Peonies…

Today the peony blooms in my garden opened – in glorious pink and in white, reminding me of the wonderful summer weddings of years gone by – when peonies were the stars of bridal bouquets and centerpieces …

Janae Shields Photography
Andre Vega Photography

– and of the many brides of 2020, anxiously awaiting their postponed wedding celebrations – next year, maybe…?

Here is the first bloom of this summer on the peony bush I inherited with my garden…

… and here is the one I planted myself last year, unsure of whether it’d make it through the winter. Such beauty…

I read up a little on peonies and learned a few things I’d like to share you with you. Where did they get their name? In Greek mythology, actually. They are named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine who became deadly jealous of his talented student. Zeus, the supreme God, used his divine powers to save Paeon from his boss Asclepius by transforming him into – you guessed it – a beautiful flower. The peony!

Nowadays, the peony comes in 33 known species, mostly herbaceous plants up to 3 ft or shrubs up to 11 ft (!) tall, in colors ranging from white and yellow to pink to dark red. Peonies thrive in temperate regions of Asia, Europe and Western North America, and they bloom for only 7-10 days in early summer.

They have been prized for their beauty in many cultures for centuries – look at these examples:

Chinese watercolor
Chinese stamp

Botanical drawing, ca. 1809
Impressionist painting, Henri Fantin-Latour

They have become one of the most desired flowers for weddings – and once their blooming season in OUR area is over, we can still get them from (you would NEVER have guessed that!) Alaska – of all places – where unique growing conditions due to long hours of sunlight create availability when other sources have completed harvest. Late-summer brides, rejoice… we’ll get you your peonies!!

What’s the hype about Dalgona coffee?

And what IS it, after all? So, I did some research.

“Dalgona” is a caramel-colored crunchy sugar confection that became popular in Korea in the 1970s and 1980s as inexpensive street food – a whole generation grew up with it. Fast-forward to 2020, during the COVID-19 period: an easy-to-make creamy coffee concoction becomes all the rage – first in Korea, now worldwide – named after the beloved childhood candy for its caramel color and sweet-and-bitter taste.

I had to try it!!

For one serving, whip

2 tbsp instant coffee, 2 tbsp granulated sugar and 2 tbsp water with an electric mixer until it becomes airy, creamy and turns a light caramel color, forming stiff peaks (1 and a half minutes with an electric mixer or 400 turns with a whisk – don’t do that to yourself!).

Spoon over a half cup of chilled or hot milk, stir as desired.

It’s THAT easy!

And it’s actually really good. I have begun experimenting with the flavor – a little less sugar, or adding 1 tablespoon agave nectar for more (soft) sweetness; you can even give it a hint of spice with cinnamon or nutmeg. Koreans top it with crushed Dalgona candy for a sweet childhood memory…

ENJOY!

The harp how you don’t know it yet!

One of my longest-time collaborators, harpist Erica Messer, holds a very special place in my heart: she is one of the first brides whose wedding I planned with my then-startup company, A Day Like No Other. Erica and I have since done many beautiful weddings together, and over the years I have learned from her that my personal perception of her beloved instrument – as something that is mainly played by angels in Heaven, so to speak – is entirely wrong. Erica is one of those who have brought the harp into the 21st century and proven it the perfect accompaniment for contemporary tunes as well. Here is proof – and, oh, did I forget to say that Erica’s harp is HOT PINK?!!

Summer projects to keep the kids busy and entertained

The governmental restrictions during the current COVID-19 pandemic – necessary as they are – have made the lives of young parents especially difficult, and with the upcoming summer break it won’t be getting any easier: no sports programs, no camps, and all public swimming pools closed. What to do to keep the kids happy, busy and entertained?

I have an idea – do constructive projects with them so that they feel pride in their accomplishments, and actually learn practical skills. I received tutorials from zillow.com and would like to share a few of their ideas here.

Here’s an easy one to start with: gardening! A garden not only gives you the benefit of fresh herbs, vegetables or flowers, it’s also a natural outdoor classroom for your kids — helping them learn measurements, basic botany facts and an appreciation of nature.

Raised garden beds are easy to maintain and allow plants to thrive, and they are a great beginner project for children to help with.

