a Christmas card for me that is distinctly British. This year she sent me a card with a beautiful painting depicting the changing of the guard on a snowy day at Buckingham Palace.  I just love it and wanted to be able to enjoy for years to come.

I took the card with me to Joann Fabric to find a frame with the right scale and coloring.  I went over to the paper department and held the card up against a million different styles of scrapbook paper - a really fun way to make a mat for a picture - but nope. I didn't like any of them.  

When I got home, I looked through my stash of fabrics and found a piece with just the right mood: a rich red plaid to highlight the guards' red uniforms. I ironed the fabric, wrapped it around the mat board that came with the frame and secured it to the back with duct tape.  Then I placed pieces of scotch tape rolled into a small tube on the back of the card, at each corner, and carefully placed it on the fabric. It left a border of red plaid fabric all the way around the card. The bits of tape on the back of the card helps to keep the card from slipping when I placed it in the frame, against the glass. Then all I had to do was close up the back of the frame. I wrote Renate's name and 2014 on the back of the frame. Voila! I have a sentimental piece of art to put on display for years to come.

Have I inspired you? I think this is a wonderful way to decorate a tabletop for the holidays.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Beekman 1802 Honey & Oats Scrub Bar and Photo News

Brace yourself. It is my photograph of the Beekman Mansion on the new Beekman 1802 Honey & Oats Scrub Bar packaging! I am as proud as can be. You can see the original image below.
When Dan and I were in upstate New York, we were able to visit my friends, Josh and Brent at their farm in Sharon Springs. Josh and I have been friends since college, where we were English majors at Michigan State University.  I was part of a close knit group of friends (Josh, Tracy, Kerry, Me) and I don't think a day went by that we didn't see each other.  We are all still good friends, but life has us living in separate parts of the country and our visits are more often on the phone, than in person  

Over time, Dan and I have become friends with Josh's husband, Brent too and we make an effort to see each other whenever we go to New York or when they come to Michigan on a book tour.  
It was a glorious day when we toured the farm and with their blessing, I blogged about their growing lifestyle brand, flagship store in Sharon Springs and their win on the Amazing Race.  You can read my original post here.
My photo of the mansion was noticed online and I was contacted about granting rights for the use of my image on their new packaging. I would do anything to help Josh and Brent and in my own small way, I am doing my part. 

The Honey & Oats Scrub Bar is a big, beautiful bar of soap that they describe as "Skin Softening Formula: Gently Exfoliates with Natural Bran & Oatmeal. Notes of apricot & honeyed blossoms, hint of fresh wildflowers." It smells divine and I'm sure it will delight.

You can order the Honey & Oats Goat Milk Scrub Bar online or buy it right off the shelf in the flagship Beekman 1802 Mercantile in Sharon Springs, New York (photo above). If you'd like, you can read all about my first visit to the mercantile here.

As someone that loves and admires beautiful packaging, I love that one of my photos is now a permanent part of Beekman 1802 packaging. As I said, I am very proud.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dahlia Tubers - Order Early from Dahlia Barn

I'm making sure my garden is full of delight from August to October. I just ordered some tubers from The Dahlia Barn. They will ship them to me when the timing is right this spring and then its up to me!

Remember when I visited them in the Pacific Northwest this fall? It was such a nice visit and I promised to try growing them in my own little garden. You can place your order anytime now and they begin shipping (by planting zone) in March. Since it is -3 degrees here today, I've got a while to wait!

