Hermès... that cool messenger of the Greek Gods... or in this case, Parisian style maker and messenger of all things exquisite! Oui, N'est pas? I had it in my mind that I wanted something frivolously indulgent, ridiculously decadent, and seriously playful to mark and remember my 50th birthday, so naturally I decided upon a pink silk Hermès scarf. (Thank you Dan!!) Some gals are scarf people, and some are decidedly not. I most definitely am, and since magenta is my all time favorite happy color, I chose a Hermès pink silk twill scarves in a Mexican folk (Otomi) embroidery print. I am excited for the weather to get cooler so I can wear it! More about this particular Hermès scarf (or as the French call it, carré) design on their website here.
Mother Nature delivered big with a sunny summer day to help me celebrate my 50th year on Earth! I made a delicious al fresco lunch that Dan and I enjoyed under the shady pergola along with my twin brother, his wife and my mom. For the lunch I envisioned all quintessential farm fresh foods and treasures from the sea, and finally decided upon a cobb salad made with lobster instead of chicken. My very clever husband named this a cobbster salad. How perfect! In a circular mold I layered diced yellow tomatoes and corn, then creamy avocado with a hearty squeeze of lemon, crumbled gorgonzola cheese, diced crispy Black Forest bacon and, finally, the lobster, which I had mixed with a dressing of mayo, diced shallots, grated lemon zest, scallions, chives, smokey pimentón paprika, cayenne pepper, cider vinegar and honey. I know, right?! The limoncello vinaigrette for the calamari course came from Mario Batali—the man, the myth, the legend. One interesting note: the squid ink pasta garnish for the calamari dish was cooked, then molded into squiggly shapes and baked in the oven until crisp. The end result was a crispy crackery bite with just a subtle hint of the sea. The lobsters were supplied from my teenage nephew Devin, caught in his traps off the Beverly coastline. Lettuce, tomatoes, corn, edible flower blossoms and herbs came from either my gardens or Marini Farm in Ipswich. A special shout out to my mom's neighbor Teresa (a wine rep) who supplied some of the sparkling wines that we consumed. We also imbibed a lovely French Pouilly Fuisse, an Italian Mionnetto Prosecco, a Spanish Segura Viudas Cava, and other miscellaneous libations. Hey, it was a very long afternoon! Here's the menu:
Moët & Chandon champagne
amuse bouche of mozzarella pearls, tomatoes, pesto and boxwood basil
sauté of calamari with limoncello vinaigrette,
chive oil, chili, and crunchy squid ink pasta
2009 Charles Viénot poully fuisse
lobster cobb salad tower
nectarine and blueberry tart with honey vanilla ice cream
Happy birthday to me!
A lucky wasp had a few sips of my sweet and tart limoncello!
Yogurt is a serious business... have you seen all the brands and flavors in the market? As an experiment we had a yogurt tasting. I bought several brands of just plain yogurt, most were low fat, but some had full fat. Most were made with cow's milk but we also got adventurous and tried a sheep's milk and a goat's milk yogurt. It was a little unfair to assess the thickness because there were several Greek type of yogurts in the mix, which are strained and meant to be thicker, but still, some of the textures were just downright runny. Here are the results, shown in order of how you see the yogurts lined up in the photo above:
Fage 2% cow's milk yogurt — full flavored, rich, thick, creamy and excellent! You could taste the full presence of fat.
Fage 0% cow's milk yogurt — full flavored, rich, thick, creamy and also excellent. Didn't miss the full fat at all.
Stoneyfield Oikos 0% cow's milk yogurt — creamy, full flavored, very good!
Erican full fat cow's milk yogurt — Blechk!! thin and runny, sour, very unpleasant.
Chiobani 0% cow's milk yogurt — creamy, slightly thick not too tart, excellent!
Old Chatham Sheepherding Company sheep's milk yogurt — Double Blechk!! Thin, sour, tangy, barn taste, gamey, like strong goat meat (which Dan has eaten in Africa and the Cayman Islands).
Redwood Hill Farm goat's milk yogurt — regular yogurt thickness, a little barn taste, but good! Dan says it reminded him of a mild lamb chop. I could taste a pleasant, young goat cheese flavor.
The Fage and Chiobani brands were my favorites. None of the yogurts I tried were as fabulously silky and thick as the Greek yogurt we had in Mykonos—but perhaps I was swayed by the location. Seems that everyone is on the Greek yogurt bandwagon now, and even Dannon and Cabot have one on the market. I've tried other brands of yogurts but they only come in big tubs so I didn't get them for this tasting. The Dannon 0% fat plain yogurt is good for cooking (Indian raita or Greek tzatziki, or marinating chicken, etc.) though I find it a bit too tangy on its own for my liking. I miss Colombo yogurt thoguh, and hope they come back again one day. What's your favorite yogurt?
photos, Diane Carnevale
Then to jazz things up, we decided to add some honey to the yogurt. I have over a dozen kinds of honey in my pantry—from Italian chestnut to Russian buckwheat (and one of these days I'll do a honey tasting post) but for this tasting we chose a French lavender honey. Sweetness!
