Friday, November 30, 2012

Patience, Please…

I was mucking around in my Picasa web albums this morning and it seems that by deleting some old duplicate images I have done something terribly wrong…..

I can see all images on my primary computer, but when I get on my laptop, or go to any other computer, I see the No Entry symbol instead of the images.  Big sigh…this is not good. I can’t view the last four months worth of posts.

I’m hoping for some progress later today, and encouraged that the images are somehow still on my computer.  I have checked to be sure all the permission settings are correct for public viewing.  I’m close to my limit of 1gig of file space, so think that has something to do with it.  If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears…testing with this image of the paperwhites in the rain today, fingers crossed this new image will post….

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just Around the Corner

I wonder if there is an age at which one should stop traveling around for Thanksgiving dinner.  This year left me and my parents feeling a little unfulfilled.  Dad wanted to eat promptly at 5pm, the appointed hour for our meal and his usual dinner time.  After his modest grumblings, I filled a plate for him and he tucked into his meal alone at the dinner table, at my Sis’ house; a moment later she said he should be “thanking her” for dinner instead of eating ahead of the rest of us.  Mom didn’t have much to say about the meal aside from the fact that my Sis mentioned that she gives $20 bills out to people on the corner who are begging for food, while Mom said would like to have a few of those bills herself.  I just brought my dogs along for entertainment ahead of the meal, and with a glass or two of bubbly I was good…..the turkey was fine and the meal seemed to be quick, and then I found myself driving my parents home shortly after 7pm, and we had my mince pie for breakfast the next day.  I suppose my parents have gotten used to having their meals at their own house; I don’t know what to attribute it to.  Well, there is one thing I can say, Mom and I both can not wait for Christmas, so she was ready to just skip Thanksgiving.  I didn’t waste any time getting the tree up yesterday, here just with the lights~


Oh, and I also booked a ticket to Paris non stop from LAX, December 9th, the morning after the second farm to table.  R is there in Beaune waiting for me and looking forward to the holidays.  I have two weeks, returning on December 24th.  Everything I need is basically there; I am packing a few fun items including some vintage Chanel jewelry for the season~


And in the meantime getting ready for the two farm to table events while enjoying all the seasonal pretties at home~


My mind though, is really already in France.  There are so many things that I didn’t get to show you from last year.  The Hospice, how we decorate the tree in Beaune and how we venture off into the forest for photo shoots.  And of course, yes, the food at the market~

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truffles anyone?

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We are not expecting guests this year, but the table will still be set.  I can’t wait to be here….

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Tomorrow I’m off the market, and to help a new friend with some florals.  The next two weeks will be intense baking and planning….much to show you.  Hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend~

Friday, November 16, 2012

Peaceful Evenings

Yesterday I went to tour the farm that will host our brunch next month.  It was great to see the location; I immediately knew how the service and dining tables need to be organized, and how the table tops can be styled.  Arriving back home, I took a few rough snaps to send to Raquel and our hostess; pressed burlap runners will be topped with winter greens from the hostess’ garden as well as my own.  A pop of red Toyon berries will provide color and a little Christmas reference.  Lots and lots of paperwhites will add to the fragrance of the greens~


Rather than toss the few cuttings I had gathered, I put them in a small glass and started to organize the coffee table in the living room for the Holidays~


Sentimental objects from around the house are coming together to fill the tray~


To start, an old French candlestick that I have yet to clean, and my grandparents’ rosaries~


Now that this little corner of the house is clean and cozy, I’m also feeling very motivated to get back to playing my harp, which I have played in fits and starts over the last two years but not at all, not even once, in the last nine months with my parents’ health issues.  Enough….now it’s time for me...


So now, every night after I get my parents to bed, I am spending more than an hour on easy tunes (especially now, Christmas carols) and “ladders.”  Funny that though I played piano and violin as a child, I feel like I’m really starting over from zero.  It reminds me of so many people who have told me that they have completely forgotten any of the French that they had learned at an earlier age…use it or lose it….so now I am determined to keep at my music and like French, to learn it well enough that I won’t forget it.


Honey is one of my groupie; she especially loves it when I sing along and doesn’t care if I miss a note or not….


