Monday, July 28, 2014

Visiting a Sunflower Farm

Happiness in a basket.
Not a cloud in sight, which is why these pictures aren't the best. 

Me, Niki, and Abbey with our glorious bouquets of sunshine.
At home with my beauties. 

The day was perfect: sunny, breezy, very little humidity, and with a bright blue backdrop. We couldn't have asked for better sunflower picking weather. My girlfriends and I went to Burnside Farms where (after a $3 entry) they supplied baskets, shears, and a seemingly endless supply of sunflowers. Each stem was $1.50 and I tried my best to get the biggest, prettiest ones they had. 

If you want to do something fun this Summer, I highly suggest frolicking in a field of sunflowers. In fact, I bought a season pass for just a dollar extra because I realized how wonderful it would be to casually stop by the farm, frolic for a bit, cut a few sunflowers, and brighten my home at any time during the season. There's something very wholesome and satisfying about that. 

The Deets:
$3 entry, or $4 for an entry/season pass
Wear proper shoes if it's been rainy.
They supply baskets, but I suggest you bring some way to give 
them water for the ride home because they wilt fairly quickly.
Cut at an angle and trim the bottom leaves because the leaves shouldn't touch the water they're in.
Don't be alarmed by the bees; they're quite friendly and are only interested in the flowers.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Visiting Olivia Macaron: An Interview With a Macaron Chef

DC, Olivia Macaron, Interview, Michel, Paris, French, Pastry

Olivia Macarons are the best macarons I've ever had.

There. I said it.

It's no wonder because their head pastry chef and co-owner, Michel, worked at Laduree in Paris for ten years and has miraculously brought the caliber of the famous company to DC.

I stumbled across Olivia's Macaron when I first moved to DC and I immediately fell in love. I kept coming back and saying, "People have to know about this place. The whole world needs to know about this place." I befriended the store manager (the super nice and adorable Joelle) and she was thrilled to have Olivia Macaron on Dancing Branflakes and suggested I interview Michel.

As a macaron enthusiast, you know this meant the world to me. 

So I basically spent the day taking picture of macarons and thinking of questions to ask Michel. I don't think I could ever complain about my life.

This is Ana Claudia, who co-owns Olivia Macaron with Michel. She's also incredibly friendly, lovely, and smart.
Olivia is her daughter and I think that's the most adorable thing.

Dancing Branflake: You were at Laduree for ten years. Tell us how you began making macarons. What was your culinary career like before then?
Michel: I studied at l'Ecole Lenotre, and perfected my skills at the production site of Lenotre for a couple years. [I] also worked in smaller bakeries, before landing at Laduree. Macarons were just one of the products on the list that we had to make in some companies.

DB: Did you always love macarons?
Michel: Yes. I like to make macarons and petits fours the most, because they are bite-size treats, cute, colorful, and tasty. And the creation of new flavors is limitless. A box of macarons is a palette of colorful flavors.

DB: To many, Laduree is the epitome of beauty, grace, and feminine charm. What was it like working there?
Michel: Working at Laduree, like any other prestigious company such as Lenotre, Fauchon, Dalloyau,etc,.. in Paris, is most of all a privilege to be selected, the work is hard, precise, rigid and satisfying. We are not just making pastries but we are also creating works of art.

DB: There's been an obvious boom of macaron obsession in America, catapulting the confection into the spotlight. Did you ever anticipate that?
Michel: Indeed I did, and the fact that more and more bakeries [have started to] offer macarons in the last few years, it will just help macarons to be known to a larger audience. With the [wider] selection, the customers will have a better choice.

DB: Has your technique changed since leaving Laduree?
Michel: The technique of making macarons is more or less depending on the recipes we use. The importance is adapting to the local ingredients and products.

DB: From a reader: Do you have to whack the pans with the macarons every time before baking? Does that trap air or release air?
Michel: The whacking of the pans is mainly to shape the macarons to the size needed.

DB: What's on the horizon for the macarons at Olivia's?
Michel: We are aiming on becoming the best macarons purveyor in the region. Our macarons, our fantastic coffee, and our welcoming staff will make your visit unique, pleasant, and memorable.

Thank you, Michel, for this interview and thank you to Joelle and Ana Claudia for letting me come in and invade Olivia Macaron for the afternoon (and for the delicious hot chocolate and perfect macarons).

Visit Olivia Macaron:

photos by Dancing Branflake

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A piece of heaven and a dress



One of my favorite places to go to in Fairfax is Fountain Head Park. It's a beautiful area of hiking trails, gorgeous scenery, and a river that will make your heart go pitter patter. This past weekend, I decided to do some exploring and found a trail that led around the bend and right down to the water's edge.

It was magnificent.

I ran back to where I left Mr. Branflake and dragged him through the trees and rocky paths to this wonderful spot. Sometimes I can't believe I live in such a beautiful place. I mean, California is perhaps the most beautiful state I've ever lived in, but Virginia's nature is much more accessible and I literally can go from shopping to a forest via a five minute walk.

Oh, my dress is from Ruche for those who were wondering. I bought it years ago and it's the same dress I was wearing when that farmer in Scotland jumped off his tractor to ask me out on a date. I was obviously doing some sly moves like the ones above.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life Lately

Life lately has been wonderful, stressful, and utterly exhausting.

