Category Archives: DIY/Hacks/Crafts/Recipes

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How to Restore a Piece of Vintage Costume Jewelry – And Whether You Should

Perhaps you gasped at the title of this piece. After all, any serious vintage collector or fashionista knows you should leave vintage jewelry in its original state. Right?

In general, I agree with that rule and almost all of the vintage jewelry we offer at HeirloomFinds.com is in its original condition, just as we find it at estate sales and flea markets. We simply hand clean the surface and tighten jump rings and clasps as necessary.

However, as the buyer of all the vintage goodies that appear on the site, I will confess that there are occasions when nothing but a complete cleaning and restoration will save a tired piece of otherwise wonderful old jewelry.

I employ the 3 R’s when out shopping and sometimes actually buy less than perfect pieces. As I examine each piece of jewelry before buying, I ask myself where it falls on this scale:

  • Resell – Yay! This item is beautiful, stylish, wearable and ready to offer on the site.
  • Rubbish – Well, that one is obvious, right?
  • Restore – I use this categorization infrequently, but I want to discuss that here.

When should you attempt to restore a piece of vintage jewelry? On rare occasions, you may find a mistreated or neglected piece of vintage jewelry that is so striking in its design or use of materials, so evocative of an era or a designer that you are driven to find a way to restore it and find it a new home.

Before

Sometimes, restoring vintage jewelry is worth the effort.

I acquired the necklace pictured here in a box lot at a recent auction. It was so dingy at first that I really showed it no love. A second glance as I unpacked my treasures of the day revealed the true nature of this gem. Stunning pre-war style? Check! Quality materials? Check! All parts present, intact and working? Check!

This 1930’s Brass and Prystal Bakelite Drop Festoon Necklace was really showing its age in a bad way. The reverse of the book chain had green gunky tarnish and the Bakelite baubles were so dirty and oxidized that they appeared opaque.  However, it had great “bones”.

Funk Before

This necklace was basically unwearable prior to restoration.

Given the choice of leaving the piece dirty (and basically unwearable) or restoring it to something very close to its original condition, I chose the latter. Please note that the techniques used in this restoration project will not work with all vintage pieces. They do work very well with brass and Bakelite.

Tools

Gathering the tools you need is an important first step in restoring old jewelry.

The required tools and materials are:

  • Needle nose pliers
  • Simichrome metal polish (truly the best for this task)
  • Soft toothbrush
  • Cotton swabs
  • Toothpicks
  • Soft cotton towel
  • Rubber gloves (your mani will thank you)

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Carefully remove the transparent Bakelite heptahedron (yep, it’s a word) drops from the brass bead drops using the needle nose pliers. Place the original jump rings aside, as you will need to reuse them.

    Be careful when removing the Bakelite beads. Don’t lose them!

  2. Soak those Prystal drops in water with a few drops of dishwater, then gently scrub them with a soft toothbrush and rinse.

    Soap

    Remove the beads and let them soak in soapy water.

  3. Hand polish the Bakelite beads with a dab of Simichrome. Perhaps you have heard of testing Bakelite with Simichrome, but did you know that is also removes the surface oxidation, grime and scratches, revealing beautiful colors and a smoother finish?

    Simichrome

    Simichrome removes grime to bring out the Bakelite beads’ gorgeous colors.

  4. Carefully hand polish the brass chains and bead drops with Simichrome. This step takes patience, care and elbow grease. For the most tarnished or dirty areas, I found the toothbrush to be a very effective tool. Cotton swabs and toothpicks were also useful in crevices. I then polished the entire piece with a soft cotton cloth. Don’t forget to polish the jump rings as well.

    Toothbrush

    Use a toothbrush to gentry scrub off excessive funk.

  5. Reattach the Bakelite drops using the needle nose pliers.

    Clean and Pretty

    Once the beads are back on, you can’t help but admire the brass and beads’ restored gleam!

  6. Marvel at the transformation. I confess that the necklace is not “like new.” No vintage Bakelite piece is ever truly in its original state, as the colors of the plastic change over the years. However, I love the way the Catalin Prystal and brass glow after the facelift.
After

A bit of cleaning has given new life to this fabulous vintage bauble.

