Archive for May, 2012

Errr…. Hello?

May 31st, 2012 | Rachel

According to Google Analytics, this page about my Hanging Window Herb Garden is blowing up today.  Did it get posted somewhere?

Whoever you are, welcome!  If you are wondering what this blog is all about, check out the What’s This All About? page (my links are at the bottom of this page).

Also, if you want to keep up with the adventure, please subscribe by scrolling down to the bottom of this page and giving me your email address.  I promise I won’t spam you.

Let me know how your herb gardens turn out!

The Sour Taste Of Failure

May 28th, 2012 | Rachel

Last night, I declared an end to my infant baking career.

I probably didn’t mean it, but the frustration and failure behind the proclamation was utterly deflating.  Let us rewind 24 hours.

Meyer Lemons!

Last weekend, Steve and I made a trip to a nearby farmer’s market and came home with eggs, carrots, strawberries, blood oranges, and homemade jam.  I also picked up four pounds of Meyer lemons to make a cake I saw in a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living… or at least I thought it was MSL.  I couldn’t remember exactly where I saw the recipe and was unable to locate it in any of the recent issues.  Even the search results for googling “Meyer lemon cake” was a little underwhelming.  I eventually settled on a lemon cake with lemon curd filling and honey lavender whipped cream from

Lavender for the Honey Lavender Whipped Cream

The plan was to make the cake yesterday morning to take to a pool party in the afternoon.  My Memorial Day weekend plans had been thrown off by a last minute scheduling of the dinner shift yesterday evening.  I had been planning on going to the pool party hosted  by some church friends and then another party hosted by a co-worker at the office.  Even with the unexpected work shift, it was possible for me to spend a couple of hours by the pool, go to work, and then end the evening eating ribs at my co-workers house.

I ran into the first snafu early in the baking process when I realized I only have whole wheat cake flour.  Although I love the idea of using whole wheat, the fact remains that it is overwhelmingly “wheaty” in flavor and gritty in texture.  As one of the chefs reiterated during dinner last night, whole wheat flour just doesn’t have a place in baking desserts.  Sorry, whole wheat flour lovers out there.

I should have paused for a moment and run to the store for proper flour, but I was a woman on a mission — and a tight schedule — and I went ahead with what I had.  Everything after that went really well: squeezing and zesting my four pounds of lemons, separating the eggs and folding in the beaten egg whites, making the lemon curd.  By the time the first two components of the recipe were completed, I was feeling pretty good.  And I was only running a half hour behind schedule.

Whole Wheat Lemon Chiffon Cake With Meyer Lemon Curd

One day I should probably switch to proper measuring cups, but baking with these makes me feel like I am adding a little extra love to the mix

I did have to make a trip to the grocery store at this point to buy cream for the honey lavender whipped cream.  Upon my return, I followed the directions exactly:

Bring cream, honey, and lavender blossoms just to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and let steep, covered, 30 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids, and chill lavender cream, covered, until cold.

If you are a seasoned chef, you might already spot the error in these instructions.

While my lavender cream was steeping, I jumped in the shower and got dressed for my full day of events.  When I was ready to go, I cut the cake into three layers, filled them with the lemon curd, and then took my strained and thoroughly chilled cream from the fridge for whipping.  Not wanting to get my huge 6-quart mixer bowl dirty, I left the cream in its small (and cold) stainless steel bowl and put the whisk attachment on my hand held mixer.  Ten minutes later, my cream was only slightly thicker than before and far from whipped.  Perhaps the bowl was too small, I thought, and I got out another bowl and divided the cream in half.  Ten minutes later, the only change in the cream were the splatters all over the stove, wall and my dress.

By this point I was slightly annoyed.  The only thing that was going to save my potentially grainy whole wheat cake was this delicious whipped cream.  I needed it!  Maybe I just needed to use one large bowl, I thought, as I pulled another stainless steel bowl from the cabinet.  Ten minutes later, no change.  This was ridiculous!  Perhaps my little handheld mixer wasn’t enough for whipped cream (even though it whipped the egg whites perfectly two hours earlier).  I turned to the stand mixer.  Ten minutes of high-speed mixing later, the cream was still runny and a little waxy.  I was bewildered.

As a last ditch effort, I poured out two thirds of the lavender cream and added the leftover half of a cup of plain cream from the fridge.  Ten minutes later, nothing.  Failure.

I was afraid to look at the clock, but I knew I was running late.  I yelled obscenities at the mixer, dumped the runny cream into the sink with disgust and stacked up the dirty bowls.  Then I stood in the middle of the kitchen and looked up at the ceiling, waiting for the tears to come.  Alas, I was too frustrated to cry.

I gathered my things — and the whipped cream-less cake — and jumped in the car.  It was 3:45pm.  The pool party was 20 minutes out of town and I had to be at work at 5pm.  And I had to stop at the grocery store to pick up a can of gross spray whipped cream because I knew the whole wheat cake needed the added lubrication.  In case you don’t want to do the math, that left me exactly 20 minutes to spend at the party.  If I wasn’t so stubborn I would have just stayed home at this point and use the hour to calm down and mentally prepare myself for work.  But, I am, so I didn’t.

The tears of failure of frustration finally came as I exited the store with a can of Reddi Whip.

At work that night, I told one of the chefs about my unwhippable cream and asked for an explanation.  He immediately recognized that my error was in boiling the cream.  Once you heat cream, it changes the proteins and makes it unwhippable.  Looking back at the recipe, I am perplexed because some of the comments express a positive outcome for the cream.  I am wondering if they didn’t heat their cream as hot, although I brought mine barely to a boil.  After doing some internet research on the matter, I am also wondering if my problem was a result of using ultra-pasteurized cream.  I read several accounts of people having trouble whipping cream that has been ultra-pasteurized (which means it was heated to a higher temperature for longer shelf life).

