FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

How Do You Like Them Apples ? Friendsgiving Brunch 2021 (Back Together Again)

It’s time to start gathering again! This time of year comes and goes far too quickly. I love the Fall season so much and by mid-month some are already pushing for Christmas, but I want to give the season it’s fully deserved time. While the holiday is generally meant to celebrate the history modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people, for most of us I believe it’s a time to show gratitude and appreciation for all that we have, friends, home, health, faith and more.

I am grateful for so much in my personal and professional life, and so happy to once again gather with friends who support all of my creative ambitions, with a Friendsgiving brunch.

Setting the Table

Little boutonniere like bouquets made with a magnolia leaf, fresh sage, chamomile and spray roses were created for each place setting and guests took them home at the end of the brunch.

A combination of succulents, spray and country roses and eucalyptus (and later a couple of apples- I wanted crab apples but couldn’t find any this year) were arranged around brass candlesticks to create a fragrant and feminine centerpiece. Everything was just laid on the table with no water source the morning of the brunch.

Inspired by Erin French of The Lost Kitchen, I decided to use an apple theme for my menu and included one of her recipes.

Cocktails and Nibbles

Simple apple cider bellini. Reduce 3 cups of apple cider to 1 1/2 cups. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve fill each glass 1/4th to 1/2 with reduced cider and top off with prosecco, champagne, crement or other sparkling white wine.

An apple tasting tray of each apple used in the dishes being served.

For most of my younger years I had only eaten a red delicious apple, the only kind my Mom ever purchased. As I studied foods and flavors years later I saw an article in a magazine that featured a description of multiple apple varieties. There are no apple tree farms in Southern Louisiana, so we are limited to the varieties that appear in various grocery stores.

One year I purchased one of each variety and compared their flavors, finding the most amazing flavors and never buying a red delicious apple again. With that memory, I decided it might be fun to create a tray with each of the apples used in the dishes in the menu, giving my guests a similar experience hoping to inspire each to try new varieties on their own afterwards.

From left to right, Lucky Seven Grain Bread(Artisan bread from Rouses)
toasted with olive oil and sprinkled with a pint of kosher salt, Baked Lemon Ricotta,
a small dish of Apple Butter (Dickinson’s), Golden Berries, Marcona Truffle Almonds,
Soft ripened cheese from Germain,France, Italian truffle cheese, and Chicken Liver Pate’.

For the “nibble boards” a term borrowed from Erin French (my most recent found source of inspiration), almost everything was purchased from Trader Joe’s, hence my Trader Joe Nibble boards.

The cup is filled with Fried cheese stuffed kalamata olives
(in Trader Joe’s frozen food section – and very very good!)

Salad Course

For the salad I used Erin French’s roasted buttercrisp squash with apple slaw. My local Fresh Market has the largest variety of squash and I’ve been experimenting with several over the past couple of months. One buttercrisp squash about the size of a cantaloupe three to four pounds was sliced into ten wedges, enough to serve all of my guests. The link below provides Erin’s recipe. My only additions were a little apple cider vinegar and pomegranate seeds for color and crunch. My slaw was made with four apple varieties, pink lady, granny smith, golden and honey crisp. My recommendation would be to pick a variety of sweet, tart and crisp versions and also consider the colors of green, yellow and red. The skin remains on the matchstick pieces and adds color. Erin and I ALWAYS decorate with edible flowers. The small yellow flowers (top left)are tarragon blossoms. I planted a couple of tarragon plants a couple of months ago and they have been blooming as if it were Spring!

https://www.today.com/recipes/roasted-buttercup-squash-apple-slaw-recipe-t141064

The squash is easy to bake as instructed and served at room temperature and the slaw tossed in it’s dressing with the arugula holds up well. I plated these about 45 minutes before serving and everything held it’s texture. (My guests could not stop talking about how delicious this was. Thank you Erin!)

Entrée

The entrée and dessert courses were both contributions from two of my guests. My work hours have been long and stressful and in order to pull this event off I needed to accept offered help and take a few shortcuts.

Apple and cranberry stuffed pork loin with Trader Joe green bean casserole bites.

My friend Lanie (who also loves to cook and has restaurant experience) made this Jazz and Fuji apple – cranberry stuffed pork loin. I think I heard there was a little fig jam, hazelnuts and some other special secret ingredients in the stuffing. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect addition to the menu and there wasn’t a single piece left!

Dessert & Mulled Cider Wine

Lanie also made an apple cider white mulled wine, with a spicy ginger liqueur that we served with dessert.

A week prior to the brunch I attempted to make apple cider donuts for the first time. I don’t have a fryer and I NEVER fry. The dough was too wet and I had trouble controlling the temperature of the oil – the house spelled for days after. It was an epic fail! Donut maker, I am not and I rarely fail when I try to follow a recipe.

I decided a better alternative was to support a local donut business that makes a multitude of small flavored donuts. I employed one of my guests to order a couple dozen apple cider donuts and asked that they not place them in the finishing cinnamon sugar. I wanted to rewarm the lot before serving and then toss in the cinnamon sugar myself.

I already had a large bowl of cinnamon sugar left over from my failed attempt at donut making. I added two teaspoons of Chinese Five Spice (my favorite substitute for cinnamon) and mixed the sugar thoroughly. We were advised to rewarm the donuts in an oven or air fryer – never in the microwave, so I placed them on a tray (to serve 2 per guest) and hoped to make them more “dessert like” my slicing all of the donuts horizontally in half and spreading one side with apple butter before sandwiching the two halfs back together. I then placed the tray of donuts in a preheated in oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes. When warmed through I rolled the donut gently in the sugar mixture and placed on a saucer with small mini dessert forks.

The party may be over, but the memories will remain and the joy I saw in my friends as they hugged and caught up with one another, along with their praises for everything we served as always made all of effort worth it. I am forever grateful for their enthusiasm and encouragement and cannot express how happy I am to be able spoil and entertain again.

To all of my wonderful followers – Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful for your support as well!

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

A Handmade♟Family Heirloom

It’s been a while since I’ve shared one of my family stories. A recent visit with my cousin and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday provided perfect timing for sharing this special memory of my Mom.

This family heirloom…circa 1969 was made with my mother’s hands. In the late 60’s and early 70’s we lived in Fairfield,CA where Dad was stationed (USAF) at Travis Air Force base. Mom became a fan of what was called “The Hobby Shop”, a place on the base for family members to experiment with crafts. Mom took to the craft of ceramics with passion. It seems she was always at the table cleaning or painting ceramic pieces during the three years we resided there.

Unlike ceramics shops found today filled will pre-made and fired pieces that you pick out and only paint, in Mom’s time she chose the molds of items she wanted to make and then actually poured the clay into the molds. Once set, she would bring the pieces home and we would watch her use a little sculpting tool to gently scrape away the seam lines (like those found on chocolate bunnies for Easter) formed by the mold around the entire perimeter of each object. Once scraped away she used a small natural sponge lightly dipped in water and gently wiped the area until it was smooth. She would then bring the pieces back to the shop, where they were placed into a kiln for their first fire, the term for a baking process (just like pottery). A day or so later, she would pick up “the fired” pieces and then settle into meticulously painting and adding all of the little details.

