Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Years Eve Tablescape: Transitions to Glamour

Whether it’s High Tea or a dinner party, the tablecape presentation sets the stage.

The hospitality decor visually tells you and your guests what this gathering is all about: formal, fun, flirty, casual, romantic -- or some combination of all those styles.

And transitioning from one holiday tablescape celebration may sound like just too much work - on top of everything else on your to-do list.

But I’m here to reassure you that with a good foundation you can merely edit the tablescape composition to allow you to gracefully move from one seasonal or holiday celebration to another.

For example, I designed a Thanksgiving tablescape in silver tones - with the two shades of sparkly silver wrapping paper runners topped with silver trays and serving pieces -- adorned with harvest food-as-luxury such as grapes, artichokes, pears and apples.

Starting with the basic foundation of silver and mirrors - to reflect the precious metals, lights and later - to Christmas gold and New Year’s sparkle.

Here, I added silver sparkle, chocolate turkeys, hour glasses with silver glitter, crystal and gold-painted faux pumpkins. Getting there...

Table setting for dinner with place settings, glitter placemats, silver painted wish bones -- it’s fun for guests to share a holiday wish!

Don’t forget the name place card settings -- they really add to the personalized style of the tablescape.

The meal sparkles with evening glow and firelight…

Moving to Christmas, I traded out a few pieces and added in some, mainly gold sparkly items such as the illuminated villages, gold and silver bells, gold trees, and shells, gold angel votive candle holders, silver jewelry, and colorful items including the Nutrcrackers, green balls in a crystal elevated dish - to add depth and dimension, and tiny fire engines with family names on them for place card name settings.

I also added a few luxury food items: oranges and pomegranates to celebrate the season.

Another great addition was the mini gift bags filled with chocolates. Also the the snow globe place settings are a great way to really personalize the look. You cut a photo and place in between the two side of the snow globe. Guests are delighted to see a favorite memory at their table setting -- with snow falling.
Here is also a lovely gift that also is a table setting: gift wrapped local honey from a favorite client -- from her very own bees! What a way to toast to the new year.

Homegrown Hugs. Thank you for a wonderful 2017. Cheers to good health and happiness in the new year. And to remembering to always add the best ingredient - Love -- to all your designs - be it garden, tablescape or cocktails or food.

True luxury and glamour.

I am most grateful for you and your support.

Here I traded out the Silver of Thanksgiving for a holiday red theme with green moss balls in the Murano glass bowl, along with red glittery balls. And the cinnamon candles add a heavenly seasonal scent to the welcome entryway. Soft lights add to the ambiance.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Wine Review for A Mobile Lifestyle: 'Rowdy, Cheeky, & Snappy' Are The Happy 'Hat Trick' of Backpack Brand's Can Wines

I’m not really a wine snob. Well, maybe a little. After all, I love good wines - thoughtfully chosen to marry with just the right food pairings - preferably homegrown, local ingredients, amplifying the axiom “that if it grows together it goes together.”

A wine complements and enhances the taste and flavors -- so that the whole experience is a unique, memorable treat influenced by nature’s season and the terroir and the preparation. It’s all very sensual.

When admonished to “live in the moment,” there is perhaps no better example - except perhaps for jazz and its cool improvisation - than a good bottle of wine and its ever-variable syncopated taste rhythms.

Then there’s the tradition and history of good wine making. I’ve worked professionally in restaurants, as well as for high-end catering; I’ve attended wine classes, wine tastings. I write about wine. I frequent Napa and Sonoma and France and - you get the idea…. I respect the craft of creating great wines and those who know and study them and the fermentation process… Good wines have their own unique stories.

And then, sometimes, I think I need to just need to think out of the box. Two clicks out of the box.

In this case, wine in a can.

Of the two “un-bottles,” wine in a box was introduced to the market first - some 50+ years ago; and in the US since the 1980s when high hair and shoulder pads were considered "style."  
Canned wine debuted a year or so ago. Both struggle with the black swan or ugly duckling image problems inherent in all rule breakers.

