Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lamb Cake

Happy Easter! My lamb cake was a bit success.  Be sure to follow these tips to have a 3-D cake:

  • Use a pound cake recipe or box mix.  
  • Grease the pan with Crisco, then coat with flour
  • Place empty cake base onto a cookie sheet - this will catch any overflow when it bakes.
  • Fill the bottom section of the cake pan with batter right to the rim, then set the cake lid on top
  • Tie cake pan pieces together with cooking twine
  • When cooking time is up, allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before cutting the twine and removing the top cake pan
  • Allow the cake to cool with the lid off for 10 more minutes.
  • Now put the lid back on and gently turn the cake over
  • Remove the other side of the cake pan. Allow to cool
  • Now that the cake is mostly cool, remove the cake pan and stand the lamb up on the platter you want to serve from.
  • Don't frost until cake is completely cool.
Good luck!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bunny Buns 2013

This year's Bunny Buns were even better than ever! Here's how to make them:

Buy a bag of frozen roll dough (Look in the freezer section for a bag of individual balls of dough - if you can only find very small Parker House rolls, allow to defrost then fold/knead 2 rolls together to make a soft round shape).

Space the rolls on a cookie sheet with about 4 inches between each roll.  Allow the rolls to defrost and rise.  Shape the the dough to make it oval-shaped. 

To make the ears, angle your scissors at a 45 degree angle. Hold the scissors over the bunny and aim the point of the scissors over the bunny's nose and the handle of the scissors along his back. Move the scissors back an inch and snip two ears into the dough - they should be fairly long, like bunny ears.  Pull the ears up and away to give them some definition.    

To make the cotton tail, pull and twist quarter-size piece of dough in a low area on the back of the bunny.  Bake according to the package directions.  

Once they have cooled, you can use a paint brush and dust edible pink pearl dust onto the ears.  Then add eyes by making 2 dents with the end of the paint brush and press a raisin into each hole. Enjoy! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter touches: Lamb-shaped Sugar Cubes

Who could resist these lamb-shaped sugar cubes in their coffee?  While I normally stop at milk, when the "lump" is a lamb, I'll take two!

It is very easy to make sugar cubes for special occasions. Did you know that?  All you need is a plastic chocolate mold, 1 cup of granulated white sugar and 1 tablespoon of water.  When you mix the sugar and water together, the consistency is like wet sand.  You firmly press the damp sugar into each mold and brush off the excess.  Allow them to sit in the mold for about 30 minutes.  Then gently place the mold face down on a cookie sheet.  Gently tap the back of each mold with a spoon and the lambs will pop out.  Allow them to set undisturbed on the cookie sheet for 1-2 hours until they are dry.  Sliding them, even a little, at this stage can cause the design to break. Repeat until you have enough lambs to serve your guests at Easter.

Now you can say, "Do you take one lamb or two?" 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bunny Buns

My bunny bun is being coy.  Look at this little sweetheart peeking at us over the plate.  Last year I made these simple bunny-shaped rolls for a large family Easter in Florida (we were all on vacation together) and they were a hit!

I am showing you a photo a few days early in case you want to make some for your Easter party.  Buy a bag of frozen roll dough (Look in the freezer section for a bag of individual balls of dough).  Space the rolls on a cookie sheet with about 4 inches between each roll.  Allow the rolls to defrost and rise.  Shape the the dough to make it oval-shaped. 

To make the ears, angle your scissors at a 45 degree angle. Hold the scissors over the bunny and aim the point of the scissors over the bunny's nose and the handle of the scissors along his back. Move the scissors back an inch and snip two ears into the dough.  Pull the ears up and away to give them some definition.    

To make the cotton tail, pull and twist quarter-size piece of dough in a low area on the back of the bunny.  Bake according to the package directions.  

Once they have cooled, you make the eyes by pressing two raisins deep into the face of the bunny. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Maple Sugar Boil

How about this?  Years of Mother Nature's handiwork on display.  If I could have asked the host to "get ready" for me to write about what it's like to go to a maple sugar boil, I couldn't have made up a better opening photo.  

A window sill in the sugar shack lined with maple syrup bottles, each illuminated with the light of the setting sun.  I imagine that each bottle is a maple syrup sample from a different year, but I didn't get a chance to ask.  Please notice the sap buckets attached to the maple trees just outside the window.  This is the epitome of being "bottled at the source."  (ha!)

