Monday, June 3, 2013

The Shenandoah Living blog has moved!

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Gathered: Homespun gifts - Homegrown goods

Exploring Front Royal - Old Town Shopping


201 E. Main Street

There's a new kid on the block in Front Royal!  
While some old favorites (like Second Chance) may have passed into memory, several promising new enterprises have added to the charm of Front Royal's historic district this spring.  Right off of Main Street you'll find Gathered, a boutique whose quality homespun gifts and artistic jewelry and housewares are a delight to browse.

Although Gathered has a Main Street address, the entrance is located on Church Street.

Proprietor and Savannah native Caydn Speziale feathers the Gathered nest with hand-crafted items ranging from the whimsical to the elegant.  These items are produced by skilled artisans, many of whom are local and regional craftspeople.  This is a wonderful option for those who want to buy local and support the community's artistic talent.

Creativity is a family-affair for Cayden.  She and her husband, area native Andrew Speziale, are both artists who met at the Savannah College of Art & Design.  Caydn'sintricately beautiful bead-embroidered cuffs and jewelry can be seen in the case up front, and although his work is not for sale, one of Andrew's amazing pen-and-ink illustrations hangs on the wall behind the counter.  The work of Caydn's mother (a crocheted and twisted wire jewelry artist) and her father (a photographer), both teachers at the art college, is for sale in the store.

Caydn Speziale's bead-embroidered cuff (top right) and wire-and-bead cuffs made by her mother, Deborah Cherry Mosch.

Gathered offers three rooms of carefully curated merchandise including refurbished furniture and vintage housewares, linens, prints and wall art, fiber crafts of all shapes and sizes, greeting cards, leather journals, pottery and sculpture, baskets, cloth handbags, natural bath and body products, and several styles of jewelry in addition to those already mentioned.

Eli the Goat (left) is just one of several felted finger puppets for sale at Gathered.
Another of Caydn's embroidered cuffs (top) and a beautiful selection of hand-crafted rings.
To complement the bricks-and-mortar store, Gathered has recently launched an online shopping venue which allows you to browse more of their stock and buy online if you cannot make it down to the boutique.  One of my favorite product lines in the shop is a selection of little felted finger puppets by Connecticut artist Jocelyn Gayle (Petit Felts).  I purchased Eli the Goat (above left) for my niece at the shop, but there are several other characters -- Willa the Lamb, Cookie the Hen, and Ben the Fox-- that can be viewed and ordered online.   

Beaded bracelets, notecards and rustic little stuffed bunnies!

Gathered is open Tuesday through Saturday from eleven to six, and Sunday from noon until five.  Visit the website to see a complete list of artists whose crafts are represented, along with informative biographies and additional photos from the shop.  The grapevine section of the site will keep you informed about upcoming events and sales, and you can also follow Caydn's blog to learn more about her work.

Top lef:  fox sculpture by Front Royal artist John Urbanski IV; Bottom left:  pottery by Front Royal artist Kimberly Webb;
Top right:  basket of linens; Bottom right:  felt work.

Gathered: Homespun gifts - Homegrown goods
201 E. Main Street
Front Royal, VA 22630

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Andrea Carmona French Macarons

Valley Environs

Andrea Carmona Macarons

Hagerstown, MD

We're ranging a little far afield today, right up to the very top of the Shenandoah Valley and just across the Potomac, so let me give you a little background on what inspired this journey.

For some inexplicable reason I've found myself doing a lot of reading about France this year.  I'm not entirely sure why.  I'm not exactly a Francophile. I've never been to France, nor had much desire to go (at least not until now).  All of this armchair adventuring started by accident when I stumbled across the book Paris, in Love by Eloisa James, and from there I began following the blogs of several expats in Paris and Provence.  Now I get a vicarious daily dose of France, and I've noticed a recurring theme across blogs: macarons.

