Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spooky with an edge of natural elegance...

 I'm enjoying the opportunity to do spooky in a little more artful, elegant & natural fashion this Halloween... as the kids get older and their tastes have developed

Look at these gorgeous hydrangeas my friend brought me from her garden, the colors are so rich and complex with a lovely powdery patina. 

They look great in this old silver wine bucket and make the perfect background for my black birds I've wired to these thick, gnarled branches of curly willow on the table in my courtyard.

You may remember my trip down to the bayou, to The Madewood Plantation, in The Bayou La Fourche to be exact.  Where I was so impressed with the sleepy, creepy quality of all of the Spanish Moss hanging in that thick air, dripping from the trees and trellises,  I vowed I was going to try to import some for Halloween this year.

So, here it is, and these trees in the graveyard are getting some notice. 

The other day when I walked out of the house I found a cute couple taking a selfie under this canopy that hangs over the sidewalk, a popular route for local walkers...  #flattered.

My neighbor mentioned that a walker had asked her "what type of trees are those", and I've had a few couples say to me "you must be from the south", someone even told my daughter to tell me he was from New Orleans, and that "I'd done a good job". I hope I don't sound too pathetic repeating these compliments, but I really appreciate the appreciation, 

because I gleefully work hard on my Halloween decor each year, even though I know that very few trick~or~treaters will bother to venture down our dark, non~contiguous street come All Hallows Eve,  not that I blame them, even though I do give out full sized candy bars and mini~bottles of brandy and other after dinner drinks {for the grown~ups}, last year I even set up a Vampire Bar for the adults with bottles of cranberry juice marked as blood types and cute little minis of Crystal Head Vodka, I'm planning on recreating that scene this year {am I tempting you to come by??}. 

The Vampire Bar
So where does one get fresh Spanish Moss? Amazon, of course I ordered a 28 pound box, which is a large box, absolutely stuffed with these cleaned, healthy tendrils, and, let me tell you, 28 pounds is A LOT of moss {smaller quantities are available}.

As I was draping these soft gray~green strands over the branches of my trees my Lazy~lady side was feeling quite pleased when considering that this decoration would not require any clean-up, unlike those wretched packaged "spiderwebs" I've spun around in years past. I imagined that the moss would drop to the ground with the leaves to become organic matter, or to be raked up in the Spring.

But, then I read how to grow Spanish Moss, where I learned that this moss is actually an "air plant" that "does not leach from the trees" but simply uses them "as a means of gaining height for sunlight",  they thrive on moisture and can tolerate frost... so perhaps these soft, sultry strands will stay around for awhile...

and I think that would be just splendid.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Beautiful vignettes for fall...

We're having an extremely balmy fall here in the PNW, far warmer than usual. While I'm basking in the silky, warm air with just a hint of of crispness, the lasting flowers and a few more days to enjoy open toed shoes, I was finding it hard to be inspired to decorate for the season.

But after a quick stop into the extraordinary gift shop we fortunate to have in our neighborhood, Martha Harris, I was filled with inspiration overload. If you live in Seattle, I highly recommend you make it down here to see their fall finery on display. If you can't make it, here are some of the highlights.

 Of course, I was immediately enthralled by the combination or orange leaves surrounding beautiful blue and white ceramics. 

This is something simple one could do in minutes, you may even have branches of berries, leaves, crabapples or other fruits in your backyard you could bring inside to display. 

Branches of leaves and fruits can be placed into vases with or without water (water in older porcelain can be damaging) most leaves will continue to change colors and you can switch them out if they become too dry or brittle looking.

Their vignette themes ran from subtle fall through more serious harvest and onto full~on Halloween, and beyond. I love these sweet little hand painted nightstand dishes, Martha Harris is filled with so many unique gift items of every shape and size.

This lively display built around cream colored pottery with black lettering moves us into harvest mode with the plush velvet pumpkins and more colorful leaves and berries.

Why not drape a few leaves on the chandelier?

The front of the store screams Halloween with these fun jack~o~lanterns, many are hollowed out and dried gourds which you could reuse for years to come. The window is framed with rich layers of green hops.

Shiny black cats and sparkling spiders are a superb contrast to the refined lines of these elegant vessels.

A close~up of some of the gourds, I love that they threw leopard print cocktail napkins into the mix.

A consistent factor in these vignettes is a touch of something natural and organic~looking {some silk and other artificial pieces are used because they will last through the season, but you could go easily go all natural at home}. 

After I finish this post I'm going down to my garden to cut the artichokes that are dying/ drying on the stalk! These spiky globes add such great substance and texture to this collection.

I've always loved how they painted the backs of the store cabinets in colors that set off the china so nicely. These polished white plates look alive displayed with branches of felt leaves {you could achieve this look with fresh green leaves too}. The deep olive colored grosgrain ribbon thread through the cake plates add warmth, texture and a sense of celebration. The burnt orange colored candles and the orange ribbon flowers and table cloth provide a perfect pop of contrasting color.