I have always known that maple syrup is 100% natural and created from reducing the sap of maple trees.  But until you stand and look at the trees dripping sap into buckets and then watch the sap boiling away in the wood-fired evaporator until it is ready to be dispensed into bottles, do you really understand how natural (and miraculous) maple syrup is.

I want to show you a series of photos that I took to let you peek behind the curtain to see the magic of a maple syrup boil.  
A wood-fired evaporator is at the center of the maple syrup boiling process.
This section of it is where the sap goes through the first boil - it has high heat and throws off a lot of maple steam.  Yes, maple steam.  It is steamy and it smells delicious in a sugar shack.  Many of the seasoned maple sugar boilers told me that the first shower you take after a boil actually smells like maple.  (It does!)
I wanted you to see the maple steam filling the sugar shack.  It hangs in the air around the revelers.  We all joked that we were getting a natural facial and that we would look even younger when the whole process was through.  
This section of the evaporator has four channels, which gives the sap even more surface area to boil against, so the liquid reduces even faster in this area.
When the glass tool (measuring buoyancy?) registers a certain level within this metal holder, they know that the sap is getting closer to syrup and they move it to another evaporator. 
That's my friend, Lance pouring the molten liquid into the second evaporator. 
While this is happening, the clean empty bottles are warmed on a tray over the evaporator.  Warming them keeps the glass from cracking when the hot maple syrup flows in.
When Paul and Lance judge that the maple syrup is ready, they decant it into the bottles.
Isn't it beautiful?  It is nature liquefied.

I want to thank everyone (especially Paul, Dana, Lance) for letting me join in on all the fun.  It was a wonderful experience that made me feel just a little closer to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I will always remember my night at the sugar shack.  

Monday, March 25, 2013

Maple Sugar Shack

Imagine how happy I was to get out of the car and see this sunlit view into the woods.  It's March and without the green, the woods take on a whole different personality - distant and beautiful.  I loved it. 

Now add that I was there for a party.  Dan and I had driven an hour (with roast beef sandwiches to share) to visit my friends Dana and Lance and join in the fun of an annual community party. 

Now add that the focus of the party was a maple sugar boil - see the buckets on the trees?  It is maple sugar time.  I knew I was a lucky, but this event made me feel really lucky.  With a capital "L"

I stood with the others in a real live sugar shack and watched the sap boil.  If anything could feel like I was on the set of a movie, this was it.  There was live music (a banjo, bass, mandolin and guitars), a potluck meal and what felt like the whole town of North Branch, hanging out in the woods.

I will show you more pictures, and will explain a bit of the process tomorrow.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mochi Set

This mochi set combines so many of the things I love (sugar, Japanese design, pretty packaging) and trumpets what I call "the power of cute."

It looks like Hello Kitty herself designed these sweet treats and put them in gingham check baking cups.  When I was at the Japanese department store, Shirokiya, at the  Ala Moana  shopping center in Honolulu, there were beautiful packages like this filling refrigerated cases. 

The store is a truly a department store (see map) filled with stations selling accessories, paper goods, electronics, cosmetics and then an unbelievable selection of freshly prepared hot and cold dishes.  I was marveling at the sheer number of employees required to staff each station. 
While I have never been to Japan, it is not hard to see what a treasure Shirokiya would be to the Japanese living and working in Hawaii.  Every where you look, an authentic taste of Japan is at your finger tips.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Meet Me for Hot Chocolate

I knew she'd say yes! I invited my friend, Kathleen, to meet me at Schakolad for a cup of hot chocolate.  I had heard about the rich and velvety hot chocolate (milk, dark or white) for a while now and I thought that a cold March day was a perfect time to do a tasting.  It lived up to the buzz, I really enjoyed the hot chocolate, but a smaller cup would have been plenty!  We shared 3 macarons (strawberry, lemon and chocolate) - if only we hadn't cut them in half before the picture! But it was a Wednesday and this is real life.  That's how the macaron crumbles.

The sun was out, but it was hovering near twenty-five degrees, so a warm drink was a welcome distraction.  While we were admiring the chocolates in the glass display case, we noticed a sign urging us to "try a sample cup" of Choffy.

Choffy is a hot drink made by brewing cocoa beans.  It is quite good! A huge draw is it's scent.  You know how a fresh pot of coffee smells strong and inviting?  This hot brewed beverage has a wonderful and strong chocolate scent.  We breathed in our cups and were enjoying Choffy long before the drink hit our lips.  The drink has chocolate undertones, but is hot and unsweetened, with dry chocolate undertones. I liked it.

