Spring and Tea

After months of shlepping around Brooklyn in snow boots, wearing sixteen layers of clothing, and opting to have absolutely everything delivered rather than step a foot outdoors,  spring is finally here. This post is inspired by the arrival of spring in all its glory. Melting snow, cool mornings, pouring rain and blooming flowers.

Prop stylist Kelly Shea, food stylist Lauren LaPenna, tea enthusiast Demetria Provatas and I combined our powers to  create this post.

My talented intern and culinary student, Demetria, researched tea blending and came up with a white peony lavender tea. Ms. Provatas tells you all about it below. Be sure to check out her blog to see some behind the scenes photos of this shoot!

Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.

Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.
Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.Spring Tea, Photography and Art Direction by Vanessa Rees, food styling by Lauren LaPenna, Prop styling by Kelly Shea.

In Vermont there was an English style tea shop cozied up on the bottom floor of an old Victorian home.  It sat alongside the river and gazed out to scene of stark, green mountain peaks and large stones supporting the muted colors of the riverside homes – essentially comprising every component of quaint Vermont cute.  I would go there in the morning, before my classes, sit at the table overlooking the river, and quietly drink my tea, marveling at the serene, sun drenched space.  It was there that I had my first white tea.  It was a lovely blend that was silver needle white tea, rose petals, and a hint of vanilla – and I was hooked.  The white tea comes from the same plant as black and green tea, but it has a much more delicate, slightly sweet taste that avoids the bitter and acidic taste that can come with black and green teas.  When the white tea was paired with the rose petals and vanilla it was nothing short of pleasant, delicate, and even vaguely ethereal.

So, when coming up with a tea blend of my own I returned to the lovely white tea and decided to go with the more full flavored of the white teas – white peony.  The white peony includes young leaves in addition to the top buds or leaf shoots, whereas silver needle is only the leaf shoots, making the silver needle more delicate, more subtle, and more expensive, and the white peony with a fuller flavor and greater potency.  I decided I would pair it with other calming, and light, floral flavors to complement the the delicate white tea.

When brewing your own tea at home it is important to check the amount of time your tea needs to steep to avoid the bitter and astringent tastes that can come from over steeping.  Each tea – black, white, herbal, green, pu-erh, red, and so on – has a specific time and temperature that is most ideal for steeping and allows you to get the fullest and most pleasant flavor from each. The time and temperature will often vary slightly by blend and strain from there.  Here is a basic and super cute illustrated guide you can refer to when brewing teas at home.  Have fun blending!

White Peony Lavender Blend
By Demetria Provatas of Engrained Blog

Makes about 30 cups

1 ½ cups  Organic White Peony
½ cup Organic Lavender
⅓ cup Blue Cornflower Petals
¼ cup Chamomile
2 tablespoons Hibiscus

I.  Make sure all ingredients are dried.  Mix all together gently in a large bowl.  Package in paper bags, jars, or make your own small tea bags by putting 1 tablespoon in an empty tea bag, close and tie together with string.

II.  To brew heat water to about 175 degrees Fahrenheit/80 degrees Celsius.  Let sit for 3 minutes.  Pour water over 1 tablespoon of tea blend per 8 ounce cup.  Let steep for 4 – 6 minutes.  Enjoy this lovely, relaxing, and lightly sweet blend!

Ajay Walia Food Photography - Beautiful Photography. Color correction is good. all are looking natural.

Thanks
Ajay Walia

Shemma - Just stunning. What a set up!

michelle - BEAUTIFUL

Aubrie LeGault - Love the images and the way you described Vermont. You’re styling is fantastic and you have a real act for “dark/moody/rustic” photos.

Webbyrå - Omg! Best pics ever! <3

Janneke - this looks like such a fairytale. beautifully done!

Sophie - Gorgeous photos Vanessa, and such lovely words. So proud of you D <3

Alison Dulaney - That first image had me at hello, such stunning work Vanessa!

Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar - These photos are stunning. I love that tea blend so much too. Lovely!

kita - everything about these shots has me mesmerized.

Treat Yo Self, Part II

Treat Yo Self
Last week I posted a Donna Meagle inspired Treat Yo Self photo. This one is inspired by her costar, Tom Haverford. Once again, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should watch Parks and Rec! Or this clip.

As I said in the previous post, I’m starting my own line of greeting cards! This is the latest addition.

The cake photographed here is Isa Chandra’s Chocolate Yogurt Bundt Cake and it is, without exaggeration, my favorite chocolate cake recipe. Here is another photo I took of it for a different purpose.

Now, go treat yo self! =)

Chocolate Yogurt Bundt Cake by Vanessa Rees

 

 

Webbyrå - Wonderful such a beautiful project. Thank you for sharing! you can handle pictures :D

Alison Dulaney - Beautiful! I love the retro feel of the kitchen in the background. Amazing work Vanessa!

tina - Donna Meagle*!

Demetria - two of my favorite shooting days!