To make a 4×4 raised garden bed, you will need:

  • 8 untreated 2x4s (each 4 feet long)
  • 4 untreated 12-inch 4×4 corner posts
  • 1 package of 4-inch wood screws
  • A power drill 

To construct the square box, attach two 2x4s to each corner post (stacking them vertically). Have an (older) child hold the boards securely in place as you drill. When your structure is complete, children of all ages can help to pick a sunny spot in the backyard for your raised garden bed and to pour in the soil and plant whatever you like.

Need more inspiration? Take it from community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley who became famous for planting community gardens in a bleak part of Los Angeles – to make his neighborhood a better place. Ron has a totally relaxed and common-sense approach to gardening, and here is a little introduction to his “Masterclass” lessons.

Venue Spotlight: Thomas Fogarty Winery

Many of you will know (and love) Thomas Fogarty Winery as an elegant wedding venue – a good number of you will even have worked there at one or more weddings.

It’s spectacular – on clear days the view encompasses everything from the Bay Bridge to the North, all of Silicon Valley to San Jose in the South. Sunsets – and even the fog rolling in – are sheer beauty.

I am certainly one of Fogarty’s biggest fans! And so I would like to share with you how all this came about – there is backstory to it!

The founder of Thomas Fogarty Winery is actually a famous physician, Dr. Thomas Fogarty Sr., who worked at Stanford University and who made an invention in 1961 that has literally saved countless lives around the world ever since: the Fogarty catheter. This device allows to remove fresh blood clots from arteries without surgery, and it has become a staple of cardiologists everywhere.

Charmed by the natural beauty of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Dr. Fogarty built his family home up on Skyline Boulevard and began acquiring the surrounding land.

By 1977, he had accumulated over 300 acres of land, and in 1978, he planted his first vineyard – with that, Thomas Fogarty Winery was officially founded! The winery is now producing mainly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and they are fantastic!

With the construction of the architecturally stunning open Pavilion,

where the majority of festive dinners are now hosted, the winery developed into an elegant event space with a capacity of over 200 guests, indoor/outdoor options and beautiful ceremony lawn.

And we all can absolutely not wait to be back there soon, celebrating love and the beauty of the gorgeous setting. You need not take my word for it: watch this video of one of my weddings at Thomas Fogarty Winery!

The new breakfast fun: pancake cereal!

Not sure you’ve seen it yet – it’s all over the web and social media these days: pancake cereal! It’s just a new and fun breakfast item, and so easy to DIY at home.

I found this tutorial online:

Looks yummy, right? I made it for my family, and they LOVED it. Here’s the recipe I used:

And if you don’t feel like whipping up the batter from scratch – I have alternatively used Bisquick (their “enriched” pancake batter recipe on the box), and it worked just fine. Enjoy!

Dreamcatcher Maya teaches make-up application

We all know that we immediately FEEL good when we know we LOOK good! And as we all can use a little bit of “uplift” these days – here’s to you, courtesy of hair and makeup artist Maya of Dreamcatcher Artistry.

The Science of Wine demystified: Trione Whites!

A guest post by Henry Trione of Trione Winery

Trione Lineup: The Whites

Trione Vineyards & Winery grows both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes in the Russian River Valley AVA, on the River Road Ranch.

This ranch is right in the middle of the appellation, a prime climate and soil for these cooler climate varietals. The two varietals are distinctly different! From their intrinsic character to the winemaking process, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay each take separate paths to the bottle and on entirely different schedules. To explore the differences, let’s start with their flavor profiles and work our way back to the crush pad.

When someone asks me, “What is your favorite wine varietal?” I reply, “What is the occasion or food pairing?” Applied to the white varietals of the Trione lineup, it is necessary to consider the flavor profiles of the respective wines. In the words of the Trione winemaker, Scot Covington, the River Road Ranch Sauvignon Blanc tastes like the following:

White peaches, nectarines and mandarin zest are the first hints on the nose. The acidity and sweetness on the palate are in perfect balance. This wine is mouth-watering and leaves one craving for fresh oysters, sourdough baguettes, aged gouda, a sandy beach and a setting sun.

