Thursday, July 31, 2008

Project Runway !

Is it just me, or is anyone else really relieved that Project Runway is finally in the 9 pm time slot? I guess I'm getting old, but the staying up until 11 pm just to finish the show was starting to get to me last season and I would end up watching it the next day.

I'm still a little uncommitted to the current cast of characters, but sometimes it takes me a while to get a feeling for how the season is going to pan out. I have to admit I was in love with a couple of the outfits last night. When I saw Kenley pull her fabrics out I almost gagged, but her dress came out awesome. So perfectly tailored. And it totally could have looked like a sofa, so I have to be extra impressed.

image source

I am a little more pumped for the season after last night. There are some people that I am just dying to see booted off, and I'm still a little perplexed by some of the uber boring casting choices, but at least we're seeing some solid work (and an awful lot of Heidi's legs - I spent quite a bit of time last night wondering how she was going to manage to sit down for the judging wearing that skirt).

P.S. Listening to Tim Gunn getting coached in how to say "Holla atcha boy" was so embarrassing that I curled up in a ball on the couch and averted my eyes. Tim Gunn does not need to indulge in those sorts of gimicky things.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Penne with zucchini, basil and mint

Monster zucchini from my mom's garden

This is one of those recipes that I stumbled across and immediately adored. It's from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, which is an amazing, enormous cookbook full of information as well as recipes. I think I first picked it up back in high school, when my little sister suddenly announced her intention of going vegan. I did most of the cooking back then and while we've never been a total meat and potatoes family, veganism was a whole new thing. This (not so little) book helped out a lot and took the intimidation factor down a notch. It isn't a vegan cookbook, but a lot of the recipes are easily adaptable, like this one.

Salted zucchini patiently waiting to be used

This particular recipe is simple and perfect and tastes just like summer to me. Slowly cooked onions, a big pile of tender zucchini and lots of fresh mint and basil tossed in at the end. I only use whole wheat penne anymore because I prefer the texture.

Penne with Zucchini and Basil from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian
  • 3-4 medium sized zucchini (~14 oz)
  • Salt
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced into fine half rings
  • 1/4 cup stock (veggie, chicken, whatever)
  • ~30 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 lb penne
  • 4-6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. Halve zucchini lengthwise and cut into 1/4" thick slices. Place in a bowl, toss with 1 tsp salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
2. Saute onion for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and cook another 5 minutes. Add more salt if needed.
3. Add stock, stir and turn off heat. Add basil and mint and toss.
4. Cook pasta, drain and add zucchini mixture. Finish off with pepper and cheese, if desired.


Now for the modifications - you can easily use less oil, if you're worried about that sort of thing. I usually use the full amount, but I've cut it back to two tbsp without any trouble. I always cook the onions for much longer than 5 minutes, over low heat, because I love them when they start to caramelize. You could use different cheese, more cheese, less cheese, or no cheese at all. I let people add cheese at the table.

The biggest modification that I became aware of last night - less pasta would be fine. Next time I think I'll only add 1/2 lb of pasta, making this four servings instead of eight. A higher veggie to pasta ratio would make me happy, but I'm not a huge pasta lover. For this week, though, I'm glad to have the leftovers, because it means I won't need to cook again for a couple days.

J. Crew love

I forgot to bring a book with me on the bus this morning so I got to spend some quality time with the fall J. Crew catalog.

  • The complete absence of crazy spray tans.
  • The presence of not one but two models in sweet glasses (three if you count the adorable little girl in the crew cuts section).

Can you tell I'm a relatively pale, be-spectacled girl?

