DIY LAVENDER VANILLA BEAN SUGAR + A BRIDAL SHOWER

28th September 2014

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For the longest time I didn’t have a sister and now I have three. Growing up with only a little brother, no one ever told me the perks and possibilities that come with having a sibling of the fairer sex. For starters, sharing closets, or at least shoes, and then there’s accessories and finally someone who knows how to do a proper French braid or can polish inside the cuticles. Now there’s someone to talk girl shop with and, if they’ll agree to it, someone to play the Sarah and Mary to my Winifred Sanderson for Halloween. But best of all, I get to throw them parties. First up, a French Kitchen Themed Bridal Shower for the eldest of my newly acquired sisters, Jess. And, if my recent travels to France proved informational, a French Kitchen themed party just wouldn’t be complete without a heavy dose of lavender.

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With the help of my other sister-in-law Michelle, their grandmother Sue, and my little sister Amanda, we recreated a bit of the French countryside in our little Texas living room. Sue gathered up vintage kitchen finds and cookbooks from around her house and we found a little bakery downtown that would made French macarons to order. It was an adventure trying to find a shop that sold the correct type of macarons and we’re lucky we didn’t end up with a pile of shredded coconut cookies. A vintage recipe tin from Rifle Paper Co. served as a guest book – an old bridal shower practice popular in the early 19th and 20th centuries that has fallen out of fashion over time – and each lady filled out a recipe card with their favorite dish.

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After a few shower games – like “guess the spice” and sur l’apron – we gathered in the dining room for a little DIY en français. Materials were spread out over Sue’s vintage white linens and stored in little glass bowls. A few simple instructions were given and then each guest filled a little jam jar with layers of organic sugar and other flavorful ingredients like vanilla bean, cacao nibs, citrus rind, cinnamon sticks, fresh herbs, and, of course, lots of lavender. A small swatch of fabric, a twist of twine, and a quick scribble on a label, and each guest had their own DIY to take home and use in their own kitchen.

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That morning before the shower, my Dad gathered herbs – including mint, sage, thyme, and huge rosemary branches – from his garden and baked up a couple rustic tarts using fresh local berries and peaches. He delivered them just as we all sat down for our first round of shower games, but left before he could steal a taste. Those tarts went fast and by the end of the party there wasn’t a crumb left. So we thanked him with leftover macarons instead. I think it was a fair exchange.

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le menu
baguettes
assiette du fromage
cornichons and olives
jam and dijon mustard
mint, strawberry, and vanilla bean macarons
des fruits
peach and blueberry rustic tarts
French lemonade
pink champagne in gold-glitter rimmed glasses

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The traditional bridal shower game where guests dress the bride in a wedding dress made of toilet paper was replaced with a more thematic activity, swapping the bathroom supply for various kitchen materials including cellophane, wax paper, cupcake liners, doilies, and brown paper bags. We decided to dress up the mother of the bride too for a little Paris Fashion Week inspired cat walk.

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For this DIY, I used lavender I grew over the summer in containers on my back porch. If you use lavender, or any other herb, be sure to find the varieties specified for culinary use and those that are free of pesticides.

DIY Lavender Vanilla Bean Sugar

organic large crystal sugar (I used Domino organic sugar)
vanilla beans, split and seeded
dried and/or fresh lavender
small jam jar with a lid
labels, twine, pens

additional flavors could include: cacao nibs, fresh or dried citrus rinds, cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, fresh or dried herbs like mint, sage, and rosemary.

To create, simply alternate between layers of sugar and flavors until the jar is filled. Seal the jar, label it, and set aside for at least one week, preferably two to three weeks. The strength and potency of the flavored sugar will vary depending upon the ingredients used. Fresh ingredients, like citrus rind and fresh lavender will produce a stronger flavored and smelling sugar in a shorter amount of time, whereas the dried varities and the subtle flavors of the vanilla bean will take a bit longer to develop. Store as you would other sugars.

Uses:
– in a cup of tea, coffee, or steamed milk
– to rim a cocktail glass
– as a natural face or hand scrub
– to sprinkle on top of baked goods like scones or small pies
– to flavor bowls of oatmeal or porridge
– in place of small quantities of sugar in recipes

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AUTUMN THOUGHTS AND PINK APPLE & BEET SLAW

22nd September 2014

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You know that old saying, live every day like its your last? Well I like to live every autumn like its my last. Call me cheesy, call me basic, call me whatever you like, but autumn is my jam. And ever since moving to New England – a place that was literally made for the changing leaves and lovely colors of fall – I’ve taken advantage of every autumn just in case we don’t stay here through another. Essentially everything is better this time of year: the air smells great, my running improves, I seriously rock a scarf better than any other accessory, my morning beverage cravings switch from coffee to tea {less caffeine, probably a good thing}, Oktoberfest happens, the cats get cuddly, my hair matches everything, and, of course, its my birthday. And boy did I have a good birthday this year.

