Christmas Cards Now Available

It's hard to know where the time goes and it seems like the holidays are upon us faster and faster every year. One of my favourite things to do each year is to reconnect with my family and friends by sending Christmas Cards. As you all know I've lived in a number of places which often provides inspiration for my blog but it also means that I have lots of friends all over the globe who I miss particularly at this time of year. As much as we have so many new ways of connecting with each other, I still love to receive a hand-written card. And I like writing them as well. It gives me some time to slow down during the hectic season - maybe even enjoy a nice Christmas beverage while I'm penning notes to family and friends far and wide.

After a lot of coaxing from friends and family who'd received my cards over the years I'm pleased to offer a few of my Christmas Cards for sale this year via a new shop that I've set up on the blog. Eventually I will be bringing on other items, including Limited Edition Fine Art Photography Prints.

It's a way of being able to share some of my favourite photographs  with people in a more permanent way. I chose designs that reflect my own family's traditions - Christmas Cake, evenings spent writing Christmas cards, sipping something special and of course, one of my favourite pastimes - holiday baking. I hope you will enjoy these cards as much as I do and find time to reconnect with friends and family over the holidays. 


I'm offering free shipping in the US and Canada for all orders placed by December 5th. Visit the shop link to find out more.

It's Fall and I Love It

It's fall. It's wet. It's cold. The colours of the sky and the leaves are a perfect colour palette. It fits my mood. It reminds me how connected we are to nature and the weather.

All I seem to want to eat are yummy, cozy, comforting things like Ricardo's Chicken Pot PieLots of rainy days also seem to have turned me into something of a pie obsessive where I'm happy to stay inside happily making and rolling pastry. This particular recipe worked great for me. It was easy to make and the pastry is delicious. Comes together really easy and puffs up in a really lovely way. I hadn't really planned to blog about this but the colours in these images seemed to jive together so nicely I thought it made for a nice photo essay on my mood. What's your favourite thing to eat when the weather's like this?

Headshots: Say it With Sarcasm

You may know my talented, smart, and beautiful friend Ženija Esmits from Say it With Sarcasm and her line of very clever cards with just the right amount of snark.

Card Designs by Say It With Sarcasm.
Card Design by Say It with Sarcasm

Card Designs by Say it With Sarcasm. Photography by Helena McMurdo.

Naturally we always enjoy ourselves when we collaborate and so it was no different when Ženija hired me to do some headshots for her website which will also be used for in-store promo material for some of her resellers. 

Here are some of my favourites from the shoot.

Zenija Esmits

If you'd like to see more of Ženija's cards, check out her webshop

If you are interested in headshots drop me a line.

 

 

 

Hermès at Work visits Vancouver

I'm a lover of what Patsy of Absolutely Fabulous would call "gorgeous little things" and so when the chance came to see how some  were made, of course I was there. Vancouver was recently treated to the travelling show that is Hermès at Work and a chance to see and interact with the Hermès  craftsmen and women outside the intimate settings of their ateliers.  These incredible luxury items are truly works of art and the people who make them seemed to be in a perpetual state of Zen. The idea of moving to Dijon and becoming a silk scarf screen printer crossed my mind a couple of times, I don't mind telling you. But this is the type of skill gained over a lifetime of practice and commitment, and despite the effortless skill that the individual craftspeople displayed, I know this didn't happen overnight. Here are a few of the "gorgeous little things" that caught my eye. 

Saddle by Hermès            Photo: Helena McMurdo
Colourful watch straps by Hermès Photo: Helena McMurdo
Hermès Glovemaker at work. Photo: Helena McMurdo
A seamstress hemming a Hermès Scarf, using the "Roulottage Française" technique. Photo: Helena McMurdo
An artist paints a design onto a Hermès plate Photo: Helena McMurdo

Happy Victoria Day: Victoria Sponge

In honour of Victoria Day, here's my not-so-classic take on a Victoria Sponge.

A Victoria Sponge also known as a Victoria Sandwich is a typical British teatime treat made with strawberry jam and butter icing, sandwiched between two layers of sponge cake. It was said to be a favourite of Queen Victoria's, and popular during her reign, hence the name.

Marmalade Victoria Sponge. Photography and Styling by Helena McMurdo, My Endless Picnic.

Instead of strawberry jam, I went with marmalade. I am a marmalade addict and lately my favourite comes from Le Meadows Pantry.  Her Grapefruit and Sea Salt Marmalade is absolutely divine.

Marmalade Victoria Sponge. Photography and Styling by Helena McMurdo, My Endless Picnic.