Oh, and also, this jacket. I need it. Desperately.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sage and rosemary crusted pork chops

This is one of the simplest things to whip up, but so tasty and perfect for the summer. I think we came up with this one summer when I was wandering around my mom's yard, scavenging herbs. There's no recipe, you just toss in a handful of sage leaves, a handful of rosemary leaves, a few cloves of garlic and some sea salt and cracked pepper.
A few pulses in the food processor and you have a nice paste that you just rub all over some thick boneless pork chops.
Then you grill them up. D is the grill master in our apartment, so he handles that part. I bet they would also be really good pan cooked in a bit of olive oil, but I wouldn't dare suggest it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Double duty

A girl can only bake so many cookies before it starts to take a toll. Despite my enormous list of things to do last Friday, I decided that a new (slightly more forgiving) dress was definitely in order for my two event weekend. I desperately wanted to make a trip to the sale section at Anthro (or at least to Forever 21 for some Anthro knockoffs), but I couldn't justify the time it would take me to get down there. Darn. I ended up at the Urban instead, solely due to the fact that it is halfway between work and home and the detour only took a total of 15 minutes in and out the door.
Amazingly enough, I actually found something I was willing to buy. Side note - I have super bad luck at Urban because I am prejudiced and remember the days before their clothes were all completely overpriced and back then their sales section was a mecca - you just can't top that. Also, when did they decide they are American Apparel? Have you visited their website recently? It's crazy. Anyways, rant over, because I found this dress.
It fits, it's pretty flattering, and it only cost $48. Bonus - I can wear my absolute favorite bra with it and it doesn't have to get tugged around. Downside - it definitely makes me look like I might be pregnant when you look at it in side view. I was heartened to check out the website and see that it does the same for the stick skinny model. I just made sure to pose full frontal for all photos.
In fact, I liked it so much that I ended up wearing it for both the bridal shower on Saturday and the big family party (on a historic yacht!) on Sunday. Yep, I wore the same dress all weekend. Is that gross? For some reason it doesn't feel gross when it's a dress. The weather on Sunday was gorgeous, but towards the end of the party it got just a little chilly and I had an excuse to bust out my little seersucker jacket that I bought a couple years ago and still love. It just felt so boat-y somehow.
I will not use the stretchy dress as an excuse to keep baking cookies, however. Expect to see some healthy recipes on here in the next couple weeks, because over the weekend I made some (cookie dough stomach ache induced) resolutions about getting back on track.

Bridal shower recap

Get ready for a longish (and gratuitously personal) post here - the big bridal shower was on Saturday and it was a blast! The bridal party is huge and mainly made up of my dear (and supremely talented) girlfriends from high school, so we had a lot of fun putting it all together and making it special for our lovely bride to be.

Friday night Stace and I were back in my apartment, prepping for all we were worth. Here we are icing dozens of glass slippers and tiaras for favors (yes, those are bikes behind me in the dining room - we live in a small apartment!).


The maid of honor outdid herself with the planning. Guests were greeted at the door with this little table. The bells were for a game, there were blinged out name tags, and the favors are all packaged and lined up in those little trays. The gorgeous flowers for the whole event were done by Kris (aren't we lucky to have a friend/fellow bridesmaid who also happens to be the amazing head floral designer of The Treasured Petal?).


Here's the food spread...


And, of course, the dessert got its own area.

Here is the room, set up and partially filled with people busily filling out quizzes.

And, a close up of the gorgeous flowers (notice Jasmine hiding out in the middle - each table was themed with a different Disney princess).

Here is a collage to give you an idea of the overall feel - be nice, because it's my first attempt at one of these.

And here's the beautiful bride, front and center, with all the rest of us surrounding her.
I really do love my girls and I can't wait for the wedding next month!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Baking frenzy

Last night was a total baking extravaganza. My girlfriend came over right after work and we didn't stop until 10:30 pm. Being a total OCD freak about my kitchen space, I was a little nervous about having a baking buddy, but luckily Stace and I share some similar compulsions. Namely, cleaning up as you go and working quickly without being sloppy. The kitchen never turned into a disaster, but we managed to make several double batches of cookies (at one point, we both had our cookie guns out, pumping away and it was pretty priceless - I wish I had a picture of that).

