August 25, 2009, 8:51 pm
Filed under: yummy in the tummy

Here in England, the strawberries have gotten their second wind.  Of course, we first see them in June, in time for Wimbledon and its attendant strawberries and cream.  After waiting all winter for them, it’s easy to gobble them endlessly, and simply.

After a brief pause in July to catch their breath, the strawberries are back now, for one grand finale before autumn.  But for me, it’s a dilemma.  I eagerly eat my fill when they first arrive in early summer.  And now, I’d like to do the same — especially since, while strawberries are abundant here, many late summer fruits like peaches and melons are not to be found locally, and also since, well, winter is coming eventually — but, somehow, I’m, oooooh, I can hardly write it!, a little tired of them.

So I am loving two recipes I’ve found this year that put a sneaky twist on strawberries and will keep me craving them till their chilly end.

Strawberry Compote
I saw this this morning on a favorite blog of mine and immediately went to the kitchen to address the two punnets of strawberries that I really should have eaten at breakfast, but…  Its original creator called this quick strawberry jam, but to me it seems more of a compote, so compote it shall be here.  I *love* a fruit compote because it does so much more to dress up my morning yogurt and granola than plain fresh fruit.  So simple, but so yummy.

1 pound hulled strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

In a food processor or with a potato masher, process strawberries until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a large skillet and stir in sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium-high, stirring frequently, until jam is thickened and bubbles completely cover surface, 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer jam to a jar and let cool to room temperature. (To store, seal jar and refrigerate, up to 10 days).


Savoury Strawberry Salad
I don’t remember where on the Internet I originally saw this link earlier this summer, but I love #8 on this list of 10 things to do with strawberries.  It moves strawberries away from the sweet domain of breakfast and dessert.

Make a mixed green salad — try to include some sharp-tasting greens like rocket/arugula.  Add chopped strawberries, at a ratio of about 1 part strawberries to 3-4 parts greens.  Garnish with a crumbled, tangy cheese, such as blue, goat or feta, and toasted sliced almonds.

The vinaigrette ties it all together beautifully:  combine 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard, 1 teaspoon garlic salt (yes, really) and 3 tablespoons diced red onion in a medium bowl; stir to combine and whisk in 3/4 cup vegetable oil or olive oil (extra-virgin preferred). Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.



August 18, 2009, 2:07 pm
Filed under: frocks + finery

Now that I live in England, I have English friends. And when English people get married, one wears a hat to the wedding.  Which means that I have to go shopping.

Having not worn a hat, aside from the woolly kind, since Easter Sunday circa, hmmm, 1983?, I have no idea what will suit me…   But I find myself gravitating more towards headpieces (or hairpieces, really, though not the kind made from hair!).  I hope that counts…








August 11, 2009, 11:26 am
Filed under: yummy in the tummy

Is there anything more festive than cupcakes?  Except, perhaps, for Champagne — in a category all its own — I think not.

cupcakemontagetopbumblebee | butterfly | sunflower | spring | chrysanthemum | sprinkles

Here are the cupcakes I made for our birthday picnic on Sunday.  I used the Magnolia Bakery chocolate cupcake recipe {buttermilk in cupcakes is so brilliant} as well as their Vanilla Buttercream Frosting recipe with a few tweaks of my own {a little more than half the sugar, but twice the amount of milk, which I substituted with cream}.  So delicious!

mycupcakesThis was my first attempt with a piping bag, hence the simple polka dot design.  I found this basic design really easy, so next time I’ll step it up a notch.  My younger sister decorated cupcakes for the bridal shower of our brother’s fiancee, held on the same day back home in Pennsylvania, and really showed me up!


One other thing I learned is that I don’t like using food colouring — the reason for the baby pinks and greens rather than the richer colours I had originally intended to mirror the invitations.  Once I started down the path, it just seemed, well, icky to add chemicals like that after making the effort to make something gorgeous, with real ingredients like free range eggs and organic butter, from scratch.  It got me to thinking of other ways to colour and decorate…  using gourmet candies maybe?


Or fruit, like this:

fruittopsmartha stewart | lily vanilli | enjoy cupcakes

How about colouring frosting with mint extract, or rosewater, like Clothilde of Chocolate and Zucchini did for her August birthday?


A bakery called Enjoy Cupcakes in Los Olivos, California, featured yesterday on Design*Sponge for their great decor AND delicious treats, features a rainbow of goregous, creative natural flavours “inspired by local produce, flavors, wines and respect for food” in their home near the Santa Ynez Valley…they are my new *idols* in naturally-flavoured cupcake creation.


