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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!

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Lavash and Lavender Seasoning Together at Last

“Have you ever made lavash?” asked my friend, Mike Neustrom, lavender grower from Kansas.

“Lavash?” I said, “What is it?”

 Then like a game-show contestant trying to respond before the buzzer, I burst out, “Wait. Is it a type of cracker or flatbread?”

Mike said he’d been wondering how it would taste with lavender seasoning. I could not resist this culinary challenge and pledged to find out.

My first surprise came when I looked through my 1970’s “Joy of Cooking.” The index didn’t list “lavash”, however when I searched for “flatbread”, I found a description (“Armenian, Greek, Arab, Syrian, Euphrates Bread”) along with a recipe. More questions entered my mind, such as where and when this bread originated, how it was first made and what role did it serve in the country’s cuisine.

Further research revealed the answers to these questions. Flatbreads date back nearly 10,000 years. Grain mashed and mixed with water or milk created dough that became the earliest form of bread. The dough was rolled thin and cooked over high heat.  The quick cooking time preserved scarce fuel. This method of converting grain into bread provided a durable and portable source of nourishment throughout the winter.

Many countries developed their own version of flatbread. Lavash originated in Armenia in the Caucasus.

Seattle Public Library - Books about Armenian Cuisine

Other flatbreads are: Matzo in Israel, Lefse in Norway and Naan in India. In the United States, Americans eat English muffins, soda crackers and pretzels, descendants of ancient flatbreads. For a complete list, check out Harold McGee’s book, “On Food and Cooking.

Where did lavash get its name? It’s an Armenian name with two parts. The first part “lav” means “good”. And “ash”, the second part, means “food, meal”. When joined, the meaning is “good food”.

In pursuit of a lavash recipe, I turned to the internet. Googling “lavash recipe” returned more than 600,000 hits including a recipe on All Recipes and a link to a “Lavash-Making Challenge”. 

After browsing for a bit, I settled on the lavash recipe posted in the All Recipes website. I selected this one for two reasons: 1.It met my criteria for an unleavened version (no yeast and on baking powder) and 2. Readers gave it rave reviews and offered tips for baking and serving.

Lavash recipe in hand, I was ready to bake. First I took a quick trip to the grocery store to see whether they sold lavash. The day before Thanksgiving, the store was buzzing. Extra employees were helping shoppers. I found one and asked, “Do you sell lavash?” My second surprise that day was when the woman responded, “Yes, follow me.” She led me to the artisan breads and handed me a box of crackers.

Lavash from the Grocery Store - $6.29

I was shocked at the price of $6.29 – for a box of crackers, really? Yes, I bought them, but only because I wanted to compare “store-bought” to “home-made”.

 The ingredients in lavash couldn’t be more basic: Flour, water, sugar, salt, egg white and butter. I mixed the ingredients together into a sticky dough, and then turned it out onto a floured surface, where I kneaded it for 5 minutes. The dough was smooth, soft and stretchy. I inhaled  the bread-like aroma. I cut the dough into 10 portions, and covered them with a damp paper towel. I picked up one of the balls and patted it into a disc, and then began rolling it. I tossed it around and rolled it until it was as thin as a tissue. I carefully lifted the dough onto the baking sheet, brushed it with egg white and sprinkled seasoning on top. I used Tuscan Seasoning, a recipe from my book, “Discover Cooking with Lavender.” Other seasoning options include: Herbes de Provence, basil, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, caraway seeds, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin or sea salt. I slid the baking sheet into the hot oven and felt a connection with ancient times.

Soon the aroma wafting from the oven and filling my kitchen awakened my appetite. I peeked into the oven; the lavash was golden with tiny dimples and puffy bubbles looking like a sun-drenched moonscape. I removed the lavash from the oven, letting  it  cool on a rack. I broke off a piece and put it in my mouth. It tasted warm, rustic and comforting; I tasted the fresh herbal flavor of the lavender and pungent tones of onion and garlic. In my refrigerator, I found sun-dried tomato goat cheese to spread on the lavash.

Lavash - Hot out of the Oven

 I was savoring every moment of this private tasting experience, when I glance over to the kitchen counter and saw that I still had lots of lavash to bake. The recipe makes enough for a crowd, and it was not surprising to discover home-baked lavash surpasses the store-bought version in every way – better flavor, less cost, healthier and more seasoning choice.