We, and our gardens, were hosts to a group of talented folks Sunday for a garden tea party-themed photo shoot. It was a collaborative effort by all involved to promote each of their businesses. This group is working to get their photos published and, until then, I can only show you these teaser photos that we took.
Local bridal couturier Harper Della-Piana of Seams(a European style couture bridal salon, and NOT to be confused with "the village tailaah"), was here with several other talents; my husband dubbed this group the Harper-Razzi. Harper brought a scrumptiously colorful rack of her Wrapture collection of dresses, along with heaps of accessories—vintage beaded necklaces and her silk flower hair accessories and pins. Event planners Greia Marlow and Jenny Wong were the creative visionaries—the set designers. They rented boxes and boxes of mix and match china, silver, tablecloths, oil lanterns and other props for the faux tea party and other tableaus from New England Vintage Rentals. Delicious tea cakes were supplied from Three Little Figs (yum!)
After hours of their prepping, photographer Nicole Chan worked her shutter magic in various locations throughout the gardens. She was full of energy and not even fueled by chocolate! Oh, and did I mention that there were five leggy models here too? I think my husband liked that part. Grace and Bree from Blushing Brides did the hair and makeup for all the gals. Fabulous day!
Look familiar? Our Taylor Sunburst pine tree—just a little sprout when we bought it years ago—has the most glorious show of color each spring. The new pine needle candle growth appears as this bright, sunny yellow color, giving it its obvious name of Sunburst, before turning to green. One would almost think Dale Chihuly used it as inspiration for one of his glass towers—or visa versa.
Yesterday was an unusual day. First I got an e-mail from a Boston Globe reporter asking about my recent trip to the MFA's Chihuly show and my huge, one dollar donation to help acquire one of the pieces (story here). Then, some time after 9 PM I got an e-mail from some friends to get over there ASAP and see their night blooming cereus plant. Armed with cameras and a flashlight, we trekked to their back yard, the darkness adding to the drama. Elissa Della-Piana (owner and curator of the Gallery Della-Piana) and her daughter Harper (a local bridal couturier and owner of Seams) were very proud to share this magical, once-a-year event with me, and told me of other encounters they've had with the mysterious cereus blossoms in tropical places like Bermuda and Hawaii. The blossom was absolutely magnificent and had the most heavenly aroma, but the blossom only lasts for one day! We toasted the occasion with a glass of their delicious homemade limoncello, then I drove home slowly because, in true eccentric fashion, I had driven over in my kimono bathrobe. That may have been difficult to explain to the local police had I been pulled over.
This is a veritable kaleidoscope of colors, is it not? And who knew you could buy these darling little baby kiwis? Paired here with tangy kumquats and sweet blueberries and strawberries, it makes eating fruit kind of fun.
Beat the summer heat with another refreshing antioxidant salad. This one includes mango, pomegranate seeds and blueberries, garnished with star-shaped borage blossoms. Just squeeze some lime juice over to add some zing to all that sweetness and get your spoon out. It's good and good for you!
Dale Chihuly is no doubt the most famous glass artist since Tiffany, revolutionizing and raising the craft of glassblowing to serious fine art. Raising it really high. See this detail from the lime green icicle tower? It stands a mighty forty-two feet tall and took thousands of individual pieces to make it. It's the first piece I saw when I walked into the Through the Looking Glass show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston yesterday, and it literally took my breath away. And that's just the beginning. There are rainbow-colored persians, tall reeds, exotic chandeliers, and big huge marble balls that are all made of glass. The mille fiore—Italian for "a thousand flowers"—is a riot of exploding colorful pieces of glass in various shapes and sizes. All works are magically lit from above and cleverly reflect on black bases. The entire show was an enchanting panoply of wonderment.
POST SCRIPT: July 26, 2011
Read two related stories on the MFA Chihuly show:
This first Boston Globe article mentions the Museum of Fine Art's fundraising to acquire a Chihuly piece, including a mention of my humble $1 donation toward the cause, and the second article depicts a completely different view on the artist, raising valid points on Chihuly's art.
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So what is art, and who gets to decide what's art and what's kitsch? Is it just whoever thinks of it first? This could be a long post so I am forcing myself to keep it short. I tend to sway towards the classics so it surprises me how much I love Chihuly's work. I've visited dozens of art museums and churches throughout Europe and the British isles (including the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia!) and have seen a very wide range of classic and modern art. Yep, the good, the bad and the burnished gold leaf. I really like Chihuly's work and defend those who call him a craftsman more than an artist.
