Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday flowers

Garden roses + Ikea yellow vase, all from my mom.

roses, morning light
{roses, morning light}

They smell heavenly.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Real tapioca pudding

You know how sometimes you see something and the whole world shifts a little bit? I have two words for you - real. tapioca.

small tapioca pearls
{real tapioca pearls}

Right now some of you are probably shuddering and others are cheering. That's how it goes with tapioca. I'm firmly in the cheering camp. Growing up, we could only get minute tapioca in the red cardboard box. It was the first dessert I could cook on my own. I loved it so much I told my little sister it was fish egg pudding just so I wouldn't have to share it. (It totally worked - she still doesn't eat tapioca)

I haven't made tapioca in years, but wandering the baking aisle at Whole Foods a while ago I noticed small tapioca pearls and made an impulse purchase. They are small, distinct pearls. You have to soak them before you can make pudding with them, but the wait is well worth it. They create a beautiful, creamy pudding and the pearls have a perfect, lightly chewy texture.

tapioca pudding
{real tapioca pudding}

I use the recipe on the back of the Bob's Red Mill bag, and it's excellent but I've found that the 1/2 cup of sugar they call for is overkill for me. I tried 1/3 cup instead, but it was just a smidge short of where I wanted to be. I've settled in between somewhere, with a slightly heaped 1/3 cup. This makes the pudding sweet, but not so sweet that you don't get a chance to savor the texture, which is the real star.

All tapioca recipes call for chilling the pudding, but I find I prefer it fresh off the stove. Once it chills it will set up fairly firm, so if you want beautiful individual serving portions I would recommend spooning it into your serving dishes while it's hot.

Tapioca Pudding (modified from Bob's Red Mill package - serves 4 easily)

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
3/4 cup water
2 1/4 cups milk*
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs**
1/3 cup sugar, heaped a bit
1/2 tsp vanilla

:: Soak the tapioca in the water for at least 30 minutes in a medium saucepan.

:: Add milk, salt and eggs and cook over medium heat, stirring until you reach a boil. The pudding will start to thicken up relatively quickly at this point - the recipe tells you to simmer for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, but in my experience the pudding is plenty thick enough within a minute or two of reaching a boil. Remember that it thickens up even more as it cools.

:: Cool slightly, stir in vanilla. Serve, warm or cold. 
* Recipe calls for 2% milk, but I use 1% because that's what we have in the house. I'm sure you could use whole milk with stunningly creamy results. Non-fat will work too, but don't expect the flavor to be exactly the same. 

** Recipe tells you to separate the eggs, cook the yolks with the tapioca and milk and beat the whites into soft peaks before folding them back into the pudding at the very end of the cooking time. Personally, I find that to be a lot of fuss for a simple pudding and I'm happy without the extra work.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

We are stripe-y

What we have been wearing ...


Not at the same time. I swear.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The weekend, briefly

Such a busy weekend and I didn't manage to take nearly enough pictures to capture it all. We had three birthdays + a graduation.

There was plenty of dessert.

birthday scene

meringue, peaks

birthday cake

{birthday scene, meringue peaks & birthday cake}

A teeny tiny amount of creative time (although not with the serger, which I don't know how to use - I just love the way it looks).

serger, thread
{serger, thread}

Some very worn out dogs.


{baxter + shauna}

Leftover birthday cake + tea for breakfast. Yum.

leftover birthday cake
{leftover birthday cake}

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday flowers (make shift edition)

flowers, bedside
{flowers, bedside}

I didn't buy flowers this week because I still had a few spider mums sitting around from Mother's Day. They appear to be indestructible. I picked the least battered of the three, placed it in a tiny striped cup (thrifted, ages ago) and added a few sprigs of garden greenery to make it look fresh (sage + parsley).

flower + herbs
{flower + herbs}

Flower hint - for sparse arrangements I always use a flower frog. They look like this and you can get them in all shapes and sizes. I have an entire collection that I've amassed from the local Japanese market (which is the place to go for the best selection and pricing). All you do is put one in the bottom of your vase and then stick the stems of the flowers into it and they'll stay perfectly in place and upright. Voila.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pressed sandwiches

I take sandwiches pretty seriously as a general rule. It's hard to think of a more versatile (dare I say - perfect?)  food.