She’s right at my side, since it’s extremely difficult to play the harp while a dog is sitting on your lap…


Miss Biscuit….less so…..she’s more interested in investigating if there might be a mouse under the sofa~


Since Mom has use of her arm again, she’s helping me with some light cleaning each evening, and also providing me with a little moral support as I cook and clean every evening.  Soon the tree will be up next to this fireplace, and we will sit here every night for several hours.  While we love summers outside, we look forward to holiday evenings around the tree in this living room all year long.


Wishing you some lovely & peaceful evenings as all the holidays approach.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pumpkin Post Script

Just a quick post for you here this morning.  I have been watching the prices of pumpkins post-Halloween, especially the large “Fairytale” variety as they are called here~


Before Halloween they could be found at the Saturday market, grown and sold by Don’s Farm, and also this year they were at Pavillions for $9.  After Halloween, they were marked down to $4.  And today, as I made a quick run to get some yogurt for Mom, I saw they were marked down to $1.  Yes, people looked at me going through the store with a large chariot of pumpkins, but wow, what a great deal!


These will turn into soup for the 100 guests at the dinner next month.  It was interesting that on Saturday I went to Chino Ranch for a book signing, but the chef/author had in fact had his NYC restaurant flooded by Hurricane Sandy.  While his books and signed book plates were there, he also sent a recipe for Pumpkin Soup.  It has garlic in it, and more onion.  A little more than I’d like, but it was still delicious.


I asked the woman serving the soup which pumpkin she used.  “The one in the middle,” she said, “with the ribs.”  I asked her if she knew the variety and of course (it’s Chino Ranch, after all) she did: it’s called Musquée de Provence. You learn something every day…. Looking that up, I see it is originally from northern South America; it was Christopher Columbus who introduced squash to Europe. This variety is related to the Butternut Squash, no surprise there; and apparently was introduced to France “rather late.”  Given that Modern to the French means XVIIC, who knows when it really got to France. 


Look for these if you can this week; they are on sale and as long as they are not blemished they will keep for several months.  It will keep you in soup and bread through the rest of winter~


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sweet Holiday Treats

I mentioned that next month I am making dessert for one hundred people at a farm to table brunch.  For the last few weeks I have been bringing a few dessert samples to the Sunday market to have our favorite shoppers sample them and for Raquel and I to evaluate.  This weekend, I’m bringing two of my family’s favorite holiday desserts.  Well there are actually a few more favorites than these two, but these are high on the list!   These are made from a recipe book I received one day in Beaune with the Sunday newspaper.

This poached pear has a fancy name for being such a simple dessert.  But it is a perfect holiday season dessert, with the whole fruit and chocolate, as well as a lovely presentation. 


For this recipe you will need:

6 fresh pears, firm and not overly ripe with as little bruising as possible
1 cup less two tablespoons sugar
Juice of one lemon

175 grams of dark chocolate (I use Valrhonna 70% from Trader Joes; 100g per bar)
1 cup less two tablespoons heavy cream

Start with the best pears you can find.  I love d’Anjou, but today I used a pair of Comice pears from the market.  You can also find pears by the box at Costco at a very good price.


Put a pot large enough to hold all six pears on the stove and bring to moderate simmer but not a boil; add the sugar to the water.  White the water is heating, juice the lemon into a small bowl and slice the the uneven bottom off each pear; just enough so that the pear will sit flat.


Peel the pears, leaving the stem intact, and immediately roll them one by one in the lemon juice, right after peeling.  This will prevent the pears from oxidizing (or turning brown).  If there are any brown spots on the pear, peel them off so that the pear is free of blemishes~


Drop the pears into the boiling water.  Over moderate heat (but not boiling), let the pears cook, rotating  them if you need to so that they all cook evenly.  Today I’m just making two pears~ 


Carefully remove the pears after about 15 minutes.  Use a large spoon and lift the pears from below so that you leave the pear intact.  Set on a paper towel briefly to drain.