I'm a big fan of chairs and in 2009 I painted 365 watercolors of them on my Chair du Jour blog... is that art? Modern, mass produced, molded plastic chairs are in permanent collections at New York art museums... is that art? Louise Nevelson made art with found objects that she assembled and painted black... is that art? I've seen the giant shuttlecock installation at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri... is that art? Surely some folks think portraits of Marie Antoinette or King Louis the Whatever are ridiculous and antiquated, just as some may think that the mod giant baby head sculptures flanking the MFA's Fenway entrance are somewhat creepy. Indeed, we all have our own ideas of what makes art, art. I am slowly learning to expand my definition of it. Whatever your opinion of what art is—or isn't—you can be sure of one thing... that Dale Chihuly is laughing all the way to the bank.
We first had real Greek yogurt with honey in 2004 on the Island of Mykonos. It was quite a revelation. It was the thickest, richest, silkiest, sexiest yogurt we'd ever tasted. When we returned to the U.S. we were disappointed to not be able to find Greek yogurt here, but over the years it's really boomed and you can now find it in about any market. This is a lower fat version of the yogurt, paired with fresh figs and a sweet drizzle of orange blossom honey. It makes a fantastic breakfast or dessert so be sure to try this combo—preferably out in the summer sunshine!
Unless you have a pizza oven (two words:"wish list"!), a charcoal grill produces the crispiest pizza. Even pizza cooked on a stone will not come out this delicate and crispy; besides, who wants to blast the oven to 500° in the summer anyhow? We use hardwood charcoal for intense heat that helps the crisp factor, and we make 4 small pizzas instead of one large one. Be sure to have two heat zones on your grill (charcoal on just one half of the grill). I cook the dough directly over the hot fire for a less than a minute, flip it over, put the toppings on and let it cook over the fire for a minute or so, then move it to the side of the grill (covered) with no fire under it to finish cooking. This is when the cheese melts the way it would in a regular oven. Our favorite pizza has got to be good old Margherita pizza, but we also love a white pizza topped with pancetta, a white pizza topped with shrimp, rosemary and scallion (shown below), and a chicken sausage pizza (shown above). Smoky, crispy, molto bene!
Here is a salad of sweet red and golden beets, salty gorgonzola cheese, fresh herbs and flowers. I never liked beets much growin up, but I really learned to like them when paired with cheese like this. The earthy flavor will always shine through, but if you wrap the beets in tin foil and roast them in the oven, it helps bring out their natural sweetness.
We're in the midst of some "wicked naahsty" summer heat and humidity, which means it's way too hot to be in la cucina. Luckily I had steamed some baby artichokes last weekend so they were all ready to grill. The pics above show the process before, during and after. Artichokes never look as pretty as when they are raw, and the Italians actually shave and eat the baby ones just like that, but I prefer them steamed with garlic and lemon. A drizzle of some olive oil and lemon and dinner is done.
The herb garden is looking colorful and lush, with edible flowers and all manner of herbs. Because I love to cook, I just have to have a great herb garden! For the edible flowers, there are various sunny colored nasturtiums, purple Johnny Jump-ups, borage, lavender, marigolds, impatiens and cosmos. For herbs, we have dill, bronze fennel, two kinds of sage (regular and golden), three kinds of basil (regular, purple, and a darling tiny leaved boxwood basil), French tarragon, lemon balm, mint, oregano (regular and golden), three kinds of thyme (regular, lemon and silver), Italian parsley, rosemary, and finally, chervil. Oh the possibilities!
Sometimes you just have to unplug and just relax and enjoy. We try to do this at least once a weekend, and today we relaxed outside under the shade of the wisteria covered pergola, sipping a nice Italian prosecco and nibbling on these Italian goodies. (full disclosure: Dan was doing some research on our fall trip to Italy on the iPad, but it was technically not plugged in. Is that cheating?) I was perusing Italian books and stacks of art and home magazines—a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. Along with a crusty baguette, we enjoyed prosciutto (sliced so thin it melted on our tongues), hunks of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, herbed mozzarella cheese, sliced roma tomatoes, fragrant basil, and fresh figs. A delightful afternoon.
Nothing says summer to me like the aroma of a fresh peach or nectarine. I went to Canaan Farm on Rt. 1-A in Wenham today and bought this gorgeous box of goodies, including those aromatic flying saucer nectarines (or are they peaches?). I'm not certain how much of this is grown on the actual farm, or at least grown locally, but it just feels good to support the local guys anyhow. Canaan Farm is rocking this year! The strawberries look super ripe, and I know they won't taste like the tart ones that are all white in the center bought out of season at super markets. I know, I know, that's why we should all eat in season and all that- (thank you Alice Waters and Chez Panisse!) Fresh figs are a favorite of ours wrapped in prosciutto with a chiffonade of basil—what I call 'figs in a blanket.' I got some buffalo mozzarella and I am planning on enjoying slices of it on those tri-colored tomatoes—perhaps in a tomato Napoleon stack. There's purple potatoes buried under there, which will be lovely in a salad with snap peas and yellow beans, something colorful and fun. Yep, colorful and fun.
