Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Sea of Hydrangea

In a little 'ol parking lot in the city.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Highly Recommended

Recently I received my annual order of leaf lard from my favorite supplier, Dietrich's Meats in Pennsylvania. They make the most luscious lard that comes in these handy one pound containers, shrink wrapped in plastic. I've been getting my precious lard from them for many years, ever since my pie contest winning days. With my latest order I found out from the person on the phone that pie maker extraordinaire, Kate McDermott, also gets her leaf lard from Dietrich's. I'm in good company!




The employee from Dietrich's who took my phone order had an interesting accent that I couldn't quite identify. That sweet and enthusiastic lady on the phone, who I suspect was the proprietor on the company's homepage, emphasized to me the high quality of all their meat products. The animals are well raised and the meat is processed without nitrates or other preservatives. She talked on about buying locally raised foods and the importance of pure ingredients for quality production. She was preaching to the choir and it didn't take any convincing for me to add some samples of their artisan meat to my lard order.
When I unpacked my shipment I could tell immediately that this was the real stuff- hand-made the old-fashioned way. Packed in cotton bags and carrying the strong aroma of an ancient and well-used smokehouse, my boys and the dog couldn't keep their noses away from my sausage samples.

This was not an Oscar Meyer bologna!




Since we love our bacon I ordered a few pounds and I have to say it was by far the best bacon I have ever bought. We have had many kinds of home raised, hardwood smoked and cured bacon from different butchers over the years but this bacon stood out from the crowd. It was almost like a prosciutto it was so beautifully cured and precisely and thinly cut. The color and texture of it testified to the quality of the pig and the processing. Sam and I actually tasted a piece right from the paper. It was tender and delicate like an Italian prosciutto.



I decided that this premium bacon was going to be eaten only as a special treat when its flavor could shine on its own. I cooked it up for BLT's on my freshly made sourdough bread. The flavor of the bacon was delicate and not overly salty and made a delicious sandwich.




I used the leaf lard to make some oven-fried potatoes to accompany our sandwiches. I couldn't help but remember my grandmother at her stove in her northern Minnesota kitchen when I ate this comfort food. Delicious!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Toppers

Over the years that I've spent making the special center-piece cakes for wedding receptions, I have seen quite a few cake toppers. Though cake toppers are not as common as they used to be, they still appear occasionally. Toppers today are never the traditional bride and groom posted seriously on the top of a tower of white wedding cake. Cake toppers these days are meant to be more representational of the actual human bride and groom and their personalities.


This was one of the first toppers I was asked to use. Though at the time I thought it was an extremely odd choice, the classical story of the Frog and the Mouse was incorporated in other parts of the reception. All the children attending had hand-made masks that represented the other characters of the tale. The bridal couple were clearly trying to inject fun and whimsy into their special day. Another example of the thoughtfulness of the details is the hops flowers on this cake- they were added because of the groom's hobby of brewing beer.




Another topper representing the playful personalities of the bridal couple. Butt-pinching is a bit unconventional in a wedding don't you think?






This cake topper was sculpted by a friend of the bride and groom. I'm not sure exactly why a unicorn was chosen but clearly the topper was made with a lot of love for the friends.








Another fun, hand-made topper. Can you guess what the groom's name was?





 I made this topper out of fondant for an outdoorsy couple. The bride worked with wild birds in her job as a wild life naturalist.





This cake topper is actually a pair of salt and pepper shakers. One has a mustache and the other has curvy lips.


This topper was from my Saturday wedding that was clearly a wedding fit for a princess with lots of bling and hundreds of pink roses. I felt this too was quite representational of the whole affair...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cake Collection

This weekend's weddings and cake orders required me to spend two whole days in the kitchen baking over twenty cakes (I lost count) of various flavors and sizes.



Cake Baking Tip:  Wrapping the cake pans with damp strips of cloth like terry cloth, slows down the baking of the edges so that the cakes rise evenly. This makes the cakes flatter on top without the usual center dome.



The reason there were so many cakes was because one bride wanted a collection of mini wedding cakes at her celebration. It took me all day to ice them and the other cake orders I had, much longer than one average size wedding cake.
The largest tier here is eight inches. Most of these cakes are six inches, the top tiers are four inches. She wanted them to each have different decorations and to be all white.


This little one was my favorite. My friend generously let me prowl her garden for white flowers. These lovely double clematis blooms were the perfect size and style for the cake. Thank you, Karen!



Though it was complicated to execute, the idea resulted in a display of simple elegance. I was pleased and I hope the bride was too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Twilight Zone

So, the other day I was in the Twilight Zone.....I mean Costco




And things got a little wonky when I realized that I...was....IN Costco....
....I mean, my own written words, published in a book (okay, only one page, but still!)... and I was right in between Walter Cronkite and Michelle Obama.

{Cue Twilight Zone Music}

Doo-de-doo-doo....Doo-de-doo-doo...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Peonies!

My peonies. When I see the new blooms it's like I'm seeing them for the first time ever.

This variety came with the property. I've seen it every June for nineteen seasons but I don't remember it ever being this beautiful! The pink in the middle!


This is just the common pink variety and yet the ruffliness of the center is so lovely.


I planted this after being inspired by a similar flower at Butchert Gardens in British Columbia. It still slays me whenever it opens and displays its unusual yellow center.




When blown fully open after cutting the colors of the first variety get more subtle, the layers less distinct.


Peonie bouquets in my house make me happy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Kick Off!

