Archive for the 'Tasty' Category

Colorful Birthday

Posted by laura on Oct 12 2010 | Fun, Tasty

Honey’s birthday landed on a Friday this year, so it coincided with soccer practice. Since our Friday practices are a bit of a party every week, we decided to bring some cupcakes. And Tom rode up with a bunch of balloons, which made it super special. We went with a multicolored approach…

I finally bought one of those cupcake carrying thingamabobs after resisting for some time. It always seemed like a lot of plastic, and it’s not like we have cupboards just longing for items to fill them. However, after many a dicey bike ride with cupcakes packed into tins, I decided to take the plunge.

They worked out great! After practice, we rode home with one of Honey’s friends on the back of my bike. I gave her my camera and asked her to take a bunch of photos along the way. Here are a few of her shots:

It was a perfect 10.

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Shopping

Posted by laura on Sep 10 2010 | Bicycle, Tasty

We swung by the new Whole Foods on the way home from school the other day. I’m particularly fond of this WF because right in front of the store, they installed a whole line of bike racks and a handy tool station for bikers – it’s thoughtful and convenient. When we rolled in that afternoon, I was particularly happy to see that every rack was taken and we had to double up with other bikes. As you know, I’m pretty keen on people using their bikes whenever possible, and not only for bombing down the roads head to toe in spandex.

Now here’s the funny thing we saw when we came out of the grocery store – it’s a little hard to see because of my rushed shot, but Don’t Worry. I’ll explain.

So let me set this up – we’re directly outside the store. Just past those green umbrellas on the left is the cart return place. To our immediate left, literally a foot away, is the parking lot. You can just see the row of bike racks in the back there, which extend off to the right behind the post. Here’s the kicker – in the foreground are the shopping carts that people have deserted, just feet away from both the cars and the cart return, and completely blocking the bike racks. You couldn’t pull the bikes out without having to move the carts.

Honey felt a little blue about it all, as you can see, but it was pretty funny. Occasionally it seems as though we drift around in our lives, not really seeing each other at all.

The huge bonus from that shopping trip, though, was figs. To me, figs are the airline tickets of the produce world – you watch them and wait for the price to drop a bit, and then suddenly they’re all gone. They know I need them, too, so they’re disinclined to drop in price. Well they finally budged a bit, and that was enough for me – here’s what we had for dinner that night.

And last night? Pork chops with roasted balsamic fig glaze… happiness.

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Easter

Posted by laura on Apr 11 2010 | Awesome, Holiday, Tasty

We canceled our annual egg and beer hunt this Easter, due to rain and Tom’s impending 40th birthday party in a couple of months. (There are going to be two bouncy castles, people – we need to stay focused.) It ended up being a lovely, quiet, rainy day and we had a lovely brunch with our neighbors. We actually hit the jackpot there, because Joan and Hank had us over at the beginning of the week to celebrate their Passover Seder with them, and then at the end of the week to celebrate Easter. Perfect bookend events.

I’ve never shown you this unbelievable bowl that Joan gave me (ok, us) for Christmas. It’s simple and delicate and perfect. Filled with Cadbury eggs, this one goes to eleven.

This photo actually cracks me up, because the eggs are these gorgeous pale blue eggs from Finn and Susie’s chickens, and the nest was abandoned in our back yard – I like them together, even though the nest is woefully small for the eggs. What would happen if they were real? It would be like swaddling a baby in a washcloth. I still love looking at them together though.

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Back From the Fort

Posted by laura on Apr 05 2010 | Fun, Making, School, Tasty

Whew. We made it. Our trip to Sutter’s Fort was challenging, incredibly fun, and thankfully over without a hitch.

I can just hear all those pioneers from the 1840’s laughing. “You call that a hard day?” they’re saying. “Shoot. You don’t know a hard day from a hog’s beard.” (Now they’re laughing even harder. “Hog’s beard?? What the Sam Hill is that?!”) So fine, I’ll amend my statement. It wasn’t that hard, in the scheme of hard. But I was very sleepy when I got home.

We dropped the kids off at school at 6:45 am. They rode up to Sacramento in buses while we drove with all the supplies. I was on the kitchen crew, so when we got up to Sutter’s Fort, we brought in all the food, inventoried the kitchens, and set everything up for the day. Meanwhile, the kids all went to the train museum in historic Sacramento and traded in the buses for horse-drawn wagons, which pulled them through the city streets to the fort. When they arrived, all the parents went out to greet them. We were allowed to take a few photos as they rolled in, and here’s a glimpse:

There were actually five wagons of kids.