In fact, the only troublesome aspect of sandwiches is the difficulty of making them ahead of time, for a crowd. The bread either gets soggy or dries out, or sometimes, in miraculous defiance of all laws of nature, does both. Lettuce gets limp. You start thinking about the bad sandwich experiences you've had (bologna on cheap bread with iceberg lettuce, slightly squashed, sitting in a lunch bag all day). You get sad. You decide to make a giant bowl of pasta salad instead.

Enter the pressed sandwich. A few carefully chosen ingredients are slapped together on an entire loaf of sturdy bread. You wrap it lovingly in wax paper, stash it in the fridge and leave it alone. When the time comes, you can slice it directly through the wax paper and start serving. It is, quite possibly, the most perfect picnic food.

pressed sandwich - prep
{pressed sandwich - prep}

I first saw the idea on Martha Stewart, and you can read the detailed instructions here, although I never ended up making that exact sandwich so I can't speak for it. Instead, I have a very basic formula that I use when considering new creations. You can serve 5 - 6 very hungry people or get 12 daintier servings (which is what we did for the shower).

Large, wide loaf of good quality rustic bread, about 12 ounces (I use ciabatta, most of the time)
~ 3/4 cup sauce of some sort
~ 5 - 8 ounces of cheese
~ 1 - 2 cups main ingredient(s) - usually roasted veggies or grilled meat

:: Slice the bread in half, lengthwise. Spread sauce evenly over top and bottom halves. Layer the cheese on one or both halves. Arrange your main ingredient(s) over the cheese. Press both halves together. Wrap tightly in wax paper and tie with twine. Stick it in the fridge for at least two hours, preferably weighted down a bit (I'll usually put it under a cutting board with some jars on it). I usually do it a full day ahead, but that's mostly for convenience.

Note - if you're using anything that comes stored in water, like fresh mozzarella or roasted peppers, you'll want to let it drain on a dishtowel for a bit and then thoroughly blot it dry, to avoid adding extra water to the sandwich.

{pressed sandwich - mozzarella, prosciutto, basil, sundried tomato pesto}

My favorite variation consists entirely of ready made selections from Trader Joe's. TJ's ciabatta bread, one container of the sundried tomato pesto (in the refrigerated section, near the cheese, usually), one jar of roasted red bell peppers and some fresh mozzarella or sliced provolone. A bit of prosciutto is a nice variation if it doesn't need to be veggie friendly.

For the baby shower, I also did a meaty option - ciabatta, bbq sauce, Gouda, caramelized red onions, sliced, cooked chicken breast and applewood smoked bacon. Yum.

baby shower - food
{pressed sandwich - smaller servings}

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Indoor s'mores

I had lofty dessert visions for the baby shower. It had a beach barbecue theme, so I wanted to try a riff on s'mores, which are one of my favorite summer treats.

I considered - learning how to temper chocolate, making chocolate ganache, mastering homemade graham crackers, incorporating digestive biscuits instead of graham crackers, subbing fancy chocolate for the standard Hershey's for improved flavor,  keeping the standard Hershey's for the sake of nostalgia, finding a recipe for homemade marshmallow fluff, making a boiled icing that would be reminiscent of marshmallows without being too obvious, purchasing a kitchen torch for artistic toasting of either icing or marshmallows ...

And then suddenly it was Friday and I was out of time and slightly embarrassed by how much mental energy I'd given to the s'mores issue. 

Quick solution - le petit ecolier cookies, which have a nice biscuit base covered in chocolate + marshmallows, toasted.  I did make the marshmallows, so that I could cut them into heart shapes.

indoor s'mores, prep
{indoor s'mores, prep}

If making marshmallows sounds unbearably unnecessary to you, I think you could cut regular marshmallows in half  to make them thinner and then cut them with a cookie cutter. But really, once you get your hands on Deb's recipe for fluffy marshmallows you'll realize that making them is faster than running out to the store to buy them. I put them in a larger pan, so that they were a bit thinner and easier to cut into shapes.