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If you’re too wrapped up in autumn to have read the last few posts {totally understandable} then you probably hadn’t heard that I went to Paris for my birthday. On the long plane ride back, still dreaming of macarons and riverside picnics, I jotted down a few things I learned on the trip:

1. Lavender literally grows everywhere. I was a little upset that we wouldn’t get to see Provence and those iconic lavender fields, but was pleasantly surprised to find the lovely herb growing in medians, public planters, and little pots all around the city. How French.

2. You might sound quite French until you let your macaron cravings get the best of you and drop the “e” off of the word “framboise.” Oops.

3. When packing for Paris, don’t take those online style advice columns too seriously. Dress nice, dress comfy. City chic. Locals wore the two things we were told to absolutely NOT pack: denim and white tennis shoes. Oh, and hats, rock em if you got em.

4. Everything is flavored with cassis {currant}. J’aime le saveur cassis.

5. All the ladies – young and old – wear panty hose. Lets you walk for miles, keeps your legs looking sleek, adds a little layer of warmth in the early morning, and simply looks polished. Young ladies of America, take note.

6. Veuve Clicquot costs just as much if not more than here in the US. Go with the cheap rosé.

7. There is a street named after Nicholas Flamel who was, in fact, not just an old sorcerer from the Wizarding World. The more you know.

8. Pas de picnicking à Versailles. Oh and the gardens cost more than a sous now, too.

9. Pro Tip: A double walled thermos {à la Klean Kanteen} keeps your wine chilled all day and also lets you sneak in a sip when you’re not supposed to…like at Versailles.

10. The French seem to love puns, par example: A bookstore called Mona Lisait, a bakery named Cho-Pain, et plus.

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Lastly, I learned that salads cost un bras et une jambe, so that’s literally all I craved the whole time we were there. So as soon as we got home I went to work scheming up some autumn salads. A recent trip to the apple orchard with friends – and corn maze and giant basket of apples later – inspired the first salad. A simple Pink Apple & Beet Slaw drizzled with a light vinaigrette sweetened with mint and honey. And it doubles as the perfect Rosh Hashanah side. Autumn is pretty nifty.

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This is the perfect time for beets too {although they don’t often grow alongside apple trees} and these Chioggias with their pink and white striped interiors make for a lovely dish. But any other beet will do

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Pink Beet and Apple Slaw
serves 2 to 3

Juice from half a lemon
2 teaspoons honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch celery seed
Pinch of salt
½ large pink lady apple, julienned
2 raw pink Chioggia beets, julienned
4-5 large mint leaves, finely shredded

In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cider vinegar, Dijon, celery seed, and salt. Add the julienned apple and beets and toss to coat in vinaigrette. Chill in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes before serving.

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Happy autumn, y’all.

RECIPE REPOST: ICEBOX BLUEBERRY VANILLA BEAN JAM

18th September 2014

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The last of the blueberries, a sure sign of the end of summer. Thankfully, I’ve devised a way to keep savoring the season just a bit longer with this homemade icebox jam infused with the creamy taste of vanilla bean. Tastes great on morning toast and helps keep the cravings for pumpkin-spiced everything at bay.

Thank you Best Friends for Frosting for featuring another one of my creations!

Find the full recipe and many more lovely things here.

MINI FUNFETTI MILLE CREPE CAKES EN PARIS

12th September 2014

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Last night we went to sleep listening to Old Pierre – at least that’s what we call him – singing some old French tune while he clanked away in the kitchen below us. This morning he will undoubtedly stop me on the stairwell to ask en francais about the day or how pretty the sun is like he has done every day since we arrived here. He hasn’t judged a single syllable of my French and even calls me “ma fille” which is adorable. He is, by far, my favorite part of Paris.

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That typical French accordion music literally plays in the streets here. Is it for my benefit as la touriste americaine or is that really what Parisians like these days? And literally everyone – student, soldier, and solid-waste worker – carries around la baguette sandwich around lunchtime, another stereotype filled (albeit a very tasty one). Now, if only I could find someone to sing me the traditional French birthday song, or is that just another classroom myth told to young impressionable American students of French? I sincerely hope not.

