Pumpkins and Peanuts

November 1, 2007

Yet another self-indulgent post here . . . for three reasons:

1) My daughter is turning turned one (ONE!) on Tuesday and we had her party this past weekend, with loved ones mingling and toasting and sipping pink champagne. I swear, when we all broke out into Happy Birthday, Noe clapped her hands and got this look on her face that said, “oh wait a second, you mean you’re really all here for ME?” It was precious. 

2) I baked cupcakes. Pumpkin spice cupcakes with caramel cream cheese frosting to be exact (you may have skidded to a halt in shock after reading “I baked,” so let me just restate . . . I . . . baked . . . cupcakes)—and they turned out FABULOUS. 

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3) We dressed Noe up as a peanut for Halloween and paraded her about our cozy little town with all the adorable kiddos trick-or-treating from shop to shop (naughty mommy and daddy even filched a Snickers bar) and she was so dang cute I had to share.

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So consider this an “isn’t life grand?” post. Can’t get the smile off my face . . .

{ Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting }

I had the combo of pumpkin cake and caramel-cream cheese frosting in mind and scoured the internet for recipes, bound and determined as I was to actually follow a recipe. I even gave my friend Julie free reign to smack my hand if I so much as uttered a “but what if we . . .” In the end, I went with pumpkin spice cupcakes from Martha Stewart Living, and a caramel-cream cheese frosting from Cottage Living. (Nicole, as much as I wanted to make your double chocolate pumpkin cupcakes, we thought these might pair better with champagne . . . so I’ll just have to make yours for the next party and serve red wine!)

{ Cupcakes }

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

{ Frosting }

1/4 cup light brown sugar
10 tablespoons butter, divided
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dash of salt
1 3/4 cups powdered sugar

Melt brown sugar and 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat. Whisk in cream; blend well. Transfer to a heat-resistant bowl. Cool at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Place remaining 6 tablespoons butter and cream cheese in a large bowl; beat with a mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in vanilla and salt. With mixer running, slowly pour in cooled brown sugar mixture; beat until smooth. Add powdered sugar gradually, beating well after each addition until completely smooth. Chill slightly for a firmer texture, stirring occasionally.

PS — I also made a mix of the spices used in the cupcakes, added a bit of salt and olive oil, and tossed it with almonds and pumpkin seeds (separately) and roasted them at 350 until they were nice and toasty and crisp. Then I cooled them and mixed them together and served them as a little nibbly before the cupcakes. It was kind of cool to have the spice theme play throughout the party.

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A Generous Pour

October 19, 2007

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It’s up! A Generous Pour—the campaign I waxed on about—is here! I promised you that this would be an opportunity to support a cause that tugs at all of our hearts, and when I tell you that the organization we’re raising money for is Share Our Strength—one of the nation’s leading organizations working to end hunger in America—I think you’ll agree. I mean, I’m pretty confident in my belief that everyone here has a serious passion for feeding people.

Here’s the other cool part . . . in order to give to Share Our Strength, all you have to do is receive. Download an exclusive remix of soulful songstress Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star” (or one of the other featured songs) and Clos du Bois will give $1 to Share Our Strength. 

The other part of a Generous Pour (the part I was most involved in) features recipes, tips and playlists from top chefs around the country. Over the past couple months, I’ve been chatting with Govind Armstrong, Allen Susser, Dewey LoSasso, David Gilbert, Tracy Miller and Martial Nougier about how they enjoy their holidays, culling recipes and stories and party tips and the like. For even more of a personal touch, we asked each chef to give us their “perfect playlist” for a holiday party. So, for instance, you can make Allen Susser’s Stone Crab Cobbler while listening to his favorite tunes by Dylan and The Who (just hit the download button and a Rhapsody.com music player will open in a separate window). 

“But that’s not all,” she said, wielding a set of Ginsu Knives (just kidding . . . about the Ginsu that is). The other cool thing up there—and this was a fairly last-minute addition by the incredibly creative team working on a Generous Pour—is a party kit with pre-designed invitations (both electronic and print), menu templates, placecards and even votive covers so you can host a Generous Gathering of your own over the holidays if you’re so moved, and contribute even more to Share Our Strength.

Here’s the chance to nourish not only those you’ve gathered around your own table, but others who face empty plates all over America.

So join me in a Generous Pour!

Cheers,
Lia

I wrote this post about a month ago and I feel like it kind of got lost in the shuffle of my vacation departure. But it’s important, so I wanted to bring it back up to the top of the fold, so to speak.

One of the things I love about being a writer is having the opportunity to raise people’s awareness of things that can make their lives—or the world . . . or both—a little bit better. And (I know this sounds dangerously close to a plug, but I assure you it’s not) Toast to Mom is one of those things.