Mom made everything from those retro lighted ceramic Christmas trees that are coming back, to large nativity sets and ♟ chess sets, some small like this one and some with pieces as large as 8 inches tall. Of all the items we remember her making, we only each (my brother and I) have one large nativity set and a couple of Santa mugs that are now found mass produced, but ours is made with Mom’s hands and when my grandchildren spend Christmas at my house, we use the mug for Santa’s milk to place next to his plate of cookies.

A couple of years ago, when my cousin was packing up items in her parents’ home to prepare it for sale, she found two of the ceramic chess sets my mother had made and given her parents as gifts. We have no idea why, she gave multiple versions of these small and large chess ♟ sets to my Dad’s sister (now 92) and her husband. My brother and I clearly remember her making them (see the black and white photo), but we didn’t have any of the chess sets. My cousin packed placed the items she found in boxes and asked me if I wanted them.

Prior to the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, she had give me one smaller and one larger version that my brother wanted. Some pieces were broken, but he set them aside saying he would try to repair the broken pieces.

Recently after two years, I drove the nearly hour distance to visit my 92 year old aunt and my cousin. She had been saying she had some things for me, and I thought we had gotten everything she had found, but she handed me yet another set. (As I said before, why did Mom make so many of these and send them all to this one relative?)

Ironically my oldest two grandchildren, now 13 and 10 were both first place chess champions for their grades in elementary school. My youngest grandson is not yet old enough to play, but I’m sure he will follow in his siblings footsteps.

The Swinger instamatic polaroid camera photo is slowly fading, but here are my brother and I,
watching Mom as she worked on the larger version of the ceramic chess sets she crafted.
In the background, is a large ceramic cat she also made.

Unfortunately, as I lined up all of the pieces to examine them, one white piece is missing to this set. It’s a little chipped and weathered (like most of us after 50 years), but after checking with my brother to find out if “maybe” the missing piece is with the set I passed on to him, I plan to box this set up to give to my grandchildren from their Great Granny.

What I know for sure… sometimes we do things that may not make sense at the time ( like giving 3 chess sets to my Aunt and Uncle), but they’re the ones who saved them all these years later so they would reappear for her great grandchildren. Coincidence? I think not.

An update to the story – I delivered the set and my grandson informed me that “Granny” (what they called my Mom) actually made extra pieces – so we were not short. He informed me that the players can actually win another queen and that “Granny” made two extra queens. He gave me my first chess lesson as my six year old grandson (who is extremely smart and remembers everything) stood by to listen in. Within minutes he was telling my how to move pieces. While he quickly understood the direction that each piece could be moved, he’ll need to learn how to actually “play” the game. I can just imagine that my Mom is looking down on all of us, smiling.

WINE CLUB

How to Host A Hauntingly Elegant Wine Tasting Party….

In the South, the humid hot summer heat begins to dissipate slowly as Fall quietly eases in with its cool refreshing breezes and changing foliage, but not until well into late October or November. Still we hang our autumn leaved garlands and wreaths on our doors and thresholds, line the front walkways with purple, yellow and amber chrysanthemums and perfectly shaped pumpkins hoping to encourage the comforting temperatures of Fall to fully arrive. Autumn is my favorite time of year. A time when my passion for baking and cooking hearty soups and stews peaks, along with taking long walks as nature’s colors transform into the most beautiful shades of red, orange, and burgundy.

Several years ago I went on a Fall Pilgrimage in New England -from Boston, to Salem, Portland, Kennebunkport, through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont, The Berkshires, Stockbridge and finally Cape Code to witness the most beautiful display of nature I’ve ever seen along with historical landmarks of our wonderful country. I enjoyed it so much, that I did it again a few years later. I still remember the quaint little town of Salem dressed for the coming of Halloween, with potted mums displayed everywhere you looked and our visit to the Salem Witch Museum.

Those memories of my Fall in New England and the haunting vibrations of witches and Halloween, inspired my Hauntingly Elegant Wine Club evening. I wanted it to be unique but not gimmicky, catchy with a touch of elegance.

THE INVITE:

IMAGES BORROWED FROM A BEAUTIFULLY CATERED HAUNTING EVENT –
POSTED ON MARTHA STEWART’S WEBSITE THAT INSPIRED MY VERSION OF A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT PARTY.
https://www.marthastewart.com/1521546/host-halloween-dinner-party-hauntingly-beautiful

My invitation was emailed to my guests, but I created a printed version for the sake of creating a photo. Guests were asked to bring a red wine, with a haunting, spooky or spell bound label and a small bite; and black attire.

THE APERITIF:

The Aperitif: My signature cocktail “Bitter Broken Heart”

Thawed frozen black cherries soaked in kirsch, pureed and strained (discard cherry pulp); add the juice of half a lemon to cherry liquid. Fill 1/4th of each coupe glass with cherry juice; 3 dashes chocolate bitters and top off with Prosecco. Garnish with dried cherries soaked in kirsch over night and an Amarena cherry.

My guests sipped on their cocktail while another guest and I opened the bottles of wine, placed each in a numbered bag and poured the wines into the numbered glasses in preparation for the tasting.

About a month prior to this party, I had purchased red roses to place on the table for my book club meeting. For some reason, they were so pretty and remained only partially open. I watched as they slowly dried holding their bud form. I also had a vase of hydrangeas from a friend’s wedding that had dried in their contains. With a plastic cauldron, plastic skulls, green and Spanish moss (all from the dollar store), dry dead branches from the yard sprayed with gold paint and black grosgrain ribbon tied in knots on it’s smaller branches to look like bats, I created a spooky elegant floral arrangement for my sofa table. Black lanterns placed on each side contained battery candles and pieces of dried flowers, moss and black glittered branches.

From there I began to dry roses and other flowers from my garden to sprinkle along the table, add to my candelabra, and create other small arrangements around the house. I made spiders from champagne corks and black pipe cleaners, and placed Spanish moss and black crows in the chandeliers.

The local craft store had all of the Halloween decorations on sale and I purchased spider web netted tablecloths and scarves that draped over my lamp shades. More plastic dollar store skulls, black glittered twigs, moss and dried flowers were sprinkled along the center of each table. On this evening I had 14 members requiring two tables for seating. I used my black and gold rimmed china, brass candle holders with black tapered candles and gold-ware cutlery to add to the mystic and elegance.

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked brie with black cherry, raspberry and black grapes simmered in red wine.
Served in mini cast iron pans.

THE SMALL BITES:

Warm Garden of Eden Autumnal Salad with Serpent Garlic Breadsticks

  • 1 cup of black rice
  • 1 cup of peeled and diced sweet potato or butternut squash
  • 1 quart of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup cubed green apple
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili flavored oil (optional)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup toasted pecans & or pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 2 to 3 cups of baby spinach or arugula
  • salt and pepper
  • Apple cider vinaigrette
  1. Cook rice in vegetable stock using amount of liquid according to the package instructions and allow to complete to room temperature when complete.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. On a small sheet pan – place the pecans and/or pepitas and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. This brings out the natural oils in the nuts to enhance their flavor and crunch. (A great alternative is candied or spice coated pecans – but they take more time involving egg whites, sugar and spices – you can find a recipe on Pinterest). Set toasted nuts aside in a small bowl.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Using 2 separate sheet pans – spray each tray well with cooking spray (I used olive oil spray) and place pans in the oven to pre-heat the tray.
  4. Place the diced squash (or sweet potato) in an appropriate sized bowl. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil (or) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of chili oil to add a little heat, salt and pepper and toss to evenly coat. Carefully spread the vegetables in a single layer on one of the heated sheet trays and return to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, turning the vegetables over half way through creating a little browning on the sides that are facing down on the tray.
  5. Use the same bowl to place the diced apples and toss in remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Carefully spread on the second heated sheet tray in a single layer and roast in the oven 15 minutes (warmed through but with a little crunch still present) – when these come out the squash needs turning over.
  6. Meanwhile, in the bottom of a large salad bowl mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette (recipe in the next box).
  7. Add the cooked black rice first, the roasted apples and vegetables next, then the arugula or spinach (or combination), pomegranate seeds, pecans and/or pepitas without tossing at this point. Layer with heaviest items in the bottom and lighter on top with vinaigrette at the very bottom of the bowl. When ready to serve gently toss all ingredients together to lightly coat with the vinaigrette. Note: To keep vegetables warm, you can leave them on the sheet tray in the oven at 200 degrees until ready to serve for about 20 minutes – more than that they may dry out too much.

