Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The weekend, briefly

Lunch at The Golden State with D, with gelato for dessert (dulce de leche made with porter stout for me, apple pie with actual pie crust bits for him), followed by a walk around the Griffith Park observatory.

the golden state, lunch
{the golden state, lunch}

gelato
{gelato}

observatory
{observatory}

Brunch with my girls - huevos rancheros + excellent coffee + mimosas.

brunch, eggs
{brunch, eggs}

Packaging up some orders.

tags
{tags}

Monday, August 30, 2010

Extending the weekend ...

Back tomorrow.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday flowers

Textured yellow flowers, from a sweet friend. Perfect for the sunny week.

yellow
{yellow}

They are sort of velvety to the touch.

yellow + raffia
{yellow + raffia}

In completely unrelated news, I have not yet gotten salmonella, despite eating many, many poached eggs over the last few months, some of which were part of the recall.

When I was little, my dad informed me that I would eventually get salmonella if I kept ordering eggs benedict every chance I got. I considered this, seriously. I decided that a lifetime of lightly cooked eggs and hollandaise sauce was worth just about anything. I'm taking my chances. But also buying more small farm eggs.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Summer

Yesterday evening the air was warm. The sky was pink. We walked to the store, bare arms dangling.  Home,  we watched the light fade through the jalousie windows.

jalousies
{jalousies}

We harvested tomatoes flushed from the sun and sliced, ate them on toasted sandwiches, seeds dripping from our fingers, ate them plain with salt. Drank cold beer.

tomatoes, sliced
{tomatoes, sliced}

We went to bed early, the fan humming, passing voices drifting in from the street below. Falling asleep slowly, feeling comforted, like tired children with limbs sprawled, listening to the party wind down in the other room.

This is my favorite part of summer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thrifting, lately

And by lately, I mean months and months ago. Just haven't gotten around to posting these guys yet.

milk glass bakers
{milk glass bakers}

Milk glass baking dishes from the local Goodwill, picked up for two dollars apiece. The rectangular ones are Anchor Hocking Fire King and the square one is GlasBake.

milk glass fire king
{milk glass fire king}

Love the just slightly curved handles on the Fire King pieces. It's those little details that get me.

Sometimes it's tough to decide whether or not to make a thrift store purchase. My midcentury fondue pot, for instance, is gorgeous but remains unused to this day. Eventually I'll have to decide whether to let it find a new home. But baking dishes are always a no brainer for me. Useful, because I cook a lot, and if I ever end up with too many I'll just drop off my newer ones at the thrift store for someone else to find.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eggplant marinara (ish)

To date, I have not overcome my intense fear of deep frying at home. I could burn the house down, you guys. Or, on the other hand, I could master it so well that I exclusively eat deep fried foods for the rest of my life. I'm not sure which option would be more damaging.

So I stick with baking. Faced with a shiny fresh eggplant* last week, I cut it into thick slices and subjected it to the same treatment I use on zucchini. Egg wash, a bit of breading, oven baked. The eggplant comes out tender and meaty with a crisp exterior. Add a bit of marinara and some cheese (I used a burricotta, because that's what I had) and you're good to go.

eggplant marinara
{eggplant marinara}
Baked eggplant marinara (probably makes 4 servings, but maybe 2**)

1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp fresh oregano or rosemary (your choice)
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of salt
Pepper to taste
1 medium eggplant
1 egg
~ 1 cup marinara, depending on your sauciness preference (my recipe is here)
4 oz mozzarella or burrata cheese (8 oz would make it more filling, I'm sure, with a higher cheese to eggplant ratio)

: Toss the bread crumbs, parmesan, herbs, garlic, pepper and salt in the food processor and blend it well. Alternatively, finely mince the garlic and use well grated Parmesan and just mix everything together. Put the mixture into a wide, shallow bowl and set aside.

: Slice the eggplant into nice thick slices (about 1 inch).

: Beat the egg in a wide, shallow dish. Dip each eggplant slice in the egg wash and then shake it off a bit and toss it in the breading. Lay the slices on a baking dish, making sure none of them touch.

: Bake in a 425F oven for about 30 - 40 minutes, turning just once. The exterior should be browned and crisp when finished. The interior should be tender but not mushy.

: Top each slice of eggplant with warm marinara and a bit of cheese. Dig in. 
eggplant, eaten
{eggplant, eaten}

* About eggplant - I know that people frequently complain of it being bitter, thus the salting and rinsing that you see in many recipes. I generally just take a small bite while it's still raw, to make sure it doesn't taste bitter to me and then I proceed. I've never had a bitter eggplant. Maybe I'm just not as sensitive to it? If you tend to dislike the bitterness of eggplant, you can always include a salting step right after you slice it. Just salt the slices well and set them aside for 20 minutes or so and then rinse them and pat them dry before proceeding. 


** It looked like four servings, but we both ended up eating seconds. To be fair, we'd gone on a run and we were both pretty hungry and I had very little cheese to top it with. If you had more cheese, or if you were less ravenous, or if you weren't too knackered to make a side dish, you'd probably get four servings out of it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The weekend, briefly

Thanks for all your sweet comments last week regarding the dormant stage. I did get in quite a bit of rest, although I think I could have used even more. We were fairly busy this weekend.

Up early(ish) on Saturday for hiking.

car, canyon
{car, canyon}

yellow trail
{yellow trail}

cactus
{cactus}

Watching D at work.

handy man
{handy man}

Tired feet.

socks, toes
{socks, toes}

Sitting on the couch.

couch
{couch}

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Abbreviated week

Guys, it is one of those weeks. I am tired. I am unmotivated. I fell asleep on the bus this morning, despite getting plenty of sleep last night. I haven't edited my new photos for the shop or sewn that skirt I've been meaning to get around to for the last month or cooked anything amazing. Our apartment is messy and every evening I get home from work and think about cleaning it and then decide to hide in our (unmade) bed and eat peanut butter out of the jar instead.