I made a batch of caramel cream cookies, which I'm actually pretty blah about, but most people absolutely love them. I think it's the thick layer of buttercream in the middle. They're also pretty simple and they freeze really well if you need to make them ahead of time. I usually roll the dough out and then cut it into tiny circles, but I was short on time so I just jammed the dough into the cookie press and popped out some little clover shapes. They aren't quite as elegant, but it was a whole lot faster and they still look okay. I added some of my Mexican caramel to the buttercream, because the buttercream doesn't take on much caramel flavor on its own, despite browning the butter first.


Here are the cookies getting ready to be sandwiched. Normally they would be round, but I think the cookie press clover shape isn't too bad. And yes, they are sitting on non-stick matting. Until I moved in with Dustin I didn't even know about non-stick matting, and now I'm OBSESSED. We lined all the kitchen drawers with it because it keeps the drawer inserts and the knives from sliding around. And then a little while ago I realized that putting it under cookies while you are piping on them is awesome, because the cookies don't slide around and make your life difficult.

I have approximately 12 million things to do today, including making a ton more cookies and designing fancy labels for all the food and packaging the favors (because I am crazy and I love cute labels even when they are totally unnecessary). I'm taking a short day at work to give myself a head start. I'll be back on Monday with a full shower re-cap and probably lots more cookie recipes. Don't worry - I swear I'll sometimes feature things other than cookies on here. I'm just stuck in a cookie place right now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sugar therapy

I seriously feel like a new person today - a bone tired, absolutely exhausted person who would love to sleep for three days straight, but a new person nonetheless. Yesterday I felt bad for every person who walked into my office because I'm pretty sure I was terrifying in my crankiness.

I got home from work and was pretty cheered up to find my sugar cookie dough patiently waiting for me in the fridge. That stuff is tasty. I had to eat it for a while to make sure that it was high enough quality to be used for cookies.
I use the Martha Stewart sugar cookie recipe and every single time I swear that I won't do it again, because it is a serious pain in the ass. It is the softest dough ever, so you are constantly having to stick it back in the fridge to chill, and once you cut the cookies you have to stick them in the fridge to chill before you can bake them, and it just generally annoys me. But once the first tray is taken out of the oven I always go back on my word. I'm not a huge sugar cookie fan, but these are pretty good. Crisp when they first come out, and then they soften up a bit, and they have great flavor for something that is basically butter and sugar.

These babies are going to be the favors for the bridal shower on Saturday, which is princess themed, so I thought it appropriate to make some tiaras. I have glass slippers too, but no pics yet. I'm going to frost them tonight, so hopefully they turn out appropriately cutesy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home at last

I feel much less likely to die this morning. Turns out I picked up some kind of weird inner ear virus that is responsible for the dizziness and general misery I've been feeling. Luckily, it should be turning a corner really soon and I have high hopes for salvaging the rest of this week. I managed to upload some pictures last night, despite my moaning and whining, because pictures really are the best distraction ever.
A few highlights of the Mexican vacation...
Drinking perfect cafe con leche in the morning.
Staying in Guanajuato for a few days.
Icy cold Pacifico, picked up from the corner market in a big bucket of ice.
Buying fun stuff, including this headband that I am now madly in love with and trying to decide if I can get away with wearing it every day I don't feel like washing my hair.
Oh, and seeing the village D's family is from, of course. You can't even begin to believe how gorgeous the light was in the evening. The picture doesn't do it justice.
Since we're talking about the highlights, I won't mention the fact that said village was over 120 degrees even at night and our bedroom was crawling with enormous water bugs that nearly unhinged me. I'll just say that it was gorgeous and they made us amazing food and Dustin's uncle can open beer bottles with his teeth, which is probably the most impressive feat I've ever seen. It still makes my mouth hurt when I think about it.