Apple Cider Vinaigrette: In a mason jar with lid ( or simply add ingredients to the bottom of the salad bowl) place 1/3 c. Extra Virgin Olive or Avocado Oil; 1/4 cup Apple Cider; 1 tsp. Dijon mustard; 1 minced shallot (or garlic optional); 1 tbsp. honey or agave; 1/2 tsp. kosher salt; 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper. Either whisk in the bowl or shake vigorously in the jar to combine. Optional: Gently warm vinaigrette in a small saucepan and return to serving salad bowl. (This is for a lightly dressed salad. If you prefer more dressing -double the recipe and guests can always add more ).

Serpent Garlic Breadsticks: See my notes below.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/491525746823276732/

When I saw these serpent breadsticks on Pinterest, I decided to make a warm Garden of Eden vegetable salad and breadsticks that used autumnal flavors. The salad combined black forbidden rice, roasted sweet potatoes (or butternut squash), pomegranate seeds, baby spinach and toasted pecans with a warm apple cider vinaigrette. My serpent breadsticks were flavored with garlic butter and black Hawaiian salt. For best results: The tongues were made with dried red chili peppers with a little “v” cut into the end with scissors. I had to make a little slot at the end of the head of each breadstick before baking , to get the pepper to hold in place. I quickly inserted the pepper tongue in place immediately after the breadstick came out of the oven while still soft. As they cooled the pepper held in place. I used black peppercorns for the eyes. [Baking the breadstick with the red pepper inserted causes it to burn, so it has to be added after the baking.] Below are images of the beautiful small bites brought by my guests.

THE DESSERT COURSE:

Fall immediately makes me think of campfires and S’mores. I found this great cake recipe adapted from Molly Yeh’s blog. I used leftover cake and filling to make a couple of cake balls I called truffles, and a mango syrup that I dotted along the sides of the plate to help cut the richness of the ganache. A lighter version would be to use a mousse in lieu of ganache and semi-sweet or milk chocolate instead of the bittersweet I used – but a true S’more calls for a rich chocolate. Several of my guests were celebrating birthdays over the previous and next couple of weeks, so we added candles and sang ‘Happy Birthday’. http://mynameisyeh.com/mynameisyeh/2017/4/smores-mini-cakes

THE WINE

The Winner!
  • La Catrina [Cabernet Sauvignon] 3 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Bloody Red Blend] 2 votes
  • The Walking DEAD [Cabernet Sauvignon 2016] 2 votes
  • HOB NOB WICKED LIMITED EDITION [RED BLEND] 2 votes
  • Ministry of The Vinterior [Cabernet Sauvignon 2015] 1 vote
  • Vampire [Vampire Red -Winemaker’s Blend 2014]
  • Saved [Red Wine 2014]
One of my guest brought me with little ghostly air plant as a hostess gift.

This is a great time to pull out your slightly tarnished silver, save the colorful flower petals from your garden and let them dry, and search through dollar stores for moss, black pebbles and other items to add to your decor. While I live near the swamps and large trees filled with Spanish moss – I purchased moss to avoid bringing in unwanted insects and who knows what else into the house.

The winner’s trophy –The winner received this webbed bagged bottle
of Limited Edition Bartenura Semi-Sec.

Long before the idea of a Hauntingly Elegant Party came to mind, I found this bottle of Bartenura Semi-Sec (of all places at Walmart). The webbed bag was so elegant and interesting that I decided to buy a bottle and hold on to it for some occasion. One day while one of my friends was visiting, I was sharing some of my ideas for the party and suddenly remembered the bottle tucked away in my pantry. She pointed out that the bag looked like a spider web. Lightbulb moment – I had my trophy for the winner.

As the Fall months approach, if you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate the ghostly spirits of Halloween with a slightly Gothic twist , I hope you will be inspired to host your own hauntingly elegant evening. If you try any of my ideas or create your own – check out the posts on my Pinterest page and share yours.

DINNER PARTY, FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Early Fall🍁🍂🍁Dinner (Keto-ish) Dessert Course

My previous post introduced an early Fall dinner shared with a few of my neighbors as we experiment with a Keto-ish diet. As we gathered over a glass of excellent wine, appreciating it all the more due to the exclusion requirements of the Keto diet, we shared how we were managing the change in food choices and the results, if any we were experiencing.

I personally have found that my sugar tooth has been drastically tamed and I’m not feeling the desire to graze and nibble on snacks all day. I feel full and seem to have more energy. My friends expressed some of the same changes in the way they were feeling, but we all agreed that on the weekends we needed at least a little break from some of the restrictions. So tonight we were enjoying a glass of wine, but I’ve done my best to prepare a Keto friendly dinner menu to prove that food can still feel special, decadent and satisfying.

We all agreed we missed our sweets and I was excited to share with them two, yes two Keto friendly desserts I had prepared. As a little bonus, before we made our way to the dinner table I gave them each a dark chocolate almond and it was devoured with great excitement and pleasure!

The sugar products needed for making desserts.

The ingredients needed for baking Keto desserts are pricey and the quantity is a fraction of what wheat flour and refined sugar products contain, which offers another reason to only have desserts occasionally. Years ago in the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat” I remember reading that the typical French woman has dessert only once a week. Much younger and thinner at the time I was appalled, it seemed like an enormous act of restraint and made me wonder how so many patisseries succeed in France. I have since come to better appreciate the once a week practice.

With the help of pinterest I found two recipes that peaked my interest. The first was this Chocolate Cream Pie. Having no experience with these sugar substitute ingredients I did not deviate from the recipe in the link as I sometimes do. My only personal touch was to add toasted sugar free coconut flakes for some added crunch to the top after pulling it from the freezer. This was a very easy recipe,with only 10 minutes of baking time (the pecan crust). The other layers were prepared in the mixer and went on top of the crust with no other baking required. Follow the recipe in the link below. I’ve shared a few notes on the photos from my own experience.

https://kaseytrenum.com/?s=keto+chocolate+pie

I placed a layer of coconut flakes on a small sheet tray and toasted in the oven 300 degrees for about 5 to 10 minutes while constantly checking and tossing the coconut until getting the desired browning. It can go from golden to burnt in no time. Don’t walk away! Leftovers are great to sprinkle on Greek yogurt, Keto chocolate mousses or mixed berries.

While the ingredients are expensive, very little was used of some like the chocolate bar that I sealed it up tightly for a future use.