 Lavash, not only simple, cheap and filling, gives the creative cook a blank canvas  to showcase aromatic herbs, nuts, seeds, spice and artisan salts to create a flavor masterpiece. I’d recommend serving it with humus, olives, feta and other soft cheeses or salsa. Extremely versatile, lavash can be served as a pizza crust, wrap, dessert cookie or cracker or even an eating utensil to scoop up stew, kabobs or as a plate for rice, beans or vegetables.

So to my friend Mike, I can now report, “Yes and yes: I’ve made lavash, seasoned it with lavender and the entire experience was sensational. Thanks for asking!”    

Lots of Lavash!

– – – – – – –

Tuscan Seasoning                                    

Mix this seasoning with butter or olive oil and spread on a fresh baguette

for delicious lavender garlic bread.

 ½ cup roasted lavender (place culinary lavender buds in hot, dry skillet for about 1 minute, stir until buds are slightly toasted)

¼ cup dried onion flakes

¼ cup dried minced garlic

1 tablespoon salt

 Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Process for 10 seconds or until all ingredients are well blended.

  1.  Store seasoning in an airtight container.

——————————————–

p.s. As I was completing this post, I discovered two other lavash products on the market:

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When someone invites us to join them for Thanksgiving dinner, I like to bring something special. This year I’ve made tasty packages of  Candied Walnuts with Lavender and Figs. I’m excited to share my special treats.

The recipe is a variation on one from 101 Cookbooks. I love this recipe because it is easy, flavorful and nutritious. Yes, it does have a whole cup of brown sugar, however the nutrients provided by the walnuts more than make up for the sugar.

Walnuts

Walnuts : They're all they're cracked up to be and more!

Whenever I read a recipe calling for rosemary or mint, I  think about using lavender instead. Most times, it works beautifully and adds an exotic taste.  So when I read Heidi’s “Brown Sugar Rosemary Walnuts Recipe,” I wanted to try it with lavender. I also thought about substituting dried plums or apricots for dried figs, however I love figs so that is what I used.

 

For packaging, I dropped by Seattle’s PS-Store to pick up plastic containers, ribbon, labels and stickers. I love the square labels with the colored borders. In the past, when I’ve made gift packets, I’ve struggled with labels. Frequently, labels can be difficult to line up on my printer, and I get frustrated. These worked like a dream. I went to this link to get a template compatible with MS Word. I typed in the text and hit the print button. It all worked the first time. I used a 2” x 2” label. The container was 3” x 3” x 3”. I used a clear round sticker to seal the container, I tied a ribbon around it, tying a bow on top. PS-Stores sell an artificial lavender sprig that looks nice. The lavender sprig looks great on the package.

See the Lavender Sprigs: Perfect for Gifts!

Walnuts - All Sugared and Spiced

Sugared and Spiced: Walnuts are Ready for Someone NIce!

I cooked up one batch of this recipe yesterday afternoon in about 5 minutes. They baked in the oven for another 25 minutes, and I turned the oven off and just let the nuts dry out a bit more. When they were cool, I created my gifts. I created 5 gift packages.

 

Candied Walnuts with Lavender and Figs

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 teaspoon ground culinary lavender buds*
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 large egg whites
1 lb cups shelled walnut halves
1/3 cup chopped dried figs, stems trimmed

Sugar and Spice - All Things Nice

*What variety works best? I like Royal Velvet; however any English Lavender will be fine.

*How to grind? Use spice grinder, mortar and pestle or a clean coffee bean grinder will work too!

Preheat oven with racks in the center to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine brown sugar, salt, lavender and sesame seeds in a small bowl.

In a large bowl whisk the egg whites a bit, just to loosen them up. Add walnuts and figs to whites and toss until they are evenly coated – it’ll take a minute or so. Sprinkle the sugar-spice mixture over the nuts and toss (really well) again.

Split the nuts between the two prepared baking sheets in a single layer, separating the wa;nuts from one another.

Bake for ~25 minutes or until the walnuts turn golden brown  and the coating is no longer wet. Turn off your oven and let them dry for 10 minutes.  Cool for a few minutes, and then slide the parchment/nuts off the hot baking sheets onto a cool surface to cool completely. These will keep for a week or so in an airtight container.

Makes 1 pound of nuts

Prep time: 5 min – Cook time: 25 min

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An Inspiring Novel about Women, Friendship & Walking

 This book popped onto my “must read” list last summer when I was at the Sequim Lavender Festival. I was at Olympic Lavender Farm to share my knowledge of cooking with lavender. The big juicy mango had nearly slipped out of my hand while I was dicing it. I was making Summer Mango Salsa with Latin Lavender Seasoning when several women stopped by my table to chat about food, cooking and lavender. The women had traveled from Tennessee.  “We are following in the footsteps of the Wildwater Walking Club,” they told me. “The Wildwater Walking Club is a novel about three women who travel to Sequim for the lavender festival.”