After cutting, I arranged a few marshmallows on top of each cookie, then popped them in the broiler briefly (watch the entire time - do not step away from the broiler!) and pulled them out once they were golden. After they cool, they're easily transportable and the whole process takes very little time.

indoor s'mores, toasted
{indoor s'mores, toasted}

I think these fall into the better in my head category. Don't get me wrong - they're perfectly tasty and fairly cute and certainly time efficient. But the hearts puff up enough that you can't really tell what they are and the chocolate melts a bit more than you'd like because the broiler is so darn hot. I'm thinking this actually is one of those rare occasions where a kitchen torch would really have come in handy, but I can't quite justify purchasing something I would only use once or twice a year.

I love s'mores so much that I'll probably keep trying to find a dessert that does them justice. In the meantime, I have lots of leftover marshmallow scraps to nibble on and add to hot cocoa, and that is good enough for me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The weekend, briefly

The weekend was as busy as expected, but pretty great. I sleepwalked through my day yesterday, just wishing I could find somewhere to curl up and recuperate. I require a fairly enormous amount of sleep in order to function properly and I haven't been getting it lately.

It's my fault, really. Because, when faced with a long to do list and a severe lack of time, I decide I must make homemade marshmallows.


And design labels for all the food we served at the baby shower.

baby shower - food
{baby shower food}

And speaking of the baby shower ...

baby belly!
{baby belly!}

Later, Circe refused to cuddle with me, and insisted on frolicking all over the bed when all I wanted was a short nap.

circe, paws up

circe, playing

circe crazy eyes

circe, staring
{circe - paws up, playing, crazy eyes, staring}

But she eventually gave in. 

afternoon nap
{afternoon nap}

We made a quick trip up PCH to pick up our quarterly wine club shipment.


And an even quicker stop at Zuma on the way back, to admire the afternoon fog.

zuma, may fog
{zuma, may fog}

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday flowers (excuse edition)

The most enormous bouquet of fully blown roses, picked from my parents' garden.

garden roses
{garden roses}

It is May, people. And that is probably neither here nor there for most of you (except that it includes lots of roses), but for me it means insanity. The birthdays start on the second of the month and they don't stop until June rolls in. Throw in Mother's Day and a shower or two (baby or bridal, take your pick) and remember that all the summer wedding orders need to get made and mailed out and I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Normally I try to be pretty careful of getting overbooked - I'll even schedule blocks of time specifically for napping or reading whenever possible. But somehow I didn't realize quite how this month was shaping up and now I can't bear to drop anything. So I'm dropping you.

Just kidding. But I will be taking three day weekends for the rest of the month, in an attempt to bring a little sanity to my life. So you won't be seeing me here on Mondays (and if you do see me, go ahead and slap me, because I'm sure I'm supposed to be doing something else). Regular posting schedule will resume when things slow down a bit.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prettiest sugar cookies, made easy

There are rigorous guidelines for cookies appropriate for tea parties. They should be dainty, so you can eat them without looking unladylike. They should be decorative, because they are going to be displayed and oohed and aahhed over. Also, they should be relatively easy to make, because you probably have a million other things to do, including somehow making yourself look ladylike enough to attend said tea party.


tea cookies
{tea cookies}

A sugar cookie recipe that I love (not overly sweet) + the genius linzer cookie cutter which makes this relatively foolproof + boysenberry jam.

How to make cookies without spending 3 straight hours in the kitchen  - aka obsessive time management for people who work full time and don't love being stuck in the kitchen till 1 am
Wednesday: Make dough, wrap in saran, leave in fridge.
Thursday: Remove dough from fridge, let it soften up while you eat dinner. Roll it out and cut cookies, placing them on a baking sheet as you go. Stick baking sheet in freezer for about an hour. Once frozen, transfer cookies to a Ziploc bag. Put them in the freezer again (you can actually do this up to a month ahead of time, if you make sure you push all the air out of the bag and seal it tightly).
Friday: Bake cookies (side advantage to the freezer method is that you get beautiful, crisp shapes instead of blobs) and let them cool.
Saturday: Sandwich cookies together with a bit of jam in the middle, eat.