But the fact is, the vessel shouldn’t matter. In the spirit of innovation and open-mindedness I agreed to taste-drive the three Backpack Wine wine blends: Cheeky RoseⓇ, Snappy WhiteⓇ, and Rowdy RedⓇ. Samples were sent and I finally got a chance to try out the cute, slimline 250ml can - or “can-ette” as I refer to them. The Backpacks are too cunning to be referred to as mere “cans.” They are of a size that men and women can both feel they are drinking a wine with character and style. 
This alternative, eco packaging has gone upscale in a fun, engaging way.

The Backpack can-ettes are of course quite practical and the raison d’etre for the brand, really. They are convenient, safe, portable, individual drinking vessels. Wine was meant to be handheld and this form-factor is easy for enjoying the wine in public spaces, including parks, beaches, pools, picnics, boating, skiing, concerts and more. Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Yes. Block parties to help ring in the new year? The progressive neighborhood potluck dinner? Of course.

There are four of the can-ettes to a package - which is a tidy, brick-like block.

Each sells for a suggested $15.99 to $19.99 and are available at most liquor stores or available online at the Backpack website. Cases are offered too.

The Taste
The taste is, after all, why we adore drinking wine. These wines are fresh, young wines meant to drink straight away. You can use a glass or not, depending on your mood and locale.

According to Backpack Wine, the wines are 11.5 percent alcohol by volume, and are made with grapes from the Wahluke Slope in Washington state, from some of the finest Washington State vineyards. I asked about the fermentation process but haven’t gotten that information as of this posting. I’ll update when I do receive. I wanted to know the wine making process -- oak barrels or stainless steel? Or ?

I tried the Rowdy Red first -- two cans. The taste was pretty rich - with a smooth feel. The company describes it as: “a tasty blend of Washington State Merlot and Syrah that shows dark cherry on the nose. It drinks velvety smooth showing black cherry, plum and a touch of spice.” I can (!) surely see Rowdy Red on a picnic styled meal with cheeses, sandwiches, meats, and breads. It’s a robust, full-flavored wine that was a nice surprise.

The Snappy White had an issue. The two cans I opened were blooming with a not-so snappy olfactory sensation. My nose said “hazard.” There existed a distinct aluminum smell -- like that ammonia fragrance in a hair salon or bad eggs. This, of course, affected my perception of the taste. I made myself get past it to taste the wine and it was fine. But even pouring the wine into a glass the olfactory power remained. I read that cans are supposed to be lined to prevent that hair salon smell. It seems these two cans were not lined properly. The company says the Snappy White is, “a Washington State Riesling based blend has a touch of sweetness and weight that finishes with refreshing acidity. This balanced white delivers notes of green apple and Asian pear, making it perfect for cocktail hour or with spicy summer dishes.” I cannot corroborate that…

Alternatively, I found the Cheeky Rose a fresh, bright and refreshing. It was a tad fruity yet light and smooth. I was experiencing a sensation of crisp raspberries. The company notes the Cheeky Rose is “a Washington State Pinot Blanc and Sangiovese Rose blend is a drier expression, with a touch of peach, strawberry and rose petal; a clean crisp blush wine, it’s a bright treat with an open grill in the summer or rich foods in the winter.” I can see Cheeky Rose with a fruit platter at the beach or pool, or with dried apricots and cheeses or with bruschetta or pizzas.
All in, Backpack Wine is a good value. It’s a good tasting wine and oh-so convenient for our ever more mobile lifestyles. (I might also refer to the brand as Tony Tote Wines - because I can transport these wines on the go in a variety of equally stylish carry-on tote bags.  Because, it's all about the glamour...) 

Go ahead - try the wine.  It’s not ageable as bottled wine is so start drinking it straight away. It will upend your perception about wine in a can.

The only odd or funny thing you’ll discover about the Backpack wine in a can is that they don’t fit in your wine rack!

And Cheers!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Cutting Edge - Misen Knives Make Great Holiday Gifts: Professional Culinary Quality, Handsome Design & Precision Power

Photo courtesy of Misen

Not too long ago in mid autumn (sheesh, seems like last week), I got an email letting me know that Misen was following on its successful 2015 Kickstarter campaign that launched their line of chef’s knives to the consumer market with a second Kickstarter outreach to fund its new line of cookware -- including skillets, pans and pots -- with the skillets ready now to ship for the holiday season - now -and early 2018 for the stockpots, sauciers, and sauté pans.