There is nothing about this pie that looks or tastes “diet”. It was decadent and the substituted ingredients were not easily detectable. The recipe advises to place the completed pie into the freezer for at least an hour before serving. I didn’t take the pie out of the freezer until ready to serve and it was very difficult to cut. While it tasted and looked lovely everyone said they thought it would have been better (easier to eat) unfrozen.

For the second dessert I decided to bake a French Almond cake.

https://www.wholesomeyum.com/keto-french-almond-cake-recipe/

Again, I followed the recipe as provided in the link above. While it is very similar to the actual French almond cake, I had this beautiful blood orange sitting in my fruit basket and decided to add a little of its zest and juice to the batter. I also added a little to the glaze that is brushed over the cake while it’s still slightly warm. I used an 8 1/2 inch springform pan and the cake does not rise very high (similar to a one layer cake).

Just prior to serving dust the cooled cake with powdered monkfruit sugar.

Of the two desserts while both very good, my guests voted this one their favorite. The cake was moist and flavorful and the added orange flavor brightened and complimented the almond.

As dinner came to an end, I asked everyone if the menu of the night was in in any way less than or short of a normal dinner. They all replied no. I think if I had not already told them this was a Keto meal, they may never had realized it was. Point made, you can still host an elegant dinner party while following a Keto-ish diet. But we must have our weekend 🍷wine!!

DINNER PARTY, FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Early🍁🍂🍁Fall Dinner with the Neighbors [Keto-ish Style]

The past couple of years have been filled with multiple reasons for high anxiety, complicated news and decisions, multiple hours of sitting at a desk working remotely and long periods of separation from family and friends. The limited activity and socializing created “the COVID 15” (pounds) that is a real thing for many; among the many are myself and some of my friends. Finally some of us have decided enough is enough, it’s time to attempt to make some changes with the hope of slowly deflating the additional areas added to mid-sections and thighs.

The Keto diet has gained popularity for some time and while I find it hard to embrace a diet plan that takes away and limits so many of my favorite foods, acknowledging where change is needed is the first step in working toward a goal.

I come from a long line of sweet tooth family members. As a little girl, my Dad taught me how to break about six Oreo cookies into a tall glass, then fill the glass whole milk and eat the entire thing with a spoon. Later it was Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookies, Keebler Fudge cookies and more. Every meal included soft drinks (full of sugar) and ended with something sweet. While I limited soft drinks a long time ago, the sweet tooth tradition continued on and I thought it would be the most difficult habit to break.

For the past two weeks I have eliminated the honey in my tea, the daily piece or pieces of chocolate and a couple of cookies in the evening. I think the hardest thing for me to give up is my weekend Starbucks Chai, that I’ve decided I don’t have to give up, it will be my weekend reward. No bread ( so no turkey sandwiches) and no pasta, that usually shows up in one of those Lean Cuisine meals I stocked in the freezer for quick lunches.

Since having eliminated so much sugar and bread from my diet, oddly I find I’m not as hungry (and as a result not eating as much); I’ve lost my craving for sweets; and I have more energy in just the first two weeks. I also feel less achy.

I’ve hosted many dinner and wine parties over the years, and for each gathering I’ve searched for new and interesting foods and wines to share with my friends and family. This Keto diet created a new challenge when I invited a few of my neighbors over for dinner. I wanted to create a colorful, delicious meal and desserts that did not scream “Diet Food”, but still sachiated and pleased the palate and taste buds. Below I’m sharing the dinner portion of our meal and in second post I’ll share the desserts.

A wonderful bottle of pinot noir Diora La Petite Grace 2014 (Monterey) that has been sitting in my wine fridge for some time. A gift from a dear friend years ago, I’ve struggled multiple times to break away the heavy plastic seal that coated the top of the cork and neck of the bottle unsuccessfully, until this night. My guests and I thoroughly enjoyed the dark, rich and velvety aged wine down to the last drop and was the perfect way to start the evening.

🍁🍂🍁Menu 🍁🍂🍁

Grilled Rainbow Trout with butter sauce

Roasted Delicata Squash with Organic Girl SuperGreens, toasted pepitas, fried shallots and parmesan crisps.

French (Citrus) Almond Cake (Keto)

Frozen Chocolate Cream Pie (Keto)

I wanted to prove I could still create a delicious meal and still follow the Keto plan. Like me, my friends were missing dessert, so I really wanted to find dessert recipes that didn’t taste any less delicious than we would normally have. Honestly, buying the ingredients to make these desserts was very expensive. This diet plan is not for someone on a tight budget, but I’m hoping it will curb my appetite enough that the old urge to grab a slice of chocolate frosted cake or two on the weekends will dissipate.

The protein was six fillets of rainbow trout that I asked my neighbor to grill. They also created a garlic, lemon herb butter sauce that was gently poured over the fish just before serving.

For the side dish, I found inspiration from different Pinterest posts to create this delicata squash dish. Delicata is a delicious sweet squash that is easy to cut, clean and cook.

Also known as “sweet potato squash” for its brown sugar flavor, delicata tastes like a cross between fresh corn and pumpkin pie. Like all hard squash, delicata is high in beta-carotene and vitamin C, relatively low in calories and astonishingly versatile

Roasted Delicata Squash with Salad Greens

Yields 4 servings

  • 1 Delicata squash
  • Olive oil spray
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • red chili infused olive oil (optional)
  • 5 oz of Organic Girl Super Greens (or arugula, or mixed greens)
  • 1/4 cup toasted pepitas
  • 1 shallot thinly sliced and fried or a packaged thin pre-fried shallots
  • white balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 -1/4 piece of orange
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of mayo
  • 4 tablespoons of plain yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • Oven baked parm crisps
  • Preheat oven 450 degrees (f). Slice the delicata into 1/2 inch thick rings. Using a paring knife, cut away the pulp and seeds and discard. Spray a rimmed baking sheet pan with olive oil and then lay each of the squash rings in one layer on the tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle a small amount of red chili oil to add a delicate spiciness (optional). Bake for 15 minutes and then turn each ring over and bake for 15 additional minutes. The squash is served at room temperature.

Toast the pepitas in a shallow pan until slightly golden around the edges.

Whisk together in a small bowl the mayo, garlic powder, salt and juice of 1/4 wedge of orange. (I poured the mixture into a squeeze bottle to drizzle over the dish before serving, but the tines of a fork could achieve the same drizzle result.

Spread the greens on a medium platter. Careful not to over saturate, lightly sprinkle with white balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and squeeze the juice from 1/4 wedge of orange over the greens and toss. Lay the cooled squash rings over the bed of greens. Sprinkle with toasted pepitas and crispy onions. Add parmesan crisps (croutons) for additional crunch. Just before serving drizzle with orange yogurt sauce.

A small amount of any roasted autumn squash is not only delicious, but it’s also very filling. My guests really enjoyed this dish and it left just enough room for dessert. Yes I said dessert…

We had stayed away for desserts for some time and I searched for Keto desserts (two) that I decided might live up to the desserts we were used to and they did. Find those details in my next post.