When you go to toasttomom.com, upload a photo (or not, you can just use one of the cards they’ve designed if you’d rather) and send an e-card to your favorite mom, Clos du Bois will give $1 to WomenHeart, the only patient advocacy organization in America dedicated to women with heart disease.

Why is this important? Because heart disease is the leading cause of death among American women. Six times more women die of heart disease than of breast cancer each year—267,000 in fact. And WomenHeart is working hard to lower that number.

Why an organization focused only on women?

Because . . . 8,000,000 American women are currently living with heart disease.

Because . . .  twice as many women as men who have survived heart attacks will have another one within six years.

Because . . . 38% of women, compared to 25% of men, will die within one year of their first heart attack.

Because . . . women display different symptoms than men, which means even though their risks are higher, they’re less likely than men to receive any type of treatment after a heart attack, and are almost twice as likely to die after bypass surgery.

So something is being done right? Well, yes and no. Women make up only 25% of participants in all heart-related research studies.

That’s why organizations like WomenHeart are so crucial. For raising awareness, for raising research dollars, for acting as a voice and a community for women coping with heart disease.

See . . . told you it was important. So go to toasttomom.com, send an e-card, and support women in the fight against heart disease. Gives a whole new level of meaning to cheers, eh?

Cheers,
Lia

Cheers to You Mom!

May 11, 2007

P3100195This one is for my Mom, a “Happy Mother’s Day” toast to thank her for all she’s done over the years, and all she continues to be to me. This pic was taken when my mom was out visiting in March for my baby shower.

Love you Mom!

We always hear about how we learn from our elders, from those who came before us. But what about how the older generations are influenced by the younger? Case in point, my parents. My parents didn’t know a whole lot about wine when I was growing up. Boone’s Farm was a staple in our house and they eschewed the homemade wine from our Italian neighbor (which I wonder now if it was actually a gem).

But then I went to school in Paris and “discovered” the pleasures of wine. One time, not long after my first trip to Burgundy, my Dad came to visit and I opened a bottle of Aligote (a not-so-well known, somewhat humble grape from Burgundy) that I’d bought from the very first vineyard I’d ever been to. We sat on my balcony in Paris and ate cheese and sipped this fresh, simple wine while I told him that the hills in Burgundy had been softened by autumn mist and the vines were a tawny gold. I told him how we had stayed in a little inn and how the proprietor had greeted us late at night (we’d gotten lost on the way back from the vineyard) with a crock of Boeuf Bourgignon cooked over the fire, and early in the morning with fresh-baked croissants. As I took my next sip of wine, I realized it—its aroma, its taste—somehow encapsulated the experience and the place for me. My dad realized it too. It was our first experience of terroir.

When I came back to America and lived with my parents for a time, we explored beyond Boone’s Farm and every bottle was like discovering a new land. I went on to learn more about wine and, eventually, to move to America’s wine country in California and still, my experiences are broadening my parents’ wine horizons. Christopher and I will often instigate a year of “Huber Wine Club” monthly shipments to thank them for one thing or another, or to celebrate a life event (we have Dad on a special ‘blends’ program right now to celebrate his first year of retirement ;-)). And more often than not, the wines and stories we share with them affect the direction of their own wine exploits.

I just met Erik Olsen, Clos du Bois’ winemaker, for the first time the other day and he said something that sparked this whole line of thinking (come to think of it, we were talking about his upcoming trip to Burgundy too, so I guess he infiltrated this whole post). His mom is Scandinavian and grew up on beer and aquavit, but now she’ll only drink Erik’s reserve wines (he was laughing that she doesn’t seem to realize that he actually has to pay for the wine he sends her). Ironically, my mom had made a similar remark when I was back in Connecticut last week. She was swirling something nice and let out a wistful sigh and said, “now that we know the good stuff, it’s hard to go back, isn’t it?” To that I would say yes, mom, it certainly is. No matter which generation the revelation comes from.

Cheers,
Lia

I know that may sound obvious, especially as the mother of a six month old. But as we move towards mother’s day, my thoughts have been on those earlier in the line — my mom, my grandma — and those I’ve watched take on motherhood more recently. It never occurred to me that I am one of the moms being honored this Sunday.  noe1

Let me explain. Noemi de Leon Huber is my daughter and I am her mother (that’s us together in Guatemala on the right). Only I live in California and she lives in Guatemala City with her (wonderful!) foster family. We’re in the no-man’s land of the adoption process where we’re just waiting for the call saying “go and get her!” So yes, we have a car seat. Yes, we have her room all set up. Yes, we’ve discussed diapers (we’re going with gdiapers) and food (I’m cooking my own . . . I’m a recipe developer for cripes sake!). But no, we don’t yet hear Noe’s little coos when she wakes up in the morning (ugh my heart hurts as I write this), I can’t yet watch her make google eyes at her daddy and I can’t feel the puffs of her breath against my neck as she sleeps.

