Monday, November 28, 2011

Best Bougies Parfumées

France celebrates the scented candle or bougie parfumee.  Doesn’t it create a magnificent atmosphere?  The French and their candles deserves several posts, but let’s get to the bottom line: who does not love the scent of a perfumed candle, as hostess or as a gift idea? I gift them each year with a bottle of wine in a basket at Christmas for my sister’s corporate gifts. 

My favorite candles come from Mis en Demeure in Paris, though I also love Diptyque.  But who can get to France and pay $60 for a Diptyque candle? My favorite candle in the US, which also happens to sell at select LA farmers markets, is Robert Ford of Market Candle; order HERE

The candles are soy, long-burning, and high fragrance content.  Great alone, in the glass container, but for holiday I gift with a bow~


You saw them on my Thanksgiving table; the simple glass containers are wonderful; I have used them for years~


My favorites are Citrus Leaf and Casablanca Lilly burned at the same time, though I have to say I have tried many of them and they are all very true for fragrance; they come in a simple carton box that you can wrap, ribbon or dress up~


They are also $10.  Ten dollars!  For me in SoCal that means $12 delivered.   You have seen these in previous magazine shoots with me covered in leaves and bows, or salt & sugar for winter; they are so simple as they are but easy to dress up.

Hope you will enjoy for yourself or for gifts~ love Robert’s candles, they rival the best French candles in my opinion; tell him I sent you please though I have no commission arrangement with him….

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ready or Not!

One month until Christmas.  Can it be?  This year, I am on it.  No, I am actually ahead!


The Thanksgiving weekend was a wonderful warmup; thank you L for bringing the wine for dinner, and this sweet velveteen heart which I shall keep and put on the tree this year~


I made a trip to Los Angeles today, and decided to surprise Mom on the way home by bringing home the tree.  I get my Noble Fir from Home Depot~


I have told you before how much I love my Prius; it fits a tall tree with ease~



My Tree Guys are students at Orange Coast College in Architecture and Computer Science; I said, “you are going to be on the blog, look proud!”  God Bless the U.S. of A. and the work ethic of our college kids~



Arriving home, I found that Mom had bought some cedar garland and a few pointsettia; we were both in the Christmas spirit!  I was happy too that Adan my gardener was still at the house, and helped me get this enormous tree in the house; tonight I got the lights done, and added the Nuremberg Angel to the top; this alone makes me very happy to see~


I am going to spend Christmas in Laguna and then a week in Beaune.  New Year’s in Beaune is something we have never done but we will do this year; I can’t wait to do the house up for Reveillon~ the décor, the food, the guests…the decor….will be fantastic.  And so, perhaps, because I am missing that week between Christmas and New Year, I will savor each day in the month of December while I am in Laguna…..

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Giving

A small gathering for Thanksgiving dinner this year was a welcome change for me.  In the past I have hosted dinner for 25, with two turkeys and hoardes of children and the chaos of extra tables and seating, but I didn’t feel the pressure this year as we would be just eight for dinner.  My focus was instead on securing the best Turkey, which I reserved from my favorite poultry farm, DaLe Ranch.  However due to a mix-up, my fresh, organic, free-range bird ended up at the wrong farmers market last Sunday and was sold before we figured out what had happened.  Unhappy, yes, but it was not worth getting angry, and Ashleigh has promised to make it up to me for Christmas dinner.  I found a fresh organic bird as a substitute, baked pies on Wednesday night and started on the table on Thursday morning after the turkey was in the oven.  I have been fixated on images from the beautiful 19th Century kitchen at La Mirande in Avignon, see images HERE, so I decided to create a centerpiece worthy of a still life, or at least a scene from a French kitchen~


I started with a piece of the washed burlap from the magazine shoot, with a small wad of newspaper below for volume.  I added a few olive branches I pulled from the trees at the grocery store, where I found the only item purchased for the table, a Savoy Cabbage, which despite not having its full outer leaves looks like a French Kitchen to me; otherwise I began assembling elements from the kitchen and from my market baskets set outside the kitchen door, including an acorn squash, and several large pomegranates that are soon going to make infused vodka gifts~


…as well as cabbage leaves from my potager, mini-pomegrantes from a neighbor, a few more free apples from the crate of Smit’s apples I got a few weeks ago for free and a yellow pumpkin I bought a few weeks ago at the Saturday market~


And then more layers, a few heads of kale from the garden which added volume, butternut squash that were in reserve for the meal’s appetizers, lots of white votive candles and a small handful of walnuts from the bowl on the sideboard~


Not too bad, I thought, by 3pm the table was set~


the alcove dressed in green and white was lovely, and now just needs a few pointsettia and another amaryllis to make the transition to Christmas~


To ensure the setting was not too casual, I used Matteo linen napkins in white, beautiful French brass curtain rings for the napkins, and French Sterling and Vermeil flatware; I can source napkin rings for you starting at $3 each for simple ones you have seen recently in my posts; these acanthus leaf ones were also very reasonable despite the beautiful detail~


