Indian Cooking Class – Part 1

As much as I enjoy Indian cuisine, I’ve hesitated to attempt making it at home. The exotic spices, complex flavor combinations, and mysterious ingredients have always intimidated me! So when our local community college offered an Indian cooking class, I jumped at the opportunity to have this extraordinary cuisine demystified.

This is the first of a two-part series. Today’s post will cover the classes on legumes and bread. Next week’s blog will cover the classes on yogurt making, cheese, and eggplant dishes.

A staple in every Indian kitchen is the spice tin or masala dabba. The most commonly used spices are kept organized and ready for use in a handy sealed container.

Our instructor was Raka Mehra, a home cook from northern India with many years of experience preparing her native dishes. Having garnered much acclaim by those lucky enough to be invited to her home for a meal,  she decided to develop this class to teach others the secrets of her delicious north Indian dishes.

Raka emphasized that everyday dishes in India are generally much lighter and healthier than those served at most Indian restaurants. Importantly, she assured us that with basic cooking skills, one can prepare a truly authentic Indian meal.

This is a small sampling of the numerous legumes used in Indian cuisine.

Legumes

In our first class, Raka gave us a brief overview of the numerous legumes used in Indian cooking. Economical and high in protein, legumes are extremely nutritious and contain a range of essential nutrients including vitamin B (especially folate), iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. They are also abundant in dietary fiber.

Of all the legume options available, we focused on lentils which are among the quickest to prepare. We made two lentil dishes but my favorite was coconut daal made from red (or washed) lentils. The dish contains coconut milk which makes it rich and creamy with a somewhat delicate flavor.


Raka’s Coconut Daal

1 cup washed red lentils (masoor)
1 can coconut milk (full fat)
1 ¼ cup water
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 -2 green chilies, sliced
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
2 T. oil
2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or cumin seeds)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Place lentils, coconut milk, water, chopped onion, tomatoes, chilies, salt and turmeric in a pan.  Simmer 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

While lentils are cooking, heat oil in frying pan. When oil is hot, add mustard seeds and cover until popping stops. Add sliced onions and fry until crisp.

Mix sautéed onions and mustard seeds with cooked lentils and garnish with cilantro. Serve with rice.


The finished product, Raka’s Coconut Daal.

Bread Making: Roti and Paratha

In our second session we learned about the classic Indian bread commonly known as roti or chapati. This is an unleavened whole wheat tortilla-like bread that is hearty and versatile. While most of us think of naan as the quintessential Indian bread, we learned that roti is more typically consumed on a daily basis in India, while naan is usually reserved for special occasions.

The basic dough for roti contains only two ingredients: flour and water. It is kneaded by hand, formed into balls and rolled into flat discs. It is then cooked on a  lightly greased griddle on top of the stove.

Basic Recipe for Roti

1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients until stiff dough forms.  Knead until dough no longer sticks to your hands. Let rest for about 20 minutes.

Divide dough into 8 equal parts and roll into balls. Roll balls into 6 – 8″ discs. Lightly grease pan and heat to medium high. Cook until brown blisters begin to appear and flip. Roti will puff up when done.


When done, the roti puffs up and then quickly deflates.

 

While roti is delicious simply spread with a little butter, we also made paratha which is roti filled with vegetables, or cheese and spices. My favorite was paneer paratha, which is roti filled with cheese (paneer).


Paneer Paratha

2 cups shredded paneer (Indian yogurt cheese)
1 T. finely chopped ginger
2 T. chopped cilantro
1/2 t. cumin powder
1/4 t. red chili flakes
Salt to taste
2 T. yogurt

Mix all ingredients except yogurt together.  Then add yogurt until crumbly paste forms.

Place filling in the middle of the rolled out roti and then gently gather edges together, forming a purse-like packet. Roll flat again and fry in lightly oiled pan until brown on both sides.


Place the cheese filling in the middle of the roti.
Pinch the edges of the roti together. Once the filling is fully encapsulated in the bread, roll it out flat again and cook it in a lightly greased pan on top of the stove.  The bread will begin to blister and may puff up a bit.  Flip and cook the other side.

With a little spiced yogurt, paratha make a delicious accompaniment to a meal or a filling snack. Both roti and paratha are well-suited to freezing, so a batch can be made ahead of time and taken out as needed.