I painted this small horse and hound canvas last week. It looks very old-world and the near black background looks striking in a gold frame. I love that the woman is posing side-saddle with her little Jack looking up at her. Contact me for prices if you are interested in purchasing any of my paintings. Here are my three recent horse paintings all framed...
This big and bold clematisJackmanii is intertwined with clematis Roguchi, which look like dainty petit bells. Both are royal purple colored, and their vines are climbing up a wisteria wine on a post of our pergola.
Is this a plate of sunshine or what? These hot summer days call for minimal time in the kitchen and maximum time outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Try this recipe: Wasabi crusted sea scallops in a mango coconut couliswith chive oil and marigold blossoms. The crust is actually ground up dried wasabi peas with other interesting tidbits, such as mustard and coriander seeds, and the sweet coconut mango sauce starts with a fresh mango, but from then on you can twist it any way your culinary heart dreams up. To get you back outside even quicker, you could buy a mango chutney of some sort and whizz it up with some coconut milk. Enjoy that summer sunshine!
It seems to be some evil unwritten law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that the 4th of July absolutely has to be hot and humid. It's my very least favorite weather, with showers that "don't take," hair that's never ever good, and legs that stick to my leather car seats. Anyway, I wanted to make something cooling for our family's annual 4th of July party over in Marblehead yesterday—(thanks again Becky and Kevin!), so I made skewers of mini watermelon and feta squares, shown below, and just before serving I placed a chiffinade of mint over it. For a more formal appetizer I combined it with arugula leaves and a balsamic glaze, shown above. Nice combo; give it a try if you've never had it.
In complete contrast to last week's fine French food fête, we spent yesterday afternoon grillin', swillin' and chillin' with our pal Mr. Stubbs. We made a classic barbecue meal that took much of the day to cook. (Relax, Mr. Weber really did most the work, not us.)
First we put a dry rub of spices onto a pork shoulder and put it in the fridge for a day so they could all get to know each other. Then Dan fired up the grill Saturday morning using Stubbs hardwood charcoal briquettes and put the pork shoulder on the grill, where it cooked in indirect heat (about 250 degrees) for six hours. Chunks of hickory provided added smoke and flavor. The neighbors must have been mad with curiosity about the heavenly aromas wafting through the air. Here's a link to the dry rub recipe. We don't follow Cook's Illustrated's cooking instructions because they have the pork finished in the oven (as if!) Dan usually just finds some other recipes for cooking it all on a grill; this one's a good one (heck, we might even try their rub/injection recipe someday).
Next come the ancillaries. A good barbecue sauce is a must, and we've been using one particular recipe from Steven Raichlen for years. It's the perfect combination of tangy-sweet-molasses-spiciness. The recipe uses the usual barbecue sauce suspects, plus some unusual ones, such as apple cider. And Martin's Potato Rolls are the perfect bun for this pulled-pork sandwich.
Side dishes included Boston baked beans (an amazing metamorphosis of the humble navy bean into an insanely rich mahogany-coated, slow-cooked wonder—canned beans are fine, just skip the salt); cucumbers and red onions in a sugared vinegar sauce; and a citrusy coleslaw. The bright and tart freshness of the cucumbers and coleslaw were a nice counterpoint to the rich beans and pulled pork sandwiches, slathered in that BBQ sauce. A $12 bottle of Cline zinfandel (red, of course) packed enough punch to go perfectly with the festival of flavors. There's plenty of summer left, so get out those checkered napkins and roll up your sleeves.
So there I was sauntering along the garden bed when I noticed a large white ball (a little bigger than a softball) with purple spots on it, under some foliage. What the heck was it? I dashed inside to go the the all knowing Google-meister to find out, and it turns out that this is a fine example of a Calvatia gigantea—a giant puffball mushroom. These fellas usually grow in woodland settings, so why it's in my garden patch I'll never know. I do put heaps of leaf and grass clipping on the garden bed each fall so maybe there was a random puffball spore sprinkled in. My puffball had some fallen lavender geranium blossom petals on it, so it made it look like a purple spotted egg. I just checked on it today, and the egg is growing larger! Stay tuned...
There are all kinds of "rich"... rich in wealth, rich in love, and rich in antioxidants. This breakfast is an example of the latter of course, made with papaya, avocado, and blueberries, and made for a very fine summer breakfast. The tiger lilies, which are also edible, always come into bloom around the 4th of July, so I just had to put one on the plate. photo, Diane Carnevale