Feeds:
Posts
Comments

 

Sweet and Light: Cotton Candy

Sweet and Light: Cotton Candy

Pink, fluffy, sweet – cotton candy – takes me back to being a child at the Puyallup Fair I picture snow-cones, popcorn, amusement parks, roller coasters and big cones of spun sugar. I remember vendors with bunches of pink cotton candy cones. Back then, I begged my parents for this treat. When the sugar melted in my mouth, I was addicted.

During Valentine’s Day, this memory came flooded back. I was reading the Seattle Magazine’s February issue when an article on cotton candy grabbed my attention.

Spun, a new Seattle company, makes cotton candy in flavors such as lavender, Meyer lemon , rose and blood orange. I wanted to meet Cristie Schrader, the Seattle woman who created Spun and learn the story behind her inspiration.

In late February, I was in Ballard on a cold, blustery day, sipping a latte in a coffee shop, waiting for Cristie to arrive. I was gazing out at the wind and rain, when I saw a woman crossing the street, holding an umbrella in one hand, and a celophane-wrapped cone of cotton candy in the other.

I stood up and reached out my hand. “You must be Cristie,” I said

.Cristie handed me her cotton candy as if it was a new-born baby. The delicate color and the lightness of the cotton candy reminded me of something from  a sweet land of fairies.

“I made this cotton candy last evening. Its shelf-life is only 24 hours.” Cristie said.

Lavender Cotton Candy

Lavender Cotton Candy

After snapping a picture of Cristie holding her sweet creation, I asked how she came up with idea of flavoring cotton candy with my favorite herb, lavender.

Cristie Schrader Delivers Cotton Candy for the 21st Century

Cristie Schrader Delivers Cotton Candy for the 21st Century

Cristie  explained, “I have always loved cotton candy. And I also enjoy the taste of lavender. So I wanted to combine the two.”

She told me about buying cotton candy when she went to her favorite video shop. “They sold cotton candy in two varieties, blue and pink,” she said.

Cristie discovered lavender in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood when she treated  herself to lavender gelato at The Royal Grinders restaurant. That was the day when her idea of bringing these two concepts together came to her. Lavender cotton candy seems like a match made in heaven.

Cristie bought a cotton candy machine. She experimented with many concepts to infuse  lavender’s exotic flavor into the sugary treat. Although she tested various ways to fine-tune the flavor, she was not satisfied. She put the project on hold for several years.

Then Cristie became friends with Tilth chef David White. They started working together to perfect the lavender flavor. Anyone who has cooked with lavender knows the challenge of adding the floral flavor without overdoing it. When the delicate taste of the lavender met their high standards, they began to develop more flavors. Soon Spun was offering several new flavors such as rose, Meyer lemon and blood orange. 

This treat, although often thought of as carnival fare, offers a fat-free, gluten-free, organic, vegan treat with a minimum amount of sugar. When I probed about the sugar quantity, Cristie said, “I’ve never calculated the amount per serving; however I’d guess it’s less than a teaspoon.”

Cristie’s aim was to bring her cotton candy out of the carnival scene and into elegant events such as wedding showers, weddings, girls’ birthday parties, spas, beauty salons and wedding shows as well as other corporate events.

“Just last evening, I was at the W Hotel where I offered samples of Lavender Cotton Candy at their 2013 Wedding Show,” said Cristie. “Our cotton candy delights everyone and adds a unique and playful mood to the celebration.”

Lavender Cotton Candy Debuts at the 2013 Wedding Show in Seattle

Lavender Cotton Candy Debuts at the 2013 Wedding Show in Seattle

So what is cotton candy? When I was a kid, all I knew was it tasted heavenly. Now that I’m an adult, I am curious about it. Simply put, it is spun sugar and can be flavored in a zillion different ways. To make it, you need sugar, water, and flavoring.  And unless you want white cotton candy, you will need food coloring. When the sugar is combined with the other ingredients and reaches the hard crack stage, 300° – 310° F, the syrup separates into threads. The best way to replicate the cotton candy – that many of us first experienced at the circus or the zoo – is to use a cotton candy machine.

Macy’s, Home Depot or Bed, Bath and Beyond sell Cotton Candy Making- Machines. The price ranges from $69.99 for the Waring Professional model to as little as $39.99 for Nostalgia Electrics Cotton Candy Maker. This simple machine comes with a central container for heating the sugar mixture. It then rotates the sugar mixture. The centrifugal force propels the sugar through small holes so the sugar changes into fine strands. Then the spun sugar is gathered around a paper cone for easy eating. This delicate confection melts instantly in your mouth.