Paneer  paratha with spiced yogurt.

Perhaps the most important tip I gleaned from this class was how important it is to purchase whole spices and dry roast them in a frying pan before grinding. Dry roasting changes the chemistry of proteins, releases the oils in spices, changes their flavor, and enhances the scent and taste of spices.  If you want maximum flavor in your Indian dishes, don’t skip this step!

Raka, our knowledgeable instructor.

I did not find any of these dishes to be difficult to make and was delighted to learn how nutritious they are. I am excited about adding these dishes to my repertoire and hope you will give them a try as well.

Stay tuned next week for part two of my foray into Indian cooking!

 

Flowers and Scotch Tape

What do flowers and Scotch tape have to do with one another? Well, they go together perfectly when you want to make a flower arrangement in a wide-mouthed container and don’t have any floral foam or a flower frog to secure the stems!

Floral foam (or Oasis) is probably the most widely-used material for flower arranging today. It is similar to styrofoam but is more delicate and holds a considerable amount of water. Easy to use, this medium allows the arranger to simply push stems into it. Floral foam must be soaked in water before it can be used. Otherwise it will be buoyant and will not secure your arrangement properly.

Floral foam can be found at any craft store. It is quite malleable and is easy to cut to fit the shape of your container.

Popular in the 1920s and 30s, vintage flower frogs are another great way to anchor stems. Placed in the bottom of your vessel, stems are inserted into the holes, indentations or needles of the frogs. If the frog is much smaller than your container, it may need to be secured to the bottom with a little floral putty to keep it from moving around.

Here are some nice examples of vintage metal flower frogs. Picture courtesy of Ellie Campbell of http://froggoestomarket.blogspot.com
Frogs were also made from glass and ceramics and came in different colors, shapes and sizes.  Picture courtesy of Peter Tholl of Crow Ridge Studios.

My collection of vintage frogs is currently packed away and I had no floral foam on hand. I wanted to use a wide-mouth bowl for my arrangement and lacked a way to keep the flowers upright. I remembered seeing my mother use this easy tape technique and thought I’d give it a try.

Simply place tape in a grid pattern across the top of your vessel, making sure the ends are pressed down and secure. Then fill your bowl with water. Try not to get the tape too wet. However if some water gets on the tape, don’t worry. As long as the ends are firmly secured, the grid should stay in place.

Now insert the stems in the grid openings. You don’t have to fill every opening in your grid. Just distribute the flowers evenly and in a pattern that is pleasing to you. This technique is particularly effective for loose, informal arrangements.

My stems were a little short and I had to move them around a bit to get them to stay where I wanted them.
After adjusting my arrangement, the tape ended up getting rather wet. Still the structure held up nicely and the tape didn’t come off until I removed it.

This technique works for most containers with a wide opening. Next time you find yourself without the usual flower arranging tools, remember Scotch tape and flowers go together beautifully!

 

The Creative Presentation of Food

It has often been said that we first eat with our eyes.  I would argue that eating involves all of our senses and perhaps that is why is so pleasurable.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a workshop on creative food presentation at Pasadena’s Shakespeare Club, the oldest women’s club in Southern California. Our speaker was Dr. Ann David, educator, author, and Vice President of the Shakespeare Club. She began with a slide show of elegantly displayed hors d’oeuvres and noted the importance of having different flavors, textures, and colors in the presentation of food. While it’s fine to place a wedge of cheese on a plate with a basket of crackers, it takes very little additional effort to add flourish with a few pieces of fruit, a bowl of nuts, a drizzle of honey or other garnish.

The vessels on which the appetizers are displayed should be of varying heights, and of different materials. It makes the table much more interesting to use a variety of shapes, levels and textures. A glass pedestal stand combined with a basket or rustic wood tray adds dimension and interest to the overall presentation, whereas several flat plates of similar size and height would not give the same effect.

We also were reminded that it’s important that the appetizers not only look good but they should taste great as well. Because guests will usually be eating just a single bite of whatever you are serving, your goal is to make that one bite an incredible one!

This lovely room was our makeshift “kitchen.” While it was challenging to work with limited resources, we were still able to make a surprisingly attractive display of hors d’oeuvres.