As with any restoration project, remember to research the materials in your piece for the appropriate tools, chemical and techniques. Use care and clean/polish gently. Trust me, in the early days I had a few restoration fails that were heartbreaking, which led me to be more careful when studying materials and experimenting with other techniques.

by Jeanne Peters

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This Summer, Skip the Veggie Burger and Just Grill the Veggies

Ah, summer. Parties, get-togethers, and family dinners are all a little more fun when you throw grilling into the works. You’re probably familiar with outdoor gathering invitations that state, “We’ll have the grill going, so bring your favorite grillable and a side and we’ll make it a potluck!”

If you’re following a vegetarian diet or simply want to try out meat-free options, don’t be tempted to show up to your next backyard party with a box of frozen veggie patties or a few faux hot dogs. The grill unfortunately does no favors for fake meat. It dries it out and renders it rubbery, and even wonderful homemade veggie patties tend to crumble and fall through the grates into the grill fire. These non-carnivorous options fare better when cooked in a skillet or baked in the oven.

Trendy cauliflower steaks, on the other hand, are delicious and satisfying, and they’re a great canvas for bold, grill-friendly flavors like the recipe below. Unlike veggie patties, a thick cross-section of cauliflower benefits from a good char on the grill.  Bring along a bean salad like this one as a side to work in some extra protein.

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Get ready to create a delicious alternative to run-of-the-mill veggie burgers.

Grilled Chipotle Lime Cauliflower Steaks
Adapted from Faith Durand, The Kitchn

Serves 4 to 6

You may need to cook your cauliflower steaks in two batches to ensure a good char. If you have a grilling basket, you can cut the cauliflower into 2-inch florets and grill those in the basket instead.

2 large heads cauliflower
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
2 cloves garlic, smashed into a paste or finely grated
1 teaspoon honey or agave syrup
1 tablespoon paprika (unsmoked)
1-2 teaspoons chipotle powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
Lime wedges, to serve

Remove the leaves on each cauliflower head and trim the stem end until you can set the cauliflower flat on the cutting board. Use a large, sharp knife to trim off the sides, then cut the cauliflower into 3 to 4 thick “steaks” about an inch thick.

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You’ll want to slice your cauliflower heads into 1-inch steaks.

Whisk the olive oil, lime juice, garlic and honey or agave syrup in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix the lime zest, paprika, chipotle and salt.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to high. Brush each cauliflower steak all over with the olive oil mixture and sprinkle the top surfaces generously with the chipotle powder mixture. Place the seasoned sides down on the hot grill.

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Grill the seasoned side of your cauliflower steaks first, then flip.

Cover the grill and cook for 3 to 6 minutes. Remove the lid and carefully flip the cauliflower. Cook covered for an additional 3 minutes or until done to your desired texture.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately with lime wedges on the side.

by Sara Bir

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finished curd 2

Lemon Curd Dresses Up Simple Summer Desserts

Just as jewelry accessorizes outfits, condiments can accessorize recipes. Around this time of summer when blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are abundant, a jar of lemon curd stashed in the fridge is the key to instantly dressing up quick and appealing fruit desserts.

Rich and tart lemon curd is the perfect foil for fresh and juicy berries, particularly blueberries. You can make up a batch using our favorite recipe below, or just buy a jar from the store. Once you have lemon curd on hand, you’ll keep discovering new uses for it. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Serve it with freshly baked scones or biscuits.
  • Whip heavy cream and fold in lemon curd; use as a filling for tarts, as in this recipe, or serve it in small dishes with berries and shortbread or wafer cookies on the side.
  • Swirl it into the filling of your favorite cheesecake recipe right before baking.
  • Layer it with whipped cream or yogurt and fruit for a classic fool.
  • Use dabs of it as a filling for thumbprint cookies.

We’re currently adoring these impressive but easy no-bake lemon-ginger ice cream sandwiches. Crisp and spicy ginger cookies soften in the freezer and provide a contrast to a smooth filling of lemon curd folded with premium ice cream. The flavor is decadent, but the portion size is perfect for when you want a satisfyingly cool and sweet nibble.

plated frozen sandwiches

These summertime faves are sweet and satisfying.

Easy Lemon-Ginger Ice Cream Sandwiches
From Linda Faus, former test kitchen director for The Oregonian

Makes small 16 sandwiches

These cool and refreshing four-bite treats hit the spot. They make a wonderful sweet midday snack or light dessert.