While the pears cool off, break the chocolate into small pieces (I tap the bar against the counter a dozen times while still in the foil) and place the pieces in a small bowl with a tablespoon of the water you used to boil the pears and set aside.  Heat the cream but don’t let it boil; pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted.  If the chocolate does not completely melt, you can place the bowl over the hot water you used to poach the pears.  You will end up with a nice, smooth chocolate sauce.  You can also infuse this sauce with vanilla extract or various liqueurs~


Place each pear on a saucer, berry bowl or small plate.  I put a paper doily under each pear; pour the sauce over each pear.  Use a small spoon so that you can get as much of a lace-y or drip-ey look to the chocolate on top.  You will see various versions of this dessert; add ice cream, nuts or pistachios.  I like the simple version~


The other great thing about this dessert is that you can make it well ahead of time.  Ideally one day ahead of time so that the pears don’t look tired, but I have left these on the table for two or three days and they still seem fine.  I’ll make them the day before the farm to table.  A small pointed French tea spoon is set out alongside; a small knife is also a great idea sometimes~


A second great and easy dessert, especially for the chocolate lovers, is pots de crème.  Sometimes this is confused with a mousse, but it’s far easier than the mousse to prepare, and also easy to adapt with infused flavors and garnish.  The butter in this dessert gives it a nice smooth yet substantial taste versus the fluffy mousse.


I love chocolate, but for dessert I usually like just a tiny bite of it.  I usually use porcelain egg cups and include them in the dessert table for individual portions.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups whole milk
400 grams of dark chocolate (I use Valrhonna 70%)
200 grams (a little less than 2 sticks) butter (I used Kerry Gold from Costco)


In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil then immediately remove from heat.  While the milk is heating, break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a bowl. Tapping the bar against the counter while it’s still in the foil is much better than chopping it and will result in no wasted chocolate.  Pour the boiling milk over the chocolate pieces, and stir until smooth and blended.  Then add the butter, cut into pieces, stirring until smooth.  If the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl over a pan of very hot water.  Pour into cups and refrigerate for two hours or more~


Get creative about how to serve these cute little pots.  Think tiny….think variety….small tea cups, ramekins, demitasse cups…I love these little cordial glasses, and couples sometimes like to share one glass~


You can dress up your little pots in a variety of ways.  I like a caramel doodle, or raspberries and a mint leaf.  In summer, a few tiny slivers of basil might be nice with the fruit; or else ultra-thin lemon or orange zest slices. I had blackberries on hand today.  You need to let them sit in the fridge to set a little before you put fruit on top.  I added the blackberries to the glass at right too soon, so here you see them sinking…oops~


This is the best look; let the pots sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes; you will see the chocolate darken when it starts to set.  You want it to be starting to set but not too firm.  Press the fruit down just a little so that it sits in the chocolate.  A perfect little bite of chocolate, and one of my favorites for a dessert tray~


As I mentioned, you can infuse these pots with a number of flavors.  Infuse the milk with the flavor of your choice by adding to the milk as it heats then letting steep for 15 minutes: cinnamon sticks, fresh vanilla beans, coffee or other spices; in summer, just a tiny hint or rosemary, lavender or other summer herbs.  Liquid flavors such as alcohols or liqueurs can be added at the end of preparation.  Also try different chocolates if you like….white or milk chocolate, as long as it’s good quality.

As as for the topper, I can think of 20 other different ideas that would give a hint as to what is inside, or else simply look pretty: a small flower like edible nasturtium in season; coffee bean; half a pecan or other nut on top; lavender sprig; candied or fresh orange or lemon zest; candied rose or violet flowers.  See what you can find in your garden or at your market that will be delicious, interesting or pretty.

Hope you will try these for your holiday meals or party dessert trays~

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Farm to Table Invitation

Today I took Mom to her Dr. appointment for her 12 week checkup.  Thankfully, her arm is now about 75% healed, surgery will not be necessary, and she now has clearance to drive.  Translation: I am going to be able to reclaim a little part of my life back.  Starting Monday, I am going to start by taking two hours off from Mom & Dad every day to get some of my own work done. I know I am going to have to assert myself as my parents have both gotten very dependent, but we are moving in the right direction.

High on my list are two Farm to Table events that I am involved in presenting.  On Saturday December 1st, I am styling tables for a sit down dinner for 75 and stand-up dessert for 400 more.  The venue will be a theatre in San Diego and benefit a local animal rescue.  A band that most Gen-X and Y listeners know well will perform after dinner, and possibly a few other surprise musicians.  That’s all I can divulge at this point….