After Anne’s brief presentation, the organizers of the event set up a practice exercise where participants were given the opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice. We were divided into small groups and given a “mystery bag” of groceries with which to prepare an appetizer.  Some bags had numerous food items such as cheese, crackers, vegetables, fruit, and other goodies. My group got a single bowl of hard boiled eggs! Fortunately we were allowed to trade with other folks for ingredients and there was a table with various condiments available to everyone.

This picture from Pinterest was our inspiration for our dish.

My teammates and I decided to recreate a Pinterest picture we found of deviled eggs that looked like chicks hatching. We traded an egg for some orange peppers  and a few cherry tomatoes, and picked up some mayonnaise, mustard, pickles and capers from the condiment table. We cut a zigzag pattern into the eggs to separate the halves and remove the yolk. We mixed up our filling, filled the eggs, and made eyes from capers and beaks from orange peppers.

Though our deviled eggs were not as aesthetically pleasing as the Pinterest picture, everyone seemed to grasp what we were trying to achieve. We added some dill springs around the edge of our platter to create a nest and a few cherry tomatoes for garnish.

Here is the final table the class presented at the end of the workshop.  It’s a cornucopia of color! (Though it did not live up to our expectations, our nest of deviled egg chicks is shown on the left.)

When everyone was finished, our creations were displayed and everyone was invited to eat and enjoy the appetizers with a libation. In spite of limited resources, the groups created some very attractive platters and delicious combinations of flavors.

In my opinion, this platter was the winner. It was immensely creative and incorporated all the elements of good presentation. Note the caprese kabobs using parsley as skewers. Also check out the “flower” made from thin crackers broken into petals with dried cranberries in the center. The lavender sprigs in the center give height and fragrance to the display.

What will you do to elevate your appetizer presentation at your next event?

Fizzy Honey Lemonade

Many Fourth of July gatherings include a pitcher of ice cold lemonade. While it’s easy to make lemonade from powdered mixes or frozen concentrates, I don’t think there is any substitute for the real thing. It doesn’t require a tremendous amount of additional work to make lemonade from scratch. If you’re planning to serve up this summertime thirst quencher, here’s an easy way to dress up the standard recipe.

For the past month, our lemon tree has been producing beautiful juicy lemons in abundance. It is a joy to pick them right off the tree in my backyard.

For this recipe, I’ve switched out the sugar for honey and replaced regular water with sparkling water.  The honey pairs beautifully with lemon (think hot tea with lemon and honey) and adds a depth of flavor sugar doesn’t have. The fizz of sparkling water is refreshing and gives the lemonade a little extra pizzazz!

The honey will make this lemonade a little darker than sugar-sweetened lemonade.

 

Fizzy Honey Lemonade (serves 4)

  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup honey (light or dark)
  • 1 liter bottle of sparkling water
  • ice and lemon slices

Mix lemon juice and honey together. Pour in sparkling water, add ice, lemon slices and serve.

Give the mixture a good stir to fully dissolve the honey.

Happy Fourth of July!

What could be more refreshing than a tall glass of ice cold lemonade on a summer day?

Coffee Roaster Tour in Hawaii

To the left of the entrance to the cafe, they are experimenting growing coffee plants.

I recently spent a week in beautiful Hawaii. While my husband was cooped up in a conference, I was seeking out some of the wonderful food-related experiences available on the lush island of Oahu!

Because Hawaii is known for its Kona coffee, I wanted to pay a visit to one of the sources of this liquid gold. I discovered Lion Coffee, the nation’s first coffee roaster and distributor.  I was able to see how they roast and package their coffee, and I learned a lot about coffee history in the U.S.

Lion Coffee was founded in Ohio in 1864 by Alvin Woolson as part of The Woolson Spice Company. Mr. Woolson noticed that green coffee beans, shipped over long distances in questionable conditions, wound up being pan roasted in households, often resulting in burnt bitter tasting coffee. His experience in the spice industry gave way to “fancy roasting,” a more reliable and consistent way of roasting coffee beans.  He then ground the roasted beans and began selling the ground coffee in prepackaged one pound bags.

Woolson launched the first great advertising campaign in history by offering customers “promotions” with purchases–picture cards, pins, holiday items, and other trinkets. His promos created buzz about the product and encouraged customer loyalty. Demand became so great that Lion Coffee began distributing coffee through a mail order company. The mail order business was incredibly successful–so much so that the U.S. Post Office had to come up with a new shipping category for “bulk” shipments!