Roy - That cake looks amazingly tasty. Nom. Treat yo self, indeed :)

TREAT YO SELF: Orange Blossom Cupcakes

TREAT-YO-SELF34836_WORDS_DONE_FW_FBIf you follow me on Facebook you may have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of photos that look similar to the one above. That’s because I’m starting my very own line of greeting cards (more info to come)! A friend of mine (that’s you Ms. Melissa Rogers!) suggested I make a Treat Yo Self birthday card. If you aren’t sure what Treat Yo Self is, one, where have you been for the past few years? And two, step away from the computer and go watch Parks and Recreation. Like, now. Or if you don’t have time for that just watch this clip. Essentially Treat Yo Self day is about a day of decadence. So I asked my intern and New England Culinary Institute baking student, Demetria, to come up with an indulgent cupcake recipe. She delivered. I present to you an Orange Blossom Cupcake with Saffron Buttercream.

Demetria will take it from here…

Vanessa said, “go decadent – we’re going to spray paint everything gold” – so I did.  Saffron, the stigma of the fall flowering crocus, is one of the most expensive spices by weight, and with it’s distinctive taste and ability to add a rich golden color –  it’s one of the easiest ways to fancy up a recipe.  However, before you reject it – a little goes a long way, once you’ve got a jar of this you can stretch it out far- 1 gram can translate into about 10 different recipes – so think of it as a classy investment!

Treat Yo Self by Vanessa Rees, V.K.Rees

I paired the saffron buttercream with orange blossom water cupcakes, because doesn’t that sound like a light and beautiful combination?  The saffron flavor hits you at first, making the buttercream richer and almost more butter-y tasting, and then the orange blossom floats on in and leaves you with a nice light, floral, citrus-y taste.  A cupcake dream.  These cupcakes are decadent and luxurious, but still so delicious, a perfect recipe for some much needed treating yourself.

Orange Blossom Water Cupcakes with Vegan Saffron Buttercream
adapted from Isa Chandra’s Pistachio Rosewater Cupcakes in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World

For more recipes, vegan and otherwise check out Engrained Baking !

makes about 12 cupcakes

½ cup vanilla non dairy yogurt (I used coconut)
⅔ cup non dairy milk (I used soy)
⅓ cup canola oil
¾  cup plus 2 tbsp of granulated sugar
1 ½  tablespoons orange blossom water (usually near the rosewater, I found it at Whole Foods)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
zest of one small orange
pinch of salt

Directions

I.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin pan with 12 cupcake liners.
II.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, canola oil, sugar, and orange blossom water until well combined.
III. Sift together the flour, corstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and mix into the liquid mixture until the clumps disappear and batter is smooth. Whisk in the orange zest.
IV.  Pour the batter into the cupcake liners until they are ¾ full.
V.  Bake 20-25 minutes, or until cupcakes spring bakes spring back when touched in the center.
VI.  Transfer to cooling rack and let cool until frosting.

Saffron Buttercream

½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
½ cup non-hydrogenated margarine (I used Earth Balance)
3 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
a pinch of chopped or ground saffron dissolved in warm 2 tbsp non dairy milk
¼ cup plain soy milk or creamer

Directions

I.  Chop up a pinch of saffron into dissolvable bits.  Dissolve in 2 tbsp of warm non dairy milk.
II.  Beat the shortening and margarine together until well-combined and fluffy.  Add the sifted sugar and beat for 3 more minutes.
III.  Add the safrron milk, making sure to extract all the color and flavor from the saffron bits and then gradually add the soy milk until the buttercream is thick and fluffy.

Recipe by Demetria Provatas at Engrained Blog

Note from Vanessa: For the pictures we spray painted the cupcakes gold with this stuff. It tasted a bit odd and I wouldn’t recommend it for the actual recipe. But it made for pretty for a photo!

Aditi Gaitonde - So much beauty. Love your work

Wedding Photographer - I absolutely love the candle having just been blown out. The obvious thing to do would be photograph a lit candle, but shooting the smoke with backlight is such a great idea! Cheers.

Treat Yo Self, Part II » V.K.Rees Photography - […] Last week I posted a Donna Miguel inspired Treat Yo Self photo. This one is inspired by her costar, Tom Haverford. Once again, if you have no idea wheat I’m talking about, you should watch Parks and Rec! Or this clip. […]

tinajo - Wow, this looks awesome! :-)

Alison Dulaney - I can’t wait to see these cards!!

Rachel Jane - I can’t tell you enough how much I love this! Absolutely makes me smile. Loved the clip, my friends have been telling me to get into Parks and Rec.

Cassandra - Love this! And saffron definitely says “treat yo self!”

Aubrie LeGault - Love the shots… I enjoy your use of space.

Laura | Peaches and Greens - These are stunning! Sound delish too! Can’t wait to hear more about the greeting cards; I’ll probably frame them so I can pretend that I have my very own VK Rees prints! Eeeep!! xo