Summertime Pav!

I walked barefoot out to the barn for the first time this year. The grass, dewy and cold, is shaggy. I like it this way. Too manicured and I feel it is all too tamed. We have five acres. I want them to breathe a little.

The dogs watched from the sidelines, held back by only a small sliver of chicken wire in the grand scheme of things. They whine for my return. They bark at my back as I turn away from their needy heads and their soft tongues and their lazy tails. And I walk alongside the fence line. Long grass brushes my shin. Three barn swallows circle. I close my eyes--the sun hits the truck a little too hard in the morning.

Summer Pavlova with Strawberries and Lemon Curd

And when I look down, I see 13 tiny beaks opened up to greet me. To shriek at me. To stare curious and open-mouthed, waiting to see what I bring in my bucket. Twenty-six golden and black eyes are motionless and I meet their gaze as best I can. The hens follow me for 20, 30, 40 feet and then taper off back to the field, back to scratching the dirt, back to hiding in the shade and getting lost in the acreage. 

I put on shoes I keep down at the barn. I fill their water and wipe my hands on my pant leg. I create a cotton well in my shirt and hold the 9 eggs laid that day. I hear the chirps of the barn swallow chicks. I turn the light off. It's like I was never there.

Summer is growing on me. I see the way the world is most itself now. It can breathe freely, it can sigh in the shade, it can sway its lazy tail. And, humbly, it goes on existing while I work. Once I am back at the house, putting the eggs in the fridge and the cut herbs on the counter, it is like I was never there.

Summer Pavlova

Summer Pavlova with Strawberries and Lemon Curd

Ingredients:

  • Wedge of a lemon
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cup lemon curd (I used Ina's Recipe here)
  • 1 cup whipped cream
  • 8-10 strawberries, sliced
  • Lemon balm for garnish (optional)

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 280*F and trace an 8 inch circle on parchment paper
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs on high until soft peaks form
  3. Gradually and slowly, add your sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until stiff and glossy
  4. Gently fold in cornstarch and salt
  5. Spoon or pipe meringue onto your circle, first with a base, and then piping (or swooping with a spoon) an edge with a well in the middle
  6. Bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 200*F
  7. Bake an additional 30 minutes. Turn oven off and let cool completely (ideally, overnight)
  8. When cooled, spoon in lemon curd into center well, add whipped cream and strawberries. Serve chilled.
Summer Pavlova with Strawberries and Lemon Curd
Summer Pavlova with Strawberries and Lemon Curd
Summer Pavlova with Strawberries and Lemon Curd

Bakewell Cookies: A Renaissance of Who I've Missed

Bakewell Cookies

The last couple weeks have been hard to pinpoint. The weather has been calm and I have not been myself. I have been dreaming; I am a dreamer by nature. I have been quiet. I have been reading. I have been baking and perfecting. I have been alone and I have been cuddled in Nolan's arms on an air mattress in Philadelphia. 

I have been discouraged. I had lost my sense of adventure when it comes to baking. I took a few months off and avoided the kitchen. I think I forgot about the fun it can be. I think I forgot how much it's become a part of me now. I think I forgot how the small motes of flour, when they hit the light, can be one of the most beautiful moments in my otherwise boring day.

I tell myself to relax and I don't take my own advice. I've told myself to wake up early and I ignore the alarm clock and the small dog paws that run on my back. I used to fill the tub up to my chin and then I'd let it drain a minute later. It gave me something to do. Any form of procrastination, if I didn't have to bake. 

But I realize the tender stupidity of that reaction. I've missed the stuck pages of a cookbook and the sink overflowing with whisks and egg shells. I've missed the dogs queuing for their taste. I've missed the purpose baking has given me.

And I thought about all this while I made these cookies. I forgot to take more pictures. I was eager to eat them outside, breaking one into thirds and parceling it into treats. And slowly, happily, I am realizing that that's the moment I missed these last five months: being able to share, to stop, to breathe, to create a moment in time I am most proud of.