Once inside the fort, there was a brief welcome by John Sutter (played by one of Honey’s classmates), and then we all got to work.

I have very few photos of the day – partly because they didn’t want us to break the time period by walking around with cameras, and partly because we were pretty much working the whole time. The students rotated through stations where they participated in activities that were standard fare in the fort while it was active. At each station, parents would give them a bit of history, demonstrate the activity and give them some work to do – the stations were baking, spinning & weaving, laundry, animal care, corn husk dolls, kitchen, trapping, carpentry, trade store, vaqueros, candle-making, blacksmith and covered wagon. All of the parents had been trained at the fort so they could not only teach our students, but act as the fort’s docents for all the other visitors as well. (There were only a couple of stations with docents that were not parents from our school – the blacksmith and the main animal care docent.) That day, there were four other school groups visiting, so there was plenty of foot traffic.

In the kitchen, we had lunch and dinner to prepare for 150 people. Let’s just say that by the end of the day, we all had a healthy respect for the cooks of the time. Our lunch was a simple, ploughman-style deal wrapped up in waxed paper, since we didn’t all sit down for that meal. Here are two of my beautiful friends working on the lunch assembly line:

We had to be sure that any containers we used were at least possible for the time period, so all serving bowls had to be wood or metal, and the waxed paper was all torn into lengths out of sight in the ‘modern’ kitchen that we could use for washing up. The first groups of kids helped us wash apples, slice cheese and wrap lunches. Just before noon, they all assembled on the lawn and ate during mail call.

After lunch, we went into full dinner prep. I wish I’d had time to take some photos of the period kitchen to show you the fireplace in action – hopefully I’ll be able to grab a shot or two from the parents who were assigned to document the day. You can see one shot of the kitchen on the Sutter’s Fort State Park website, and it gives you a bit of a glimpse – all along the back wall are the fabulous cast iron pots and dutch ovens we got to use to prep the dinner. What you don’t see is the fireplace where we got to hang those pots on massive iron swing arms and surround the dutch oven with the coals from the (wood) fire. After being away from a hotshop for so many years, I have to admit it was great to be back in the heat!

Of course, where there’s fire, there also has to be some serious respect. Particularly when your Environmental Learning Program training materials contain sentences like this one:

“Hearth injuries were second only to childbearing (birthing babies) as the leading cause of death in women.”

Okay then! Good to know! We all learned how to tuck our skirts between our knees when moving the pots around in the fireplace or on the spit outside, just to make sure our hems didn’t start smoldering. But lifting those big old pots, swaying with water and carrots or beans, with iron hooks and sliding them onto the spit, or in among the coals… seriously, it was awesome. And the dinner! It was amazing too. The kids filled their plates at long tables covered with cucumber salad, freshly baked bread and churned butter, grilled chicken, ribs and salmon, black beans, pinto beans, carrots caramelized by a long slow cook in the fire, and mashed potatoes. This was all followed by apple cake and cream whipped by hand. It was delicious.

After dinner, the kids learned some folk dances and songs from a team called The Amazing Harmonatras – folk musicians who teach history through music. I thought my Uncle George would have like hearing that part! The kids learned a few Gold Rush folk songs and even galloped through a couple of line dances before settling in to hear some stories. I wish I could have heard more of that part of the performance, but we were all cleaning up like mad to meet our end-of-day deadline. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen to us if we ran past our end time, but we knew it wouldn’t be pretty. Everything had to be cleaned, cast iron oiled, utensils carefully put back in place and two kitchens inventoried before we got the green light to close up shop for the day. It had to be perfect, and thanks to all the volunteers who washed and cleaned, it was. Turns out that many hands might not always make light work, exactly, but they certainly can get the work done. And how. Looks like we’ll get to come back next year.

Oh and in case you’re wondering – all the sewing did get done. A group of parents sewed 95 bags for students and volunteers to use for their supplies – a batch of mine looked like this:

And my dress actually came out. I don’t have pictures of it on (thank heavens) – but here it is the next day:

A little ragged, and smelling of smoke from the fires, but still in one piece.

So there you have it. Now, if you’re ever just dying to know something about Sutter’s Fort, 1840’s California cookery, or if you simply have a need for a fetching pioneer frock, I’m your gal.

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The Good Life

Posted by laura on Mar 19 2010 | Awesome, Tasty

Last Sunday, Honey and one of our friends from across the street took their cooking interest up a notch. They took it to a… whole… ‘notha… level and made dinner for our families All By Themselves. We have discovered a new land out here, and it is good.

