Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.

Ornamental Plaster Sculpting, Mural Painting, Faux Finishing, and Imaginative Interior Design.
CLICK ON THE RABBIT ( yes, those are cabinets) TO SEE MY PORTFOLIO, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT MY SERVICES...theartofthehome.com

Thursday, July 28, 2011

My best days always wear hats

I'm a hat girl.  I've always been a hat girl.  My stuffed animals had whole hat wardrobes, when I was a kid.  Born in a different era, or perhaps a country with royal weddings, I would very likely have become a milliner.  Alas, I became a painter/sculptor/decorator/writer, and today, I wore the hat of caterer.  Actually, today I wore a cute little vintage navy blue "chimney sweep", while stepping in as caterer, at a tea for 18 Red Hatters, at Marion's Place (do click here: atmarionsplace.com, for info on this venue!).
Cindy serves a round of seconds, while I take a break from the kitchen to snap a couple of photos.  Mary Flynn, front right, is one of the first people I met in Belle Plaine.  Hers is one of my favorite smiles ever, and unlike some of the others on that list, hers is never elusive.  I asked, and no one at the table has ever seen her without it!

I do this about once every ten years to remind myself why I did not follow in the footsteps of my mom, for whom cooking has not only been her career, but a 24/7 passion.  Today went so well, I could almost forget that making production food is not my idea of fun by day three, and that many times when catering, the stars do not align perfectly, as in the time with the blowing dust, beating sun, and the rather tragic floral ice ring in the punch bowl.  Let's just say that thawed violets in muddy punch is not a pretty picture, even from a distance of 20 years.  Kinda funny, in hindsight, but not pretty.

That's my future piano teacher on the left.  She doesn't know what she's agreed to, yet.  Shhh.  Don't scare her off.

Today, though, the stars did align.  Despite an accident Monday involving the rapid descent of a very large clock that left a very large lump on my forehead, which was still throbbing this morning;  and despite my cohort who, on a mission to retrieve a table top from her dark barn late last night, stepped on the only board with a protruding nail in it in a 4,000 square foot building (don't worry, we really are both fine, thanks); and despite a string of minor snafus in the normally simple production of meringues this morning that led to one very grumpy trip to the grocery store, the stars aligned.  Actually, it was because of that little fiasco that the whole day turned around for me, and the stars clicked into alignment.

I meant to photo all the food before it was served, but I've never been one who lives behind the camera...featured to the left of these ladies is a plate of cucumber sandwiches, or maybe those are smoked salmon...recipes for both at the bottom of this post.

I knew I was being way too harsh on myself.  A whole string of things, including the nail incident, led to the schedule being tight this morning, which made a minor egg incident a disaster of (melodramatic sigh) dire magnitude.  Before I even got out of the driveway, I knew I had to get a different perspective on things, or risk mucking up the day for a lot of other people.  This was a day that 18 women, 20 including Cindy and I, were looking forward to.  These women were out around Belle Plaine this morning, possibly in the very grocery I was on my way to, happily telling people they had plans for tea this afternoon.  These women were trusting that it was going to be a wonderful time, with wonderful food.  Beating myself up was not going to help me make anything wonderful, and I know only too well, how it can do the opposite.  I also know that cooking done with love has real magic in it.  That unseen voice, reminding me that the only cooking worth doing is cooking done with love, was what changed the day.

Chocolate dipped strawberries are sooo easy.  Melt, dip, chill.  Click here for the recipe for crunchy cinnamon toasts. 

With my focus there, things just started flowing smoothly.  I caught the rhythm, and as Cindy graciously greeted the guests at the door, tea water came to a boil.  As she seated them and served Earl Gray and blueberry scones, the cucumber sandwiches piled up on the serving platter, followed by smoked salmon sandwiches, deviled eggs, and matchsticks of carrots and celery in little cups to cleanse the palate in between.  A pot of Irish Breakfast tea followed the Earl Gray, and honey lemonade was poured for those who wanted something cold.

Another photo missed before the food left the kitchen.  The platter of tartlets, which included kiwi and peach, along with the mango and lemon curd pictured on the left-over plate here, was beautifully colorful.
 I'm not surprised the food came out fine.  Since the incident of the weeds in the punchbowl, I know better than to test new recipes on clients (sorry friends, I don't extend this rule to you.  Somebody's gotta be the guinea pigs!).  Maybe I'm not even surprised that the flow of things came out fine.  It was after all the prayer I sent up, the intention I set, as I careened back up the hill with the second carton of eggs.  I'm just so exceptionally, perfectly, blissfully content with the whole experience.