Bakewell Cookies

Inspired by Mary Berry's bakewell tart, I've adapted it into a cookie form!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/4 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy
2. Add egg and vanilla and mix together
3. Sift together dry ingredients and gently stir into your butter mixture
4. Turn out onto a floured work surface and pat into a disc. Wrap and chill for 1 hour
5. Preheat oven to 400*F
6. Roll out and cut dough into desired shapes (about 3/4 inch thickness worked best for me)
7. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 9-11 minutes, or until edges are just browned

To Decorate: Mix together 2 egg whites and 3 cups confectioner's sugar. Stir with a fork vigorously until you have a stiff glue of icing. Divide, 1/3 in a small bowl and the remaining 2/3 can stay in mixing bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon raspberry jam until just runny. Whisk into the smaller apportionment of icing until it forms ribbons when lifting your fork up. Add just a tad bit of water to the undyed white icing. 

Transfer both to piping bags. The white bag can have pretty much any larger tip, while the raspberry one should have a fine tip. Fill cookie with the white icing, filling in the gaps of icing with a toothpick and dragging royal icing out. Run 4 parallel lines over top of the flooded white and drag up and down to create feathers of pink. Repeat with remaining cookies.

How to Write a Note: With Mr. Boddington

I am a note writer by nature, it comes so easily to me. I have reams of bullet-pointed paper, scratched out and rewritten, all throughout my office. I write notes for myself. I write notes to Nolan. I've written notes throughout my childhood--too nervous for the confrontation, delaying the inevitable response for when they read my folded-up note at their leisure.

I have my current job due to a card I had written. In October of 2014, I had interviewed for a job as an executive assistant to the then-President of my company. I did not get the job. But, understanding that there was always opportunity in the future, I had written to the President and given my appreciation for her time all the same. December of that year, I moved to Texas for work with another company. It was not a good fit for me, but I did it all the same. The promise of an amorphous "career" loomed with the move and so I took the bait and drove to my new apartment in San Antonio. 

In May, the person they hired instead of me was fired. And I got a call from the President. She asked if I would move back to California and work for her. She said she was holding my thank-you note in her hand. She hired me on the spot, offered me a generous salary to move back. Ten days later, I started.

The power of a notecard, a personal touch. It makes all the difference in the world. A card or letter is more than a pleasantry, a necessity, a routine; it's the artifact, the symbol, the proof that the recipient was on your mind for more than the transient interaction itself. I believe in the imbued quality of gentility that goes into a handwritten note. I believe in its ability to give the recipient a pause in their otherwise routine. 

Because of this, I've put together a small guide for writing notes. It's not much, but it includes a few rules I follow. With the help of Mr. Boddington, I hope that it inspires others to continue to cherish the small instances of care that one forgets these days.

Mr Boddington - How to Write a Note

Thank You Notes: A Primer

If you remember, I received a couple writing sets from Mr. Boddington. Since then, I have been dying to find ways in which I could incorporate this stationery into my daily life. Thankfully, it was easy, considering that, between work and family/friends, I send a note to someone about once a week.

The cards in both the Tulum writing set and the Leopards desk set both are flat cards, meaning they do not need to be folded. In the above examples, I lined out the various parts of a correspondence card. I'm sure these seem pretty basic--and they are. But in the notes below, I lay out examples, tips from Mr. Boddington's book, and some of my own personal recommendations on writing an impactful note on the real estate of a notecard.

Parts of a Note.

A. Date

None of the the following notes should be considered dogma. In fact, most--if not all--can be construed as personal preference. The date is one such instance. For me, I prefer to write date in the European format. This is simply for aesthetic reasons, meaning that I like the numerical balance, enveloping the month in the middle. It always goes on the right.

B. Salutations/Greeting

I think that the greeting sets the tone of the entire note; but I also think that it's often overlooked. As Mr. Boddington put it, "Using the classic Dear Frida, is completely acceptable. Other favorites are DearestGood Morning (or Afternoon), My friend." I've been known to simply put the recipient's name for more formal notes, or a few pleasant adjectives ("To the wonderful, amazing Atlanta team") for informal and ingratiating notes.

C. Body

I've stared at this section for a while. How does one try to encapsulate such a personal, malleable, and vague portion of the note into a bullet point? The best advice I can give is to keep it to the point. 

