Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Flowers 101

{spray roses and eucalyptus in a brass bowl}

{hydrangea, spray roses and eucalyptus in a silver bowl}

{hydrangea and winter berries}

{mariana roses and winter berries}

We've had a lot of visitors to the house lately, which has given me a nice excuse to put together flower arrangements. I'm always surprised by the endorphin boost flower shopping and arranging brings me, not to mention the joy I feel by just seeing the flowers on a table or windowsill.

For the past couple of weeks, I've gone to Central Market on Tuesday evening to pick up the prettiest flowers and greenery I can find for a total of less than $20 (tip: CM sells long-stem roses in all colors for $1 each on Tuesdays!). Then I go home after class and turn them into two or three sweet arrangements.

My favorites above are the two in bowls. I thrifted those bowls over the weekend in East Dallas -- the brass bowl is about the size of a salad plate, while the silver one is huge, bigger than a dinner plate. The bowls cost me about $5 all together. The bright green of the eucalyptus, the whisper pink of the spray roses and the lacy look of the hydrangea gives it such an antique feeling, and the colors are just right for spring. They look Easter-y to me, actually. I'm not usually a pink person, but this works.

A couple of tips from an amateur, if you'd like to try your hand at flower arranging:
  • Get floral foam from your craft store. Neither of the bowl arrangements would be possible without floral foam to hold them in place.
  • Use unusual containers. Vases are fine, but even when I use vases, I like to use a big leaf to go around the inside so you're not seeing stems. I have a basket carved out of a tree root I want to use (fingers crossed that it's waterproof) and a vintage silver gravy boat. I also hang on to interesting bottles to use as bud vases.
  • Don't underestimate the power of greenery. Berries, ornamental grasses, curly foliage... I've even re-used hydrangea leaves, which are gorgeous, in arrangements with other flowers. The greenery adds texture, depth and interest that you can't get from blooms alone. It makes arrangements feel organic while hiding imperfections and gaps.
  • When in doubt, monochrome works. I think people get themselves in trouble by trying to make colorful vases of flowers. Keeping more or less to one palette and adding interest by different types of flowers always looks classic and polished.
  • Change the water and re-cut the stems. I've heard all kinds of old wives' tales about adding baby aspirin or a penny to the water to make the flowers last longer. Don't know if there's any truth to those, but I can tell you that clean water and fresh cut stems keep my flowers perky.

Let me know if you do try it! I'd love to see what you come up with. I'll keep posting my pictures too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pants on the Ground

This is a bit of a departure from my usual posts, but if you watched American Idol last night, you probably can't get this song out of your head either. I just love this crazy man and his commitment to elevating the waistlines of men's pants. (And yes, I've done yet again what I do every year: Swear I won't watch American Idol, only to watch it from the very beginning. Somebody, help me.)

Lyrics and a video below, for your enjoyment.

"Pants on the Ground," by General Larry Platts

Pants on the ground,
Pants on the ground,
Lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground,
With the gold in your mouth,
Hat turned sideways,
Pants hit the ground,
Call yourself a cool cat!
Lookin' like a fool,
Walkin' downtown with your pants on the ground,

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Recipe: Holly Jolly Biscotti

{pretty biscotti breakfast}

I've been battling a post-holiday head cold for the last week or so, and my meds seem to have rendered me completely A.D.D. Good for my blog (three posts in about a week's time?), bad for my work.

Clearly, I've decided to run with it, though, until boss-man calls me out. So in that spirit, I'm making good on a promise I made, oh, hmm, a month or two ago, to share a recipe with you.

A friend of mine pointed me to Texas Oncology's Holly Jolly Biscotti, which promises to be a "tasty and simple holiday recipe" showcasing "the peak-season flavors of Texas citrus and pecans." Not only that, but unlike virtually everything else I consumed between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2, it's not terrible for you. "Packed with healthy ingredients, this Italian-inspired, twice-baked cookie is a delicious and nutritious way to promote a good-for-you diet throughout the holidays."

Or in this case, AFTER the holidays, when most of us are resolving to regain our waistlines.