  • 1 pint premium vanilla ice cream, softened
  • 1/2 cup lemon curd, storebought or homemade (see recipe below)
  • 32 thin, crisp ginger cookies

In a medium bowl, beat the ice cream briskly with a sturdy wooden spoon until it is smooth. Return to the freezer for 15 minutes to firm.

sandwiches in tray to freeze

Be sure to freeze your sandwiches at least three hours before serving.

Lay 16 cookies, bottom-side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Using a small ice cream scoop, dole about 2 tablespoons of the ice cream mixture onto each cookie and top with the remaining 16 cookies, pressing to flatten slightly.

Clear out a space in the freezer where the sheet will lay flat. Freeze for at least 3 hours before serving. To freeze longer, wrap each sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place carefully in a plastic freezer bag. Use within 2 weeks.

finished curd 1

You’ll love finding scrumptious new uses for this lemon curd recipe!

Lemon Curd
Adapted from Lynne Sampson for The Oregonian

Makes 1⅔ cups

It takes time to make lemon curd, but it can feel meditative to stand at the stove and stir. If you don’t anticipate using all of the lemon curd within a month, simply freeze half to use later.

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice
  • Grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 6 tablespoons butter

In a medium stainless steel, nonstick, or enameled saucepan, beat the eggs, yolks and sugar with a whisk until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.

Place the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. The mixture will slowly turn more opaque and the spatula will start to make visible swaths through the mixture, 10 to 15 minutes. Keep stirring until the curd is as thick as sour cream and coats the spatula, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts and the curd is smooth. Pour into a medium bowl and lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the lemon curd to prevent a crust from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours before using. Store the lemon curd tightly sealed in the refrigerator for 1 month or in the freezer for up to 1 year.

by Sara Bir

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step 5 serve

Make a Sweet & Tart Shrub, an Old-Fashioned Drink with a Funny Name

In the beverage world, shrubs are for drinking, not landscaping. Once commonplace during colonial times, shrubs have come back to American mixology with a vengeance. Simply a combination of ripe fruit, sugar and vinegar, modern shrubs are essentially brightly-flavored drinks for grownups. They slake thirst on a balmy afternoon, and while they can be mixed into cocktails, a simple virgin shrub over ice is utterly refreshing and satisfying.

Crafting shrubs originated as a way to utilize surplus seasonal fruit crops in the days before refrigeration or canning. Fruit and sugar were fermented together to make a slightly sour drink. The common technique now is to skip the fermentation and instead add vinegar to extend the shrub’s keeping quality, as well as add an appealing zip.

step 1 mulberries

Have an abundance of fruits or berries? Time to make shrubs!

Most any fruit can be made into a shrub, but it’s easiest to use berries or orchard fruits. Here’s a very basic step-by-step to have you shrubbing in no time. And the best part? It requires very little hands-on work.

Step One: Select and Prepare the Fruit

Here we’re using a mix of sweet strawberries and slightly tart wild mulberries. Rinse off the berries. If you’re using larger fruits such as peaches, cut them into smaller chunks. The fun of shrubs is their flexibility: you can easily use the fruit you have on hand. Our strawberries were still edible, but getting on the squishy side. Fortunately, a shrub is a perfect final destination for such close-to-the-edge fruit.

step 1 strawberries

Strawberries are an excellent fruit for making shrubs.

Step Two: Toss with Sugar

The amount of sugar you’ll need depends on how much fruit you are using, and how sweet that fruit is. The basic ratio for making shrubs, by volume, is one part fruit to one part sugar. That is, if you have two cups of fruit, you’ll need to add two cups of sugar. Feel free to adjust the quantities to fit your preference. For a more straightforward flavor that lets the fruit be the star, use granulated sugar.

step 2 mix with sugar

The basic fruit-to-sugar ratio is 1-to-1, but feel free to adjust.

Toss the fruit with the sugar, put it in a stainless steel or glass container, and cover it. At this point you can refrigerate the fruit overnight or let it sit out at room temperature for a few hours to macerate. You’ll know it’s ready when all of the sugar is dissolved and the fruit is slouchy and soft. If the sugar is not fully dissolved, just give it a stir and let it macerate for another few hours, or up to another full day.

step 2 macerated fruit ready to strain

Let your fruit absorb all the sugar before proceeding to the next step.

