Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Making Sugared Blossoms

Beautiful magazines that promote lovely living frequently feature sugared flowers and the instructions for making them. Each spring when my violets and pansies are blooming, I think about how nice it would be to have sugared flowers. The instructions always say to take some egg white, mix with a little water, paint on petals, dip in ultra-fine sugar, and allow to dry. They also give the classic warning about the potential for salmonella, as the egg whites are only dried and not cooked. Food safety is important to me and I don't want to make anything that might cause anyone to get sick. Even though the petals are used mostly for decor, the risk is still too great. I know not everyone will agree with me, and that's alright. I've just dreamed about sugared flowers and tried to think of an alternative way to achieve the same results. Commercial egg white products are available at craft and cake decorating stores that have been pasteurized and are safe for use, but it was challenging and fun for me to find a plant-based, vegan alternative. 

Both egg whites and egg yolks carry risk for this illness. Here's information from the Centers for Disease Control regarding salmonella and egg whites: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/salment_g.htm

Sugared Flowers with Flax Seed Gel

Here are my instructions for making 'food safe' sugared flowers. Be sure to use non-toxic flowers for sugaring.

1. Bring 1/4 cup flax seed and 1 cup water to a boil. Stir occasionally and allow to cook for 3 - 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool. The liquid portion of this mixture will turn thick and have a similar consistency to egg whites. 

2. Don't worry about straining out the flax seeds. I tried and it's too difficult and unnecessary for this application.

3. Use a soft paintbrush and gently wash each petal in flax seed gel. Only paint the top side. If the gel is too thick, stir in a small amount of water. Tweezers are needed to hold the petal without damaging the flower.

4. Once petal is painted, gently sprinkle ultra-fine sugar over the petals. Not much sugar is needed. I thought that about 1/2 the sugar would fall off when the flower dried, so added a little more sugar than really necessary. The sugar did not dry and fall off as expected! About 99% of the sugar stayed on the petals! Flax seed gel is very 'binding'.

5. Set flowers on parchment paper or a hard, flat surface. Do not touch. Allow to dry completely. 

6. When ready to use, take a small, sharp object and/or tweezers and gently remove the blossom and place on cupcakes, cookies, or brownies. A lovely garnish!

7. Next time --- I will sugar a few leaves as well. I left a short stem on each blossom for ease in handling with tweezers. I will probably shorten them next time, although they snipped off easily with a pair of small scissors after blossoms dried.

8. Sugared flowers made by this method keep very well. Store in a small container in a dry place. Mine kept for months.

Today I am linking to Bernideen's Tea Time Blog and Rose Chintz Cottage.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mouse Ear of the Woods

Forget Me Not teacup
Clare Bone China ~ Made in England
These dainty little flowers have the botanical name Myosotis sylvatica which has the adorable meaning "Mouse Ear of the Woods". They are probably better known, though as Forget Me Nots. They can be identified by their five petals, a flat face, and a yellow eye or center. They are commonly baby blue in color, but can also be found in white and pink. They are native to England but can be found in woodland areas in many parts of North America. They are easily cultivated and make a pretty addition to flower gardens. 

The tiny blossoms of this plant are edible and can be added to salads to add variety in color, shape, and flavor. And like violets, violas, and pansies, they can be candied or sugared and then used to decorate baked goods and confectioneries. Excessive ingestion of this delicate blossom is not suggested, as it contains minute amounts of pyrrolizidine, an alkaloid that is found in several common herbs like borage, comfrey, and coltsfoot. Don't let that scare you from trying this tiny blossom, though. Honey, grains, milk, and eggs are also sources where this naturally occurring chemical can be found. Moderation seems to be the key.

Historically, this flower was selected to be the one representing King Henry IV of England. He was exiled in 1398  and holds a colorful and romanticized place in chronicles of the time. It is thought that the flowers represent faithfulness and enduring love because of the life of Henry IV. This English king was the principle in a play written by William Shakespeare entitled "The History of Henrie the Fourth". Such interesting tidbits of history and information can be gleaned simply by researching a simple, blue flower from the garden.