But why not order now before any variety is sold out? I chose some by color and some by name. How could I resist "Dot Com" or "Sonic Bloom," I ask you? There is a Northwest Flower and Garden Show in February that I would love to attend, but alas, my boots are in Michigan (and sometimes Florida) that time of year.  If you go to the flower show, enjoy it a little more for me, ok?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Seattle: Discovery Park: Peace and Quiet

Seattle's Discovery Park is all about light. We were out on the tip of the peninsula, on the South Beach side, on a Sunday afternoon in October and I was surprised that there weren't more people around. The population of Seattle is around 650,000, but we practically had the place to ourselves. Of course, the Seattle area has so many parks, lakes and mountains to explore, I know that it's citizens were out and about on this spectacular day, they just weren't here.
The water on Puget Sound was calm and I sat here and enjoyed the sound of the water lapping at the shore while Dan explored the terrain around the lighthouse.
I used my zoom to give you a better look at Mt. Rainier and a freighter travelling on the waterway.
This photo is of the same bay, same direction as above (imagine that Mt Rainier is just off to the right).  Isn't it interesting how much more rich the color blue looks when it is set off by the green and khaki of the shoreline?

Discovery Park was once a military base and it is the largest public park in Seattle. There are trails to hike, beaches to walk (there are 2 miles of protected tidal beaches, so no fishing or shelling) and a bounty of natural habitats to explore. I encourage you to visit the park website and read this FAQ sheet. I read that there are tidal pools here too, so I've got that on my list to visit next time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Reeves Library and Antique Pots de Creme

I think I have mentioned "The Reeves Library" to you before. I was given full control over our upstairs hall linen closet when we built our house and what began as a place to keep my Victoria and Martha Stewart Living magazines, quickly expanded to hold all of the issues of magazines that I love and want to keep.  I have all of the issues of the short-lived Blueprint magazine. Years of the outstanding publication American Homestyle and Garden and at least a decade of Country Home.  Every shelf is full. I am almost to the point where my library needs an expansion.

I tend to store my issues by brand and by month, rather than by year.  That way all of my February Victoria issues are together and I can pull out 8 and have all the inspiration I need for Valentines Day fun.  Most people that tout organizational philosophies or methods get rid of magazines first. But I am not most people and I certainly use what I keep. My library is active and I love it.

Here's proof.  I pulled out the Victoria magazine from Jan/Feb 2009 and look what is on the cover. A pot de creme that is very similar to the set of four that I found at the West Palm Beach Antique and Flea Market. I knew that I had to have them, but its also fun to see that they are cover-worthy

The article "Pots de Creme: A Taste of History at the Table" was written by Katie Brandon ans she says "These intricate creamy white cups are a reproduction of an 18th century design from the Pont Aux Choux factory..."

I have yet to bake in them yet. I want to make sure that these antique vessels can handle the heat of a water bath first. 

Have you ever bought anything that you then saw in a magazine? 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

McCormick Spices: My Kind of Flagship Store

This is my kind of flagship store...all spices

McCormick & Company opened a beautiful 3,800 square foot "McCormick World of Flavors" retail store on Baltimore's Inner Harbor dedicated to their spices and other McCormick brands like Grill Mates®, Lawry’s®, Zatarain’s® and Old Bay®  
I was a sentimental fool, admiring all of the spice tins of yesteryear. The company did a beautiful job displaying the life of McCormick spices. Remember my vintage spices - the ones that belonged to my grandmother?  Her paprika would fit right in (above).
I am so impressed with the McCormick brand. They are innovative, modern and interactive - as a home cook, what's not to love?  I was instantly a fan of their "Recipe Inspirations" collections. Have you seen them (above)? Each recipe card has the right amount of six spices  to make one recipe. It allows consumers to experiment with new flavors, without having to invest in 6 full jars of spices. Once they fall in love with the flavors, they can buy the jar for their collection. Genius.
I was also very interested in their salt dispensary. You know that I have a salt collection and I wanted to get some of their special flavored salt-by-weight. Sun ripened tomato salt, chipotle sea salt, lime fresco salt - I want them all! I must have gotten distracted because somehow I didn't dispense any for myself.

McCormick and Company was founded in Baltimore, Maryland in 1889, which made 2014 the company's 125th Anniversary. They designed a darling retro blue and white pepper tin and I managed to get that up to the register.  It is my kind of souvenir.

