Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Favorite Lemons

My favorite lemons of all time come from my father's trees in California.  I eagerly anticipate these winter trips to the west coast not only to see the extended family and good friends, but to partake of the bounty of lemons at mom & dad's.  For dad to climb up a ladder and pick the best lemons for me to take home is all in a day's work, but to me, it really is something special.  It means everything in the world to be able to bring these fruits back to Pennsylvania. 

Although I have to have lemons in my kitchen at all times, with no exceptions, there is nothing like having dad's lemons sitting in one of my bowls or platters. Thin-skinned and very juicy, the lemons get used for both savory and sweet preparations.  

With stems and leaves still attached to some of these fruits, I absolutely love the variety of sizes.  It's not like what one finds in the stores; all the same size, the same color and perfectly waxed until they shine.  These lemons range from tiny kumquat-size to larger-than-an-egg in dimension and have textured skin which may or may not be blemished.  Don't let the small ones fool you, because they too have a lot of juice in them.

I compiled a sort of inspiration board of lemon cakes from online sources.  In the near future I am going to make a lemon cake for a birthday celebration, so I'm gathering ideas.  

Lemon desserts are my all-time favorite.  
As a kid I used to drool at the lemon jelly rolls 
and the lemon meringue pies 
whenever we'd visit one of our local bakeries. 
Nothing has changed!  

Lemon curd will undoubtedly get made with dad's lemons.  Tangy, sweet and infinitely delicious are just some of the strong points of lemon curd.  Rest assured that I will find a way to incorporate it into something very soon.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Having tea in the afternoon is something I do every single day.  I don't make a production of setting a table just for this purpose, but I do admire the 'art of tea'.  Cultures throughout the world have their rules and etiquette practices when it comes to having tea, and if you partake of this daily ritual, then I'm sure you have your own set ways of enjoying a cup or two.  

Mariage Frères, the renowned French purveyor of fine teas and its accoutrements, is a company that elevates the art of tea to a very high level. I've known about this French institution for some time, but it's only recently that I've taken a moment to delve into their ways of proper tea.

While perusing The Food Lover's Guide to Paris by Patricia Wells, I came across the tea salons & restaurants of Mariage Frères in Paris (they also have a location in Japan).  It was here that the golden rules established by this venerable tea importer caught my attention.  These rules make sense and there is nothing pretentious about them.  

As Henri Mariage, founder of Mariage Frères in 1854, stated: "Tea is a noble beverage.  Preparing it is an art that combines skill and tradition."

If you want to learn how to make proper tea, 
follow this easy tutorial by Mariage Frères. 

Black Teas, Matured Teas, Blue Teas, and flavored teas
  • Pre-heat the teapot, after inserting the tea strainer or filter, * by rinsing it with boiling water.
  • Place a teaspoon of tea (roughly 2.5 g) per cup in the warm strainer* and let it stand for a few moments, allowing the steam to begin developing the leaves' aroma.
  • Pour simmering water on the tea so that all the leaves are covered.
  • Let the tea steep (refer to chart)
  • About 2 minutes for fannings
  • About 3 minutes for broken leaf teas
  • About 5 minutes for whole leaf teas
  • Barely 3 minutes do the first flush Darjeeling (slightly increasing the amount of tea to 3.5 g per cup)
  • 7 minutes for blue teas

It is then essential to remove the strainer or filter*containing the leaves. the tea must then be stired (another important step) and finally poured. Teas from great gardens should not be drunk too hot; let them stand a few moments after steeping, so that the palate can better appreciate the most subtle of fragrances.

White and Green Teas 
  • Pre-heat the pot or chung (cup with cover) as above.
  • Place the appropriate amount of tea per person or cup (refer to chart). Let the tea leaves stand for a few moments to allow the steam to begin developing the aroma.
  • Place the appropriate amount of tea per person or cup (refer to chart).
  • Let the tea steep (refer to chart):
  • For green tea, 1 to 3 minutes
  • For the white tea Yin Zhen, 15 minutes
  • For the white teas Pain Mu Tan, 7 minutes
  • Remove the tea leaves, stir and serve.

* Use a cotton tea filter if the teapot is not equipped with a strainer.

I highly encourage you to visit the Mariage Frères website for products, tutorials and other wonderful things from this French company.

Having tea using my Wedgwood drabware and lemons from my father's trees is pure pleasure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kristina Closs ~ Original Art and Prints

Art provides us with a glimpse into the artist's soul.  When I come across an artist’s oeuvre that I connect with, it's only natural for me to want to share it with friends.  Several weeks ago, a Pennsylvania artist who is a reader of the blog, contacted me and told me about her etsy store.  As you can imagine, the moment I clicked on the store and looked at the various watercolors that she offers, I knew I had to introduce you to her.  For me, it was the bird paintings that captured my attention.