Forget Me Not teacup
Queen's Fine Bone China ~ Rosina China Co. Ltd. ~ Made in England

Finding recipes that use forget me nots as an ingredient in food is uncommon, but the little blue flowers make beautiful decoration on baked goods. They can be arranged on cupcakes or frosted cookies. Cookies decorated with icing sugar "forget me not" flowers are pretty too. Examples can be found on Pinterest and are fun to look at. 

Forget Me Not teacup
Hand-painted Porcelain ~ No Marking

Forget Me Not Cookies
1 egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1/16 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Makes 18 cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Be sure the oven rack is set in the middle position. Prepare cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper.  Whisk egg whites in a bowl until foamy. Slowly add sugar and beat until peaked. An electric mixer works best for the whisking process. Then, fold in salt, chocolate chips, walnuts, and vanilla.  Using a teaspoon, drop cookies on baking sheet. Then place cookies in preheated oven. Close the door and then turn off the oven. Allow cookies to sit in the oven for six to 10 hours. Then, open oven door and remove. Use a metal spatula to remove cookies from the parchment paper.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Spring Mountain & Wildflowers

Buttercup, Dog Tooth Violet, Spreading Phlox, Alpine Parsley, and Grass Widow are early flowers of spring on the mountain. 

With tea thermos' filled, we headed to the mountain. The guys wanted to see if we could get to the cabin, but I was most interested in the wildflowers. After driving through miles and miles of lush, green wheat fields, we reached the mountain base and switched the truck to 4-wheel drive. The roads were dry and we were hopeful we that we could get to the top. But just a couple miles from the summit we arrived at a shady spot and found the road filled with "rotten snow". It was mushy and impossible to drive on top of. After several attempts, and a walk around the bend where deeper drifts were discovered, we decided to turn around. Instead we found a meadow and spent some time walking and looking for wildflowers.

Early spring flowers are usually yellow and purple. As the season progresses, flowers of blue, red, and white become more predominate. I especially enjoy the Grass Widows. They are one of the earliest blooming flowers in our locale and are a member of the iris family. In the valley they start blooming in February. As the months progress, their appearance varies by elevation. Although we call them Grass Widows, their Latin name is Olsynium douglasii. Grass Widows grow in erect clumps of grass-like leaves with round stems that hold the blossom. The flowers are a bright reddish purple (although they do grow white is some locations) with bold yellow centers. They like rocky, moist places to grow. 

The name Grass Widow dates from an expression of 16th century England. It's a term that was applied to unmarried women or to a woman whose husband was temporarily away from her. There is much speculation as to how this term came to be applied to this flower. It may be that the term was applied to the earliest pioneers of the west who enjoyed a tryst in lush fields of this flower in early spring. Or is could be that the flowers were named for explorers and trappers who developed romantic relationships with Native American women they met on their journey through the west.

The Grass Widow is listed as non-toxic, and therefore safe to eat. But, even the animals avoid this flower because it is not at all tasty. Instead, it would best be saved as garnish or decor for a beautiful dessert or bowl of salad greens. It has a tender blossom which doesn't travel well, so garnish for a mountainside picnic is its best use.

Sweet Roses Syrup

Recently I shared my yellow violets syrup. I thought you might like to read about rose petal syrup as well. My roses are not in bloom yet this year, so this is a repost from a past season.

In my rose garden are roses of many colors, but for the syrup I used only the blossoms of red, pink, and lavender.

Harvest them in the cool of the day. My roses are watered overhead by an automatic sprinkler system, so after picking, I turn them upside down and give them a gentle shake to get the water droplets off. Then, remove the centers and stems and discard them.

Bring a kettle of water was brought to a boil. Then turn off the heat on the stove and gently added the petals and lid them. Allow them to cool and sit for about 12 hours. The essence will be strong and fragrant after steeping in the water for this long. Then strain the water from the petals into a large bowl. Strain the rose water again one last time, through a coffee filter this time. Make sure the water is clear and without fragments.

Using a formula similar to the wild yellow-violets syrup recipe, I made the rose syrup and canned it for later use. The beautiful ruby red color looks so enticing! I think it will be fun to use in tea, served on fruit or cake, or as a topping for crepes. I decided to make the rose syrup more syrup-y than the wild yellow-rose syrup, so added more sugar to the recipe. It's so thick and yummy!