In their cafe, a display of antique roasting and brewing apparatuses dating between the late 1800’s to the 1920’s shows the evolution of roasting, grinding and brewing techniques.

Lion Coffee was purchased by Jim Delano in 1979 and relocated to Honolulu. They launched a website in 1999 and have been delivering coffee to loyal fans all over the world since then.

The master roasters start every day in the cupping room where they taste the previous day’s roast.

My tour started in the cupping room. In this laboratory-like room, Lion’s master roasters perform a cupping ritual every day.  Samples of the previous day’s roast are ground and tasted according to strict protocol for quality control. This daily step ensures that every bag that leaves their facility meets the high standards for which Lion Coffee is known.

My next stop was the warehouse where massive stacks of burlap bags of raw coffee beans were stacked nearly to the ceiling. Much of the coffee is the prized Kona coffee which is grown only in Hawaii. The favorable weather conditions, combined with Hawaii’s mineral-rich, well-drained volcanic soils, create the ideal growing conditions for Kona coffee. Lion Coffee is the largest roaster of Kona coffee in the world.

This is the parchment, or outer hull of the coffee bean. The hulls are very lightweight and look a little like peanuts.

The first step after receiving the coffee beans is to put them through a machine that removes the parchment, a lightweight hull that surrounds the coffee beans. The green beans are then placed in a roasting machine for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees to achieve the perfect roast.

The roasting machine looks a little like a flying saucer and works hard throughout each day roasting the beans that will make their way to stores, hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The smell is glorious!
The beans are constantly swirled during the roasting process to ensure uniformity in color and roast.
The bags are formed from a roll of flat foil lined film.

Once roasted (and sometimes ground), the coffee is sent to a bagging machine. The machine forms the bag from a roll of film, applies the label and a one-way valve. The valve releases the natural gases the coffee produces and keeps air from entering the bag. Any remaining oxygen is forced out of the bag by injecting nitrogen. This ensures that the beans stay fresh. Once bagged and tagged with their golden insignia clip, the coffee is boxed and shipped to various distributors, restaurants, and mail order customers all over the world.

This machine forms the bag from the flat roll and sends it off to be filled with coffee.
These bags await receiving their golden clip, a Lion Coffee signature feature, which helps preserve freshness after opening.

Lion has a complete espresso bar/cafe and a gift shop at the end of the tour. You can sample their various products, enjoy a beverage and a freshly baked pastry, as well as purchase bagged coffee (and tea) to take home.

I ordered my first “nitro-brew,” an iced coffee concoction infused with nitrogen gas to create small bubbles and a foamy head on top of the coffee. This technique makes the coffee richer and creamier than standard coffee brewing techniques and I found it quite delicious.

For a coffee lover like me, touring the roasting facility was educational and gave me a greater appreciation of how my morning cup of java is created. I purchased several bags of this delicious coffee and am now brewing my own Lion coffee at home.

If you would like to purchase Lion coffee yourself, you can buy it at their online store. https://www.hawaiicoffeecompany.com/lioncoffee

The last stop on the tour is their cafe and gift shop where you can sample all their coffees. Lion’s baristas brew up a plethora of delicious coffee drinks. And of course, you can also purchase bagged coffee and tea here.

Note: I have received no compensation from Lion Coffee for this blog. All opinions expressed are my own.

Italian Dinner Party – Pasta and Polenta


This is the final post in a series on the Italian themed dinner party we hosted a few weeks ago. If you’d like to catch up, you can read about the appetizers and cocktails here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/

Part two on the table setting is available here:  http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/12/italian-dinner-party-the-table-setting/

This post will cover the menu and recipes for the meal, as well as a small parting gift we gave our guests at the end of the evening. 

Primo: Homemade Spaghetti with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

After our guests were seated, the first course was served, homemade pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil. While you can certainly use boxed pasta, homemade pasta is not difficult to make and the flavor is substantially better than boxed. I find it is worth the extra effort to make it when entertaining. I promise a post on how to make it soon!

