Sunday, May 30, 2010

Summertime and the living is easy...

With summer officially underway my thoughts have immediately jumped to the next season. Of course this doesn't mean I won't be making anymore summer goodies this year but as fast as the year is going we'll all blink twice and start seeing the changing of leaves. So with thoughts of harvest time mixing with the celebratory atmosphere that accompanies the start of summer vacation the first thing that popped into my head was apples. Try as I might, I couldn't get thoughts of apples out of my head. So I decided to create some scrumptious new apple candles! These beauties stand 3" tall, contain 11oz of creamy scented soy wax and smell like the real thing. Pick a Red Delicious, Granny Smith or Golden Delicious for $10 plus shipping (also available unscented upon request).

I also experimented a little this week and came up with a "British Chocolate Spread" candle for my British, ex-pat and Anglophile fans. This exquisite delight was hand poured and set in an old (and thoroughly washed) jar of the famous chocolate spread with the purple label that we all know and love! It's 14 oz of chocolatey goodness for $12 plus shipping (International customers please contact me with your post code for a more accurate shipping cost).

This Saturday, June 5th, I'll be setting up shop at the East Deering Neighborhood Association Craft/Yard/Bake Sale located at The Columbia Club on Wordsworth Street in Portland (just off Veranda Street) from 9am - 4pm. The weatherman is calling for another soggy day (I swear he's out to get me) but fear not, in the event of rain the sale will be moved inside the Columbia Club. Hope to see you there! Have a great week everyone, be sure to check out my personal blog, Egg Drop Soup, which was written in honor of our servicemen and women who have served and continue to serve today. Have a safe and happy Memorial Day:)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Like Flowers for Chocolate

Hi, I am a Culinary chick and I kill plants! Not intentionally of course but I was cursed with the black thumb from elementary school when mine was the only styrofoam cup that didn't sprout the green telltale bud of success. I can make a beautiful and delicious gallantine but in school I cringed when it came time to make aspics because I'm also unable to make jello. Don't ask me why but no matter what I do hours later I wind up with a bowl of Kool-Aid! Miraculously my aspic did form but it was still softer and took longer to set than that of my classmates.

I am however, extremely capable of making pudding which came in handy this weekend when I attended a Plant Swap with some ladies from my gym class at the Y. I told them I didn't do plants so they said I could bring a dessert instead (the lemon cake I'd made at the last luncheon was a huge hit:) I'd thought about making banana bread but the epicurean in me screamed for something more fun. Now, I'm not a baker. I can follow a recipe but would much rather taste and experiment than worry about accidentally swapping baking powder for baking soda (with disastrous results) and with a tightened wallet I was limited in what I could spend. But as I wandered the aisles of the grocery store I was suddenly inspired, I would make a Chocolate Cream Pie!

This was extremely easy and quick to do although you have to remember to leave time for the pie to set. I took two 4oz packets of My T Fine chocolate pudding and followed the pie directions on the label (3 3/4 cups of whole milk although the skim I used worked out fine added to the mix and stirring constantly over medium heat until it comes to a full bubble, then remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes, stirring twice.) If you don't have time to make a graham cracker crust, go ahead and buy the 9" tin with crust included (if you make an 8" pie you only need one packet of pudding and 2 cups of milk) and pour the pudding into the tin. The directions say to let it set in the fridge for 4 hours (3 if using one packet) but I found the pie set in an hour and a half which was a pleasant surprise. In the meantime make sure your Cool Whip is thawing (the package says not to leave it out on the counter to thaw but as I was pressed for time I did it anyway and found most of the container was ready when I needed to use it). Once the pie set I added the Cool Whip (you don't want to bury the pie under half the container... or maybe you do;) and grated some Hershey's Special Dark on top as a garnish. The pie looked beautiful and was a huge hit:) I did end up walking away with some sweet smelling Lillies of the Valley and this other plant that sprouts these pretty pink bell like flowers... that is if they manage to survive! I've got them planted in the garden section of my front yard and will be taking tons of pictures if they end my botanical killing spree (botanicide?).

