The Signature of Spring

With spring around the corner, it’s time to start planning for Easter, Mother’s Day, and outdoor gatherings. When I think of spring, I am typically reminded of soft pastels, bouquets of daffodils, and grilled snapper on the open barbecue. Of course, in Texas, we weren’t as winter-weary as other parts of the country ―but we still welcomed the gentler hand of spring.
Years have passed since my spring times in Texas but we still come together with family and friends to celebrate nature, life, and a mother’s love. This year, look for nature to be one of the prevailing signatures of spring. My company recently provided the décor for a bride who loved nature. We translated that passion into wedding décor that featured a chuppah garlanded with foliage (the cover of the chuppah was made from cotton grown, picked, and ginned on the bride’s Mississippi family farm) and an actual tree stump that served as the wedding cake base. However, the most dramatic feature was the lush canopy ceiling treatment of Magnolia leaves suspended from a grid above the dance floor. A multitude of very large blooming branches created the appearance of a large arbor under which the guests dances. A host of iron lanterns ―each twinkling with candlelight ―was suspended from the grid of leaves and branches at various heights. The bride was thrilled at how we captured the essence of her personality with this nature-inspired wedding décor.
Spring menus will be bold, fresh, and organic. Utilizing locally grown fruits and vegetables straight from the farmer’s truck continues to be the most popular choice. Wild leeks, Vidalia onions, heirloom tomatoes, snap beans, yellow crookneck squash, peaches and blueberries are perfect springtime choices ― especially in response to clients’ requests more salads and healthier eating. Our Executive Chef was recently featured in Special Events Magazine for his “organic spoon-sized salads” composed of micro-basil, edible orchids, raspberry, caramelized Seckel pear, and pineapple relish with African blue basil.
In addition to fresh, organic, and creative ―“Mini” is also in. From gourmet mini burgers (photo courtesy of Lauren Ruebinstein) to cold shots of Vichyssoise ―it seems, bite-sized is the right size. “Petits fours literally fly off the trays at our events,” says Executive Pastry Chef Charles Barrett. Maybe smaller-sized desserts and pastries (photo courtesy of Ric Mershon) reduce the guilt. For some reason, serving smaller portions also seems to stimulate conversation. If you really want your guests to mingle, I suggest serving single, bite-sized hors d’œuvres.
For Mother’s Day I wouldn’t veer too far away from classic brunch dishes. Stacey Eames, owner of Atlanta’s trendy Highland Bakery says, “Our Crab Cake Benedict with sautéed spinach is by far our most popular Mother’s Day item. We’ve been at this location for over five years and Mom’s seem to order the same items year after year. I guess they like what’s familiar ― I find that to be very endearing.”

Easter fare can be a little more inventive. If you’re inviting guests, I suggest having the standard Honey glazed baked ham available so that those expecting it will not be disappointed. Do try an unexpected side dish like Orzo pasta salad or Cheddar Cheese Buns (extra delicious when served with ham slices and Dijon-styled or coarse German mustard). For dessert pick up something unique from your local bakery ―a Rhubarb almond crumble or Brazilian Carrot Cake ―quite different from the American version.

Regardless, of where you live or how frequently you entertain ― you’ll surely note this year’s bold, organic, locally-grown, miniature, alfresco, nature-driven, classic, colorful and creative signature of spring.
**To read more of the March/April Issue of Affluent Magazine, check out the new digital version!

For the Love of Coconut

The coconut tree has been called the ‘tree of life’ because of its multifarious uses- the leaves for matting, weaving, and hatching; the fibrous husks for making rope; the oil for soap, shampoo, and cosmetics; and, of course, the edible part of the coconut for ingredients in countless sweet and savory recipes.

Health benefits of coconut have garnered much attention in recent press. Last year India, one of the top coconut producing countries, experienced a 130% increase in consumption of “tender coconut.” The coconut water found in tender coconut is gaining popularity because its fat free, naturally sweet and electrolyte-rich. In other words, it’s the perfect energy drink. In addition to the elixir-like coconut water-the fleshy, edible part of the coconut, also known as “coconut meat” is much healthier than other fruits. Coconut meat contains less sugar and more protein than popular fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges. As well, the health benefits of coconut oil include stress relief, weight loss, increased immunity, relief from kidney problems, diabetes, and maintaining cholesterol levels to name a few (I can already hear lines forming at Whole Foods). The coconut, it seems, is quickly achieving, rock star status.

I appreciate all of coconut’s non-food uses and its healthy benefits but I love coconut for one reason, I love to cook with it. From Thai-styled Massaman curry with coconut sauce to a sprinkle on my cupcakes, coconut provides a subtle nutty sweetness that I adore. Below is a recipe that I especially like, popular in the Northern region of India called “Coconut Ladoo.” It’s a simple recipe that’s doesn’t require a lot of time. Translated literally, “Coconut Ladoo” means “balls of coconut.” Combined with condensed milk, and powdered sugar these melt-in-your-mouth treats are truly unique.

Photo courtesy of Philip Shone Photography

Coconut Laddoo Ingredients:
3 cups fresh dry coconut (shredded)*
¾ can condensed milk
1 cup powdered sugarHow to make Coconut Laddoo:
Boil ¾ can of condensed milk in a pan.
When it starts boiling, add 2 cups shredded coconut and mix well.
When the milk gets absorbed in coconut, add the powdered sugar.
Stir continuously on medium flame until mixture starts leaving the sides of the pan.
Remove and make small balls (about the size of a table tennis ball).
Roll the balls in the remaining coconut.
Refrigerate Coconut Laddoos for 30 minutes before serving.
*Depending on taste, add 1 level tsp of cardamom powder to shredded coconut.

Shredded coconut is also a wonderful garnish to any type of leafy green salad composed with fruit and nuts. Recently, we created a Toasted Coconut and Blood Orange Salad as the salad component to a four course Tapas platter for a poolside party. We dressed the salad with a Coconut Rum Vinaigrette. The salad was a perfect sweet and tangy blend and paired beautifully with the other courses.

Coconut black tea and coconut flour are two more wonderful coconut products. Blended with tropical coconut, coconut black tea is a hearty and tasty twist on classic black tea and is making its presence known among tea drinkers for its subtle sweetness. For extra nuttiness, coconut black tea can also be served with almond milk.

Another relatively new coconut-based product is coconut flour. Although not readily available in every supermarket, coconut flour is receiving growing acclaim. Prior to the availability of coconut flour, those with certain dietary restrictions were forced to forego many desserts and baked goods. Alas! Imagine the tragedy of a life lived devoid of chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins and German chocolate cake. Since coconut flour is 100% gluten free, those with wheat allergies are finding coconut flour to be the perfect substitute. As well, since coconut flour already has a mildly sweet taste from the naturally occurring sugar from the coconut meat, baked goods need less sugar added. Now that coconut flour has arrived on the market, it has become much more than a substitute for traditional flour; it’s become an essential dietary element for a growing number of health-conscious consumers.