Saturday, February 22, 2014

Flowing waters ...

I get giddy over gardens and completely spellbound by the soothing sounds of flowing water. We thoroughly enjoy the restful ambiance our little fountain provides, and the birds love to have fresh water available for drinking and warm weather bathing.

This is our little fountain garden with two varieties of salvia surrounding our fountain.
There is a bubbler on top, four spouts for pouring and a shallow pool below.
Photo by Alamodeus.


We've seen some beautiful, yet simple fountains on our travels abroad. I particularly love the public fountains in France and Italy. My favorites are often simple copper faucets pouring delightful, cool water into a stone basin.


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Beautiful iron escutcheon faucet (left) and Provençal water spigot (right.)

I guess I have always been drawn to water, even naming my company's first luxury body product line 'ACEQUIA.' The word is Spanish for aqueduct, and there are seven gravity-flow acequias in San Antonio covering over fifteen miles. These waterways, constructed by missionaries and Indians, brought life-giving water to the original Mission settlements, including The Alamo.

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I've often thought I would like to see an acequia constructed on our property along our dry creek bed. I have saved the photo above to inspire its design with the water coming to rest in a shallow pool. There is an acequia similarly constructed, lined with concrete and stone, at the San Antonio Botanical Garden. Ah, bliss!




This little piggy went to market ...

I'm a serious carnivore, and that translates into charcuterie love! The French term 'charcuterie' (shar-KOO-ter-ee) is the craft of preparing, curing and cooking ham, bacon, sausages, pâtés, terrines and confits to preserve their beauty and taste. But, the recent charcuterie boon has grown to include beef, poultry and even seafood.


Da Rosa bucherie on rue de Seine, Paris. 

My first exposure to these incredible meats were visits to bucherie shops in Paris and Rome's norcineria and macelleria shops.

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But, it wasn't until our local farmers' markets began an earnest introduction into charcuterie that I became a huge fan. 

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Two of my favorite vendors at Pearl Farmers' Market are out of Austin: Kocurek Family Artisanal Charcuterie and Dia Due Butcher Shop. Their artisanal salumi, pancettacured sausages and prosciutto can't be beat.

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What goes on a charcuterie board is really about personal preference. A variety of cured pork, accompanied by two or three cheese offerings and rustic bread accounts for the staples. I like to have something unexpected like pickled artichokes and a sweet component like fruit and a jam or jelly, too.

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My dear husband crafted the most beautiful cheese board for me, and spring is in the air. So, it's time for a soiree where wine, good friends and an ample spread of charcuterie starts the outdoor entertaining season.



Sign language ...

I could say, "I was looking for a sign from above." Trying to find some creative inspiration for placing the table name cards at our daughter's upcoming wedding reception was a bit of a challenge.

Images (clockwise from top left) via Resource, Flourish, Paper Tastebuds, and Evermine.

I found lots of cute ideas with wood and wire, metal clasps, photo frames and easels. But, nothing spoke to the bride-to-be or this MOB (mother of the bride.)

Images above via The Knot (left) and Wed Society (right).

I knew one thing for sure ... there would be NO sign stuck in the floral arrangements. Call it a pet peeve, but every time I see a table number propped above a centerpiece, I feel like I'm judging a flower show. (Should I vote for arrangement 18 or 5?) My rule is to avoid this placement at all costs unless I'm hosting a gala with a hundred tables.

My other peeve is the use of table numbers at all when it comes to intimate functions. (Never, never!) I'm sure there is always someone offended by being placed at Table 12 instead of Table 2, so I prefer table names.

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

Finally, inspiration struck, and I decided to use some of my wine bottle corks to create the sign stands. Amazing what can be fashioned with corks, hot glue gun and twine.

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

All that's needed is a small dab of hot glue near the bottom of the cork.

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

Press one glued cork to another to make a pair. Make three pairs of glued corks so that you have a total of six corks. (Four might do, but six gives it more stability.)

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

Wrap twine around the cork pairs, tie into a knot and trim excess twine.

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

The look is vintage and rustic. Perfect for the vintage garden party scheme.

DIY cork table sign holders by Alamodeus.

Using table names meaningful to the bride and groom, we designed and printed the table signs on linen cardstock, trimmed and placed the sign between the corks. I threw a little floral arrangement together just to gauge the size relationship between the signs and the centerpiece, knowing our actual flowers will be taller, more colorful and full.