Coming up soon...baking/bridal shower extravaganza. Let's just say that I knew I was starting to recover this morning when I woke up and decided I definitely had time to make a double batch of sugar cookie dough before coming into work. It's hanging out in the fridge, waiting for me to come back and start rolling it out this evening.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Almost back...

So my vacation in Mexico was not all it was cracked up to be. Mix in a little too much family, a raging case of altitude sickness and a whole lot of heat, and you get the picture.

I'm going to the doctor today to make sure that I do just have altitude sickness and not some kind of deathly illness. I'm hoping they have some kind of magic pill that makes the headaches and dizziness disappear, but I'll settle for being told that I'm not going to die.

Hopefully I'll be back tomorrow with pictures and something fun to talk about! It's going to be a busy week because my girlfriends and I are hosting a bridal shower this weekend and I'll have lots of baking and planning to share, besides all the Mexico stories.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A little something...

Simple earrings that I finished in time to take with me to Mexico. I wish I could remember what these blue gems are - I picked them up a while ago, and they weren't super expensive. The little red ones are garnets that I've had lying around forever.

It's a little sad to leave the blog when I just got started. I'll be back in 10 days with loads of pictures and hopefully some fun finds.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Simple supper

We're supposed to be in a heat wave here in So Cal, but it hasn't really hit yet. Every day, they announce the heat wave, and yet the days remain pleasantly sunny but not overly hot. Hmmm...

Anyways, I'm enjoying the fact that it isn't yet too hot to actually cook (we'll get there, don't worry) but it is gorgeous enough to eat outside once I'm done cooking. And the good tomatoes are finally coming in, so I have to think up good ways to use them. This recipe is one of my absolute favorites. It's ridiculously simple, but somehow amazing. It's from Modern Greek, which I bought because I'm a sucker for gorgeous minimalist cookbook covers. Luckily, the cover is just the beginning. Because I learned how to make this...

Okay, I realize it isn't the most beautiful dish ever, but it really is good. And easy.

Seared Fish with Tomatoes (from Modern Greek)
2 swordfish steaks
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 cup flour
3 tomatoes, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 tbsp white wine vinegar

Combine tomatoes and garlic with vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add to fish steaks and refrigerate at least half an hour.

Dredge the fish steaks in the flour. (Reserve marinade). Sear the fish in the olive oil, approximately 3 minutes per side.

Remove the fish from heat and add the marinade to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, until somewhat thickened.

Serve fish with marinade on top.

Yep, that's it. Don't worry - I was skeptical too. Not many ingredients, not a whole lot of chopping or seasonings. It's still good, I swear.

Food index

I've rounded up all my favorite kitchen gear into this post, if you're curious.

My Thanksgiving prep plan is right here.

Sweet treats

See my wedding dessert buffet tips here. And my wedding cake tips here. And how to glue together gingerbread houses here. And how to make stained glass windows for your gingerbread house here. My wedding recipe Excel spreadsheet is here. And the cookie spreadsheet explanation is here.

Homemade Peeps are here (couldn't figure out what category those belonged in!)

Greek almond bars are here.

Salted caramel sauce is here.

Cilantro lime sorbet (tequila optional) is here.

Emergency chocolate frosting is here (takes 2 minutes and three ingredients).

Quadruple Barbie cake logistics post is here and the fondant post is here.

Pastry like things
Blackberry tart with vanilla ice cream
Brioche with chocolate ganache
Carrot cake (best carrot cake, hands down)
Coconut cupcakes
Coconut lime revenge cake
Double chocolate cake with milk chocolate frosting
Lemon ginger muffins
Lemon debutante cake
Margarita cupcakes
Meyer lemon pound cake + swiss meringue buttercream frosting (wedding cake!)
Obama cupcakes (make your own colored sprinkles!)
Gingerbread snacking cake
Pumpkin cupcakes
THE CAKE (chocolate cake with fudge frosting)
Vanilla bean + orange cupcakes

Basic pie crust
Apple pie with pecan crumb topping
Coconut cream pie
Lemon meringue pie
Perfect graham cracker crust tip