And since we are on the topic of roses, may I share a picture of my new roses cake plate? It was stuck on a bottom shelf with trays and bake-ware in a thrift shop. I found it with a sticker that said 10 cents.

I don't really know if it's vintage or not, but if not, it's a good replica. It has a lever that when pushed starts the top rotating and a music box playing HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

After the rose syrup was done, I tried my hand at Rose Plum Jam. I have lots of rose water remaining, so I've placed it in a plastic gallon jug and will be freezing it for inspiration and ideas for another day. How does Darjeeling Rose Jelly sound to you? 

Use floral syrups to sweeten tea, make jellies, stir into a frosting or glaze, or a million other things!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Tree

What Is a Tree? 

What is a tree
Well doubtless he
Who dwells in city streets by choice 

May never know.
But souls that breathe expanding life outdoors
Know trees as brothers, friends; and feel aglow 
With kindred fellowship and common voice. 

Yes, bees do know
And birds have made
The trees their lifelong homes
And what is nearer or more intimately ours than home?

What is a tree? 
The soul of God! 
Whose budding leaves and blossoms in the Spring
Bespeak Creation.
Whose shade in Summer cools
The burning heat of life and brings us peace;
Whose bronzing colors in the Autumn landscape glow
With pride of fruitfulness, God's bounty, man's maturity.
Whose bare strong arms in Winter steadfast hold
Against- the ice and storms of life when courage sags
When green and sap of youth have lost their bold
Firm power and interest lags. 

What is a tree?
Oh! Yes, I know! 'Tis God.
'Tis His own way to speak His majesty,
His voice, His power, His love, His mystery.. 

G.T. Dunlop

Friday, April 26, 2013

For Calming

Funky Fennel Tea

This tisane works as a gentle digestive and calmer of nervous and anxious stomachs. Green fennel seeds work best, but brown or gray work well too. If you have green fennel fronds, they also work well for this tasty beverage.

2 - 4 Tbsp. fennel seeds (or a handful of fennel greens)
4 cups of boiling water
Honey or stevia for sweetening

Use a mortar and pestle to bruise the fennel seeds so that they release their fragrance. If using fresh fennel greens, squish them in your hands.

Place the seeds or greens in a teapot. Cover with boiling water and steep for about ten minutes. You can steep longer if you desire a stronger tea. Because this is a tisane, it will not become bitter with a longer brewing time.

Serve hot or cold. Sweeten if desired, but fennel has a natural sweetness that you might enjoy all alone.

Simple Floral Syrups

In the early summer, the violets carpet the woodland property around our cabin in many places. They seem to thrive in small areas of clearing and in clusters under evergreen trees. The lavender violets are not as prolific, but the yellow ones scatter the forest floor like little beams of sunshine! They are tiny, but abundant. Awhile back, I decided that I should try my hand at a new recipe and make some violet syrup. 

It is no small feat to pick two cups of yellow violet blossoms. They are tiny, delicate, and do not grow in clusters of blossoms. So, one by one, I picked the precious little bits of gold and put them in a secure zip-lock bag. The entire time, I kept one ear and eye tuned to the woods around me (and I didn't wander far away from the fence builder!) so that I could be aware and alert for wild animals like cougars and bears. My dog was my companion and together we enjoyed a yellow violet collecting walk through the woods. At first I used scissors to snip, but found it quicker and faster to bend and pinch with my fingers. By afternoon's end I decided there was enough for a cooking project and put the bags in the ice chest to stay cool.

Of course it was late when we arrived back home, and I was not in the mood to stay up and make violet syrup! To protect the delicate blossoms, I placed them in quart jars and filled them with water. Once lidded, they were placed in the refrigerator so they cold stay fresh and cool.

The next day I started the syrup-making process and a beautiful, golden syrup was the result.

