Hard to believe that one week ago, last Sunday, we were basking in the heat of Oklahoma watching our first rodeo, enjoying the last bit of our trip to pioneer country.
A ranch. Wild horses. Cows. Stray dogs. And cats. Night skies that fill your soul of everything good and infinite. Sunrises so intense they almost paralyze your thoughts. And your words.
Food. Lots of it. Cameras clicking away. Spatulas folding fast and furiously. Strangers who became fast friends. Happy banter. Wine. Late nights and shooting stars.
2850 miles driven. One macaron workshop. One food photography workshop. Lots of pictures taken and archived. Lots of coffee. Lots of time spent catching up with Bill as we drove through Memphis, Pawhuska, Saint Louis, Nashville, Asheville. We reveled in the immensity of this country. We anticipated with excitement our time off together at the ranch. We smiled the whole drive back to Charleston. We had fun. The trip gave us back every bit of ourselves we put out there. To strangers and to each other.
I loved that Bill saw me in my element and that now he understands why I get so involved and so quiet everytime I do and leave a workshop or a conference. I invest everything I've got in the people coming to learn. I am spent. Emotionally, verbally. It was great that he saw the dynamics and spirits of the people attending. Now he gets it. And he gets why it is so important for me to pay it forward. Continually.
Seeing a dozen people go from mildly intrigued to slightly nervous and completely giddy at the idea of learning a new skill like macaron making is priceless. The act covers much more than just piping and filling pretty cookies. It covers essentials of pastry science that would be Harold McGee or Shirley Corriher approved. Things that explain incidents or successes with other cookies and recipes.
Answering people's questions about photography. Seeing people with different levels of interest and skills just pick up their camera and compose and shoot food all afternoon was balm to the heart. They teamed up, they geeked out, they giggled. They got frustrated. They got creative. I was thrilled that my editor at Wiley, Courtney came for the weekend too and saw the book in action so to speak!
It was a moment that went beyond taking a picture or making a story. A sense of community developed bringing us closer. It made them want to share what they had learned that day. I told them they should. I do! It's the key to a happier soul.
We drove to Oklahoma with clear chatty anticipation of the weekend and we drove back to Charleston in silence. Memories already making room in our hearts and bumping around in our heads.
Thank you to everyone who came with open minds and open hearts, who came for one thing and left with three others. Thank you to Ree for opening her home to a bunch of strangers and for the time spent with us in the middle of family sickness and cookbook deadlines.
It was a colorful weekend. And I am not only talking about the macarons! It was hot sure, but for us it was actually a heat we could sustain as it was humidity free. The moment we stepped out of the car in Charleston, it felt like a steam oven. Come to find out, it was especially beneficial to my plants this whole time and I walked into an oasis of overgrown basil, thyme, oregano, pineapple sage and lemon verbena. Happy, happy!
In an effort to keep the plants trimmed and well and to accompany this post, I made a batch of lemon-lemon verbena macaron the other night. Light and summery. They are perfect with a glass of lemonade as a little pick me up in the blistering heat of summer.
One last thing and there is a giveway to go along...
I rarely travel empty handed and I had brought goodie bags to all the attendees to help them with macarons making (aprons, spatulas, food coloring, etc...) and each attendee also received a copy of Plate To Pixel. I don't know how it happened but I came home with an extra goodie bag and I want it to find a good home so I am putting it up for grabs today.
The bag contains:
- one apron (similar to the ones worn by the attendees in the pictures above)
- spatula, pastry tip, pastry bag
- powdered food coloring kit (8 colors)
- one signed copy of "Plate to Pixel, Digital Food Photography & Styling"
To enter: leave a comment here between today, Sunday July 31st and Tuesday August 2nd, midnight (Eastern time). No anonymous entry. One comment per person. That's it! Easy peasy..
Lemon Verbena Macarons:
Makes 25 to 30 filled macarons, depending on size
For the shells:
200 gr powdered sugar
110 gr almonds (slivered, blanched, sliced, whatever you like)
1 tablespoon loosely packed lemon verbena leaves
90 gr egg whites (use egg whites that have been preferably left 3-4 days in the fridge)
25 gr granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon verbena
Place the powdered sugar and almonds in a food processor and give them a good pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the lemon verbena leaves and mix until blended. Sift if desired (helps keep the shells smooth in appearance).
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to a foam, (think bubble bath foam) gradually add the sugar until you obtain a glossy meringue (think shaving cream). Do not overbeat your meringue or it will be too dry.
Add the nuts and powdered sugar to the meringue, give it a quick fold to break some of the air and then fold the mass carefully until you obtain a batter that falls back on itself after counting to 10. Give quick strokes at first to break the mass and slow down. The whole process should not take more than 50 strokes. Test a small amount on a plate: if the tops flattens on its own you are good to go. If there is a small beak, give the batter a couple of turns.
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809) with the batter and pipe small rounds onto parchment paper or silicone mats lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with the finely chopped lemon verbena. Let the macarons sit out for 30 minutes to an hour to harden their shells.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 280F.
Bake the macarons for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their size. Let cool.
Once baked and if you are not using them right away, store the shells in an airtight container out of the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks (longer and the sugar starts to seep out which makes them sticky). Fill the macarons and let them mature in the fridge at least 48 hours prior to eating them.
Lemon Cream Cheese Filling:
8 ounces (1 package) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
zest and juice of one lemon
In bowl of electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar on low speed, until very smooth with no lumps. Add the lemon zest and juice and mix until well blended. Pipe or spoon about a tablespoon into the center of each macaron shell and top with another shell.