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

Lavender Sensations

Photo by Baraa Jalahej on Pexels.com

Lavender is my favorite fragrance. So many things in my home are scented with lavender that one morning some time ago when my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were visiting for several days, I woke before everyone else and decided to ease out of the house to do some weeding in my front yard flower beds. When I returned inside, I found my daughter and grandchildren starting their morning routines of coffee and cereal. As I walked into the kitchen my daughter said, “There she is!” with a chuckle. I said good morning and asked what was so funny. She said, “The kids were looking all over the place for you. They said we can’t find Nana anywhere, but we can smell her!” I’ve learned that my grandchildren have come to associate the scent of lavender with their Nana.

Friends, an occasional delivery person, even trick or treating kids have said as I opened my front door, “Your house smells so good!” The secret for years was the Glade lavender and peach blossom plug-ins, that much to my dismay have been discontinued. Using another lavender scented plug-in is just not the same, but I’m still searching for a better alternative.

I’ve collected a variety of lavender sachets over the years, from Homegoods (to the left with embroidered lavender flowers); the dark purple sachet was a gift, and the sachets on the right were purchase in a long set of six sewn together from a gift shop.https://www.pharmaca.com/sonoma-lavender-lavender-drawer-liner-sachet-embroidered-silk?gclid=CjwKCAjw-sqKBhBjEiwAVaQ9a8ynA812-kG7DD7thd4VuI5IG3vPN-07KuO3Xg_sakzJCM74VpcAJhoCH9IQAvD_BwE

An avid reader, I especially love historical fiction novels set in France and have often read of how a character in the book ended up being invited to spend the night in some mysterious old manor. While settling into their guest quarters, they would find fresh linens folded on their bed. As they lifted the bed sheet or towel a small sachet of dried lavender buds would fall out, and the delicate fragrance would permeate their linens as they crawled into bed for the night.

The idea inspired me. My bed linens are (as you may have guessed) lavender ( in color) that I’ve paired with grays and taupes in my master bedroom. After each change of linens on my bed, I press (yes I starch and iron my pillow cases and flat sheets with – lavender scented starch when I can find it) and then fold the pieces to store away for the next change. As a result of the idea from my novels, I now slip sachets of dried lavender between each pillow case and folded sheet. Adding a couple of drops of lavender essential oil to the sachet brings the scent of the buds back to life after each change cycle.

Note: While you can purchase sachets already made (see link below the picture above), you can also purchase lavender buds online and small organza bags to fill and tie.

Customer Bath Tray from https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=shabby%20chic%20online%20sales%20in%20ga
Lavender bath bomb, bath oil, epsom salts and bubble bath.

Of all the lavender I surround myself with, bath time contains some of my favorites. Bath oils, bath bombs, bath salts, bubble bath and body wash all filled with the soothing fragrance. Lavender scented candles flicker around the room to also help calm a stressful day away.

Italian Bubble Bath and Sage Smudge Stick with Lavender

Hand wash, lotions and occasionally I may even dust a little lavender scented powder around my neck.

English lavender powder by Taylor of London, Italian lavender hand soap
and Laduree scented candle from France.

Lavender scented air freshener and linen sprays are a great way to scent the bedroom and linens just before lying in bed to read a good book. The fragrance is known for its calming and relaxing properties to help one fall into a deep sleep.

A couple of years ago a friend gave me a perfume roller bottle filled with lavender essential oil that she suggested I put on my temples, wrists and upper chest that also helps to calm and soothe the senses for a sound sleepful night. (Note: I do not have skin allergies so of course those with sensitive skin conditions should use caution before putting essential oil on the skin.) The link below is an example of bottles that I ordered and filled with essential oil.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B013SJWE2G/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Linen spray and bottle with roller (see link provided above)
filled with lavender essential oil purchased at Homegoods.

When life is filled with stressful events, lavender has provided me the comforts to the relax and the benefits of self care. Over the years I’ve discovered more and more ways to enjoy the scent of lavender and hope to discover more. If you love the scent of lavender, hopefully you have discovered some new ways to enjoy it with the ideas I’ve shared. Be sure to share your own finds with me!

LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project #10; Master Bedroom Refresh

Many, many years ago when my maternal grandmother passed away, she didn’t have very much to leave her family, but when her house was sold, my Mom gave both my brother and I each a check from our grandma.

I thought about what I would do with the funds for a long time, because I wanted to have something special that I could say was from my grandmother. The comfort of vintage furnishings in bed and breakfast homes inspired me, and I decided to purchase this four poster bed. I’ve enjoyed climbing into my extremely comfortable bed every day I’ve had it for nearly three decades, tucked in between a pile of pillows with a good book.

As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize that climbing two steps in the middle of the night to get in and out of bed, may eventually become more than my 4′ 11″ stature can safely handle at some point. In the back of my mind I knew that when I got around to my bedroom, that it was time to purchase a bed that would be stylish and lower to the ground.

Over the past few years I’ve been making my way around the house one room at a time, carefully researching decor items, paint colors, and pieces of furniture until I formed a final plan of what I wanted for each room. One by one each room has been freshly painted and accessories or a new piece of furniture added, that I couldn’t manage when I first moved into my home. These one room at a time projects resulted in my “Weekend Projects’ Lagniappe series.

In 2020, my entire open living area was repainted and the breakfast room area and kitchen wall was filled with a new table, benches and a tall two toned cabinet where most of my white serving dishes are stored.

This year I decided it was time to finish my master suite and bath area. The bath was painted in 2019, the windows were framed, handmade shades were added and decorative plaques above the windows and doorways. My gray and lavender decor carries into my bedroom as well.

I brought home a number of paint samples with shades of gray lavender. Painted test patches lined the doorways and bedside walls as I tried to find the right paint color. I wanted the paint colors to highlight the grays, lavenders and golds in my room, without being too purple or pink. I finally decided on the color below, Chicago Fog that looks all gray in some light and a slight dusty lavender in bright light. I really like how the color changes based on the light.

The wall color Chicago Fog in eggshell changes slightly with the light in the room with shades of gray with a touch of lavender.

Trim Silver Feather in semi-gloss.

Insert of door in graceful gray, trim in silver feather, wall Chicago fog.

Door insert outlined with Graceful Gray in semi-gloss.

The only decor changes I was planning to make in addition to the bed, was to replace the existing dark ceiling fan with a Persian White French style ceiling fan that blends in with the light fixtures throughout my home of the same color and style.

Quorum Lighting – 78525-70 – Chateaux – 52 Inch Ceiling Fan

The dark, but charming four poster bed has been replaced with this beige tufted headboard and frame. Together with the Parisian White French Country ceiling fan, lighter blades and the gray lavender fresh coat of paint, the room looks bright and larger than before. The bedside lamps and tables were purchased a few years ago, as well as the bench that makes getting dressed in the morning easier. It’s a great place to sit and put on socks and shoes.

While there’s no need to climb steps to get into my bed anymore, oddly the habit to feeling for the step and the back bedpost to balance as I climbed in, is so automatic that I still feel for both of them and laugh when I catch myself doing it.

This weekend project didn’t involve a lot of change, but it took my helpful handyman three days. He painted the ceilings, walls, doors and trim; changed out the ceiling fan, dismantled my four poster bed and put the new tufted bed together for me. On the evening of the third day, I slept happily and peacefully in my refreshed master bedroom that flows perfectly into the master bath. I feel a little like I’m going to a little Parisian hotel room at the end of each day. It’s a wonderful retreat for resting, relaxing, reading and sleeping.

Stay turned for the next weekend project….

