BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus

Book Club Meeting: “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart

Vintage Fabergu00e9 egg illustration by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Our Social Writes Book Club selection for October 2022 was made by Pemmie. “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart is a beautifully written historical fiction novel highlighting Peter Karl Fabergé and his jewellery firm House of Fabergé, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the Imperial family, Karl supervised the many designers and craftsmen, including two women as they created the over fifty elegant jeweled Easter eggs from 1885 to 1917. The first egg of 1885 delivered to the Russian Tsar Alexander III was given to his wife Maria Feodorovna as an annual gift and continued later by Tsar Nicholas II.

Stuart injects an intriguing current day treasure hunt for a missing coveted egg that reconnects a daughter and her mother with her estranged father, who orchestrates the hunt from his deathbed. A last attempt to connect with his daughter during the limited time he has left. Unexpected twists and turns concludes with the true treasure of all in hand.

Pemmie will host this meeting for our group, and while the plan will be hers, I shared that Russian black bread and chai appeared in the book more than a couple of times. I’m always seeking for food notes in our books in order to introduce myself and group to the flavors and traditions within the stories we read. A small attempt to erect a little life from the pages.

I found a recipe (in the link below) and told Pemmie I would give this bread a test bake, a little excited to see how it turns out. I’m a baker, but bread is not one of the techniques I’ve frequented. Fortunately this was basically a low maintenance version where the stand mixer did all of the kneading. (A bread machine would have simplified the process even further. ) I did not divert from the recipe, but I have noted a couple of tips from my experience.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/7034/russian-black-bread/?utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social-share-recipe&utm_content=20220916&utm_term=7034

The hardest part of the process was finding the flours and caraway seeds. My pantry is filled with more things than the average person might have, but these ingredients were not among my inventory. I really didn’t want a five pound bag of bread flour either. After stopping into three or four different grocers, I found a one pound sack of both the bread and rye flours and a reasonable priced jar of caraway seeds. I tried to borrow some dark Karo syrup from a neighbor (needing only 2 tablespoons), but they didn’t have any. Karo syrup is one of those ingredients like molasses that ends up being used once and then the bottle sits in the pantry for years. (Much like this bottle of caraway seeds will also.)

The recipe was extremely simple, adding all ingredients except for the softened butter to the mixing bowl and using the dough hook, kneading for 10 minutes. Then the softened butter is added for another 5 minute kneading (again with the dough hook). The recipe didn’t warn what to expect of the finished dough, but I will say that it’s very sticky. It also didn’t rise as much as I thought it would.

BAKING TIP: Sometimes you learn a tip from a baker and if you don’t bake frequently, it’s easily forgotten when you decide to take a stab at baking again. This is a tip I remembered. When removing the paper from your softened stick of butter, fold the sheet (butter side) together and store in a zip bag in your refrigerator. When a recipe calls for greasing a bowl or pan, take out the buttered sheet at the beginning of the baking process – the butter softens quickly. Use the remaining butter from the sheet to grease your bowl or pan and while not wasting the small amount that remained on the paper.

The softened butter wrapper’s remaining butter used to grease the bowl and loaf pans.

TIP: I didn’t get a double rise out of my dough. It was more like a single rather than double rise of the original dough. I even let it sit in a warm oven for another 30 minutes (the recipe started with 1 hour so my total was 1 1/2 hours) and then when I prepared to cut the dough into two, placing half in each loaf pan, I had to use more than a sprinkling of bread flour to handle it. Make sure your hands are dusted as well as the surface. The dough is sticky. The second proofing didn’t look like it had much of a rise, so again I left the loaf pans in a warm oven (170 degrees F) for another 20 minutes to get the slight rise in the picture above. It filled the loaf pan more than rose.

While I was concerned that the bread would be a flop, it turned out beautifully. I should have used the bread splitter tool that I bought a year ago (that I forgot I had). The split would have formed at the top rather than the side, but it still turned out great.

After allowing it to cool for about 10 minutes, I used a serrated bread knife to slice a piece and was thrilled to see the airy soft texture and knew it was well baked. (Hopeful Paul Hollywood would agree- but not necessarily give me a handshake! Lol)

A warm steamy cup of chai latte’ (my favorite by the way) was all I needed to complete the black bread and chai experience. The black bread has a bitter slightly sweet note that comes from the combination of the small amounts of brown sugar, corn syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder and apple cider vinegar. The carraway, fennel seeds and rye flour add the savory note reminiscent of rye bread. Interesting ingredients and flavor.

One of my taste testers drizzled it with honey. The blogger said it was good with cheese, but didn’t state what kind of cheese. For now I’ve carefully wrapped up the second bread and placed it in the freezer until our meeting in early October. We will rewarm it on the day of the meeting and let everyone choose their own way to savor it.

While chai tea would be a good choice, I also found this chai cocktail made with chai and Russia’s beloved volka. The addition of Kahlua (a coffee flavored liqueur) creates a cocktail take on the dirty chai, where coffee is added to the tea with milk. My book club gals love a fun cocktail.

Use the leftover concentrate, by warming a half cup of concentrate and separately a half cup of milk – then foam the milk with a frother and top the concentrate in a mug for a chai tea latte. It’s the perfect fall morning drink with a big spicy morning inside hug. It’s my favorite!

In lieu of the chai syrup recipe in the link, I used the chai tea concentrate sold by most grocers in a quart carton by Oregon Chai , but there are other versions by Tazo and a small bottle that works perfectly sold at Trader Joe’s that works just fine and does the same job. If you don’t have a bottle of Kahlua – liquor stores like Total Wine, sell smaller bottles that will provide the amount you need and not leave you with a bottle that will sit around for years to come unused.

Cocktail recipe in the link below.

https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/vanilla-chai-tea-white-russian/

The rest of Pemmie’s plan will be a surprise, even to me, which adds an excitement and energy to the day filled with good conversation, laughter, food and spirits!

Pemmie’s table setting, not just because it is Fall, but because Russia is one of the biggest producers of sun flowers!

Bird’s Milk Cake (Ptichye Moloko)

https://momsdish.com/recipe/210/birds-milk-cake

LAGNIAPPE

A Summer Home Project – Kitchen Island Renovation

The original center counter design.

Hello followers! I’m sure you may be wondering why I haven’t posted any parties lately. A pending renovation of my kitchen island prohibited me from scheduling any parties for the past few months. I’m sharing what has been going on, and what I feel will be a game changer in available counter space for cooking and entertaining.

I never quite understood this high/low counter top-bar design. Some say it was to hide your sink – from what? It’s still out in the open! In any case it is what the builder’s design provided when I bought my home. My neighbor had her’s leveled into an actual kitchen island and it inspired me to do the same.

First I had to decide how I wanted this revamp to look, and that took more time than I originally expected (a couple of years). Something so permanent requires a lot of thought, and time to imagine what the end result may look like. After all it will last for years to come, so I’d best be happy with it! I had a budget in mind, which of course was greatly exceeded (with everything costing more these days). Still I knew the cost over time would only grow and if I didn’t move forward with it, I would regret it in the future.

Before with bar seating.

My cabinets are already very dark and the granite is very busy. (Basically the only choices provided at the time of construction). To lighten this up a bit, I thought and searched a long time before deciding to add this curio chest to fill the large blank wall on one side of my kitchen. It provided additional storage for my many white serving platters and bowls, but no additional counter space. It also added a much needed brightness to the kitchen.