Coconut rice pudding
Real tapioca pudding
Simple vanilla pudding

Savory delights

My method for freezing meals is here. My thoughts on the Real Simple one month meal plan are here and the recipe reviews are here

Meat (related - my decision to eat meat is discussed here)
Baked ziti(ish) casserole
Burgers, summer style
Chicken in cashew nut sauce
Chile verde
Bottega Louie (macarons!)
Five Guys (vs. In'n'Out)
Vanilla Bakeshop (mango cupcakes)

Not cooking
CSA info


I have a slight obsession with thrifting. Back in high school, it was a major activity for my group of friends, and we would spend hours sifting through racks of clothes at Thrift Shoppe (no joke - that was the name of our favorite store, and it was right next to a super cheap bakery outlet) on discount days. I had an awesome plaid dress that I occasionally still wish I hadn't tossed out.

I can't seem to muster up the energy to go hunting for clothes anymore. They all smell like a thrift store, for one thing, and my arms get tired sorting through the racks and I'm too lazy to try anything on and too cheap to buy it without a return policy even if it only does cost $3. I do, however, have plenty of energy to look for old kitchenware. Pyrex bowls leave me pretty weak at the knees, and I can almost never resist a good pressed glass cake stand, but my current obsession is this old Dansk line. Bright, primary colors, beautiful Eames era handles.

I love them so much that I like to leave them out on the counter so I can stare at them. I got all three of these for $32, which is a pretty good deal. They're all over Ebay, but I like the exultant feeling I get when I unearth one in a bin of flea market junk.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Big Fat Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best chocolate chip cookies ever...seriously. I used to have the worst time making this classic because I prefer a doughy cookie over a flat sugary cookie. These are perfect, and they work every time. Recipe via Milk Eggs Chocolate, via Smitten Kitchen, via I guess these have made the rounds, which is understandable, because they are perfect. I add a bit of orange zest, because I love the contrast with the semi sweet chocolate. I also don't melt the butter, I just cream it while it is room temp and then add the sugars. And I let the dough chill in the fridge for an hour or so before I start any baking - it seems to help them firm up a bit. I have to admit that I may have overdosed on these. Three batches in two weeks will do that to you. Don't say I didn't warn you.

First post

I've thought a lot about starting a blog lately, and I've finally decided that I should just give it a shot and see how it goes. Rather than just thinking about it all the time, that is.
Why? I like to write, and I like to talk, and this seems like a nice fusion of the two.
Why now? I just got a new sewing machine and a new camera, and between the two of them I am feeling the need to get some images out there.
What? Not sure yet. I admire those people who are able to pick a focus for their blog and just run with it, but I think this will probably end up being a bit of a hodge podge. I don't stick to any one thing long enough to make an entire blog out of it.

I picked my blog name from my favorite stanza in T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. Yes, I am nerdy like that. Get used to it. Here's the quote:
'You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 35
'They called me the hyacinth girl.'
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, 40
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Od' und leer das Meer.

I'm not sure why, but those lines get me every time. If you can, check out the recording of T.S. Eliot actually reading the poem. It's even better in his gravely voice.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

DIY Index

Paper goods
Cards, linocuts for Valentine's Day
Napkin rings, paper punched
Thankful leaf garland (Thanksgiving 2010)

Bathmat from a towel - take one & two
Dog cowl (crocheted)
Felt gift wrap (reusable)
Makeup bag, lined
Ruffle-y silk headband (minimal sewing)
Skirt (elastic waistband, simple)
Quilt, parts one & two
Zippered pillow cover (Ikea fabric)

Bridal party shirts (using iron on transfers)
Necklace (quick choker re-do)
Wedding centerpieces (delicate butterflies & candles) - scroll down

Christmas - felt cloud ornaments, 2010 wreath (felt + metallic)
Valentine's Day - 2011 cards

Our wedding