Those of you who follow my blog know my family is consistently late for dinners.  Tonight was no exception as I said, “do not show up at 7, we are eating at 5 o’clock.”  Most of them showed up at 6pm saying “you said we would eat at 7.”  I can’t win.  Next time, should I start eating without them, or do I need to send formal invites? When they did arrive, we started with Nancy Silverton’s Butternut Squash Crostini, easy and phenomenally good.  While this was very filling (each person needed only one or two), the flavor was seasonal and this was a Wow item in the menu.  Tutorial this week~  IMG_9449

Cocktail hour was condensed into 15 minutes as they also mowed through a baked Camembert, which was excellent with the vin chaud or mulled wine I had on the stove in the kitchen; cheese tutorial also to follow as this is great for Christmas~


As we prepared to sit down, the room positively glowed~


If I did this again I would layer in even more “stuff” including some grapes, but for eight of us, this was fine; crystal, candles, shiny, fresh…’s one thing to have a nice table, but even better to stay nothing on it will go to waste and I spent an additional $2 to make it happen~


My brother-in-law M is our master carver, fine job again this year!


As we finally prepared to sit down, I ran around confirming seating, brought our traditional crescent rolls from the oven and smiled to myself….love to come to sit at my own table….


A short while later everyone was ready to move on to dessert, which consisted of individual mincemeat tarts~


Scratch pumpkin tarts; I ran out of paper doilies, and so used green paper leaves on the mincemeat, and here used rose petals from the garden for the pumpkin tarts; it worked; I served each tart on two rose petals….I will try this again for a romantic dinner or Valentine’s….with something else as the pastry.


Remember the strawberries I showed you from Chino Farm last weekend?  I ended up buying the long-stemmed “French ones” as they are smaller and very flavorful, though they are more pink than red.  I dipped them in a melted bar of Valrhona from Trader Joes; Excellent~~ 


Following dessert, the table was a blend of shades of red, candlelight, and glass~


The Paulee post card was tucked in to the tablescape; though no one commented on it, it was my tie to France for my Thanksgiving~


A fine meal, a fine evening.  My nieces who are away all phoned to ask me how to make this or that and to tell me they want cooking lessons for Christmas.  I plan to be in France just after Christmas, but we will have another turkey or a second Thanksgiving before year end. 


Wishing you all a lovely holiday weekend~

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

La Paulée

There is no Thanksgiving Day in France.  But that does not prohibit the French from enjoying a good meal, appreciating the family bond, and feeling a strong tie to the land, as we do in America this week.  In Burgundy, the end of the harvest is a significant event, and indeed a cause for celebration, as so many families and so many livelihoods depend on it.

The timing of the harvest, or vendange, varies according to the condition of the grapes, part science, part art.   I am trying to think of anyone who harvests mechanically in Burgundy, and none come to mind among the vintners I know.  The process is slightly improved from the old days, when the men carried the enormous banneton baskets, unique in shape to Burgundy, across their shoulders, full of grapes.  The women here no doubt also helped with the harvest, as this was and still is a family affair~


This is a stylized photo, no doubt, but you can see the men atop the cart pouring wine from the small tonneau or barrel; each worker was given a ration of wine for the day, I think about 1.5 litres, in a personal barrel of this size.  The boy on the horse carries a processional-type bouquet atop the pole, and the seeming leader of the group, the gentleman front and center, sports the cap, heavy moustache & beard typical in pre-WWI photos, as well as his own tonneau in hand, with pride at the completion of the harvest~


To this day, in Burgundy this time of year and this week in particular, friends gather to celebrate the harvest, and the wine auction held in Beaune (that’s another post).  At the higher end, friends gather for a special meal and each person brings several bottles of their very very best wine to share with friends.  At the simpler end, as in days past, folks celebrate with food on the table, and barreled new wine to sell in the next year or more. 

I am using this postally-used 1905 postcard as a feature for my Thanksgiving table.  I am thankful for the simple things: Thank you for another Thanksgiving with my parents; thank you for so many wonderful people in my life; my furry-faced Honey & Biscuit dogs who are a source of constant love; thank you for letting me share my gifts to help people; a few of you in particular know who you are, and it gives me great joy to be able to do and help and advise where I can.  May it come back to me in copper pots….haha that is a personal joke for my dear friend Guy!!   


