Archive for January, 2011

Discover the Wondrous Vanilla Bean!

Glorious Day, Everyone!

I’m back and I’m so happy to see that you are, too!  It shouldn’t be too long before the tea’s brewed…

Vanilla bean, vanilla bean – Have you ever seen a vanilla bean?!  For years, I poured over recipes that call for the seeds scraped from this odd-looking pod.  Until recently, I’d never seen one for myself!  Did you know that vanilla is one of the world’s most expensive spices because it is so labour intensive to grow?  The vanilla bean is actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid, grown in tropical climates.  Nearly three-fourths of the world’s supply of vanilla beans comes from Madagascar.  Baking can be very educational, indeed, n’est ce pas?

Vanilla Bean Pods

Some months ago, a thoughtful friend and co-worker, whose daughter and husband were moving away, kindly gifted me  the contents of their pantry (I believe the husband is a chef).   She thought I might be able to use  some of its more ‘exotic’ contents which included vanilla bean pods.  I used the opportunity to try out some of the  recipes I’d been hoarding.  How grateful I was!  Thank you, Terry!  I recently invited her to lunch along with several other friends and served this next sweet treat.

I am elated to share with you my new-found recipe for ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’.   It was tucked away deep inside a kitchen drawer and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where it came from.   Many versions of blueberry cake are commonly made in this part of the world, but this particular recipe calls for a not-so-common ingredient that ramps it up a few notches and makes it just heavenly, which is why I must certainly have kept it.  WOW  results can be achieved with the vanilla bean and the aroma…Oh, my!   On its own, this delectable cake can be served with afternoon tea. Dress it up a little on the plate and you can serve it as a fancy dinner dessert.  The first time I made this cake, I made four (yes, 4) batches and froze the loaves. I just knew it was going to be great.  Am I ever glad that I did that!

I entertained various bunches of  ‘lunching ladies’ on three occasions last week alone.  This ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’ recipe inspired me to do that!   For those of you who know me well, I’m recovering from breast cancer and had a new-found burst of energy (which I had been lacking for a long time), and so I invited several groups of friends and co-workers for lunch over the course of a few days and had a wonderful time catching up with everyone.  It was so convenient to just pull this wonderful cake out of the freezer, thaw and serve it up warm with ice cream and a blueberry liqueur sauce – a gorgeous vision!  I was absolutely delighted to be able to serve it as a dessert each time and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint.  The hugest compliment came from my good friend Rita who owns and operates a beautiful bed and breakfast (I’ll tell you all about her amazing Inn in a future blog,).    I invited her lovely friend and chef, Lois, along, too, and they enjoyed it so much they asked if they could serve this cake at the Inn!   Can you believe that?!  Their standards are high at the Inn; and, for me, it was the ultimate compliment.  I’m still giddy!  Lol

Get excited to make this devine cake that can be served so many beautiful ways.  It not only tastes sublime; with a little imagination, it can look oh-so-stunning on the plate!  You’ll quickly earn the reputation as “Blueberry Cake Diva”!  Read on and I’ll tell you about all the different ways you can serve this amazing, yet so simple-to-make, cake.  Let’s make it together!

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Loaf

Blueberry Vanilla Bean Loaf goes great with a glass of ice- cold milk, too!

Not Your Mother’s Recipe – BerryVanilla Bean Loaf

"Vanilla Bean Cake Ingredients"

Not your mother’s recipe: Fresh blueberries, buttermilk, cream cheese and seeds scraped from vanilla bean pods make for a WOW! combination in this oh-so-special berry cake recipe, setting it apart from more traditional blueberry cake recipes


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 extra large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vanilla sanding sugar, optional
  • 1 1/2 cups berries


In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixture until fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Blend in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean pods and lightly mix.  In a separate medium-sized bowl, add in all of the remaining ingredients except the buttermilk. Using a fork, combine these dry ingredients together then pour into the butter and cream cheese mixture.