 

Cotton Candy Machine

Cotton Candy Machine

Home-made cotton candy invites you to tap into your artistic ability – use food coloring to get your favorite color, add flavoring to personalize the taste.

Cotton candy, originally known as Fairy Floss, was introduced at the St. Louis Fair in 1904. And now, thank you to Cristie Schrader, cotton candy has been updated for the 21st century.

As I considered making cotton candy, I realized that this is not something I would make repeatedly. I did not want to store a cotton candy maker in my kitchen only to use it once every several years. So when I want to offer this nostalgic treat at my summer parties, I will contact Spun to provide their cotton candy. And of course, my favorite flavor is the lavender cotton candy.

I can’t help thinking what an impression this confection would make at a lavender festival.

If you want Spun to provide cotton candy at your next birthday bash, or invite them to  on-site at your lavender festival, contact Cristie at 206.817.5935 or visit her website at Spun. If you want to keep up with the happenings at Spun, follow them on Facebook.

All Ready for the Party!

All Ready for the Party!

As for me,I’m grateful to have discovered lavender cotton candy in the nick of time. In early July, my granddaughter celebrates her 10th birthday. I can see girls dressed as fairies with pink and lavender gowns enjoying the sweetness of lavender cotton candy!

31313_p

The Accidental Recipe Book

 

Lida Lafferty, author of "Spike It with Lavender"

Lida Lafferty, Author of Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living

The charming book,  Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living by Lida Lafferty, offers many creative ways to use lavender. The book presents a collection of ideas and recipes for drinks, savories, sweets and even household items such as lavender dryer bags and lavender mist.

I find many reasons to praise this book and rejoice in its genesis. Lafferty, a speech pathologist living in western Colorado, never intended to grow lavender. She certainly couldn’t have guessed that she would ever create a lavender recipe book.

Honeybees sparked Lafferty’s interest in lavender. In 2008 she worried about her honeybees and wanted to give them a healthy and abundant food source. From Colorado State University’s Extension office, she learned that honeybees thrive on sage, yarrow and lavender. Lafferty was already growing sage and yarrow on her 2 ½ acres in Grand Junction. For the sake of her bees, she put in 75 lavender plants and added more the next season.

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

Honeybees Thrive on Sage

All summer Lafferty’s lavender filled her fields with fragrant purple blossoms. Her honeybees hovered over the flowers, foraging for pollen. One day Lafferty was harvesting lavender. Everywhere she looked, she saw honeybees enjoying the magnificent flowers. Lafferty felt guilty about taking away the bees’ food. She found herself talking to them, saying, “Okay ladies, half of this lavender belongs to you, I get the rest.” Lavender had become a character in her story.

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Yarrow Attracts Bees

Lafferty joined the Lavender Association of Western Colorado. Colorado’s arid climate, high altitude and alkaline soil gives the herb everything it desires. Farmers planted lavender as a cash crop. It adds to income from cherries, peaches and wine grapes.

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

Lavender: A Treat for Honeybees

When Lafferty met with other lavender growers, the conversation buzzed about their dream of a lavender celebration. Some had attended the Sequim Lavender Festival. They were excited and eager for a gathering in Colorado. Lafferty tossed out her idea. “I think it’d be great if we had our own association cookbook which would be an ideal ‘take-home’ item for festival attendees.”

The association published Lafferty’s book in 2011. Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living contains a collection of recipes. Well-known chefs, lavender growers and talented home cooks contributed recipes. This approach yielded diversity; each recipe reflects the creator’s experience and personality.

Professional chefs relied on their culinary training and skill in pairing flavors and textures, however some had not yet discovered lavender as a culinary ingredient. Lafferty sent them lavender honey and lavender buds. She asked them to experiment with it and contribute their recipes. Lafferty converted these chefs from skeptics to believers. Their recipes showcase tasty ways to use lavender.

Growers with years of experience using lavender generously gave many recipes to this book. From this group, special mention goes to Roxi Lane from Dayspring Farm for sharing her “top secret creations” such as Dayspring Farm Lavender Espresso Brownies. Also Paolo Legarre’s Sage Creations Lip Balm stands out for its simplicity.

From talented home cooks, the book gives us family favorites that have been perfected over generations. These range from Gram Jane Molasses Cake with Lavender contributed by Julie Zahniser (in honor of her mother) to Sheila’s Herb Chicken Stew contributed by Nancy Lofholm.

Amy Nuernberg created the book’s artistic cover and tabs. Artist Susan Metzger contributed her batik design along with original art and local photographs. These work well with Lafferty’s clever idea to use a ring-binder for easy reference while cooking and to enable expansion.  The 2012 recipe collection has recently become available. She’s now collecting recipes for the 2013 edition.  If you want to contribute one of your recipes, you can find her submittal guidelines on the Lavender Association’s website. March 31, 2013 is the last day for submittal.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Bound in a Three-ring Binder, the Book Expands with New Recipes Each Year.

