Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One Lucky Girl: A Friend Arrived with Pastries and Peaches

My love of ridiculous appliances continues.  Of course I could "can" my jams and pickles with the water bath method.  But wouldn't having an appliance with a "pickles" button be way more fun?  Yes!

My husband gave me the Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System for my birthday - woohoo! I hadn't used it yet, but was gushing about it with my friend Liz and she offered to be my wingman on the maiden voyage. We had so much fun! 

We chose a Thursday night after work and she arrived with Lebanese takeout for our dinner, two fancy desserts (my birthday!) and an armload of peaches to turn into jam.  What a friend.
We followed these instructions for reduced sugar peach jam word for word and we created a new tradition (obsession?).  It was so easy we started plotting what else we could can/jar/preserve/pickle.

I'll tell you more about the machine, process and results later. Just know that I love it and don't feel ridiculous at all. Small batch canning is just my speed.

Monday, August 25, 2014

American Spoon: A Shop and Cafe in Petoskey

I was able to visit the original American Spoon retail store, located in the gaslight district of Petoskey, Michigan. Are you familiar with the brand? It is a jam and jelly company that has a cult-like following. Their products are of the highest quality, their packaging is gift-worthy and, as per their website, "we still prepare fruits by hand and cook them in small copper kettle batches under the watchful eyes of our skilled cooks." Nice! 

They have slowly expanded their offering to include salsas, fruit butter and condiments. What I think is really interesting, is that they have an American Spoon Food Cafe next door. My mom, aunts and I went there for lunch and it was perfect.  Most of the menu items feature an American Spoon Food sauce or jam (genius!) and I was very impressed.
I love my whitefish tacos which featured their roasted tomatillo salsa. The salsa was bright and tangy and delicious.
The super cute cafe serves 24 flavors of house-made gelato. Order a cone, grab a stool and watch the vacationing world walk by. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ceramic Fruit: Be Still My Heart

Okay, one more shout out for the shop, Bluff Gardens in Harbor Springs, MI. 

They. sell. ceramic. fruit.

I can't believe I missed this vital piece of information in my first post about Bluff Gardens

I know you've seen ceramic fruit in design magazines like House Beautiful, but have you ever seen it available for purchase?  I didn't think so.  

When I am out shopping, I'm always on the lookout for hard-to-find things: paper buildings, Swedish dishtowels, pretty salt containers, paper lace doilies. I hadn't even considered including ceramic fruit on my list because it was so hard to find. My heart leapt when I say this beautiful display.  
True to size - check. 
Realistic - check. 
Adorable - check.

I was called away to look at something and I didn't find my way back to this display to make a purchase. But now I know where to find the end of the Designer Brick Road...Bluff Gardens at 721 West Lake Road
Harbor Springs, MI 49740, or call (231) 526-5571.

You're welcome.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Caramelized Peaches - 5 Ingredient Masterpiece

These caramelized peaches were a happy accident.  Intending to "poach" the fresh peaches, I placed them cut side down in a large saute pan in a syrup made of equal parts sugar and water, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and an inch of vanilla bean.  I put the burner on medium and...answered the phone? Checked the computer?  

Do not follow my example, it was a close call and I almost burned up the pan as well as the peaches.  But I arrived at the magic moment when the peaches had caramelized and the remaining liquid had reduced to a glossy peach-infused syrup.  You can make this incredible (and easy!) dessert too, just please stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on things.

The peaches I bought were large and still quite hard.  The good news is that all of that hardness disappears when you cook them.  If you don't have an inch of vanilla bean to spare, just splash in a touch of vanilla just before you take it off the heat.

I served each peach half with a small scoop of my favorite "ice cream."  Edy's Slow Churned Yogurt Blends in Vanilla.  It is creamy, contains the beneficial live active cultures of yogurt and counts as a good source of calcium.  What more could a girl want?

*I'm reposting this entry to inspire you to buy peaches at the farm stand! This is my favorite way to prepare them and I haven't had a chance to take another picture! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spoiled by Mother Nature: My Birthday Bouquet

She did it again. I've being spoiled by Mother Nature, who came up with these beautiful flowers just in time for my birthday. 

Daybreaker roses, David Austin Abraham Darby roses, Bill Warriner roses, coral verbena, fresh mint arranged in a Lychee can from the Asian market in Seattle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bluff Gardens called my Bluff: I loved it

I admit, I was a little disagreeable when I heard my mom and aunt decide that we were leaving the downtown Harbor Springs shopping-area to go get "vegetables." I pictured us roaming the surrounding farmland looking for a particular roadside stand that had good corn or something.  Don't get me wrong, that is fun too, on the right day, but we were supposed to be shopping and I hadn't been to this area in years.  