Step Three: Strain

Strain the liquid from the fruit. In the photo we’re using a fancy food mill, but a fine-mesh sieve or a simple plastic colander lined with cheesecloth set over a bowl will work just as well. Press down on the fruit to release as much of the liquid as you can. It will be sticky and a little syrupy. Some fruits give off more liquid than others, so your yield here could vary quite a bit.

step 3 strain

Strain your fruit using a food mill, sieve or colander.

Step Four: Add the Vinegar

You don’t want to be using harsh-tasting, distilled white vinegar in a shrub. Softer, less acidic vinegars like champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar or most any fruit vinegar work well. Though a lot of recipes and procedures call for one part sugar to one part fruit to one part vinegar, we find that the amount of vinegar required can vary greatly. It’s wise to be conservative when adding the vinegar by using only a little at first, and then increasing the amount to taste. We got about three cups of syrup from our macerated fruit, and to that we needed to add only half a cup of white wine vinegar to get the right combination of sweet and tart flavors.

step 4 add vinegar

For best results, choose a champagne, rice wine or fruit-based vinegar.

Step Five: Chill and Serve

Your shrub will be very intense and possibly a little harsh when you taste it right away. No worries: think of it as a concentrate, or a base to be diluted. We like to let ours mellow in the fridge overnight so all of the flavors can settle in and blend. Your final result should be puckery and jammy.

The following day, taste and make any adjustments necessary by adding more vinegar or sugar. To serve, pour over cracked ice and add a little water or soda water. That’s it!

step 5 serve more

Pour over ice, dilute and enjoy!

Step Six: Get Creative

There are a ton of shrub recipes out there that you can follow if this general method is too loosey-goosey for you. There are also many cocktails you can dream up to use with your finished shrub syrup (including one laced with moonshine, a cousin of the kombucha-based booch ’n’ hooch). You can find plenty of shrub recipes on Serious Eats, or in the book Shrubs: An Old Fashioned Drink for Modern Times. As summer progresses, you can experiment with cherries, apricots, plums or even pineapples. Whatever the case, once you taste the vivid flavors of a homemade shrub, we’re sure you’ll never go back to boring sugary fruit drinks again.

by Sara Bir

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shortcake plated

Old-Fashioned Shortcakes Make the Most of Summer Fruits

Berries, the colorful glories of summer, are out in full force. Depending on where you live, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and cherries are abundant at farm stands, U-pick orchards and grocery stores. It’s a little challenging not to go overboard when working these sweet fruits into salads, smoothies and cobblers, or just popping them into your mouth, straight-up, as snacks.

Sandwiching berries in a tender and buttery shortcake is a classic option in which you should indulge this season. As a kid, you may have coveted those packages of golden sponge cakes that produce managers displayed next to the eye-catching display of ripe strawberries. Now that you’re older, you can pull together far superior shortcakes in your own kitchen with minimal baking time.

We prefer old-fashioned, biscuit-style shortcakes for their homespun charm and the berries’ sweetness that shines without an excessive amount of added sugar. And, best of all, they’re even faster to make than a boxed cake mix.

shortcake strawberries

Take advantage of strawberry season by preparing this sweet summertime treat!

Light and Fluffy Old-Fashioned Shortcakes

Makes 9 shortcakes

This comes from Marion Cunningham’s The Fannie Farmer Baking Book. The mixing technique is similar to our Mother’s Day scones, but there’s a beaten egg added here for a more cake-like crumb. We recommend using cake flour to make your shortcake light and fluffy, but regular all-purpose flour also works fine with this recipe. You may prepare the shortcakes a day in advance.

For the Shortcakes:

  • 2 cups cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick or ½ cup) unsalted butter, cold
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream or whole milk
  • 1 egg

For the Berries:

  • 2 pints fresh berries
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar, or to taste (some berries are sweeter than others)
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon or lime zest, optional

For the Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, chilled
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1. To make the shortcakes, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, cream of tartar and sugar. Grate the butter on the large holes of a box grater and toss it with the flour mixture. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour until it looks like fine crumbs. Measure the cream in a glass measuring cup, crack the egg into it, and beat with a fork until well combined.

shortcake butter cut into flour

Combine your butter and flour until the mixture has a fine crumb-like appearance.