 

Marmalade Victoria Sponge

For the cake:

150 g butter

3 eggs

150 g flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tsp salt

 

For the  filling:

60 g butter, soft

125 g icing sugar

3 teaspoons warm water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

4-6 tablespoons of your favourite marmalade

Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees and baseline a 7 inch cake tin with parchment paper.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. Cream the butter and eggs together until fluffy and then add the dry ingredients a little at a time. When mixed through, pour into the cake tin.

Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. In the meantime, make the filling

Put butter, sugar, water and vanilla in a bowl. Beginning slowly at first and gradually increasing speed, beat with an electric stand or hand held mixer until the mixture is very light.

Slice the cooled cake through the middle so you have two layers. Spread the butter icing on to the cut side of the bottom half of cake and spread the jam on the cut side of the top half. Sandwich the two halves together and then dust with icing sugar.

Pour yourself your favourite blend of tea and enjoy like a Queen.

 

 

Vancouver Art Exhibition: Eat Your Veggies

Some of you will remember that last year I exhibited in my first ever art show at the very lovely gallery and furniture store Studio 126. So when I heard that they would be inviting local photographers and artists to exhibit again this year on a food theme, of course I was in. 

This year's event celebrates the world of veggies and I'll be showing 5 pieces which I'm really excited about.

The opening reception will be this Thursday, April 7th so if you are in the neighbourhood, I would love you to drop on by. You can RSVP on Facebook

And if you can't make it,  fear not, the show runs Wednesday to Sunday until May 22nd.

Three Days in Naramata

We took a short break to Naramata in BC's Okanagan Valley last week to visit some friends. Although we weren't there to be tourists we couldn't help it. It's a wonderful time to visit. In fact, it may even be the best time, with the vineyards full of fruit, ready to be picked. It seemed like every corner held another magnificent view.

Lake Breeze Winery, Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Vines at Lake Breeze Winery, Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Vines aLake Breeze Winery, Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic

We weren't on a tasting holiday per se, but we couldn't not try a few. Quickly we realized we would need more hours in the day. We made some new-to-us discoveries in the form of the delightful Pinot Gris from Poplar Grove as well as the Meritage from Lake Breeze. I feel like we only skimmed the surface and another trip is definitely in order to delve further into the delights of Naramata.

Poplar Grove Winery, Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Poplar Grove Winery, Naramata, BC, Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic

One of the highlights of the trip involved no wine at all but a drive up to Chute Lake, just north of Naramata. A forest fire swept through this area a few years ago, and now the new growth of deciduous trees is renewing the area. The green and gold colours lit up the barren and scorched landscape, making me feel like I had landed in a Group of 7 painting. Arriving at Chute Lake, we were greeted by a lovely lady sitting outside the café.

"Are you coming in for a cinnamon bun, fresh out of the oven?" she asked.

There's really no way to say no to that, is there? After our walk down by the lake and a perusal of the "museum", an old barn packed with antique household machinery, and farm equipment, we ordered two cinnamon buns between four of us and promptly ordered two more. In addition to being covered in sweet, gooey icing, they came with a side of butter. And no, it wasn't too much.

Near Chute Lake, looking over Lake Okanagan.  Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Cinnamon Bun at Chute Lake. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Chainsaws, Chute Lake. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Café at Chute Lake, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Overlooking Lake Okanagan, near Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic

On our way home, a chance to hang on to the Okanagan for a little while longer as we stopped in Keremeos to buy fruit at the row of fruit stands that dot Highway Three. I seem to have a problem, which I'm fairly sure is genetic, inherited from both my mother and father, that makes it impossible for me not to stop at a fruit stand. The consequences of this were a next day spent at home pickling hot peppers, making acorn squash soup, corn chowder and a pear tart. There are worse problems.

Salish Apples, Keremeos, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Pear & Ginger Frangipane Tart Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
Acorn Squash Soup Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic
View with Vines over Lake Okanagan, Naramata, BC. Photo by Helena McMurdo/Endless Picnic

I'm already dreaming of when we can go back. Have you been to Naramata? What are your favourite wineries or experiences?


All content © 2015 Helena McMurdo. Do not reproduce without permission.

Tinto de Verano

This is what we've been drinking lately. It's a childhood favourite. Yes that's right. When we visited Spain when we were kids, we were always permitted to have a small glass of wine cut with some gaseosa, a sort of 7-up /Sprite style drink that is slightly less sweet.

Later on,  but still many years ago, when I worked at Expo in Sevilla, now a grown-up, I rediscovered this drink and discovered it had a name: Tinto de Verano or Summer Wine. The bartenders would always ask 'Con limón' or "Con gasesosa?" giving you the option to have it with lemon Fanta which became my preference.  Sadly Lemon Fanta is hard to find in Canada, but I have found some good substitutes.

Tinto de Verano. Photo by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

Santa Cruz Lemon Soda or Good Drink Organic Spritzer seem to work well. Both are slightly sweet which makes a good combination with the wine. Although excellent on it's own, I find Lemon San Pellegrino to be far too tart for this particular tipple.