The cookies in the back are Deb's brownie roll-out cookies, sandwiched with a bit of ganache in the middle. Tasty, even for a non chocolate lover. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Celebrating the end of the shopping hiatus ...

Monika, the artist behind Favor Jewelry, is kindly offering a 15% discount to all of you for the month of May. Just enter "heartoflight" at checkout. All of Monika's pieces are handcrafted and her sterling silver comes from reclaimed sources.

{earrings, bracelet, images from favor jewelry}

I'm generally a bracelet and necklace person,  but I love that she has some fun variations on the standard hoop shapes. Makes me want to try wearing earrings more often.

Shopping hiatus, finished

The shopping hiatus is over, officially. We went a full 12 weeks this year, with only a few slip ups. I technically may have cheated right at the end, when D and I picked out two of Lily's amazing homestead paintings. BUT, we haven't paid for them yet and they won't be able to come live with us until the end of the exhibition. So that doesn't really count, right?

homestead pair for R&D
{this is our homestead pair - i feel like we adopted two new family members, photo by lily}

I'll be honest - this time wasn't as revelatory as last year. I was able to cruise through for the most part and I spent some time feeling disappointed by that, wondering if I'd made it too easy (should I have cut out thrift store purchases as well? should I have stopped buying flowers every week?).

Then I smacked myself a little and moved on. This was never meant to be an exercise in austerity. I allowed thrift store purchases because I'm comfortable with my thrifting and it doesn't contribute to demand for new items. I purchased flowers every week because they are one of my few indulgences, and the pleasure I get from them far outweighs the cost.

In the end, I think this year was easier partly because last year was so successful (read my thoughts about last year's hiatus here). I did manage to re-think my shopping habits after the last hiatus was over. If I look at my credit card statements, I can see that my frivolous spending is pretty sporadic already, so going a few months without any purchases at all isn't that difficult anymore. I know my trigger points (sales!) so I can more easily avoid them when I don't actually need anything.

This isn't to say that I'm going to stop purchasing stuff altogether, ever. I'm just going to keep focusing on maintaining a tightly edited and thought out list of what items I want/need at any given time. This works well for me because I can refer to the list when a sale hits. I'm not sure if I'll do the hiatus again next year (although I highly recommend this exercise if you haven't tried it before!). I think I'll revisit my spending habits regularly and decide if I'm in need of a refresher at some point.

Things I want to buy:

*Sunglasses (2 pairs - from Zenni - upgraded to SEVERE want, ordering now)
*Perfect workout tee shirts (must be thin cotton, loosely fitted, nice and long, v-neck - thank you to all of you who have given me such good recommendations - I'll be checking them out!)
*Serving pieces from the Heath summer collection (specifically, the summer appetizer set and possibly the serving and cutting board set - still want, D on board)
*Small rug for the my office (idly looking, not urgent)
*New clock for the kitchen area (specifically, this one which D and I are obsessed with - not going to pull the trigger yet, waiting
*A few casual dresses that I can wear both at work and at home
*Cardigans (cardigans are actually always on my mental list, because I wear them every. single. day)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The weekend, briefly

The weekend was constant motion, managed madness. We squeezed every little drop of weekend-ness from it and wrung it dry.

A quiet cup of tea with my mom, in china cups handpainted by my step-great-grandmother.

watercolor tea cups
{watercolor tea cups}

The mini-est of mini vacations (12 hours in Joshua Tree), which included the drive out to the high desert

driving route 60
{driving route 60}

meeting the lovely and talented Lily in person (!) and seeing her beautiful work + a very questionable beer in the local saloon (not pictured because I was slightly terrified by the bouncer and I didn't want to draw any attention to myself)

lily's show!
{lily's show!}

the cheapest hotel I've found in years, which turned out to be clean, quiet and possessed of hot water, which is all I require, although the cheery paint scheme was a nice bonus

safari motor inn
{safari motor inn}

up early for the drive back the next morning and another round of mother visits, more tea and far too many sweets

tea party, patio
{tea party, patio}

crystal display
{tea party, crystal display}

and then we came home and collapsed in a stupor caused by equal parts sugar shock and exhaustion. Hence the lack of photos yesterday.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not quite ready for Monday yet ...