Then, a whopping 5-minute drive later, we arrived at Bluff Gardens, a freestanding storefront next to a large cutting garden. We went inside and I saw a beautifully arranged gift shop (see above) featuring a display of fresh miniature vegetables front and center. Then a tiny water mister came on, spraying the tiny vegetables with moisture.  Where am I? What is this place?
I loved it immediately because I could see that the purveyors of this fine shop had a vision and were doing things according to plan.  Aside from the technicality of a private line of fresh dips, jams and spreads, they only seem to sell miniature fresh vegetables and Quimper Fiaence pottery.  A super specific offering, no?

I applaud them. It felt like an alternate universe.  In a fast and quick world, it was lovely to see a shop that treats tiny beets and adorable zucchini with reverence.
If you are having a party, only these crudite will do.  Can you imagine veggies being any prettier?
Mind you there is no website that I could find. Just a Pure Michigan business link that says "Bluff Gardens: Purveyor of fresh miniature vegetables, fruits, dressings, sauces and spreads since 1934." 

While I was wrapping my mind around the fact that people would never stumble upon this shop (721 West Lake Rd., Harbor Springs, MI); that customers would have to know that miniature vegetables were on a rack inside this gift shop, I walked into the adjoining room. 

Quimper Faience heaven. I have never ever seen so much of this French pottery in one place. Soup bowls and platter and teapots, oh my.
I have a soft spot for Quimper Faience.  I don't own any of the pottery (yet), but I fell for some of their cookie tins filled with French butter biscuits.  Of course I did, you say. And I've kept the empty tins thinking that I could make one into a super cute purse by lining it with fabric and adding a handle. Sounds like me, right?
Word of mouth is a wonderful thing, but I want to help out Bluff Gardens. Here is an online shout out for Bluff Gardens - buy their darling miniature vegetables and fill your cottage with Quimper Faience!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Paper Lace and Petals: When Part of the Picture is Enough

So pretty! Just a corner of the intended photograph is enough to show you how sweet this arrangement is.  I have a new camera and it has a feature that creates an echo photo with just part of the original image.  I usually discount it, but today it is too beautiful not to share.  A bit of paper lace and a few perfect petals. Cropping or framing is so important in photography. This proves my point.

I couldn't resist putting a square paper lace doily under this arrangement of lace cap hydrangeas, yarrow, zinnias and lavender. Swoon

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Sunflowers Make a Scene

This field of sunflowers was so dramatic, I noticed it from the highway going 60 miles/hr. I was lucky that it borders a farm road and I had time to slow down and turn off.
A woman pulled off behind me and reached for her camera too. We stood on our running boards and tried to capture the moment. You don't need to be a photographer to take great photos on a day like this!
While this photo is less artistic, it allow you to see just how large this sunflower field is.  Their bright yellow faces are blooming all the way to the forest in the distance.  See how tiny the barn looks when I pull back on the zoom? This is farming at its most beautiful.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cue the Swan: Driving M-22

Cue the swan! Whenever we have guests at our cottage and we are enjoying a beautiful day, I call out "Cue the swan!" as if adding that little touch (real swan) would make their experience in northern Michigan perfect.  

Well we were rolling north along M-22 fromTraverse City when I noticed this beautiful view...complete with swan! Enjoy

Cigar Box Purses are Man Magnets

Tah-dah! I just finished a collection of beautiful one-of-a-kind cigar box purses. I have listed them in my Etsy store - most are $50-$65. Making them is a labor of love, but I couldn't resist converting some of these remarkable boxes into handsome accessories.  There has been a renewed interest in my cigar box purses and after making some sales in person, it feels good to replenish my store online.
They are a conversation piece like no other. I was talking with a customer and she was raving about how many people she met when she carried one of my ANA cigar box purses.  She said no man will walk up to her at a party and compliment her earrings, but they all want to know about her purse. I told her that I call cigar box purses a "man magnet" - she smiled and said, "Exactly."
If you would like to see them in my online store, click here. I can wrap and ship immediately.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hydroponic Strawberries: Cedar Sol Hydro Farm Saves My Summer

We actually went to Cedar Sol Hydro Farm for their tacos. I know it sounds funny, but this thriving hydroponic business has also become famous for their homemade tacos and chips & guac.

My dad and I stopped for a quick lunch and were intrigued by their U-Pick Strawberries sign. The strawberry crop in northern Michigan felt late and small this year and consequently, we never made jam over the 4th of July.  

So here we were thinking, "Strawberries? Really? You have strawberries growing right now and all we have to do it is pick them?"  It was like someone saying they had a little snow in their backyard.  Now? Really?