I'd take this drink any day over Sangria which is far too headache inducing for me. When it's really hot, it's the only thing that I want.

 

Tinto de Verano

Red wine of your choice

Lemon Soda such as Lemon Fanta or Schweppes Limón

Fill a glass with ice, fill halfway with red wine. Fill in the rest of the glass with lemon soda.

Sip and enjoy.

 

How Does My Garden Garden Grow?

It's been a strange summer - very hot initially - and now in August, things are cooling off. But that hasn't stopped me in the garden. When I say garden, I'm probably taking a bit of a liberty. I have a few containers on my balcony but it's a garden to me. I've just planted a few more snap peas. I'm not sure if there will be time for them to mature, but they look pretty growing up the balcony. My first batch this year gave a grand total of 13, not exactly a huge number, but it didn't stop us from enjoying them.

I made a little pea salad (emphasis on the little) from Dana Cowin's new book with the snap peas and walla walla onions instead of shallots and a simple vinaigrette. I served it tapas style with a tinto de verano. Pretty nice actually.

My pole beans were not wonderful this year. Our initial early heat didn't sit well with them so they were curled and gnarled and not as plentiful as in other years. But again, I love seeing the leaves climb up the balcony railing. They are putting out a second round now, which seems to be a bit better.  

I'm also growing a bush bean Romano which is coming ready now. It looks promising.

The lettuce has been the most satisfying plant and that's saying something because I don't even like lettuce. Well let's say that there are about 100 things I could think of to eat before lettuce. But garden lettuce is just so much nicer. I harvest a little bit every few days and that's enough for me.

Morning is my favourite time in the garden. I have my coffee on the balcony, do my watering, harvest anything that wants harvesting before the heat of the day has taken over. This morning the light was so lovely I just had to snap a few shots to share. Are you growing anything this year? What's working for you? Leave me a note in the comments below.

Cherry Clafoutis

During the height of summer, with Vancouver under an Air Quality Warning due to surrounding Forest Fires, and experiencing temperatures upwards of 30 Degrees C for some reason, all I was thinking about was baking. 

It had to do with these beauties that I saw at the Farmer's Market early in the season. For some reason, raw cherries and I have never been friends. Even well washed organic ones make my lips and mouth itch. It's not like I haven't tried, but I know when to stop.  Cooked cherries are another story - bring them on. We get on like a house on fire.

BC Cherries are perfect for Cherry Clafoutis. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

A few weeks ago, a particularly clever friend of mine brought a delightful dessert to another friend's bridal shower: A Cherry Clafoutis. Delicious, of course. I have always wanted to make one and ever since then, the idea has been planted in my brain.

Pour the custard over the cherries to make a Cherry Clafoutis.  Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com
Bake the cherry Clafoutis until it is golden. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

Several attempts were made, some successful, others not. By my third try, I had enlisted the help of my three-year-old nephew and I think we cracked it. I thought give him the simple job of removing the stems of the cherries, but once he saw me with the cherry pitter in hand, there was no way that he was not having a part of that action. He performed admirably and remarkably, we and my mother's kitchen, emerged unscathed.

Soaking the cherries releases the juices. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

It's wonderfully simple to make. In fact, a three-year-old can do it. The pitting of the cherries is the most time consuming element, but other than that, you are simply mixing up a custard with a consistency similar to pancake batter in the blender and pouring it over the fruit. And if you bake regularly, you'll have most ingredients on hand.

The cherry season started early this year and is finishing up now. As we move into the late summer, you can easily substitute plums. Just slice them in quarters and arrange them beautfully in the baking dish and follow all other steps in the same manner.

Allow the clafoutis to cool completely. Photography by Helena McMurdo. Recipe on myendlesspicnic.com

And of course, you must dust with powdered sugar. And then dust some more.

Cherry Clafoutis

I've based my recipe on this one from Simply Recipes with a few amendments. I found that soaking the cherries in brandy, (surprise, surprise) gave a great added flavour to the fruit. With this addition, I reduced the amount of almond extract slightly. I also increased the temperature to 375 which I felt worked better for the custard. My special tip is to dust the greased baking dish with sugar instead of flour which gives a lovely browned crust.  

about 2 cups of fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 TBSP brandy
2 TBSP blanched slivered almonds
3 eggs
3/4 cup  sugar
1 TBSP brown sugar
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of milk (2% is fine)
1/2 teaspoon of almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar for dusting
extra granulated sugar for preparing the baking dish

1. Grease an 8-10 inch ceramic pie dish, dust it with granulated sugar and pop it in the freezer while you prepare the fruit and custard.

2. Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter. Don't be a hero and try to do it without. Invest in this fabulous piece of equipment (which you can also use for olives).