I can see ordering a cup when you want something hot and flavorful, but don't want the caffeine of coffee, sugar of soda or a drink as weak as tea.  I know that I'll order a cup in the future, or perhaps buying my own bag of beans to brew at home.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Purse Protectors

As someone that makes cigar box purses, I naturally carry and travel with cigar box purses.  I have always managed to cushion them well enough between clothes in the suitcase, but it never felt right.  

So I took a day out of my schedule to take the time to make the things I need.  I decided on a simple open sleeve with padding and I made four pouches of varying shapes.  

I ironed fusible fleece to the wrong side of this fabulous flannel fabric printed with mixed drinks.  I couldn't resist the tongue-in-cheek idea of cigars and drinks paired together.  Yes, I amuse myself all the time with things like this.

The inside of the pouches is also lined with the drink fabric and on a few of the sleeves I sandwiched bubble wrap in between the fabric.  Genius, right?  These pouches provide all the protection I could ask for and they are super cute to boot.  The best part is that they work just as well protecting my purses in the closet at home.

Gate A43 is now boarding!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Easter Cake Pans

I'm packing for Florida.  Yes, this is the right photograph.  You see, I have had a few requests for my special Easter desserts and once again I am flying cake pans to Florida!

This year I am bringing the 3-D lamb cake pan and the cupcake-size little lambs pan.  The trick to a successful molded cake is using a pound cake recipe or mix. The dense, egg-y cake is far sturdier than traditional cake and will allow the details of the pan to show up in the final product.

Can you believe how many Easter pans I have?  It's practically a collection! My mom is the culprit - she can't resist cute baked goods (who can?) and has supplied me with these darling options over the years.  

I've often thought that there should be a "cake database," where women can register which pans they own and their friends can see who has what and borrow from each other.  Am I the only one who thinks that would be fun?   

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tea at The Townsend

It doesn't take long for me to say "yes," after someone says "afternoon tea."  Whatever the parameters, I learned long ago that hot tea, lemon curd and scones always make me happy.

The Junior League of Birmingham held a social fundraiser at The Townsend Hotel last week and I was lucky to be in town and able to attend with my friend, Starr.    

We sat at this lovely area by the fire - chatting with friends and admiring the floral bouquet arranged in a silver tea caddy.  The cranberry scones had a light sugar-crust, and were served with bowls of whipped cream and homemade lemon curd.  It was the stuff dreams are made of.  The wait staff passed phyllo spinach triangles and cucumber sandwiches and offered each guest a glass of champagne punch to start the event off right.  It worked.  Although more crowded than expected, the guests all seemed happy to be at a tea party on a blah March afternoon. 
The program included a glimpse at Spring trends in clothes, shoes and make up from a style team at Nordstrom.  They did a great job and we were all longing for a brand new wardrobe and bright coral lipstick by the end of the presentation.  You can click the link to view Nordstrom's "Spring Style File" online.  

I had a wonderful time.  Tea and friends in a beautiful setting.  Plus I carried a navy cigar box purse and got girls talking about fashionable accessories, which always makes me happy.  Spring is almost here!  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Not Me

See this girl...bored with life, without a soul to talk to...

It's not me!  I am on my way to the airport to fly to Washington, D.C.  Fun! Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Style Trend: Lace iPad Clutch

I have been reading lots of magazines on all of flights I have been on lately and one common denominator is the fact that lace is everywhere.  Here is just one link to a recent article on lace in Lucky magazine.

I have been determined to make myself "a little something" (read: accessory) with lace this season and I was tickled when I found this beautiful fabric.  It is a lace print - white on denim blue.  It looks like lace, but since it is printed, there are no holes to snag. Bonus.  

I just finished making myself this iPad clutch.  I padded it with fusible fleece, lined it with a tiny blue and white check fabric and closed it with a narrow white zipper.  I love it!  I can't wait to carry it with my Spring wardrobe.  It may be 35 degrees out now, but daffodils and April showers are sure to be right around the corner!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gardenia Lover

Sometimes the closest we can get to a real gardenia is to buy one molded of soap and scent by Gianna Rose Atelier.  Have you seen their Tresors du Jardin with 3 Gardenia Soaps in Soap Dish?  The soaps are beautiful and it is such a lovely gift.