Another helpful feature of this book informs readers of the wide range of lavender varieties, each with their own flavor and fragrance profile. Some are sweet, others spicy; some are subtle, others bold.

For culinary use, Lafferty recommends English Lavender which comes in hundreds of varieties. Because many recipes in the book specify certain varieties such as Miss Katherine, Folgate or Croxton’s Wild, readers discover many flavor choices.

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Lavender Varieties Each with their Own Flavor

Kathy Kimbrough, founder and past president of the Lavender Association of Western Colorado, said, “What I like best about this book is that it’s accessible and affordable.”

Kimbrough added, “The book has been great for our association. It educates people who are just discovering lavender as a culinary herb, increases the sales of culinary lavender, and provides us with an ongoing revenue stream.”

When the association held their first lavender festival in 2011, Lafferty’s suggestion came to fruition. Many festival attendees went home with a copy of Spike It with Lavender. The 2012 festival attracted about 2000 people. The 3rd festival is scheduled for July 12-14, 2013.

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, why not give your favorite foodie a unique gift? Spike it with Lavender: Recipes for Living!  And if your Valentine likes sweet treats, but not cooking, give him or her CakeLove Chewy Cookies, one of Lafferty’s favorite recipes. Put them in a fancy package tied with a red bow and include your own love note. And when you pop the question, “Please be my Valentine?” the answer will be “yes.”

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

For Love & Romance, Bake CakeLove Cookies for your Sweetie!

 

CakeLove Chewy Cookies

Re-printed here with permission from Lida Lafferty, author of “Spike It with Lavender: Recipes for Living

Bake these on parchment lined cookie sheet to the point where the dough won’t give when you poke them. Choose from a few choices of mix-ins to get your favorite flavor, or customize by mixing and matching. I love the warmth you get from the honey and the pretty bouquet that comes from the lavender. Enjoy!   ~Warren Brown, founder of CakeLove and Love Cafe

 

¼ cup Lavender infused Honey*

½ cup superfine or plain granulated sugar

½ cup lightly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. lemon zest

3 oz. unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg

1 (optional) egg yolk

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¾ tsp. sea salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

Flavor Mix-ins:

½ cup whole rolled oats

½ cup candied ginger pieces

Or

½ cup dried cranberries

½ cup pecan pieces or almond slices

Or

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

½ cup almond slices

¼ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 300 to 315 °F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.

*Note: To make Lavender-Infused Honey, combine ¼ cup to 1/3 cup dried lavender buds and 1 cup honey in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Let stand, turning the jar upside down periodically. After a week, discard lavender buds by filtering through a sieve. It’s now ready to use.

Mix honey, sugars and zest in stand mixer fitted with flat paddle. Slowly add in melted butter and vanilla extract. Add in egg and yolk. Stir to combine flour, soda, salt and cinnamon, and then add to mixer. Add mix-in of your choosing and stir until combined. The dough should come off the side of the bowl and barely feel tacky. Add a touch more flour if it’s very sticky.

Scoop out the dough with a trigger ice-cream scooper. Lightly press to flatten to ¼” to ½”. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, remove from oven to cool and serve warm.

Store any leftover dough in an airtight container in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Warren says there’s a fair amount of tolerance in the recipe to withstand variance in the art of mixing and atmospheric conditions (temperature and pressure).

So here’s what you need to know. It’s soft, not crispy, because of the honey. It’s chewy! No worries about altitude adjustments. It’s scrumptious, one of the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. 

Make them after school with your children, after work, or at midnight. Linger with good talk, a glass of milk, and this good cookie.

Thanks to Warren Brown of CakeLove, Washington, DC area.     ~Lida Lafferty


Ontario Lavender-058-4

Victor Visiting Farm in Ontario

Victor Gonzales planted his first lavender plant in 1997. Today, he owns and operates Victor’s Lavender, where he propagates lavender for sale throughout North America. Years of growing lavender presented him opportunities to find out for himself what works and what doesn’t. A sought-after speaker, Victor imparts his knowledge at conferences, in demonstrations and on his CD (available here). He also consults with growers to help them increase lavender production. His outgoing personality and generous spirit have led him to Lebanon and Morocco to share his knowledge.

According to Scott Nagel, Executive Director of the Sequim Lavender Farmers Association, “Victor’s success stems from three attributes: a strong work ethic, a friendly and giving personality and deep knowledge of lavender production.”

Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Victor was the second youngest of 12 brothers. When Victor was ten years old, his father went to California for work.  In 1986 when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform Act, the entire family moved to California. Victor was 15 years old.

 Victor’s first job there was picking fruit in the San Joaquin Valley. The work was hard, and the conditions difficult. Eventually he landed a job in a packing plant. “I was happy to work inside an air-conditioned building, finally out of the hot sun,” Victor said.

Everything was going well, and then Victor seriously injured a leg playing soccer. That accident cost him his job. His recovery would take months. He didn’t want to return to picking fruit in the hot sun, so when his brother-in-law told him about job opportunities in Sequim, Washington, Victor along with his wife and young son moved north.

Victor Checks Temperatures for his Plants

Victor Checks Temperatures for his Plants

Small Cuttings Grow Roots in Victor's Greenhouse

Small Cuttings Grow Roots in Victor’s Greenhouse

“I love Sequim. The mild temperatures remind me of my village in Mexico,” said Victor.  At first, he worked three jobs: growing garlic, running a U-Pick operation at Graysmarsh Farm (a berry farm) and waited tables at Los Palomas. He also did occasional painting, construction and the odd handy-man job.

Soon, Victor accepted a job at Sequim Valley Ranch. The wealthy owner, who lived most of the year in Hawaii, had hired a manager to clean up the place – fix broken windows, paint and clear debris. Based on word-of-mouth, the manager phoned Victor.

Soon the place was looking good. And then one day, the manager who was looking for a way to start a money-making operation, asked Victor, “Can you grow lavender?”

“What’s lavender?” Victor asked.

“It’s a plant.”

“If it’s a plant, I can grow it,” answered Victor.

Victor began with 300 plants. Within weeks, all the plants died. Victor explained, “We were doing everything wrong. The soil was too heavy; we used too much fertilizer and too much water.”

Then they planted 1000 more plants, about 50% died.

Victor was watching and learning about the optimal conditions for lavender such as soil type, watering, fertilizer and which varieties would thrive in Sequim’s growing conditions. He saw every failure as a learning opportunity, like a mystery to solve.

His next challenge was working out successful propagation strategies. He needed a greenhouse and improvised by taking off the roof of an old garage and replacing it with plastic. “I took cuttings, and they all died. I needed a real greenhouse so I could control temperature and humidity.”

The manager got Victor a greenhouse. Victor took 20,000 cuttings and planted them in 2 ½ inch pots in light soil. After several weeks, half died.

 “I consulted with other lavender growers, the WSU Extension office and other horticulture specialists. That’s when I decided to take my own chances and listen to my own mind. I did five tests and recorded the results. I checked on the plants everyday – learning about soil types, potting hormones, greenhouse setups and irrigation methods. I learned that lavender requires dry heat near the roots. The rate of survival improved. We were selling plants and the operation was named Sequim Valley Lavender.”

Victor in Lavender Field

Victor in Lavender Field

By 2001, Sequim Valley Lavender was growing 50,000 plants and sold $200,000 worth of live plants to nurseries, according to Betty Openheimer’s book, “Growing Lavender and Community on the Sequim Prairie.”

Victor became the farm manager at Sequim Valley Lavender. One of the early customers and now CEO (Chief Education Officer) at Growing Lavender Plants, Susan Harrington, recalled meeting Victor. “It was 2002, and I was buying lavender starts to plant in my backyard. Victor was helpful. He shared  the lessons that he learned from his mistakes.”

Victor's Greenhouse: Perfect for Cultivating New Lavender Starts from Cuttings.

Victor Shows Kathy his New Lavender Babies – All Healthy & Happy in his Greenhouse

When Sequim Valley Lavender closed door in 2004, Victor’s previous customers tracked him down. They wanted to order his lavender plants. That’s when he began his own propagation business, naming it, what else, but “Victor’s Lavender.” Today, he has four greenhouses, and they are full of lavender plants.

Scan_Pic0040

Speaking at conferences about growing lavender, Victor always gets rave reviews. Victor begins by telling his audience, “I’ve made every mistake possible, before I learned how to grow lavender.” In the last few years, Victor spoke at many event including: Ontario Lavender Conference (2012), Sequim International Lavender Conference (2012), Northwest Regional Lavender Conference (2011), New Mexico State University’s National Immigrant Farming Initiative (2011) and  Sequim’s 1st International Lavender Conference (2000).

Recently, Victor entered the retail market. A popular Sequim farm, Moosedreams Lavender Farm, announced its closure as of January 31, 2012. The owners, Elizabeth Norris and Barbara Landbeck, wanted to retire and, at the same time, were looking for a way to continue their organic and earth-friendly product line. They gave Victor their formulas and recipes and shared their production techniques.  