3. Optional step - place the cherries in a bowl and pour over the brandy. Let soak for 1/2 hour at least, preferably more.

4. Make the custard by placing the sugars, flour, salt, milk and extracts in a blender and mixing thoroughly.

5. Remove the pie dish from the freezer and arrange the slivered almonds to cover the bottom of the dish evenly. (I originally ommitted this ingredient but in subsequent trials,  found the almonds to be essential.)

6. Arrange the cherries and any juice in the dish on top of the almonds.

7. Pour the custard mixture over the cherries and place in preheated oven.

8. Bake for 30 minutes or until the centre is just ever so slightly wobbly and the top is golden.

9. Allow to cool completely and then prior to serving, dust with powdered sugar.

10. If you can't finish it for dessert, eat the rest for breakfast.

 

 

Portraits: Genevieve

I've been doing more portraits lately as you may have noticed. It's been an interesting process for me, one that has not come naturally. I think one of the reasons I like food photography is that I can take time to plan and control my shot. Yep there it is - that word - control. I like knowing that I'm in control of the situation. And with people, well sometimes you're not...Right?

But that's where the process has become interesting for me. The more I do of  these, the more I realize that actually, I get better shots if I get out of my own way and just allow things to unfold naturally. When I started doing these portraits, I was less comfortable giving direction to my subjects and while I've become more comfortable with that, the most successful portraits I've done always seem to involve some collaboration with the subject. 

Recently I was lucky enough to make some pictures with this lovely lady. Genevieve is the owner of Violet Boutique in Vancouver and we profiled her recently on South Granville Inhabiter. These are some of my favourite shots from the shoot. Her light filled space was so inspiring to work in and after spending some time with her chatting about her business, we spent about an hour making pictures together. And of course, how could we not include her adorable best friend and assistant shopkeeper Bea.

Colonial Seed Cake

Sometimes you stumble upon buried treasure.

An old friend was in town recently. I've known her for more than 40 years. Our fathers worked together and her family lived in Spain when we did and then our families both lived near each other in the North of Canada. She was at my parent's wedding when she was just 4 years old. We grew up together. Now adults, we don't live in the same city or even the same country but we've managed to stay in touch over the years. Sometimes the bond of shared history is one of the strongest. 

So when we met recently,with our extended families over dim-sum, there was lots of reminiscing. And lots of those memories involved food. My friend's mother was always hosting us for tea or organizing gourmet picnics in the snow, and I remember many a happy hour spent at her house with tea and biscuits and delicious things of all kinds. Sadly her mum passed on far too young. She was a lovely lady and taught me a lot about food and flowers and enjoying life for the simple things. She taught us to make antipasto with a recipe that we still use today.  I remembered that we had some of her recipes in among my mum's recipe collection.

I went looking for a few of them and came across this one that I hadn't remembered. The name intrigued me: Colonial Seed Cake. It seemed such a thing of the past. I had visions of ladies in India making this cake in the 1800s. It is in fact a poppy seed cake and tastes just as good today. It was lovely to find the hand-written recipe. Today we share our recipes on twitter, on blogs on instagram,  but it's not as if we invented it. Sharing was going on on long before - the old-fashioned way. The yellowed and stained paper is a testament to that.

The method is simple and not quite usual for most cakes I've made. The poppy seeds are steeped in milk for 3-4 hours, presumably for both flavour and a softening effect. There's no creaming together of sugar and butter first. The ingredients are simply mixed together all at once. Would it make a difference to do it the other way? Probably. But I have no complaints about the results of this method. It is perfectly scrumptious.

Colonial Seed Cake
Colonial Seed Cake

 

I haven't edited the recipe at all, except to add the bracketed metric measurements.

I know we have loved it for the sense of rediscovery as well as the memories of the lady who made it but the taste is pretty good too. I hope you enjoy it.

Colonial Seed Cake

1/2 cup (2 oz)* poppy seeds

3/4 cup (180 ml) milk

3/4 cup (180 g) butter

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsps baking powder

2 cups  (304 g) sifted flour

Combine poppy seeds and milk in a large bowl. Let stand at room temperature for three to four hours. Let butter and eggs warm to room temperature for easy mixing.

Grease and flour an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 pan. Preheat oven to 350.

Add butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, baking powder and flour to poppy seeds and milk. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 1 minute, scraping side of bowl with plastic spatula. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350) for 1 1/4 hours or until centre springs back when lightly pressed with fingertips. Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes. Loosen around edges, turn out to cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

*my friend's handwritten recipe called for 1/2 cup  or (2 oz) but when I measured out 1/2 cup poppy seeds  I found this to be closer to 3 oz or 85 grams. All other bracketed measurements in grams are my own conversions using the volume amounts provided in the original recipe.


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