Gracious Hospitality's Yellow-Violets Syrup

3 cups yellow-violet water
[made from two cups violets and three cups water]
6 cups organic sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Gently wash the violets blossoms and drain. Place in a mixing bowl. Heat three cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat and gently pour over the violets. Cover immediately and allow to cool for 24 hours. Use a paper coffee filter to drain (1/2 cup at a time) the water into a small container. Toss away the violets and save the violet water. 

Place violet water in a saucepan. Add sugar. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice (it will bring out the natural color of the violets, enhancing the syrup's appearance). Remove from heat. 

If canning, fill sterilized jars to the brim. Cap and process for 10 minutes in a water bath. Make pretty labels that say Yellow-Violets Syrup and attach one to each jar. Cap with a paper doily. Add a pretty ribbon or raffia to decorate. 

Makes 8 jelly jars of syrup.

The flavor is delicate and delicious. May be used to enhance lemonade or iced tea, or for a topping for a frozen dessert. Great with fruit. Also, a delicious sweetener for a cup of hot tea. Violet syrups are high in vitamin C and have been said to be beneficial and soothing for sore throats.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Charming Petals for Garnishing

Squash Blossom Potato Salad

8 - 10 potatoes, cooked, peeled, and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 can black olives, sliced
1 onion, diced
1 orange or red pepper, diced
2 - 3 dill pickles, chopped
1 cup extra-firm tofu, cubed OR boiled eggs
salt, to taste
sweet basil, dried, to taste
1 cup Veganaise (or mayonnaise as desired)

Mix all ingredients together. Adjust seasonings to your taste. 
Serve in a squash blossom and enjoy!

Squash blossoms and pumpkin blossoms are edible and taste somewhat like uncooked squash. They should be washed and trimmed to remove stems and stamens. They can be breaded and fried, added chopped to foods like scrambled eggs, and are tasty in soups and fillings.

Here's an interesting article with quotes from a restaurant chef. He shares some excellent ideas for using squash blossoms in cooking; plus some recipes!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flowers for Tea

The dianthus is a beautiful flower that's sometimes called "carnation". It also goes by the name sweet william or pinks. There are more than 100 varieties of this perennial. The name dianthus is Greek and means "heavenly flower". Dianthus grows well in soil that drains, that's neutral or slightly alkaline, and that is in full sun. It has a flavor that is spicy, peppery, and clove-like, making it especially useful as a pretty addition to a green, garden salad or spreads and dips. The dianthus is the birth flower for people born in January.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Australia, Tea & Friendship

Relationships and connections are important to me. I think that's one reason that I enjoy the practice of taking tea. Afternoon tea with a friend provides opportunity to connect, communicate, and share. Research shows that relationships are extremely important in health and longevity. I'm glad for teatime moments with friends. These times are a special blessing.

And how fun is it to help connect your friends from different parts of your life! The story goes like this. My friend, Hazel, has been my buddy since we met in a religion class when we were freshmen in college. The class met at 7:30 am and our professor was a New Testament theologian. Somehow Hazel and I became friends in those early-daytime hours of deep thought. That friendship has remained over many years. She is one of those forever friends. The kind that you know will love you until the day you die. Recently she told me that she was going on a humanitarian mission to the Solomon Islands. On the way home, she was going to visit Australia and New Zealand. 

This reminded me of my friend, Susanna.

Susanna is a more recent friend. We met online through a group interested in educating kids. She is super friendly and most interesting to visit with. And, Susanna lives in Australia! So, I thought it would be fun to hook Hazel and Susanna up. Hazel contacted Susanna, saying she was a friend of mine. And things took off from there. In the end, Susanna and her family hosted Hazel and her travel companions for four adventurous days! Susanna is a tour hostess of excellence! From her heart, and because of friendship, she provided beds, breakfasts (and lunches and dinners), and tours of Sydney and surrounding areas. Train travel, ferry rides, foot travel, museums, aquariums, China town, gardens, and so much more were crammed into a few short days. Amazing energy, instant friendship (Hazel and Susanna), and fun times were had. Too soon (for them), the journey ended and Hazel's group returned home.

Yesterday Hazel and I met for a four-hour lunch and tea, because we had a lot to talk about and catch up on!