The cherry tomatoes were oven roasted with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. They were added to the cooked pasta along with toasted panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and fresh basil. I served a small portion as a first course for this dinner, but it’s a hearty dish that would also make a wonderful main course. Here is a link with the recipe:  http://www.abeautifulplate.com/spaghettini-with-roasted-tomatoes-fresh-basil-and-toasted-garlic-breadcrumbs/

Segondo: Polenta Board with Shredded Beef in Wine Sauce and Kale Mushroom Saute

Years ago I saw a television chef serve up a dramatic polenta board and vowed that I would do it one day. This was my moment! I headed to my local hardware store and purchased an eight foot long 12″ wide pine plank and had the hardware store cut it in half for me. I covered both boards with parchment paper and wrapped them like gifts by taping the edges of the paper down on the underside. This provided a sanitary surface upon which to spread the polenta.

The polenta was spread out in a thin layer on each board and served with shredded beef in wine sauce and sauteed kale and mushrooms alternating down the board on top of the polenta. I learned that it’s important to form a lip around the edge of the polenta to keep the sauce from dripping out.

I kicked everyone out of the kitchen for the night’s biggest surprise–bringing out the polenta boards. It required two people to carry each four foot long polenta board to the table! According to our guests, this was the highlight of the evening. Each table had its own board, and every guest was provided a large spoon and invited to serve themselves by scooping up the polenta directly from the board. There were lots of oohs and ahhs when the boards came out, but it became oddly quiet once the polenta board began to be consumed.

Here’s the recipe for the shredded beef sauce:  http://www.thekitchn.com/dinner-party-recipe-braised-beef-in-tomatoes-red-wine-recipes-from-the-kitchn-186550

The recipe for both the polenta and kale mushroom saute can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673365728/

A crisp citrus fennel salad was served as an accompaniment. It added just the right contrast in temperature and the licorice-like flavor of the fennel cut through the heavier flavors of the polenta board. I used toasted pine nuts instead of walnuts and added a little arugula to this recipe: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/562809284673391976/

Dolce: Tiramisu

One of the most well-known and beloved Italian desserts is tiramisu. Importantly it does not require any last minute prep, other than a shaving of chocolate on top for garnish. It can be made a day or two ahead and kept refrigerated.

I found a recipe called “The Best Tiramisu You Will Ever Make” and couldn’t resist trying it. It was creamy and delectable. I didn’t tinker with the recipe one bit (other than topping it with shaved chocolate rather than cocoa powder). Given that I’d only made tiramisu once before, I can honestly say it is the best tiramisu I’ve ever made!  Here’s the link:  https://www.askchefdennis.com/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/

We concluded the meal with a digestif of limoncello, a cold, sweet, lemon flavored Italian liqueur. While the actual medicinal benefits of digestifs are yet unproven, it is thought that such drinks help to digest the prior meal. I don’t know whether it assisted anyone’s digestion at our party but it did give us an excuse to remain around the dinner table a little longer.

Parting Gift

To make the memory of our evening linger, I prepared two types of biscotti for our guests and packaged them up as a parting gift. Each guest was given a pair of cookies upon their departure. While there are many variations on this twice-baked cookie, I made chocolate walnut and lemon anise almond flavors. I placed the cookies in separate bags so that the flavors wouldn’t mingle. The two cookies were tied together with a tag that said, “Ciao Bella.”

Ciao means both hello and goodbye in Italian. Hopefully our guests will come back soon so that we may greet them again with ciao.

Italian Dinner Party – The Table Setting

Last week’s blog focused on cocktails and appetizers for our Italian themed dinner party.   In case you missed it, you can check it out here: http://eclecticgirldesigns.com/index.php/2017/06/05/italian-dinner-party-appetizers-and-cocktails/  This post will describe the table setting. Next week, the last post in the series will cover the menu and recipes.

The Table, Place Cards, and Menu

What could be more classic for an Italian themed dinner than a red and white checked tablecloth? I put two folding tables together to form one long banquet style table and placed a red checked tablecloth over both.  To this foundation, a white table cloth overlay was added to the center and the table was set with white dinner plates. I designed my menus and place cards using free online clip art and repeated the logo throughout the event, keeping the font and colors consistent. A printed menu was placed on each plate and place cards were mounted in little wooden place card holders next to each plate. (These were purchased but it would be easy to make them from fallen branches.)