Tom was hanging out in the kitchen with them in case they needed help, but he had very little to do. Joan and I were in the art room catching up and being neighborly – Joan hand stitched dress cuffs for me while I put together an apron for the Sutter’s Fort adventure. That’s old-school neighborly, for sure. Too bad we don’t share a fence.

The girls cooked up pasta

and an incredible salad, while Hot Wheels dashed back and forth taking orders for his ’special drink’ – a lemon-lime concoction with so much sugar it’d make your teeth curl. (Suggesting that he rethink the sugar levels, though, brings you the same arch look I imagine you’d receive from the sommelier were you to suggest an ice cube in your wine.)

All the while, our other younger neighbor friend was working across the street with her father to make a lemon meringue pie. Now that’s ambitious. As Joan was walking out the door to come over to our house, she heard the following exchange between her husband and her daughter:

Husband: Now what does it say?

Daughter: Stir over low heat until translucent.

H: Ok – it’s translucent. What’s next?

D: Add the egg yolks.

H: What egg yolks??

Joan: [closes the door quietly behind her]

What a cliffhanger! Don’t worry, the green archer doesn’t actually get crushed by the… oh wait, wrong cliffhanger. The pie was delicious. As was the dinner itself – bruschetta, mixed green salad and pesto pasta. Now we’re getting somewhere.

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So Proud

Posted by laura on Mar 08 2010 | Awesome, Fun, Tasty

As predicted, our friend Russell didn’t end up making an acceptance speech at the Oscars last night, but we are all still psyched for him. Our friends Susie and Finn came over with their gorgeous baby girl, winner for best performance in a leading role for her work in “Birth – The Next Generation.” Our friend Mark joined us as well – he brought a container of cookies he called “Starship Gingerprises” that were unbelievably tasty. Honey made Russell-inspired sandwiches with roasted turkey, gruyere and cranberry sauce that were fantastic, and we tried a new Cooking Light recipe for apple/raisin compote on toasts with brie. It was delicious, but we bought light brie accidentally (heavens!) and it just doesn’t melt properly. It was still tasty and easy to make, so a win in my book.

It was a great night, although we only got one quick glimpse of our friends during the broadcast. If you go to the Oscars website, you can see them at the very beginning of the Visual Effects acceptance speech clip.

The place to go, though is to the Access Hollywood site, and check out the clip of Sandra Bullock talking about how much she loves Gabourey Sidibe. Keep watching, because as the interview goes on there are some awesome moments of Courtney and Russell in the background. I’m sorry Sandra, you were gorgeous and funny too, but there’s this moment when Courtney turns around and you see the cool layered detail of her dress in the back… it’s fabulous. And what a beautiful woman!! It’s not every couple who can just step into a situation like the Oscars red carpet and look so thoroughly at home.

There’s another photo of them on the Huffington Post site, which I love because they’re smiling at each other. That prankster Sandra hopped into the photo in front of them again in this one – she’s such a card.

Well done guys!! We’re all so happy for you.

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Friends and Food

Posted by laura on Jan 12 2010 | Holiday, Tasty

I took a few photos of our refrigerator yesterday. I’m not normally compelled to document the major appliances in my life, but here’s a quick look at what came over me:

fridge

We love all the holiday cards and photos that we get from our family and our friends, and they usually end up stuck all over the house in a happy jumble. This year I decided that I wanted to have that happy jumble right where I’d see it all the time, so as the cards arrived we popped them up on the fridge. Of course, we still ended up with other cards on our bulletin board and on the desk, but I just love seeing as many as possible all grouped together. It reminds me of the wall of photos that Mum always kept over the desk in our kitchen. It was a magnet and a talking point. It’s wonderful to have all these friends looking out at us as we go about the day.

Here’s something else I’m excited about. I finally got a new beater for my trusty kitchenaid mixer! The original one was just a bit tired.newbeaters

I haven’t put the new one to work yet, but it won’t be long. In other cooking news, I tried out a new method for baking dinner rolls.

breadrolls

This one’s from the King Arthur cookbook – it’s the basic hearth bread (although I made a honey wheat version for a bit more nutritional punch), which you let rise a couple of times and then bake in muffin tins. I used a tray of ice cubes on the bottom oven rack for steam to give a nice crunchy shell to the rolls. Everybody liked them, but I still think I like the traditional roll shape more – I think I’ll go back to that next time. I also tried a cheese cracker recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Are you reading that blog? If not, just go – get out of here! Terrific writing, beautiful recipes, and gorgeous photos. What are you still doing here?

crackers

Now I’m embarrassed to even show you this photo of my crackers, because just wait till you see the ones over at Smitten Kitchen. Well, you might laugh at these just a little bit, then. It’s ok, I’m laughing too. I’m laughing with my mouth full of these amazing, insanely delicious crackers. You should make them too.

