Birthday Evening and Spring's Procession

Greetings, friends. Winter has had the best of me lately and I just couldn't blog about the great gray expanse that has been so pervasive here lately.  I have returned with lovely things to show and tell you about, though!  

I am officially declaring the TOP FIVE FOODS blog series finished.  I was going to end with cheese, but quite frankly I was just bored with it, so I knew you had to be.  Let's talk about parties instead.  

Last week was a BFF's birthday and you know it was getting to be time to set a pretty table so that's just what I did...and crafted a menu.  The design process for events has been evolving this year for me and I am very excited with the direction its moving.  It has been a great joy to peruse lots of lovely images and put together a file of things that inspire an event.  The act of setting a table is in my top five favorite things to do, as you all well know.  I am very eager about some new vendors that I am working with that have sent my creative juices into hyperdrive.  

This event was all based on a picture of sea glass that I found and thought, "Those colors would make such a lovely table, wouldn't they?"  And thus it began.   

I didn't want there to be lots of flowers for this event and I was leaning more toward contemporary design with a few stems of something wonderful instead of bouquets.  It was about the color and effect, not the flowers so minimal was the way to go.  While I was trying to figure out how to source cool colored glass without breaking the bank, a great friend of mine suggested colored water in tall clear glass vessels that I already own and I was instantly smitten.

The rest fell into place rather quickly, as is usually the case when that "one thing" in design clicks for me.  My entire design board can be seen here at Pinterest and the entire table photo gallery can be found here on Picasa.  

Colored glass gems gave the table a great pop of color, sparkle and texture and helped to create the underwater/bubble effect also.

A fun clam shell candy dish was acquired weeks before I knew this event was coming from a local second hand shop.  It was obviously meant to be.

The menu was full of her favorite things and was super easy and about really good ingredients.  Not much help is needed there.  Our faithful sommelier at The Wine Rack paired the menu for me and it was lovely.  Sometimes the wines are the star of the show, and sometimes they are supporting cast.  They were supporting cast this time making the citrus brighter, the lobster sweeter, and marrying the sauce and fish beautifully with the bitter greens.  And Veuve...well it's Veuve.  Perfection.  Every time.  Nothing else really needs to be added about that. 

BFF Birthday Dinner

West Coast Kusshi Oysters, Steamed & on the Half Shell
Fresh Horseradish and Lemon
Veuve Clicquot Brut

Lobster Bisque finished with Sherry, Toast Points with Sizzling Shallot Oil
Pine Ridge Chenin Voignier 

Crab and Citrus Salad
Lump White Crab Meat, Rocket Greens, Grapefruit, Blood Oranges, Navel Oranges, Pistachios, and Champagne Vinaigrette
Brocard Kimmeridgien Bourgogne Unoaked Chardonney

Pan Seared Red Snapper on Braised Greens with Orange Sauce, Roasted Fennel and Parmesan Puree
Domaine Chaume Amaud Vinsobres South Rhone Blend

Lavender Vanilla Creme Brûlée 
Veuve Clicquot Rose

The star dushes of the night were the Lobster Bisque and the Lavender Vanilla Creme Brûlée.  I found the bisque recipe here.  It was deliciously decadent and had just the right amount of heat and wine and lobster goodness in it.  I should've doubled the recipe for leftovers.  We all agreed to not lick our bowls at the end, but it was a challenge, make no mistake.  You will get four servings out of it.  That's it.  While we all love lobster, it is a pricey dish and is unfortunately a special occasion food (unless you live in Maine), so I would make this again using lump white crab as a good weekend dinner.  It will still be wonderful.  I also used seafood base as opposed to the lobster base and it worked beautifully at half the cost.  Of course I have no photos of food again.  Sigh.  Once the event starts, I am so in the moment that I forget to photograph, which I suppose it just how it should be, but I reaaaaaallllllyyy need to photograph some of this food.  

The Lavender Vanilla Creme Brulee was a dish born of necessity.  My BFF's favorite dessert is Creme Brûlée but her husband made it for her last weekend and I didn't want to follow that labor of love and try to repeat it.  I thought the addition of lavender would be subtle enough to perk up the dish and make it different without overpowering the truly wonderful deep vanilla flavor that is essential in Creme Brûlée   Do not- I repeat DO NOT- skip out on the vanilla bean here.  Yes they are expensive, but the intense depth of flavor only happens from the layers of vanilla in the sugar and cream.  Otherwise the custard is flat and boring and leaves you thoroughly unsatisfied.

Lavender Vanilla Creme Brûlée

1 Quart Heavy Cream
1 Cup Lavender Vanilla Sugar*
7 Egg Yolks
1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
1 tsp Culinary Lavender**
1 tsp Madagascar Vanilla**
Dash Salt
1 Quart Boiling Water 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place quart of heavy cream into a saucepan with the split vanilla bean and lavender.  Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes.  Pour cream through a strainer.  Discard vanilla pod and lavender buds.

Beat egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in a bowl until they are pale yellow.  Add 1 tsp Madagascar Vanilla and salt.  Mix until incorporated.  Slowly add cream to egg mixture, beating as you pour.  Be sure to get all of the vanilla beans out of the bottom of the cream pan.  

Place 6 one cup ramekins in a baking pan at least 3" deep.  Evenly divide custard among ramekins.  Pour boiling water slowly into pan so that ramekins are sitting in a 1" warm water bath.  Carefully transfer to oven and bake for 45-55 minutes or until custards are set around the edges and the middle is slightly jiggly.  Remove from water bath and cool completely.  Refrigerate until ready to eat.  When ready to serve, spread remaining lavender vanilla sugar over all ramekins and "Brulee" with a kitchen torch until sugar is a deep caramel color.

*Lavender Vanilla sugar can be made by placing 1 teaspoon of culinary lavender buds and one vanilla bean, split and scraped, into an airtight container for at least 5 days.  Shake sugar up once a day to distribute vanilla and lavender.  When ready to use, sift the vanilla pods and lavender buds out of the sugar.

**Culinary lavender and Madagascar Vanilla can be found at specialty food shops.  Penzey Spice has my favorite of both.  The Lavender has a bright flavor without tasting soapy and the vanilla is luscious, silky smooth, and mellow.

These are chives, friends, which means that the Spring Procession of Lovely Growing Things has begun.  I have been looking for it for awhile now, the beginnings of our perennials and lovely veggies that return so faithfully after an eternity of cold and gray.   Last week on my way to work, all in a moment I could smell it- the warming of the dirt and that distinctly spring smell.  It makes me smile to think about the garden overhaul and digging in the dirt and swim lessons and cocktails and lounging by the pool and grilling meals and all of the goodness that comes with the warmer weather.   

I have two more birthday celebration events coming in the near future and one that is on hold until our calendars magically connect (which I hope will be soon).  Their designs are top secret right now but I will share all of their fun when the time comes.  In the meantime, let me know what's on your seed list and how many rows of lettuce you think you might need.  Growing season is almost here and I can hardly wait.  

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