Archive for 2009

Homemade Presents

This season I decided to make all of my gifts. Seeing as how I will be celebrating my Christmas in January, I thought it might not be too late to post this. My two criteria for the gifts were that they be made from natural ingredients, and that they be packaged with reusable materials. I decided on infused liquor, goatsmilk soap, bath salts and salt rubs. I found glass jars for scrubs, flasks for the liquor, and old cigar boxes for the soaps. I am using biodegradable Aspen wood chips for packing the soap and found a beautiful biodegradable ribbon for bows.

This was my first attempt at making soap. I found a recipe for Dr. Brent Ridge's goats milk soap on the Martha Stewart website. I chose this recipe because it was unscented, used nice ingredients and seemed relatively easy to follow. After several batches, I perfected the method and experimented with adding natural exfoliants such as coconut shavings, dried orange peel and lavender buds. I also attempted to color and scent the soap using natural food coloring and essential oils however, these experiments were less successful.

Colored Bath Salts
For the bath salts and salt rub I used a very simple recipe out of an old book I had called Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox.
1 cup epsom salts
1/4 cup sea salt
natural food coloring
Stir salts together and add desired coloring.

Salt Rub
2 cups sea salt
1 cup almond oil (or coconut, avocado, or olive oil)
Essential oils
Mix together salts and add desired coloring and scents.
It will keep for 1 to 2 months and does not need refrigeration.

Liquor Infusions
For the liquor I chose to use 4 different spirits. Hendrick's Gin with Earl Grey tea; Sauza Hornitos Reposado Tequila with pineapple, tarragon and serrano chili; Jim Beam Bourbon with pecans (Pecans have a very tanic skin. Before infusing liquor I soaked them for 2 hours and then toasted them in the oven); and Christian Brother's Brandy with pear and sage. Except for the tequila, I infused them all for about 2 weeks and included a favorite recipe for each. The tequila was infused for about 3 days.

Lady Grey Martini
2 oz Earl Grey infused gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
1 egg white
shake without ice to infuse egg. add ice and shake for aprox. 1 min. serve up.

Lark Creek Inn Margarita
2 oz Lark Creek Inn tequila
1 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz simple syrup
shake. serve over ice.

Pecan Flip
2 oz pecan bourbon
1 egg
1/2 oz cream
1 tsp superfine sugar
shake without ice to infuse egg. add ice and shake. serve in collins glass. garnish with nutmeg.

Orchard Sidecar
2 oz pear sage brandy
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
shake. serve up.


Happy Holidays

This November I was doing a photo shoot with my friend Daniela in a forest reserve in Morton Grove, IL. The forest floor was a beautiful orange from the last of the leaves still falling from the trees. Midway through the shoot we heard a rustling sound as a buck walked by. Daniela was able to snap a few pictures of it. Wishing you all a magical holiday season.

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Cookie Love

My co-worker John had a birthday today. He is crazy for cookies, so I decided to make him a chocolate chip cookie cake. Maybe because a giant cookie is little unexpected, and the thought of all of my co-workers taking a bite out of a communal cookie seems silly and ridiculous, it put a big smile on my face. I am in love with cookie cake!

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No Lava La Conciencia

I was fortunate enough to visit Buenos Aires a few years ago. I completely fell in love with the boutiques, restaurants, the language, art and the people. The shops were super quaint yet, so memorable. Some were narrow and long, while others were square and tall with sky lights, murals and ivy climbing up the walls. I really appreciated their sense of aesthetic, and the way they were able to take a space and make it work for them.

While I was there I came across a little family owned soap shop in Palermo that I have never been able to forget called Sabater Hermanos. It was a super tiny space with boxes of soap stacked up on both sides in vibrant colors, cool shapes and scents. There was a little desk in the back with a register and the walls were papered with pictures of the family, friends and inspiration. I adore their soaps, their cute little shop and their story. I think I visited this store about 4 times in a period of 2 weeks, and I brought back my fare share for gifts and souvenirs. Unfortunately, none of my photos from the trip turned out. Here is a great little video of the soap shop.

Watch more Buenos Aires videos at

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It's the little things

When Alice helped me make the Absinthe Suissesse last holiday season we modified the recipe making our own Orgeat (almond flavored syrup) because a) I didn't have orgeat syrup and b) prepackaged orgeat looks disgusting. I found a big plastic bottle once dusty on a shelf at Sam's Wines filled with high fructose corn syrup and artificial almond flavor. It's like the Tom Collins mix next to it - wtf is in that?