The curio cabinet that inspired the kitchen island design.

With my curio cabinet as inspiration, I wanted to renovate the island to match the two toned color palette and slightly distressed design. The width of the cabinetry would be expanded out to meet the ends of the pony wall, making room for a large drawer to store a hidden garbage pail and move my small narrow cabinet (used to store my baking sheets and cutting boards) to the other side of the island.

To ensure that I was correctly communicating what I wanted to the contractor, I created the above sketches that he said where very helpful.

I searched for antique corbels with no luck. I didn’t want it to look as distressed as the first photo, but the vintage feel was appealing and I wanted to add a little distressing to match the curio. Basically I wanted this island to be one of a kind and resemble a piece of furniture rather than traditional cabinetry.

Due to the addition of a farmhouse style apron sink (but in a stainless steel brass color), my existing cabinets could not be reused. The doors under the sink were too tall and couldn’t be refinished to achieve the look that I wanted (similar to the curio).

Before and after the demo.

My contractor constructed the cabinet sections of the island offsite, and then demoed the existing cabinetry to replace it with the newly designed pieces from my sketches. Modifications to the sketch were made as it came together where necessary.

Garbage can drawer.

The first piece to be completed and installed was this drawer to store a garbage container and enough room to store a supply of garbage bags. No more ugly visible garbage can.

Shiplap was first stained and then painted in a color similar to my curio, so that when a little distressing is added, the stained color will show beneath. At least that was the plan, but when the sanding of areas was applied, the stain did not show through at all, it went straight down to the raw wood, but still gave the appearance we were trying to replicate.

A stainless steel brass farmhouse sink, with two handle brass bridge faucet, brass covered electrical outlet and power button for the garbage disposal all added the pop of sparkle that blended in with the other brass and copper accessories throughout my kitchen and living areas.

Aged brass hanging rail and hooks from deVOL in the UK.

I will not be changing out my countertops at this time, but hope to do that in the near future.

Pestle and Mortar from Homegoods, gold clay bowls, mini copper cups (The Lost Kitchen).

Sometimes a project that you imagine will go smoothly, has multiple setbacks that you can do very little to remedy. PATIENCE will be pushed to the extreme. The process and pieces that are needed don’t always come as easily as it may seem on HGTV. I’m a planner as you all know, so when the plan goes off course a lot of stress and aggravation rises to the surface by everyone involved.

A friend who witnessed my frustration first hand said, “It’s like giving birth to a baby. You have long periods of discomfort, but the end result is something you dearly love!”

  • Lyndhurst 2 handle bridge kitchen faucet with side sprayer in matte gold. – Ebay
  • Lordear 30″ x 21″ undermount kitchen farmhouse sink (gold) – Wayfair
  • InSink Earator (push button for disposal gold) – Perigold
  • Stain – Hampton Cottage TIS-058
  • Paint – Cameo White MG3-32 (Behr)
  • Hickory Hardware P2144-BGB American Diner Collection Cup Pull 3 Inch & 3-3/4 Inch (96mm) Hole Center, Center to Center, Brushed Golden Brass (on garbage drawer) – Amazon
  • Leviton PFUS1-BR Pop-Up Floor Box with Dual Type A, 3.6 USB Charger, 15 Amp Outlet, Brass (electrical outlet)

After many, many snafooz, I ended up with a different quartz countertop than I originally selected being advised on the day of installation that my original choice was discontinued. I’ve learned that renovations involve a lot of disappointing promises not kept, lip service and pivoting on materials. In the end the alternative quartz option the stone company offered was more expensive (but they did not charge me the difference due to the multiple forms of miscommunication on their part) and in the end may be a better look that I originally planned.

The top trim is hard to see without squatting and standing very far away to see it (and I’m very short), but it’s there.

I had two decorative tins leftover that match my backsplash, so to tie the island to the backsplash one was placed on each side and framed. Finally a little distressing was added similar to my curio cabinet.

  • Leviton PFUS1-BR Pop-Up Floor Box with Dual Type A, 3.6 USB Charger, 15 Amp Outlet, Brass (electrical outlet)

My original bar stools were now too tall and I sold them on Facebook marketplace to a very happy new homeowner, rather quickly. Bar stools vary in pricing and I didn’t want to buy anything overly expensive. I started shopping online for that high end look, at a low price. As always, I pinned multiple versions to a board on Pinterest (Loiret Kitchen Island inspiration); and looked at the photos over and over for a few days, trying to imagine how they would look in my space.

I finally decided on these Abbott 26″ Spindle Stool that I found the best price for on Overstock.com. I had a 15% off coupon, but of course more than a week later they went on sale for another 19% off. I’ve gambled in the past, waiting out a possible sale and the item I want ended up selling out and I couldn’t get it anymore. So I decided the overall price for these was reasonable enough with the discount and free shipping to move forward with my order. The stools do require some assembling, but it wasn’t difficult and I was very happy with the little added visual interest the spindled legs provided to the room.

https://www.overstock.com/Home-Garden/Bar-Stools/2023/subcat.html?featuredproduct=35976645&featuredoption=69404825&ci_sku=40047287-000-001&cnc=US&cid=317174&track=pspla&gclid=Cj0KCQjwguGYBhDRARIsAHgRm4-mYtS3KBDDTSm4znvfllTeUAjvvfvukEX3mX0W24AyGh7EHMYaTfwaAgFpEALw_wcB

I’m finally going to call this project complete, and moving on to party plans for the near future. Stay tuned! Let the parties begin!

LAGNIAPPE, SIMPLY ELEVATED, SUMMER

Spice Jar Refresh (A Weekend Project)

The summer heat has been especially brutal this year, but somehow my herb garden has managed to persevere. So much so, that the abundance has resulted in little bouquet deliveries to my neighbors from time to time including a little Mother’s Day gift this past May when my nasturtiums, tarragon and chives were still blooming.

In the colder months to come, when portions of the herb garden may go dormant, those dried herbs in the pantry are more frequently used. How old are the dry herbs in your pantry? Do you even remember when you bought them? Now is a great time to empty those jars and refill them with freshly dried herbs.

To start I cut bunches of each herb (in the garden) and give each bundle a good trim, discard dead or discolored stems and wash well setting the bundle on a tray lined with paper towel to slightly dry.

For the drying process I used the microwave oven, and two paper plates, with one method for thyme, oregano and tarragon and a different method for rosemary and sage. I didn’t dry basil or mint, as those are always best fresh, but I did share a use for using up the large crop of sweet basil below to add elevated flavor to your recipes.

For thyme, oregano and tarragon, I simply laid the washed stems in a small bunch in the middle of the paper plate and then covered it with another paper plate. Place covered plate into the microwave and process for three 30 second intervals. This allows the herb leaves to slowly dry and maintain a green color without burning. Test your microwave (as they are all different) by checking the level of dryness after two 30 second processes. If your leaves are still slightly “fresh” or wet, process a third time and check again. Some may have to process it for less time and others may have to process it a little longer.

Once dried, using your fingertips, gently roll the leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Store the dried herbs into glass jars to prevent crushing.

For rosemary, pinch the stem with two fingers at the top and slide down to remove all of the rosemary leaves. Place the leaves between the two paper plates and process for two 30 second intervals. I found that this was dry enough for my liking and know that they will continue to dry over time in the pantry.