"Vanilla bean cake batter"

The batter will be dough-like in appearance; be careful not to overmix

Combine the two mixtures using a wooden mixing spoon – Do not use an electric mixture for this step. Add in the buttermilk and mix until the dough becomes thick but be careful not to overmix! Gently fold in berries and pour into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan.  Sprinkle sanding sugar over the top of the batter (this step is optional).  Bake for approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees Farenheit.   Test for doneness by inserting a knife or a toothpick  into the middle of the loaf; if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool for about 20 minutes, invert pan and remove the loaf.  Note:  Your loaf pan will likely be full to the brim, so you may first have to loosen the loaf  around the sides of the pan using a butter knife first before removing it from the pan.

Substitutions:  Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, or a glorious combination thereof!  I would also use fresh cherries when in season; simply pit them and slice in half.

I ran short on blueberries when making several loaves at once and substituted a combination of fresh blueberries and strawberries and, and for good measure, even threw in a few  cranberries!   The result was colourful and wonderful!  I guess you could call this version “Bumbleberry Vanilla Bean Loaf”!

"Bumbleberry" version

Colorful and wonderful with a combo of fresh blueberries, strawberries and cranberries – ‘Bumbleberry Vanilla Bean Cake’    YUMMEEEEE!

Presentation Tips:

Sanding Sugar – Sprinkle sanding sugar over top of your batter once it’s in the pan and just before your loaf goes into the oven.  Sanding sugar is coarser than granulated sugar and will add a noticeable sparkle to the crust of the loaf.  *Make it even more fabulous by using vanilla sanding sugar.

Have I peaked your curiosity? Keep reading and I’ll tell you how you can make your own vanilla sanding sugar for use in baking, and also as a gift to sweeten beverages and fruits.

Ice cream and Blueberries in Peach Schnapps – A gynormous scoop of very vanilla ice cream over top of a generous slice of Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake is divine.  Note:  Try using a mashed potato scoop for the ice cream for an extravagant look to this dessert.  I’ve even used a melon scoop and piled several cutesy tiny scoops of ice cream over top.  Drizzle berries and liquer over top and down the sides of the ice cream onto cake.  Heavenly, just heavenly, m’dears…


  • 1 1/2 cups fresh, plump blueberries (or combination of fresh blackberries, blueberries and cherries, when in season)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of peach schnapps (if using cherries, trying using cherry brandy instead)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla, optional


In a small saucepan over low heat (or, better yet, in the top of a double boiler), heat the berries in liquer just until warm enough for serving.  BE CAREFUL NOT TO BOIL.

Packaged vanilla beans from COSTCO

Packaged vanilla beans from COSTCO

Where can I buy vanilla beans locally? I discovered ‘Rodelle’ Vanilla Beans that came all the way from Madagascar at my local COSTCO.  Each package contains 2 glass cylinders that hold 5 beans each for a total of 10 beans and costs about $17.

How do I scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean? I followed the instructions as per the back of the Kirkland package on the left.Lay the bean flat on a cutting board.  With a small,

"Vanilla bean seeds"

Lay the pod flat and use a small, sharp knife to split it open and scrape out the seeds

sharp knife cut the bean lengthwise splitting it open down the middle.  Open the bean and use the backside of the knife to scrape the seeds out of the pod.  I found, however, that using the back of  a small butter knife for this step to be more efficient in extracting the seeds from the pod.

BLUE NOTES: Our beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is known for its delicious  and abundant wild blueberries.  They are exported to other parts when they are in season.  Blueberry picking is a popular way for many of us ‘Newfoundlanders and Labradorians’  to spend a weekend afternoon in the fall on the barrens, picking these amazingly tasty berries to use in everything from  jams and chutneys to muffins and breads, all matter of desserts and homemade wine.   It can be back-breaking work to pick a mere gallon of these gorgeous gems but it’s well worth the fresh air, exercise, amazing scenery and certainly the pure satisfaction of picking something absolutely fresh from the land with which to cook up something wonderful for family and friends.

This time of year, though, somewhat ‘fresh’ cultivated blueberries are available at our local COSTCO and supermarkets where they are imported from warmer climates.   You’ll find these are much larger and plumper than those that grow naturally here in the wild.  While they may very well be lovelier looking, I find they’re not quite as tasty as those fresh off the barrens.  Really, if you travelled in a truck for a week, how fresh would you be?   They are still very good, though.  Basically, the fresher the berry, the tastier your cake will be. The addition of the magical vanilla bean more than makes up for ‘cheating’ in this recipe by using the store-bought, cultivated berries.