We tromped down the track that led to the hydroponic garden and voila!
They have buckets and scissors available and we picked some beautiful fresh basically organic strawberries.  
We made a batch of strawberry jam this morning and I can't wait to eat an unreasonable about of toast and jam tomorrow morning! Thank you, Cedar Sol Hydro Farm for saving my summer!
P.S. They grow gorgeous lettuce too that they sell in bags at the taco stand.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My First Food Truck Experience: Dog House PDX in Portland

When I was plotting our weekend getaway to Portland, Oregon, I had "visit food trucks" at the top of my list.  I love watching the Food Network and the Cooking Channel (plus I read a lot of magazines) and I was tired of having a media lens between me and a delicious meal.  Food trucks aren't easy to come by in my part of Michigan and I was excited that I would be in an area full of culinary choices.

And then I ordered a cheeseburger.  I know, sounds ridiculous but by the time we'd eaten our way across the Portland Farmers Market and a gourmet brunch at Beast, I was ready for an American classic.
I found my perfect meal at a bright red food truck called Timber's Dog House PDX.  I enjoyed a cheeseburger and chocolate milkshake on a picnic table in the sun.  Everything tastes better outside and this was no exception. It may sound silly, but I've never eaten a hamburger that was this hot. Beautifully prepared and right off the grill really makes a difference. And the milkshake was thick and chocolatey with just the right amount of salt. I loved it and didn't want to share. I need a bigger one next time, that's for sure.

I promise to try Hawaiian Fusion or something with pork belly the next time I have a chance, but on this particular evening, I was happy to go with a classic. If you find yourself within reach of Timber's Dog House PDX, order from their wide variety of choices and you're sure to have a great meal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cheery Cherry Pie

Anne's Fabulous Cherry Pie

2 frozen Pillsbury pie crusts, defrosted
4 cups washed and pitted tart cherries
3/4 cup white sugar
3 Tablespoons quick tapioca
1 tsp lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
some white sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Open the box containing 2 frozen pie crusts and leave them on the counter to defrost.  Unroll one crust and center it on the pie tin. Unroll the second pie crust onto a cutting board and cut long strips - this will be your lattice.

Mix cherries, sugar, tapioca and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Allow to sit 15-20 minutes.  Stir well and pour into the pie crust covered tin.  Lay the strips of crust across the cherry mixture and arrange into a lattice or basket weave pattern.  Pinch dough strips to edge of pie shell to seal the strip.  Brush crust lattice and rim with a beaten egg.  Sprinkle entire top of pie with a little white sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature with creamy vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Foxglove: When Gardeners Dream

Dream a little dream with me and look at this magnificent foxglove. If you'll allow me to guess, I think this is a "Sutton's Apricot" foxglove (http://www.michiganbulb.com/product/Suttons_Apricot_Foxglove)

I love photography because the pictures I take enhance my memory and help organize my wish list. I have come back to admire this photograph more times than I can count. When I was taking this picture at the garden center, I said that this particular foxglove looked like it was designed by Laura Ashley. Can you see what I mean? The print inside each blossom looks like its straight from the pages of her long lost bedding catalog. #iloveit

I will print this photo to display in my aqua and shell peach kitchen, but I will also return to this garden center next year to buy a foxglove. Hopefully they will have Sutton's Apricot, if not I'll choose another plant and then track down this variety elsewhere. I think it will make me happy for a long long time. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Port in a Storm: New Found Friends and a Kindred Spirit

I haven't blogged in a few days because I have been thinking about how to explain something that happened to me last week.  There are some scenarios you think will never happen. 

Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself driving alone on I-75 North when severe weather hit. The dark sky and hail were ominous enough, but when the national weather service commandeered my phone and started barking: “Tornado Warning in your area. Take cover!” over and over I got scared.

I drove a mile in limited visibility before I made it to an exit. There were 2 churches at the intersection, but their parking lots were deserted. I saw a house with a light on in the family room and I pulled into the driveway. I moved carefully across the driveway through hail and rain and started ringing the doorbell when I reached the porch. No answer. I tried the door, opened it and walked into this stranger’s house calling out, “I’m taking cover! Yoo hoo, I’m taking cover!”

When a man came around the corner, I said, “I was on I-75 when my phone went berserk about a tornado and taking cover!” He responded, “Mine too! Come on, we’re all in the basement.”
I spent the next 2 hours (while several storm cells passed overhead) taking cover with a darling family. A pastor, his wife and their 3 children (a baby, 2 yrs and 11 yrs) gave me snacks, told me stories and watched the radar with me. As we distracted each other, we found that the mother and I have a lot in common - would you believe she quilts?

I still can’t believe the circumstances that led me to their door and gave me the courage to walk inside. I’ve been texting with her and she said that she’s glad the wind blew me their way. I am forever indebted to this family in Kawkawlin, Michigan and I've promised to come back and visit this summer (on purpose!) on one of my trips to the cottage.  

We joked that we'll start sending Christmas cards to each other this year and that 15 years from now, someone would pick up my card on their mantel and say, "Wait...who is this?" 

Threatening weather brought me to their door and neither of us knew that I would made new friends and find a kindred spirit.