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There’s too much of Paris left to explore – today we are tiptoeing in Julia Child’s footsteps to the famous French kitchen supply stores in the 2eme – but I wanted to share a little recipe I whipped up while back home last week. In preparation for our upcoming trip, I decided to celebrate my birthday a bit earlier with a Mille Crepe Cake (after all most of my dessert quota will be filled by des macarons and other pastries). But not just any Mille Crepe Cake, a miniature Mille Crepe Cake filled to the brim with sprinkles. After all, c’est mon anniversaire and I want sprinkles.

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I have to admit I hadn’t read Molly Yey’s definite and thorough research on DIY funfetti cakes yet, so it took me a couple batches to figure out the best time to add the sprinkles for maximum color and pop. Trust me, funfetti isn’t just adding the sprinkles whenever you very well please. It’s a science, a beautiful birthday wish-made-true unnecessarily colorful science.

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Now I’m off to find more macarons because how many times do you get to eat authentic French macarons on your birthday in Paris? On the other hand, we haven’t had crepes yet, so maybe those too? I’ll see if Old Pierre wants anything before we leave for the day.

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mini funfetti mille crepe cakes
makes about 40 mini crepes

2 eggs

1 cup milk

¼ teaspoon salt

½ tablespoon sugar

1 cup flour

2 tablespoons melted butter

sprinkles

butter for the pan

jam or preserves

whipped cream (optional)

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, sugar, and salt. Continue to whisk while adding the flour, until a thin batter forms. Stir in butter, cover with a tea towel, and let the batter rest for about 15 minutes.

2. Set a medium sized skillet (preferably non-stick) over medium-low heat. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with melted butter.

3. Using a spoon or a ladle, pour about 1- 2 tablespoons of batter into the middle of the pan. Quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion until the batter coats the pan evenly in a small circle. Top with lots of sprinkles. Cook until the edges of the pancake curl slightly and the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds. Flip and continue to cook on the other side for about 10 – 15 seconds. Transfer to a plate greased with melted butter. Repeat with remaining batter.

4. Assemble the crepe cake: place a crepe in the center of the plate, spread a thin layer of jam or preserves on top, cover with another crepe, and continue with additional layers of crepe and jam until the cake is a few inches tall. Top with a final crepe and a dollop of whipped cream and more sprinkles. Serve and eat immediately.

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EDIBLE ACADEMIA: PINEAPPLE OF MY EYE

8th September 2014

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image via The Hunted Interior

Everything’s coming up pineapples. But not necessarily in the kitchen or on the table where one would expect. These past few months, pineapples have been popping up everywhere from the runway to home redecorations, from Pinterest boards to Anthropologie accessories. Thanks, in part, to a modern day nostalgia for tiki-era cocktails and the retro refashioning and upcycling of 1950s bar carts (another Pinterest DIY trend), the pineapple is having a heyday in both symbolic and savory forms. Once a symbol of conspicuous consumption, the pineapple is now a relatively commonplace fruit and readily affordable in various forms including fresh, juiced, canned, and dried. But is pineapple experiencing yet another fashionable trend, perhaps even a seasonal popularity much like the annual arrival of the pumpkin-spiced everything, or is there something more to the modern symbolism of the iconic tropical fruit?

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The pineapple originally came from the Americas – along with many other historically and agriculturally important foods like corn, beans, potatoes, and peanuts – however this peculiar yellow fruit took a slightly different path into the average consumer’s home. Some of the earliest accounts of pineapple explain that the indigenous peoples considered the fruit a symbol of friendship and regarded the tropical crop with the highest esteem. When visiting – or rather conquering – Europeans observed this use of agricultural symbolism they were able to discern the temperament of a particular indigenous village and later took the custom, along with the fruit itself, back across the globe. The pineapple first spread to Spain, then England, and then – in a most interesting turn of events – back to the Americas with the British colonists.

From its initial European debut, a link was forged between the pineapple and the concept of hospitality and so the fruit was used as a symbol in various non-food related spheres including architecture, design, and interior decor. Throughout the continent, the pineapple adorned everything from bed posts to linens, pretty much anything a visiting host guest might see. Other accounts explain that merchants and sailors would bring back a pineapple and place it by the front door or in window so that neighbors might learn of their safe return after a long journey at sea. When it was on the table, the pineapple always took center stage in the family’s fruit bowl, centerpiece, or floral arrangement.

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image via Wikimedia Commons

The first pineapple grown in England (albeit in a hothouse) was ceremoniously presented to King Charles II in 1675. The scene was even immortalized in a famous painting by Dutch painter Hendrick Danckerts who depicted the king lording over the royal gardener, aptly named John Rose, who can be seen kneeling and handing off the tiniest pineapple known to man. Originally, the pineapple was only available to the monarchy, but later became a novelty fruit that many wealthy estates grew in green houses or <em>pineries</em>, a special service of glass houses designed particularly for growing pineapples.

