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Archive for March, 2009

Easter Menu!

So the Easter menu is finally done.  I was just waiting on Shirley, from Happy Valley Berry Farm, to see if the rhubarb would be ready by Easter.  Well it will be!  (At least enough for us!!!)  So here it is…


Rhubarb Almond Tart

A large, 9” tart lined with sweet dough, filled with almond frangipane and tart organic Rhubarb from Happy Valley Berry Farm in Bridgeton.  Finished with sliced almonds and baked to perfection!

Serves 8-12 $14

Key Lime Pie

Vanilla cake crumb crust, real key lime filling, and freshly whipped cream on top.  Delicious and pretty, and a Sweet Life classic!

Serves 12-16 $16 

Sweet Life Easter Bread

Inspired by the traditional Easter breads, Paska and Babka, our Sweet Life Easter bread is a sweet bread that is spiked with plump raisins and our homemade candied lemon zest.  Each bread weighs one-pound, and is rolled and coiled into a round loaf.

$5 each 

Sweet Life Easter Cake

Two layers of our vanilla-butter cake, one layer of our chocolate cake, and two layers of chocolate ganache filling iced in pastel buttercream.  Inscription of ‘Happy Easter’ finishes this delicious, pretty cake.

6” Cake serves about 8 – 10 $24

 

Remember to stop by the bakery on Saturday to pick up

breakfast pastries for the family!

 

The Sweet Life Bakery ~ 856-692-5353

Open 8 am – 4pm on April 11th, the day before Easter.

Don’t forget to place your orders by Thursday, April 9th!

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Signs of Spring

The snow fell heavy last Monday, and we ended up with over a foot of the white stuff.  Growing up in Florida, I never saw frozen precipitation when I was a kid!  The saying that March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb certainly rang true on the first day of the month, and it now that saying made sense to me.

One thing about New Jersey that I love is the changing of the seasons.  In Florida and in San Francisco, where Jill and I lived before we moved back to her home, the seasons changed, but in much more subtle ways.  Here in Vineland, the change is more noticeable and tangible, so I feel more connected to my environment and the natural cycles around me.

During the course of the week that followed the snowfall, the snow itself turned to slush and the slush melted into the soil where it slowly saturated the Earth below our feet.  This dampening prepared the soil for the spring seeds that would soon be sprouting to life and bringing us beautiful flowers and tasty edible plants.

The previous week, I had gone to a meeting at the Carl Arthur building on Wood Street regarding the community garden that the Boys and Girls Club is constructing.  There had been two speakers from the Master Gardeners Program there to talk about what kind of plants to put in a community garden and how to prepare the site.  One of the questions was simple enough, what should people grow?  The answer was equally as simple… grow what you like to eat.

By the time the weekend rolled around, I was ready to prepare my backyard garden for planting.  Signs of spring were abound, and I particularly enjoyed finding the edible hints that a new season was upon us.  In the southeast corner of our little vegetable garden, I got on my knees and raked the thick layer of leaves from the ground.  Underneath the brown, moist leaves was my oregano plant, which looked as though it had made it through the winter quite well.  Low to the ground and hidden under the insulating layer of leaves, small bits of green were ready to explode in the next few weeks into a full-fledged, harvestable plant.  Next to the oregano, a small rosemary plant showed signs of life.  In the back of the garden, under the leaves that I had piled in the corner to use as insulation on the top of the compost pile nearby, large swaths of wild mint hid much like the oregano, protected from the cold by the thick layer of last years leaves.

I broke out the tools and went to town, plunging the shovel into the cool damp ground and turning over the cover crop of winter rye that I had planted last fall. The soil looked great, dark and damp, with the occasional ivory eggshell that remained from previous years additions of homemade compost.  Unearthed plump earthworms reacted to their newfound liberation from the ground by quickly slithering back into the depths.  I was pleased to see them, as worms are a sign of healthy soil.

I stayed away from two patches of the garden… where the asparagus bed was, and the rows of garlic that I had planted in the fall.  We planted asparagus roots two years ago, and one must wait two years before harvesting the tender pencil-thin spears, so in mere weeks, we’ll be eating tender, delicious spears fresh from our garden.

The other patch that I avoided was where the green garlic tops were protruding from the ground.  I planted those last fall; three rows of them, and the long skinny green leaves seemed to have survived the winter intact and healthy.  Since the snow melted and the temperature increased, the garlic plants have looked remarkably better.  Most are looking strong and healthy and I hope they turn out better than last years batch, which were underwhelming in size.  As I’ve come to realize, gardening is a lifelong learning experience with many failures and successes.