Seemed I had a lot of catching up to do.

After blushing a bit about my ignorance of this culinary tool maker, I bounced back with the second email’s opening salvo, “I come bearing gifts!” Truth is, I do test drive every product I review so the offer was appreciated and in keeping with my hands-on platform for all things food and drink and design.

I also learned Misen really, really knows how to raise money! Their Kickstarter campaigns were off-the-butcher-block hits -- with more than $2 million in total pledged.

As it turns out, there is a direct line to all that support, based on the quality, design, and very, very fair price points.

All this American quality design and engineering at a great value sounded too good to be true. But it’s all for real.

By selling direct to the enlightened consumer, Misen says it is able to offer premium kitchen tools at honest prices. I’ll second that. You’ll want to own and gift these products to all - not just your foodie friends.

Misen has proven a delightful discovery and a valued kitchen partner. Right out of the box.

The Misen team has taken a page from Steve Jobs’ passion for packaging presentation: the knives come elegantly nestled in their own kind of jewelry boxes, surrounded by a cushioned foam and a polished branded box with a tidy closure.

This attention to detail whispers of the quality and attention to detail that Misen wants you to appreciate from the get-go.

The packaging screams gift! And you could also store them here if your kitchen doesn’t allow you to show off their runway-worthy good looks.

Misen is an online kitchenware brand, who aims to inspire; believing that “better tools make for better cooking, and better meals.” Amen to that mission. It was time to get in the kitchen with the Misen knives.

While there’s no doubt our Sunday roasted chicken was moist, we test-drove the Misens to determine if we could not only carefully cut through the skin, but on to the soft, tender meat - and then straight through the bones, as well. No problems. The Misens never broke a sweat changing gears, so to speak.

Further, as the company claims, one can slice through a fruit or vegetable without tearing, maintaining the integrity of the produce. Here you can see the balanced cut of our homegrown tomato -- keeping the juices and the integrity of the fruit.

Misen’s name comes from ‘mise en place’ — a culinary term that means “to put in place.” (We use this term in garden design, as well. Right plant for the right place...)

Chefs use the term to describe the process of setting up their stations before service. According to Misen, their knives’ moniker is an ode to “mise en place;” to better cooking through proper preparation with quality tools.

The company also worked with acclaimed culinary professional, J. Kenji López-Alt. The quote is a great summary tribute to the quality of the Misen knives:

The Anatomy of a Knife

First, a few, ahem, pointers.

A sharp knife is a safer knife simply because you won’t have to force or attempt to tear a cut or slice. Misen knives are born to be razor sharp.

Next, let’s identify the anatomy of a knife. After all, the knife is arguably the most important kitchen tool - so best to know its body parts, no?

The Handle is the part you’ll be in contact with (culinary gods willing!) so make sure it feel comfortable in your hand and grip.

And because the Misens are forged from a single piece of steel, it runs the entire length of the knife - through the handle. The section of steel in the handle is called the Tang. And Misens have Full Tang because the steel extends all the way to the end; that quality construction provides better balance.

The Bolster is the thick end of the blade area where it meets up with the handle. Here too, the construction provides balance plus it protects your fingers (from repetitive fatigue to slipping). And because Misens are forged from that single piece of steel they have a nice thick Bolster indicative of high-end, professional knives. The knives are also marked by their Rivets - another sign of quality.

The Heel is the widest part of the knife - used for chopping hard things like nuts, those chicken bones I mentioned. A solid Heel aids with a strong cutting force too.

The Cutting Edge is what most of think of when we use any knife. The edge angle on the Misen knives is ideal for most every cutting task. And it has a sharp cutting face.

The Tips of a knife can vary however the “V” or triangle is the most versatile. The Tip is the forward part of the knife and includes the knife point. The Tip is used detailed or delicate cutting
The Point is best for most cutting, with the tip used for small items and cutting food into thin strips and carving. The Point is used for piercing.

Quality Details

Misen knives are precision machined and hand finished from high carbon Japanese stainless steel. In fact, all the Misen Knives use premium Japanese AICHI AUS-8 Steel, providing a great balance of edge retention, and durability.