Texas Oncology has made it easy. Here's a cute recipe card (opens in a PDF) and YouTube video demo. You can also view the press release and a fact sheet on nutrition that lowers disease risk, if you're really curious.

I helped host a bridal shower for Abby last month, and several of Abby's out-of-town friends stayed at my house overnight. My first slumber party in far too long, and I had a blast. Knowing that the girls would be waking up and leaving at various times the next morning, I decided to make a bunch of biscotti ahead of time, along with fruit, granola, coffee and orange juice, so they could help themselves whenever they pleased. Easier than making eggs to order, don'tcha think?

A few notes: I goofed and grabbed grapefruits instead of oranges, but the result was still really fantastic. I chose to use 1 cu. AP flour, 1 cu. whole wheat pastry flour, and 1 cu. bread flour (instead of 2 cu. AP/ 1 cu. whole wheat), and I was really happy with the texture. Here's my big baker's secret: I made the dough a day before I wanted to bake the cookies, then wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. While the flour absorbs most liquids right away (olive oil, juice), the eggs have to undergo a slower molecular process before being absorbed. I've started doing this routine with all my cookies, and the results are fabulous. (Comment if you have questions about this! I find it fascinating, personally.) The last note is that you really should wait the full 20 minutes or more before slicing the biscotti pieces. The chocolate needs to harden a bit first. Oh, and I used a chef's knife, not a serrated knife; I found the sawing motion of the serrated knife made the cookies crumble a bit, and no one wants to see a cookie crumble.

Without further ado, the recipe and my photos:

Holly Jolly Biscotti Recipe

IngredientsYields: 24 to 26 biscotti
3 eggs
½ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, olive oil, orange juice, and vanilla until well combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together both flours, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, and salt. Add dry mix slowly to wet ingredients until mixture forms a ball. Turn out dough mixture onto a well-floured surface and knead a few times. Fold in pecans and chocolate chips in alternating batches until evenly distributed.

Divide dough into two pieces. Form each piece into a log about 9 inches long, then press flat until it is about half an inch tall and 3 inches wide. Transfer logs to baking sheets and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks for 20 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into ½ inch pieces. Return to oven and bake on each side for about 10 minutes (approx. total of 20 minutes). Slices should be golden brown. Remove from oven to cool.

{ingredients; umm, yes, that's a grapefruit, not an orange. whoopsies.}

{dough with the mix-ins}

{preparing dough for overnight refrigeration}

{two logs, shaped}

{the thickness of the logs}

{baked biscotti logs}


{baking cookies for a second time so they'll be golden on all sides}

The girls ate every. last. piece. Even the baggie I had set aside to give to my neighbor. Given that most of the time when I host 20-something females, they hardly touch the food, I take that as a very good sign! Now maybe I should make another healthful batch to help me kick this cold...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Funky Flowers and Travel Lately

{day-old bridesmaid bouquet}

My darling friend Abby said "I do" this weekend, and plenty of friends were bridesmaids with me (including Stephanie, Jashley and Faith). It was a stunning winter wedding involving bare branches dripping with strands of crystals, succulents, vintage mink stoles (for Stephanie and me) and a palette of peacock colors. The bride incorporated peacock feathers into most of the decor, including the flowers. The pictures are of my bridesmaid bouquet the next day. Mini-mums, spider mums, cymbidium orchids, monkey grass and peacock feathers made for a striking, playful and irreverent arrangement. The bride's bouquet included all of those flowers and feathers, plus black lilies and flower-shaped succulents.

The wedding festivities kicked off Saturday, my first day back from spending three weeks with my gracious in-laws in Mexico. Brad's mom and step-dad have just completed the construction of their extraordinary home in San Miguel de Allende, and Brad and I were all too happy to take a working vacation to help break it in. Some friends joined us; Taylor is a photographer, among other things, and he was so kind to take incredible photos of the home as a thank-you for allowing him and his wife to spend a couple of weeks in the house. A sneak-peek is below, and later I'll share a Web site Brad is building for potential rentals of the home in the future.