To make the sudo-orgeat we just sweetened some almond milk. I've also used almond extract or skipped it all together using nutmeg - more like a traditional eggnog. Well now I've found an even more creative, fresh recipe that I would love to try from the Chanticleer Society:

Roasted Almond Orgeat Syrup

(Makes one 750ml bottle of orgeat syrup)

  • 250g almonds
  • 400ml water
  • 350g caster sugar
  • 50ml brandy
  • 25ml orange or rose flower water (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Add almonds to roasting tin, place in middle of oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Do not grease the tin or add any oil.

Remove almonds, and allow too cool. Once cooled, place the almonds in a bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to soak for 30 minutes. Drain and discard the water then use a blender or food processor to chop the almonds to a fine grind. If you need to assist the chopping process, add a little water to the food processor.

Transfer the crushed almonds to a large bowl and mix them with 400ml fresh water and let stand for two hours. Place a damp cloth, cheese cloth or muslin cloth over another bowl, and strain the almond and water mixture. Squeeze the cloth to extract all the liquid. Put the chopped almonds back into the almond water, let stand for another hour and then strain again. Repeat a third time if you wish. This will get all the oils out of the almonds.

Discard the almond pulp, then pour the strained liquid into a saucepan, add the sugar and simmer over a gentle heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat when the sugar is completely dissolved. Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then add the brandy and the orange flower or rose water. Once cooled, transfer the orgeat into a clean glass bottle and refrigerate.

Please note: Shake well before use as the syrup may separate

Here's another cool recipe with some history on orgeat to boot: Orgeat at FXcuisine.

Now I need to figure out a use for a whole bottle of the stuff but finding this recipe really got me excited. See, it's the little things that can make the holidays memorable. And hopefully these memories are enough to get us through the big chill after.

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Merry Martinez

I just stumbled upon this resource. Already learned a bunched and am excited to make the Martinez especially. Viva vermouth.

P.S. Click the link above and then click on "cocktails" for more recipes. Next on my list is the Diablo and French 75.

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Gingerbread Log Cabin

The gingerbread log cabin has been a holiday tradition since I was a little girl. This design was originally created by Mrs. Leta Dahlgren of Redwood City, California; I first made the gingerbread log cabin with my grandmother Rae. As I got older, my grandmother would mail us the baked gingerbread pieces and my mother, brother and I, would make the powdered sugar icing and build the log cabin together as a family. Although I didn't have any on hand, my favorite finishing touches were adding little pine needle trees we would collect from the backyard. I hold this family recipe dear to my heart, and was looking forward to recreating it with my little helper Tallulah.

The cookie cabin is easy to build. You roll out gingerbread dough and use cardboard patterns to cut out the rectangular roof sections, logs in several sizes, and little square spacers. After the cookies are baked and cooled, simply pile them up, using powdered-sugar icing for glue. The icing, sprinkled with powdered sugar, also makes snow for the roof and the base.
You can make cookies ahead, package airtight or freeze, then assemble the cabin when time permits. In damp areas, the cookies may absorb moisture and start to sag, so plan to keep the cabin just a few days before eating. In most dry areas, the cabin will keep about a week.
The patterns. Cut lightweight cardboard into a 4 by 6-inch rectangle (the roof); 1/2-inch-wide strips that are 2, 3 1/2, and 6 inches long (logs); and a 1/2-inch square (spacers). For the base, cover a 12-inch square of stiff cardboard with foil.

Gingerbread Log Cabin Cookies
Thoroughly blend 3/4 cup each sugar and solid shortening. Add 3/4 cup molasses, 1 teaspoon each salt, soda, and ground ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and allspice. Add 2 tablespoons water and 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted; mix well. Chill until firm, about 2 hours.
With a floured rolling pin, roll out 1/3 of the dough on a floured board to 1/8 inch thick. Make 2 roof sections by cutting around the roof pattern with a sharp knife. Gather scraps and roll out remaining dough to a generous 1/4 inch thick. Then cut out 8 logs 2 inches long, 2 logs 3 1/2 inches long, 17 logs 6 inches long, and 30 spacers, each 1/2 inch square. Use the remaining dough to cut out trees or other shapes for the landscape. Transfer the cookies carefully, arranging them about 1 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Place the roof sections on a separate sheet.
Bake in a 350 oven for 12 to 15 minutes or just until firm to touch . As soon as roof is baked, lay pattern on each section. Evenly trim one long edge (where two sections will meet). Cool cookies on wire racks. Package airtight or freeze.