1. My birthday was spent in the theater, rehearsing my student's Summer Performance. It actually was a fun way to spend a birthday because they really are great kids. But I was sick and taught more classes that night and I basically came home and slept.

2. The next night, Mr. Branflake and I went to dinner with our friends, Abbey and Joseph, to celebrate my birthday and they surprised me with the most amazing birthday gift ever: two pounds of chips and two quarts of salsa from my favorite Mexican restaurant and a tortilla warmer because we once made them homemade tortillas. It was so darn thoughtful I almost cried. (They also bought me a s'mores Blizzard so we all know they're BFFs for life.)

3. Classes are over until August, so I'm basically going to spend the rest of the Summer reading, writing, and eating.

4. I bought a flight to California! I'll be there for ten days to see friends and my mama. I've been missing California pretty bad and I can't wait to see my peeps and the ocean.

5. Last night Mr. Branflake and I stumbled upon a new forest where we saw a total of eleven (eleven!) deer. I managed to get some photos and I can't wait to share them with you. There were even baby dear and I might have chased one.

6. One of my students got me sunflowers (it was the sweetest thing ever, really) and I swear these beauties are the biggest sunflowers I've ever seen. So beautiful and perfect for Summer.

7. Mr. Branflake and I have been taking more walks to explore our new neighborhood and I love all the streams and forests we find.

8. That lemon cream pie above was so delicious. Just whip one cup of whipping cream, add a cup of sour cream, one box of instant lemon pudding, and put in a pie dish. It's light and summery and delicious.

9. We found a pho place. This is the best news.

10. Thank you for the birthday wishes. Birthdays are so tough for me (hello insecurities) but hearing all your messages and comments made it so much more fun. Thank you.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

31 Years Ago Today I Looked Like This....

Now it's your turn to tell me how I haven't aged a day.

Can we take a moment to appreciate that sassy hand and those kissy lips. Don't tell me my mother didn't know what kind of high maintenance, feisty daughter she was going to have. Oh, and thanks, Mom, for birthing me. I'm sure you were feeling marvelous when this picture was taken.

Now excuse me while I eat s'mores all day.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I am a feminist.

I'm sure if you know me, you know I'm a feminist. I don't outwardly talk about it or label it as so, but it should be fairly obvious. I don't necessarily believe men and women should have the same roles in society or that women should be tough and masculine to be considered equals with men, but I do believe in honoring what makes a woman a woman and that a woman's opinions, positions, and purposes should be respected as much as a man's.

Wait, hold on.... I believe a woman's opinions, positions, and purposes should be respected for what they are. Period. Regardless of men. Let's take men out of the equation, for feminism should not be based on what men have or don't have, but what women deserve.

For me, feminism is valuing the traits and achievements of a woman instead of merely taking advantage of them. It's not special treatment of women I'm after, but a change in attitude on how we honor the traits of womanhood. That's why I love the quote above.

To be quite honest (and I almost hate admitting this for I know it's judgy), I watch how men treat their wives and girlfriends. I see their actions and hear their words and I cringe as it becomes apparent they think their opinions, positions, and purposes are more important than their female counterparts. Sometimes I call them out, sometimes I just fume quietly, but I always make it clear to Mr. Branflake that we will never allow our future daughters to assume a man is better than them because he is a man. And we will teach our future sons to never believe they are better than women because they are men.

I do believe in encouraging young women to be leaders and to teach them honest leadership skills. I teach them that they don't have to lead like a man to be successful, for why would they want to? Their strength, their own singular and unique strength, should not change to mimic another's in order to be a successful leader (or person) simply because of gender.

Yes, I'm a feminist. I want to teach my future daughters and sons to be feminists, too. Maybe by then, the strength of womanhood will be respected and not feared or shunned and the term will have fulfilled its use. But, if not, I hope they see the value of it and of women.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Things I'm Loving

Sometimes I think I should do commercials because of how inordinately excited I get over things. For instance, a simple walk with Mr. Branflake in the neighborhood turns into, "Ohhh look! Fireflies! Oooh look! The sun is setting over the clouds! Oooh look! An open field! Oooh look! Grass!"

Anyway, here are some things I've been loving lately:

~Twitter. Am I allowed to say I love a social networking site? Oh, good because I do. Mr. Branflake calls me the "Twitter Administrator" because why else could a person be on Twitter for so much if they weren't?

~My new iPhone. I'm sucked in. Real bad. 

~Quinoa. I resisted this ultra trendy food, but oh my I crave red quinoa in ways I shouldn't. I add just salt, pepper, and Parmesan and it's my favorite side dish. And it's extraordinarily healthy for you.

~Puffs has the most stylish facial tissues and I had to stop myself from buying every single pattern. 
So pretty. So so pretty.

~Simply Balanced (the brand sold at Target) makes fruit leathers that are so good, I had one on the plane for the first time and gasped out loud in the middle of a red eye. I've only had a strawberry one and it's everything I could ever ask for in a fruit leather. They're a little sticky, but worth it. 

~ Avocados pan fried in coconut oil and seasoned with salt and pepper is my favorite way to eat breakfast. Or lunch. Or dinner.

~ Walks on Summer nights. 

~ Wearing dresses everyday.

~ Playing the ukulele on my balcony underneath the tree.

~ Fireflies.

~ Open fields

~ Dancing barefoot in the grass.