Macarons are typically made from almond flour and filled with ganache, buttercream or jam.
I'm certainly no macaron expert (they really haven't caught on here in the states and freshly-baked ones are about as hard to find as hen's teeth), but here's what I can tell you.  A macaron is a sort of little French Oreo cookie, only a good deal more colorful, more delicate, more flavorful, and more expensive.  (So nothing like an Oreo, really.)  Macarons are made from almond flour and are rumored to be quite tricky to do well.  The filling can be ganache, buttercream or even jam.  I got the impression from the salesperson at the establishment where I bought mine that ganache is preferred by discriminating macaron connoisseurs, but being a macaron neophyte, I would not presume to offer that as definitive information.

After some extensive Googling, I discovered that the nearest macaron bakery is an hour and ten minutes north of Front Royal.  Technically, there are two other sources nearly equidistant in the DC metro area, but I selected Andrea Carmona Macarons of Hagerstown, Maryland, because there seemed to be a consensus online that their macarons are superior. Macarons had become such an object of fixation in my mind that an hour and ten minutes seemed reasonable enough.  Saturday before last I checked my watch and decided that I had just enough time to get up to Hagerstown and back before a dinner engagement.  I was off like a shot up I-81, hot in pursuit of French pastry.

The Andrea Carmona macaron kiosk is located in the food court at the Hagerstown Premium Outlet Center in Hagerstown, MD.
Andrea Carmona sells their wares from a glowing little kiosk in the food court at the Hagerstown Premium.  I had not anticipated that I would be including a food court in my explorations of the Shenandoah Valley, but there you have it.  Artisanal macarons.  In a food court.  Fortunately the outlet center is easily accessible from the highway, only about two miles east from 81 on I-70.  I had budgeted precisely ten minutes to conduct my macaron business and the helpful gentlemen behind the counter made things easy for me.  He informed me that they had a limited selection on the day of my visit - only eight flavors - so I asked for two of go...quickly, please.

The Andrea Carmona website showcases a brilliant array of flavors including the deep violet Valrhona Dark Bitter Chocolate Super-Fruity Macaron, and the blinding yellow Lemon Curd Macaron.   There is an enticing duotone Mascarpone Raspberry Macaron and a pale pink confection that appears to be raspberry flavored.  (How do I know this?  It has actual raspberries sandwiched between the cookies.)  I was a little disappointed that they didn't have any of the lovely saturated berry hues, but they did have the object of my keenest desire - the almost Caribbean-turquoise Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Macaron.  Magnifique!

Elegant presentation of a quality product.  
The staff carefully arranged sixteen of the fragile little sweets in a smart black box:  two Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, a pair of Pistachio, two Coconut, a couple of Columbian Coffee, two Salted Caramel, two Triple Vanilla, two Chocolate Mint, and two Chocolate Mousse.  He tied up the package with a little gold-embossed ribbon and handed it over the counter in an elegantly monogrammed black shopping bag.  Niiiiice.  It has been my experience that you get what you pay for.  In this case I paid roughly $30.00 for sixteen cookies, fast, friendly service and top-shelf presentation.  Not cheap, but I was paying for the experience.  The macaron fantasy.  I can live with that.

As it turned out, the restaurant where my husband and I were meeting the neighbors for dinner was not serving dessert.  Happily, I happened to have a box of sixteen exotic little macarons at hand!  Much thoughtful consideration of the glossy little fold-out flavor guide ensued around the dinner table.  The neighbors agreed that they preferred the caramel and coconut varieties.  My husband liked the chocolates.  My personal favorite, as expected, was the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt.  To my surprise, although I'm not generally a fan of mint, the triple-mint chocolate was a close second.

Although I'm not usually a big fan of mint, these triple-mint chocolate flavored macarons were a close favorite, right after the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt. 
So the moral of this story is, if you find yourself in the northern part of the valley and feeling peckish for something French, head for Hagerstown and try some of these top-shelf macarons!

Incidentally…does anyone else notice that Carmona is an anagram of Macaron?

Andrea Carmona French Macarons
Hagerstown Premium Outlets
495 Premium Outlets Blvd. - Food Court
Hagerstown, MD
(240) 500-5066