Back tomorrow with busy weekend pictures.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday flowers (literary edition)

Hyacinths are quite possibly my most favorite flower.



Partly because the smell is intoxicating and partly because of  The Wasteland, which is also where the name of the blog comes from, in case you ever wondered.

'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.

Isn't it funny how lines sometimes speak to us? I first read this when I was sixteen, and my heart jumped. I still can't explain the completely visceral reaction I have to this particular stanza - poetry is a bit like love, I think. Sometimes your heart knows before your head has even had a chance to get in on the game.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day printables

My favorite mother's day tradition is the flowers. I go to the thrift store a few weeks prior and pick out vases or fun containers for all the special women in my life and then fill them with flowers.

mother's day bouquets
{last year - mother's day bouquets}

Add a pretty little tag and some ribbon and you're done.

mother's day brunch
{last year - mother's day brunch}

Here are the tags I designed last year, but with empty spaces so you can sign your own name. Print the file on cardstock, using a color printer, cut out the tags you want to use and punch a small hole in the top to feed the ribbon through. Tie around a vase of flowers or a gift. Let me know if you have any trouble accessing the document - this is my first attempt at linking directly to one of my PDFs.

mother's day tags without names

{clicking on the image will take you to the PDF}

Details from last year - I purchased thrifted vases, made croissants and set up a simple brunch.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vintage silver serving pieces, revealed

Polishing away at my thrifted silver over the weekend.

vintage servers
{vintage servers}

vintage servers
{vintage servers}

I realize these pictures give you no sense of scale (sorry!) but these are beautiful, long handled serving pieces. I love how modern they look. I couldn't get rid of all the tarnish and they still have a few stains, but I love them.

P.S. You guys are the smartest. I tried the baking soda + aluminum foil trick that Abbie recommended and a few others seconded. I lined a dish with aluminum foil, set the silver on it and sprinkled it generously with baking soda before covering it with boiling water. It didn't make my pieces look polished (they were tarnished to the point of blackness) but when I took them out about half and hour later and wiped them with regular silver polish, it was amazing. So much easier than before. I think it cut my polishing time in half.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

On unmade beds and high expectations (+ week 11 of the shopping hiatus)

Sometimes things just don't work out. We're not talking huge catastrophic crises, just every day bummers.

I had a vision for the weekend. It involved a sparkly clean house and hours of productive work and tomato seedlings gently nestled in rich potting soil and tea on the balcony and arroz con pollo simmering on the stove. It involved restorative time alone with naps and reading. It involved me being relaxed and happy and welcoming D home (from a weekend away) with a pint of fancy, possibly outrageously priced, beer. We would catch up and laugh and sip and be generally charming and perfect.

The weekend was rather lovely and productive, but I ran out of time. Seedlings languish unplanted, slightly crispy from lack of water. There is no food in the fridge (I know, because I made a meal of stale crackers and olives late Saturday night) let alone fancy drinks. The thrifted glassware I bought last week is taking up all the counter space in my kitchen, waiting to be washed and put to use. I had to sew until 11 pm to finish up orders for this week. And when I finally went to collapse into bed I realized that I hadn't changed the sheets and made the bed, which I knew desperately needed to be done. And since I had planned to do it, the bed was particularly disastrous, complete with cracker crumb remnants of my Saturday night "meal" and blankets set seriously askew.

Sad. In a commonplace, every day sort of way. Made better because D cooked up some spaghetti as soon as he got home, thus saving me from finishing the jar of olives for dinner. And I did feel a bit awesome because I was able to produce a loaf of bread to go with the spaghetti, because I had some chilled dough in the fridge.

rising dough
{one good thing}

Big sigh. Just a little reminder that no one's life is perfect, even if it looks that way sometimes (at least, this is what I tell myself, over and over again). Also, we just finished week eleven of the shopping hiatus (one week to go!) and we're rocking it. No slip ups at all.