Summer Centerpieces

Summer is great for so many reasons – warm weather, swimming, picnics, fresh produce from the garden, vacation, kayaking, and the list goes on and on.  One of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of flowers and plants in the garden that I can use to create centerpieces for the table.

Over the years I have purchased and received as gifts some beautiful vases, but the funny thing is….my “go to” containers for centerpieces are typically recycled containers – jelly jars, mason jars, wine bottles, juice glasses, etc. I’m not sure why, but I much prefer a casual feel to a more formal one when decorating a table.  I also prefer shorter containers to taller ones – especially for a sit-down dinner because I find that tall centerpieces often impede conversation.  I save my taller vases/vessels for buffet tables.

With the idea of summer centerpieces in mind, I gathered some of my favorite containers and headed out into my yard to create a few centerpieces with what I have on hand.  I hope the ideas below spark your creativity.

Miscellaneous Containers for Centerpieces w BorderCenterpiece Containers w Border Continue reading

Marketing

I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

No “Gradzilla” Moments

I had the pleasure of catering a party for my friends’ daugher who recently graduated from nursing school.  The experience was great from start to finish.  I realize this is a rarity, but there were no “gradzilla” moments, no last minute menu changes, no hard to find ingredients, no delays or snags of any kind.  I am still thanking God for this amazing grace!

The process started with the invitations.  The grad had a favorite color scheme and wanted something unique.  Unable to find just the right thing, I decided to make a sample invite and see if she liked it – and boy did she – so I went quickly into production mode and got them out on time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu was set and I began work, with the help of a very experienced and dedicated sous chef, my mom!  I couldn’t have done it without her help – she kept the sink free of dishes and reminded me to take an occasional break!

We worked for the entire week before the party making what we could ahead of time and constantly reworking the timeline to ensure that everything went off without a hitch the day of the party.  The party was on a Saturday; so I created a daily calendar (beginning the Monday before) of all the tasks that had to be accomplished – not just making food, but ensuring we had selected the proper serving platters, purchasing flowers/herbs for the buffet, making the iced teas, ironing tablecloths (a quick rant – please, please iron the tablecloth and napkins if you are using linens – don’t set a table that looks like someone slept on it overnight!!!), etc.

The day of the party we had a few last-minute details to attend to in the morning.  We had a hearty breakfast and then went to set up.  Below are a few photos of the buffet and a list of what was on the menu  – those of you with a keen eye will notice that the menu item cards on the buffet match the invitations.  Please visit my Photo Gallery for all the beautiful photos of the event, which were taken by the grad, Brianna Wilbur.  In addition to being a new nurse, Bri is also a wonderfully talented photographer.  Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crudite Platter (Served with Caramelied Onion Dip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almond Joy Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full menu included:

  • Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea
  • Crudite Platter w/ Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Marinated Cheese w/ Crackers
  • Spinach Balls
  • Meatball Duo – Chicken Wing Meatballs & Spicy Sesame Meatballs
  • Sundried Tomato & Smoked Cheddar in Phyllo
  • Artichoke, Bacon & Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fruit Skewers w/ Brown Sugar Sour Cream Dip
  • Amond Joy Cupcakes & Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cinnamon Icing

What a pleasure it was for me to cater this party.  It allowed me to share my love of cooking and entertaining with others and to spend time – lots of time – in the kitchen with my mom. What could be better than that?

A Treat for All the Senses

This afternoon I was in the basement looking for canning supplies and jars when my self-diagnosed A.D.D. got the best of me, which happens quite often.  I rarely start a task without being distracted by something else….in fact, I think that’s the reason I could never clean my room in less than 2 days when I was a kid!

I was walking around the basement looking at boxes that should have been unpacked by now – seeing as we moved into this house over three years ago – and a box with “Jan College” written on the side caught my eye.  Inside I found something that perhaps I should have considered foreshadowing many years ago….a writing assignment from my English Comp 101 class, the subject of which was cooking!

If you will indulge me, I’ll share this writing entitled ‘A Treat for All the Senses’ from February 20, 1999:

“Cooking is not simply a hobby for me, it is a passion.  I do not just use cookbooks, I pore over them like the lover of literature reads the finest novels.  I have often thought about becoming a professional chef – in fact, the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America thrills me each Saturday when I watch cooking shows on PBS; but I wonder, if I had to cook, is it likely that I would not want to cook?  I believe the reason I enjoy cooking so much is that this is a relaxing activity that affects all my senses.

The repetition of chopping and stirring helps to relax me.  They are activities that allow me to focus on what I am doing and forget about the problems of the day.  As I write this, I can easily recall the feeling of my arm going methodically in circles or figure-eights around a pan in which onions are sizzling in butter. Some days the sounds of the kitchen are more melodious to me than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  As I stir the onions, which I know will become the color of sweet caramel, their wonderful aroma wafts up through the air into my expectant nostrils as surely as the scent of the lilacs in spring.  However, this is just the beginning.

As much as I enjoy the actual preparation of the food, the presentation of the meal I have labored over is also important to me.  I do not merely put the food onto the plate; I arrange it as carefully as the artist places paints on canvas.  I pay close attention to the contrast of colors and textures, the arrangements of shapes, the height of the finished product and the placement of the final touch – the garnish.  I know that seeing a well-presented plate delights the eye and gets the mouth watering.  Good presentation is as important as good taste.