Here's another lovely cabinet of green and orange vignettes, a few pieces of fruit, flowers, branches and leaves really make the scene.

I especially love this wash of green on the edge, with the topiary, the willow painting and the celery green background, contrasted with pomanders, oranges studded with cloves, a wonderful, natural room freshener.

This ornately carved armoire is crowned with a fabulous wreath of cotton pods. These next vignettes will last through the holidays.

I love this pewter bark piece, the frost of the pewter is warmed with scenes of birds and stalks of cotton.

Here, feathered birds, orange pine cone candles and brown paper wrapped candles help to convey the feeling of an upper woodland scene.

Another vignette where shades of orange and green bring warmth and a spirit of fall, this time to exotically shaped porcelain pieces, the horn frames and deep orange printed paper base enhance the sense of an exotic land.

Okay, not decor, but I think these Claude Dozorme steak knives are the most handsome set I've ever seen.

Here's a rich mix of textures in green with pops of orange persimmons {I am so excited that a friend has invited me to cut branches from her persimmon tree when the fruit begins to turn color... hoping to be sharing shots of that in a few weeks}. The humble verdant squash looks absolutely elegant in this setting.

Simply filling a bowl with interesting looking squashes, gourds & pods, adding a candle and maybe a vase of bare branches can make your desk look like a still life painting {if you take away all of the papers and clutter :)}

I loved this little Out of Africa vignette with Moroccan-looking coaster tiles, carved wooden walking sticks, exotic plants including a gardenia and sedums, horn desk accessories and elephant imagery. 

Believe it or not, I have barely scratched the surface of what they offer at Martha Harris. They also have beautiful table linens, dreamy nightwear, a wide array of candles, Antica Farmacista diffusers, ribbons, cards, travel accessories, jewelry and so many more unique gifts and items for the home.

They are also known for being one of the best florists in town. The florists work in the back of the shop, so even if you see "silk" flowers in the displays, the smell of fresh flowers abounds. The day I was there they were working on a big party, so the crew was busy stripping branches of roses, hydrangeas and other blooms. 

They don't have a website, but if you are interested in anything you have seen feel free to call the shop at 206-568-0347, they will be happy to help you in any way. 

Alright, enough talk, time to bring on the beauty of fall!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food, beautiful food, top tips for food photography....

I gleaned so many great tips on food and photography from the opening speakers at the IFBC , Todd Coleman and Thierry Rautureau, I could have walked away after that morning session and been perfectly satisfied. But of course I didn't because I knew I had so much more to learn and so much more great food to taste. 

Todd likes to shake things up when it comes to styling food. The next 3 are photos I took from the screen presentation, so they are a little rough, but you'll get the idea. 

Rather than showing the "perfect" looking slice of this red velvet cake, sitting in front of the remains of the pristine frosted cake, displayed upon an elegant cake plate {the typical styling}, he took this knife and "hacked" at it until he achieved a look he liked. The rough cuts on top of a paper and then a contrasting blue plastic plate does somehow make this look more inviting, doesn't it? He likes the mix of high~end food and low~end vessels. The image does make me want to pick up the knife and cut off a slender little slice {and then sneak back for another later}. He deliberately created that crevasse in the center to have some shadow to contrast the even crumb of the cake. 

The image below demonstrates 3 concepts that he finds pleasing including "tonal rhythm"... while none of the containers below match, they all share a silvery patina, which makes them fit well together, filled with various textures of white. He also likes to shoot "soldiers in a row" because he finds repeating rows are pleasing to the eye. And finally, playing with shadows, the creation of shadows and the contrast between light and shadows reflects reality and creates drama. 

Another thing he likes to do is to show food in a way that you don't usually see it. This fresh from the oven pizza pie {below, left} is so delicious that people clearly can't wait for it to hit the table, they are  are using their bare hands to rip off pieces mid-air. Then, on the right below, dried beans look exotically beautiful when displayed in this floral shaped carved wooden ladle. 

Photographer and Food Stylist Todd Coleman, co~founder of Delicious Content 
 was refreshing in his irreverence. He focused his talk on "natural light", or the lack of it, for food photography, he clarified that natural light usually just isn't enough. He shared some of his tips for creating more dramatic lighting for photographs. His favorite tools to create proper light and a moody shot? Aluminum foil {yes, from your kitchen drawer} to reflect available light, and flashlights {from the hardware store} taped in place with duct tape. 

Another tip, which I was able to put into action recently, was to find/use unusual backgrounds. He talked about his passion for laying plates of food on cement curbs, acknowledging that, of course, eating food off a curb is not appetizing, but there is a visual appeal to that extreme contrast. 