Captain James Hook is often credited for bringing pineapples as an agricultural crop to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 18th century. Nearly two hundred years later, the Dole family, with their innovative canning equipment, discovered a way to capitalize on an abundant cash crop and America’s obsession with the exotic fruit. Thanks to Dole, pineapple imports from the Hawaiian Islands increased significantly, bringing the fruit in various forms – like chunks, rings, and crushed pieces – to eager American tables. Food historian Gary Y Okihiro argues that the pineapple provided a symbol of modernity. With Dole’s clean, modern canning process and the pineapple’s long established status as a luxury food item, the fruit became an easy way to demonstrate status and a clear symbol of conspicuous consumption. It’s hard to believe that something once considered a luxury item now adorns cheap pizza alongside hunks of salty ham, masks the taste of white rum, and floats alongside peeled peaches and maraschino cherries in syrupy fruit cups. Doesn’t seem very hospitable does it?

video from Tasting Table

But as this spring turned into summer and boots were swapped for bikinis, everyone seemed to be craving a taste of the tropics.  It was only a matter of time until this edible symbol became fashionable once again. In August, the food-centric site Tasting Table posted a video and a short interview entitled “The Art of Carving a Pineapple.” Phillipe Vongerichten, manager of his brother’s high-end French restaurant in NYC, demonstrates the technique while clad in a tailored suit, sipping an espresso, and using a very expensive Japanese chef’s knife. Vongerichten says that he found the recipe in an old Parisian service book from the 1950s and learned the process from detailed illustrations. The resulting dish, ananas au kirsch, is a plating with quite a theatrical presentation.

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clockwise from top left: The Alison Show, society6StylizimoDown That Little Lane 

Recently, pineapples have appeared in many other retro recipes ranging from tiki-inspired cocktails, like the daiquiri and the Mai Tai, to healthier versions of desserts like the Disneyland Dole Whip made with whipped pineapple. A quick Pinterest search for “pineapple” leads to various healthy recipes toting the fruit’s ability to aid in digestion and fat burning, but also numerous pictures of hollowed out or halved pineapples filled with tropical-looking drinks, sorbets, and desserts. Other traditional pineapple recipes – such as pineapple upside-down cake, pineapple chicken kabobs, and various grilled dishes – are trending topics on the social media site as well. But these edible examples of the pineapple trend pale in comparison to the growing use of the fruit as a non-edible symbol.

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clockwise from top left: Studio DIY, The Healthy Foodie , Studio DIY, and Studio DIY

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image via Handimania

From accessories to clothes, home décor to kitchen baubles, the pineapple is the new it print. Pineapple themed parties have also become a trend with various phrases, such as “I pine for you,” “party like a pineapple,” and “you’re the pineapple of my eye,” serving as the thematic catch phrase. Even more interesting is fruit’s role in DIY and craft circles, where other foods – such as emptied walnut shells, egg shells, and small pumpkins – are painted, shaped, and adorned to look like pineapple. While these crafts serve little to no useful purpose aside from décor, some DIYs demonstrate how to form a cheese ball into the shape of a pineapple using pecan halves. Another set of instructions shows how to decorate a bottle of champagne with fancily wrapped chocolates (the expensive gold foil kind) to resemble the exterior of a pineapple. How crafty and conspicuous!

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image via Rifle Paper Co. 

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clockwise from top left: Anthropologie, Jenny Cookies, Sugar and CharmTanga

As someone who loves food – especially pineapple – I’m a fan of this trend, but as a food scholar, I wonder whether we should, at least, consider the cultural and historical background for our symbolic food choices. More importantly, what will the next big food symbol be? Donuts were last year and macarons the year before that. And then there was bacon. In hindsight, none of these really represented anything historical or even, big word here, transculturally meaningful like the “hospitable pineapple” does. To be honest, I’m ready for a few of our Southern symbols – like lucky black eyed peas and gratitude pecan pies, to make it to the popular table. Until then, I’ll just put a pineapple on it.

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clockwise from top left: The Wonder Forest, Juicy Couturefieldtrip, Pixie Market

A few references:

The Pineapple: King of Fruits, Fran Beauman, Chatto & Windus: London, 2005.

Pineapple Culture: A History of the Tropical and Temperate Zones, Gary Y. Okihiro, University of California Press: LA, California, 2009.

The Food Timeline, curated and edited by Lynne Olver