Hazel is my friend who does not like tea. Susanna made it her mission to get Hazel to try some while in Sydney. So, over lunch in China town, she made sure to provide Hazel with a cup of Jasmine Green Tea. She documented it with photo and sent it out by Facebook immediately! Hazel is such a good sport!

We met for lunch at a restaurant whose theme centers around farm and western decor and food. I was quite sure they wouldn't offer Jasmine Green tea, so I brought my own! Stash Jasmine Blossom Green Tea in convenient tea bags were produced from my purse; the waitress kindly brought us mugs and hot water. Instructions were given to Hazel to steep it "only one minute" because I thought she might actually enjoy it if it was gentle and weak. And she did! We visited. I listened to stories of Hazel's travel adventures. We talked about Susanna (who is coming to American next year, so we have some planning to do!). The hours flew by quickly!

And Hazel brought gifts from Australia. Beautifully wrapped, she presented me with a lovely tea kit from Susanna. It's paired with an Australian tea towel from Hazel. The tea is by Tea Tonic and is named Australiana Tea. The tin says that it is cool, dry, vast and a whole lot of soul. It contains lemon myrtle, sage, and eucalyptus leaf.

This morning, tea was taken on the porch. I paired my Australiana Tea from Susanna with the tea towel from Hazel. In my cupboard was a mug of Australian Roadsigns (featuring Australian animals like wombats, crocodiles, koalas, kangaroos, echidnas, emus and camels) that was brought home to me by Dad and Alma on a trip they took to Australia in the past. The tea was delicious! The sage, very evident, giving it a surprisingly nutty taste. With notes of eucalyptus in the background, the cup is accented by lemon myrtle. This was a wonderful way to wake up and take on the day!

Thank you for the lovely gifts, Hazel and Susanna!

Monday, April 22, 2013

A Very Impromptu Tea!

It was a mixed day of sunshine, rain, clouds, and brisk breezes yesterday. But the sunshine ruled for most of the day. Garden gloves, pruners, and a wheelbarrow were gathered to help me as I trimmed roses and lavender, pulled weeds, and spiffed up the flower beds. 

Nearly done, I went into the house for a glass of water and discovered a missed call on my phone. It was my friend, Tari. I called her back and she said she'd be passing by my house in about half an hour and asked could she stop by. Of course!

I swiftly changed my focus from gardening to making afternoon tea. It was definitely impromptu, plus! It was the end of the week-end and there wasn't a single slice of bread in the house! Time was of essence! I was about ready to resort to "just tea" when I remembered my blogging friend, Tammy, from T's Daily Treasures. She always creates simple and delicious looking tea times. So, I decided to create like Tammy! She truly inspired me.

Old London Melba Toasts and Wasa Rosemary Flatbread were in the pantry. Peanut butter and raspberry jam were found and spooned into little glass containers. Almonds, walnuts and dried apricots made a pretty mixture in Turkish nut bowls. And there was oatmeal cake that was quickly cut into squares and plated.  Adagio Sonata Ceylon was brewed and poured into a teapot and Tari's favorite teacups were found. She'd given them to me for a birthday one year, and when we have tea together, I always use them.

Things were ready to carry out to the porch table when she arrived. Whew! That was a quick put-together! Although it wasn't proper, nor fancy, it was wholesome and a perfect accompaniment to tea. We chatted for an hour or more, soaking in the sunshine, enjoying the tea time snack and friendship.

At some point during our tea time, our family pets found us, one by one. Two dogs and a cat, just hoping for a tasty morsel! So patient and quiet, yet with eyes one could not resist! The pets enjoyed tea time too!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Blossom & Bear

The ornamental crabapple blossoms are so pretty in vibrant pink! I decided to bring some inside and pair them with a pink blossom teacup and saucer so I could enjoy them in the house. Dusty miller provided some contrast to the vibrant pink and bright green leaves. The arrangement is more whimsy and casual than symmetrically formal or elegant. But, it was fun to create!