Works for me and the bride has given her blessing. Another project to check off my wedding 'to-do' list!



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tantalizing tile ...

I'm smitten with Arabesque beveled tile! I happened upon these beauties as I was searching for new kitchen flooring. But, flooring was the last thing I was thinking about after setting my eyes on these swoon-worthy tiles.


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I love the variation on the standard lantern shape, and I must say that the white glazed ceramic wall tile has won my heart.

 

As the name implies, Arabesque Beveled Tile definitely flaunts its seductive Moroccan design roots in the photos above, via Home Depot (left) and Mosaic Tile Stone (right). Well, that works. I'm hooked!

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But, there's more here than bright white. Cool blues have me swooning as well.

  

Images above via The Design House (left) and Indulgy (right).

I know you're thinking of cleaning all that grout. Me, too. But, can these tiles measure up with dark grout or in other shades? Oh, yes!

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Ooooh, just look at these kindred spirits. Matte finish, dark grout and a natural palette make for earthy pleasure.

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It's not just about a single color palette, because I love variegated shades, too. It's also that shapely allure. Call me superficial, but I love these Arabesque Bevel tiles for their physical beauty. Now, if I just didn't have to pay for them to come home with me!




Good to the last drop ...

Wine makes me happy! No, not drink-to-excess happy, but appreciative happy. From the vintner engaged in making the wine to those patient sommeliers who share their knowledge and point me to the most distinctive varietals, I'm delighted to indulge in some heaven-sent fruits of the vine crafted and selected by dedicated experts.


There is such an art to selecting wines, and I still have much to learn. But, the internet is a great place to start with oodles of wine education info-graphics.


Learn to navigate the wine world from Wine Folly with this chart that covers every type of wine imaginable. Click on 'Types of Wine by Style and Taste' above to enlarge the graphic. 


Ever wonder what those wine enthusiasts see when they swirl their glass? A lot is told through the wine's coloration, like its body and age. The experts at Wine Folly know a thing or two about the distinguishing characteristics found in that goblet. (You can click and enlarge this one, too.)

My apologies, I have no idea when or where I came across this info-graphic.

Sometimes, wine pairings are tricky. Thankfully, I keep this chart I found online at the ready (not that I pay all that much attention to wine protocol unless guests are coming for dinner.) I generally adhere to white wines with seafood and poultry, and reds with beef. But, I love to try new wines every chance I get.

I've created glassware from saved bottles, and now I'm using my collection of corks to craft bases for wedding reception table signs. I'll share photos next week of this project du jour! 

Cookbook bonanza ... Red Onion and Gruyere Pie

I love cookbooks and trying out tantalizing recipes. After completing my kitchen repainting, I decided to organize my cookbook collection and all those pesky little recipe clippings. Lo and behold, I came across this amazing dish using my absolute favorite cheese - Gruyere.

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What could possibly be better than sweet onions, savory cheese and buttery, flaky crust? Okay, maybe chocolate, but sometimes it's best to visit other delicious treats.

RED ONION AND GRUYERE PIE RECIPE

Pie crust:

2 1/2 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon thyme, just the leaves
2 sticks butter (1 cup), cold and cubed
1/4 cup ice water

Filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, sliced
1/4 red cabbage, shredded
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon thyme, just the leafs
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups gruyere, grated

For Crust: Place flour, salt and thyme in a bowl. Add the butter and use your fingers to mix it all together. You should end up with a coarse and grainy mixture. Add the water and mix well.

Wrap dough in plastic and cool for 1 hour. Roll it out to a large circle, then, transfer it to a baking dish covered with baking paper.

For the Filling: Heat the oven to 350F. Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onions until soft. Add cabbage, water, thyme, vinegar and sugar. Let the mixture simmer on medium heat until almost all the liquid has cooked away.

Spread the mixture on the pie crust and sprinkle with cheese. Fold all the sides of the crust over, so it forms a nice pie. Bake in the oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden.

Note: May be served warm or cold.  Serves 4.






Saturday, February 8, 2014

From bouquets to botanical art ...

Maybe it's the wedding planning, but I seem to be having lots of botanical desires. Weeks of searching online and in magazines for wedding bouquet and table centerpiece inspiration has given me a serious case of 'flower brain.'