I jotted down the title. I was surprised when several more women mentioned this book during the festival. Many months later, I found the book at the Seattle Public Library and checked it out.

If you love lavender or enjoy an inspiring story, you will be charmed by Claire Cook’s story of three women who discover the joy of friendship, the power of walking and the wisdom of life.

The story is narrated by Noreen Kelly, a mid-level manager who took a buy-out package from the athletic shoe company where she had worked for many years. As if losing her job was not enough, Noreen is also dumped by her boyfriend. Noreen’s life has suddenly changed and she sinks into depression and grief. At one point she wonders, “Maybe without a job, I didn’t have a self.”

Noreen lives in a townhouse in Marshbury, Massachusetts.  Focused on her career, Noreen doesn’t know her neighbors, hasn’t looked at her garden and ignored her own needs. Now with time to herself, she begins to pay attention to her wants and needs.

Noreen begins a daily walking routine first alone, and soon with two neighbor friends. Day by day, she reclaims her life and personality. Rosie, the lavender-growing neighbor, plants lavender in Noreen’s garden. Tess gives Noreen a clothesline. The three women walk together and their friendship blossoms. They decide to pool their frequent flier points and travel to Sequim for the Lavender Festival. To learn about their adventure at Sequim, known as America’s Provence, you will need to read the book. I loved following these three women as they arrived in Seattle, drove to Sequim and experienced the lavender festival. However for me, the best part of this book is watching Noreen transform her life from a corporate wasteland to a world of friendship, adventure, lavender and love.

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Discover Cooking with Lavender at University Book Store

Book stores have special meaning for me. When I studied economics at the University of Washington, I remember walking across campus to the bookstore to buy my text books. A new quarter meant new classes and new books. I felt excited, eager for the new courses and wondered what was ahead of me. Back then, I’d never heard of lavender (except as the color of a dress)  and I could not have guessed that some years later, I’d be invited to the University Book Store to sign my book “Discover Cooking with Lavender.”

My life has changed considerably over the years but the bookstore remains nearly the same. Yes, there’s a poster hung near the back entrance advertising I-Pads. There’s a tech center selling computers, printers and other electronics up the stairs, next to the gift wrap counter which has served shoppers for years. People walk around the store with cell phones. However the parking at the back of the store is as it was 30 years ago, an attendant offers a ticket for validation if you spend $5 or more. As you enter through the back of the store, you will find text books on the lower level off to the right. This area looks still utilitarian with its rows of shelves labeled with the subject. Today, many of the shelves were nearly empty because fall term is almost over. I found the economics section and remembered how expensive the econometric text books were. For example, “Time Series Analysis: Forecasting and Control” cost $32.95 and that was back in 1977!

University Book Store Text Book Department

As I walked out the text book area, I found myself in the art supplies section, always one of my favorites. Sketching tablets, paints, pastel pencils and an enormous array of office supplies lined the shelves. In the past, I’d enjoyed browsing in this part of the store and imagining my personal art studio.

I headed  upstairs to the main floor where I found the section devoted to UW logo wear. Purple tee shirts, sweatshirts, husky caps, and cheerleading outfits fill the shelves. The magazines, candy and cosmetics are where they’ve always been. The small café in the back of the store did not exist when I was a student. I wish it had, I would have sat at one of the tables to read. Now students sit at the tables with their laptops checking email.

The rest of this floor and the next level contain books on gardening, cooking, architecture, poetry, politics, and history and on and on. Over the years, I’ve spent hours browsing these shelves. I headed for the cook book section to check out my book and to prepare for my book signing event scheduled for Wednesday, December 1st, at 7 p.m.

Browsing the cook book section, I looked for my book, finally spotting it sandwiched between Greg Atkinson’s “Entertaining in the Northwest Style: A Menu Cookbook” and Jerry Traunfeld’s “The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor.” My small, beautiful book had found excellent company. To get a quick photo, I pulled my book out and placed it on the shelf tagged Northwest Books. As I snapped a picture, I smiled at the thought of my book here in my favorite book store. Tomorrow, I will have realized my dream of returning to University Book Store as an author.