Ideally fresh blueberries are always better, no matter if they are fresh off the barrens or from the store.  If you have to use frozen berries, semi-frozen are easier to use and might not break open as easily.  Fresh blueberries are fragile so take extra care to  gently fold them into your batter.  If you beat them too much, they are apt to burst open and release their juices into your batter and cause it to turn a greenish-blue colour.  It won’t affect the taste, but the loaf won’t look as pretty.  Personally, I think the green colour resembles mold – sort of – and since we eat with our eyes, too, I avoid this by using only fresh berries whenever possible.  This cake is sooo tasty, why go to the extra trouble of scraping vanilla seeds out of their pods and then ruining the look of your cake by using frozen berries that have burst open and turned your batter green?!

I know that you’ll simply love this cake.  Scraping the vanilla seeds may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will only take but an instant and soon you’ll start substituting vanilla seeds for artificial vanilla in many of your recipes.  I hope you will treasure this recipe and return to it again and again  for many years to come.



February 14th is just around the corner.  Vanilla Sugar makes a beautiful ‘Love Gift’ but you had better begin preparing it now. Place an entire vanilla pod in your sugar jar and let it keep for a week or more.  Ooh-la- la!  What an enticing aroma!  Simply add it to your hot chocolate, coffee or tea for a posh cuppa.  For a glamorous gift for a special friend, auntie or grandma, spoon your vanilla sugar into a gorgeous  glass jar and wrap in a swath of organza or cello for quite the memorable gift!  Tie on a petite shiny sugar spoon for extra glam.  Be sure and tag the jar, identifying its contents (see below).  While you’re at it, why not include a ready-made Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake and a copy of the recipe for inspiration.  The very lucky recipient will absolutely fall in love with you all over again!!!

Vanilla Sugar Recipe


  • 2-4 cups of granulated sugar (for beverages and fruits) or sanding sugar (to use in baking)
  • 1-2 vanilla bean pods, split in half lengthwise and crosswise


Place about 1/3 of the sugar into a jar or canister with a tight-fitting lid.  Add  a layer of vanilla bean pod pieces.   Repeat the process, layering the sugar and vanilla bean, ending with sugar on top.  Pack down lightly before adding each layer. Shake the jar every other day for a week or more to allow the flavours to blend.  NOTE:  The sugar may pick up some colouring from the bean, which is normal.

Gift Tag (suggested wording): Substitute vanilla sugar anytime a recipe calls for granulated sugar for a more flavourful outcome.  Use in cookies and cakes; coffee, teas or hot chocolate; and over cereal or fresh fruit.  Enjoy my sweet!

Teeny lifelike feathered birds and shimmery glass pinecones adorn a table-top tree that still sits in a corner of my kitchen where I am continuing to enjoy a little bling on these wintry days.

*Baking Powder

Did you know that baking powder can spoil?   Am I the only person who did not know that?!  Be sure to use ‘active’ baking powder in your recipes to avoid them falling flat and foiling your best efforts. Check the ‘best before date’ on the bottom of the can; and when in doubt, throw it out.  It’s recommended that baking powder be replaced on your  pantry shelf after one year.

Stay tuned my beauties for more recipes to use up those vanilla bean pods in your cupboard…

Welcome & Well Wishes!


A welcoming wreath crafted from faux cedar, gingerbread men, dried oranges, cinnamon sticks, berries and luxe ribbons as part of a Christmas fundraiser for the St. John's Women's Centre

I am a woman who finds pleasure and calm in creating beautiful surroundings and experiences for my own pure enjoyment, as well as that of others.  Gardens, interiors, weddings, homemade ‘Love Gifts’, crafts, cakes and bakes, architecture, photography,  arm-chair travel books, feel-good movies, Italian soaps, flavoured teas and, oh – ALL THINGS CHRISTMAS – are just some of my passions…

Many of my friends keep asking for my recipes, as well as my thoughts on decorating, gardening and entertaining, and encouraged me to start a blog so I can readily share them.  If I can only somewhat master the art of blogging, I’m thinking it just might be easier than e-mail!