This is what Kristina says:  "I am a self-taught artist working in watercolor and oil.  My goal is to show the things of day to day life in a new light.  Birds hold a particular fascination because we see them everyday, but they also remain mysterious.  The natural world as a whole is a constant source of inspiration for me and often I will draw from a recent walk, hike or gardening project to create a new painting.  Birds, cabbages and landscapes seem to be constant themes in my work.  I love light and color, and try to fill each subject I paint with both."

Visit her Etsy Store (above) for original artwork.

I absolutely love this painting of bees hovering over a cluster of orchids.  The pale mauve flowers anchor the painting and draw one's attention up to the striped bees.

A still life with a trio of apples blends shapes, textures and colors with such understated beauty.  Nothing is superfluous here.

This mixed media painting is a fine example of Kristina's use of color.  Blending shades of blues and greens, along with the curves and veining of the cabbage leaves, pulls the viewer in for a closer look.  This makes me want to unfurl each leaf to view more colors.

This is the artist at work in her studio creating the painting on wood.

Acorns are one of nature's little miracles.  Beautifully shaped, diminutive in size, yet perfectly nourishing for neighboring fauna, acorns have graced art work since the Renaissance.  What I like about this particular painting is that there is no artifice.  The subject (the beautiful acorn) stands alone, suspended on the canvas like a haiku.

Cardinals are special birds.  It's always a pleasure to view them from our windows because their crimson color cuts through anything in the landscape.  Showy in plumage, these humble birds brighten up any area in which they reside.  It's so wonderful to see them foraging in the landscape with their mate nearby.  They're almost always in pairs.  


Wax Wing Birds are Kristina's favorite feathered creatures during the winter.  With a bright berry between its beak, the artist's brushwork gives this bird a depth and a certain curiosity that would otherwise be devoid in a simple photograph.  

How can you not be captivated by the soulful eyes of this owl?  With the off-centered subject, Kristina gives this feathered-friend an anthropomorphic quality that is simply beautiful.

I think one of the reasons I connected immediately with Kristina's paintings was because of her subject matter.  When I look at her work and take in the color palette of each painting, I feel as if I'm taking a stroll around my own home or am looking all around the landscape, observing what's going on in nature.  Kristina is so adept at capturing the local flora and fauna through her beautiful artwork.  Her impressive oeuvre has a style and soul that is entirely her own. 

Thank You Kristina!

Visit her Etsy Store at: Kristina Closs ~ Woodpigeon

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year in Review

As we celebrate a New Year, I want to take a moment to highlight my favorite posts from 2014.  I was prompted to do this by google, which sent me a photographic compilation from the blog in the form of a video.  If you're on google+ then you I'm sure you got one as well.  I'll share that with you along with what I want to reflect on, because it's nice for me to go back and see what I managed to do here for the blog.  Don't worry, I won't share the bad or unfortunate moments of the year since that isn't what I do here.

This past year marked some wonderful chapters in my life and I'm so glad I was able to share a few of them with you.  My trip to California which included some great finds at antique stores & fairs, the small excursion to Cape May, my cookie decorating demos at Williams-Sonoma and many delicious cookies, are just some of the things that I enjoyed in 2014.

Here are my favorite posts from 2014!

My 2014 Year in Photos
click on the link

At the start of 2014, I took a trip to the west coast to visit family.  This is something I do every single year and during these visits, I try my best to visit antique shops and perhaps attend an antique fair if there is one scheduled.  The Rose Bowl Flea Market was having its monthly display while I was there, so I took advantage of a marvelous thing.  I found some nice pieces of jadeite which made their way into my kitchen.  Those collectible bowls and other items get used a lot!  I’m so glad I have them.

Upon my return to Pennsylvania the weather turned bitterly cold, with snow piling up in great quantities at the end of the month.  We suffered a week-long power outage which forced us to leave our home.  

Thankfully we were able to take refuge in Cape May.  Taking those walks along the beach, even in frigid temperatures, was nice.  I almost didn’t want to leave the area because it was so calming and serene.  That small area is unlike any other in my opinion.  Oh, and the seashells I collected were absolutely beautiful. 

One of my favorite recipes for turkey marinara was made with the tetra-pak tomatoes that are now the ‘canned tomatoes’ of choice at my house.  If you find these at the supermarket, give them a try because you’re going to like their flavor and the fact that they don’t contain preservatives.  

My kitties are always near me supervising what I do in the kitchen.  Whether I’m making dinner or lunch for us, these little babies have to know what’s going on.  They mean everything to me.  Believe it or not, Lion is extremely camera shy to the point of running away if he sees the camera.  Ms. Kitty is the complete opposite.

Let’s not forget the Easter Egg Cookies that I made for my niece’s birthday party.  It’s so much fun coming up with new cookies to send to my niece (and nephews!).  Using those Martha by Mail copper cookie cutters that were given to me by a dear friend made them even more special.  I mustn’t forget the marshmallow cutters which were in the shapes of Easter bunnies, chicks and butterflies.