Victor's Products-003

Order Victor’s Body MIst for Men or his Body Goatmilk Creme – Great Valentine Gifts

Victor provides these lotions, soaps, and creams to retail customers with the Victor’s Lavender label. He also provides these products to his wholesale customers and, if they prefer, will use their private labels. Victor has a talent for finding “win-win” outcomes: He needs a more steady revenue stream, and his wholesale customers are looking for lavender-inspired, eco-friendly products.

What’s ahead for Victor’s Lavender in 2013?

Give yourself a treat, and find an opportunity to meet Victor. Be sure to tell him Kathy sent you and you will receive a 10% discount. You can also find him on his website: Victor’s Lavender.

Victor spent years learning about growing lavender, however, he already knew the formula for success in his life: a generous spirit, hard work and a loving family.

Simple,Elegant & Sensational - Semifreddo

New Year’s Dessert – Simple & Elegant Semifreddo

 ______

When New Year’s Day rolls around, I celebrate with a feast. I believe “beginning with the end in mind,” one of Stephen Covie’s seven habits for highly effective people, is essential when planning a celebration dinner. That’s why I give special attention to dessert. To ring in 2013, I will serve an Italian frozen dessert, called semifreddo. This is Italian for “half cold.”

You may wonder how I discovered this frozen treat. Martha Stewart’s December issue of Everyday Food arrived and on the very last page, I spotted a recipe for “Lemon-Raspberry Semifreddo.” I frequently study Martha’s recipes to find opportunities to use lavender to enhance the flavor. My mouth watered as I imagined combining lemon, raspberries and lavender.

I’d never made a semifreddo, but when I read the recipe, I loved the simplicity. Not only easy to make, this dessert requires only 15 minutes of preparation. I also like anything that can be ready ahead of time and that gives me more time to visit with my guests. This dessert must hang out in the freezer for 8 hours or more, waiting off stage for its big moment.

I was curious about how semifreddo fits into the world of ice cream, gelato, custards and mousse. After consulting Harold McGee’s comprehensive book, “On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” I realized ice cream comes in various “styles.”

  • Standard or Philadelphia-style ice creams made from cream and milk, sugar, and a few other minor ingredients.
  • French or custard ice cream contains an additional ingredient, egg yolks, as many as 12 per quart/liter.
  • Reduced-fat, low-fat, and non-fat ice creams contain progressively less than the 10% specified in the commercial definition of ice cream.
  • Kulfi, the Indian version of ice cream that goes back to the 16th century, is made without stirring from milk boiled down to a fraction of its original volume, and therefore concentrated in texture-smoothing milk proteins and sugar. It has a strong cooked-milk, butterscotch flavor.

Semifreddo belongs to the custard ice cream style. However in this recipe, we skip the extra task of making custard because we use lemon curd in its place. Lemon curd contains lemon juice, sugar and eggs. If you want to make your own lemon curd, I recommend this recipe. Add lavender sugar to introduce lavender into your lemon curd.

I’m excited to have discovered semifreddo just in time for 2013. During this coming year, I will continue to experiment with new flavor combinations. What about a chocolate semifreddo with layers of crushed hazelnut biscotti and lavender flavoring for Valentine’s Day!

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

____________________________________

Semifreddo with lemon, lavender and raspberrues

Lemon, Lavender, Raspberry Semifreddo

 

 

Lavender-Lemon-Raspberry Semifreddo

A luscious and creamy dessert reminds me of ice cream. The Italian word “semifreddo” means “half cold” and refers to a partially frozen dessert. – Serves 8

Ingredients

6 ounces of raspberries

2 tablespoons lavender sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup lemon curd

10 ladyfingers

½ cup fresh berries soaked in 2 tablespoons of black berry liqueur

———————————————————————————————————-

1.    Line a 4½ by 8½-inch loaf pan with 2 sheets of plastic wrap leaving a 3 inch overhang on long sides. In a blender, puree raspberries and lavender sugar scraping down sides to mix in sugar. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, pressing on solids: Discard solids.

2.    In a large bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold in lemon curd. (You can make your own lemon curd or to keep it simple, you can buy high quality lemon curd at your grocery store. I used MacKays 100% Natural Fruit Lemon Curd.) Spoon 2 cups cream mixture into pan and smooth top.

3.    Dip ladyfingers (I used Bouvard French Lady Fingers that I bought at my local grocery store.) in raspberry purée and arrange in pan, parallel to long edge. Pour remaining raspberry purée on ladyfingers. Top with remaining cream mixture and smooth top.

4.    Wrap pan with overhanging plastic and freeze 8 hours (or up to 2 weeks). To serve, invert onto a serving platter, remove plastic and slice.