[On a side note: I’ve noticed that a disappointing number of organic dairy products are ultra-pasteurized these days.  The only organic milk I can find that isn’t ultra-pasteurized comes from a local dairy.]

The Culprit

For next time, and for any of you who want to try your own hand at lavender whipped cream, the chef told me I don’t need to heat the cream to infuse it.  I can just add the lavender to the cold cream and stick it back in the fridge over night.

The cake went over well enough, I suppose.  It was a crowd that seemed to appreciate the earthiness of the whole wheat.

Whole Wheat Lemon Cake With Lemon Curd Filling

Now it is time to wash the pile of dirty bowls and put this experience behind me.  I can’t end my baking career on a failure.

Happy Belated Anniversary, Readers!

May 14th, 2012 | Rachel

Oh dear.  I don’t know how I could miss an anniversary as significant as that of my first blog post.  Please accept my sincere apologies and know how much I appreciate you for joining me on this journey.

I had toyed with the idea of having a blog for several years.  My fledgling culinary efforts were being documented on Facebook, but I wanted something that could reach a wider audience and be better archived for posterity.

The question, then, was what to call it?

I had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my job at the law firm, and the vision of running a bed & breakfast in French wine country was slowly diverting my already-established career path as an attorney.  I was taking French classes and attending a lot of one-off wine classes.  I was currently reading Julia Child’s memoir, “My Life In France,” which had inspired me to request a copy of “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” as a late Christmas present from my parents.  Steve and I were were two months away from our heavenly two-week road trip around France and had started discussing possible routes and sites to see.

I had spent three amazing and life changing years in New York City, the Center of the Universe, but at that moment, I was certain my destiny was pulling me somewhere else.  I was having visions of sunlit fields and fresh air and vineyards and dusty old chateaus and country roads.  I felt drawn to a people who were less concerned with deadlines and money and status and running themselves ragged and more focused on quality of life and community.

And then it hit me… I’d rather be in France.

At first it was a very literal statement.  I love France.  I love the food.  I love the language.  I love the wine.  I love the geography and history and even the stereotypical snooty attitude.  I still think running a bed & breakfast in a small town outside of Bordeaux would be absolute heaven.

After my first trip to California last July, however, “France” turned out to be something bigger.  Today, in the context of this blog and my life, “France” represents the life I want to live.  It represents my priorities and realizations of the things that make me happy and fulfilled — and it represents actually doing those things.

Maybe one day I’ll return to the original intention of this blog, which was to write about my love of French culture in the context of my Southern, New Yorker and now Californian life.  To this day, the most continuously popular blog entry is the snippet I wrote about the movie Amelie back when this blog was just getting started and I didn’t know what else to write about.

So thanks for coming along with me this far.  It is my hope that my journey to “France” will inspire you to take inventory of what is meaningful and fulfilling in your own lives and make those things a priority.

Happy Anniversary!

Exploring Pacific Grove, California (outside Monterey) with Steve

Why do you live where you live?

May 2nd, 2012 | Rachel

Today’s post is more of a poll.  Please feel free to contribute your answer in the comments.

Looking back at my own brief life so far, my choices in location have almost always been inspired by external influences.  I first lived in South Carolina and Alabama (and South Carolina, again) because of my parents (who were influenced in large part by both my dad’s jobs and the locations of my grandparents).

As a somewhat autonomous high school graduate, I chose to live in Athens, Georgia to attend the University of Georgia.  That decision was more of a process of elimination.  I didn’t want to go to school in South Carolina, and I didn’t want to follow my parents’ footsteps at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, so I somewhat arbitrarily chose UGA and, consequently, Athens.

I next chose to live in Chapel Hill, North Carolina to study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.  That decision was a direct result of the influence of my high school advanced placement government teacher, Jerry Willard, who had attended UNC and often referred to it as “Chapel Hole.”  I still consider him to be one of the most influential teacher’s I’ve had, and I attribute my choice in law schools almost solely to him.

During law school, people made it seem like a big deal to do these on-campus interviews for large law firms around the country, so I followed suit and ended up with an offer to work at a firm in New York City.  I had never considered living in New York, but the prospect seemed exciting and it was a pretty good job, so that is where I moved next.

In case you haven’t been keeping track, my influences for moving so far have been: family, school, school, work.  I suspect those are by far the three most common answers to my poll.

The decision to move to California was completely different.  There were no job offers waiting, and I have enough degrees and student loans as it is.  I also don’t have any family west of Texas.

Without diving too much into the question of vocation (which will be a poll for another day), this time the considerations for my next physical home were based on factors such as: proximity to wine country, proximity to a large city, proximity to state and national parks, cultural diversity, proximity to academic community, population size, proximity to food sources, community attitude regarding the local economy, weather and general level of quirkiness.  Eventually I added proximity to water as a major consideration, mostly due to Steve’s lobbying efforts.  I should also add “long-held stereotypes about the west coast,” because I’ve always thought I would fit in on the west coast even though I had never been there.

The idea to move to California actually started off as an idea to move to France (hence the name of this blog).  France was presenting itself to be more of a logistical challenge, particularly in light of wanting to open a business, and Steve isn’t quite the Francophile that I am.  It was on a mother-daughter trip to Napa and Sonoma that I first felt this deep connection between California and everything I loved about France (minus the romance language and affinity for butter).  It was an immediate, obvious choice, and the factors I listed above were then used to pinpoint a town within this huge state.

It is funny to think about because a majority of the people I have met in Santa Cruz are there either for school or because that is where they’ve always lived.  Would they choose to live here independently?  If they truly considered the world of possibilities, where would they live?  Where would you live, and why don’t you live there now?