So, my lovelies, at long last, this is it – a blog about my favourite beautiful things!  I hope you find something here that interests you and makes your heart glad.   I hope that you’ll try some of the recipes and ideas to be rolled out in my new (and first ever)  blog over the coming months and that you’ll be inspired to try many more beautiful ideas of your own and, in turn, share them with the rest of us.  What are some of the things that bring YOU joy?

Part of a Christmas table setting titled -"A Christmas Tea of Comfort and Joy" - in honour of my mom-in-law, who passed away from breast cancer in Nov/09, for our local chapter of the Cancer Society's Annual Festival of Trees Fundraiser. The vignette was one of a dozen on public display in the Delta Hotel lobby for the month leading up to Christmas and afterward auctioned at a gala dinner. See an upcoming blog if you'd like to find out more...


It is my wish that the New Year will hold many exciting things in store for us all; and that we’ll seek new ways to introduce petite touches of romance into our daily lives, letting our imaginations soar and discovering the beauty in the ordinary, everyday things that surround  us –  whether a gorgeous, creamy bowl of heartwarming soup, a beautiful book that inspires daydreams of far-off places, a steaming pot of restorative amber tea shared with a long-time friend, a single flower on the edge of the bathtub, the soft and rhythmic purrrrr of a cat in front of the fire,  a soft flannel blanket on a snowy afternoon or a lovely, fragrant room spray that transports us from a mid-winter’s day to the garden in springtime…


Let’s make this the year that we learn to cultivate the simple joys:   make a museum date with a friend whom we haven’t seen in ages; try out that new restaurant we pass by every day (and check out the cute waiter); go for that bold, new haircut; take that trip abroad we’ve been forever dreaming about; make that “too complicated” recipe we clipped many moons ago but didn’t have the confidence (or the never-heard-of-before ingredients in our pantry) to try; introduce a new, exotic vegetable (or even flaxseed) into our diet; try on that dress we think we’d never be able wear; dig that flowerbed or try that paint colour we admired in a magazine, bake a cake for a not-so-friendly neighbour, visit a seniors’ home and give the priceless gift of our company, take those piano lessons (with or without a piano), teach a young person to knit, volunteer to help out a charity, or foster a shelter animal (AND KEEP HIM)…

A little holiday cheer remains in a corner of the kitchen where I allow myself to indulge in a little Yuletide bling, for at least just a little while longer..."It makes my heart sing!"

After all, hair will grow back (Trust me – I went through chemo treatments for breast cancer in 2010). You could find a dress style that automatically takes off ten pounds, or be inspired instead to lose that 10 pounds!  You could stumble upon that DREAM career, make a new best friend, learn tons of life lessons, feel good as you do good, adopt the best pet (and family member) ever, and even lower your blood pressure without the meds!  You get the picture?!

Whenever I decide to “go for something”, I always ask (my good friend Val will attest to this), “What’s the worst that could happen if I do this?”  Well, admittedly, it might not work out or the answer could be “No”.   On the other hand, it could work out for the best or the answer could be “Yes”.  Ya just never know.

Sun beams through a window onto my kitchen table. Santa ('The Giftgiver'Collection) and Portmeirion "Holly & The Ivy"teapot were gifted to me by my husband in past Christmases.

Thanks for dropping by my friends.   I hope you’re inspired and cheered by the musings that follow and that we’ll meet here again and again.  The teapot’s always at the ready for you…

Have the most beautiful day – you owe it to yourselves!  See you soon.

Warmly yours,


A tiny photo of my mom-in-law's once-youthful face is tucked into a holiday bowl amongst a bunch of pretty glass balls. A precious angel, passed down to me from her treasured Christmas collection, stands alongside - just a couple of lovely and thoughtful ways to keep a loved one's memory ever nearer and dearer. She was a spiritual woman and I thought the Father Christmas with the bishop's mitre (given to me by my husband) was a fitting version of the 'Giftgiver' to be included in this particular Christmas vignette.

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