For sage, pull the leaves from their stems, stack three or four leaves and then roll tightly like a cigar. Thinly slice into strips (called chiffonade) and depending on the size of the leaves it may require slicing the strips in half.

Placing the chiffonade sage leaves between the two paper plates, process in 30 second intervals in the microwave watching for the level of dryness you prefer.

For many years, my Thanksgiving centerpiece has been a sage butter roasted turkey, with a sage apple cider gravy that requires both dried and fresh sage. Dried sage pressed together into coarse salt is rubbed all over the turkey skin and then placed in the refrigerator overnight. When baking the following day, it is based with melted butter and fresh chopped sage. Both the aroma and flavors are absolutely amazing! My freshy dried sage will be stored and ready for the big day.

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/sage-butter-roasted-turkey-with-cider-gravy

A practiced cook knows that recipes that go into the oven often call for dried herbs rather than fresh because they tend to better handle the heat and long periods of baking, but less amounts are used because the flavor of the herb intensifies when dried. The Fall and Winter seasons are usually enjoyed by savoring rich stews, roasted vegetables and meats that are often cooked in the oven. Having a pantry stocked with freshly grown and dried herbs is not only a tasty plan, but a thrifty plan since buying dried herbs can be very expensive.

If your garden is plentiful, the holidays are just around the corner. Why not consider gifting freshly dried herbs to friends and family as Christmas gifts? Purchase inexpensive jars or use small dollar store zip labeled pouches filled with freshly dried herbs and then nested in a small basket as a hostess or holiday gift is something the recipient can use and enjoy all year. If gifting sealed pouches of herbs, just as you have refreshed your spice jars, your friends and family can toss out the old dried herbs in their pantry and refill their jars with your gifted herbs. A jar of confit garlic and local fresh baked bread (if you don’t bake yourself) and or a jar of pesto (made with your basil) and encourage the least interested cook into creating something easy and flavorful.

Let’s not forget about the basil. I have both sweet basil and thai basil growing in my garden. Both have grown to nearly three feet tall and this is what they look like after a good trim. While dried basil is not something I personally use, a large amount of fresh basil can be used to make fresh pesto. Using a recipe from Pinterest, basil, garlic, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese and extra virgin olive oil whirled in a small food processor creates a bright and fresh pesto that is flavorful and delicious spread over grilled chicken or tossed in fresh pasta. It also can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and can be spread on wraps or used to make a vinaigrette to toss on a fresh spinach salad. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/pesto-pea-salad-recipe-2040302

Sweet basil and spicy thai basil with lavender blossoms that the bees are enjoying.
Freshly made pesto.

For my last little project, I made confit garlic and garlic roasted olive oil. Recipes can be found on Pinterest, but for mine I did the following.

For confit: I used a mini ceramic bread loaf pan, and filled with two large garlic bulbs -cloves separated and peeled and then poured extra virgin olive oil close to the top of the pan. Also place on a small baking sheet to protect from spilling. Place in the oven at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool and store in tightly sealed jar in refrigerator for a couple of weeks. Cover the garlic with the oil and if there is excess add to the roasted garlic oil bottle below.

For roasted garlic oil: I used the same mini ceramic bread loaf pan and sliced the top edge off of two garlic bulbs and placed the entire bulbs in the loaf pan. Fill with extra virgin olive oil, place on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for two hours. Let cool to room temperature. I then squeezed the garlic from the bulbs into the confit jar. Use a coffee filter or cheesecloth folded into four layers and place inside a funnel and filter oil into a measuring cup. Using the same funnel and filter pour the filtered oil from the measuring cup through the cheesecloth again, into your final glass bottle.

Note: You can purchase peeled garlic cloves or break a bulb of garlic apart and place the individual cloves with peel into a tightly closed jar and shake vigorously until all of the peel comes off of the garlic.

How to use your garlic confit and roasted garlic olive oil.

Roasted or confit garlic is sweet and very flavorful. You can spread the soft cloves on breads to make homemade garlic bread, create a vinaigrette, add to soups, pasta or roasted chicken. Be creative and experiment. I had a loaf of freshly baked lucky seven grain bread that I sliced and spread the soft buttery roasted garlic cloves on one slice and caramelized onion chutney on the other slice with thinly sliced honey turkey breast that created a delicious turkey sandwich with intense elevated flavor.

One of my favorite things to do with the roasted garlic infused olive oil, is to drizzle it over fresh tomatoes, avocado or roasted potatoes (any roasted vegetables). Anything you would finish with a little drizzle of olive oil can also be drizzled with the rich garlic infused flavored olive oil.

Bakery Lucky Seven Grain Bread, Confit (roasted) garlic and thinly sliced deli honey turkey breast.

Whether it’s a hot sunny day or a rainy hot day that you are trying to escape, while staying indoors here’s a productive way to spend the afternoon preserving herbs and creating flavor filled pestos and oils to elevate your summer and future Fall and Winters dishes and maybe even create a few gifts for the holidays.

SIMPLY ELEVATED, SUMMER

Summer Pancakes (Simply Elevated)

My favorite summertime fruit is the peach, more specifically the white peach and even more so the saturn or donut peach. The donut peach is a squatty version that when eaten fully ripened, has an intense, juicy, sweet white peach flavor that for me is perfection.

Saturn or Donut Peach

Sunday mornings are my time for a break from the weekly routines, with an extra concentrated focus on prayer, gratitude, and rest that begins with a special breakfast. On this Sunday morning, I was in the mood to combine my favorite peach with pancakes.

For my simply elevated experiment, I started with my favorite pancake recipe published in 2012 in Martha Stewart Living magazine. While few changes were made to her original recipe (always the best choice for success), it’s the topping that elevates these pancakes with a fresh twist of white balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs.

Front (left), sage, spring onions, left rear sweet basil, right thai basil, with rosemary in front (right).

To ensure that I always have fresh herbs when needed, I planted a small garden that thrives throughout most of the year. Mint is kept in a pot (or it will take over the rest of the garden), while basil is a Spring and Summer herb that requires new planting in early Spring. Both also provide beautiful floral blossoms. Planting a small herb garden is also a budget friendly way to add fresh flavor to your recipes.

Summer Pancakes with Peach-Blueberry White Balsamic Maple Syrup

Prep time 20 -30 minutes makes 10 pancakes

(This recipe was adapted from Marthastewart.com Nectarine Pancakes https://www.marthastewart.com/909613/nectarine-pancakes

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean (or extract)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (melted) and more for skillet
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 medium white or yellow peach (medium ripe -not too firm or too soft) sliced into rings –
  • 1 donut peach (small diced)- or white, yellow peach
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
  • fresh mint &/or sweet or thai (for a little spice) basil (chiffonade or thinly sliced) and more for garnish
  1. In medium to large mixing bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk eggs, buttermilk, vanilla, oil and melted butter until thoroughly combined and then mix into the bowl of dry ingredients. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. With a paring knife slide peaches into 1/4 inch horizontal rings, pulling away from the pit.
  4. In a small bowl combine diced saturn peach, blueberries, maple syrup, white balsamic vinegar and chiffonade mint and sweet basil (set aside for serving).
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches and adding more butter as needed, pour 1/2 cup batter into the pan (I used a large ice cream scoop), top each with a peach slice. Cook until bubbles form on the surface and underside is golden (about 3-4 minutes), then flip (you may have to hold the peach to avoid slipping) and cook until the second side is golden brown (3 to 4 minutes).
  6. Serve with peach blueberry white balsamic maple syrup and garnish with fresh mint and sweet basil.
  7. Review tips below before you start.

