Archive for December 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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