I have a particular affinity for gardenias because my mom used to mail them to me.  You read that right.  For a time they had a house and garden in Florida and when the gardenia bloomed she wanted to share it with me.  A Ziploc bag full of damp paper towels and near perfect gardenia blooms would arrive at my house in Michigan in the middle of Winter.  Can you imagine?  It was a wonderful (and fragrant) moment in time.

But on this bright day in Palm Beach, a perfect (and I mean so perfect it must have opened that morning) gardenia was in bloom on a tree within reach.  I zoomed my camera a bit and this is the result.  The pure white waxy petals looked other-worldly and luckily no bug dared to land on this scented masterpiece.

Do you know what a gardenia smells like?  If you do, close your eyes and imagine breathing it in right now.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Looking Forward to Eden

My job is to inspire and delight.  I love this time of year in particular because I can ping pong around different topics and really surprise you with the photo of the day.

While June feels far off, we can all delight in this rose.  It is an "Eden" climber and when the sun rises over the brick wall on my patio, the effect is beautiful.

Nature requires me to be a morning person!  If I am not camera ready around 8 am, I miss all the good light.  On cold and snowy mornings like this one, I remember quiet mornings like this and I can hardly wait to sit outside in my pajamas with a cup of coffee and my camera.  

I hope that the longer days of sunlight and the promise of Easter right around the corner, helps to make your wait for Spring a little more delightful.  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Las Vegas: Gordon Ramsay BurGR

Did you know that Burgers are a new trend in Vegas restaurants?  I considered all of my choices and decided that BurGR was the perfect place to go on our last night in Las Vegas.  It's brand new Gordon Ramsey restaurant (opened in Jan 2013), has a really interesting burger menu and is located in the lobby of the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino.  I was impressed with how the restaurant embraced technology.  When we gave our name at the hostess stand, she took my cell number to text me when the table was ready.  Fabulous! That freed us up to go wander around the casino for a few minutes (don't miss the Go Go dancers up on the tables - this is Vegas, alright).
Out text came within 10 minutes and our table for two was on the glass wall, so we could see a lot of casino action as we ate dinner.  The atmosphere of the restaurant is young and fun.  I enjoyed my Chanterelle Burger with chanterelle mushrooms, arugula and figgy-onion jam, while Dan had an Uber Cheese Burger with fontina, raclette and goat cheese melting on top. We shared a cone of hand cut Just Fries french fries.  
A waitress will bring an iPad to the table with an interactive drink and dessert menu.  We couldn't resist the idea of a pudding-topped milkshake and decided to share a thick chocolate shake topped with 3 inches of homemade caramel pudding and a crisp toffee cookie.  Yum and "I can't eat anymore!"  It was cold and thick and delicious.  A fun splurge and a little bit of memory-making too.  We'll never forget sharing a pudding topped milkshake.  Thanks, Gordon!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Las Vegas: Cityscape

I promised one of my readers in Denmark that I would take a lot of photos of Las Vegas to give her some perspective on the city.  Tah-dah! 

A little like Times Square in New York City, the Vegas Strip has gotten a lot of new texture lately.  I notice jumbo trons (giant TV screens) playing video of popular Vegas shows to increase ticket sales everywhere and giant "ad wraps" on buildings (see Gordan Ramsay's face on the column below the Planet Hollywood sign) are promoting restaurant openings and special events.  

Plus the city practically has a soundtrack, now.  Popular music is piped onto the street, into the moving walkways areas, outside by the taxi stands.  There are speakers everywhere.  Las Vegas is no place for a headache.  But it is fun and lively and the lights, music and action certainly makes 4 o'clock in the afternoon  seem just as fun as 1 o'clock in the morning.  But then, that's Las Vegas.
And in the daylight, you can see these glorious mountains in the distance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Las Vegas: Border Grill

It was a lucky stroke.  And Vegas is all about luck, isn't it?  Dan wanted to go out for Mexican the third night of the conference and by doing an online search, I found Border Grill at Mandalay Bay.  When I clicked their menu and started reading about the restaurant, I quickly realized that this restaurant was owned by the 2 chefs (and lifelong friends) that I had come to admire on Top Chef Masters.  Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger are known for their gourmet Mexican classics and I found their restaurant by accident.  Hallelujah.

The chips and fresh salsas were very satisfying to munch on after a busy day.  The restaurant atmosphere was fun and lively - though a little loud for my taste.  Noise dampening tiles, maybe?  Can you see my orange tin purse?  I made it out of a Fauchon cookie tin!  I love a purse with a pop of color when I am out on the town. 