As I walked to my car, once again I thought of change. The bookstore with its same look and feel caused me to realize how much I had changed since those days when I was a student. My interests had gradually, but unmistakably,  shifted from economic analysis to food, cooking and writing. I felt happy that I had been able to study at one of the finest universities in the country with an exceptional economics faculty, and even happier that I’d had the pleasure of  working as an economist, a business executive and now as a culinary writer.  

Please come to University Book Store on Wednesday, December 1st at 7 p.m. to learn more about my journey from the dismal science to the world of lavender and herbal cuisine. I’ll be sharing some ideas for creating easy, elegant and economical gifts for the holidays.

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Lavender Cloud Cookies

When I discovered this recipe for Lavender Cloud Cookies, I wanted to drop everything and make them. Everything about them appealed to me. The recipe sounded quick and easy, not to mention delicious. I found the recipe when I was researching Virginia’s lavender farms. I’d been writing about White Oak Lavender Farm, and I was curious about what other lavender farms were located in Virginia. That’s how I found The Lavender Path.

The Lavender Path, located in Lovettsville, Virginia, offers a selection of recipes on its web site. All the recipes sound as if they’d be delicious.

Lavender Cloud Cookies ingredients

Ingredients for Lavender Cloud Cookies

The cloud cookies remind me of meringue kisses. Both include two egg whites, sugar and flavoring. And they both go into the oven and spend the night. One of the best things about this basic recipe is its potential for adding creative touches.

If you are new to cooking with lavender, this is an excellent way to give it a test drive. You will love the light and delicate texture of these cookies. Give them a try and tell me how you liked them.

 

Lavender Cloud Cookies in the oven

 Lavender Cloud Cookies

This recipe is from The Lavender Patch website. I love its simplicity. I used chopped cranberries along with mini chocolate chips, and used a pastry bag to form small kisses.

2 egg whites
3/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp. dried Lavender
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger or 1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Beat egg whites until stiff.Add sugar gradually, while still beating on high.

3. Finely grind the Lavender. Tip the meringue base into a medium bowl and gently fold in Lavender, vanilla, chocolate and ginger/cranberries. Do not overmix.

4. Drop by small teaspoons  onto a cookie sheet
lined with parchment paper.

5. Place in oven and immediately turn the heat OFF. Leave overnight, then store in airtight tin.

Makes approx. 30.

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Last week I discovered dragon fruit. My friend Sharon who is visiting Viet Nam posted a blog about it last week. Check it out here. Finding the fruit taste bland, Sharon put out a call for help. She wanted to add it to her healthy diet of chocolate and red wine, but only if it she discovers a way to give it  more flavor. She asked her readers for serving suggestions.

 I love a challenge. So I went to an Asian Market and there I found a single, sad and tired looking dragon fruit. And let me tell you, it was a ‘draggin.’  As I put my grocery selections on the counter at the checkout station, a woman pointed at the fruit and said, “That looks old, it’s supposed to be shiny and bright red.”

A Pair of Dragon Fruits: Fresh and Fading

 

 “Yeah, I know. It’s the only one they have. I want to try it.” I answered. “How do you prepare it?”

 

She told me that is a fruit like a kiwi, just eat it.

If I was going to try dragon fruit, I wanted one that was in better shape. So later, I visited another ethnic grocery store and found a better specimen.  

Searching the internet for “dragon fruit recipe”, I found a recipe for Tropical Thai Fruit Salad – Served in a Pineapple.  A quick check of the ingredients satisfied my requirement that it contain dragon fruit. When I read the recipe for the dressing, I knew I had found the key for adding flavor. I was hopeful that in combination with pineapple, papaya, mango and star fruit, the dragon fruit would unleash its culinary personality.

Tropical Fruit Salad with Lavender-infused Coconut Milk Dressing

 My favorite herb is renowned for adding flavor and waking up even the most  mild fruit such as pears. What would happen if I added lavender to the coconut milk dressing? I sprinkled  ½ teaspoon of ground lavender into the coconut milk mixture and poured the dressing over the fruit. A quick taste handed me the answer I was hoping for. The flavor combination complimented the tropical fruit medley.

Would I miss the dragon fruit  if it wasn’t there? Sorry, I would never miss it. It was entirely forgettable. Reminds me of the song “Mister Cellophane.”  

I tell ya
Cellophane
Mister cellophane
Should have been my name
Mister cellophane
’cause you can look right through me walk right by me
And never know I’m there. . .

Poor dragon fruit, once the showy red exterior is peeled away, it’s just like Mister cellophane. You never know it’s there.

p.s. Sharon, I guess we will  need to keep looking for a flavor boost for the dragon fruit.

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