3. Pour the cream mixture over the flour-butter mixture and, with your hands, gently work until it comes together to form a rough, shaggy dough that’s slightly sticky. (Add a sprinkle of flour if the dough it too loose; add a drizzle of cream if it feels too dry or crumbly.) Knead for four or five turns on a lightly floured surface and pat into a 7-inch by 7-inch square. Cut into nine squares and transfer to the baking sheets (giving the shortcakes plenty of room allows them to brown more evenly).

4. Bake until golden in spots, for 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

shortcakes, baked

You can choose to prepare your shortcakes a day in advance.

5. Rinse and drain the berries when you’re ready to prepare them. If using strawberries, stem them before halving or slicing. Toss together with the sugar and (if using) lemon or lime zest. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Prepare the whipped cream shortly before serving. Combine the heavy cream and sugar in a large bowl and beat by hand or with an electric mixer until it makes soft, rounded peaks.

7. Gently split the shortcakes with a serrated knife or fork. Spoon the berries and their accumulated juice over the bottom halves of the shortcakes, top with a generous dollop of whipped cream, then top with the top half of the shortcake. Serve immediately with any remaining berries or whipped cream on the side.

shortcake plated 2

This seasonal treat makes one fabulous dessert!

We hope you enjoy making this delightful summer dessert! Bon appétit!

by Sara Bir

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Plain and Simple

DIY Ombre Manicure

If you’re ready to enliven your look for summer, we here at Heirloom Finds recommend fresh rings, beautiful bracelets and a fabulous ombre manicure. We tried our hand at this nail art trend and found it to be both fun and surprisingly simple. If you’re looking for an excuse to stay in the shade on a hot summer’s day, this mani is one good way to spend some down time.

Supplies

Gather your supplies and get ready to create one memorable mani!

What You’ll Need

  • Clear base coat
  • Clear top coat
  • Two nail polish colors: one for the base and one for the ombre effect
  • Nail art sponge
  • Pure acetone
  • Cotton swabs
  • Small cleanup brush
  • Small cutout piece of plastic or other surface for mixing nail polish
White Base Coat

We chose a white for our base color, but feel free to experiment with the colors of your choice.

Step One: Apply your base coat and let dry. Then apply one coat of your base color. We chose “Paper Mâche” by Finger Paints.

Preparing the Polish

We decided “Do You Lilac It?” by OPI would be the perfect pastel for a summer ombre.

Step Two: Prepare your nail polish by applying your two nail polishes onto a cutout piece of plastic or other mixing surface. Try to create a rectangular shape slightly larger than your nail surface. Your base color should be at the bottom, while the main ombre color should be at the top.

Mixing the Polish

Use a gentle swirling motion to combine the two colors where they meet on your mixing surface.

Step Three: Use the bottom tip of your cleanup brush (or a toothpick, if you prefer) to gently combine the two nail polishes where they meet at the center of the rectangle. Make sure you don’t mix the two colors entirely, as this would destroy the ombre effect.

Sponge the Polish

Use the nail art sponge to carefully apply your polish onto your fingernail.

Step Four: Take your nail art sponge and lay it on top of your mixed nail polishes, making sure that you do not move it around as you press it into your mixing surface. Gently remove it, then slowly press it onto your first fingernail, with the top color section lining up with the top portion of your nail and the base color section matching the bottom of your nail. Carefully pull the sponge away.

Touch Ups

Step Five: Use a cotton swab dipped in pure acetone to remove excess polish. Carefully tidy up around your cuticles using the small cleanup brush dipped in pure acetone.

Poser

Don’t forget to give your nails some time to dry!

Step Six: Repeat steps two through five for your remaining fingernails. Then apply a clear top coat to each nail to complete the manicure.

Coffee

And there you have it! Your fingernails now have a fantastic dipped effect that’s perfect for glamming up warm weather couture. Don’t be afraid to try out different color combinations using this ombre technique. Summertime is, after all, definitely about being adventurous.

by Sarah Clark

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A Dreamy Frozen Dessert—No Ice Cream Maker Required!