The menu was full of interesting choices.  My dinner was: Fish Tacos Ensenada: grilled sustainable fish, tomatillo, avocado crema, handmade corn tortillas, red rice, green rice, black beans was absolutely delicious.  The fish was hot and flaky.  The sides were fresh and flavorful.  I would return again and again.

Dan had Chicken Poblano Enchiladas: smoked chicken, handmade corn tortillas, poblano crema, grilled corn, wild mushrooms, charred poblano chiles and he said it was the best he'd ever had.

Thank you, Mary Sue and Susan!  We loved every bite and are so happy that we were able to try your cooking.   

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Las Vegas: "The Bride" Bridal Shower Cake

This is a cake!  The bride has come to life in this spectacular (and edible!) sculpture by Jean Philippe Patisserie.  You can see more of Jean Philippe's creations online here, select the "Dolls" option.

The cake revolves in a display case (at the Jean Philippe Patisserie in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas) so that guests can admire the work from all sides.    

The patisserie (where I indulged in this) has a video playing on a monitor that shows his skilled staff making the chocolate creations that are available in the shop.  Watching it was like sitting in on a chocolates class and I watched the whole presentation - candies moving down a conveyor belt under a wide ribbon of chocolate, an artist painting the side of a cake, a white chocolate mum being formed, petal by petal, out of individual pieces (comma-shaped smudges) of white chocolate.  I loved it.  

Maybe I should take a class in working with chocolate

Monday, March 4, 2013

Las Vegas: Dale Chihuly

It was wonderful to be able to admire the spectacular Chihuly glass installation on the ceiling of the lobby of The Bellagio.  The display is enormous and you always have to be careful walking through the lobby because almost everyone is looking up, instead of where they are going.  
The large glass discs look a lot like melted Lifesavers and are beautiful with the light illuminating them from behind. The artist, Dale Chihuly has a shop selling his books, videos about the art of glass blowing and a few select pieces of tabletop art sculpture.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Las Vegas: Bouchon

The theme? Pretending we were in France.  

Dan and I had reservations at chef Thomas Keller's Bouchon (within The Venetian Resort) in Las Vegas and were looking forward to a simple and delicious bistro meal.  

Five years earlier, we had come specifically for Bouchon's Steak Frites (Steak Frites: Roasted flat iron steak, caramelized shallots, maître d’hôtel butteror sauce Béarnaise served with French fries) and fond memories of our wonderful meal brought us back. 

Wine was served with a dish of pistachios and loaf of bread called an "epi."  
Here's a quick video I found on YouTube to showcase how an epi is cut before baking to create this classic French loaf.  It has a marvelous crust and is delicious with butter.
Dan ordered Gigot d’Agneauroasted leg of lamb with sweet potato pain perdue, wilted Swiss chard, confit of chestnuts, spiced quince & lamb jus and a side of sauteed spinach.  I assure you, enjoyed every bite.  
I loved my Poulet Rôtiroasted chicken with caramelized savoy cabbage, forest mushrooms & whole grain mustard jus.  The cabbage and mushrooms were a nice addition to the perfectly roasted chicken.  Merci!
After dinner, we wandered through The Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian, window shopping and listening to the gondoliers singing to their passengers.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Las Vegas: Warhol Out West

I considered myself lucky to be staying at The Bellagio in Las Vegas when the largest collection of Warhol art work ever to be showcased in Nevada was being exhibited in their fine art gallery.

The "Warhol Out West" exhibit is fascinating.  If you buy a ticket ($16) for the 2 o'clock time slot, a docent will accompany your group as you view the gallery.  Our docent was an art major in college tour and she did a great job filling in the background of Warhol's life.  

The exhibit has 60 pieces of art, including the celebrated Campbell's tomato soup cans, a series of neon-edged screen prints portraying images of "The West", an interactive exhibit of silver Mylar pillows filled with helium and a series of casual portraits taken of celebrities (Sylvester Stalone, Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones) with a Polaroid camera.  My mind was racing.  

You can see 4 examples of the art on display here.

Do you remember when I saw the limited edition Campbell's soup cans at Target?  It was a special collection of 3 label styles designed to salute the 50th Anniversary of Andy Warhol's tomato soup can.  I happened to still have this photo on my phone and when my group was viewing and discussing the Campbell's soup can series, I was able to show them this picture and tell them about the 50th Anniversary.  No one had seen this display so it was fun to be able to share it.