The Napkin Fold

I used a napkin folding technique called the “twin candle roll” for my white cloth napkins and placed them in the stemware. They added height and whimsy to the table and couldn’t be easier to do. I recommend starching your napkins first as they will stand up better. Here is a video which shows how to make them:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRjvOuzHPlU

 

 

A Conversation Piece

Around the holidays last winter I came across a gigantic bottle of Italian wine and immediately knew it would be perfect for an Italian themed dinner party. I purchased it and held onto it for this moment! It was placed front and center on the table and quickly became a conversation piece. It is not terribly common to see a magnum of wine and my guests spent a little time trying to figure out how many regular sized bottles of wine it contained. (The correct answer is three.)

The Centerpiece

The pièce de résistance for the table setting was a large floral arrangement of red gladiolas in the center of the table. I used a classically-styled urn to raise the arrangement up off the table. Floral foam was used to hold the long stems in place and the flowers were arranged in a spray design. I added a few stalks of spiky palm leaves and some lemon leaves from my backyard to fill out the base of the arrangement and provide additional texture. A floral arrangement of this scale certainly makes a statement and can really give your table a “wow factor!”

My sweet husband lit the fire and directed guests to their places at the table.

Creating Ambiance

A few weeks prior to the party, I began saving empty wine bottles to use as candle holders. The bottles were soaked in warm soapy water to remove the labels and candles were inserted into the openings. They were placed on the mantle above the outdoor fireplace. Our weather turned chilly that evening and we ended up lighting the fireplace for warmth.  The flickering glow of the candles and crackling fireplace made for a cozy and convivial setting.

Next week’s blog will provide the menu and recipes for the meal and will feature a dramatic polenta board. Stay tuned!

This picture was taken the morning after the party. The dripping candle wax covering the wine bottles is evidence that the party lasted late into the night.

Italian Dinner Party: Appetizers and Cocktails

Who doesn’t love Italian food? It has become a mainstay of American cuisine and seems to be the epitome of “comfort food.”  Many classic Italian dishes can be made ahead of time which makes it perfectly suited to a dinner party for a crowd. We invited twelve friends, some old, some new, for an Italian themed dinner party al fresco.

This is the first of a three-part series. Today’s blog will cover the appetizers and drinks. Next week’s blog will address the table setting, and the following week will cover the dinner menu and recipes.

The Signature Cocktail:  Sparkling Negroni

The Negroni is a classic Italian cocktail developed by a bartender in Florence in 1919 as an adaptation of an Americano.  When the bartender replaced the soda water with gin and added an orange peel zest instead of lemon, the Negroni was born.

A signature cocktail is a festive way to set the tone for the evening. Preparing the cocktail in a punch bowl or large pitcher also allows the host to make drinks ahead and not have to deal with last minute mixing.

I decided to add prosecco to the classic cocktail to cut some of the bitterness of the Campari.  Here is the recipe for a crowd.

Sparkling Negroni (Serves 12-16)

  • 1 cup Campari
  • 1 cup Gin
  • 1 cup Sweet Vermouth
  • 2 bottles prosecco
  • Orange peel zest for garnish

Mix the Campari, gin and vermouth in a punch bowl with ice. Add prosecco and gently stir until blended. Pour into glasses and garnish with sliver of orange peel zest.

I also set up a self-serve water dispenser with lemon slices and made Italian grapefruit soda and Pellegrino Italian sparkling water available as non-alcoholic drink options.

The Antipasto Board

In Italian, antipasto means “before the meal” and is typically a selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives, marinated vegetables, and other finger foods intended to stimulate the appetite. Antipasto is a great choice for a crowd because it is simple to put together and can be endlessly varied, made more or less complicated depending on your preferences, time and budget.

My antipasto platter included a selection of cured meats, a hard cheese, a soft cheese, olives, pickled peppers, marinated artichoke hearts and grapes.

I used shipping tags to identify containers of avocado honey, white bean rosemary spread, and garlic mustard aioli. Guests are more likely to try foods if they know what is in them.

Condiments are a nice addition to any antipasto board to provide variety and additional flavors.  Along with a garlic aioli mustard, I added a dish of avocado honey which is particularly delicious drizzled over cheese. To complete the antipasto board, I made a white bean spread flavored with lemon, garlic, and fresh rosemary and served it with baguette toasts and crackers.  Here’s the recipe:  http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/01/rosemary-lemon-white-bean-dip-recipe.html

Note the interplay of colors, textures and flavors. The round, smooth, colorful grapes contrast with the crunchy linear bread sticks, while the chewy saltiness of the cured meats plays off the creaminess of the cheese.

