May 29, 2013

For the Love of Lilacs



Life is full of challenges, twists and turns, and sometimes it is easy to forget about all the simple joys that make it beautiful and sweet. Then, nature comes to help...
Spring is so inspiring, so welcoming, so delightful... It never ceases to amaze me how almost imperceptibly the pink shades of cherry and apple blossoms are being replaced by the pretty purple-violet color of the lilac trees. It's like nature reminds us that there is always beauty and "good" if we choose to see it. Lilacs give softness to the world and to life. I love it, not only for its enchanting fragrance, but mostly because of its delicacy and humbleness.
The story, according to Greek mythology, begins with a stunning nymph named Syringa (lilac's botanical name) who caught the eye of Pan, the god of fields and forests. Captivated by her beauty, Pan chased Syringa through the forest until she became exhausted. To escape Pan, the nymph turned herself into a fragrant flowering bush - the flower we today refer to as lilac.
I won't mention my childhood memories and that lilac is my mom favorite flower, because at the moment, I am fascinated by the fact that lilacs are not only delightful and aromatic, they are edible as well. In her beautiful and inviting book "Cooking with Flowers" Miche Bacher uncovers the wonderful world of edible common flowers as she offers easy and accessible recipes. It is true. There are lots of flowers we can eat - dandelions, pansies and violas, roses, sunflowers, tulips, geraniums, daylilies - we just need to take a little time to learn about them and then, we will be surprised that they are all around us, practically during every season. (Be aware, not all flowers are edible, and some are poisonous.)
I am obsessed! The idea that I can cook with lilacs is totally inspiring to me. Knowing that lilacs do not last long, I took advantage of the blooming yard-grown unsprayed shrubs in the garden and using the classic vanilla cream recipe from my mom's journal, I made lilac-infused cream. I used lilac sugar, which is really simple to make, and for the milk, I put milk and lilac petals in a jar and refrigerated overnight.
Lilacs make a great sorbet, jam, jelly, muffins, syrup, candied lilacs... Cleaning and harvesting the tiny blossoms is time consuming, but also enjoyable. The fresh, sweet and slightly bitter taste of the flower creates a very intriguing, beautiful and pleasant dish on every table.
They say, you are what you eat, right? So, why not, be ... a lilac ... for a while?!





Lilac-Scented Sugar


Clean, dry lilac petals
Granulated sugar, as much as you wish to make
A jar

Make layers with lilac flowers and sugar in the jar. Put on the lid, shake the jar, and place it on a shelf in a cool, dark place. Shake it every now and then over the next days. The sugar will be ready to use in 1-2 weeks. Perfect for baking, in a cup of tea or coffee, or simply as a gift.




Thank you!


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May 17, 2013

The Taste of Provence




Each one of us, at some point, dreams of escaping from the routine of daily life into a more serene and generous place where beauty, life's little pleasures and captivating sceneries can be found in abundance. Even though, everyone dreams of a different destination, the idea of experiencing the idyllic Provençal way of life that has inspired some of the greatest painters, Van Gogh, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne appeals to an almost basic need in everyone of us. And it doesn't take a lot to understand why there are so many people who have succumbed to the charm of the huge purple rolling hills of lavender, the glorious fields covered with fluorescent red-orange poppies, the endless stony green vineyards, the gnarled olive trees and twisted cypresses, the smiling faces of the yellow sunflowers following the warm southern sun ...
Who doesn't want to stroll through ancient villages with cobblestone streets, old-stone houses with wooden shutters, terracotta pots of rosemary and air that is scented with aromatic herbs.. No one minds feeling lost in the freshness of fruits and sun-kissed vegetables or in the enchantment of the antiques and vintage fabrics at the local vibrant market on a bright sunny morning... 
Perhaps, the most treasured encounter is the one with the artisan food and the excellent wines of the Provençal cuisine. With centuries of tradition and intimacy with the land, the farmers, the butchers, the cheese-makers and the winemakers of the region embrace what nature bestows and translate it into something beautiful, elegant and simple... And as many authors suggest, it all starts with the land and is rooted in "terroir", a French expression that can be defined as combination of soil, climate, culture and relationship of food and people who take care of the land.
"Terroir are vibrant and innovative spaces that define the people who live there and reflect a marriage between traditions, culture, and natural environment."(international definition at UNESCO meeting, 2005)
As cliche as it might sound, Provence is not simply a geographical area, but a state of mind, a gift for the senses, a place of love for the land, love for the food, of home and life..."joie de vivre"... And once you have tasted the spirit of Provence, you want to bottle it, take it with you... and keep returning to it...