An ice cream maker is a fun gadget, though most people find the novelty wears off after the first year or so. We still love ours, but have to admit it does not make the trip upstairs from the storage shelf in the basement very often.

Besides, you don’t need an ice cream maker to enjoy homemade frozen desserts. To make an icy granita, all you need is a freezer—this Italian treat is nothing more than a sweet flavored base that’s stirred around with a fork every 30 minutes or so during the freezing process to break ice crystals into smaller pieces (think snow cone).

For something a little more refined, try this fantastic frozen hot chocolate. It couldn’t be simpler, and it starts out exactly as it sounds: make hot cocoa, let it cool, freeze it. To serve, puree chunks of it in a blender or food processor. What you wind up with is the most mind-blowing upgrade to soft serve imaginable. And you won’t even have to pull your ice cream maker out of the basement!

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Entertaining? These frozen hot chocolates are a deliciously refreshing summer treat.

Frozen Hot Chocolate
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Chocolate and the Art of Low-fat Desserts
Serves 6 to 7

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
  • 2/3 to ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 2-3/4 cups milk (we prefer whole, but 1% or 2% will work), divided
  1. Combine the cocoa and 2/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk in enough milk to form a smooth paste. Whisk in all but 2 tablespoons of the remaining milk and cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is steaming. Taste, adding a little more sugar if necessary.
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Freeze your hot chocolate mixture until it’s solid.

  1. Cool (preferably in an ice bath), then pour the cocoa mixture into a shallow metal pan or ice cube tray and freeze until solid, preferably overnight.
  1. Break the frozen mixture into chunks and place in a sturdy blender or a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons milk and process until no lumps remain. Serve immediately in small glasses.
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Scrumptious!

Any leftovers not eaten after pureeing can be refrozen and then scooped—they’ll be more solid, like a cross between sorbet and gelato. You can also pour leftovers into molds to make amazing fudge pops. Enjoy!

by Sara Bir

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Discover Aperitifs, the Summertime Answer to Cocktails

The calendar doesn’t agree, but according to the unseasonably early heat wave last week here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, summer has arrived. With our deck furniture recently hosed off and a our café glasses brought out from storage, we were prepared to cool off with a relaxing aperitif on the porch.

Aperitifs are a category of drinks as well as a tradition throughout the Mediterranean, yes, but they’re also a state of mind. “L’apéritif is both a beverage and a social activity,” writes author Georgeanne Brennan in her book Aperitif: Stylish Drinks & Recipes for the Cocktail Hour. “The beverages are rarely strong spirits and the accompanying food never satiates, as the purpose is to pique the appetite.” Unlike the offerings seen in the America’s currently booming cocktail scene, aperitifs are light on the booze, usually only contain a few simple components and are intended to stimulate the palate rather than bludgeon it. In fact, aperitifs don’t even need to contain alcohol  a simple lemonade (or citron pressé, in fancy French terms) could count. It’s all about context.

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Summertime refreshment and boho chic jewelry? Yes, please!

Aperitifs are all about transitioning from the busiest part of the day to the more relaxed, carefree time after the workday ends. Add some sun, casual company and a salty snack or two, and you have an occasion to reconnect with friends and enjoy the pleasures of the season. Sometimes, though, savoring an aperitif solo is also enjoyable. It’s the time you take for yourself to assess how the day went and what the remainder of the day holds…or to simply sit and think about nothing at all.

Your house aperitif could be anything from a glass of white or rosé wine, to a booch ‘n’ hooch, to a cooling beer cocktail…or our all-time favorite, Lillet Blanc. In France, aromatized and fortified wines served deeply chilled are common aperitifs, and the Bordeaux-produced Lillet (established in 1872) is a classic. It’s a blend of Sémillon and Sauvignoin Blanc wines flavored with orange and lemon brandies and a hint of quinine. It’s sweet and citrusy, but not cloying.

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A delicious drink and fabulous jewelry are a beautiful solution to a hot summer day.

The manufacturer recommends serving it straight, very cold, but we prefer it over lots of cracked ice and garnished with an orange slice to accentuate its sunny appeal. Another popular variation cuts the Lillet Blanc with club soda or sparkling water and lime.

