Wednesday, February 29, 2012

and George...

I am in an organizing fervor right now and just ran across Christy Ford's business card.  I had stopped in to say Hi before Thanksgiving at her gorgeous shop, And George, on Ivy Road in Charlottesville.

The shop is a mother-daughter effort, brimming with antiques, 

one-of-a-kind finds,

great furniture like this custom American Black Walnut table,

this antique French settee,

William Yeoward crystal,

art from Abby Kasonika,

an array of captivating textiles and accessories,

and of course, George.

Visit And George by clicking here.  You can also visit And George at the on-line shopping street, Taigan by clicking here.

Jennings and Gates has received no compensation for this post.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Not-so Plain Vanilla

I love good vanilla.  Did you know, it is actually one of the most expensive spices in the world?  Only saffron is more precious.  Thomas Jefferson ignited the American love affair with vanilla when he brought 200 vanilla beans home from France in the late 1700s. 

Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid.

The plant must be hand pollinated for cultivation.  The flower opens in the morning and closes in the evening, never to reopen again.  If it is not pollinated, the flower will shed the next day.

When the vines are about 10 ft. long, the plant will begin producing pods, which are hand picked and cured in another labor and time intensive process until the resulting bean

looks like this.  Then the beans are graded according to length, color, sheen, the presence of blemishes or splits and moisture-content.  The entire cultivation process can take 5-6 years.  

Mexican vanilla is derived from a thicker, darker bean and is known for its stronger, creamy, spicy flavor.  It complements the flavor of cinnamon, and can help reduce the acidity of tomato-based dishes.  

Tahitian vanilla is lighter and very aromatic.  I love its light, fruity flavor with cherry overtones.  I use it when I'm making fruit-based desserts and sauces.  Prized by pastry chefs.   

Madagascar Bourbon vanilla, is sweet, smooth, and mellow and is great in ice cream, rich custards and batters.  For greater staying power in coffee or chocolate recipes, I use a mix of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla and Indonesian Vanilla.  I also like this blend when I'm making cookies because I've found that under high heat, it keeps the best vanilla flavor.

Ever wonder what to do with those little vials of vanilla beans you see in specialty markets?  One bean will go a long way.  I use the entire bean.  

First, cut the vanilla bean in half length-wise, and scrape out the oily seeds to use them in recipes.  When you are making a cake or cookies, drop the seeds (or add liquid vanilla) into your mixture at the point where you are incorporating the butter.  The beans will mix better and the fat encapsulates the vanilla so it holds up better in the baking process.

The remaining pod can be tossed with sugar to create vanilla sugar, which is heavenly in coffee or tea, or almost any recipe calling for sugar.  In the Lemon-Vanilla Cake recipe below, you can substitute vanilla sugar for the granulated sugar.

Then, make your own vanilla extract.  Place the vanilla bean in a glass jar with an airtight lid with 3/4 cup of good vodka.  Let it sit undisturbed for a month.  When the liquid looks golden and smells like vanilla, remove the vanilla bean and strain the liquid through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a bottle or jar.  Use this extract in any recipe calling for vanilla extract.

Then, rinse off the bean and let it dry completely at room temperature.  When it has dried, grind it in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir the grounds into 2 cups of confectioners or granulated sugar.  Strain out the grounds and save them, and use the vanilla sugar as above.

In the morning add the vanilla grounds on top of the coffee in your filter.  As the hot water passes through, your coffee will be infused with a wonderful vanilla aroma.

Nielsen-Massey, a family owned and run business in Waukegan, Illinois, USA has been making vanilla products since 1907.  Consumers, thankfully, are becoming insistent about not putting pesticides and chemicals into our bodies through the foods we eat.  The company has responded by offering their Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla in an Organic form, using organically grown vanilla beans and organic alcohol.  The vanilla is produced using a cold extraction process, instead of a chemical extraction process.  The result is creamy, sweet, smooth and healthy.  You can find it by clicking here.  

Lemon-Vanilla Cake

1/2 pound of softened unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar or vanilla sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/3 cup grated lemon zest (about 6 large lemons)
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (please use fresh lemons not bottled juice or the kind in the little plastic lemon.  It will make a huge difference in the flavor of this cake)
3/4 cup buttermilk at room temperature
1 teaspoon excellent quality pure vanilla extract or paste.

For the glaze:

2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Make the cake:  Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Grease two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans.  

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup lemon juice, the buttermilk, and vanilla and also set aside.  

Cream the butter and 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, one at a time, and the lemon zest.

Now add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the batter, beginning and ending with the flour. Divide the batter evenly between the pans, smooth the tops, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a cake tester just comes out clean.  Do not overbake.

While the cakes are baking, combine the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar with the remaining 1/2 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.

When the cakes are done, let them cool for 10 minutes, then invert them onto a rack set over a tray, and spoon the lemon syrup over the cakes. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Make a glaze:

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a bowl, mixing with a wire whisk until smooth. Pour over the top of the cakes when they are completely cool, and allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides

Jennings & Gates has received no compensation for this post.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Outdoors In

I love this Anthropologie mural wallpaper.  Have any of you tried it yet?  I would be very interested to hear about your experience with it.  This would be a spectacular solution for a foyer, hallway, bedroom or above a chair rail in any number of spaces, if it indeed works.

