Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vintage Theme Bridal Shower, on a Budget

A good friend called me recently, to say that she’s hosting a bridal shower for fifteen.  My friend has been the Bride’s surrogate Mother after the Bride’s Mom passed away 15 years ago.  Could I help?  Of course!  The Bride is a stylish but also no-nonsense, a girl on a budget who wants details that count but no extra fluff, so it was not to be a lavish affair.  But that didn’t mean it couldn’t be really nice.  I want to show you a few elements of the party, maybe you can find a few things to steal, to consider, and a few tips. 

The Bride is young, a writer and newspaper columnist, and loves swing dancing.  She decided on a “vintage” theme for the shower, though she didn’t want any of us to spend a mint.  That means, to start, not eating out and borrowing as much as you can from friends instead of buying much beyond the food.  We used my flatware and glasses. If you don’t have all matching, it doesn’t matter, though I have to say I bought these simple all-purpose glasses and flutes 20 years ago and they have paid for themselves a hundred times over. 


The entry and sitting room set the tone for the party, styled using pieces borrowed from an antique dealer friend.  The Bride’s photo was incorporated into the mix in the silver frame on top of her own vintage typewriter. Details count.  And “vintage” is a great theme because anything more then a few years old can qualify, and you can do a lot with just a little.  Look in your cupboards and see what you can find!!


A vintage hat, family portraits and vintage postcards and barware set the scene for a party.  If it’s a men’s party, of course use more masculine photos and objects; for women, its easy with hats and such, and vintage women’s images are easy to find or reproduce.


If you can find them, go for a big piece like a phonograph. Too fun!! 


Guests were encouraged to come in vintage dress, but just in case, we set out several cases of vintage goods from our closets, such as boas and sequin sweaters and hats; from the sedate to the outrageous, it was all there.  I admit to still wearing my vintage clothes, but hey, these were 20-something girls, and this stuff would all be way vintage and hopefully cool for them.  I missed the end of the party, but apparently they took turns changing outfits and taking dozens of selfies in vintage style~


Hats and hat boxes set out on the piano~


Around the corner, inexpensive gift boxes; the hostess bought the goods, I assembled. All Target and Trader Joes.


French sterling and Limoges were stacked on a side table, with desserts for later.  A few rose petals scattered around said Party.  The peach and pink tones said Vintage to me.


For the food, we relied on Pinterest to collect and share food images and ideas that the Bride loved.  We kept it Simple.  Take an inexpensive piece of brie and add fresh rosemary and honey, or apples and honey or liqueur and bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Use parchment paper or a Silpat underneath.  Looks great, tastes amazing.  An eye-catching plate even before it makes it to the oven. 


Our Bride arrived, and at first I thought she was channelling Spain.  But no, she is a Suffragette. Major points for Vintage Theme!  She later changed into a sequined 20’s cap.


On a side table, I had set out the glasses, on a silver tray.  Add rose petals from the most tired roses, the ones that won’t make it in the bouquets.  Instant Festive.  Shop hard and know where to get roses: that may be the grocery store, florist or a friend’s garden.  There was also wine and flavored water.  Never forget lots of water.


Peach sangria garnished with rosemary was also on hand; I am not a big fan of sweet drinks as guests will probably get toasted and hungover from the sugar and alcohol, but it sure does add to the fun of the party, as long as no one has to drive!


I used champagne buckets for the roses; they were fragrant and cost $20 for all three dozen local roses. You can’t beat roses for impact for a party.


All the sofas were covered in vintage barkcloth scraps we had on hand.  Still vintage.  The Bride’s chair had an overlay of lace over barkcloth, a piece I have had forever, bought in a flea market garage in NYC long ago.  Bridal and Vintage.  I set a rose on the seat as if to say Reserved for the Bride.


So back to food and table details, I used my linen napkins, ironed flat, and lots of pretty flatware.  Instant party.   Guests could start with smaller plates for their finger food. Dessert was also set up on this side table.


We had homemade blinis with salmon, while the girls filled their own drinks.


Have some kind of food ready for guests the minute they walk in the door, but the rest of the food items can hit the table as they are finished in the kitchen.  Prepared salads, layered on trays, as well as some hot appies…..