If you’d like a little nibble with your aperitif, think light and crunchy. Salted almonds, a fresh crudite platter, marinated mushrooms, black and green olives, spicy popcorn, or hard or soft cheeses with crackers are easy to throw together and won’t spoil your dinner — unless you’re content to make the whole aperitif experience your evening meal. In which case, snack away!

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This breezy take on the traditional cocktail hour is gloriously light and refreshing.

Now that warm (or hot) weather is here, you don’t have to stick with the heavy-handed cocktail hour with its heavy appetizers and palate-wrecking liquors. An aperitif allows you to add some levity to your summer days. It’s a ritual that may sound frivolous at first, but you’ll soon find it’s the stuff of life, setting the tone for all that follows.

by Sara Bir

 

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baked chocolate scones

Surprise Mom (or Yourself) With Delicious Scones for Mother’s Day

We’re accustomed to gobbling fist-sized scones out of small brown paper sleeves at coffee shops, and it’s a fun way to start the day on the go. But few items in the baking sphere are as easy to master—and as rewarding to enjoy at home—than scones.

Our scone recipe is a chameleon—we’re giving you options for making it sweet and studded with chocolate, or savory with chives and aged white cheddar. You can even get crafty and flavor each half of the dough separately, so you can have a savory scone to kick things off and nibble a sweet one for seconds.

scones for mom

Scones are a sweet treat for Mother’s Day or anytime!

We prefer not to add sugar to our scones, because that way there’s leeway for piling on a big dollop of fruity jam or a golden-yellow smear of lemon curd. With savory scones, a poached or fried egg on the side is a nice touch—a boon you can’t enjoy with coffee shop scones.

Homemade scones are perfect for special weekend mornings, because it’s easy to prep them in advance, and they’re certainly not taxing to make on the fly. Instead of dragging mom to a crowded, mediocre brunch buffet this Mother’s Day, why not bake her some delectable scones and share relaxed time together at home? If you’re the mom, you’ll be treating yourself to a job well done. 

baked cheddar chive scones

These versatile scones are simply delicious!

Flaky Scones Two Ways
Adapted from Nancy Silverton
Makes 12 Scones

Some scone recipes call for lots of butter and no eggs; some call for eggs; some call for just cream and neither eggs nor butter; some call for all three. Though the results in texture and flavor will differ, the main key to scone success is not over-handling the dough. Scone dough that’s mixed just enough will bake up high and pillowy.

You can make and shape the scone dough the night before and refrigerate it, covered, to bake in the morning. You may also cover and freeze prepared, unbaked scone dough wedges for up to three months. Simply put them straight onto the baking sheet in their frozen state and extend the baking time about five minutes or so.

grating butter for scones

Be sure you prep your butter by grating it or cutting it into small pieces!

For the basic dough:

  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon table salt
  • ¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 11 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, grated on the large holes of a box grater or cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream, for brushing

For the chocolate-lemon scones:

  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks
  • 1 teaspoon coarse or granulated sugar, for sprinkling

For the cheddar-chive scones:

  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus about 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced chives or the green tops of scallions

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.

looks like coarse meal

Your dough will start out looking like cornmeal.

2.  Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon peel (if using) in a large bowl. Add the butter and, using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal (you may also do this step in a food processor, pulsing to combine, and then transferring to a large bowl to finish by hand).

finished dough will be rough but not dry

Once you’ve prepped the dough, it should have a rough texture but not be dry.

3. Make a well in the center and pour in 3/4 cup of the milk. Using a fork or your hand, stir until just moist but still rough and shaggy. Gently knead in the add-ins; if the dough seems dry, add 1-2 more tablespoons milk. Divide the dough in half and pat each portion into a 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut each round into 6 wedges and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Brush the tops with remaining 2 tablespoons cream. For the chocolate scones, sprinkle the tops with sugar; for the cheddar scones, sprinkle with a little bit of the reserved grated cheese.

shaped scones with decorating sugar on top

These dough wedges are sprinkled with sugar and ready for baking!

4.  Bake until light brown, about 18-20 minutes. The scones are best enjoyed within a few hours of baking. To refresh day-old scones, warm them in a 350 degree F oven for a few minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

by Sara Bir

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booch n hooch

Kombucha: Not Just for Weirdos!