If you are thinking on how to "bottle" the taste of your Provençal escape, I would suggest this traditional drink that is made in Provençal homes using a handwritten recipe passed down from generations to generations.  




Vin d'Orange is the taste of Provence and like many describe it "it is truly, sunshine in a glass."
It is an infusion of bitter Seville or blood oranges, white wine, fruit brandy, sugar and vanilla, which is left to macerate at least 40 days. Traditionally, the French make vin d'orange in the month of March when Sevilla oranges are at their peek. It has always been best brewed at home and given to friends and relatives as a gift. They sip it as an aperitif or an after-dinner liquor, usually in the summer, when the sun is setting and one wants to stretch the beautiful time and savour it longer.

My husband and I bottled orange wine last week after almost a month of maturing. We used blood oranges and pink rosé. Yesterday, we had the first taste of Province. I don't drink alcohol at all, except a glass of wine on special occasions, but sitting on a table with dishes of white earthenware, sunflowers in a terracotta pottery, French blue cheese, olives and peppercorn pâté, and a baguette with Seville oranges marmelade, I can have a glass of vin d'orange even if only to admire the color...    

Would you like to join me?






Vin d'Orange 

Ingredients:

3 Seville oranges or blood oranges (unpeeled) 
1 bottle rose wine 
1/4 vodka
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean 

Directions:

Slice each clean orange into circles. Combine all ingredients in a large glass jar and stir. Seal the top and set aside in a cool, dark place for up to a month. (Some recipes call for three to nine months.) Stir occasionally. To bottle, strain through cheesecloth or coffee filter and funnel into clean glass bottle. Cork the bottle so it can be stored at room temperature. If it is in an unsealed bottle, then keep it in the fridge for up to a year. 
In summer, serve it chilled, or over ice with a twist of orange, or “tall” with soda.
Santé!

       
                                                                          
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This post was created especially for the party, Simple Irresistible, a celebration of friendship and love for all things French, hosted by my cherished blogging friend and artist Anita. 


Those of you who value the best of French countryside, please, visit Anita's site Castles Crowns and Cottages and take delight in more stories of Provençal escapes!

         
 Thank you!





May 9, 2013

For Mom



Mother's Day comes in such a splendid time when Mother Earth gives new life to all living things and amazing colours showcase the beauty and wonder of the world around us. Shades of pink cover up the entire neighbourhood overnight. Japanese cherry trees, wild apple blossoms and magnolia leaves give the landscape the most spectacular spring makeover. Tulips, pink hyacinths and tiny violets perfume the air... Everything seems beautiful and adds a special touch to the honor of the special woman who has made us who we are, to the celebration of the wonder of creation.
Uplifted by all this loveliness around me, I think some pink strawberry vanilla cupcakes would be perfect to spoil your mom this weekend. They would adorn the table at your afternoon tea gathering  or the brunch you are hosting for family and friends. Especially if you decorate them with pink macaroons – a truly feminine touch, and handmade paper toppers. Furthermore, place the cupcakes in a festive paper box and they turn into the sweetest and cutest gift... in tune with Nature's colors...

Happy Mother's Day, loving, caring and beautiful woman! Whether or not you have given life to a child, there is no doubt in my mind, you have mothered someone. The cupcakes and the flowers are for you, wherever you are.