FALL, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Perfectly “Peared” (Simply Elevated)

Image result for pear season

In this edition of Simply Elevated I wanted to share a few delicious ways to perfectly pair and celebrate the pear….

Available from August through October, more than 95% of pears are grown in the U.S. come from western states like California, Washington and Oregon. Some of the most popular varieties are the juicy and sweet Bartlett (green), firm and crunchy Bosc (brown) and the sweet Anjou (green or red). Pears have a flavor that ranges from tangy to sweet to spicy, and a texture that can be crisp, buttery, or in between.

The bronze-colored Bosc pear has an elongated neck and sweet,
juicy flavor with hints of fall spices like cinnamon
and nutmeg and is my favorite for desserts.

As the pear season in the U.S. approaches here’s a few ways they can be used to create easy, warm and comforting, but very light desserts and cordial sips to share with family and friends.

The perfect pairing – French pear liqueur.

Just a few months prior to the original COVID shutdown, I went on an amazing trip to Europe in the Fall of 2019 with two friends and while in the Alsace region of France, we visited a shop in the charming medieval town of Eguisheim where we were offered a tasting of a delicious pear liqueur. I purchased a small bottle of the golden elixir shaped like an elegant pear. The pretty bottle remained on my cocktail cart for an entire year before I cracked the seal and decided it was time to share it with friends.

For several months, social distancing requirements put a stop to my large wine and book club gatherings, but we had learned to quarantine and practice safety measures that allowed me to feel comfortable enough to host a few small luncheons with groups of three or four friends. By September, I decided to invite my travel buddies to get together for a small afternoon gathering and reminisce about our time together in Europe just a year prior – especially during a time when travel was currently off limits, with no idea of when we would be able to travel again in the future.

I prepared a Swiss fondue and charcuterie boards similar to those we enjoyed in Mürren, We drank Crémant, the light effervescent wine we were introduced to in the same little French town, and then finished with mu French pear liqueur. As we slowly sipped the liqueur one friend said, “Why didn’t I buy some of this?” (I must note that she brought back the most amazing black truffle raclette cheese that I’ll never forget).

A few other luncheons followed this one, and each ended with a pear dessert and small sip of my pear cordial. As sips of the liqueur were taken, at each serving everyone was surprised at its complexity. I encouraged each person to focus on the experience as it made its way from the tip to the back of the tongue and then down the throat. It was fun to watch their surprised expressions. It’s warm and slightly fiery with a bouquet and flavors of complex vanilla and caramelised pears leaving a powerful shared memory to end each gathering.

Below are a few of the desserts I paired with the liqueur.

Poire Williams & apple cider poached pears.

Pears poached in apple cider and Poire Williams pear brandy, paired perfectly with small crystal liqueur glassfuls of my French Golden 8 elixir and the golden sauce poured over the tender pears.

https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

Poire Williams Pear Brandy used in making the desserts, does not taste anything like the liqueurs. It has a very strong alcohol essence and has none of the sweet smooth sweetness of the liqueur.
Pear anise clafoutis.

As Autumn arrived, this light custard like pancake spiked with Poire Williams (pear brandy) and infused with the zest of a lime, grated star anise and filled with half of a delicately sliced pear was yet another perfect pairing.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/clafoutis-aux-poires-3240468

Caramel eggnog panna cotta.

As the holidays drew near I created a wintery panna cotta inspired by a cocktail I found and clipped from a magazine in 2010 served at The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado (image below) called the Snow White. Once again the pleasing experience of tasting the liqueur and enjoying how well it went with the panna cotta was undeniable. For my version of Ina Garten’s panna cotta in the link below, I created these Caramel Eggnog panna cottas. I used eggnog in place of heavy cream and the pear liqueur in place of the rum. I put the caramel layer in the center and created a snowflake with a stencil and sprinkling of Chinese five spice.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/vanilla-rum-panna-cotta-with-salted-caramel-5190866

My little glass pear bottle was near empty when I invited a friend for the next luncheon. For this meeting I recreated a favorite pear clafoutis that I had seen on Barefoot Contessa when Ina Garten did several episodes in Paris and met with Chef Daniel Rose. His unexpected additions of lime and grated anise make this the best clafoutis I’ve ever eaten.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

As I poured the last two small glasses of the liqueur, I expressed my disappointment that my lovely liqueur that my friends so enjoyed was now gone. I had searched for another bottle online and was excited to find it, but when I tried to order a bottle, I continued to get messages that the bottle could not be shipped to at least the Southern States that I tried to have the bottle shipped to.

“I have a friend whose daughter lives in Provence,” my friend said. “Let me see if maybe she can buy and ship it to us.” I was thrilled, and several weeks later the package arrived with a 750 mil pear shaped bottle of our beloved liqueur. So on to the next celebration!

French King Cake. Puffed pastry filled with almond paste and one cherry
(instead of a plastic baby), to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

A nearby bakery makes traditional French King Cakes during the Mardi Gras season. It’s created with freshly made puffed pastry filled with almond paste and sprinkled with sugar. For the past few years since the bakery opened I’ve wanted to purchase one, but learned it has to be ordered in advance, due to the limited amount made each day. I was in the area one weekend in January and noticed a larger number of cars parked outside than usual and watched as patrons exited with their boxed King Cakes. I decided to stop and placed an order for the following weekend, planning to share it with my neighbor friends. When I sent a message to let my friend know that we would have a cake to try the next weekend, she told me it was going to be her husband’s birthday. Good timing, I thought, we will celebrate his birthday with this special King Cake.

The following weekend I placed the cake on my table and pushed a few candles into its golden crispy crust. I opened my new bottle of pear liqueur and filled three small crystal etched liqueur glasses. Together we had a small birthday celebration with the cake and liqueur that they are both big fans of. The liqueur once again was a perfect pairing.

How do you oneup a lovely pear shaped decanter? I found this beautiful bottle with a blown glass (or verre souffle’) pear inside of a bottom, from France at a local antique shop.

As I strolled through a local liquor and wine store, this one lone bottle of French pear liqueur (a different brand) caught my eye. The fact that all but the one bottle was gone made me hopeful that it will be as good as the Golden 8. The bottle isn’t as pretty, but I’ve got that covered with my lovely verre souffle’ pear bottle for serving.

The pear season in the US is only a few weeks away, with another season of Fall just on the other side of it. If you’re looking for a light and flavorful dessert for a weekend dinner with family and friends or hosting an afternoon luncheon, consider celebrating with pears and a little sip of pear liqueur. Enchante’.

WINE CLUB

Syrah vs. Shiraz (The Battle)- A Return to Wine Club

The “Decades” Wine Club is back in session!

At the start of 2020, I originally put together a plan for my first wine party of the year -expecting it to take place on a cold winter’s night on February 29th – for a Leap year celebration. For the first time in five years, three couples had conflicts with the date and I decided to reschedule the evening. The first available weekend that could work with the majority was April 25th.

There was no way back then, that anyone could have predicted that one morning we would wake up and learn of a dangerous and sometimes deadly pandemic that gradually spread from country to country making its way through our world and would significantly change life as we previously knew it. The CDC recommended that the only way to suppress the spread of this virus was to adhere to government mandates or social distancing that required everyone for the most part remain home. So this party plan had to be set aside for a little more than a year.

As vaccinations became available and administered, over a period of several months, the mandates lifted and slowly we’re making our way back to a new form of normalcy with new appreciation for gathering with family and friends.