A new menu of flavours is featured all the time.  This week features Chocolate Blackberry Syrah (chocolate, syrah infused cake, filled with dark chocolate belgium fudge, topped with blackberry frosting and a wine soaked blackberry that’s rolled in sugar crystals), Pink Verveine Champagne (bubbly champagne cake, filled with verveine infused pastry cream, topped with fresh raspberry frosting), Subtle Spicy Chocolate (chocolate spice cake, filled with ancho chili & cayenne fudge, topped with a spicy dark chocolate brown sugar frosting), Mandrin Orange Creamsicle (vanilla cake, filled with orange curd, topped with orange buttercream (made with fresh squeezed OJ)), Smores (chocolate cake, layered with buttery graham cracker crumbs & dark chocolate chunks, topped with marshmallow frosting and roasted marshmallows), and Sugar Daddy (vanilla bean cake, filled with vanilla bean caramel, topped with cream cheese frosting – swirled with caramel).  !!!   Amber, *pretty please,* write a cookbook!

Now, what can we celebrate next???

August 6, 2009, 11:00 am
Filed under: making nice

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me….

Today is my birthday, and to celebrate, my gift to you is a little roundup of my favorite gift-wrapping tips. You know, just in case. {What, for me? Oh, you shouldn’t have. Thanks ever so much…}

I firmly believe that presentation counts. In everything. Even the simplest gift becomes more exciting with a little thought put into how you give it. So without further ado…

1. The basics.

2. There are plenty of gorgeous wrapping papers out there — but please, no sparkles and use a matte finish whenever possible.  It looks so much richer.  There are extraordinarily gorgeous options at Liberty.  {But then, don’t you love just about everything at Liberty?}

3.  Use real ribbon.  Not the kind you curl with scissors, and definitely not the kind with a sticky back.  The real, fabric kind.


4.  Once you’ve found that wonderful matte paper {bonus if it’s recycled} and paired it with some real ribbon, consider adopting the combination as your signature.  I’ve been doing this for ages and eventually also read the same tip in Domino {sigh}.  Don’t you love it when you read a tip and you’ve already thought of it yourself?  My signature style is kraft paper, accented by a bit of ribbon from my ever-burgeoning collection. The basic, functional style of the kraft paper is balanced by the luxe feel of proper, lush ribbon, which can be selected to suit the occasion.  And I’m never caught in a last-minute gift-wrapping rush.  {Unless of course I leave the actual wrapping till the last minute.  But that, my friends, is another issue entirely.}

5.  How you tie that ribbon makes a big difference too. My cousin taught me this “under-looping” trick that she learned whilst working at Anthropologie. {Coming soon to London!  More on this later…}

Place your present right-side up. Place the ribbon across the top, long ways, so that an equal amount extends beyond the end of the present on each side. Keeping the ribbon in place, turn over the present and make a simple knot with the ribbon {as if you were tying your shoe} in the center of the bottom of the present. Pull the ribbon ends perpendicularly so that they are now reaching across the short length of the present. Flip the box so it is right side up again.

Now here is the trick: Before tying your second knot, which will be the foundation of the bow, pull the ribbon ends *back under* the first part of the ribbon, so that they come out diagonally from each other. Then tie your second knot, and the bow. This ruches the ribbon in a very pretty way and results in a much more cohesive look.



6.  About that bow…  Add a little extra oomph by tying an extra, short piece of ribbon across the second knot, *before* you tie the bow.  The bow will look like it has four ends, appearing that much more substantial and luxurious.  Remember to hide the short piece under the bow!




Or, forgo the bow entirely, and just style it up with a few short pieces of ribbon.




7.  Try making the packaging part of the gift. For a baby shower I attended last weekend, the mom-to-be really, really wanted baby socks. (Incidentally, those in the know recommend Baby Gap for socks that are super-soft and don’t fall off.  Just in case you’re interested.) I wrapped them up in one of these fabric snack bags — what mom can’t use something good-looking AND waterproof? — and voila!  Much more exciting. And eco-friendly, by the way…

Similarly, try including a couple of complementary tiny gifts along with your main gift — this works especially well with wedding registry gifts.  My cousin (yes, the one of the ribbon advice… hi Katie) asked for a griddle, and she received along with it some gourmet blueberry pancake mix and maple syrup.  My friend Catherine asked for a teapot, and she received an accompanying tea strainer, and a jar of lemon curd — an appropriate gesture, we thought, making its way across the pond from London to New York.

Sunday is birthday picnic day…  on Monday look for a birthday bonus cupcake round-up, along with some photos of what will be my first attempt at fancy icing!