Strawberry Vanilla Cupcakes 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup half & half
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh finely chopped strawberries

Frosting:

1/2 cup butter
1 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp light cream or milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions: 


Preheat oven to 350°C. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Mix together the dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt. In another bowl, mix together the half and half, vanilla, and diced strawberries. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Divide batter among muffin cups. Bake cupcakes until testers inserted into centre come out clean, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely before icing.  

In a small bowl, beat butter until creamy. Gradually add confectioner's sugar and cream, beating until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla and beat until frosting is light and fluffy. 


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Thank you to all of you, my darling readers, for your generous congratulations on my publication. Your kind words and support mean a lot to me! 



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May 3, 2013

"Congratulations! You've been published in..."




Back in December, knowing how much I cherish my work on my blog and how I dream to see it published, my wonderful son wrote on my birthday card "... I wish you love, happiness and the discovery of your blog by an editor. Follow your dreams, Mom, I will always support you..." It fills my heart with love every time I read it! 
Less than a month later, an editor called and asked if I wanted to submit to their magazine... 
I guess, the one who said "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" is a wise, wise man. And because one of my favorite inspirational lines is "Happiness is only real when shared" by Chris McCandless, Into The Wild, I am sharing with you the fact that if you open the latest edition, Summer 2013 of Artful Blogging magazine, somewhere near the end, on page 122, under the International Blogger category, you would see my little simple blog, my unpretentious simple photos and an article I wrote about my blogging experience "The Simple Life." Frankly, it doesn't seem so simple to me - the effort, the time, the devotion, the creativity and the energy all us bloggers put into writing and organizing interesting, inspiring and authentic posts. That's why any kind of acknowledgment of our work makes us excited and happy. I am honoured to be featured in such a unique publication of the most visually inspiring blogs across the Internet and to be in the company of established photographers and talented bloggers some of them I have been following for a long time.
A million thanks to editor Jennifer Jackson Taylor (also a blogger) for getting in touch and making this happen.
Million thanks to all of you for supporting me and encouraging me along the way. If you get a chance, be sure to check it out. My Canadian friends can find it on Chapters/ Indigo shelves.








As far as my dreams are going, I have new ones ... big ones :) And as hard as it often might seem, I am going to continue following them. How about you? 






May 2, 2013

Drawstring Herb Bags





Spring days are here! Finally! The Magnolia trees are blooming. I am wearing short sleeves enjoying every given moment to bask in the warm sun. There are also long walks by the lake, spinach and asparagus at the farmer markets, Sunday breakfasts on the patio of the favorite Kensington Market bistro, fresh salads and homemade lemonades, planted seeds, dusted off cabinets, clothes drying outside, open window nights...
While I was looking for more spring colours and ideas at my favorite magazines, I came across Sarah Moor's wonderful article how to give every household item a spring makeover, especially, the idea to turn your favorite vintage fabrics into simple drawstring bags to store spices, herbs, sugar - whatever you decide. You know the "i-can-do-that" feeling that comes spontaneously, stimulates your emotions, overtakes your mind and doesn't leave you until you prove yourself right... Yes, it's called "inspiration" and I love when I am in spirit and have to hold myself back from starting right now. As Sarah proposed, I got out my fabrics, threads and my sewing machine which hasn't been used for months, and by following (not precisely, though) this tutorial, I made one bag, then one more, then one more... I used ribbons and scrap fabrics to decorate the pouches. After washing the bags, I poured my favorite herbs for tea in, attached labels on each bag and displayed them on the cupboard shelf. Neat! 
It turned out that drawstring bags are easy to make and fun to sew, not to mention handy to have around. I also think these charming handmade drawstring bags filled with chamomile, peppermint, fennel seeds and nettle can turn into a great gift for the upcoming Mother's Day celebration, don't you think?!   

It amazes me how the simplest and ordinary things can inspire you to create, to tune into your spirit, to feel fulfilment... It feels good...
Yes, I am that nerdy girl who's cute colourful drawstring bags make her joyous...








                                                                                             What lights you up these days?


                                                                                                   Happy May to all of you!




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