After finishing my work in the garden that day, I saw another sign that spring is well on its way.  I went to Santori’s at Main and Oak, my favorite produce market in Vineland, to do some shopping.  Lo and behold, in the back of the store, nestled between the leeks and spinach, were Jersey Fresh dandelion greens!  I remembered these bitter greens from last year, and am excited to make a big dandelion salad this week.  At the end of the month, on March 28th, I’ll also be getting my fill of this bitter green at the Savoy when the Chamber of Commerce hosts the Dandelion and Beer Festival!  If you’d like to attend, contact the folks at the Chamber at 691-7400, maybe I’ll see you there.

dandelion-011

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Operation Underpass

            Last month, when The Sweet Life Bakery crew went to New York, we all stayed at the apartment of Lindsay’s sister and her fiancée.  Last week, we made their wedding cake and Operation Underpass was underway.

            The wedding was to take place at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia.  We thought that if we were going to drive all the way to Philly to drop the cake off, we might as well just stay in the city for dinner and drinks, and then head back to the wedding to say hi to the newlyweds, her parents, and our Lindsay.  The codename ‘underpass’ sprang up during a conversation that had taken place recently and really had nothing to do with our adventure.

            The cake was fairly large, and the base was made from a heavy black marble stand that the father of the bride had made specifically for the wedding cake.  Jill and I decided to take the cake in two pieces, and prepared accordingly.  After closing the bakery on Saturday evening, we cleaned up and before long, we were on our way to Philly.

            The traffic was no problem but it had gotten dark, and as we drove down Market Street looking for the Loews, we realized it was on the opposite side of the street.  We did a long, slow loop around City Hall, annoying several people behind us (we have a magnet on the back of the van that states ‘Caution: Wedding Cake on Board’ because we got tired of people honking at us when we went slowly around corners).  I had called the concierge earlier and was instructed to pull up to the front entrance.  Jill eased the van to the curb, and I tossed my keys to the doorman. 

            We unloaded the cake onto a cart that we brought with us and began to wheel it into the hotel.  We slowly made our way through the lobby, past the restaurant, into the elevator, across the ballroom and to the display table.  The journey through the hotel felt a lot longer than it probably was, and we got nervous every time a person walked by and made a snarky comment (it is NOT funny when you ask us if we’ve ever dropped a wedding cake!).  After about a half hour, we had set the cake up and it looked great.  We left the Loews with about thirty minutes to spare before the guests began arriving.

            With the hard part done, it was time to eat.  We parked the van in a parking garage nearby, and made our way onto Sansom Street.  We were headed to Vintage, a wine bar that was recommended to us by George, a good customer of ours.  He had said that the vibe was fun, the food was good, and the wine selection was excellent.

            We found Vintage right around the corner from El Vez (where I had gotten phenomenal guacamole a few months back).  It was cold outside, so we quickly entered.  The dining area was long and dark, and the place was packed with hipsters.  The music was loud but chill, and the whole place hummed from the conversations of several dozen people.

            We sat near the back of the dining room at a tall bistro table and perused the smallish menu for a few minutes.  We ordered three dishes; fried calamari with a smoked tomato aioli, French onion soup, and a homemade veggie burger made with lentils, white beans, and root vegetables.  We each got a drink as well, of course!  Jill ordered a drink special, a champagne and lychee concoction, I got an Argentinean Malbec and Brittany asked our server what he recommended for a white wine.  After he asked her a few questions, she settled on a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  All were excellent, especially Brittany’s wine.  New Zealand is becoming well renowned for their Sav Blanc, and rightfully so.

The food quickly arrived, and since we were pretty hungry, we quickly devoured it all.  The burger was wonderful, served with caramelized shallots and baby arugula on top, and golden skinny French fries on the side.  The calamari was great, so hot, tender and crispy, it was hard not to eat them all myself.

After relaxing for a few minutes, we left Vintage and walked over to Fergie’s, a little Irish pub on a side street.  We had a pint, and people watched for a while.  The pub was very crowded and there were tons of people milling about.  It was funny to see the difference in the crowd from one place to the next, even though Vintage and Fergie’s were right around the corner from each other.

We left Fergie’s and made our way back to the garage, where we changed clothes in the van in a move that would have made Superman proud.  We walked over to the Loews, got into the elevator, and went into the ballroom.  The reception was well under way, the cake had been cut and devoured by that point, and we quickly found the bride and groom.  They looked lovely, and we congratulated them on their future life together.  We danced for a bit, and since the evening had long since turned into night, we decided to take off.

