This is a post about little gifts. A list of my five favorite blogs & a recipe for the perfect DIY last minute gift, homemade spiced preserved lemons. In a world full of content and things, it’s easy to get lost in the noise. That’s why I wanted to give you an idea for a simple, affordable, easy gift that’s also absolutely wonderful, and a very short list of my favorite reads.
The truth is I don’t really keep up with most of the content that’s out there these days, and that’s why these few blogs I do visit from time to time are so special to me. Generally, I prefer to seek inspiration elsewhere in art, literature, music, nature, food, and travel, and I usually find my time consumed by my own work and spend any free time I have researching & experimenting or being with my family. I’m always asking myself the question how can I grow, how can I differentiate? I ask this both professionally as a cook, stylist, and photographer, but also as a human. These are the women that inspire me to keep moving forward and pushing myself to find what my work looks like, because whether it’s true or not (everything’s always different from the outside looking in), it looks like they’ve found theirs. Some of them are the ones that inspired me to start in the first place. And I want to give that credit too. I tend to gravitate towards strong food styling, simplicity, texture, recipes I want to cook, and light. Click the title for the blog, and their names for their instagrams.
Hungry Ghost – Masters of light & utterly unique. Nothing derivative about it. OG. Andrea Gentl & her husband Martin Hyers (collectively Gentl & Hyers) are some of my biggest inspirations as a photographer. The latest book they shot, Hartwood, lives in the small collection in my kitchen.
101 Cookbooks / QuitoKeeto – A favorite blog & a favorite shop; I don’t generally cook recipes but I cook Heidi’s; her styling is beautiful & appetizing, and she’s always using the ingredients that fascinate me the most. It all appears so effortless & calm. And her book, Near & Far, is probably the one I’ve cooked from most not just this year but in four years.
Sunday Suppers / Shop Ila – Another blog + shop combo I adore. Clean, classic, and another food styling wizard. Gathering maven long before “gatherings” were a thing, Karen still styles the prettiest tables I’ve ever seen. And I want everything in her shop. The spices are like an artist’s palette for a cook, and the Sunday Suppers Cookbook is a version of the blog you can hold.
Cannelle et Vanille – Aran’s styling on the plate and off are immaculate and her colors are perfect. Again, the work exudes a calmness and an effortlessness. It never feels overwrought yet takes such finesse. I’ve never been, but her workshops are an inspiration to me. She was doing it long before I was, and is part of the reason I aspired to do what I do today. She showed me it was possible.
Lady and Pups – She’s hilarious and her recipes induce cravings for things you might not have even known existed. Another blog I actually turn to for recipes. And her photos are the type of photos that actually make me want to eat and cook, not just buy plates. Her vibrant, graphic style inspires me. It’s beautiful without being precious, and the food is always the focus. I wish she wasn’t all the way in Hong Kong because Mandy seems like someone I’d want to hang out with.
Onward. Preserved lemons. I’m from Tennessee. These are not a thing here, and I hadn’t heard of them until about five years back. Still, I never had the chance to try them, but they (like many other things: hello dukkah, harissa, chawanmushi, cured egg yolk) captivated me from afar. So I made my own. And now I can’t imagine my pantry without them. If you’re unfamiliar, a good place to start is using them anywhere you might consider using a caper or a diced up olive. Or any instance that would benefit from salt and citrus. Which is almost every savory thing ever.
A preserved lemon aioli? That sounds like a good idea. In a dressing? Yes please. Over roasted cauliflower with a spatter of homemade creme fraiche and mint? I can vouch for that one. A topping for soup, also a great idea. And they make an unexpected & wonderful garnish for cocktails & mocktails alike, a hybrid of the olive and the twist. And personally (as a lover of salt), I can eat them by themselves. But be warned, a little goes a long way. They take about two second to make, and are gorgeous last minute gifts you can probably throw together with stuff you have on hand. Just make sure you remind the recipient (if you make them last minute) to let them sit around for at least a month before diving in. After a month, I keep mine in the fridge, but traditionally they are kept out. That’s the American in me, forever sticking things in the fridge.
preserved lemons, stocking stuffers, and inspiration
- lemons, preferably meyer but organic regular will do
- cinnamon sticks, lightly crushed.
- juniper berries
- bay leaf
- pink pepper corns
- coriander seeds
- fennel seeds
- The spices listed above are just suggestions; I encourage you to play with combinations. The most classic, simple combination would be clove, cinnamon, and bay leaf. I personally love pink peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaf, and juniper berry. You can also make them with no spices at all, and that's just great too.
- To begin, slice the ends off the lemons, just a tiny bit to remove the nubs, you shouldn't see the flesh, just the pith, after you slice.
- Stand the lemon on one end, and slice it down the middle, almost all the way through, but stopping when you have about half an inch left. Make another cut perpendicular to that one in the same way. The lemon should be quartered lengthwise, but still in once piece. See the photos above for reference.
- Using a spoon, sprinkle course salt all over the inside of the lemon, covering all of the flesh surface area.
- Place the lemon cut side down in to a sterilized jar, and press it to flatten and release it's juices. Press it down as much as you can. Sprinkle another teaspoon or so of salt over the top along with a pinch of your desired spices.
- Repeat with remaining lemons until no more will fit when you press them down. If they aren't already covered in their own juices, top them off with some boiled water that has cooled to room temp or with additional lemon juice.
- Seal and let them sit in a sunny spot for a month, shaking periodically to evenly distribute the salt.
- After a month, enjoy. I store them in the fridge at this point. To use, discard the flesh, lightly rinse the peel, and dice it or slice it however you like.