In the example, please find an example that Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire ("Debo") wrote to her sister, Lady Diana Moseley ("Honks"). What I liked about this example is its brevity, its directness in its questioning, and how it ends with a story. This was all done in 8 lines of copy. For most notes, I don't think you need to worry about expending any real estate on, "What's up?" or, "How are you?" In fact, I think it's counterproductive, considering it's not an immediate conversation and when the recipient replies, he or she won't answer, "While reading your note I was cutting flowers" or whatever else was "up".

Further, whether the note is a thank-you, a congratulations, a sympathy card - all should follow the similar rule of keeping it to the point. Here are a few rules I follow:

For thank-you: Give your appreciation in the very first line. Then, somewhere in the copy, say one reason why you love it, then the enthusiastic "We can't wait to use X". (Eg, Thank you so much for the new china set. We absolutely love the pattern. I can't wait to use it this summer for our picnics in the garden).

For congratulations: I think the hardest thing about this one is making sure you're not overly sentimental, but respectfully prideful of one's accomplishments. For this, again, keep it direct, then leave with a compliment (You always were great at equestrian). I think we tend to want to flourish the language to really let someone know our enthusiasm at their success, that we overdo it on occasion.

Sympathy: Purposefully vague but genuinely sorry is the best way I can describe these types of cards. In my current role, I've had to write eight (too many!) condolences cards for my coworkers losing their parents. Not wanting to take away from their grieving through my own letterwriting, I try to keep it non-denominational, understated, and meaningful. Using cliches here may not be a bad thing - you are truly sorry for their loss! But, noncommittal terms such as "He's in a better place" doesn't always have the same gratification, in my opinion. 

For any and all of these types of correspondence, I think we need to do more of them. In the current book I am reading, The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters by Charlotte Moseley, the six Mitford sisters wrote to one another for over 70 years, compiling hundreds of thousands of letters detailing every part of their lives. I was inspired by their letters' oftentimes banality, but also their wit, sympathy, excitement, and hope that jumped off the pages. Why can't we do this, too? What has stopped us, other than the advancing immediacy of technology? Increase in instant gratification (texts, emails, Facebook) should not preclude the human touch we all of us are losing. I implore more letter writing out of each of you, for small victories and large deaths and promotions and birthdays and thank-you-for-dinners. All of it.

D. Closing and Signature

How funny that the formality and occasion of a note dictate how it should close. Due to the alliteration of my name, I'm fond of using "Best" for most scenarios. But a quick "XOXO" will do for my loved ones. It's hard to be creative when there are the standard-bearers of typical closing words ("Sincerely", "Yours", "Always", "Regards"), so perhaps try to be a bit creative here. But not too much so that it comes off as sophomoric. One co-worker of uses the closing "Forever attentively" and I roll my eyes at this self-congratulating.

The signature need not be anything but your first name in whatever style you sign it. I like to do it a tad differently in script than my note (larger, or more flourished). As Mr. Boddington points out, for more formal or new acquaintances, use first and last.

Mr Boddington - How to Write a Note

Celebrating the Ordinary

For me, as I've already said, writing notes is completely natural to me. And while I do not receive the amount of notes I send, I do not expect to. 

Mr. Boddington's memorandum notepad is the absolute perfect medium for these everyday notes for me, especially to Nolan. Usually tucked under his keys before work, you'll find a note of some sort for him to read. Working from home affords me a certain knowledge of the house, our chores, etc that I like to keep him informed, too. These I keep simple, a quick jot with an XO scribbled for good measure.

I think what notes like this do better than texting is that one can now look back to it. We receive so many messages on our phones a day, it's hard to keep track. This way, it's a physical reminder of something you may not want to forget. Alternatively, a small love note (like the one I had waiting for Nolan after Iceland) still hangs on our refrigerator, reminding us of relaxed days when things may be a little stressful.