And on Saturday December 8th, I am helping to organize a Farm to Table brunch strictly limited to 100 guests at $150 per person.  Two well-known local chefs are involved; I am going to make the squash soup starter served from fresh white pumpkin tureens with silver ladles into pretty vintage cups, and all of the desserts.  I have not made dessert for 100 before, but with planning, I am convinced this is do-able~


This event will be held at the estate of a woman who is easily recognizable to anyone who paid attention to the culture of the late 70’s and early 80’s.  Not only is she beautiful, she is extremely gracious.   She has a farm on her estate, that I will draw on for the displays.

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The event is a benefit for Neighborhood House (I will tell you more about this wonderful organization before the event) and Sage Mountain Farm, one of my favorite farms in Southern California.  About 40 of the tickets have already been sold, at last week’s market, before tickets have been printed.

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In addition to the soup and dessert, I am styling the entry and all the tables (service, dinner and silent auction).


I’m probably going neutral linens and white for the tables; tomorrow I’m going to downtown LA to look for fabrics for table runners….


The various paper whites I planted are making progress; the bushel baskets will be ready first, probably because the roots have more to hold on to and more matter to feed on.  All of these will be used in the décor….IMG_0176

I will also assemble about 18 silent auction baskets the day before the event.  This basket is from the dinner I did last year at Sea Breeze Farm with Jason Mraz.  This was the basket Jason won representing a dinner for 20 of his best friends (and that we keep postponing due to schedules).  I will draw heavily again from our Hostess’ farm for our silent auction presentation, and we are actively soliciting some great auction items!

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I definitely have my work cut out for me, and I can’t do it alone. And, so, here is the invitation part of this post.  Would you like to help me pull off either of these events?  I need some helpers for staging, transport and, if you’d like, to come to help me prepare the desserts.  I need a few ladies who are stylish and can follow some direction from me and help finish a few sentences.  Are you up to the task?  I have a few local followers in mind and I will contact you this week.  You will join our guests at the dinner table ($150 value in addition to some great networking) and I’ll generously supply you with some baskets for your holiday gift giving.  In case you are interested and I have not met you yet at the markets or by email or comments, feel free to comment or contact me.  And of course there is a large group of friends & followers I wish could be here for this event.  Diana in Texas, trying to figure out how to get you here…. meanwhile I’ll try to blog and photograph as much of this process as I can. 

I also plan to leave for Beaune the day after the brunch on the 8th.  It’s going to be a busy month!

So, if you are interested in tagging along with me as we present these events, please comment here, stop by one of the markets, or otherwise contact me.  Wishing you a wonderful weekend~

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fall Style Expression

Last Sunday I set up a full booth at the Raquel’s Rancho Santa Fe market.  I used a pair of raisin crates from Beaune, filled them with a little burlap, then topped off by splitting a small bale of hay.  Hay anywhere at the house would definitely have put my Mom over the edge, but in these crates, at the market, the little bit of hay peeking out around the edges of the fruit and squash were seasonally perfect~


Last week I showed you this same crate full of squash; I started to move away from Halloween and towards fall by adding in more veggies and apples, as well as grapes and beets~


And in the second crate, white pumpkins, apples, pomegranates and beans~


Like a Fauve painting, full of vibrant blocks of color, I loved these crates for their vibrant blocks of colors~


I used the two crates to bookend the front of the booth on Sunday…..


I have been using a set of six matching crates in the Info Booth at the market each week; Sunday I used them in the back of my booth, to nice effect~


I pulled some XS baskets from the warehouse to frame in each of the crates~


To the right, a set of Moroccan Eze baskets in a stack sat next to one of the crates~


After all that work setting up, it was time for lunch….Emilio’s Paella is always delicious~


and a willow tray of chocolate salted caramel mini tarts; I will put this recipe up sometime soon as I will be making these again soon~


In the end, I didn’t sell a lot of baskets, but I sure had a lot of nice comments and Instagram pics on the crates.  In years past I have expressed my creativity into painting or pottery, or gardening.  For the moment, I’m styling and creating in food…..It’s all fun, and it’s all good….hope you enjoyed a few market pics~