A roll is 144" x 108" and covers 60.75 square feet.  It has a Sure-strip backing so it can be applied without paste and is apparently, easily removable.

What do you think?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Home as a garden

These are my favorite quotes from Alexandra Stoddard's book, "Choosing Happiness."  I suggest you first scroll down and click on the stunning arrangement of Joy, then scroll back up and read the quotes.  Have a beautiful, happy weekend!

"Is there anything as sensuous or as beautiful as being outside in a garden in full bloom?"

"Houses, like gardens, need our watchful eye, sunshine and nurturing.  The houses where we live don't thrive on benign neglect.  Living abundantly requires lots of loving energy."

"Your home as a garden is a private refuge."

"This is the tiny space you occupy and maintain on earth, your soil to cultivate.  It is sacred." 

 "Make your home a garden so breathtakingly beautiful that you inspire happiness in everyone you welcome in."

"Plant your seeds and cultivate your own garden.  Everyone who does so is wise, because happpiness is centered here."

"We might not have Monet's talent for painting masterpieces, but we can transform our personal environent into a sensuous, happy, colorful retreat, a place that is so pretty, so cheerful and pleasing, that our personal environment becomes our sanctuary."

"Our house becomes a home when we love it.  Our home can always be in bloom, full of springtime, fresh beginnings, plants growing and happiness flowering."

"Paradise is right here, right now, day by day."

"Our homes are our ideal earthly paradise.  Give your home your all, feed it with beauty, color and light; treat all your objects with respect and dignity, knowing you are only a temporary caregiver."

All quotes are from one of my favorite books, Choosing Happiness by Alexandra Stoddard.  Click the book to learn more about it.

I don't know who this is, but this gorgeous arrangement of Joy is played by ear with no score.

To all of you who follow our blog, or have taken the time to leave kind, funny, insightful and heartfelt comments, or have sent Jennings or me e-mail, thank you very, very much.  We appreciate you, and are happy and grateful to have had the pleasure of meeting you.

Images: 2. Via 4. Alexandra Stoddard via Country Living, Photographed by Keith Scott Morton 6. Alexandra Stoddard via Country Living, Photographed by Keith Scott Morton 7. Veranda 8. Veranda 9. Roger Muhl 10. Martha Stewart 

Monday, February 13, 2012

You've Got Mail

I watched a movie last night in which our modern-day heroine finds herself transported, shag hair cut and all, into Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  The story frequently moves forward with the delivery of a letter.  [Edit: My stationery above- Crane & Co.]

I thought about some of history's famous letters- Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt, Walt Whitman to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the same to Henry David Thoreau.

How fortunate we are to have the perspective left to us by first-person accounts of events through letters.

Leo Tolstoy to Valeria Arsenev

Do you write letters?  Do you have a favorite pen or paper?  Paper is classified by its thickness, either pounds per ream (lb.) or grams per square meter (gsm).  An ink-jet or laser printer can generally process paper up to 28 lb., so stationers suggest that personal writing paper be weightier, 32 lb. or more, to distinguish it from common copy paper.

100% cotton paper is more durable and long lasting than paper made of wood pulp, and is the best possible paper for social stationery.  Crane & Co. Stationers has been providing the 100% cotton paper for United States currency since 1776.

Victor Hugo to Adele Foucher

Beautiful pens, stamps, letter openers, and a letter rack or antique toast rack, can turn the process of writing and receiving letters (and other mail) into a graceful ritual.  Find this handsome Pewter Letter Openerhere.  

The post office has some very pretty bonsai stamps right now.  I try to stock up when they have a pattern I like.

Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning

This travel writing desk in calfskin and cherry wood is from Pineider, and contains 14 fountain pen nibs of various sizes, a dip pen, a black ink well, a leather notebook, Pineider writing paper, envelopes and water-cut cards.  It is available in 3 leather colors, with or without personalization.

Pens come in such a vast array of sizes, shapes, colors and ink types, that it's often less overwhelming to just use whatever plastic disposable is handy.  Since it isn't an essential purchase, however, why not have fun being on an unhurried hunt for a favorite pen, one that is most "you?"  It took me years to find a pen that I like, writes smoothly, and feels good in my small-ish hand.  Expensive isn't always better, either.  One famous designer buys Skilcraft Alpha Elite gel pens in blue by the dozen at the drugstore. 

You'll narrow your options considerably if you first decide whether you prefer a fountain pen, a rollerball or ball point for your lifestyle and writing style.  Then decide if a fine, medium or broad line looks best with your handwriting, and finally what color ink you like best.  

I tend to look a boringly long time for something I like, then keep it ad infinitum (or, in the case of sunglasses, until I sit on them) so I have just one pen and use one ink, Levenger fountain pen cartridges in Empyrean.  It's a rather sober blue/black color, but it feels warmer to me than pure black, and is still functional for all day, every day writing.


Images:  1. Jennings & Gates 2.  Mont Blanc "Ingrid Bergman" pen 3.  Crane & Co. 4.  Levenger 5.  Tiffanys 6.  Amazon  7.  Mrs. John L. Strong 8. Pineider 9. Antique Pens 10. Mont Blanc