Those pesky meringues.  Someone commented that they look like fried eggs.  Fitting, since the white is egg white, whipped with sugar, and the yellow is made of egg yolks, lemon juice and sugar.  Recipe at the bottom of this post.
 Tea continued into the sweets with crunchy cinnamon toasts, banana muffin bites , dipped strawberries, fresh fruit tartlets (mango-nutmeg, cinnamon-peach, and kiwi, all honey glazed), and those blessed, troublesome meringues, topped with homemade lemon curd.  Each thing landed on the platter just as Cindy was ready to serve it, and with the final pot of Jasmine tea, we coasted to three o'clock, with time for me to come out of the kitchen and visit a bit.  Everyone was relaxed and happy, and stuffed to the gills.

This day started with several perfectly plausible reasons to postpone it, and bumped along precariously for the first few hours.  Cindy, bless her brave heart, let my explosion of expletives at the egg incident fly right past her, and she would have serenely made up for my attitude, and whatever arrhythmia might have come out of it, but thankfully she didn't have to.  Thankfully, I've learned a few things, like to listen to that unseen voice that says, "This day is what you make of it, and you have a chance to make it special for a lot of other people.  Show up with a smile in your heart, cook with love... and wear a really great hat!"

My blessings are great, and I am grateful.


Link to Cinnamon toast recipe is beneath its photo above.

Click here for banana muffin bites.

Tea Sandwiches...
     I make whole sandwiches, then trim crusts and cut in quarters.  The filling for our cucumber sandwiches combines one package low fat cream cheese with a dollop of mayo, a whole bunch of dried dillweed, and a sprinkle of salt.  Spread it thickly on one slice of bread, top with four slices of cucumber, patted dry, then add a second slice of bread spread thinly with the cheese mixture.  Trim and quarter.
     The smoked salmon spread combines one package of reduced fat cream cheese, one tall can of salmon, (bones and skin removed and saved for your favorite cat or dog), a splash of lemon juice, about 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke seasoning, and salt to taste.  This is also really good on crackers.

Tartlet Pastry:  quickly rub one stick butter into two cups of flour and 1/2 cup powdered sugar.  Add a few tablespoons of water until dough will just form a ball.  Pinch off walnut sized balls of dough, flatten in your palms, and press into a mini muffin pan.  Bake shells at 400 degrees for about ten minutes, until lightly brown.
     Two tricks..always sweeten or season the dough for tiny tarts and quiches to compliment the filling. When you have such a small proportion of filling to crust, making the flavor of the crust to fit in with the flavor of the filling keeps the final result from tasting like a mouthful of piecrust with a hint of filling.  Also, press the dough very thin, as these puff up, and can fill the whole tin.

Tartlet Filling:  Chop any fruit you like very fine, drizzle with honey, and stir in a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg, or another herb or spice of your choice.  Allow to sit a few minutes to blend flavors.  Drain excess juice before spooning into tart shells.

Meringues:  Whip four egg whites with two cups of powdered sugar, and a pinch of cream of tarter, or a splash of lemon juice, until very stiff.  This may take awhile.  Room temp eggs and spotlessly clean mixing utensils help speed this.  Put meringue into a pastry bag, fitted with a 1/8-1/4 inch round tip, and linc cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Pipe a circle, then raised sides, about two inches in diameter.  a teaspoon dipped in cold water can be used to help open these nests up a little bit more.  This stuff puffs, so don't fill the center any more than necessary.  Bake in a 250 degree oven for about one hour, fifteen minutes.

Lemon Curd:  In a small saucepan, beat together 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, then add 1/2 stick of butter, and 1/3 cup of lemon juice.  Whisk over medium heat until butter melts.  Continue to whisk CONSTANTLY until it starts to thicken.  Remove from heat immediately and transfer to glass jar or bowl.  Can be stored for up to one month in the refrigerator, unless you have a lemon addict in the house.  If it comes out lumpy, pour it quickly through a sieve while its still warm, to remove the bits of scrambled egg.  Put dollops of this on meringue shells, into tart shells, on crispy cinnamon toasts, over ice cream...

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