Stir together 2 cups unsifted powdered sugar with 1/4 water until smooth. You'll also need about 2 cups unsifted powdered sugar for snow.

Generously paint icing on foil-covered base and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Then follow steps 2 through 7 as shown.

1. Cabin pieces are cut from dough, using cardboard patterns; and numbers tell how many of each size to cut.
2. Paint icing where logs cross. Use 6-inch logs for back and sides; 2-inch for front. Let ends extend.
3. Set square spacer logs near inner end of each 2-inch log, forming doorway as you build up front.
4. Fourth layer of logs uses 6-inch-long pieces all around including over doorway.
5. Add fifth log to back; set three spacers across doorway, then add another 6-inch log across front.
6. Using spacers and 3 1/2 inch and 2-inch logs, build up gables on front and back of cabin.
7. Stack two spacers on front and back; add fifth log to each side. Ice and sugar roof; ice top logs. Set roof in place, trimmed edges together.

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In the land of Japan

I'm looking forward to knitting this week. A couple friends and I are starting up a weekly knitting group. I'm a little rusty. Last week I had to tear out about a thousand stitches because I found a hole and dropped a stitch.

Free-form knitting. How beautiful.

For this week we went to Mitsuwa market to get food, sake and look at the knitting books. All the knitting patterns are in Japanese, but it's fun to look. It's also fun to look at all the sake:
I got brown rice tea, noodles, incense, adzuki bean pies, mung beans, sushi rice powder, little fish pellets for soup, lots of spices and matcha powder (I'm going to try and make Green Tea ice cream tonight!).

But wandering around the market had me remembering about all the cool and alien things from Japan. Like the men reading the "backwards" amine novels on the train and the girls crocheting. About how the food tasted uber fishy (I didn't like it) and how much they like Americans and American things (which was not the case at the market; only in Japan I think).

So then the knitting got me thinking about Japanese martial arts (?) and how the bushi (warrior class) women were trained in naginata. It's sticking fighting used to knock enemies off their horses when they had to protect their homes. They kind of look like bamboo needles, right?
Ok I'm reaching with the analogy, but wouldn't it be cool to be skilled in fighting and knitting and sewing AND making babies?

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Oh Sherry

Sherry is back and so right for winter. Curled up reading Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisted (or watching the 11-part British mini-series) the cold almost seems palatable.

Here's Charles (played by Jeremy Irons) in fright when served a Brandy Alexander instead of this usual Sherry.

Looks appealing, no?

Sherry is Spanish, like your lover, and because it's wine (fortified, that is) there is lots of variance.

The two predominant types of Sherry are Fino (very dry with a lighter-body) and Oloroso (still dry, but much richer in both flavor and body). If the winemaker is going for Fino, alcohol is added (fortification) until it reaches just over 15%; however, if Oloroso is the goal then alcohol is added to reach an 18% alcohol content.

Check out Sherry Wine 101 for more of the breakdown.

My Mom's favorite Sherry is Dry Sack. Hehe. It's a medium-bodied sherry that is also good for cooking. Patrick Sheehan of the Signature Room uses it in their lobster bisque.
She also loves the movie, Babette's Feast (which, you really should see). Here's General Lorens Löwenhielm, drinking sherry with the one of the finest meals ever served (french, of course).Ahh, I hope my pre-Thanksgiving meal I'm planning is good. Here's what Babette served: "Blini Demidoff au Caviar" (buckwheat cakes with caviar and sour cream); "Potage à la Tortue" (turtle soup); "Caille en Sarcophage avec Sauce Perigourdine" (quail in puff pastry shell with foie gras and truffle sauce); "La Salad" featuring Belgian endive and walnuts in a vinaigrette; and "Les Fromages" featuring Blue Cheese, papaya, figs, grapes and pineapple. The grand finale dessert is "Savarin au Rhum avec des Figues et Fruit Glacée" (rum sponge cake with figs and glacéed fruits). Numerous rare wines, including Clos de Vougeot, along with various champagnes and spirits (they drink Amontillado sherry with the turtle soup), complete the menu.

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I ♥ I.Anton

I stumbled upon I.Anton's photos on flickr. There is something simple, beautiful and nostalgic about her subject matter; empty park benches, seagulls, flowers and bicycles. She is master of manipulation as she uses grain, blotches, sepia tones and rounded corners to recall an old-timey aesthetic. I could get lost in these images for hours. They remind me of home.