It was a fast trip into Philly, but it was fun.  It’s nice to have the big city so close, and I’m glad we got to take advantage of it… at least for a few hours.  Operation Underpass was a success.

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Food for Living

Ariana’s family decided to take a last minute trip to the Poconos a few weeks ago, so her mother Deanne gave Jill and I tickets to a cooking class put on by Christine Scalfo-Glover. I had spoken with Christine back in December to get her take on new years resolutions, and thought that it would be fun to take one of her classes.

Christine’s cooking classes focus on using healthy ingredients and cooking methods with the goal of achieving wellness through diet. In these classes, she cooks in the vegan tradition, which means there is no meat, eggs, nor dairy used. The stereotype is that meat, eggs, and dairy add all the flavor needed to enjoy food, but Christine bucks this stereotype by making some bangin’ food!

Jill and I arrived at the new Evolutions for Conscious Living building, located at 1350 Southwest Boulevard. It was dark, and drizzling outside, and we quickly walked inside. As we entered, Tony greeted us at the reception desk. Off to the left, we could see a yoga class that was in session. Warrior pose was being practiced, and it was silent and serene inside Evolutions. Tony guided us to the right, around the corner and into the smallish, brightly lit kitchen behind the reception desk. Christine was inside, talking with a woman who had arrived before us. No one else was there yet, so Jill and I removed our jackets and found a seat at a tall bistro table.

The kitchen was very nice, open and spotless with an island in the middle that had some workspace and gas burners. A free-standing exhaust hood hung over the burners, ready to remove the heat and cooking fumes. The kitchen was decked out with standard culinary wares; oven, dishwasher, big sink, fridge. Wood cabinets lined the rear of the kitchen, and several bistro tables sat towards the front, where we were. More chairs lined the island, providing an excellent view of the demonstration area.

More folks started trickling in, and pretty soon, the kitchen was filled up with people hungry to learn a thing or two. Christine opened the class by having everyone introduce themselves and say why they were there and what they hoped to learn. After introductions, Christine passed out menus and recipes. We would be preparing a whipped white bean purre, sautéed mushrooms, spicy roasted sweet potatoes, and broccoli with shallots and walnuts.

The cooking portion of the class began with the sweet potatoes. They would take the longest to cook, so Christine sliced them into wedges and placed them into a bowl. She tossed them with olive oil, salt, curry powder, a little chili powder, and cinnamon. The wedges went onto a tray and into the hot oven.

In a pan on the stove, a little oil was heated. Into the pan went chopped leeks, which cooked until softened. Then white beans were added, along with veggie broth, garlic and thyme. This mixture then simmered for eight or nine minutes, and then it was seasoned with salt and pepper. Then the contents of the pan went into a food processor, where everything was blended together into a yummy white bean puree.

A large pot of water went onto the stove and was brought to a boil with a little salt. The broccoli was cut into pieces and went into the water. Christine blanched them for just a few minutes, long enough to cook them but not long enough so that they turned a dull shade of army green. The shallots were then sautéed in a pan until they got some color, and the broccoli was added with a loud sizzle and spatter. She quickly tossed the broccoli in the pan to coat with the shallots and oil, and with a quick seasoning, they were done.

The mushrooms were sautéed in a bit of oil, salt, and pepper until they were soft and brown. At this point, the timer for the sweet potatoes went off, which signaled that they were done. Christine took them out of the oven and drizzled a little lemon juice on the browned wedges. It was time to eat!

The plates were stacked next to the gas burners, and the food began to be portioned out. A large spoonful of the white bean puree, followed by a sprinkling of mushrooms on top. Several wedges of sweet potatoes found their way next to the white beans. The bright green, perfectly cooked broccoli was spooned onto the plate next. Everything was very pretty and fresh looking, and man did it smell good.

The sweet potatoes were awesome. The curry, lemon and sweet potato was an interesting combination and it worked really well. The beans supplied the meal with copious amounts of protein, and the mushrooms added an earthy, meaty flavor to the dish. The broccoli was fresh tasting, and delicious. All-in-all, quite tasty, and not a drop of animal product!

Eating healthier is not easy. It takes a lot of work to learn how to cook well, but it just takes practice. If you ever need a little inspiration, or want to learn how to cook without using animal products, I highly suggest that you give Christine a call at 856-696-4234. You can also read more information on her website at http://www.foodforliving.net

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