Wednesday, July 23, 2014

White Cardamom and Lavender Milk Jam

Real life does not look like this. Okay, fine. Maybe your life looks like that, and if so, major kudos to you. You belong perpetually in a magazine, or on a 24/7 instagram feed. But me? My daily life is messy and oftentimes full of droning dullness and unprettiness that no one else but me would want to see. There is plenty of ugly light in my house, lots of hand-me-down furniture from ikea, carpet stains from who-knows-where, not-really-very-charming 1970's house fixtures. I live through many totally not-instagrammable, not-facebook-share-worthy times, usually involving sitting in front of a computer, staring at numbers and code, or standing in the perpetually, interminably long line at the post office, or getting annoyed by the hammering noises coming from the construction next door, or taking out the trash. And, on top of all this, while I do wear hipster glasses, it's because I'm a nerd and need major vision correction so that I'm not walking around blind and crashing into things, okay?

I'm moving houses soon, to my new job, and when I've been telling people lately that I need to furnish my new place, they ask me, "Oh, what's your decorating style?" I keep getting taken aback by this question, since I don't find myself identifying with "modern" or "French country" or "beachhouse", etc. None of those are me, because really, at this point, how about it would just be nice to *not* look like I'm still living like a grad student. Like, I'm looking forward to the day when my couch no longer has a "slip-cover" of an old sheet over it, when my kitchen faucet is no longer held together by packing tape, and when my handed-down-from-previous-grad-student $15 ikea coffee table no longer has a majorly uneven surface from when I accidentally spilled a bunch of liquid on the fiberboard and it warped like crazy so now you can't put anything on it anymore....

Because I'm a food/travel photographer and that inevitably translates to being, at some level, a lifestyle photographer, it's actually become sort of a perplexing ethical question for me about what I shoot. So much of the work I have to do for clients--or for that matter, on this blog--really glorifies some idealised, stylized life. To some extent, that's fine. Beauty involves some editing (after all, what is a photographer's eye but an editor), but at what point does it become too much of a lie, and no longer true to the artist?

All this rant is to say that I have been struggling for a long time to figure out what should appear on this blog moving forward. I don't have that complete answer yet, but I do know that I don't want to miss out on recording moments that I want to remember just because they don't meet some sort of predetermined, magazine-worthy stereotypic standard of pretty. It's a blog, for goodness sakes. Let's not get all bent up about mismatched plates from different eras or god-awful, water-warped ikea coffee tables, shall we. Let's focus instead on capturing some of the truth of life, and hope that that truth leads us, in the end, to beauty.

One of my favorite events throughout grad school was when my friends and I would have pot-luck teas, usually for all of the girls in the lab (because go, ladies in science!). Everyone would bring a dish, and I would usually raid my prop closet for teacups and wooden serving boards as my contribution because I'd be too busy during the school year to bake anything, and we'd sit down for a long morning of wonderful food and laughter and company. This tea was from a few months ago, when I actually had enough wherewithal to make a white cardamom & lavender milk jam to contribute (also, I brought a precious jar of raspberry jam that my friend's Russian grandmother makes every summer, and that she smuggles out of Russia for me :)). The milk jam, all caramel-y smooth but robustly spiced from the cardamom and lavender, worked deliciously on blinis and rice pudding, but especially--and unexpectedly!--the milk jam went perfectly with these butternut squash custards that my friend Clara brought. I love it when potlucks so serendipitously bring together food that are good on their own but even better together! Such is the true beauty of the thing!

Read on for recipe....

White cardamom and lavender milk jam

4 cups (920 g) whole milk
200 g sugar
1/2 tspn baking soda
18 to 20 white cardamom pods
1/2 to 3/4 tspn dried lavender buds
1/2 tspn salt

Combine the milk, sugar, baking soda, white cardamom pods, and lavender buds in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven. Bring to a gentle boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Once at a boil, reduce heat to medium low and let simmer, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom with a spatula, for about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours, until the milk has turned a medium light caramel and is the consistency of jam. Do not let a skin form on top of the milk during cooking. Once done, stir in the salt, remove from heat, and let cool. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the cardamom pods and lavender buds.


  1. Exactly. Oh the tension of reality and beauty! That is why I so appreciate the words that can so oddly (and quietly) go along with the images of a good post. They can balance the beauty with insight or simply life without detracting or distracting from the visual experience. And the images gain an enduring, storied depth. Hope you decision brings you back here often.

  2. Image and reality is such an interesting area. I was reading a piece about a food styling course this morning and it was mentioning how important it is to *not* follow a recipe to make sure the food looks pretty. It makes me so mad. How are you meant to learn from a photo if it's false? It's setting up an unrealistic idea, much like the concept of a perpetually beautiful instagram-worthy life.

    Anyways, lovely to see you post again & the milk jam sounds delicious xx

  3. This looks absolutely delicious! I wonder what are the properties that allow the jam to thicken like that? I also LOVE that metal cup holder in the third picture down. Is that a Moroccan tea set? So beautiful!!!

  4. I want it to be my reality. Good luck with moving I have no idea how many times I've been moving during the past 8 years, but each next time is easier ;)

  5. I love the idea of a pot luck tea with friends, I'll need to get that organized some time really soon! I did have a question though: about how much jam does that recipe make? It sounds like it would fill one or two 8oz jars, but I thought I'd still ask :D Thank you for sharing this beautiful recipe!

  6. Amen on the uninstagrammable life! This sounds delightful and I love these photos.

    Sidenote: I have that same water-warped ikea coffee table (since undergrad....)! Last year we pulled out the power sander, rounded the edges, and stained it dark. Still going strong!

  7. Great post. I laughed out loud thinking of someone (anyone's?) life being totally instagrammable. Also, does it have to be white pods!? I'm definitely going to try this...but it will have to be green cardamom pods. Do you know how they differ in taste?


I love hearing from you and reading your comments! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog. Happy feasting!