Mention kombucha in a conversation and you’ll get one of three reactions.

1. “What’s kombucha?”
2. “Kombucha? I LOVE kombucha!”
3. “I am so sick of everyone talking about kombucha all of the time.”

Number 3 usually comes along with an eye roll and a groan—and if you are in this camp, don’t feel badly! It’s easy to understand why a bunch of health-food nuts making a big deal out of a tart, fermented drink could be off-putting. I felt the same way, too, until I started mixing mine with booze.

But before we get too soused, let’s back up a few steps to Number 1: what is kombucha? “Kombucha is sugar-sweetened tea fermented by a community of organisms into a delicious sour tonic beverage,” writes fermentation expert Sandor Katz in his encyclopedic book, The Art of Fermentation. Katz compares its flavor to sparkling apple cider, but, just like apple cider, the taste of any given kombucha depends on many variables, such as the tea used in the brewing, the amount of sugar added, the length of fermentation, and whether additional aromatics (such as citrus or ginger) are used to give the komucha an added kick. Also, some kombuchas are fizzier than others.

popular storebought kombucha

Store bought kombucha comes ready to drink in a range of flavors.

Perhaps you’ve seen rows of bottles of commercially brewed kombucha at fancypants supermarkets—I can even get kombucha at our local Kroger, which means it’s gone totally mainstream. That’s a good thing—kombucha offers many health benefits, as it’s loaded with microorganisms that promote robust digestive wellness.

But that’s not why I drink kombucha, and it’s not why I brew it. I like the way it tastes, and it’s fun to make. Kombucha is even more hands-off than that no-knead bread everyone made a fuss about seven years ago, and it’s really hard to screw up. You’ll need:

-a large crock, jar, or stainless steel container
-granulated sugar
-dry tea leaves
-a big, slimy disc of bacteria

Wait, what’s that last thing? It’s a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), though some call it a mother. Mother is also the term used for the culture needed to make vinegar, and kombucha does indeed have the bright tang of well-made artisan vinegar. The scoby is an ugly bugger, but it’s where the life of ‘booch begins.

the scoby

The scoby is essential to successful kombucha fermentation.

How do you get your own scoby, anyway? You can make your own using store-bought raw kombucha, or you can get one from a friend. Like the starter for Amish Friendship bread, a well-fed scoby will keep on growing and growing—any home kombucha brewer is happy to share.

With those elements in place, you can be enjoying a glass of home-brewed ‘booch in a week or two. I’ll defer to Katz on the finer points of this process, but it mostly amounts to brewing sweet tea (it must be caffeinated tea, not herbal tea), letting it cool, dumping it in your fermentation vessel with the scoby, and mostly ignoring it for at least seven days. When is it ready? When it tastes the way you like.

My own scoby/mother (or ‘booch mama, as I like to call it) is a third-generation descendant of Katz’s, but here’s the magical part: my kombucha tastes vastly different from that of the friends who gave the scoby in the first place. Theirs is tannic and very sweet, while mine is bright and tart, yet smooth. A friend I gave a ‘booch mama to now makes her own distinctive kombucha, fizzy and funky and bracing. It’s a bit like having offspring: you control what goes into the kombucha, but what you wind up with will definitely have its own personality.

scoby and fermenting kombucha

After your kombucha is finished fermenting, combine it with moonshine for a fantastically refreshing cocktail.

This all takes us to my long-delayed promise of a cocktail: the ‘Booch-n-Hooch, or kombucha and moonshine. There’s no better thing to do with a restorative, probiotic beverage than add liquor to it. Since kombucha is both sweet and acidic, it’s the perfect cocktail mixer—you don’t need anything else but crushed ice and moonshine for a complex, grownup aperitif. It’s not too hard to find (legally produced) artisan moonshine at well-stocked stores–make sure you get straight-up moonshine and not some fruit-flavored swill. I use about 5 parts ‘booch to one part hooch. Ice cubes are okay, but crushed ice is preferable. Give it all a little stir, indulge in a few deep yoga breaths, and sip away in bliss.

Whether you opt to defile your kombucha with spirits or not, this enlivening liquid has a lot more to offer than trendiness. And even if simply hearing the word still provokes an eye-roll, you can’t deny this cultured drink has a fascinating subculture.

by Sara Bir

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