I could not have described it better myself, but if I had to define this wine in one word it would be floral. (While also leaving me craving a sandy beach and setting sun, of course!)  Sauvignon Blanc is considered an aromatic white grape, light and refreshing with just the right amount of residual sugar to balance the natural acidity. This differs from the richer qualities of Chardonnay and the slight oak flavor imparted from the mixture of new and “neutral” French oak barrels in the winemaking process. In Scot’s eloquent words:

Bottled poetry is the description of the 2017 Trione Chardonnay. Burgundian in style of both nose and palate. Rich and inviting, this wine offers a complex mix of toasty baguette, warm melted brie; silky but with the structure demonstrating the aging potential. The 2017 Chardonnay is tasting great now but will be awesome for the next 5-7 years.

So what do you enjoy these varietals with? The answer is a resounding whatever you like! Personally, Sauvignon Blanc is light and refreshing enough that it can be a stand-alone wine, not requiring any paring to enjoy. The Chardonnay, on the other hand, is a fuller-bodied wine and in my opinion better served with seafood, poultry and lighter pasta dishes. If you want to pair the Trione Sauvignon Blanc with anything in particular, I recommend cheese or oysters. The sweet-tangy characteristics of the wine seem to do these foods justice.

Working backwards, we can see how we arrived at the individual attributes of these varietals, aside from their intrinsic qualities. Unlike the Sauvignon Blanc, the Trione Chardonnay tastes slightly oaky. To achieve this quality, the winemaking process employs the use of 40% new French oak barrels and 60% neutral barrels that have been used in one to two previous vintages already and thus do not impart all that much oak flavor, but still create a softer mouth feel than if it were produced in stainless steel. The oak compliments the grape’s natural hardiness relative to the Sauvignon Blanc grape. So, the winemaking process is quite different, and takes much longer for the Chardonnay. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, the Trione Chardonnay spends 12 months in French oak barrels, while the Sauvignon Blanc is harvested about the same time in the late summer or early fall, and already bottled by April. As Scot mentioned in the quote above, the Chardonnay is suited to age a number of years because of its robustness compared to the Sauvignon Blanc, which in my experience does not benefit from aging. Harvesting the grapes, however, is on a similar schedule. Both Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are considered early-ripening varietals. This is because they do not need as much time on the vine to achieve the appropriate sugar content.

The differences between the two white varietals in the Trione lineup, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, can be attributed to both nature and nurture. Nature gave the fruit different qualities, and the nurturing of the winemaking process further developed these distinctions. The result is a wine appropriate for different situations. One is light, refreshing and floral, the other is full-bodied, rich and creamy. How you choose to enjoy, is entirely up to your personal taste, and the best way to determine that preference is to experiment for yourself.

Say it with flowers!

My friend, artist Shaochen Wu of Monstera Gold Calligraphy, is branching out into new territory: preserving beautiful flowers in resin – as fridge magnets and paperweights – so they withstand the rigors of everyday life forever, and we can enjoy their beauty and freshness every day!

FLORAL-INSPIRED ART FOR A CAUSE
Bloom + Breathe sprung from the desire to share something beautiful with the world, encourage you to pass that positivity on, all while helping our caretakers on the front lines.



15% of all proceeds from the Bloom + Breathe collection are donated to GetUsPPE.org, a non-profit mobilizing nationwide efforts to keep our front-line healthcare workers safe. Bloom + Breathe supports small businesses, your friends, and those keeping us healthy. 🧡 

See the Collection!

Shaochen Wu, Owner & Calligrapher

Monstera Gold

www.monsteragold.com

The most exclusive coffee in the world: Kopi Luwak

Have you ever heard of “Kopi Luwak?” It is the rarest coffee in the world, and also the most expensive (up to $700 a kilogram!), and its production method is – to say the least – highly unorthodox: it consists of partially digested coffee cherries, which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).

It is therefore also called civet coffee. The cherries are fermented as they pass through a civet’s intestines, and after being defecated with other fecal matter, they are collected.

A specialist offering this coffee right here in the Bay Area is my friend Bill Choi of Travelin’ Joe who actually introduced this exotic topic to me. Contact him for a tasting! (travelinjoeespresso1@gmail.com). So far, so good…

Only bad thing is that the coffee is now mass-produced by keeping the civets in cage batteries, force-feeding them so they produce, well, you know what. It’s animal cruelty, plain and simple. So IF you indulge in this unique specialty, just make sure to choose the “wild” and not the “farmed” variety. And here is Jack Nicholson enjoying HIS.