Sandra from Thistle Cove Farms is on my mind this week; she lost her husband Dave almost two weeks ago, suddenly, and I see her pressing on through her grief, as Sandra would do.  If you can stop by with a kind word it would be wonderful; you can find her HERE


Amities or best friendly wishes to all this week, and as she knows, Sandra is in my thoughts and prayers this week~~

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blackberry Rosemary Syrup

If you have anyone in your life who loves breakfast foods such as pancakes or waffles, this is a great gift idea.  I love to gift a bottle of homemade syrup because it means that every time my friends have a nice breakfast and use the syrup, they think of me!  Try this with any kind of berries, though my favorites are blackberry and blueberry. My family loves extra fruit, which means fresh blueberry pancakes with blackberry syrup~


Make this recipe in summer when local berries are plentiful and inexpensive; today though, I found blackberries two for $1, so I am making two more batches tonight~


Make a simple syrup of two cups sugar and 1 1/2 cup of water.  You can substitute any kind of bottled maple syrup if you want the easy way and a touch of maple flavor.  Boil the sugar and water on high heat, then toss in a handful of rosemary~


Turn the heat down to medium and stir the rosemary for about five minutes to infuse the syrup~


Add the berries to the rosemary and syrup and bring back just to a boil, stirring; then remove from heat.  I use as many berries as I can get in the pan; about 4 or 5 cups.  Extra berries make the syrup better and more fruity.  Let the berries poach in the syrup for about half an hour off heat, on a corner of the stove; stirring occasionally and pressing the berries slightly; the berries will lose their color and juice as the syrup picks up the fruit flavor and color; I also add just a dash of vanilla extract if using the simple syrup~


Strain the solids and bottle the syrup.  I use a simple fine sieve over a bowl, and I often give this job to my Mother, to keep her out of trouble while I am cooking. Stir, stir, stir I tell her.  Mash the berries slightly and push the remaining juice out of the berries.  She has gotten really good at straining syrup for me.  You will end up with something like this~


Kerry came over for breakfast last weekend, and I served her this syrup on pancakes, which she pronounced delicious and perfect for winter with the slight infusion of rosemary.  I hope you will try it for gifts this Christmas and holiday season.  Embellish the tops of your bottles with ribbons and greens or fabric, the same way we did for our Holiday Libations of wine and vodka.

My friend Laura has given me a great tip, to get the glass jars at Ikea.  I am off tomorrow for the $1 bottles. ..thank you, Laura!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nancy Silverton at Chino Farm

Among the Foodie Crowd, Nancy Silverton is well-known as the founder of LaBrea Bakery, which I will say revolutionized gourmet breads in Southern California.  She is a particular champion of Sourdough Bread, which the French call “bread, the old way,” versus the more modern yeast. 

Nancy is also the owner of two adjacent and wildly-popular restaurants in Los Angeles, Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza, which are co-owned by restaurateurs Mario Battali and Joe Bastianich.  She has produced a wonderful book, The Mozza Cookbook, based on the restaurant’s dishes.  

Today, Raquel and I went to Nancy’s cookbook signing in San Diego; I hope you are not hungry as your read this post~


The book was $35, and it is a beautiful collection of recipes that I look forward to trying, and sharing with you~


Nancy, at left, signed with co-author Matt Molina; she was very modest, “I did the first half, he did the second half!”


Moving past the signing table, I was greeted by the bread, grilling for crostini~


there was also some chunky & crusty bread which was salted, a little garlic-y, perfectly dripping in olive oil~


I should mention that this was a foodie’s convention; everyone who is a San Diego Foodie was there, it seemed, in addition to a few others; adored La Petite here, decked out in Rancho Santa Fe style~


We had a demonstration of burrata, which is fresh Mozzarella cheese with a filling of cream and more shredded Mozzarella. as I told Raquel, the Americans are worried about weight and non-fat and the like and this is what the Italians eat…and they are not fat….this was fantastic~


The burrata was accompanied by the bread as previously shown, plus three sauces, a tapenade of olives, pesto, and another bean-based sauce~


We had two brothers handling the mozzarella; and it was an amazing show; here the steam is from the hot water~


Raquel chatted away in Italian with the Brothers; it was a good connection that we will revisit for the market~


Meanwhile, we were served this~


I’m sorry, I meant this, butternut squash crostini topped with smoked apple bacon~


as well as a glass of Prosecco~


And pine nut “pignoli” cookies with Rosemary, which were delish and are meant to be in the book~


The venue was Chino Farm, Rancho Santa Fe.  Even the Ford got decked out for the event~


Chino is a farm stand, avec Cult Following.


Tom Chino is the Patriarch; the family is Japanese and has been here since the ‘40’s.


They sell direct from their farm stand and wholesale only to Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.  When you see the produce you know why;


The herbs are abundant, until they sell out; here Bay~


here Savory~


And here sage, sooo great fresh in Thanksgiving stuffing~


Fresh flowers are great all year long in salads~


also today, fresh cherry tomatoes~


the tiniest brussell sprouts ever; by the time I came back these were gone~


various berries~


including two varieties of strawberries; “French or Californian?”, he said. You will see mon choix this week but you can already guess the answer~  


it’s all amazing!~


A few original remnants of the ‘40s from owner Tom Chino. Very charming~ 


This is a working farm so there are now greenhouse tomatoes~


and my dog Honey and I enjoyed exploring the farm~


We are going to another book signing here in two weeks; I will be buying a stack of this next book for Christmas gifts; can’t wait to go to that event.

Have a lovely week; tonight I will resume holiday gift posts.