This weekend, we were at a friend’s house for a birthday celebration and one of the couples had an adorable seven month old boy named Noah. Hovering would be the polite term to describe what Chris and I did all night. Stalking might be more appropriate though ;-). But as we listened to them talk about how he’s been crawling for months and is pushing through his third tooth, I felt this clenching in my stomach — is my daughter crawling already? Did I miss her first tooth? Seeing Noah with his parents drove home just how many details we’re missing day by day with Noe, and that hurts no matter how irrelevant those details will be five years from now.

So this Sunday, I’m going to raise a toast to me. My day to day world may not revolve around Noe yet. But my heart does.

Cheers,
Lia

 

Toasting Myths

May 7, 2007

In the spirit of the Toast to Mom event going on, I thought I’d stick with toasts and moms as themes for this week. I suppose I approached the whole toast thing a bit backwards, looking at toasts from a somewhat introspective, philosophical angle first and then moving into the whimsical. But hey, that’s me.

There are a couple urban myths about toasting that I’ve always wondered about. So today, I’m going to dig until I get to the truth.

1) Clinking has treacherous roots. I had always heard that clinking descended from medieval times, when those in power would routinely poison their enemies and the only way to be sure you’d make it through the meal was to slosh some of your wine into your hosts to make sure they were on the up and up. I’ll be honest, it sounded like a stretch. And, according to Barbara Mikkelson, it is.

Barbara brings up the interesting point that until modern times, wine was consumed from a common vessel, which means that if I intended to poison Fred on my left, I’d be poisoned myself when the cup or flask was handed to me. When individual glasses came into play, even the worst of enemies probably didn’t wham them together as a defensive measure. Simply put, it would be a waste of wine.

According to Barbara, the clinking came in as a metaphorical nod to the tradition of being in communion over a common vessel of wine. During a toast, everyone raising their glass is joined and when the glasses touch, even the wine is reunited with itself again for a brief moment. There’s also a sensory aspect. Before clinking, wine only appealed to four of the five senses. The clink brought an aural sensation to the mix. Think about how crystal sings when it’s tapped and you’ll get how powerful that added dimension can be.

2) If you don’t look the person you’re toasting in the eye you’ll be cursed with seven years of bad sex. Hmmmm. I’ve always wondered where this one came from. Chris and I were at a wedding in Norway once, and whenever we’d gaze at the center of the table while careening our glasses in an arc to clink whomever was in the vicinity, we were given glares. After several embarassing attempts, our friend explained that for Norwegians, the emphasis is on looking each other in the eye, not touching glass. It makes sense to me. Be rooted in the moment and the people you’re with instead of whizzing towards a crash. But where did the bad sex come in?

Wikipedia mentions that not looking into the other person’s eyes sends the message of distrust, and may be followed by seven years of bad luck. So did the superstition just morph over the years (or did it just morph among my friends? Hmmmm again . . . ) from bad luck to bad sex? Like adding “in bed” to the end of your fortune from a fortune cookie? Unfortunately, I can’t answer this one yet. I’ve just spent hours surfing for an answer and have found absolutely nada (I’m happy to report, though, that it looks like it’s not just me who follows the eye contact rule . . . just in case it’s true). Does anyone know how this myth got started? If so, please share.

Cheers (you know where my eyes are as I write that),
Lia

 

Last weekend, my friend Allan Milham celebrated a “significant” birthday and 18 of us gathered to toast him (several times, over several bottles, over several days . . . Allan’s never been one for downplaying a birthday). Each of us dutifully sweat over what we’d say, practicing in elevators and on balconies until our time came around. But as I raised my glass and said my piece, something hit me.

It takes two to toast.

Yes, there are all kinds of ripe angles to ponder around toasting—when to do it, what to say, do you have to look someone in the eye (and is there really ten years of bad sex involved if you don’t), do you have to clink or is it ok just to motion—and we’ll get around to those. But here, now, I’d like to peel it back to a subject not often discussed. The receiving end.

When someone raises a glass to us, it means they’re putting themselves out there in a vulnerable way to honor us. It may be an achievement, a moment, an emotion, or maybe just a whim. But something has moved that person to publicly say, “I just want to take this moment and recognize you, this, here, now.” That act is profound, no matter how lighthearted the sentiment may be, and I believe it deserves as much attention as when we’re on the giving end.

My husband, Christopher, and I have had a longstanding rule about toasts—that we can’t amend on to the other’s. We made up the rule so that we’d pause and absorb what was just said and give that moment its own weight rather than running right through one into the next. It helps. But sometimes I still feel like I’m moving my glass forward for the clink, while inside I’m shrinking away from the honor just bestowed. Like shrugging off a compliment rather than graciously slipping into it. I need to work on that. So, now that I’ve had my say, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter . . .

Cheers,
Lia

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind this past week getting Swirling Notions off the ground (yes, I could say my head is swirling, but I won’t). I’m glad you stopped by. Let me start by telling you how this all came about. (You can find out more about me, Lia Huber, here).

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend of mine who said that he was working with Clos du Bois on a campaign to raise money for women’s heart health during the month of May (www.toasttomom.com), that they were thinking of doing a blog, and that he thought I’d be perfect for it. Could I get it planned, up and launched in a couple of weeks?

Yes, the deadline was brutal. But to help you understand what a kismet deal this seemed to be, I need to give you a bit of background about my own personal connections with Clos du Bois. First of all, their vineyards and winery are landmarks in California’s northern Sonoma County, where I live (yes, it’s gorgeous here). Second, it’s an American winery with a French name—I’m an American who has been a Francophile since I was eight, when I set as one of my life goals to attend the Sorbonne in Paris (yep, I did it). Third, my husband, Christopher, and I spent our first anniversary up here at a friend’s house (we were still living in San Francisco at the time) amidst their vineyards and guess where those grapes were slated to go when they were good and ready? You guessed it, Clos du Bois. So from my perspective, I thought it was a great fit. And it turns out they did too.

What LS from Clos du Bois said was that they were looking for someone who “sucks the marrow out of life,” (to quote Thoreau) who travels with a sense of curiosity and is inquisitive about everything, someone for whom food and wine and travel and well-being are all intertwined—just like the people who buy their wines. And they found me. And now, barely ten days later, SwirlingNotions is up and running and here you are, and not just by chance, I believe.

Let me tell you what to expect from this blog. Actually, first let me tell you what not to expect. Don’t expect any Clos du Bois plugs from me. When I talk about their wines, it’s because I’m excited about them or I’ve learned something new from their winemaker, Erik, and want to share it with you. What you can expect is musings from me as life unfolds each week. It may be about a toast I composed over the weekend (our friend has a BIG birthday coming up on Sunday), or a roast I concocted (did I mention I’m a recipe developer?), or some nutty thing I heard on the radio and wanted to get your input on, or a dispatch upon return from a remote island (leaving this Tuesday, back Saturday). In short, anything life has to offer that makes me stop and go, “hmmm” and leaves me thinking you might too.

I’m glad you here. I’m excited about this blog. And I look forward to swirling around many notions (and sips of wine!) with you in the days to come.

Cheers,
Lia

Hi . . . I’m Lia

April 21, 2007

Lia-headshotYou know, writing the first entry of a blog is sort of like stepping out to get the mail in your bathrobe at 2:00 in the afternoon (who, me?), and then realizing that there are people driving by who actually see you. It makes you feel a bit exposed and vulnerable. So I’ll just jump in . . . fully clothed.

I’m Lia Huber, and if you’d like to see how I came to be a part of Swirling Notions (and how Swirling Notions came to be), check out . . . By trade, I’m a writer and recipe developer. You may have seen my name in Cooking Light, where I’m a contributor, or in a number of other magazines I write for often, including Prevention, Health, Fitness, Bon Appetit and others. I’ve been doing this for about a dozen years, and consider myself blessed to have a career where I’m immersed in my passions.

People ask me all the time if I review restaurants. The answer is, not unless there’s a deeper story to be told. To be honest, I don’t really like to have to keep up with all the ‘hot new’ spots and who’s just opened and who’s just closed. Sure, I adore a great restaurant experience—whether it’s a sweet taco spot on a remote beach or a Michelin-starred gem in Paris (or Healdsburg, hallelujah). But what I love more is writing about food as it relates to people, to life. How it connects us to the earth, draws us together and speaks to our souls. Ditto for wine and travel.

Health has become a fairly recent focus of mine partially, because of my views on food. Personally, I think a lot of the health problems in this country happen because we’re so disconnected from what it means to be truly ‘nourished’ by a meal—by the food, the companionship, the wine, the experience as a whole. And I want to be a part of changing that.

I’ve also just finished my first novel, I Land Home. So stay tuned to see where that goes as I shop it around to agents.

On the personal side, I have lived in a gazillion different places, including New York, New Orleans (BA from Tulane, minor in French), Paris (a year at the Sorbonne), Corfu (engaged to a Greek man after leaving Paris), Costa Rica (wacky, ‘let’s just chuck it all and go’ adventure with the man I did – happily – marry) and San Francisco. But seven years ago, my husband, Christopher, and I set down roots in California’s northern Sonoma County and have truly found home here. We are also in the final stages of adopting have also adopted a little girl, our daughter, Noemi (Noe – pronounced ‘no-ee’ – for short). Our dog, Talisker the Rhodesian Ridgeback, is shunning the addition of a sibling, but he’s learning that she leaves a trail of avocado and Oatios wherever she goes. 

Cheers,
Lia

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