Our group of seven for this gathering was a little smaller than usual with some having travel plans causing three of our usual couples to be absent, but the evening was in no way short on the usual good conversation, good wine and delicious food. All vaccinated and with a little more elbow room at the table than usual, here’s how our Shiraz versus Syrah plan came together.

Above is an example of the emailed invitation, created as a Word document, with assigned wines of half Shiraz and half Syrah.

On to the theme…. the research and putting a plan together

Shiraz versus Syrah.  My research informed me that Shiraz and Syrah, are both wines made from the same grape. In Australia the grape is called Shiraz , and in France, the grape is called Syrah. While both Shiraz and Syrah are developed from the same grape, their differences are described below and I decided to use this information as a guide to create an exercise for my group that would test their abilities to identify which wine is a Syrah and which is a Shiraz. As the labels of each bottle selected were sent to me, I searched for the information on each to gather a collection of the described flavors and aromas.

https://mcwilliams.com.au/shiraz-v-syrah/ source of information below:

The Differences:

Syrah Flavours: The (slightly)leaner than the Australian style, yet more complex (spice, cherry, tar, smoke, cassis, plum, etc), earthy, lively (more acidity),softer tannins, and typically capable of short to long term bottle ageing.

Shiraz Flavours: Shiraz wines that are full bodied and encouraged to produce rich, ripe, and intense fruit flavours (plum, blackberry, cherry, etc), as well as hints of black spice. They can also have a higher alcohol content due to longer ripening on the vine before picking. These fruit driven wines are usually made in an easy drinking style and are good everyday wines but are able to age for many years.

The typical old-world Syrah is lighter and leaner than the intense Shiraz wines of Australia, which tend to be richer intensity, fruit forward and more full-bodied with tannin. The difference between the Canberra Syrah and Hilltops Shiraz exhibits this difference very clearly.

The Table Setting

My gal pals and I etched the wine glasses with numbers in late 2019 and this will be the first time we will be using them. I’m kind of excited about it! The table centerpiece is meant to add a little color and sparkle, but created low so that my guests can interact with a clear view of each other.

The Friday evening and day of the party (Saturday) are both extremely busy for me (the host), so setting the table a week in advance frees me of this task the weekend of the event. Faux olive vines, glass votive candles and battery twinkle lights provide a safe, but elegant ambiance to the table. Glasses evenly lined up, in numerical order, wiped free of fingerprints and then turned upside down until the day of the party is a way to set the table in advance and keep the glasses free of any dust or those pesky summer insects that can slip into an open door from time to time.

Scorecards that give hints of what differences might appear between the wines – to help my guests identify which is which.

At each place setting, scorecards with information about each wine (shiraz /syrah), a printed description of each guests’ wine and a pen are ready for a planned activity.

I ask everyone to send a picture of their wine label at least a week before the scheduled party, 1) to ensure no duplicates and 2) for time to research information and pairings for each wine. With the wine notes of bottles in hand, for this party I gathered examples of the flavors and aromas in the descriptions and made “wine notes” samplers. Portions could be set up early and then covered with plastic wrap, while fresh items like fruits or fresh herbs are added the day of the party.

The “wine note” plates were provided to assist in our activity. Each guest was asked to attempt to identify their bottle of wine and in addition to labeling which glass of wine they think is a Shiraz and which is a Shiraz. Blindfolds (used at a past meeting) proved to awaken the nose and palates when eliminating the sense of sight – were available, but not required.

https://www.afoodieworld.com/tersina/2018-06-07-rewriting-wine-101-syrah-or-shiraz-pinot-grigio-or-pinot-gris This website provides good information about the differences between syrah and shiraz and I clipped some info for the scorecard to help with efforts to identify the version of each wine tasted.

The Aperitif

As my guests arrive, everyone falls into a natural choreographed routine of handing off their wine bottles to me, placing their trays of food on the table and then visiting with the other guests. As I work to uncork the bottles, and then bag and number each (with the help of a couple of volunteers) I always prepare a tray of small glasses of some kind of aperitif for everyone to sip while I’m getting the bottles poured and the final touches are made to the table. For this meeting’s aperitif, I found Byrrh – served over ice with a splash of club soda and slice of orange peel. I prefer an aperitif that is wine based, so as not to disturb the palate before our actual wine tasting. There were lots of “ooo’s” and “ahs” coming from the living room as my guests began to sip and visit after such a long separation. I think it’s safe to say it was well received. I truly enjoy discovering and sharing new wine experiences of all kinds with my group.

Pronounced “beer,” this red wine–based aperitif is loaded with warming spices and relies on quinine for lightly bitter undertones. Think of it as a slightly spicier sweet vermouth and use it as such in a Negroni, or drink it straight with a large cube of ice.

The cold slightly sweet Byrrh with a touch of citrus peel
was lovely for the hot summer evening.

Byrrh is an aperitif amaro first produced in 1886 by Simon Violet and his brother Pallade. By 1935, Byrrh was the most sold aperitif in France, with sales of 35 million liters. In the late 1960’s, regulatory changes led to a shift in production towards Vin Doux Naturel, a type of fortified dessert wine, and away from aperitif drinks like Byrrh. This led to the family selling the label to Pernod-Ricard in 1977.

Byrrh is made from partially fermented Grenache and Carignane grapes that have a bit of alcohol added to them (called mistelle) that then has dry red wine added to it before being flavored with cinchona bark and other herbs and spices. The resulting aromatized wine is then aged in large, neutral oak barrels for three years before bottling. Byrrh is 34 proof. 

In 1999, Pernod-Ricard introduced Byrrh Rare Assemblage, which is aged for ten years in small oak barrels. 

Preparing the blind tasting

Years ago I purchased these metal disks and wrote numbers on each with a white felt tip pen. The bottles are opened and slipped into slender brown grocer wine bags, cut to size, but not until the bottles are received since they can be shaped differently and some are taller than others. Finally each receives a number wrapped with twine before being poured into the glasses with the same number at each place setting.

The Activity: Can you identify which wine is yours?

Each guest received a printed description of the aromas and flavors of the wine they brought, a score card and information to reference about the differences between Shiraz and Syrah. Once all of the wine is poured, we say a blessing together and then everyone is seated to start the evening’s activity.

Before any food is brought to the table, everyone sips each of the wines and takes notes – the activity has begun. For this tasting the response was unusual. None of the wines were getting very good responses, and it was funny to hear how a few claimed the same numbered glass was “their wine”. After about 15 minutes of sampling and noting, I delivered the small cheese course to the table along with spicy barbeque peanuts.

The Cheese Course…

Most of the cheese pairing recommendations I found for these wines were strong blue cheeses. I found a gouda black truffle cheese that several wine experts at our stores agreed would pair well with these wines (and boy did they!)A couple of chunks of blue cheese, blackberries and mission figs (the black fruits mentioned frequently in the wine notes) and freshly made blue cheese pecan crackers that are always a hit and come out perfectly every time were added to complete the course.

Tip: Pecan blue cheese crackers = after slicing each I used a flour dusted cookie stamp to create a little honeycomb surface. Note: Once the dough is mixed it requires 24 hours refrigeration – so plan ahead!

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

The Wines

While the winning wine of the night wasn’t a unanimous vote,
the 2016 Boom Boom Syrah won with 3votes, 2018 Nobels Rives By Cave de Tain Syrah came in 2nd with 2 votes, 2019 Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz and 2016 Crozees Hermitage Les Jalets(Paul Jaboulet Aine) Syrah each received one vote. So the Syrahs came out in front.

