Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Pleasure of Sharing Your Home

I don't know if it is because I was raised with the idea of Southern hospitality but I have always loved opening my home for guests. I love cleaning obsessively, stocking the guest room/guest bathroom with goodies like candy, bottled water, snacks, toiletries etc, and of course cooking for them, especially breakfast. I hosted a girls weekend a few years ago and I remember getting up and making everyone pancakes with fresh peach compote. I was so happy to be spending time and sharing a meal with some of my favorite people and to share something that I love to do with them.
I have a busy few weeks because I have one of my very best friends coming to visit for a week and then my mom is coming for a week right after. Needless to say, the house was cleaned top to bottom this weekend, sheets and duvets were freshly laundered and housing projects completed (I refinished my counter-tops and applied window film to my bedroom window-I'll probably do a post devoted to home improvement in the next few weeks. The counters and window came out fabulously).
As I said, one of my favorite things to do is cook for my guests (plus it helps get rid of the paint smell) so for my dear friend I made some lavender honey scones and simply because once I get cooking I have difficulty stopping I went ahead and made some spiced nuts (Recipe posted here).

Lavender Honey Scones
Lavender honey scones on my newest silver antique find, also came with a round tray and a pitcher
I am not sure how easy it is to find cooking lavender in the USA. I bought a big package when Logan and I were in France last year so I am still using that. I wouldn't be surprised if it required a visit to Whole Foods or similar to find.

1 1/2 cups of white flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4 tsp of cooking lavender
3 TBS of butter, cut up into small pieces
10 TBS of buttermilk-I never stock buttermilk so I just used skim and then added 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, this curdles the milk and gives you the same effect
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/8 cup honey, spray the measuring cup with cooking spray and the honey will come out easily
2 tsp of flour plus extra for dusting kneading surface
1 large egg white, beaten
Lavender sugar for sprinkling on top, to make lavender sugar take some white sugar and put in a container with some of your cooking lavender and leave it. I make a bunch and use it when needed. The lavender scents the sugar plus you have some buds in the sugar for color.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Take the white and whole wheat flour and combine it with the sugar, baking powder, salt and lavender in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or knives until it looks like coarse crumbs (often I get frustrated and just use my hands, quicker but messy). Set aside and then combine buttermilk, vanilla, egg and honey in a bowl. Add the wet into the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened (this is one of those batters that you DO NOT want to over mix. Don't worry if it is really sticky.) Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead the dough 4 or 5 times and shape into an 8" circle. Dust the top with flour and then cut into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on a greased cookie sheet and brush the wedges with the egg white then sprinkle the lavender sugar on top of them. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

These scones are delicately sweet and have an amazing honey floral scent. They are fantastic with afternoon tea, a good book and a cat on the lap.

Happy Spring,

PS. Here is a picture of my newest night time visitor. Apparently I am feeding quite the menagerie.
He/She is eating cinnamon raisin bread I put out

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Home Again

After a long weekend in Dallas and a week in Niagara/Finger Lakes area it is so nice to be home. The simple acts of sleeping in your own bed, making coffee in your coffee maker, using your own shower, and petting your own kitties are all comforts in their own right. The end of our trip marks the beginning of a busy season for my husband and myself so it is very bittersweet, however our trip was lovely. We went to an Ice Wine festival-ice wine is made from naturally frozen grapes and is only made is very limited quantities. It is very sweet and it usually an after dinner drink, similar to port. I have tried ice wine before and I was not a fan however I was able to try many varieties at this festival and found that I simply had not tried the right ones! I fell in love with Standing Stone vineyards and their Riesling ice wine, as well as Fulkerson's Cabernet ice wine and Johnson Estate Vidal ice wine. By the time we left the area we bought 8 bottles of wine and 4 bottles of ice wine (although one ice wine and one regular wine were for the neighbor who house and cat sat for us). It was such a fun festival, there were lots of wines to try, cheese and fudge samples as well as an ice carving demonstration.
Right as he was getting started
Sanding the ice sculpture
Finished product, only 45 minutes after he started!
After the wine festival we went to Niagara for a night. We stayed at Embassy Suites where we were all the way up on the 32nd floor and our suite had a great view of the Falls. Also Embassy Suites is one of the few hotels in the area that has windows that open so we were able to fall asleep to the roar of the falls (actually quite soothing).

American side of the falls, also called the Bridal Veil falls
Canada side of Falls, also called Horseshoe falls because they go all the way around making a horseshoe shape.
At the top getting covered in mist. It was so neat watching the water come plummeting down
We went behind and under the falls. This is a view from under to the side.
One of the portals directly behind the falls...frozen this time of year
 We also did an educational tour where we found out how the falls were formed. The tour had an interactive part where we got pummeled with fake snow, pelted with water and wind and eventually felt like we were going over the falls with the help of huge, wrap around movie screens and a moving floor. We also visited the Butterfly Conservatory where they had over 2,000 butterflies. It was nice to hang out in a tropical environment for a few hours-what a change from the winter outside!
Butterflies feeding, apparently they were quite hungry
After Niagara we traveled to the Canandaigua area of New York where we stayed at an absolutely wonderful lake cabin for 5 days. It was so restful just cooking, using the hot tub, playing games, star gazing, bird watching, hiking and just reconnecting with my husband. While we were there we went and hiked the "Grand Canyon of the East." It had three waterfalls on site and we hiked to two since the roads were closed. After seeing Niagara I expected to be underwhelmed but actually it was very beautiful.
Grand Canyon of the East, as a visitor to the real Grand Canyon I am not quite convinced :)
The Middle Falls
Pretty rainbow over the falls
We made our way home on Friday and have spent the weekend relaxing and getting ready for a busy few months. I can't believe we have been in Connecticut for 9 months; it has flown by so quickly. I am happy that we have been able to explore our new home as much as we have yet there is always so much more to see!
Happy Mardi Gras (almost),