In addition to the commemorative tin, the company launched an initiative called "The Flavor of Together." It is the process of collecting stories from customers around the world about flavors and family recipes, as well as a $1.25 million donation to the United Way to help feed those in need. You can click the link in this paragraph and read hundreds of stories from around the world. 

This company has vision, and to me that is the spice of life!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sugar Shell: Homemade Candy Coated Fruit

Double wow times ten.  I haven't been so tickled with a recipe or process in years. I present my Sugar Shell hard-candy coated fruit.  I have taken fresh fruit and dipped them into a homemade liquid hard candy before it sets.  Once the candy shell is hard, the fruit has a shiny hard candy exterior and is ready to serve.

Where is Marie Antoinette when I need her?  Fruit this beautiful deserves fine linens, candelabras and a concerto, don't you think?

Have you ever been lulled by someone's storytelling?  When I was in Patricia Wells' cooking class in Paris, one of my classmates told me that when I made it to Rome, there was a dessert she wanted me to order at a particular restaurant. I have yet to make it to Rome, but her description has stayed with me. 

She described a grand presentation of fresh fruit with a shiny candy coating. She said that it was expensive, but worth every penny because the experience and flavor was so unique.  When does one get the chance to crunch through a candy shell on raspberry?
The fruits glisten like jewels. They have a satisfying crunch when you bite into the candy shell and they are sweet and juicy and delicious. The high temperature of the sugar syrup seems to blanch the fruits a bit and the natural fruit flavors transform into something like a liquor.  The raspberries were divine. The strawberries were ridiculous. The maraschino cherries looked like perfect glass ornaments and simply tasted like more. I'd eat one and then another. I couldn't resist and you won't be able to either. 

A note worthy tip: I found Royal Harvest's Nature's Maraschino Cherries with Stems at Costco. They are colored and flavored with natural concentrates and real sugar, which results in beautiful cherries with great flavor and texture.

I have not been able to get beautiful sugar shell fruit out of my mind and one day I noticed a recipe online at Epicurious under the title, Glaceed Fruits. I did not use any ginger in my preparation and I used Reynolds Wrap non-stick foil.
I cannot underestimate how wonderful it is to be able to rely on a digital candy thermometer for this recipe. I didn't have to squint and get close to the pan, trying to read the thermometer through the steam. Instead I could see where I was every step of the way. This model even names each phase (soft boil, soft crack, hard crack) as your mixture reaches that temperature - genius.
I dipped the strawberries, raspberries and mandarin orange segments with wooden skewers. I dipped the grape clusters with metal tongs and I dipped the cherries carefully by the stem.
This is absolutely worth doing. The fruit tastes incredible, the crunchy sugar shell is delicious and the "looks too beautiful to eat" rating is off the charts. My only regret? The fruit juices dissolve the candy coating over night.  This is not a dessert that you can do very far in advance. 6 hours? I suppose you could try refrigerating them, but the humidity in the refrigerator might effect the candy just the same. That said, I know that I will be making this sugar shell fruit again and again. It is too spectacular not to.  I will just have to time my masterpiece accordingly.
I hear Mozart in the distance, do you?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Putz Village Display: When Color Trumps Reason

All season I tried to think of a better way to display my new collection vintage Japanese Putz houses, than interspersed with my coffee table books. You'll remember that I bought them at an antique show in November and did a little renovation on them.  These stiff paper houses were made in Japan in the 1950's.

Initially I couldn't resist how the colors of the books on the bakers rack echoed the houses themselves, so I tucked one here and one there, telling myself that they looked like a Swiss village.

I had a collection of teeny-tiny people, those made to replicate a model train community, and I used putty to make them stand at the front door or sit on the porch of a few of the homes. Cute, eh?
I know that my Putz village display is non-traditional, but I love it. The village looks happy to me and I'm not certain that I would find the same joy if I found a setting that looked more realistic.  What do you think?