The Menu

As hostess, I provide the cheese and dessert courses. Usually I help my group with some ideas for small bites based on my research about the wines we are featuring and their pairing recommendations. When there are enough participants we can usually create a balanced meal, or when I see that we are short of something I will make the addition myself. The group for this meeting was a little smaller, so I added a salad with blackberries that is fresh, light and had the blackberry notes of the wines. Sprinkled with my signature white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and for this salad a little agave. Light with a touch of sweetness.

The recommendations for these wines was a bit challenging. Everything I read suggested grilled, barbecue and spicy pairings. While the wines did not receive a lot of praise when sipping, once the food was added, the wines came to life and completely changed. It was our opinion that these wines were best when paired with the right food – and we had the right food. Some of wines brought out the spiciness of the food and the entire experience was very interesting. I seem to always forget to take a picture of all of the food, but you can see from the table below, not much was left behind. It was all delicious!

The Dessert Course…..

As I searched for information about Shiraz and Syrah wines, a past post kept coming up of an event where a variety of Lindt chocolate bars were paired with different wines. Among those pairings was this J. Lohr 2017 Syrah, paired with a dark chocolate chili bar.

I decided I wanted the dessert course to include this wine and chocolate pairing two ways. First in the original method of small sips of the wine paired with a square of the chocolate. Secondly I wanted both transformed into an actual dessert that still maintained their original flavors. I found a recipe for these fudgy, spicy dark chocolate cookies (filled with chunks of the dark chocolate chili bars) and a sorbet made with the rest of the bottle of wine.

The sorbet is very simple – and both pairings only required one bottle of the wine (8 servings). Make at least one day ahead.

TO MAKE THE SORBET: In a medium saucepan combine 1/2 cup of sugar and 6 ounces of water. Heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn off the heat and add 10 ounces of the bottle of wine (the rest will be used for the small sipping glasses.) Stir the three ingredients together and then let it cool. Place in an ice cream maker and freeze to manufacturer’s instructions. I turned mine for about 30 minutes. It will not be solid, just icy (you can see the video of my instagram post). Pour all of the frozen wine into a loaf pan or other container and freeze overnight.

The spicy dark chocolate cookies were surprisingly good and even better with the wine. https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/dark-chocolate-chili-cookies/

Over the five years (now starting our sixth) that our club has been gathering, we have enjoyed discovering new wines sometimes with playful themes like a murder mystery, a derby themed party, a hauntingly elegant evening, a rio de janeiro carnival – as well as a variety of wonderful small bites and desserts. Tonight was a return to Wine Club with a surprisingly “spicy twist” that peppered our appetites and curiosity of what we have yet to discover.

MOTHERS TEA, SMALL TALK, TRADITIONS & TEA

A Marigold Memory….of Mother

An event planner, whether for a party of 6 or 600 has to plan ahead, and in my case any chance of making things in advance is an opportunity to save time later. My Annual Mother’s Tea, held the first Sunday of May, is a tradition formed after my mother passed away and I was facing Mother’s Day without her. I invited a small group of friends who also lost their mothers to join together for an afternoon tea and share memories of them and from there a tradition was formed. As a way to make each year a little different, I wrote everyone’s name on a piece of paper and placed all of the names in a teapot. At the end of each tea (themed in honor of a mother) we pull a new name and honor that person’s mother the following year attempting to include memories, favorite flowers, special interests and/or careers including a menu filled with flavors that each mother would have loved.

At our most recent tea, my friend Kelly’s name was selected and in 2022 we will be honoring her mother Jane. Each year I’ve noted shared memories for future reference, and when I saw Kelly’s name I immediately thought of a memory she shared at one of our first gatherings about her mother saving marigold seeds.

Kelly shared with all of us that just a couple of weeks prior, she was planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, and a memory formed of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden. She confessed that as a child she didn’t understand why her Mom was planting the marigolds or collecting the seeds, but now here she was planting her own marigolds to protect her vegetable garden from insects and attract others that encourage pollination and healthy growth.

As she told the story, it reminded me of my own mother planting marigolds. She didn’t have a vegetable garden, but it seemed to be one of the few flowers that could stand the Southern California sun years ago. It also gave this party planner a great idea for a small memory favor to create for everyone at the table.

By mid-June, my own marigolds were beginning to struggle in the heat. As I pulled away the withered flowers from their plants, I realized this was an opportunity to dry the seeds and create the seed packets for next May’s tea that I had been thinking of.

I searched online for seed envelopes, but they were sold in large quantities when I wanted less than a dozen, and I wanted each to be pretty and femininely decorated to fit into my tea decor. So I then searched for free seed envelope templates. As I scrolled through the options I found this beautiful template by Glenda’s World. https://glenda-jsworld.blogspot.com/2013/09/seed-envelope-packets.html

I printed a sample and found that the size was a bit smaller than I wanted, so I then took a snipit of the image and pasted it to a blank page. This enabled me to expand the size to whatever I wanted. I printed the resized image. Once satisfied with the size, I decided I wanted the front to have a marigold rather than the date, etc. provided on the original. So I searched for free images of marigolds. I’m no graphic designer, but for years I’ve made what I want by printing, cutting and taping with matt scotch tape and then making a photocopy of the final image.

I cut out the center of the framed section on the template and then sized and fitted the marigold to fit inside. I then created and printed a bordered “Marigold Seeds” band, to cut and tape over the marigold image.

I found a pack of pearlized paper that I didn’t remember I had, and thought it would make a prettier envelop. After taping all of the edges down (above is before the taping), I smoothed it down carefully with a bone folder (a craft tool used for making crisp folds). I laid the prepared version above on my printer face down and then laid a white sheet of printer paper on top, finally printing a color copy on to the pearlized paper. The marigolds changed to a rose gold color and the green font looks gray (that I can’t explain), but all together it created a delicate image that was perfect! In fact as I was researching marigolds I found that there is a French variety of strawberry blonde marigolds that the image below looks very much like.

The printer ink has to be allowed at least 5 minutes to dry or the image can smudge. Once dried, I used the bone folder to carefully fold all of the edges of the template for a professional look. I originally tried using a little Elmer’s glue to adhere the back and bottom flaps, but you can see from the image above, it caused some puckering. So I used a glue stick instead. Due to the texture of the paper, I had to weigh the glued envelop down with a plate for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow the glue some time to dry and hold the flaps together.

When I first started experimenting with the original template, I printed several thinking I would glue the image of the marigold over the fonted information. But after some thought, I decided that wouldn’t look as professionally made. Rather than wasting the first set of templates, I formed each into envelopes and placed one behind each of the marigold seed filled envelopes that would allow my guests to use for their own seed collecting.

I then added a small pre-glued pearl at the bottom of each envelope and tied the two envelopes together with some sheer white ribbon I had in my supply of all occasion ribbon.

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Each envelop was filled with marigold seeds and then sealed with small gold heart stickers I had in my stationary drawer. In fact, everything used to make the seed packets were in my craft or stationary stash. So they didn’t cost me a penny!

My friend Kelly’s memory of her mother, has been carefully created into a small gift from the heart that I hope she can be proud of at next year’s Annual Tea, where we will honor her mother in other ways yet to be discovered.