The knives feature acute 15 degree blade angles for a noticeably sharper cutting face, and a sloped bolster for better comfort and control.

The durable POM thermoplastic handles boast a sloped bolster that promotes a proper “pinch grip” for better comfort and control.

Plus a cook and baker like me wants the kitchen to look good -- think of all the Twitter and Instagram love you’re sharing. It won’t do to have boring utensils spoiling the culinary magic…

Misen knife handles are available in "Look-Book" ready blue, black, and gray colors.

The blue is a kind of French blue - which matches our country house blue marble island and counters soooo perfectly.

I’m told Misen will soon offer a Free sharpening service. Nice touch!

Products Available for Purchase

  • Misen Chef’s Knife - $65 (Comparable knife would cost over $135+ at traditional retail)
  • Misen Essentials Set - $130 (3 pc, edited set: Chef, Paring, Serrated Knife)
  • Misen Chef’s Knife - From paper thin slices to rough chops, the single most important tool in any kitchen
          Blade Length - 8.2 inches / 208 millimeters
          Total Length - 13.2 inches / 335 millimeters
          Weight - 8.3 oz / 235 g

  • Misen Paring Knife - Small, but mighty. An essential knife for work both on the cutting board and ‘in air.’ Perfect for work like peeling, coring, mincing and trimming
          Blade Length - 3.2 inches / 81 millimeters
          Total Length - 7.5 inches / 190 millimeters
          Weight - 2.8 oz / 80 g
  • Misen Serrated Knife - A long curved blade with pointed serrated teeth perfect for crusty breads, and tough-skinned fruits and vegetables
          Blade Length - 10.0” inches / 254 millimeters
          Total Length - 15.0” inches / 381 millimeters
          Weight - 8.6 oz / 243 g

Knife Gifts

For the holiday season, Brooklyn-based Misen plans to focus on their new cookware (will test soon..) including the skillets.

At the same time, I can heartily recommend the precision, crafted Misen knives as gifts for most everyone on your list. There are gift sets good to go and individual knives. They make great stocking stuffers, too. Plus, the company is running a promotion on their website: 10% off your first order!

The Misen knives are more than a utility; they are a handsome assistant you’ll be proud to showcase in your kitchen.

I’m told the story of Misen began when a friend lost the one quality skillet that Misen founder Omar Rada owned. While shopping for a replacement, Rada recognized an opportunity: quality cookware was nonexistent at an honest price. Products that were cheap suffered from poor quality, and premium cookware, while more versatile in the kitchen, was out of budget for many home cooks. Thus, admitted “knife nerd” Rada set out to build a knife with quality materials and thoughtful design at an affordable price that would ship direct to customers. Hitting its initial Kickstarter funding goal in mere hours, Misen raised nearly $2MM to develop a chef’s knife that was lauded by culinary experts like Serious Eats Culinary Director J. Kenji Lopez-Alt and tens of thousands of home cooks.

As Misen notes: “Better tools for better cooking for better meals.”

And the best ingredient is love…

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Blueberry for All Seasons: Josh Pond Handpicked Wild Maine Blueberries Delivers "Blue Jewels"

Josh Pond Maine Blueberries 
Josh Pond is a small organic farm in Whiting, Maine that specializes in wild blueberries. The berries arrive looking for all the world like blue jewels packed together in a frozen jewelry box.
Photo courtesy: Asia Coladner

And in a way, they are more precious... After all, good food ingredients are true luxury.  Now you can gift the best blueberries. 

Photo courtesy: Asia Coladner

Situated near Maine’s rugged northeastern coast, the Josh Pond farm surrounds Washington County - one of the few places in North America where the wild blueberry still flourishes. Josh Pond says it is committed to providing consumers with the healthiest, most flavorful blueberries on earth and takes care to tend to and harvest its berries in an environmentally sustainable manner that helps keep Maine healthy, beautiful and wild.
The Beal family tends to its 100+ acres of their Josh Pond farmland, in addition to the 16 beehives, and dairy goats.  