Vanilla paste is a little pricey, but not as pricey as vanilla beans and the overall quantity is greater and lasts longer. While vanilla exact is just as acceptable, vanilla paste is filled with those beautiful seeds from the bean and elevate the flavor in your recipes.

Peaches were used for my version of this recipe, but other stone fruits such as nectarines, apricots, plums and mangos are other options to experiment with. For the best fruit flavor, the fruit should be ripe, but not overly soft.

If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make some with milk and white vinegar or fresh lemon juice or use yogurt or sour cream. See the link below for alternatives. https://celebratingsweets.com/buttermilk-substitute/

I did try placing the peach slice in the pan first and pouring the batter over it. This caramelizes the peach a little more, but the weight of the pancake is less formed (cooked). When flipping the pancake, the cooked portion is thinner and weighted by the peach slice – so the balance is off and the peach can fall out. Feel free to try the version that best works for you.

To elevate the pancake experience I used one of my favorite ingredients, white balsamic vinegar. Using my saturn peaches that are soft, ripe and sweet, diced similar in size to making a chunky salsa (however more of whatever peach you have will create the same results), I then added my second favorite summer fruit, fresh sweet blueberries, a small amount of maple syrup and white balsamic vinegar tossed with fresh mint and sweet basil (or thai basil for a little spice). The vinegar adds an unexpected pleasant brightness to the combination and fresh new way to top our pancakes. The addition of more maple syrup is optional.

These fruit filled pancakes can be further elevated with a serving of crispy bacon on the side.

This summer, freshen up your Sunday morning breakfast pancakes by filling them with beautiful pitted fruits that are at their peak and surprise the family with a new bright, fruity and herbaceous topping they’re sure to remember.

MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

Annual Mothers Tea Honoring Jane

The thing about time…

When we are young, we are so very busy. Busy getting an education, busy building a career, busy having and caring for children and their many needs and later activities, busy shopping for groceries, new shoes for the kids, hair appointments, doctor appointments, yard work, laundry, cooking, cleaning ….. and at the end of each week, there is still a list of things we still didn’t get done. It’s ok, we still have time, until we don’t.

When we are young we think we have an abundance of time just waiting for us to spend later. As a grandmother who has not yet retired (a couple of years away), time becomes more and more precious. My daughter, her husband and my three grandchildren live five and half hours away and between my work schedule, their work schedules and the ever growing busy activities of each grandchild as they grow into lives of their own, attempting to coordinate uninterrupted time together has become an impossible challenge.

I remember when my mother retired, she suddenly had time to spare and fantasized about her family all getting together to take a cruise or some kind of trip together. While she and my dad now had the benefit of time, my brother and I, and our children struggled to clear our schedules all at the same time to make this wish of her’s materialise. We all thought we still had time, until we didn’t.

My mom passed away at the age of 75 with pancreatic cancer. The biggest shock to all of us including her. She was certain she had so much more time, but time for her, had ended.

Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate our Moms, but when Mom has gone to live with the Lord everything changes. Those who have their adult children and grandchildren living near, may be blessed with an afternoon brunch, lunch or even barbecue to spend time with those you hold so dear to your heart for at least a day. For those like myself that live at a distance, the day is less about me and more about my memories of my Mom and the pride I feel for my lovely daughter who is a wonderful Mom trying to find time for forming my grandchildren into beautiful little people.

My Annual Mother’s Tea was formed to gather with friends whose Moms have also gone to be with the Lord, and offers us each a place to share memories and celebrate our mothers.

Held on the first Sunday in May (so as not to conflict with the actual Mother’s Day holiday), we all have a rhinestone framed photo of our mothers that I like to think of as their crowns; that are placed before us at each place setting.

Each year we select a name from a teapot and the following year I create a tea theme that celebrates and honors that mother. Over the years we have found common ground between our mothers from different generations and drawn memories from just taking the time to sit and listen to each others stories.

This year, for our 4th Annual Mother’s Tea, we honored Kelly’s Mom, Jane Peacock. At our very first tea, Kelly recalled a memory of collecting the dried seeds of marigolds so her Mom could replant them in her garden the following year. These seed packets were created from my garden at the end of last year’s season, to use as favors for this year’s tea.

Kelly’s Mom was an eclectic lady, with passions and interests that challenged me in my effort to capture her spirit on this special day. In my previous post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2022/04/21/a-little-racey-beachy-peacock-mothers-tea/ , I explain the table decor which includes themes of peacock, beach and NASCAR.

I of course had to include some fresh marigolds, and the flowers that Kelly most associated with her Mom which were yellow roses and daisies. Daisies are not readily available in my area, so I used chamomile that resembles a floppy delicate miniature daisy in the floral arrangements. I used purple irises in memory of Lydia’s mother that we honored last year and some lavender from my garden.

The tea I chose met with the beachy theme that was carried throughout the table setting and some of the menu. This tea by Teavana, Beach Bellini was delicious. A couple of the ladies don’t like tea, and this was a perfect choice. I sweetened the pot with honey and the pineapple mango flavor was light and very refreshing. It is a perfect Spring or Summer time tea hot or cold.

While I’m honoring a specific mother, I do try to inject a little piece of each mother somewhere in the day. One friend said her mother loved pineapple sorbet that I put a small scoop of in a fluted glass and topped with champagne for a pineapple bellini cocktail.

THE MENU:

Strawberry Citrus Salad

This strawberry citrus salad with honey balsamic dressing was served in memory of Jane, who added strawberries to various salads and was what Kelly described as the first time she can remember having fruit in salad that she learned to love. A fresh nasturtium flower dressed up the colorful bowl.

Mixed spring greens and wild arugula, sliced ripe strawberries, naval orange segments, marigold petals, feta, toasted slivered almonds (chopped) and honey balsamic vinaigrette.

Finger Sandwiches:

Grilled Ham and Gruyere Cheese Sandwiches (Kelly’s memory of a lunch date with her Mom) at a diner called Mayberry’s in North Carolina.

Pineapple chicken salad wrapped in sweet brown bread tied with chives and chamomile flowers.

Cucumber Radish with herby creme fraiche on white bread when fennel fronds.

Pink peppercorn egg salad in crispy pastry cups with violas.

At the top: Jane’s favorite sandwich, roast beef on toasted rye (topped with onion chutney and tarragon blossoms.)

A Palate Cleanser…

A splash of Spring celebrated with fresh floral ice bowls created to serve a mango sorbet palate cleanser between the tea sandwich and scone courses.

The inside of one of the ice bowls. Each bowl is unique and different.

These coconut macadamia scones were served with the mango sorbet and a side of pineapple preserves. https://www.teatimemagazine.com/macadamia-coconut-scones/

My framed table photo of me and my Mom on the beach in Bermuda.

The Pastry Course

Fig, date and citrus filled pastry envelopes with edible one hundred dollar bills to capture a memory of letters from Mom filled with coupons $$$. The full story and instructions for how to make these can be found in my previous post. https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2022/04/26/pastry-letters-from-mom/

I also served small eclairs and small slices of gentilly cake (a white cake with whipped cream and berry filling) that I did not get a picture of. Kelly said her Mom loved eclairs, and another of our friends said her mother loved berries (so that cake was for her Mom.)

