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Cooking with Lavender

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    Keys Creek Lavender Farm

  • Lavender Blondies

    Lavender BlondiesLauren Lemons

In a classic Saturday Night Live skit Gilda Radner and Dan Ackroyd argue over a new product called Shimmer.

“It’s a floor wax, I’m telling you,” she screams.

“It’s a dessert topping, you cow,” he yells.

“Hey, calm down you two,” says Chevy Chase spraying “Shimmer” onto a mop and then topping off butterscotch pudding. “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.”

And so is lavender.

Banish annoying black heel marks with any number of lavender floor cleaners then top vanilla ice cream with candied lavender flowers. Good for your mood, good for your floors, good to your taste buds and nose. Lavender is the poster-child for versatility.

It’s not about marinating chicken in Old Spice just because you like the way it smells. But there is a subset of things that many of us like to smell and also like to eat - cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, basil, and citrus, to name a few. Lavender could become one of them. What makes it more of an acquired taste is that it’s so floral, but that’s precisely its appeal.

Lavender is part of the mint family and its woody, rosemary-like taste makes it a good substitute for thyme or marjoram. “A little goes a long way, so start out slowly. You can always add more,” says Chef Kate McAloon of San Diego’s Keys Creek Lavender Farm. “It gives something special to food. It’s intense, floral, sweet.” She suggests roasting chicken, lamb or vegetables with Herbs de Provence - chervil, tarragon, savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, lavender, sometimes fennel. If you’ve been there, done that, she says try Ras el Hanou, the Moroccan spice-blend with lavender by Zamouri Spice. “Or, put a stick of lavender in a glass of champagne. Amazing,” she says.

We think of lavender cosmetically because it’s in everything from shaving kits to shampoos to candles but it was originally used medicinally. Ancient Greeks and Romans discovered its antibacterial, anti-fungal properties. It’s a natural insect repellent and is thought to have protected some from the Bubonic Plague by warding off fleas. Lavender oil was used as recently as WWI on battlefields to cleanse, prevent infection and relieve pain and to disinfect hospital rooms in WWII. It’s soothing scent promotes well-being and relieves stress, anxiety, fatigue, headaches and insomnia.

Lavender is graded, explains Keys Creek owner, Alicia Wolff. “Sachet-grade is not as clean as culinary lavender,” she says. “We choose plants that are less camphorous, less perfume-y for culinary.” Keys Creek harvests their lavender by hand, just before flowering when the oil in bud is most concentrated. They tie them into bunches, drying upside down for about three weeks. Then they gently rub off the buds and sift, clean and sort. Chef Kate makes lavender simple syrup post-harvest. Heat and stir one part water, one part sugar and three tablespoons lavender buds until sugar melts. Cool and strain for “great vodka cocktails and killer lavender mojitos,” she says.

Neither Wolff nor Chef Kate started out as lavender entrepreneurs. Wolff emigrated from South Africa to California with her husband and two children in 1989. She and her husband started a financial services company from scratch, “the only people we knew were our realtor and our attorney,” advising high net-worth individuals on estate taxes. After growing it into a large successful company, Wolff left to get back to her roots. She grew up in a homeopathic household in South Africa and wanted something that would combine holistic healing, event-planning and fund-raising, “for things I cared about.”

She stumbled upon Keys Creek, San Diego County’s only organic lavender farm, felt a connection and bought it. Her line includes a sleep balm, sprays, soap, lotions and shampoos, “we use 100 percent pure, undiluted essential oil.” She also has lavender honey, jelly, lemonade mix and culinary lavender. “I’d never heard of eating it and now I serve scones with lavender jelly and lavender honey,” she laughs. A portion of profits goes to cancer research.

A mutual friend introduced her to Chef Kate and within months the two started collaborating on a lavender lifestyle and cookbook due out next year.

Chef Kate studied hotel management at UCLA and then apprenticed at legendary chef Roger Vergé’s Moulin et Mougins in the early 80s, near Cannes. She returned to LA to the Excelsior restaurant on Rodeo Drive. Then to Marbella, Spain where she opened and managed the Spirit of Ecstasy nightclub until 1989. In 1990 she moved to Oregon and for the next decade immersed herself in cooking, organic farming and building houses. She became a chef and caterer in Hawaii in the early part of the last decade and by 2005 had a thriving Feng Shui practice. One day, she mentioned in passing to a local realtor that she was also a chef. “Great,” said the realtor, “Megan Mullally is vacationing and wants a chef for a few weeks.”

Chef Kate never heard of Megan Mullaly or “Will and Grace.” She took the job and ended up returning to L.A. with Mullally, embarking on her current career as a personal celebrity chef. She’s worked for Gwyneth Paltrow, Courtney Cox Arquette and David Arquette, and Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr; these are the ones she’s allowed to mention. Gwyneth loves her lavender blondies, Courtney and David, her Mediterranean lavender-infused dishes, and Orlando and Miranda, her Fish Pie with Herbs de Provence and Cornbread Crust. “I like lavender’s depth of flavor. I like that it’s exotic. When I cook with it, it takes me back to France,” says Chef Kate.

Keys Creek Farm opens to the public during harvest, offering distillation demonstrations, workshops and speakers. “I grew up in South Africa with wide open spaces,” says Wolff. She wasn’t looking for a farm when she first set eyes on Keys Creek. “It was after harvest. There was no lavender. Nothing, just land. I thought ‘It looks like home.’” It’s a little piece of South Africa, with a whole lot of lavender going on.

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Chef Kate McAloon’s Lavender Blondies

Ingredients:

2 cups Butter (room temp)

1 1/2 cups White Sugar

1 1/2 cups Brown Sugar

4 Eggs (Organic)

4 Teaspoons Vanilla

4 1/2 cups All-purpose Flour

1 T Sea Salt

1 tsp Baking Soda

3/4 tsp dried Culinary Lavender

2 cups Shredded Unsweetened Coconut

1 1/2 cups White Chocolate Chips

1 1/2 cups small Marshmallows

-Using an electric mixer combine butter, white sugar and brown sugar together until creamy.

-Add vanilla and eggs one at a time and mix in well.

-In a separate bowl mix together flour, sea salt, baking soda and culinary lavender.

-Then add the flour mixture to the batter slowly and mix well.

-Add the shredded coconut, white chocolate chips and marshmallows and blend together.

-Put the mixture in a medium to large baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.

-Bake at 350 for about 20 to 25 min. then check and cover Lavender Blondies loosely with foil so the top does not burn and continue baking until the insides are a bit firm for about 15 minutes more.

 

They should still be a little soft and chewy inside when done.