Though most blueberry operations use mechanical harvesters to maximize volume, Josh Pond holds fast to the region’s centuries-old traditional method of raking blueberries by hand in the early morning when the berries are coldest and least likely to bruise. This attention to detail percolates through every aspect of the business. Josh Pond is certified organic by MOFGA and believes that organic, naturally biodiverse farming practices create the healthiest, best-tasting berry while also keeping Maine's land and sea ecosystems free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

There are a few New York City restaurants spotlighting recipes and dishes made with the sustainable, Josh Pond wild blueberries from Maine, including:
Notably, each of these restaurants and ice cream shops source their blueberries from Josh Pond, the family-run organic farm producing wild blueberries in the traditional way. Josh Pond also ships wild Maine blueberries direct to doorsteps nationwide and year-round, so consumers can get a taste of Maine anytime--even if you can't dine on New York’s best blueberry dishes.

Yes, you can order these delicious, teeny, flavor delights any time -- by mail! Josh Pond sent me a 5-pound box, fresh-frozen, to try out. In turn, I immediately recommended to friends who rushed to order a box. I made a recipe for Italian Bread Pudding with blueberries and marscapone that I sourced from the Greenmarket.
This is a delicious recipe to gift, by the way.  A perfect confection for holiday tables.  The Josh Pond berries burst with flavor even when baked.

Italian Bread Pudding with Blueberry (recipe courtesy  Union Square Greenmarket) 

About 3-4 Cups bread cut into ½ inch pieces (a hearty crusted bread works best)
3 eggs
1 C milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp butter or margarine
½ C brown sugar
¼ C plus 1 tbsp white sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 pint blueberries
8 oz mascarpone cheese


Place diced bread in a bread pan
In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla and the brown sugar until well combined
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Pour egg mixture over bread and allow to soak in until all liquid is absorbed (about 15 min)
Cover with foil and bake for 45-60 minutes until bread pudding is firm and all liquid is gone.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes (this can be made in advance 1-3 days if needed).
In a mixing bowl, combine mascarpone cheese, 1 tbsp sugar, and orange zest until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to assemble dessert.
In a small sauce pan, combine blueberries + ¼ C sugar and cook over medium heat smashing blueberries until blueberries turn bright purple (about 5-10 min)

To assemble: slice bread pudding into three ½ " thick pieces and sauté in a pan with the melted butter (about 1 minute on each side).
On a plate spread ½ C orange cheese mixture, then layer bread pudding slices and top with blueberry compote.

The Josh Pond blueberries are smaller than the ones you now see in the grocery stores (I recently read that South America is now growing golf-ball sized berries for China. Yikes!) I grow my own New Jersey blueberries -- the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).  The Pine Barrens growers claim they are the “blueberry capital of the of the world).  The Garden State berries are excellent but understandably seasonal.

On the other hand, the shipped, Josh Pond blueberries are the lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium); come neatly packed and are easy to divide up and use as needed in your daily smoothies, topping your cereal or ice cream, or in cooking and baking.
Photo courtesy of Asia Coladner
Photo courtesy Asia Coladner 
The health benefits of blueberries are widely known.
Moreover, it should be noted that the wild berries not only offer vitamins C and K, along with manganese, dietary fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, the wild blueberries contain almost double the antioxidants and half the sugar of the cultivated berries!

Now, you can enjoy the tart, naturally sweet taste and nutrition benefits all year long.
Shipped Josh Pond blueberries arrive thoughtfully packed. Photo: Leeann Lavin 

Berry Art - Josh Pond blueberries arrive.  Photo: Leeann Lavin
Josh Pond blueberries are an ideal, All-American gift to give, especially this holiday season. I highly recommend these tasty treats.  Just think of a "Pond Punch" made with these "blue jewels" - or the next day's Holiday or New Year's Day pancakes made with fresh blueberries.
photo courtesy of Asia Coladner
Or Blueberry Muffins!

Photo courtesy of Asia Coladner

Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

The incredible blueberries are available all year for nationwide delivery via Josh Pond website.  You can order a single shipment of 5 pounds of frozen, wild, organic Maine blueberries ($50) or sign up for a monthly delivery for 3, 6, 9, 0or 12 months via the Josh Pond Monthly Club.
Now that's a gift that keeps on giving!   You'll be thought of all year long...