Closing Remarks

Nothing I've said here should be mind-blowing. It really shouldn't be. We naturally know how to form a letter. I remember most of these steps in the 6th grade for a composition class. But, it's the recalling each components' individual meaning that matters. I'm a huge advocate for taking five minutes and a 49 cent stamp to make someone else's day a little brighter. I'm so fortunate to have found Mr. Boddington to share in this missive with me.

Weekly Edit: Four

As you may have seen on Instagram this week, I am in a sort of Royal Wedding come-down. To be honest, since doing my family tree in a 3-month-free-trial frenzy on Ancestry last year, I have been into a lot of aspects of British life (I can trace my family back to the Norman Conquest). Having had finals during Kate and Will's wedding, this is the first one I felt invested in.  All it did was make me even more ready for my own wedding. We are officially at the 166 day mark.

And now it is Sunday and I am a little late getting to this week's edit. And while it hasn't had as much traction as some food posts, I don't mind. I'm enjoying letting you into another side of me.

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Bon Voyage. 
Without much notice, I have to go to Nashville this week for work. I've never been. Unfortunately, I will be sequestered to my hotel room or the office, with just business dinners to look forward to. I'm already missing the dogs, chickens, and Nolan, but I'm excited at the prospect of room service and perhaps an hour to myself in the pool (...and then even more room service). I'm even more excited to use my Delsey luggage, as it's deceptively roomy. Last time I packed two suits, a travel steamer, two pairs of dress shoes, and usual sleepwear.

But, if I am lucky enough to snag a lunch by myself, I'm hoping I find a vegetarian restaurant, as I've been meat-free for three solid months now.

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Aw. 
As mentioned above, this was the first Royal Wedding I've really gotten to watch and, to an extent, care about. I won't wax poetically about Meghan and Harry, but I love their love and I love how truly happy they both seem. I think after months and months of only reading about the horror of Trump, it's been a nice oasis to see some good in the news.

Snack. 
Since seeing some cute little heart-shaped spongecakes from Emma Thynn, Viscountess Weymouth, I've had it in mind to make my own. Here, I've made some tea cakes with jam and buttercream. The recipe is so easy, I've thought I'd share it here instead of in my blog today.

Ingredients
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup buttercream
1/2 cup jam of your choice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350*F and line a half-sized baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. In your stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, beat eggs on high for 6 minutes
  3. Add sugar, beat for 2 minutes until light and foamy
  4. Fold in flour and baking powder
  5. Pour onto your prepared sheet
  6. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown
  7. Allow to cool and cut into desired shapes
  8. Pipe buttercream around perimeter of cakes
  9. Spoon middle with jam
  10. Press top cake over buttercream and jam
  11. Enjoy!
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Relieved. 
This is my baby, Murphy. He's the most gentle boy in the entire world, who loves with his whole heart, can find even the smallest corner of your arm to cuddle in, and loves to sit out int the sun for hours and hours and hours. Today, we found ourselves in the emergency vet clinic with Murphy. On a walk, Nolan found a bump on his tail. We remained calm for the dogs, but internally, I was sick to my stomach. 

It turns out that it's a benign tumor that will need removed, but is nothing to worry about. We'll schedule it for the next couple of weeks, and he'll get a teeth cleaning for good measure. I love him more than anything in the entire world, so I am especially relieved today. And, because he was such a good boy, he got some McDonald's on the way home.

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Inspired. 
Since buying our home, I've slowly but surely been leaning towards following more home interior Instagrams and blogs. I also follow a few children's toy companies, because they're always just so...precious. I found this baby room by Dina Bandman to be just so perfectly inviting with just the tiiiiiniest bit of whimsy that I adore (those sheep!). 

Between this and Alice Naylor-Leyland's touch on Stibbington House, I think we know what's inspiring me this year as we have a little more budgeted towards the house compared to last year.

 I'm finishing this post early so I can do my face mask, finish packing, and watch Westworld. If you haven't started it, I highly recommend. I love a series with good world-building. And if you're like me and can't get enough Thandie Newton (a goddess), then I recommend  her TED Talk  to tide you over.

I'm finishing this post early so I can do my face mask, finish packing, and watch Westworld. If you haven't started it, I highly recommend. I love a series with good world-building. And if you're like me and can't get enough Thandie Newton (a goddess), then I recommend her TED Talk to tide you over.