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The Way it Should Be

Posted by laura on Jan 08 2010 | Tasty

cocoa

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Happy New Year!

Posted by laura on Jan 06 2010 | Holiday, Tasty, Uncategorized

Resolution #1: Stop ignoring blog.

Holidays are the best and worst times to have a blog. They’re overflowing with all the kinds of activities I like most, which means I have plenty to talk about but no time in which to say it. We were a whirlwind of seasonal festivities. My lists had lists.

Now that the wrapping paper has settled a bit, I’ll put up a few posts with highlights and nonsense from the past couple of weeks.

CHRISTMAS COOKIES

Say no more, right?

double-chocolate

Double chocolates (some with sea salt for an extra bit of happiness).

gingersnaps

Gingersnaps

ginger-trees

Ginger trees (Hot Wheels helped me ice these with white icing and sparkling sugar to look like they had snow on them, and then we stood them all over a chocolate cake with white frosting sprinkled with coconut to make a woodsy scene. Lesson learned: ginger and chocolate? YUM.)

cutting-cookies

Christmas cookies in process.

christmas-cookies

Christmas cookies in action. And upside down. And on a plate. And in a house. This is fast becoming the Dr Seuss cookie edition.

Absent on photo day:

- massive chocolate chips

- meringues

Let me tell you a quick story about those meringues, actually. They were my Christmas Miracle Cookies. (You’d think if they were that significant, I’d have gotten a photo of them, but no.) I’ve been having bad meringue karma around here. For years, I made them without a thought. Just whipped them up when necessary and never had a problem. Lately, I haven’t been able to make them work; I’ve been cursed by the sticky meringue gods and every attempt has been a flop. Or a glop, if you were to try them.

So when I found myself the night before Christmas Eve with three egg whites and no plan for them, I thought, “Don’t do it, Laura. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment.” But it was Christmas, by gum, and I was armed with my new Baker’s Illustrated cookbook. I followed the instructions to a T. The meringues actually held their form while I attempted to shape them into little trees (for the aforementioned cake tableau). I baked them super slow, and didn’t open the oven until it had been off for about 5 hours. I tasted them… sticky. Rrrgh. I went to bed Scroogily.

The next morning I complained to Tom that yet again, I messed up the meringue and didn’t know how. “Where are they?” he asked. “In the oven. I’m not talking to them.” Tom pulled them out. “They look good!” he said hopefully. “That’s what they want you to think.” I grumbled. He snapped one in half.

He snapped one in half. It snapped!! It was dry, and light, and just right – cue the choir, people, we have liftoff! What’s Christmas without a (albeit very very small) miracle?

Here’s a shot of the table from our Christmas Day open house:

christmas-table

Holy potato chips, Batman! That’s a big bowl. I didn’t realize how huge it looked. Of course, they were gone in a heartbeat, leaving that poor glass jar of celery and carrots to wonder if they’d every be asked to dance. Seriously, though, I don’t know why I ever bother with celery. Does anyone eat it? We put it out just to feel noble, I think.

What you can’t see, on the very edge of the table, is the ricotta pie. Oh yes, I did it, and it isn’t even Easter! (For those of you who’ve never heard about Lena’s Ricotta Pie, you can check it out here.) We never used to get this treat on a non-Easter day, but I broke that tradition wide open, I tell ya. A couple of our guests asked me what was in “the giant pop tart,” which momentarily offended my childhood sensibilities, but then I was forced to admit the resemblance. Poor pie.

I hope you also had a wonderful holiday filled with sweets and relaxation. Hmmm, that said, it looks like celery might just have its day, after all!

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Ginger Muffins

Posted by laura on Dec 17 2009 | Tasty

This afternoon, the combined effects of a crawling post office line (bad) and a bike ride home in a soft grey rain (good) left the kids and me in need of a serious snack. Fortunately, the other day I tried out a new recipe for ginger muffins from Cooks Illustrated.

gingermuffins

Take two of these with a mug of hot chocolate, and call me in the morning. Problems solved.

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