That reminded me of something I had found in the remote Ballenas Islands on our 10 hour cruise back to Orcas Island from Desolation Sound last summer, a little relief stop for Arabella.

I was trekking around the island, exploring the rocks and beaches, giving the girl a little privacy, out in the middle of NOWHERE and found this. Clearly, previously a part of a boat {and I do hope that no one was hurt in the process}. This piece had such great patina with the worn turquoise surface and the ledge engulfed with barnacles, I couldn't leave it behind. Captain Splendid complained, but I insisted on bringing this beauty on board when Arabella and I got back to the boat on the paddle board... though I couldn't explain exactly why or what I was planning on doing with it.

One more shot from The Ballenas, signs of previous inhabitants.. they carved, or maybe wood burned with a magnifying glass "RESPECT THE FORT", above this fresh~air abode, and we certainly did.

So when I was shooting this Breakfast bite, I pulled that panel from my office, adjusted the lighting and added a few props, 

to create this photo, with which I was quite pleased. The background is softer than black and if you look closely it offers some natural texture, and even an odd barnacle or two. 

Thierry Rautureau is a celebrated chef in Seattle, our family always enjoys a trip to his bistro LUC in our neighborhood, where Sunday brunch is especially delicious. He demonstrated some great notions on how to enjoy the end of summer~beginning of fall bounty.

I believe he started out with tomatoes. It sounds as if he cultivates quite a large garden, and he shared one tip I had never heard before in regards to tomatoes... he says that if you have tomato plants that are still holding green tomatoes, you can pull them out by the roots and hang them upside down in a cool, dark space and in a couple of weeks the tomatoes will ripen! I can't wait to try this. 

If you are fortunate enough to have a bounty of tomatoes on your vines he recommends that you sauté them with some olive oil and basil, then puree them and store them in the freezer in zip lock bags to enjoy through the winter months. This base can be blended with goat cheese, chicken broth and/or cream, as well as salt and pepper to create a nice soup that can be served hot or cold. The sautéed tomatoes or can be used to enhance sauces and other dishes with that fresh~from~the~garden flavor.

Here's a refreshing concoction he blended up and garnished with a sprig of smoke fennel and a nasturtium blossom: fresh watermelon, tarragon, a splash of apple vinegar and soda water. This could be spiked with vodka, white wine or grappa if you'd like. Beautiful and tasty.

Thierry is passionate about the incredible local ingredients we have in the PNW, and one of the true gems we are able to indulge in this time of year are Chanterelle mushrooms. These were the toppers of these yummy crostini's he whipped up. This man is currently obsessed with harissa, a flavorful pepper, less spicy than cayenne. For these crostini's he roasted plums and seasoned them with harissa, which he spread on the toasted bread; he topped this combo with sautéed chanterelles and a few leaves of arugula, what a marvelous mix.

Another terrific tip he offered was to pickle freely! He gave his formula for a sweet brine (sorry, I didn't write it down, it included sugar, but you can google to find a recipe that suits your palette) and said that when you make a brine you should double it to have on hand in the refrigerator. When he finds leftover celery or other vegetables in the refrigerator he puts them in a jar with the brine to be enjoyed the next hour, day, week or month. My favorite tip was to brine any leftover rhubarb from the garden to serve for Thanksgiving dinner in place of cranberry sauce, sounds divine.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

perfect breakfast bites, made with ease...

I knew these Salty Date and Almond crisps would have to come home with me when I saw them at The International Food Bloggers Conference, because I could tell they would be the perfect foundation for the ideal simple little bite for breakfast, and they are.

These crisps are loaded with texture, thanks to the abundance of almonds, oats, flax, sesame seeds and dates. I topped them with shards of Beecher's Flagship cheese and then a messy dollop of that jam we made with peaches from the orchard on Orcas. And then, I paired it with the steamy froth of my best homemade latte, of course.

Want to see a couple more highlights from the opening night reception at the IFBC?

This peppered Sockeye on toasted brioche from Bristol Bay Salmon, was so moist and flavorful. They also offered a velvety rich dill & vodka marinated gravlax. 

In general I try to avoid glutens, but if I want to indulge I usually seek out the most "gluten~worthy" pastries and breads I can find, because I have never tried a decent tasting gluten~free treat, until now. 

These gluten~free chocolate salted caramel cupcakes {bottom tier} by Trophy Cupcakes completely satisfied my craving for something sweet and fabulous.  The delicious rich and creamy caramel frosting on top of the wonderfully moist chocolate cake was completely fulfilling, I did not miss a single little gluten. 

For fall, they've created an interesting line of cupcakes flavored with beers, including Tipsy Apple, German Chocolate Stout and Pumpkin Ale. I tried the Tipsy Apple and it was superbly spiced with a refreshing fresh apple finish.