For my table setup, I used a wine crate from Italy as a platform and tucked in fresh greenery from my yard around the perimeter for additional color and texture. Two cans of San Marzano tomatoes were used in the meat sauce I made for our dinner, and I thought the cans were so colorful and authentic looking, I decided to recycle them for table decor. A bouquet of flowers was arranged in one can and bread sticks were placed in the other.

I was delighted to find a set of rather ingenious appetizer stem holder plates online and couldn’t wait to see how my guests liked them. They have an opening for the stem of the wine glass to be inserted so that both the glass and food can be easily handled with only one hand. Guests commented on how nice it was to have a free hand and not to have to awkwardly juggle their glasses and food plates! I have a feeling these plates will make regular appearances at future parties. In case you’d like to get some for yourself, here’s a link:  https://www.amazon.com/Oenophilia-Bamboo-Hors-Oeuvres-Plate/dp/B003ZIV12K/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1496155036&sr=8-1&keywords=bamboo+wine+plates+appetizer  

After our guests, some of whom didn’t previously know each other, spent a little time together sharing Negronis and antipasto, they were in a good mood and ready for the meal.  Stay tuned next week for part two in this series which will feature the table setting.

While most of our guests congregated around the appetizer table, a separate seating area was available with plenty of space to comfortably relax.

The 2017 Pasadena Showcase House of Design

This rotating garden greeted visitors upon entering the property. The circular disk spun slowly giving movement and life to the walkway. Design by Haynes Landscape Design.
The loggia overlooks the pool and is a relaxing spot off the living room. Design by Ederra Design Studio.

After many years of reading about and ogling photos of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design in national design magazines, I finally was able to see it in person. Founded in 1948 as a fund raiser for the arts, this project has become a major annual event that draws people from all over the United States, and indeed the world. It features the area’s best designers, landscapers, architects, and artists at their best. It is an “over the top” experience for those of us passionate about design.

The blue and white living room is a beautifully proportioned room with a fresh coastal feel. Design by Robert Frank Interiors.

The featured home for 2017 was a stunning 8,000 square foot English Tudor style mansion built in 1916 designed for actor Samuel Hinds, best known for playing Peter Bailey in the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The house has been featured in numerous movies and television programs such as “Beaches,” “Mad Men”, “Parks and Recreation” and more recently, “La La Land.”

The master bedroom suite features a drop-down flat-screen television hidden in the ceiling! Design by Home Front Build, Inc.
The level of detail continued outside of the main house and is shown in the brass bumblebee door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass doors to the Bee’s Bliss Cottage. Design and photo by Rose Thicket Botanical Design House.

This is a large scale event that includes so much more than just a house. The outdoor areas included a lagoon style swimming pool, loggia, bee keeper’s cottage, numerous patios, waterfalls, and stunning gardens. The organizers enhanced the experience by including a cadre of carefully selected vendors in an outdoor market called “The Shops.” Vendors sold home decor items, clothing, designer jewelry, linens, natural bath and skin care products, and local gourmet foods. And in case all that design inspiration and shopping stirred your appetite, the organizers also set up a full service restaurant, bar and bistro on the grounds!

The vaulted ceiling in the grand staircase was designed and printed on fabric to resemble Trompe-l’oeil, while the tree landscape on walls at the base of the stairs was hand painted to give the illusion of looking through a window. Design by L’Esperance Design.
Design by Jessica Today Designs.

Built at an original cost of $25,000, the house is believed to have last been renovated sometime in the 1950’s. Fortunately the designers and contractors saved and restored many of the original bones of the house including the leaded and stained glass windows, carved newel posts and balustrades, elaborate wood paneling throughout the first floor, a jaw-dropping arched stairwell ceiling with corner grotesques (reminiscent of a European cathedral!) and an amazing ironwork entry door.

But it was the level of detail added by the designers that most impressed me. I loved the hand painted ceiling in the lady’s office, the pull out ironing board cabinet in the laundry room, the bee motif door knobs and honeycomb leaded glass motif on the doors to the beekeeper’s cottage. I loved the emphasis on original art which added so much personality to every room. While each designer clearly expressed their own aesthetics, the house maintained flow and felt cohesive.