Nothing was necessarily fancy, but it was all good…


As for the guests, these girls came ready to party!  Hooray Ashley for your vintage gear, all your own~


Eventually the girls all sat down for more substantial food~


Before bridal party games….


and a surprise, a French Singer belting out the tunes~


Our singer was the largest expense of the day after the food and drink.  But it made for a really fun party, and she also sang a poem the Groom had written for his Bride.  At the end of the evening, we figured we had saved a mint versus going out to eat, and even had a French Jazz singer all to ourselves.  It was a very fun party and the Bride loved it; success!  Such a success that the Bride wants me to ramp up the decor and florals and details of her wedding, which is this next Sunday.  Hope to have one post showing you some DIY and budget prep items and another post of the wedding itself.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

French Lavender Apple Olive Oil Cake

I have Olive Oil on the brain lately, since a friend is finishing her completely delightful book dedicated to everything you need to know about Olive Oil.  She’s Greek, but wants to know my thoughts on French olive oils.  So in addition to the olive oils I have brought back from Beaune and Paris, I have been doing a little research and looking into the various offerings of French olive oils we can find here in the U.S. so I can share a few sources with my friend this week, as we sample them together.  I love French extra virgin olive oils “EVOO” (so I don’t have to keep retyping!), they are softer and fruitier than many of the California or Italian EVOOs I know and also love.  French EVOO is best for finishing dishes, not to fry with: whether to sop up with bread and balsamic, or as a quite excellent vinaigrette on salads, over grilled vegetables or to toast croutons or slices of toasted bread. 

Tasting EVOO is like wine, there are so many nuances and flavors and fragrances, depending on the specific cultivar and orchard.  French olive oil production is along the Mediterranean, in the South of France, and they are generally so smooth, you can take a tiny sip them right from the bottle, or rub on your skin for hydration.  There are some amazing productions from the south of France that I will hold off discussing for the moment, but among those that are readily available here, one continues to capture my heart, and that is a lavender-infused EVOO from the French house A L’Olivier, founded in 1822.  Olivier is a great man’s name, but it also refers to the Olive cultivar, the same way that an orange tree is called Oranger in French.   There is a nice A’Olivier shop with all their products at 23 rue de Rivoli near Saint Paul (the  4th).  If you go, look for this little 5 ounce gem, in the lavender-colored tin, of course~


You can also find this great little tin for about $10 at Sur La Table stores and various online retailers.  So here’s another way I like to use this oil: in cake.  Rather than using butter or plain vegetable oil to make the cake moist, this recipe uses olive oil.  I have eaten this classic cake in France, and have here adapted a recipe from the bakery Le Pain Quotidien.  It’s a great, slightly caramelized and fragrant dessert made fresh and served hot from the oven with fresh whipped cream.  Caution: my family loves to eat it right from the oven, and it’s OK but not great leftover the next day, in my opinion.  But it’s a great summer dessert with an unusual flavor.  You will need:

Five small apples; I used Gala here

Five tablespoons double-sifted all-purpose flour

Five tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons lavender-infused extra virgin olive oil (I used A l’Olivier’s or you can infuse your own)

2 tablespoons EVOO of your choice (not infused)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup honey + 1/4 cup agave syrup

4 eggs


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a tarte pan or cake pan with parchment paper.  This is a rather gooey cake, so I like to let the paper come out over the top of the pan.  You’ll see in photos below.

* * * * *

Peel and core the apples, and slice them into pieces.  Rough cut is fine. Put them in your lined tarte pan.


Whisk together:  the sugar, olive oils and two of the eggs.  Add the flour and baking soda.  Whisk and pour over the apples. 


Bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown, like this.  As you take the cake out of the oven, turn up the temperature to 400 degrees.


In the same bowl you used for the first batter, mix the last two eggs and the honey and agave.  For this recipe I used honey and agave; you can use all honey if you like.  Look for nice flavored local honeys if you can; I am using wildflower.


Whisk together the eggs and honey and agave, and pour over the partially baked cake; it’s ok for it to run into the cracks at the side of the cake:


Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  For presentation, you can add a few thin slices of apple before you put this back in the oven.  Remove from the oven and dust with powdered sugar and garnish as you like with lavender flowers.  But if your family is like mine, this cake doesn’t stand a chance of cooling down or even being garnished.  They were in this cake last night before dinner was on the table.


Top with fresh whipped cream.  It’s very very delicious~


This makes an easy and tasty summer dessert, one that will suit a number of palates and you can make last minute if you keep a few apples on hand.  Look for the lavender olive oil if you can, or keep it in mind for gifts.  It’s a great little French pantry staple.  Bon week-end and bon appetit~