Little winks from Mom…. Kelly told us about a hidden tattoo her Mom sported of a happy face that I put on the place cards. Her daughter told me that the family always laughed about how her grand-mommy loved boiled peanuts. So I presented a serving in a little covered cup just to Kelly in elegant tea fashion that gave her a smile.

As a wink to me and my planning this tea, I was in a bakery where I purchased the pastry shells for the egg salad and on the counter was a basket of happy face cookies. This one with the wink felt like a sign from Jane in her fun and playful way of letting me know I had captured her spirit and that she would be near on this special day.

As Mother’s Day approaches and we are all grasping for time, make sure to clear your schedule now and then. Saying no to something just for one day can make all of the difference in the world for your memories in the future. Once time is up, you can never get it back. In loving memory of Barbara, Edwina, Helen, Jane, Kathleen, and Mary.

MOTHERS TEA, SIMPLY ELEVATED, TRADITIONS & TEA

(Pastry) Letters From Mom….

Love letters from Mom with a little “coupon” inside.

These Italian fig cookie filled pastry envelopes were created for my Annual Mother’s Tea to capture a loving memory my friend Kelly had of her Mom. She shared that her Mom used to write her little letters and stick $100 bills inside that she called “coupons”. (Referred to as coupons because her Mom used to hide the $100 bills in her coupon envelope so that her husband wouldn’t know.)

While the idea seemed simple to create, it took two tries to get the results I preferred and an effort to recall all of the little baking tips I’ve learned over the years that had to be applied. For the same results, it’s important to follow the tested tricks and recipe below:

  1. You’ll need an envelope to use as a template. Mine was from a box of thank you cards 4 1/2 ” x 3 1/4 “. Gently open the envelope to create a flat template.

2. One box of refrigerated pie dough (I used Pillsbury) will make 3 envelopes. Sprinkle your surface with a dusting of flour, remove the dough from the little sealed bag and gently unroll on the floured counter. In order for all of the pastries to look the same and slightly puff, gather the dough sheet into a ball, gently knead together until smooth and then roll it out -long enough for two envelopes using the templates to measure. With a sharp point of a knife, trace the template to cut out the dough. Knead together the scraps and roll out again to create the third envelope. (See the images below that show how the rerolled dough makes a fluffier risen product. )

Shown here – on the left dough rolled out as is straight from the package; on the right the dough was kneaded together and then rolled out – creating a slight puff and prettier end result.
A scalloped pastry wheel used to trim the top part
of the envelope that will remain unfolded.

3. I was surprised by the details I had to pay attention to when making these, and learned from mistakes I made on the first try. If you look at the template I used above, the top triangle of the template is very sharp and pointed, while the folded up bottom is rounded. To add a little cute design, I used a scalloped pastry wheel on the sharp top portion of the envelope that will remain unfolded, resulting in an open envelope. Now transfer the dough to a parchment paper lined baking sheet pan (only 2 fit on one sheet) and place the pan in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.

4) I decided to use my stamp set, that I bought for last year’s tea (I made my signature sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flower cookies and a stamping of each mother’s name), to stamp “Love Mom” on the outside of the envelope. Doing it correctly took to extra thought and practice.

Originally I folded the filled envelope and tried to stamp it, but because the surface was let’s say “bumpy” and soft, the stamp did not come out clear or legible. I realized I needed to chill the pastry first (after cutting out the template as instructed above) before stamping.

5. After chilling for about 5 minutes, turn the pastry over with the bottom section at the top (in my case the rounded end). Stamp the message – I used “Love Mom” with a heart so that when folded under – the words are facing the correct direction. See below that when the pastry is turned over again, when the bottom flap is folded up, the stamp is smooth and clear.

Sugar cookies decorated with dried edible flowers and every Mom’s name.

6. I then had to learn the correct placing of my filling. (Recipe further below.) At first I placed the filling over the entire rectangle that would form inside once folded. In the messy version above, you can see that the filing is exposed above the envelope pocket. On my second try I lowered the filling to just below where the side flaps would overlap. Fold in the side flaps and then the bottom flap up using a light brushing of egg wash to glue it in place. Using a fork, dock the top flap to eliminate puffing in the oven. Place the prepared pastries back into the refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Pastry with fig/nut filling and folded.
Then lightly brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sanding sugar.

The top inside flap “docked” (pricked with a small fork) to prevent puffing,

7. Finally lightly brush egg wash on the outside and then sprinkle with sanding sugar careful not to fill in the stamped message. Place into a preheated oven (350 degree F) for 12 minutes. Read the tip below to address areas that bake at different timeframes.

IMPORTANT TIP: Carefully watch the baking process around 10 minutes. If you look back at the two examples of my first and second bake, you’ll see that because I didn’t dock the top portion it bubbled (puffed) and cracked. It also baked faster than the lower filled portion. So in my second try I docked the top to stop the puffing and after 10 minutes I placed a piece of aluminum foil over the top part to stop it from browning any further, and then baked for another 2-5 minutes for no more than 15 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different, so you’ll have to watch closely to see what happens in yours.

8. Finally, one last reference to my first and second bake pictures. Originally I glued the dried edible flowers to the pastry on to the pastry with egg wash (or water was used on the cookies). My flowers are so dark, that the baking process made them darker and not as pretty. So I decided to attach the dried flowers after baking using a little store bought icing. However, if you have lighter colors to use, the baking process works fine. My edible flowers are violas that were pressed between two layers of paper towel and then pressed together with two microwavable plates. The microwave drying time varies depending on how much water in in the flower. Usually for violas or pansies it can take between 5 and 7 minutes, but only dry in two minute intervals and check after the first five minutes. When complete they are dry and fragile and feel a little like paper. Just don’t touch the plate for about 5 to 10 minutes until it cools down.

For the final touch I needed the $100 bill tucked in. So for the pictures above I just copied a $100 bill on the printer and cut the ends off of each side to tuck in. I actually ordered edible $100 bills on Etsy that are made of frosting that I will cut and should (according to the instructions) slightly melt into the pastry AFTER the baking process. (Don’t judge me if I chicken out and use the paper version.)

While these pastry envelopes or letters were used to represent a memory of someone’s Mom, they would have also made a cute dessert for a book club read involving read letters (that happens often in historical fiction) or a cute Valentine dessert with something like a strawberry filling.

What you’ll need to make the pastry envelopes:

  • Pre-made pie dough (I used Pillsbury) 1 box makes 6 envelopes
  • 1 egg (scrambled in a bowl with a teaspoon of water – for egg wash)
  • White sanding sugar
  • Dried edible flowers (optional)
  • Printed images of $100 bill or you can order edible versions on Etsy (optional)
  • Letter stamping (purchased on Amazon also optional)

How to prepare and bake – follow the narrative above that provides tips learned for the best results. Make the filling below a day ahead. These pastries can be made a day ahead and stored in a tightly sealed container once completely cooled to prevent any moisture from forming.

Cucidati (Italian Fig Cookie Filling)

The Cucidati (that my Mom called Italian Fig Cookies) are popular here in Southern Louisiana and served at the annual St. Joseph Day Altars. They were a special coveted favorite of my Mom’s, so much so that she eagerly attended an altar or two each year to seek out her little gifted bad of Italian cookies. The filling came to mind as it isn’t runny and tucked inside the pastry is very reminiscent of the cookie itself.