In my opinion, cooking does not stop when the food is on the plate.  It also includes the ambiance of the dining room, the music played during dinner, the wine served and the company in which the meal is eaten.  Each of these things, if well planned, can add to the culinary experience.  Generally, when I cook for guests, I use my finest china and linen napkins.  I take great care when setting the table.  I usually use candles and something from nature – whether it be flowers in spring and summer, pine boughs in winter or leaves in autumn – to set the mood.  I play music that is soothing and turn the lights so that people can see their plates, but do not feel as though they are in an interrogation room.  When everything is ready, I serve the dishes I created.

Many people think that taste is the only thing to take into consideration when cooking.  I, on the other hand, believe that cooking affects the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – not only of those people who eat the food, but also of those who have prepared it.  Cooking is more than a task to me, it is a delightful experience that allows me to relax and fills up my senses.”

Reading the comments of my long ago professor gives me hope that I can use this blog and my love of food to communicate with people and, in some cases, bring back memories for the reader.  The professor wrote, “You’ve described fine dining.  I miss that a lot from my mother…a lot of good food, a tablecloth, candles.  You are so right.  Your guests are very fortunate.”

As I read over my words, I realize that a few things have changed.  It’s not so important to use my finest china any more – I have aged a bit and understand that sometimes the bumps and dents of everyday life add character that the finest china cannot.  The lights are a little brighter during a meal because Jeff and I don’t see as well as we used to in dim lighting.  And ever since my mom set her napkin on fire during Easter dinner, I am more careful with the candles.

I also realize that some things have not changed….my passion for cooking, eating and entertaining, the joy I get from friends and family around the table, and the way I use food to express love to and serve others.

To Market, To Market . . .

Sometimes cooking, eating and entertaining begin not in the kitchen, but with a journey.  My mom, Connie, and I set out early yesterday on a trip to Lancaster Central Market (LCM) in Lancaster, PA, which is approximately 40 miles from home.  We were not in search of anything specific, just adventure.  I haven’t been to the LCM in probably 18 years so I wanted to reacquaint myself with it.

I find a trip to the farmers market quite relaxing…. and it can be both informational and inspiring.  I like seeing the fresh ingredients and dreaming about what I can make from them. One of the ways I can tell the best stands at the market – the ones with the freshest, choice ingredients – is by spying on the chefs.  If the chefs are shopping there, I reason there’s probably some good stuff to be had!

We entered LCM at the corner of Orange and Prince Streets and were met at the door by beautiful sunflowers and the equally sunny disposition of the woman selling them at Spring Knoll Farm.  Although not all stands had as much personality, it was a great beginning to the experience.

As we meandered through the rows in search of nothing in particular, we spent a lot of time pointing to various things (produce, flowers, pastries, etc.) saying, “ooh, look at that” or “hmmmm, what is that” and telling each other about things we’d made from similar ingredients.

One of my favorite stands was Tulip Tree Hill Farm, which sells small packages of sprouts and greens and a lovely tart raspberry lemonade.  The stand is nice to look at and the woman who helped me with my purchase of micro greens and lemonade was quite friendly.   I don’t yet know what I’ll make with the micro greens, but I cannot wait to try them.  They will likely be served alongside the roasted veggie soup Jeff is making today.

*I put a quarter next to the greens so that you can get an idea of how tiny and delicate they are.

Other than some multi-grain rolls from Willow Valley that looked too yummy to pass up and 10 pounds of beets (more to come in a later post), it seems our adventure was in miniature.  In addition to the micro greens we bought some teeny patty pan squash and some beautiful mini purple striped globe eggplant.

What we will make with the patty pan squash and eggplant remains a mystery.  But I can definitively say that we had a great time at the Lancaster Central Market and will surely return soon.  Yesterday proved that not all who wander are lost….some of us are preparing to cook, eat & entertain!

Additional photos of the beautiful produce we saw at LCM can be found on my Photo Gallery page.  Enjoy!

Welcome!

What an exciting time for me – this is my first blog post – EVER. The purpose of this blog is to share my passion for food. I have included an ‘About Me‘ page and don’t want to bore you with redundancy so I will share a bit more about my history with food that I did not include on that page.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching cooking shows (way back to the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child and up through today’s bevy of shows available on the Food Network and other cooking-specific channels).

I read cookbooks as though they are novels – I am not simply looking for recipes, but am learning about the history of the author and his/her relationship with food. I love the commentary and explanation that comes with the recipe almost as much as the recipe itself. And magazines – oh, how I love cooking magazines! In fact, for the last several years on my birthday my husband has awakened me with current editions of some of my favorites – Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, La Cucina Italiana, Food Network Magazine, to name a few – and with a great cup of coffee. He knows I will be completely immersed for hours, but he also knows he will reap what he has sown.

I also get an immense satisfaction from devising a theme and tinkering with the table setting when I entertain, which is now called tablescaping. I’m not sure how I feel about that term – it sounds so industrial to me – but it’s widely used so I’ll go with the flow. I simply like making people feel special when they come to dinner at my table. I enjoy using different dishes and linens I have collected over time, cutting flowers and herbs from my yard to use as centerpieces, and/or arranging a buffet with height, color and texture. I enjoy the process of making little cards in different shapes, colors and sizes that announce each dish.  I often spend as much time on decorating the table as I do on the menu and food. Serving others in this way fills my spirit!

I hope you will check back with me often to see how my blog is growing and changing.  I welcome your feedback – it will help me get to know you better and share my passion with you!