Plans for our daughter's vintage garden wedding are coming along beautifully. You can check out our Pinterest pins here. There's an upside to my wedding shopping: I've found other treasures during my hunt for vintage vases at one of my favorite thrift stores. I came across a set of eight framed botanical prints. Scored!

Yellow wall paint with botanical prints via Alamodeus.


I think they look lovely in my freshly painted breakfast room above. (By the way, if you follow this blog you'll see the butter yellow wall paint I selected for my kitchen/breakfast area.) I completed the painting, hung the prints, then, finished the chair cushion upholstery. Done!

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Botanical prints have such a timeless and classic feel. I've blogged about my botanical love several times. It's fun to revisit those inspiring photos (here and here) of botanical art contributing to beautifully decorated spaces.


  

Images above via Eddie Ross (left) and Centsational Girl (right).

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Framed or unframed art from an earlier era, or freshly pressed flowers between glass, all speak of discovery and beauty. I find living with nature so inviting.

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Having 'flower brain' isn't so bad. It may be contagious, but don't worry. At least it's not fatal.


Inspiration board: Garden wedding cakes

One of the joys of an impending wedding is certainly cake tasting. An entire day of my daughter and me having cake and eating it, too ... is definitely a diet breaker, but worth every bite! Three bakeries and a day later, and the sugar euphoria is still present.


White or ivory, buttercream or fondant, shall it be simple or extravagant frosting, and what wedding cake flavor and filling should be chosen? Wow, so many choices.


Gorgeously decorated cakes are a vision to behold. The incredibly talented bakers are truly confectionery artists with imagination and skill. They're also wonderful at guiding brides through the process of selecting the cake, frosting and filling that best suits their desires. 

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It's fascinating to look at the anatomy of a wedding cake with its internal support skeleton and all of the layers. Thankfully, the groom's cake will be easier to create and transport!


It's interesting to note the servings per layer. This is good to know when ordering or baking a cake for any occasion.

That temporary indulgence is over, so now it's back to more nutritionally-sound eating (at least until those tasty morsels are served at the reception!)

Photo credits for all images above can be found on our Vintage Garden Wedding page on Pinterest.





Macaron maniac ...

Of all my loves, macarons may be the sweetest. My Paris visits always lead me to Ladurée, the home of divine sweets and world-renown macarons.


Since 1862, Ladurée has been home to those decadent little macaron pairs filled with delicious ganache in every imaginable flavor. So, as you can imagine, I've tried just about every one - different flavor choices each time we visit.


I'm partial to dark chocolate, but these amazing confections have endless possibilities.


What you might be surprised to hear is that the absolute, very best macarons are made right here in San Antonio by a gifted French pastry chef at The Fig Tree restaurant.


Just in case you can't make it to this romantic River Walk restaurant for dinner, or dessert, the recipe below may bring out the inner Frenchie in you. Give it a try ...

BASIC FRENCH MACARONS RECIPE

Ingredients:
2/3 cup almond meal or ground almonds
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 large egg whites, room temperature and preferably aged up to 3 days
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
The basic meringue-style French macaron is merely the springboard for your wildest color and flavor combinations. Try adding a teaspoon of Dutch-process cocoa and red gel food coloring for a red velvet macaron, or a 1/4 teaspoon rose extract and pink gel food coloring for rose. Always add the dry flavorings to the almond meal/powdered sugar mixture and the extracts/gel color to the meringue.
Preheat the oven to 280ºF, and position 2 racks in the lower section of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. If you have time, draw 1-inch circles on the back of each sheet, spacing the circles at least 1/2-inch apart.

If your almond meal is very coarse, grind it with the powdered sugar in a food processor until fine. Sift the almond meal-powdered sugar mixture twice through a mesh sieve.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer (or use a hand mixer), and begin to beat on medium-high. When the eggs are frothy, gradually add granulated sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Continue to beat the egg white mixture until glossy and stiff peaks form when you lift the beaters. Gently stir in the vanilla extract. Be careful to not overbeat the meringue (e.g., the meringue takes on a clumpy texture).

Add half of the sifted almond mixture, and gently fold it into the meringue using a flexible silicone spatula. Lift from the bottom, up around the sides, and toward the middle, being careful to not overagitate the meringue and lose too much air. Once the almond mixture is predominantly incorporated, add the second half and repeat the folding motion.