5.    Garnish each slice with grated dark chocolate and fresh berries soaked in blackberry liqueur.

semifreddo-014

New Year’s Day Dessert – Lemon-Lavender-Raspberry Semifreddo

In November 2012, I traveled to Canada to speak at the Ontario Lavender Conference. During this two-day gathering, I discovered a vibrant, inspiring and collaborative community of lavender enthusiasts.

         

Ontario Lavender

Ontario Lavender

Ontario’s lavender industry grew out of a small study group formed in 2003. Later in 2010, it blossomed into the Ontario Lavender Association. During this time, Ontario’s farmers were seeing a shift impacting farming opportunities.

  • Tobacco, which had been Southern Ontario’s leading horticultural cash crop, diminished. Demand plummeted due to health concerns, cigarette taxes and new government policies. In 1970, 3,000 farms grew tobacco in Canada; today the number has dropped to about 650.
  • Fruit orchards, burdened with high labor costs, struggled to compete with growers around the world. Prices dropped and income dwindled.
  •  Raising hogs no longer supplied enough revenue to cover costs.
The Lavender Farm owned by Bob & Barb Gilles

The Lavender Farm owned by Barb & Bob Gillies

The situation was clear. Some families who had farmed their land for generations needed to cultivate new crops. Farmers transitioned into various horticultural crops including grapes, a wide range of vegetables and other fruit crops.  Some Ontario farmers shifted to growing lavender.  

These farmers imagined a new industry. One that would use lavender in an array of value-added products such as soap, shampoo and seasonings, and at the same time attract tourists to visit their lavender fields during the summer bloom. Revenue would come from farm boutiques, tours and on-line shops. However, before purchasing and planting thousands of lavender plants, the growers wanted to feel confident that their plants would survive Ontario’s cold winters.

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

Bonnieheath Lavender Snuggled Up for Winter Weather

To discover which kinds could survive the winter, a trial tested 27 varieties at six sites in southern Ontario. Additional testing would evaluate lavender varieties to rate their visual beauty, oil quality and content and bloom time, for example how many weeks the bloom endures.

Chaired by Anita Buehner, who is co-owner of Bonnieheath Lavender, the Ontario Lavender Association obtained a research grant from the Sand Plains Community Development Fund. The money would fund research to find suitable lavender varieties for Ontario’s growing conditions. Growers who hosted the trials paid the cost of the plants; and the University of Guelph, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) and Erie Innovation and Commercialization provided support. Growers, government ministries, industry associations and academia, all worked together to launch Ontario’s lavender industry.

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Working Together to Grow Ontario Lavender

Research will continue for three years. Additional funding came from OMAFRA New Directions Research Fund. A detailed report summarized the findings related to the survivability  of lavender varieties.  This report is available on the  Ontario Lavender Association’s. According to the report, “…lavandins did not survive as well as angustifolias.” and “The highest rated angustifolias were Folgate, Betty’s Blue, and Blue River ….”

 The Ontario Lavender Association now has 25 members, and in November 2012, hosted its first Ontario Lavender Conference. Jan Schooley, owner of Apple Hill Lavender, and Dr. Sean Westerveld, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, co-chaired the event. The agenda focused on “The Business of Lavender.”

Ontario Lavender Conference

Kathy Gehrt Celebrates Ontario’s Lavender Conference

Seventy-four people went to the conference. Attendees included growers, artisans, and research professionals. Most participants came from Canada; however several growers traveled from Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania to learn about Ontario’s lavender experience. Mary Tate Bergstrom represented the United States Lavender Growers Association.

Echo Lane Lavender's Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

Echo Lane Lavender’s Display at Ontario Lavender Conference

When I read about a banquet with “lavender-inspired culinary delights,” I was intrigued. Lavender played a leading role in the menu. Green salad served with savory dressing demonstrated lavender’s ability to accentuate the fresh flavor of vegetables. The main course, chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower, combined many flavors. Herbes de Provence, a blend of herbs such as lavender, rosemary, basil and thyme, seasoned the potatoes perfectly. The finale, mixed berry trifle with lavender-infused cream, silenced the room as diners relished the flavor. 

 

Pat Earls, an Ontario Lavender Association member and owner of Lavenders of Norfolk, created the recipes, and the chef received kudos for his preparation. This banquet not only exceeded my expectations, it provided positive proof of lavender’s culinary versatility. (Thank you to Pat Earls for sharing her recipes and giving me permission to share them on my blog:  Lavender Salad Dressing, Herbes de Provence Mashed Potatoes and Lavender Berry Trifle.