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Happy Halloween

Suspiria, 1977

Rosemary's Baby, 1968

While I did not carve any pumpkins this year, I did go to Halloweekend at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, I watched Argento's 1977 Italian horror film Suspiria (by myself!), and I have put together a costume for the first time in years. I am going to be Rosemary Woodhouse from Rosemary's Baby, running around in a baby doll nighty with flats and a pixie wig. I might even be carrying Satan's child wrapped up in a bundle. I have always loved Halloween and the campiness of it all and, as I was looking at photos of pumpkins and caramel apples on line, I regretted not making a bigger deal out of my favorite holiday. Thankfully, there is always next year. Along with candy apples and pumpkin carving I will be serving a version of this Vampire Kiss Martini. Happy Halloween!

Vampire Kiss Martini

1.5 oz chilled vodka
1.5 oz champagne
3/4 oz chambord

Rim a martini glass with red sugar or garnish with raspberry syrup. Pour vodka and Chambord into the glass, top with champagne and pour remaining Chambord over the back of a spoon to make it float. Retract fangs and slurp away.

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I feel great, well pretty good, but that doesn't mean that things aren't going on around me. I mean the news is horrible. IRAs, healthcare, debt, unemployment, war, bombs. We're in a depression. And as if by magic, I'm doing some of the same things they did in the 40's when money was tight, but I only now realized it.

Take for instance the hair and makeup during the time. I'm so into it right now that I bought red lipstick and got out the curlers. See, the gals during that time couldn't spend money on clothes, so they got creative and put in a little more effort. Hence, styles got big and bold above the neck.

Bottom two images are by Irving Penn who died October 7th, 2009. What a body of work he has left us.

And isn't it ironic that a magazine that started during the Depression, closes down in the next one. R.I.P. Gourmet. Below are three cocktails they featured in the 40's.

Tequila Cocktail

January 1949
In our early days, Mexico was a popular exotic travel destination, so perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to see so many reader requests for tequila recipes. This response to a letter to the editor from someone who’d returned with a bottle of the agave spirit is pretty close to a Margarita. Why not? It works.

Tequila is at its best if not too diluted, but we will compromise and give you something palatable.

Pour into a cocktail shaker, with ice cubes, the juice of 1/2 lime, 1 teaspoon sugar or 4 dashes grenadine, and 2 ounces tequila. Shake well and serve in cocktail glasses.

Bijou Cocktail

October 1941
The Dry Martini is the world’s leading appetizer with a spirits base. Recipe guides and such still advise you to make your Martini with 1 part Vermouth and 2 parts gin, but the average Martini drinker appreciates the drier flavor of a 3-to-1 ratio. Since a drink as simple and satisfying as the Dry Martini was just too good to leave well enough alone, there have appeared through the decades literally hundreds of recipes that were, in effect, Martinis with a dash of this or that added. A Sweet Martini merely substitutes Italian vermouth for French vermouth, and, consistently enough, substitutes a sweet maraschino cherry for the dry olive as a garnish. Add half an ounce of Green Chartreuse to your Sweet Martini and you’ve got what is known as a Bijou cocktail.

To summarize: In a cocktail shaker 3/4 full of ice, combine 1 jigger gin and ½ ounce each of sweet vermouth and green Chartreuse. Stir for about 20 seconds, adding more ice if the ice becomes submerged. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mary Pickford Cocktail (known for her curls)

May 1943
Though the recipe doesn’t say so, you should fill a cocktail shaker 3/4 of the way with cracked ice, shake the ingredients well, and strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass.

An old favorite with us. Take 2 ounces Gold Label rum, 1 ounce fresh pineapple juice, a dash of grenadine, and a dash of maraschino—these last to taste. Must be very cold to be good.

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Farm Country

I found myself driving through a little bit of "corn country" this weekend as I happened to be reading Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. On my way to Sandusky, Ohio to ride the great roller coasters at Cedar Point, we watched the leaves changing colors on the trees and drove past the corn fields and rustic farms that spread for miles past the highway. As Micheal Pollan talked about the history and ethics of farms growing modified corn, feedlots, processed foods and high fructose corn syrup, all I wanted to do was jump out of the car and run through them. I couldn't help but romanticize life on the farm for a minute or two.

and of course, my farm wedding and many bridesmades

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