Snowdrops are my favorite harbingers of spring, right next to the abundance of robins.  Arranging them en masse is simple because they don’t require much.  You can see that while I was photographing those flower arrangements, Ms. Kitty decided to photobomb it.  She’s too much!

Although I didn’t show these cookies here on the blog, I did create a number of railroad-themed treats for my youngest nephew’s birthday party.  Everyone loved them!

How to package and mail out fine china was a great post because I can’t tell you how awful it is to receive broken pieces of earthenware or glass.  Taking the time to wrap these fragile items with extra care is a must for both the sender and the recipient.  Go through this post for a refresher course!

Summertime had us power washing and painting the old colonial.  This was long overdue and it is something which has given the house a breath of fresh air.  

Let’s not forget the Fourth of July cookies that I made using my perfect royal icing in two consistencies.  One was in the form of a drippy glaze for star cookies (those were awesome!) and the other was of piping & flooding consistency for some star-spangled kitty cat cookies.  The stars went to some local residents and the cats were mailed to my family.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to line your fine china with felt when stored in a breakfront or cabinet.  It prevents mishaps, scratches and other unpleasantness.  All of you do this, right?

My jadeite is within reach at all times.  Organizing these pieces, at least the Martha by Mail jadeite collection, was something I had been meaning to do for quite some time and I’m glad I did.  It’s now housed in one of my glass-fronted kitchen cabinets and I love having it there.  I’m going to have to integrate my Fire King restaurant ware pieces at some point.

Do you know that I make a roast chicken for dinner every single Friday without fail?  A friend of mine said to me: “that’s so Ina”.  Well, I suppose it is, but I do it because I love having leftovers.  Whether I smother the chicken with butter, olive oil or even dijon mustard, the leftovers are always to die for.  Adding spices and herbs to taste is what makes each chicken different from week to week.  Go back to the fundamentals of roast chicken and make one this month for you and your family.

Tangled Cookies!  How I loved making these for my friend’s granddaughter’s birthday.  Knowing full well that little Elleanor would adore the treats, I made sure to ice them in her favorite colors.

As summer came to an end, I began to prepare myself for some Williams-Sonoma demos that had been scheduled for the season, while keeping my cookie decorating a priority.  

For my first demo I showed several of my favorite cookie recipes, including these fantastic chocolate chip cookies.  I bake these every single week without fail.

Halloween Cookies were made in spooky shapes using those eerie colors we all like.  

The second set of Halloween Cookies using colored cookie doughs were presented at my Halloween demo here in Ardmore, PA.  Everyone loved them! 

Fall Leaves were more of a riot of colors blended together in whimsical designs, but nevertheless, they were a good addition to my cookie decorating repertoire.  I absolutely loved making these.  Nothing about them was difficult.

Let’s not forget the Fall Acorns, Squirrels & Bats that were iced in shades of orange, green & brown.  The cookies themselves were sugar & spice.  Extra tasty in my opinion!

If you must know, I LOVE the sugar & spice cookie recipe that I made for the blog.  It’s my sugar cookie dough tweaked with some spice and brown sugar.  I find it perfect for those who want to bring their cookies up to the next level of sophistication.  OK, maybe not sophisticated so much as delicious.  A must try!

Fall is, as you know, my favorite time of year.  The colors in nature are unlike any other, and yet, they are only here for a very short period.  One must take advantage and photograph these moments before they slip away.

December was perhaps my busiest month.  Not only was I baking up quite a lot for the cafe and for others, but I was working overtime to show my cookie decorating at Williams-Sonoma which was geared toward fundraising.  

Here I am creating cookies in-store for Hanukkah, using Stars of David & dreidel shapes.  I had a lot of fun at this event.  Do you see how I’m using that cake turntable to ice?  It makes things much easier.  

At this event, I had Holiday Sweets as my theme for cookies which went toward St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  They sold out quickly!

The following week was spent making Christmas Cookies for the decorating demo.  Again, all proceeds went to the Children’s Hospital. 

Here are some platters lined with cookies, ready for patrons.  If you must know, I absolutely loved how people took to these cookies.  It meant a lot to me that people donated generously.

A big Thank You to everyone who made it to my demos and donated!!  

To cap it off, I finally treated myself to that much-needed KitchenAid mixer I’ve been wanting.  I’m so glad I have it at the ready.  I see a lot of great things being made with it in 2015.

Last but not least, I want to thank every single reader who has taken the time to leave a comment, send an email or suggestion to me.  I never lose sight of the fact that I have a broad range of readers from around the world who continue to support my endeavors here on Good Things by David.  I am grateful for your never ending support.

Let’s make 2015 a good year!