 

The laundry room is large, light-filled, and features a small powder room. It also houses my favorite practical feature in the entire showcase house–a pullout ironing board and broom storage cabinet. Design by Dana Triano Designs.

 

Photos courtesy of Dana Triano Designs.

Design by D. Christjan Fine Cabinetry Design and Manufacturing.

If your city has a major design showcase house or if you can make it out to Pasadena next year, I encourage you to go. You will leave feeling inspired and with the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a contribution towards furthering a good cause in your community.

Note:  Photographs courtesy of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design except as noted. Photographer Peter Christiansen Valli.

In the Shakespeare Garden, a mosaic was created using succulents, drought tolerant plants ideally suited to the climate of Pasadena. Design by GreenLink Landscaping and John’s Tree and Landscaping.

Creating a Gallery Wall

Do you have a hallway or stairwell wall that is currently empty because you can’t figure out what type of artwork would work there? Do you have family photos that you’d like to display but can’t figure out how to do it in a tasteful way? Or perhaps you have a mishmash of disparate pieces of art and photographs that don’t seem to go together and need a way to display them?  A gallery wall just might be the solution!

We recently purchased two sofas for our family room which necessitated a room makeover. Suddenly the wall that formerly was taken up by our television was now blank. Because this wall faces the living room and is immediately visible upon entering the family room, I wanted the wall to make a statement.

Here is the room before the new sofas arrived. The modern sofas were from our previous home and didn’t go well in our 1927 Spanish style house.
With the new sofas and the television moved to the wall with the window, you can see how empty the wall now looks.

I did a quick inventory of my home to see what artwork I had on hand that might be useful. I had a few larger pieces in neutral black, white and sepia tones, all framed in black  I knew I had a few smaller black frames in storage and that I could easily put together a gallery wall which would make a statement in the space.

Here are the steps to creating a gallery wall.

  1.  Curate your art.  While gallery walls can be a mixture of frame styles, colors, and different types of artwork, I decided to put together a mostly black, white and sepia toned color scheme to create a calm effect. Adding in dimensional pieces, such as the coral in the shadowbox and the square shelf box shown in the picture below, creates interest and adds texture.
  2. Lay out the artwork on the floor.  Play around with the layout until you find an arrangement that looks balanced. You don’t want things to line up too perfectly in this style arrangement so don’t worry about making the spaces between frames exactly the same. Mix up your frame orientation with some hanging horizontally and others vertically. You can also mix in different shapes, e.g., a round or oval frame. Adding in a mirror or small shelf can add interest.
  3. Take a photograph. Once you are happy with your layout on the floor, take a picture as a reference to transfer the layout to the wall. While your original layout doesn’t have to be set in stone, you will refer to it often as a guide.
  4. Make templates.  It takes a little extra time to do this but it is well worth it.  I cut out templates from newspaper for each frame and marked where the nails would go in red marker so that it would be easy for me to hang the artwork once in place.

    If you mark where the nail should go on your templates before attaching them to the wall, you will find it makes hanging the pictures a breeze.
  5.  Transfer the layout to your wall using painter’s tape.  Attach the templates to the wall following the layout from your photograph. You will probably need to adjust the spacing a few times before you get it right, but the painter’s tape makes it easy to move the templates around. Better to play with the layout using tape than with nails in the wall!

    I used a combination of photography, pencil drawings, fabric, and natural objects that all had meaning to me. The black frames and color scheme unify what could have been a random looking assortment.
  6. Nail it down. Once you are pleased with the layout of your templates, go ahead and put nails in the spots you have marked in red.
  7. Peel the templates off the wall and hang your pictures.  Use a level to make sure each item hangs level as even one picture out of square can make the whole display look disheveled.

    Notice that open spaces remain where new pieces can be added at a later time if desired.

This is project that is especially effective in stairwells, hallways, or other areas that can be difficult for which to select artwork. Family photographs can look especially artistic on a gallery wall if they are printed in black and white (or sepia tones) and framed in a similar manner. A gallery wall provides limitless options for displaying your artwork in a unique and interesting manner.

It’s a difficult job keeping the cat out of the photo shoot!

Do you have a spot in your home that would look great with a gallery wall?