And last but not least...check to see if you vote this week (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Texas)!

It's Too Hot to Bake: Caramel Banana Tiramisu!

I am fair-weather in the literal sense. My loyalty to the seasons changes, dependent on my comfort and mine alone. Right now, it is muggy. The storm has not broken and I am miserable. My office desk is pushed up, adjacent to the window and the sun makes a glare on my computer screen. And yet, I still wear layers. And yet, I still drink hot tea. And yet, I do not pull the blinds down to avoid the glare. I do not adapt to the world easily. I ask only that it adapts to me.

I thought about my inability to accept the truth, the change, the innate malleability of time and people and seasons. I thought about it just this morning, in fact. And I came to the conclusion that I ignore its responsibility to my life, its stewardship to my own decision-making at all costs. Like pneumonia, like a hangnail, I learn to live with the idea that all efforts to understand and adapt to the seasonality of people fail me. I live with the pain and ignore its presence. Its roots, to my knowledge, to my incessant ignorance, are not that deep.

But I know this is not true. I know there are signs to change all around. My dogs are not puppies, but instead they have white tips to their chins now. I ignore it. I did not recognize myself in a photo earlier this week and the achingly stiff reflection of myself in an asana during yoga. I would ignore a continental drift it it meant a few more minutes with even the idea of a Pangea.

And I thought about Italy this morning. How naive I was. How I thought I would conquer the world, but in reality I was scared to take the bus by myself. I was a young 18. I didn't know much. I never learned the language. I ignored the signs of losing my friend while there. I ached for all the ways in which it was How It Used To Be. I did not understand the power of the mind, how a cavity can feel like headache and glass in your heel can just be the shoes you have on. I let the friendship atrophy and that overshadows all other memories of Italy now.

But there is a Renaissance within me. I want to look back on that time and think about other things, now. The first time I got hungover was on Limoncello. How I lost my contacts in Florence. The wine from the chalice, the wine from the bottle, the wine from the glass of a stranger that got switched at the bar. The time I cried when I saw the David. The time I cried when I missed my family. The sweating windowpane on the overcrowded train to Ostia Antica and the cat that greeted me in the ruins. And the small cafe next to the old Jewish Ghetto that served tiramisu with fruit in it.

And now I remember it well, the flavors of a city I never loved. And how I regret my distractions now more than ever. But I'm rebuilding those memories now in the dessert below.

Caramel Banana Tiramisu

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To be frank, this dessert is easy. It's that way on purpose. Partly because I didn't make it in the traditional route and partly because all the ingredients were either in my pantry or on sale. But that's the beauty of it - it's adaptable. It's your own, so use any dish you want, add a different liquor...hell, even dip it in tea and make the cream spiked with Earl Grey. I'm a blogger, not a cop!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 TB vanilla extract, divided (see below)
  • 3 TB sugar
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce
  • 8 oz mascarpone
  • 2 overripe bananas
  • 24 ladyfingers
  • 1 cup strong coffee or espresso
  • 1 TB brandy (or even 1/4 teaspoon almond extract with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla from above)
  • Cocoa powder or chocolate sprinkles and a banana, sliced, for decoration

Directions:

  1. In a stand mixer, whip heavy cream until peaks form, add 1/2 TB vanilla and sugar, continue beating
  2. Add caramel, mascarpone, and bananas. Beat until incorporated
  3. Chill in refrigerator while prepping ladyfingers
  4. In any dish you may want (I used a 12" pyrex pie dish), assemble your first layer of ladyfingers
  5. Mix brandy or extracts into coffee
  6. Slowly pour coffee over each individual finger (I prefer doing it this way than dipping directly into the coffee so they don't get too soggy, but to each his own)
  7. Take cream mixture out of fridge and cover ladyfinger layer with cream
  8. Repeat with remaining ladyfingers and cream mixture
  9. Top with decoration listed, return to fridge for at least 3 hours prior to serving
Caramel Banana Tiramisu
Caramel Banana Tiramisu
Caramel Banana Tiramisu