Adapted from recipe in the link https://www.familytabletreasures.com/italian-fig-cookies-cucidati/

  • 1 Cup Dried Mission Figs or Calimyrna Figs ,stems removed and chopped, about a 6-7 ounce package
  • 1/2 Cup Pitted Dates ,Chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Candied Orange Peel ,or Orange Marmalade or Apricot preserves
  • 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar ,or honey
  • Zest from 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice (or 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon)
  • 1/4 Cup Almonds
  • 1/4 Cup Walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons Dark Rum, French Brandy, or Orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier

Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and process until a paste is formed and no large chunks are left. Place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge to chill for at least an hour but preferably overnight so ingredients can meld together.

Edible $100 bills.

Some may ask why go to so much trouble for one of many elements of this mothers tea, but my friends and I are making a special effort to bring back to life some of our favorite memories of our mothers that are no longer with us on Mother’s Day. If you’re feeling the void we all do on Mother’s Day, consider creating your own little tradition to honor your Mom year after year. You’ll feel her spirit present with gratitude.

Suggested Music:

“I Remember You”- Trisha Yearwood

“Supermarket Flowers” – Ed Sheeran

“The Best Day” – Taylor Swift

“Mother” – Kacey Musgraves

“Tell Mama” -Etta James

“Mama’s Kitchen” – CeCe Winans

“Ring Off” – Beyonce

“Turned to You” – Justin Bieber

“Mother Like Mine” – The Band Perry

“Mother” – Sugarland

“Don’t Forget to Remember Me” -Carrie Underwood

“Mom” – Garth Brooks

“God Must Have Spent ” A Little More Time on You-NSYNC

MOTHERS TEA, TRADITIONS & TEA

A Little Racey, Beachy, Peacock Mothers Tea

I’ve been putting together a plan for my 4th Annual Mothers Tea over the past few weeks. Little memories have been shared from tea to tea and I’ve tried to carefully listen and make notes to reference as each friend awaits for their year to honor their Mom. This year we will be honoring my friend Kelly’s Mother, Jane.

Marigolds

At our very first tea, Kelly told us that she had recently been planting marigolds in her vegetable garden, to protect against insects. As she was planting, she recalled an image of her mother collecting the seeds from marigolds in her own garden to replant the following year. Her shared memory stayed with me, and as my marigolds began to wither I collected their dried buds and created seed packets for each of our guests as a favor. (See the past post: https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2021/06/13/a-marigold-memory-of-mother/ of how I dried the flowers and made the seed envelopes in mid-June last year in preparation for this year’s tea.)

Marigold seed packets as party favors.

Every year, in preparation for the tea, I offer a list of questions to each friend to help generate memories of their Mom’s favorite things – from pastimes to favorite eats. I then do my best to give a nod to those interests, flavors and memories as part of the decor and menu. Sometimes the list is minimal and a clear direction, while others offer new challenges of interpretation. Kelly’s list presented a colorful and uncommon Mom with interesting passions. While I may not be able to incorporate all of her notes into the tea, I always do my best to capture the spirit of our honored Mom.

Beaches

Kelly’s Mom was a thalassophile who loved turtles. Beaches provide everything from “peacock” sunsets to seashells and turtles in the sand. So for the invitation I used a pretty image from a wedding invitation and cut out the center. After a lot of cut and pasting the image created a frame for my invite. (Reason for the undesired lines in the image.) I then glued small shells around the border for a 3D affect and a string a pearls to highlight Jane’s photo. (We only have 7 or so guests at each tea and I do my best to be thrifty where I can. A mailed invitation is not only more fun, but also gives my friend a keepsake. )

What is a thalassophile? A person who loves and is magnetically attracted to the ocean and the sea. Many people say they enjoy spending time at the beach, especially during summertime.

I used six beautiful scallop shells gifted to me several years ago at each place setting to capture the beach vibe and tied each plate with peacock blue ribbon for a pop of color. Plain glass plates were used for the guests and a peacock glass plate for Kelly and her daughter.

For one side of the table decor, I used a Barbie beach chair set on processed graham crackers with sugar for sand,chocolate turtles (made in a candy mold), seahorses and shells with a sprinkle of very tiny real shells. Lastly a sandcastle (a salt and pepper shaker set found at Cracker Barrel) to create a beach vibe. The beach chair was a dark pink that I toned down with a piece of ribbon to better blend in with the cool, soft blues of the decor.

Peacocks

Several years ago, Kelly told me that whenever she sees a peacock, she feels it’s a sign from her Mom. When I questioned what the connection was, she explained that her Mother’s maiden name was Peacock. Now every time I see stationary or other items with peacock feathers, I think of Kelly and her Mom. Clearly this symbol had to be at the center of my table.

Photo by NAUSHIL ANSARI on Pexels.com

It started with the invitation. To add a touch of “Peacock” I printed an image of a peacock feather, cut around it and then glued it over a peacock blue ribbon as a seal on the back of the envelope. To protect the shells from getting crushed in the mail, I wrapped each invitation in tissue paper and applied 3D daisy stickers (one of two flowers that Kelly said reminds her of her Mom) before gently slipping each into the envelope to mail.

For the past three years I have used my small form mannequin as part of the centerpiece for my table. The first year, it was an obvious choice for the Seamstress theme that I decorated with pattern tissue flowers and measuring tape ribbon. Last year we had a Nurse theme and Lydia created a little white nurse dress and a blue cape with red trim similar to the uniform she remembered her Mom wore in the 1960’s. A vintage style nurse’s cap hung from the top to complete a little nurse.

This year I used the Peacock to elegantly dress the form mannequin (inspired by a designer dress I saw online). Small peacock feathers were used to shape the top, paired with ribbon I had in my craft box. As I cut the ribbon it curled under (much like a folded peacock tail.) As I began to run out of ribbon I placed shorter pieces on the front section, all pinned with pearl tipped straight pins, creating my own specially designed dress. I reused the measuring tape ribbon on the back and the sewing charms because Kelly’s mom (we learned from our seamstress tea) was also an excellent seamstress.

It takes a while to figure out my table decor for every event, but if I quietly sit and meditate on it, ideas begin to generate and I always figure something out. Because of all of the themed entertaining I do, I have to be on the lookout for little things I might need in the future for an idea I may have been holding on to. During the holidays while in Homegoods in what I call the “booby trap” section (the shelves of items on each side of the line while waiting to get to the register), I spotted two Artistic Accents Turkish hand painted glass plates with peacock feathers. There were only two and I wasn’t sure what I would do with them, but knowing I had the tea to plan, I decided to purchase them and figure it out later. I decided to use the two peacock patterned plates for Kelly and her daughter who was also invited, and plain gold rimmed glass plates for the other guests with the scallop shell tied to the center combining the beach and peacock notes.

A combination of Peacock and Beach.