{city view from the rooftop}

{corner view of the home's exterior}

{the center courtyard, plus three stories}

I think Brad and I have determined this is the year of "weekend trips." I want so much to visit Jordan and the Middle East, but along with starting a new job come fewer vacation days. Fortunately, I'm able to work while traveling, as we did in Mexico, so we're planning a few weekends when we can fly out on a Thursday evening, work remotely most of the day Friday, and site-see Saturday and Sunday. A few of our potential trips include visits to:
  • Las Vegas
  • New Orleans
  • Chicago
  • Boston
I'm itching to see San Francisco, but Brad assures me I'll want to spend more than a long weekend in the City by the Bay, so I'm tabling that idea for now.

Any other destinations you'd suggest adding to the list? I've never been to any of the locales I listed, and I'm open to your ideas!

Monday, January 04, 2010


There’s something so romantic and mysterious about the Middle East, isn’t there? Perhaps that’s a naïve statement. With all of the ongoing conflicts – destined to persist for centuries more – I suppose it’s really the idea of the Middle East that’s romantic. The spices, minarets, calls to prayer, the burkas, caftans and hijabs that are at once so demure and alluring.

Jordan has been on my list for years. I dream of seeing Petra, the Rose-Red City, recently named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Several of Brad’s customers live in Jordan, and two of them have invited us to visit and stay at their homes. I’d love to take them up on the offers; if not this year, next.

Yesterday, I finally saw Persepolis, a gorgeously animated feature (c. 2007) following a young Iranian girl’s evolution – and that of her country – from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. Hilarious, tragic, thought provoking, and a true feast for the eyes. Not to mention it was in French. Swoon, indeed.

The movie is based on Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel. I learned a lot about the Iran-Iraq War from the movie. It's also worth mentioning that the film taught me icing my breasts for 10 minutes a day will keep them round well into my old age.

A few images are below.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NOT my child

... but boy, is he a cute one.

If you're having a blegh day like me, please take a second to watch this little tyke discover the wonders of lobsters.

A WaPo blogger wrote that he wants to make that kid's "Wow!" his ringtone. I second that motion.

This reminds me of the first time I encountered creamy, salty, sweet foie gras. I exuded all manner of "wows!" whoas!" and "nom nom noms."

Except I was 22, and in a nice bistro.

(Incidentally, this time of year reminds me of foie gras... For the past two years, a couple of weeks before Christmas, I have placed a special order with my favorite local market for a sizable mound of the pate goodness. It's a holiday treat for us.)

I really, truly hope that when Brad and I have kids, they are as fascinated by gourmet cuisine as this little boy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I'm Alive, Plus a Web Site Crush

A few of you have chastised me for not blogging about my recent trips. I know, I know. Scold me all you want, you're right. I was so busy catching up from travels that I didn't sit down to just write about them... and then wow, about a month has passed since I returned. I can't make excuses. Here are the ONLY photos I have edited (from Morocco... the souks and Majorelle Gardens).

I've been working up a post in my head with some really out-of-this-world recipes for you, including my variations on Anna's comforting, homey Sweet Nest "Sweet Buns" and Texas Oncology's Holly Jolly Biscotti (cute recipe card, nutrition and video demo). I have a little list going; in addition to my kitchen exploits, I plan to write a post on handwriting. Exciting, no?

Until I get it together and write about those, I encourage you to check out my newest Web site crush, the sweeterie, a "creative confectionery." It's brought to you by the t.ruffles girls, Karey Mackin and Mary Swenson. Gah, the talent these women have.

Since I've been talking about baking/cooking, I should warn you, you can't actually purchase bon bons from this sweeterie. You'll find a virtual display case of tantalizing photos and delectable wordplay. As a writer, I am floored by Karey's wordsmithery. Very jealous, actually, but in a "good for her" kind of way. And she lived in the Middle East before returning recently to the States. How cool is that?
{it's blurrier when I import it to Blogger, for some reason...}

Anyway, stop by for some visual and emotional indulgence. It may not make your taste buds sing the way a hand-rolled, 72-percent dark chocolate truffle will. But I, for one, could probably spare myself the calories and go for a bite of "candy for the soul," as the T.Ruffles girls call it.