Anyway, while I was busy playing Betty Crocker I decided to finally act on a candle idea I'd been contemplating. So I bring you the "Smells Like Freedom" Sundae Candle! The name was inspired by my husband who said exactly that while I was waiting for it to set. The scents are Strawberry, Lemon and Blueberry and comes with little handmade American flags for $10 plus shipping. You can also get French flags for Bastille Day upon request! Next week, I hope to unveil a cute new candle that's a perfect gift for your favorite teacher:) Have a great week everyone, chow for now!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

“Love of beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

They say life often imitates art and so on Saturday when I discovered an article in the LA Times about a former TV chef being arrested for hiring homeless people to kill someone, I was immediately reminded of a great book I'd read last year called, Beat Until Stiff by Claire M. Johnson. In this book an ornery middle aged pastry chef, having recently divorced her cheating husband so who can blame her for being ornery, finds one of her kitchen staff brutally murdered and shoved into the linen closet. As more and more people die, she narrowly escapes being arrested as the main suspect mainly because of a detective and friend of her ex-husband who she has a love/hate relationship with and a very complicated conspiracy is uncovered. I won't give all the details but if you're a foodie who loves a good mystery novel, go pick this book up:) Claire Johnson also wrote Roux Morgue which continues the chef's chaotic life in the Culinary world with more murder and mayhem.

I've been told my candles are art but I don't see it. To me art is Picasso, Rembrandt or even Frank Lloyd Wright but I'm no aficionado so when multiple passersby exclaim that I have real talent, am an artist and "this is real art!" I'll give them the benefit of the doubt:) A lot goes into my candles from the moment of conception until the actual execution. I'm constantly on the lookout for sturdy glasses and containers of good quality that will exemplify whatever candle I may consider making with them in the future but for as little as possible to keep my costs (and therefore selling price) down. There will be times when I'll just stop and stare at something at the grocery store or eatery or even on the street pondering whether or not what I'm staring at can be successfully replicated as a candle. When I'm especially focused, I guess I have a certain expression on my face that makes hubby think I'm angry with him LOL but if I can't envision it, it just doesn't happen.

Anyway, with warmer weather and summer on the brain and Memorial Day just around the corner, I've been busy creating three new candles. The Margarita Votive has the same great scent as its larger cousins except it comes in a 3" votive glass with real Margarita salt on the rim and is very very cute:) I'm especially proud of my Watermelon Jar Candle. Watermelon in itself doesn't actually have a scent so I went for the next best thing and aimed for a watermelon candy scent. This candle resembles the fruit, complete with imitation seeds on top and a lid that's been hand painted by yours truly to resemble an old fashioned picnic blanket. It's a sweet and fresh addition to my jar candle line that will be perfect for summer decor.

Finally, if you find my Breakfast In a Jar candles intriguing you'll love my new Day at the Beach candles! These are double layered colored soy wax scented with the clean, crisp aroma of Ocean Breeze and the tropical fragrance of Pina Colada or Margarita and is available in 6, 14 and 24oz jars. I can also do triple layered candles if you decide you'd like both drink fragrances with Ocean Breeze upon request.

That's about all for today. If you're in Maine this weekend, the Cumberland County Y is holding their annual Tri for the Y event Saturday, May 22nd from 8am -noon when over 300 athletes will swim in a 325 yard pool, bike 12 miles and run 3.1 miles all to raise funds for the Y's Financial Assistance Program which allows the less fortunate a chance to utilize the Y's facilities even if they couldn't afford it. They're still in need of 15 volunteers so if you'd like to help or know someone who does click here. Have a great week everyone, chow for now!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

So much to see, so little time

Lots to talk about this week so let's just get right to it shall we?:)

While the weather threatened to put a damper on the event, the NAMI Maine walk was moved at the last minute from Back Cove, Portland to the Field House at USM in Gorham. Hundreds of people showed up to walk including Glenn Close and her family and there was facepainting and balloons for the kids, a juggler on stilts and those giant wearable Carnivale puppets. Lunch was donated by some local delis and we listened to music by a halfway decent band and 102.9.

Apparently there was a breakdown in communication somewhere and the event only lasted until 1 instead of 4 so apologies to anyone who made the trip to Gorham yesterday afternoon. Most of the vendors were from Etsy Maine Team so it was great meeting people I've been talking to online:) Together NAMI Maine and Bring Change 2 Mind raised over $120,000 for awareness and better treatment of people with mental illness and the fight against stigma!

Hubby looks enthralled, doesn't he?;)

On the candle front, in all my preparation for the NAMI event I have neglected my candle making duties and only created one new candle this week but it's a charming little candle at that. The Margarita votive, complete with real Margarita salt, is a smaller version of its popular cousins and is the standard votive price of $5 plus shipping.

Finally, I've come across a couple of great recipes this week I wanted to share with you:) The first I found while reading Julia Child's autobiography "My Life in France." Again I say if you haven't read it and you liked the movie Julie and Julia, run and pick up this book! If I ever hear that the cast of Julie and Julia (minus Julie's side of course) were starring in a movie based solely on this book I'd do cartwheels all over Maine:-D

Anyway, Chapter 2 talks about Le Cordon Bleu and she mentions how after seven weeks her cooking skills changed dramatically and the two dishes she describes sound incredible!