After dinner I gave the keynote presentation, “Lavender Business Models from around the World.” Farms I featured included:Ali’i Kula Lavender, Bridestowe Estate, White Oak Lavender Farm, Forest Green Man Lavender, and Becker Vineyards. Each of these farms exemplifies successful agri-tourism strategies.

The next morning I talked about the culinary connection. My topic was how to use culinary lavender to stir up profits. As a foodie, I especially like to discuss flavor combinations. This presentation generated a good discussion. Questions ranged from “Can lavender stems be used in cooking?” to “Have you experimented with hydrosol to flavor food?” I can’t wait to try these ideas, and when I do, I will post the results on my blog.

On the drive to the airport for my flight back to Seattle, I felt honored to have been a speaker at this event. I’d met new lavender growers, and I was inspired by their resilience and enthusiasm. I don’t know whether lavender will replace the income lost from tobacco, fruit and hogs; however I do know the Ontario growers will transform their region into purple fields of lavender in the summer season.

I am already planning my return to Ontario; but my next trip will be in summer when lavender will be in full bloom.

         

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

A "Must Read" for every home cook!

A blend of memoir, cookbook and reality show, Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” reminded me how satisfying it can be to cook with nutritious and flavorful ingredients using easy techniques.

She modeled her book after a reality TV show. Flinn had been wondering how to best use her culinary degree. She wanted to motivate, teach and inspire people to cook. Then one evening she tuned into “What Not to Wear.” On the show, participants opened their closets to a fashion expert, who tutored them on how to dress, and transformed them from dowdy to dashing. Using this show as a starting point, Flinn’s idea was to recruit self-identified culinary novices, examine their pantries, refrigerators and freezers, teach them basic cooking techniques, and transform them into “fearless home cooks.”

At first I didn’t see the connection between the two topics. What does dressing have to do with cooking?  However as I thought about it, I realized they share many attributes. We must dress and eat day in and day out. Each requires a budget. And no one wants to waste money on buying the wrong thing. Who among us hasn’t found some garment in the back of a closet or some vegetable in the back of the refrigerator that we’ve forgotten?  I can’t count the times that with good intentions I bought cauliflower or cabbage, only to let it rot in my refrigerator.

Having the basics in your closet helps you put together a stylish look. And the same goes for the kitchen; a pantry and refrigerator stocked with basic ingredients is the first step to creating a flavorful and nutritious meal. 

Dressing attractively causes us to feel good about ourselves. Eating wholesome food does the same. So I see the connection between “What not to wear” and “What not to eat.”

Most of us don’t rely on recipes when it comes to clothes. Personal taste leads us to a particular color, certain accessories and a hip or classic style. We use an intuitive approach to matching colors and combining patterns. However In the kitchen, we seem to have less confidence in our ability. This is what I love about Flinn’s book. She shows us how to put a meal together without a recipe which encourages creativity and makes cooking fun.

If you are looking for ways to reduce your consumption of processed food, eat more nutritiously, cook more creatively and cut your food budget, this book is for you.

Five Take-Aways from “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School.”

  1. Maximize flavor with Flinn’s “flavor splashes,” a blend of a few ingredients from a particular cuisine. For example to make her “Asian Ginger Splash,” blend 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, I teaspoon fresh grated ginger or a couple of pinches of dried ginger, a few squeezes of lime juice and 1 teaspoon of soy sauce. Heat through for 3 minutes. Serve on steamed vegetables.
  2. Save money by making your own bread, soup, sauces and vinaigrette. Buy a whole chicken rather than a package of boneless skinless chicken breasts. One chicken can provide several meals. Use the bones to make chicken stock.
  3. Stop waste by planning meals. Use older foods first. Instead of throwing away that cauliflower that’s looking ‘tired’, add it to home-made soup.
  4. Use leftovers and you will save money and contribute to a better world. According to Flinn, people In the United States throw away about 40% of the food produced for consumption. When that food goes into landfills to rot, it emits methane gas, more toxic than carbon monoxide.
  5. Avoid processed food. Boxed food products, such as Hamburger Helper or Rice-a-Roni, are created “primarily to stimulate consumption.” Maximizing nutrition is an afterthought. Eating simpler foods that are more flavorful, with more fiber and nutrients, means we are satisfied with fewer calories and eat a healthier diet.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for strategies for creating healthy, flavorful, home-cooked meals while saving time and money.

 ——————————————————————————————————

This is a recipe I created using Kathleen Flinn’s “Fish en Papillote, or Baked in Paper.” Rather than offering exact recipes, Flinn’s approach invites creativity by offering general instructions. Hope you enjoy.

