Monday, December 29, 2014

Holiday Punch Recipe from Top Chef Gail Simmons showcases Pure Leaf Real Brewed Tea

Want to “punch up” the Holiday party? 
An easy-to-make, elegant recipe from author and host of Top Chef Just Desserts and judge on Top Chef, Gail Simmons and Pure Leaf Real Brewed Tea - is the inspiration for a pretty -- and tasty holiday hostess punch that is sure to welcome guests as an entertaining treat and a “get the seasonal parties started” focal point.  A party-central “sparkler.”

An special food and drink event was held at The New York Botanical Garden’s Lillian and Amy Goldman Stone Mill, nestled along the banks of the Bronx River, in the Garden, hosted by Pure Leaf Tea featured cook and Food & Wine contributor/director, Simmons, and home entertainment blogger, Camille Styles. (Yes that is her tailor-made-for-her-profession moniker!) and author of her own, self-styled book, Camille Styles Entertaining Inspired Gatherings and Effortless Style that is a wonderful holiday hostess gift, by the way, filled with seasonal food and drink recipes, color photos, and tips.  

The event at NYBG was designed to both introduce Pure Leaf Tea to the uninitiated, and new ways to use the fresh-brewed tea, especially in holiday recipes. 
I will unabashedly confess to not being familiar with the product and hopefully forgiven for being a bit skeptical about its lack of homegrown gravitas.  
But here’s the thing.  The world of food and drink is an enduring, never-ending adventure that opens a door to learning about new tastes and creating recipes. 
So lo and behold, Pure Leaf is well, just that.  It’s made from pure tea. Go figure…  (The sugar count clocks in at 18 grams per serving/42 grams per 18.5 ounces - that is one full bottle/2.5 servings, as noted on the label, so be mindful.  Tip: four grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar). So using the tea in a punch is an effective and tasty way to use the Pure Tea.

The fresh brewed, Pure Leaf tea is made with tea leaves picked or harvested at their peak, then hand-selected by Pure Leaf Master Tea Blenders from plantations in India, Africa and South America to be used in the Love the Leaves collection of flavors, including lemon, raspberry, peach, and sweet tea.
More about the event and a review of Gail Simmons’ marvelous cookbook and memoir, Talking with My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater – which will make a fabulous holiday gift, is in the Garden Glamour story/editorial queue.

Here, in time for party planning is Gail Simmons’ recipe for Pure Leaf Lemon-Ginger Tea Pomegranate Sparkler.
The Pure Leaf Tea event presented various tasting stations.   Sampling the tea in a variety of prepared libations proved to be a refreshing and satisfying treat that prompted, “More, please.”  In addition, a DIY/craft and cooking presentation by both Styles and Simmons, after welcoming remarks from Eric Whitehouse, Marketing Director, Pure Leaf Tea, PepsiCo.  

Whitehouse and his team are doing something right: Pure Leaf sales are up 40 per cent this year.  
“We have a pure passion for real tea – we brew it like you would at home.  Because it is,” he smiled.
Whitehouse explained, “We find people who embody our brand” and that led them to Gail Simmons and eventually to Camille Styles.  He said the brand is happy to partner with them.  “It’s a powerful thing,” he noted, by way of explaining the link to Pure Leaf. 

Simmons followed Styles, demonstrating how to make the Pure Leaf Lemon-Ginger Tea Pomegranate Sparkler.  
Later, in a follow up blog post, Styles showcased her own twist on the Camille Styles Lemon, Ginger & Pomegranate Sparkler

It was fascinating to watch Simmons in-person after enjoying her on the popular, "Top Chef" TV show. 
Simmons is down to earth, friendly, and authentic.  She readily explained in a follow-up interview that because she doesn't have a restaurant: “I am not a chef.” 
Simmons exudes that “best-friend/girlfriend” huggable personality that makes you want to embrace her and her cooking style. 
Demonstrating that friendly, chatty, BFF -- and at the same time, unmistakable, knowledgeable authority -- Simmons showed the guests how to create a few recipes: Shaved Fall Vegetable Salad with Pure Leaf Tea Pickled Radishes.  Pickling the radishes was fun, too.  

Simmons launched her Sparkler presentation by demonstrating how to open a pomegranate to extract and -- essentially wash out the seeds --  a key ingredient in her Pure Leaf recipe.  It is also a good-to-know food prep technique for other recipes. 
Thank you for the prep tip, Gail.  

Then, she showed how to cut the pomegranate in quarters and submerge the fruit in a bowl of cold water, “tap” the pomegranate and to easily wash out the seeds as they fall to the bottom of the bowl.  Who knew?  
Then she cut fresh ginger. And finally she showed how to blend these fresh ingredients with Pure Leaf Tea.

I wanted to recreate the recipe, making the Pure Leaf Tea Ginger and Pomegranate Sparkler the focus of a welcome, sparkly tablescape for holiday guests. 
First up, was to secure some holiday fashions to honor this Pure Leaf Sparkler

A shopping foray in NYC’s floral markets unearthed red-themed sparkly decorations and décor to complement the red pomegranate in the Pure Leaf recipe.   The tablescape décor included snow, sleigh bells, and “cranberries” from Williams Sonoma, and the aforementioned floral district sparkly scores.