The pictures are of my Blossom Bear. She's just the right size to sit on a chair and to look pretty on display, but she's really not stylish any more. Trends have changed from the days when bears were so ultra-popular. But I don't mind. She is special to me. My mother made her about twenty years ago. The fabric is an embroidered 1950's luncheon tablecloth that had been a wedding gift to my parents. Mom kept it as such for about 40 years. Then she decided to re-purpose it by dying it pink and using it to make a bear out of. She strategically positioned the embroidery on the body and face so that it would be featured well. Isn't she sweet? I thought you might like to see her. I love Blossom Bear because she has become a family heirloom.

Are you familiar with the crabapple tree? I have memories of my father raving over how good crabapples were. My grandmother would stew them or can them in his childhood and he developed a fondness for crabapples that has never gone away. I like them too, but not well enough to put up with their messiness in the lawn when the apples fall. So, our crabapple tree is ornamental. The apples are very small; similar to berries. They are a popular ornamental tree used in landscaping, having beautiful blossoms that announce spring so loud and clear! Their blossoms are beautiful even before they open. The bud stage is called "balloon". Flowers in the balloon stage are often a different color than the open blossom. The leaf colors can vary from tree to tree.

Today I paired this teacup with Blossom Bear and my ornamental crabapple blossoms (top photo; lower photo is shown with dogwood blossoms).  The teacup and saucer are Peach Blo Limoges, Silver Moon pattern. They are American made and feature a square plate with scalloped corners. The teacup and saucer are platinum trimmed with a pale pink background and have pastel blossoms and foliage. It was manufactured from the 1920's to the 1940's.

The tea is Adagio's Ceylon Sonata, a black tea from Sri Lanka. Grown on the Kenilworth Estate, it is fresh, citrusy in aroma and has the sweet, juicy notes of mandarin peel or grapefruit. It is quite balanced in astringency and has a refreshing, smooth texture.

It's been fun to look around my house and the garden, finding things that go with this and that. Today is the day for pink! I hope it is a wonderful one for you!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Help One Another

"Help one another is part of the religion of our sisterhood."

Louisa May Alcott

The lilacs are blooming! I love their fragrance as it fills the air. To me this signals the beginning of one of the most beautiful times of the year. Let the flowers bloom!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Weaving Studio

A trip to town took me to a shoe shop to look for a new pair of sandals for summer. It was a fruitless search in that regard, but it was a beautiful day, so I enjoyed some window shopping while I was out. As I was walking from store to store I noticed a sign pointing to a fiber shop on a side street. Colorful balloons fluttered in the breeze, doing their task at attracting attention to the arrow pointing "this way".

I was curious, as I'd never known of a fiber shop in town before. What a treat! The sign directed me to Sue's Weaving Studio. Inside the shop were handwoven goods of original design. Sue specializes in wool and rag rugs, wall hangings, tea towels, mats, and runners.

It was evident that Sue has a gift and a passion for the art of weaving! She shared that "when so much of modern life is overwhelming, weaving provides a sense of peace and harmony". I think she's right. Although I don't weave, I can remember watching my own mother work with the rhythm of a loom as she created mats and towels. They are cherished items in our family's linen closets. There's something about the repetition of motion and the click-clack of the shuttle as the weft is woven through the lines of the warp that create a feeling of well-being.

Setting up a loom for weaving involves wrapping the warp thread around a beam at the back of the loom. It is threaded in a specific order through the loom's harnesses and heddles, then through the reed in the beater and tied to the front of the loom.

Weaving is performed to a natural rhythm that flows from the repetitive raising and lowering of the harnesses and the thumping of the beater bar.

Sue teaches classes to adults and children. Additionally, she creates items to order and has some of her work available for sale in her show room. She was friendly and inviting during my visit.

The pattern reminded me of a musical score. It takes talent to read!

A loom was set up in the showroom, specifically for those who dropped in to try their hand at weaving. By the time the woven item is created it truly will be a communal work of art!

The combination of color, pattern, and texture work together to create a unique, one of a kind item. Sometimes the results even surprise the designer and creator of the woven project!

The journey down the side street resulted in reprieve amidst a busy day. I think it's true that colors, textures, and the soothing sound of the repetitive click and clack of a loom do provide one with a sense of peace and harmony --- even if someone else is the one weaving and you are the observer. The experience made the afternoon so pleasant.