NASCAR

Kelly’s Mom was also an enthusiastic RV NASCAR circuit fan. Full disclosure, this was stumped me for a good while. I originally had no idea of how to inject this into an afternoon tea, but in the end I was happy with what finally came to mind. I found clip art online to print the racetrack, NASCAR logo, finish line flags and lights. I cut out each of the figures and then attached each to white card stock with a glue stick. As it began to dry, the sides of the card stock began to curl up, similar to the stadium bleachers that surround the racetrack. So I cut it into a shape similar to the track and then rubbed the stick glue all over the outer area from the racetrack. I then pressed multicolored sprinkles to represent the crowd. I ordered two cars on Etsy that are ornaments (reason for the metal loop on the top). They are very small, but I was able to enlarge the print of the track to better match the scale of the cars and I decided I would give the cars to Kelly to put on her Christmas tree in memory of her Mom after the tea. The track was set in the middle of a white rimmed dinner plate and I used dollar store moss to create greenery around the outside of the stadium to look like trees, etc. This is being placed on the other side of the table.

NASCAR racetrack.

My table is basically ready for the coming weekend…. once Jane’s favorite cheerful flowers of daisies and yellow roses are added – it will add the final touch of brightness and light that I’m sure will attract Jane’s spirit to be with us on this special day we’ve created in her honor. Now onto the menu! Come back for the next post!

BOOK CLUB, GATHERINGS

“The Undomestic Goddess” Bookclub Menu

Book selection… On a bright and cheery mid-April, Sunday afternoon a group of ten of my reading friends (members of my book club) gathered around my dining room table set with English garden decor and a slightly gourmet luncheon, inspired by our latest book selection “The Undomestic Goddess” by Sophie Kinsella. The light hearted “Hallmark like” story, started with a young female workaholic attorney who after being set up to cover up the bad actions of a Sr. Partner at the firm, flees to the English countryside and is mistaken for an applicant as a professional housekeeper. Samantha has absolutely no domestic skills, but does her best to fake it until she makes it with the help of some very kind and supportive new acquaintances she meets in the fictional Cotswolds-like town far from the hussle and bussle of London.

Nathaniel’s garden and his mother Iris’s cooking lessons lead me consider a special lunch menu with a table draped in the rustic elegance of an English garden. A photograph I found in a back issue of Victoria magazine provided the inspiration I wanted for my table setting. Having always been drawn to shades of soft blues, purples and lavenders for their casual and soothing aesthetics, I had a table runner and linen napkins in my arsenal to recreate the look. I planned to create a floral centerpiece and fill decorated clay pots filled with ferns and flowering plants that would been given as party favors to each of my members.

The Favors: Two kinds of moss purchased from the Dollar Tree in addition to bark from my crepe myrtle, were used to create layers of moss affixed with spray adhesive to terra cotta pots (also from Dollar Tree). I mixed mossy gray and green acrylic paint and then dotted a collage of color to the exterior of each pot with a sponge. Craft glue was used to then affix the bark and flowers pressed and dried in the microwave from my garden. The idea was to create pots that look like they were lying around in a greenhouse for many years. Later the use of a hot glue gun touched up the areas that may have pulled away some from the surface.

I played around with different ways of displaying and arranging the pots on the table,but remembered I wanted that pop of blue and shades of purple, violet and lavender arranged in the center of the table. So I removed several of the posts and displayed them on a small table in the corner to be distributed at the end of the meeting.

Springtime Cocktail:

A Sparkling Blueberry Lavender Bellini

The frozen blueberry puréed spheres were made with fresh blueberries in a small processor. If processed too long it becomes gelatinous as it thaws. If too loose it disburses blue chunks into the drink. I over unintentionally over processed mine (learning experience) and used it as a colorful ice cube substitute that adds a little flavor to the drink, but doesn’t water down the cocktail. It makes the glass frosty and the cocktail stays very cold.

I found this Citrus & Petals cocktail sugar at Homegoods around the holidays and set it aside for a future springtime party. But this pretty sugar idea could easily be created at home. Flower petals can be pressed between paper towels and dried in the microwave in just minutes. The dried flowers retain their brilliant color and when completely dried can be crushed to add to sugar. Lemon, orange or lime zest and dried chopped mint leaves can be set out on a plate overnight or for a few days to dry and also mixed into the sugar.

The rim of a coupe glass is gently dipped in egg white and then into the sugar mixture. I did this the day before and placed all of the glasses on a tray in the refrigerator The egg white dries and sugar and flowers were well attached for the luncheon. (I used a small paintbrush to add some egg white to the front of the glass to attach the tiny fresh flowers.)

I made a blueberry syrup by cooking down one cup of fresh blueberries with 2 tablespoons of water and sugar. Once cooked down I strained out the skins and seeds. After preparing the rims of the glasses with sugar and flowers I stored them in the refrigerator until time to serve.

To serve, I added one tablespoon of blueberry syrup and one tablespoon of lavender syrup, then placed a frozen blueberry disk in the center. Each coupe glass was then filled with chilled prosecco or cava (even sparkling water can be used for a non-alcohol version). The sparkling beverage will cause the blueberry disk to fizz slightly, similar to a bath bomb for a fun afternoon cocktail or drink. (The added syrups may require a gentle stir to mix into the prosecco or water.)

Deep blue, almost purple hydrangeas, white delphiniums, lavender stock and filler flowers that I do not know the name of, helped create a bright centerpiece.

On the Menu:

  • Chicken and Sherry Mushroom Vol au Vent
  • Mixed Spring greens, with dried blueberries, orange segments and toasted chopped pecans with a crème fraîche citrus and herb vinaigrette
  • Mini rainbow carrots with brown butter and a citrus mint marigold gremolata
  • Gentilly berry cake

The recipe was adapted for the link below. This chicken and mushroom filling is also delicious as a sauce tossed in pasta. My adjustments to the recipe included:

  • Finely chopped shallots in place of onions
  • After cooking the shallots and mushrooms down, add a half cup of white wine and simmer down to about 1/4 cup.
  • I then add the flour and cooked for a few minutes
  • Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock letting simmer about 5 minutes
  • After adding the heavy cream, I added a teaspoon of sherry vinegar
  • Chopped tarragon and thyme where the last addition

https://www.chilitochoc.com/chicken-mushroom-vol-au-vent/

It never fails… I get so busy preparing and serving (with the help of a wonderful friend) that I either forget to take pictures or don’t take the picture I really want due to rushing. I usually do a test run so I can decide what I want to add to or omit from a recipe that I’m using. The picture above was from the test. The picture below was the rushed version the day of the luncheon.

We added a couple of law books to the table – to represent Samantha’s career as a Lawyer.

A convenient scene in the book, was when Samantha’s new friends threw her a surprise birthday party. It just so happened that two of the ladies in my group had birthdays on the following two days. So for the dessert course, I purchased one of their favorites cakes, we sliced it up and put a candle on each of their pieces and sang happy birthday.

At our previous book club, I served champagne and elderflower liqueur cocktails that everyone really enjoyed. So I bought two small bottles of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and bagged them up as little gifts for the two birthday ladies with balloons.

An English luncheon must have tea. As a nod to London, where Samatha lives and works, I served London tea lattes. Steeped Earl grey lavender tea (fairly strong), lavender syrup and a little honey, topped with foamed half and half and dusted with dried pulsed lavender.

As our meeting adjourned, the next book was announced (that will be hosted by a different member in June), everyone bid adieu with their arms filled with plants, leftovers and some with birthday gifts. Until we meet again, happy reading!

DINNER PARTY, WINE CLUB

Murder Mystery at the Underwood Winery :Wine Club Dinner Party (Pinot Noir Tasting)

Let’s get back to fun and games! A few years back I hosted a Murder Mystery Party with a free script I found on Pinterest. For that party I bought six 19 Crimes wines with interactive labels. At the end of each round (of the script) we passed around the next bottle of wine to pour and taste. We had so much fun, laughing and acting up that everyone wanted to revisit this theme again in the future.