When the almond mixture is just incorporated, you will need to transform the batter into the appropriate texture. Using the flat of the spatula, "punch" down into the center of the batter, then scrape more batter from the sides to the center, and punch again. You will need to repeat this 10-15 times (or more, depending on your arm strength and the beginning texture of your batter) until the batter slowly and continuously drips back into the bowl when you scoop it up with the spatula. Think of the consistency of molten lava. For the best results, punch the batter a few times, check the consistency, then punch a few more times, etc. Do not make the batter too runny or the macarons won't rise as they should, and you could end up with oil stains on the surface.

Pour batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 0.4-inch tip. In a pinch, you can also use a gallon-size Ziploc bag: just snip a teeny bit from one of the bottom corners. Twist and clip the top of the bag to avoid overflow. On your prepared baking sheets, pipe out 1-inch rounds in the circles you drew (remember to draw the circles on the back side of your parchment to avoid ink or pencil stains on your macarons!).
Holding the baking sheet in both hands, rap each baking sheet firmly on the counter two or three times. This smooths out the tops and helps form the "pied" or frilly foot on the bottoms of the macarons. 

Allow the piped macarons to dry, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes. The macarons should form a very thin, smooth crust where, if you tap it lightly with your finger, the batter will not stick to your finger. If after 15 minutes, the batter is still sticky, let it dry longer. This may take up to an hour on humid days.
Place both baking sheets in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes. After the first 2 minutes, open the oven to allow any excess humidity to escape. Halfway through, swap oven racks and rotate the sheets for even baking. The macarons are done when they are baked all the way through and the shells are just hard. Take care to not underbake (insides will still be mushy) or overbake (tops will begin to brown). Remove them from the oven, and cool on baking sheet placed on a wire rack.

When fully cooled, assemble the macarons with your choice of filling. The assembled macarons can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

BASIC MACARON BUTTERCREAM FILLING

Ingredients:
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
Just like the basic macaron recipe, the basic buttercream filling recipe can be customized with endless flavors and colors. But don't stop at buttercream! Try jams and preserves (or even Nutella!) straight out of the jar, or whip up a quick chocolate ganache for a decadent spin on the macaron.

Cut butter into pieces, and mash with a spatula until the consistency resembles mayonnaise.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then add the granulated sugar, and whisk until the mixture lightens to an off-white and you can no longer see the granules of sugar. Add the milk, and whisk to combine.

Pour the egg mixture into a small saucepan, and heat over low heat, whisking frequently to ensure that the mixture does not curdle or scorch. Cook until the mixture becomes thick and custardy, like pudding.

Pour the egg mixture back into its bowl, and whisk constantly until it returns to room temperature. Whisk in the butter in three batches, add the vanilla, and stir until smooth and all ingredients are fully combined. Pipe or spread onto one macaron half and sandwich between the other.

Rather see how macarons are made? Food Noveau has an easy a step-by-step guide for making these light and luxurous sweet treats. Check it out.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Inspiration board: Garden wedding flowers

Our family is hosting a vintage garden wedding for my daughter, and I must admit that I love planning her wedding with her! We're burning up the phone lines and email boxes while sharing every detail.  The event will be held this spring at one of the loveliest and most romantic spots in the US - an enchanting outdoor garden on the famed San Antonio River Walk. So, the flowers have to announce the joyous occasion for our beautiful bride and her beloved groom in a traditionally Southern style.

Yes, a vintage Southern style garden wedding - the bride's chosen theme. Think of those charming evenings in Savannah or Charleston, or gracious garden soirees in New Orleans or Louisville. We're envisioning a picture perfect setting with glorious flowers. So, we came up with three color schemes, each that would complement the eggplant color to be worn by the bridal party.

Our first inspiration board reflects bold hues in purple, pink, lavender and green.


The second inspiration board scheme comes from the same color families as above, but in pastel shades.


Our third color board consists of barely there blush tones. So romantic!


Right now, it looks like the vintage garden wedding may be reflected in an abundance of pastels inspired by the photos with lavender, light pinks, cream and citrus green. Great choices for spring with freesia, peonies, ranunculus (my favorite flower), hydrangea, cream roses, lavender, stock and helleborus.

Oh, did I mention this is SO MUCH FUN!

All photo credits can be found on our Vintage Garden Wedding page on Pinterest.


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