This coming weekend is the official start of the wedding season for Fleur Cakes. Though I have done a handful of weddings already this year, one here, one there, starting this weekend the oven will not have a chance to cool off until October. That means it's going to be one hot summer, no matter what the sun does in the Northwest!

I'm afraid to tell you how many weddings I have on the calender because putting it in black and white might make me have a panic attack. But the number is... double digits... and over...{gulp} forty.

The interesting thing is that there are a lot of small weddings. Plenty of big ones but lots of bridal couples seem to be scaling down and are inviting only their nearest and dearest for more intimate gatherings. I haven't tallied the numbers but I think the majority of weddings have under 75 guests and many have only 25. This made it easier for me to consent to another job if I already had one, or two, or....three....weddings for the same weekend.

Another interesting phenomena is the number of nuptial celebrations that aren't having wedding cake. I have always had some weddings with alternative desserts but that trend seems to be increasing. I'm making lots and lots of pies, another strawberry shortcake wedding, and a couple that are dessert buffets of much variety. Cupcakes with a small ceremonial "cutting" cake are still popular too. A new and unusual request recently was for "cake in a jar." We'll see how that one goes!

This weekend kicks off with a variety- first I have a teeny, three-tiered mini wedding cake for a small celebration. On Sunday I have an all strawberry-rhubarb pie wedding with a couple cheesecakes thrown in for variety and later in the evening a challenging two cake wedding- one cake is gluten free and the other is vegan (no dairy or eggs). For that wedding I had to develop my own recipes since I was unable to find any others that met my criteria for taste and texture. Now that I have the recipes nailed down I am confident that the cakes will be just what the bride and groom dreamed of and I can sleep (relatively) peacefully.

As of today I'm all organized with the weekend baking schedule, the supply lists and delivery times. Let's see how many weeks I can maintain this level of sanity, shall we? I'll keep you posted!

Pray for me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Let Them Eat Bread!

When my daughter, the artisan bread master baker, visited last winter, she freshened my sourdough starter and got me on the right track again for making bread. I worked on my bread skills for several weeks and feel I have finally mastered the technique of the soured, long-rise dough. My bread has been coming out of the oven looking like it should every time with a crispy golden crust and an airy, chewy interior.



But now we are spoiled and no one wants to eat soft, squishy, factory made bread anymore.


Last weekend when my oldest son visited he brought me a couple special loaves from a French style boulangerie in the city. This one has caramelized onions and blue cheese.
Katie, it looks to me like after the baker cut the dough with the blade he piled the goodies on top. The onions and cheese were not throughout the dough, just on top. We're going to have to try this method!



This loaf from the bakery had olives and rosemary. Isn't it purty?




After eating sandwiches made with this hearty bread, the way bread has been made forever and so distinctly non-American style, there is just no going back to factory made bread.



Also, I will probably not have to shop for groceries ever again because as long as there is bread in the house no one wants to eat anything else anyway.
I recently read that in the eighteenth century, bread made up three quarters of the French diet. The Swiss also ate primarily bread with their dairy products. Cheese sandwiches and fondue day and night. And we know how hale and hearty the French and Swiss were.

The mono-diet. All carbs. All the time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Girlfriends

So we have a new daughter coming into the family but there are a couple other girls that are also winning hearts around here.




We don't live in a culture where we parents get to pick girlfriends for our sons and examine their dowries, but it doesn't look like we need too.



The girls our sons have brought home are the sweetest, loveliest, and most fun girls ever.



They cook with me in the kitchen, lavish attention on the little brothers and have bonded with the sisters too.



Our boys have good heads on their shoulders after all.



It does this mama's heart good.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Lure of Rhodies

The boys have been taking a writing class and an Ancient Literature class with a tutor in town this year. The home of the teacher has some beautiful landscaping that I get to admire twice a week when I take the boys to class.


Friday when they had their last class I happened to have my camera with me and couldn't resist taking some photos of the rhododendrons which are in full bloom right now.




The property is set back in an area nicely wooded with fir trees. The trees are underplanted with dozens of rhododendrons.





 In their native settings of Northwest mountain forests, rhodies grow in the shady protection of the fir trees. They are adapted to the dry conditions of summer and the snowy blankets of winter.
 

When we first came here to Oregon from the flat land Midwest I was immediately enamored with these evergreen shrubs that flower spectacularly in the late spring. They were the very first thing I planted in my gardens. My native Northwestern friends think they are common but I had never seen shrubs like these before and thought they were so beautiful with their large showy clusters of blooms. In Portland there are many old rhodies as tall as houses.



There are many colors, mostly shades of pinks, lavenders and whites but occasionally deep purples, reds and yellows.  The first summer we were here I heard that rhodies could be dug out of certain areas of the national forest for transplanting. I immediately got a permit and a map from the forest service to dig myself some free rhodies. The permitted areas were along  mountain logging roads where shrubs could be removed to keep the roads clear. I packed up the kids and a shovel and drove for miles on many bumpy  and somewhat dangerous logging roads looking for wild rhododendrons. I never found a single one in the permitted areas. Someone neglected to tell me that all the available plants had already been taken out.


But I quickly learned that buying nursery grown rhododendrons was easy and economical so I started acquiring them at the local plant sales.
This is the first one I planted, under the tall Douglas fir in the front yard, and it is now five feet tall and eight feet wide. I have planted many more over the years.



This year I planted these three near that first one and I'm sure these won't be the last rhodies that I plant. To me they are just irresistible.