"Take roast veal, for example. Under the tutelage of Chef Bugnard, I simply salt-and-peppered the veal, wrapped it in a thin salt-pork blanket, added julienned carrots and onions to the pan with a tablespoon of butter on top, and basted it as it roasted in the oven. It couldn't have been simpler. When the veal was done, I'd degrease the juices, add a bit of stock, a dollop of butter, and a tiny bit of water, and reduce for a few minutes; then I'd strain the sauce and pour it over the meat. The result: an absolutely sublime meal."

YUM!:-D I'm actually going to attempt this this week except with beef instead of veal:) Wish me luck!

She goes on to say "Chef Bugnard was a wonder with sauces, and one of my favorite lessons was his sole a la normande. Put a half-pound of sole fillets in a buttered pan, place the fish's bones on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper and minced shallots. Fill the pan with liquid just covering the fillets: half white wine, half water, plus mussel and oyster juices. Poach. When the fillets are done, keep them warm while you make a roux of butter and flour. Add half of the cooking juices and heat. Take the remaining cooking juices and reduce to almost nothing, about a third of a cup. Add the reduced liquid to the roux and stir over heat. Then comes Bugnard's touch of genius: remove the pan from the fire and stir in one cup of cream and three egg yolks: then work in a mere three-quarters of a pound of butter. I had never heard of stirring egg yolks into such a common sauce, but what a rich difference they made."

Unfortunately I'm allergic to mussels and oysters and won't be able to try this without making a substitution with some other fish juice but if anyone does try the recipe please let us know how it turns out.

Finally, here's a very elegant and unique recipe for Candied Roses & Dark Chocolate Sorbet, a great surprise for Mother's Day next year! Have a great week everyone and Happy Mother's Day:)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Good food and walking it off

Well, it's official (I guess), the 50 World's Best Restaurants have just been announced.. at least according to S. Pellegrino anyway.

As usual the list consists of some fairly fru fru, high priced venues around the world where mainstream people usually don't go and probably won't step foot into in life! Noma in Denmark snatched the #1 spot from El Bulli of Spain, who had held the position for 4 years and now sits at #2. According to CNN, El Bulli accepts 8000 reservations annually out of millions of requests but will be shutting down until 2011 and 3 years later will become a non-profit organization for young chefs. Surprisingly 8 of the 50 restaurants are located right here in the US, a fairly commendable feat when you think of the decades long struggle for American chefs to be recognized and respected by epicureans around the world.

The thing that gets me about these lists though is they almost never cover regular establishments serving regular food to regular people. I'm not talking about chain restaurants like Applebees or McDonalds but mom and pop small businesses with prices people who work for a living can afford! I remember a year or so ago there was a major uproar when Zagat added a little hole in the wall noodle place (I think it was in Hong Kong) to its list. There were no fancy paintings on the wall, no snooty waiters or pretentious little appetizers posing as $100 meals on big fru fru plates. It was clean, cheap, no frills good food and apparently had people lining around the block for hours BEFORE Zagat added them to the list. I guess when a place is deemed Best Noodlehouse in the World by thousands of happy customers, you can't exactly ignore it even if they aren't charging very much.

This is what I'm talking about though. Yes, if you ever get the chance to experience a fancy restaurant at least once I say do it. The ambiance is nice and the food is usually very good even if you do have to run for a burger an hour later;) But, there are plenty of establishments that serve decent food for decent prices and they don't all involve burgers and fries, fat and grease.

So, what are your favorite, non-chain local places to eat? Who makes the best breakfast? Where's a nice place to go for lunch? Where's your favorite place to go on a date? Let's compile a top 50 list of our own shall we?

On the candle front, there are 6 days left for the NAMI Art Walk and I am PUMPED! The weather looks to be decent, sunny and mid-60s although there's supposed to be one of those bad thunderstorms moving through when the temperature drops 20 degrees like they're saying it will and I'm hoping I won't have to set up in the mud:( I'll be developing one more votive candle but the rest of the week will be devoted to setting up and finishing touches. So next week's blog will be all about NAMI with lots of pictures about the event. So, all you Mainers out there and visitors to the Portland area be sure to visit Back Cove (it's a kind of park off 295 exit 7) from 10-4 and root for the walkers taking part in a good cause, get some food and face painting, listen to some local musicians, support your local artisans and quite possibly you might get a chance to meet Glenn Close:) It promises to be a pretty day so get off your duffs and get some air! Chow for now.

UPDATE: Shortly after this posting I discovered vendors of the Art Walk will be situated in a horseshoe around a tent (assuming it's the BringChange2Mind tent) where Glenn Close will be signing tshirts and having photo ops so it should prove to be an interesting day:)