Punch it Up!
Over the years I have used punch recipes and seasonal ice designs for almost every occasion: from bridal showers to garden parties and Christmas/Winter Holidays.  

My niece, Lauren, enjoys her beautiful, rose-bud bridal punch

I always thought a glamourous, signature party punch drink avoids mixing and fixing drinks and allows the hostess to enjoy the party.
Then, I saw a photo essay in the December issue of House Beautiful touting the very idea of creating an artful, floating ice block in a punch.   In a "back to the future"  kind of moment, I was inspired to make and share my punch magic that I've used for lots of party glamour.

The Rose Buds/Blossoms are frozen in bundt mold, melt to reveal floating floral design

Credit the idea of punch to the 17th century when sailors and explorers brought it back from, most likely, the Hindus.  The Hindu word punch means five.  
A traditional punch is a mix of five components: sweet, sour, water, spice and alcohol.  

Pure Leaf made combining these five elements easy and delicious.
Punch is a preferred welcome drink because it can be cold, hot, and pretty. With a welcome “Hostess Punch,” guests can get right into the party spirit.  
There isn’t that awkward moment when hosts ask, “What can I get you to drink?” and the guest looks around to see what others may be imbibing.  Cocktail? Wine?  

In every season, punch is a friendly jump-start to the party. With liquor or without.  

But why not punch up the sparkle in the holiday recipe by adding some craft spirits? 
We provided this season’s gin in a Waterford creamer pitcher next to the punch bowl so guests can add accordingly.  Perhaps all that crystal created a “white” mood. 

Simmons recommends bourbon, too, if one is to add a spirit to her Sparkler recipe.  
Small punch glasses keep the guests coming back for more and at the same time, help foster that party mixing and mingling.  Perfect party style.
I prefer cold punches, so the Simmons' Pure Leaf recipe was like discovering a long-lost relative on the family tree.   
The really glamorous part of any cold punch is the opportunity to chill it out with a floating ice block inside the punch bowl.  The frozen ring can be thought of as an added accessory adorning the delicious punch: think baby roses, nasturtiums, or herbs, for example, to make the punch special to a season or occasion.   Plus the block of ice keeps the punch from diluting.

How to make the ice ring
Using distilled water, freeze half of the mold – one can use a bundt pan, as I doe most often, or use a milk carton or one cut in half --  or any freezable container, or any freezable flat plate or pan.  

When the half is frozen, lay in the flowers or herbs and then fill the container the rest of the way full with the distilled water.  When all is frozen and ready to serve, place the ring in the center of the punch bowl.   
If a punch bowl is not part of one’s entertaining collective, use any pretty bowl to hold the punch.  
The plant-infused ice also makes for a lovely ring of happy beauty as the ice begins to melt.

Overall, there is no denying it is a festive, pretty look for a welcome entrance, dining table or island.  
The Pure Leaf Gail Simmons recipe was easy and fun to make.  I secured the Pure Leaf Tea in two different blends: Peach and Sweet Tea and used both.  Loving fresh ginger, I  added a tablespoon more than the recipe called for took the spicy flavor up a notch.

For the Pure Leaf Ginger Sparkler ice ring, I used fresh-from-the-garden rosemary (yes, it’s still great this time of year even in zone 6 and 7), along with market-bought pomegranate seeds. 

Pure Leaf Lemon-Ginger Tea Pomegranate Sparkler
By Gail Simmons
Serves 2
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 cup Pure Leaf Lemon Iced Tea
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
Cold club soda
2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, for garnish
2 cinnamon sticks, for garnish

In a saucepan, combine the ginger and Pure Leaf Lemon Iced Tea and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to steep, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool in an airtight container in the fridge.

Fill two highball glasses with ice. Pour 1/2 cup ginger-infused tea, then 1/4 cup pomegranate juice into each glass. Top each with club soda, garnish with a tablespoon of pomegranate seeds and a cinnamon stick to stir.
For alcoholic version, add 2 ounces gin or bourbon before adding tea.
Visit Pure Leaf Website, and on Facebook

Happy, “punched-up” holidays.  Be sure to add some sparkle to the holidays. Cheers.

Pure Leaf Tea Punch pretty in day … 

or night…

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Garden Magic

Garden lovers can’t help but wear their hearts on their sleeve.
And, climate-change notwithstanding, in the colder, temperate zones – say seven on down  – that sleeve is a wool or fur one! 
FYI, the USDA released an updated Plant Hardiness Zone Map in 2012 using 30 years of meteorological data.  See how your garden zone may have changed.

To get our fix of non-dormant plants in the winter, heretofore Temperate gardeners and growers frequent our beloved botanical gardens for classes, botanical art, lectures, films, and tours. 

Then, there is The New York Botanical Garden's Holiday Train Show that takes visiting a plant-filled museum of plants to an entirely artful plateau that is transporting.
NYBG “owns” Christmas and the Holidays this time of year. 
Can’t get in the spirit?  Shopping leaving you not fulfilled?  Ugly sweaters leaving you itchy??
Get to the Annual Holiday Train Show. 