Sole & Asparagus in Parchment

Serves 1

6 ounce Petrale sole fillet

2 asparagus spears, cut diagonally into ¼ inch pieces

1 carrot, julienned (cut in thin sticks)

1/8 cup onion, diced

¼ cup sugar snap peas

½ tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Juice from half a lemon

 

Preheat oven to 400F

On a 10 by 12 inch sheet of parchment paper, place sole fillet. Drizzle olive oil and lemon juice over fish, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place asparagus, carrots, onion and pea pods on top of fish. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.

Fold parchment paper vertically and make 2 folds, and then twist ends.

Put on baking sheet and place in oven for 20 minutes at 400 F.

Serve with ½ cup quinoa

Serves 1

 

Cookies on plate for lunch

Coconut Caramel Thumbprint Cookies with Lavender & Sea Salt

The pressure was on. I’d invited a special friend to my home for lunch and wanted everything to be perfect.

Pranee Khruasanit Halvorson loves food and is a talented chef and culinary teacher. She shares her recipes and images on her blog, “Pranee’s Thai Kitchen.”

I tried to imagine what she might like for lunch. Looking for something light, I settled on my favorite Greek salad served with grilled chicken breast and crusty, rustic bread. It’s flavorful and special.

The dessert stumped me until I browsed through an issue of Martha Stewart Living and spotted a recipe for “Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Salted Caramel.”

I studied this recipe, imagined the flavors and remembered my visit to Lilie Belle Farms in southern Oregon, where I tried a divine candy, Lavender Fleur du Sel Caramels. The combination hit all the right taste notes – sweet, salty with a hint of floral. My memory moved on to Fran’s Chocolates. This Seattle chocolatier puts sea salt on caramels. My favorite variety is Fran’s Gray Salt Caramels.

With my culinary memory working overtime, the cookies Pranee had given me at Christmas came to mind. She had added coconut to create her version of Russian Teacakes and called them “Coconut Teacakes.”  That reminded me how much Pranee loves coconut.

Coconut Caramel cookies won out and Martha Stewart’s recipe became my starting point. Lavender would give these cookies more flavor and personality. I added culinary lavender with the sugar plus lavender extract (from Lavender Wind Farm). After I finished baking the cookies and added the caramel, I sprinkled each cookie with a pinch of culinary lavender along with sea salt. For the culinary lavender, I selected Royal Velvet buds for its floral taste and vivid color. The culinary lavender came from Helvetia Lavender Farm in Oregon.

The doorbell rang as I placed a plate of cookies on the dining room table. Everything was ready. Pranee walked into the dining room and glanced at the cookies. “Mmm, what are those? Is that coconut?” she asked.

Eating with Pranee is fun because she appreciates good food and is curious about flavors. I told her how I’d found this recipe and modified it based on the chocolates I’d tasted. She told me that combining sea salt and caramel made the list of 2012 culinary trends. We chatted nonstop about cooking classes, websites and blogs.

Pranee had brought Mango Tea from Maui.  We sipped tea and praised the winning combination of caramel, coconut, lavender and sea salt. Cheers to cookies, tea and friendship!

 ———————————————————————————————————– 

Cookies
Coconut Caramel Thumbpirint Cookies with Lavender & Sea Salt

Coconut Thumbprint Cookies with Lavender &  Fleur de Sel

3 cubes of unsalted butter (12 ounces)

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender buds, finely ground

1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon lavender extract

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon table salt

2 large eggs, slightly beaten

12 ounces sweetened flaked coconut

44 small soft caramel candies (12 ounces), such as Kraft

6 tablespoons heavy cream

Large flaky sea salt, such as Maldon or Sel Gris

  1. Preheat oven on 350º. Beat butter and lavender sugar with a mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Then add vanilla and lavender extract.
  2. With mixer on low speed, gradually add flour and salt until combined.
  3. Press dough together in plastic wrap. Then roll into 1 ¼ inch balls, about 1 ounce each.
  4. Dip each ball in beaten egg, the roll in coconut. Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheets, and press an indentation into each with your thumb or with a wooden spoon handle. Bake for 10 minutes.
  5. Then remove baking sheets from oven, and repress indentations. Bake cookies until golden 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool on wire racks. Repeat with remaining dough.
  6. Remove wrapping on caramels. Place the caramels along with heavy cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring constantly until the caramels are melted and mixture is smooth, about 4 to 6 minutes. Spoon into indentations in cookies, and sprinkle with sea salt and lavender buds. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Note: You can also freeze these cookies for up to 1 month.

Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies

 

Variations: Instead of coconut, coat cookies with finely chopped walnuts, pecans or almonds. In place of caramel, fill thumbprints with raspberrry or mango jam.