Around the holidays while visiting the local book store, I found the above Murder Mystery Party kit that once again takes place at a winery and I decided to purchase it for a future gathering. A date was decided by taking a poll from my group and then I chose the character assignments that I felt would best suit each guest.

The party set provided invitations, but I wanted something a little more attractive and festive, so I found the above version online that I glued a copy to the top of the provided cards. Inside are the list of “suspects” with character descriptions and suggested costumes. Assigned names were written next to the characters. As I read through some of the descriptions, I discovered that the fictional winery was UNDERWOOD WINERY.

Pinot Noir that inspired our tasting- Oregon (Will be the prize for winners)

While shopping at a local grocer I came upon an actual Underwood Winery Pinot Noir from the State of Oregon. After purchasing a couple of bottles, the invitation requested each couple or individual guest bring a Pinot Noir – and were assigned a State or Country to create a variety of domestic and imported Pinot Noirs for the blind tasting throughout the script. Fortunately, we haven’t had a Pinot Noir tasting in the past and for me personally, this is one of my favorite varieties.

Pinot Noir, Oregon

At the beginning of the 2020 Quarantine, the Kutchers -Ashton & Mila – worked with Nocking Wines to create this special fundraiser Pinot Noir they labeled Quarantine. I bought 6 bottles and we shared some at my Sunset Wine Party in the summer of 2020. – Everyone that attended signed a bottle that I saved for a future party -when we could all gather again. This will be our Oregon wine for the evening!

I always request that everyone send me a copy of their label prior to the party so that I can do a little research one each to share at the tasting.

The lineup for our blind tasting from top left to right, California, Chile, Italy
Australia, France, New Zealand and Oregon.

Cocktails upon arrival….

It’s been a while since everyone has seen each other, and tonight will kick off a new year of getting back to meeting the way we did before the pandemic. In addition, everyone will be excited and silly checking out each other’s costumes. As my guests arrive I always have a starter cocktail and something small to nibble on while they visit and I collect and open the wine bottles, assign a number to each bottle and then pour their contents into the numbered glasses on the table. (I usually employ the help of a couple of my guests with this task).

For appetizer bites I made artichoke balls (from someone’s family recipe card below) and Antipasto Appetizer Squares from Brown Eyed Baker who always has new inspiring recipes.

Tip: Allow to cool a good 45 minutes to an hour before cutting (otherwise you do not get a clean cut and cheese and ingredients ooze and slide out). They are just delicious at room temp.

https://www.browneyedbaker.com/antipasto-appetizer-squares/

http://www.foodgospelaccordingtoruth.com/2011/10/artichoke-balls.html

In keeping with my dinner menu, I’m serving an Aperol Spritz, made with Aperol, prosecco, a splash of soda water ( I had about a half cup of the syrup left over from the amarena cherries -for dessert and combined a teaspoon in each glass to add a little sweetness to the bitter Aperol).

While everyone is visiting, sipping cocktails and nibbling – I’ll have a chore for them while I’m working on the bottles of wine and making last minute preparations to the main dish for dinner. I bought a screen for mugshots and a little letter board from the craft store for everyone to change out the name of their character. I tacked a ribbon to the back side for each guest to hang the name board around their neck while posing for a mugshot in front of the screen.

All of my guests dressed to kill.

Now for the table…

For a bloody good place card, I printed some clip art from online and hand wrote the last name of each couple or first name each single attendee, folded over the ends and cut little slots in each side (with small scissors or exacto knife) and slid steak knives through the holes for a Murder Mystery touch.

Bloody Placecards

A black tablecloth and linen napkins with my goldware set the scene. I used seeded and leafy eucalyptus branches along the center of the table with fresh artichokes, candles and battery operated mini lights. My table is narrow and when filled with multiple wine glasses there isn’t much room for a lot of fussy decor. I like to keep it simple and elegant so that my guests who are already very tightly placed around the table, have as much room as possible and can easily converse and see each other on all sides of the table.

Scripts and clue packets set to the side of each assigned character.
Live eucalyptus, artichokes with cork wrapped pillar candles.

One to the menu.….

I’ve planned a light Italian menu that is easy to eat since we have to concentrate on scripts and acting, while tasting wines and filling our tummies.

The menu started with fresh and roasted (multi-colored) cherry tomatoes for a twist on the caprese salad. The roasted tomatoes add a rich concentrated flavor to the entire dish and the drippings from the pan added to some balsamic crema (or concentrated balsamic vinegar) further elevated the tomato flavor. Fresh herb marinated Mozzarella balls (halved), crumbled ricotta salata for a slight salty bite, sprinkled with flaky Maldon sea salt and droplets of roasted tomato drippings and balsamic crema- finished with thinly chiffonade ribbons of fresh sweet basil. (The final version may have small Thai basil leaves for a gentle spicy kick.) The dish is served at room temperature and will be plated and ready at the table when my guests arrive.

Sometimes another ingredient may present itself on the day of the party. While making the appetizer I found an extra package of prosciutto. I cut the sheets into 2 inch pieces and then crisped them in a 400 degree oven on a sheet pan for 15 minutes (ovens may vary) creating prosciutto croutons for a crispy salty bite.

The main course….

Chicken Marsala, served over artisanally made Italian Taglia Tella pasta. I use sliced baby bella mushrooms that I carmelized in olive oil and butter for an enhanced meaty bite and the sauce is created with delicious marsala fortified wine. Thinly pounded boneless chicken breast baths in the luxurious sauce that is deliciously light and satiating.

Finally for dessert….

Amarena cherries with zabaglione, and crumbled amaretti cookies for a lightly sweet finish to the evening.

The evening ended with the winning wine (Louis Jadot-France) with 5 votes out of ten and (19 Crimes- Australia ) with 3 votes out of ten; a top performer (Papa Vito) and best costume (Otto Von Schnapps) and the murderer r-e-v-e-a-l-e-d.

Remember to follow to receive notice of our next wine party…..Salute!

BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus, Uncategorized

Something in the Water Bookclub Meeting

One January afternoon, my book club met to discuss this tropical murder mystery. “Something in the Water” by Catherine Steadman. Catherine is a British actress who played Mabel Lane Fox on our beloved Downton Abbey. It also was one of Reese’s Book Clubs first book selections.

Another member in my group selected this book, and at the last minute wasn’t able to host our luncheon – so I pulled together a quick table decor and menu.

I served tropical chicken salad with crackers for a light lunch.

For the table I filled blue wine glasses with white sand and candles; used shell and coral printed paper napkins I purchased to create a table runner, added palm leaves from a plant in my yard; and used a wood platter to assort shells, starfish and coral that one of the other members and I had in our home collections.

I greeted my guests with sunset cocktails made with pineapple juice,grenadine and prosecco. The Bora Bora styled umbrellas were created with regular cocktail umbrellas affixed with circles cut from brown paper bags. I glued a couple of layers around the top center and then cut strips around the circle to create the thatched fringe affect.

For dessert I made bananas foster cake, banana ice cream (from frozen ripe bananas that are pureed in the blender), and a dehydrated fresh pineapple slice to garnish (that everyone ate as a crispy treat).