Like one of the Russian nesting dolls, there is layer upon layer of surprise and delight and sensual wonder – twinkling lights, colorful plants, trains.  The Enid A. Haupt Conservatory is transformed into a magical, fairy tale you can walk through.
We did this week.  Mother, a favorite garden client, Maria, and friend Judy were mesmerized yet again.  The Holiday Train Show brings out the child in all of us.

The presentation is all made from plant parts – which curiously, some visitors didn’t know even after visiting the show.  I know this because I was helping some young women find their way back to Manhattan on the train a few weeks ago and we got talking… I think that points to how incredible the designer Paul Busse and his Applied Imagination team are. 
They create New York Landmarks with the plant parts, including some of my favorites:
The Arch at Washington Square Park (near where we live -- in real life!)

The Brooklyn Bridge,

Rockefeller Center,

Grand Central,

and the Garden’s own Conservatory. 

Here below is NYBG’s news about the show.  The photos are mine.  No words needed… The show is breathtaking, leaving one rather speechless…

Central Park Bethesda Fountain

The New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show®, a New York City holiday tradition for visitors of all ages, opens for the season on Saturday, November 15. In its 23rd annual exhibition, New York’s Favorite Train Show presents an enchanted New York enlivened by model trains amid the glow of twinkling lights in America’s premier Victorian-style glasshouse, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The cherished holiday experience at the Botanical Garden continues through January 19, 2015, with a plethora of accompanying programming, including children’s activities, poetry, classical music, cocktail evenings, and more.

The Holiday Train Show showcases replicas of New York landmarks, artistically crafted of natural materials such as bark, twigs, stems, fruits, seeds, and pine cones by designer Paul Busse’s team at Applied Imagination.
The original Pennsylvania Station and Yankee Stadium,

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Radio City Music Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge,

and Rockefeller Center

are among the favorites in the Botanical Garden’s collection of more than 150 Holiday Train Show replicas. This year only, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York’s World Fair held in Queens, the Holiday Train Show features replicas of the World’s Fair-famed Unisphere,
observatory towers, and the Tent of Tomorrow at the New York State Pavilion, all from the Paul Busse Collection.
Over 20 large-scale model railway trains and trolleys—from American steam engines and streetcars from the late 1800s to modern freight and high-speed passenger trains—traverse nearly a quarter-mile of track across rustic bridges, along overhead trestles, through tunnels, and past waterfalls that cascade into flowing creeks. The trains in the Holiday Train Show are G-gauge, sometimes measuring more than two feet long and weighing as much as 10 pounds. Thomas the Tank EngineTM and other trains especially loved by children also travel the tracks of the exhibition. The Artist’s Studio, which will feature the World’s Fair replicas, also illustrates how the replicas are constructed by displaying in-progress models of Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, will also be on display.

Seasonal Programming at the Holiday Train Show
The Garden brings visitors real trains, real landmarks, and real fun with programming for all. This year, visitors can enjoy Evergreen Express in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden; a poetry reading by former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; classical concerts; and in January, a new performance at All Aboard with Thomas & FriendsTM. The Garden’s popular Bar Car Nights return on select Fridays and Saturdays in November, December, and January.

Look at this detail of plant parts!

The experience continues in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden with Evergreen Express. Children can embark on a journey through a variety of hands-on activity stations to explore cones, needles, and other amazing evergreen plant parts and craft a miniature balsam fir sachet. Children walk the trails of the Adventure Garden on a scavenger hunt in search of beautiful evergreen trees and shrubs. Each weekend brings even more fun with Holiday Train Parades and Ralph Lee’s Artist Station, where children can build their own train puppet. The Everett Children’s Adventure Garden is open all day for exploration. Guided Activities: Weekdays, 1:30–5:30 p.m.; Weekends and Holiday Weeks (December 22–January 2), 10 a.m.–6:30 p.m.

The popular Bar Car Nights return with opportunities for grown-ups to enjoy the evening while sipping a complimentary cocktail. Explore the Conservatory after dark with a viewing of the Holiday Train Show before heading outside for new seasonal fun throughout the Visitor Center. Dinner and refreshments will be available for purchase in The Pine Tree Café. Fridays and Saturdays, November 21 & 22; December 5, 6, 19, 20; January 2, 3, 9, 10; 7–10 p.m. Advance tickets are recommended at Non-Member $35/Member $25 (Adults 21 and over)

During the Holiday Train Show, November 15, 2014–January 19, 2015, The New York Botanical Garden is open Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.; Extended hours, 10 a.m.–7 p.m., Saturdays, November 15– January 17; Friday, November 28 (day after Thanksgiving); and December 20–January 1. The Garden is closed all day on November 27 (Thanksgiving) and December 25 (Christmas); it closes at 3 p.m. on December 12 and 24 (Christmas Eve)

All-Garden Pass tickets start at $20 for adults and $8 for children (ages 2–12) and differ during certain peak times. Members and children under 2 are free.
Advance timed tickets are strongly recommended and are available at Discounts available for group of 15or more; contact Group Tours at 718.817.8687. For more information, please visit our Web site at or call 718.817.8700.