I used to call this lazy, but I've rebranded it and now I refer to it as dormant. What I've realized is that we all work differently. I like to operate at 110% capacity 80% of the time and then spend the rest of my time doing absolutely nothing. D prefers to operate at a slightly lower intensity all of the time, thus avoiding the need to completely collapse every so often. We basically get the same amount done, so clearly our systems work.

I like being super efficient and multitasking like a mad woman. It's satisfying. It lets me get a lot done. And I can go for days or weeks or months before I start feeling sluggish, like I'm pushing through instead of powering through. For the most part, I don't want to just push through my life.

So I pay attention and if possible, I give myself permission to stop almost entirely for a day or so. I explain to D that I'm taking a break and cannot be asked to make any decisions about anything, including meals. Then I lie in bed and re-read books I love. I let my mind wander. I refuse to feel guilty.* I mean, I still have to go to work, because it's hard to explain the dormant state to your boss, but I feel no obligation to do anything at home. And after a day or two (or sometimes just a few hours of hard napping), I suddenly find myself wanting to do all these things again.**

Some of you are probably thinking that this sounds like a totally crazy and dysfunctional cycle. It kind of is, but it works for me so I'm embracing it. I'll be back on Monday, hopefully all recharged.

* This method only works if I erase the guilt as completely as possible. If I lie in bed and feel guilty about it, I just find myself getting more and more exhausted and weighed down. Not recommended.

** Works best for me if the dormancy is as concentrated as possible. If I go half assed and try to keep getting stuff done while fitting in convenient naps and such, I can feel sluggish and unmotivated for weeks. I require a full on disconnect for a brief period of time.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pegboard garden center

A DIY project I had absolutely nothing to do with. D rescued an enormous empty frame from a job site. It is the largest frame I've ever seen and it had a truly hideous paint job. He repainted it with some sage green spray paint we had lying around and then added pegboard. I love it.

tools
{tools}

There are no before pictures because he is a normal person who doesn't think about taking pictures of ugly frames for posterity. He didn't even say anything when he finished it. I went out to water the plants and found it waiting patiently in the dwindling light. Pretty amazing.

balcony pegboard
{balcony pegboard}

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The weekend, briefly

My mom turned 60 this weekend and we normally celebrate her birthday in a big way. Time didn't permit this year, so we forewent the party and made her eat cake for breakfast instead.

the cake, 6 layers
{the cake, 6 layers}

Decade celebrations require more layers (one layer per decade) and I was a bit nervous about this one. Six layers is a lot of cake. Structural integrity becomes an issue. I made three batches of cake and four batches of fudge (recipes here) and enlisted D to be my spotter as I assembled. Total kitchen time was about 6 hours, I think, if you include the break I took while the cakes were cooling. I stuck bamboo skewers through the entire thing and let it set up overnight. We only cut through two layers at a time, because we literally don't have plates large enough to hold a six layer slice. I should have taken a picture with a ruler next to it for scale.

serving
{serving (photo by d)}

Also, drove through Lee*s for pre-baking sustenance (drive through banh mi is definitely one of the reasons I love SoCal),

banh mi
{banh mi}

tried Deb's new rib recipe (killer, but we want to do a bit of tweaking with the sauce),

ribs, remains
{ribs, remains}

went fabric shopping with mom (her stash, not mine),

fabrics
{fabrics}

Circe slept in and almost missed the birthday breakfast,

circe, morning
{circe, morning}

we tried a new taco place and didn't totally love it (but we are really picky, taco wise).

taco miendo
{tacomiendo}

Monday, August 16, 2010

Running behind ...

It was the annual CAKE weekend and I'm still recovering. Back tomorrow with photos.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday flowers

Creamy white flowers that were simply labeled "local stock."

local stock
{local stock}

Cheap, full of blossoms, nice texture. Downside? They smell vaguely like cinnamon-y pee. D isn't convinced that my description is accurate, although he agrees that they could smell better. Regardless, it's off putting. I won't be purchasing these again.

stock flowers
{stock flowers}

FYI - don't google "flowers that smell like urine" because it will be completely unhelpful (I still have no idea what these are really called) and slightly disturbing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The dark side of DIY

If the spreadsheet yesterday wasn't enough to clue you in, I'm an organized person.  I actually create a Thanksgiving information packet for myself every year with lists of recipes, multiple grocery lists, do ahead and day of task lists and an oven schedule in which every dish is assigned a specific time slot. I love this stuff. I wasn't corralled into planning R's wedding for her, I happily volunteered and I was thrilled that she was willing to let me help. We come from a family that entertains a lot, so it didn't sound totally crazy to go DIY. Basically, we were as well prepared for this as any regular people could be.

That said, we underestimated the work that goes into a wedding. Neither of us had ever done more than simply attend weddings. A wedding is huge. It is 100+ people and a ceremony* where you have to express your undying commitment to each other and a party where you have to make sure that people are comfortable and fed and watered and hopefully also enjoying themselves and you have to make sure people know where to be when and what they should wear.  And it isn't just supposed to be a good party, it's supposed to somehow transcend all normal parties and become magical.

I think the wedding was lovely. It made my sister happy, I'm proud of it, I blather on about it way too often for something that happened almost three years ago (!) and my sister and I had fun together scheming over it. You can see all that in the recaps (overview, invitations, dessert buffet, cake making). But it was rough at times (and it was about as simple as a wedding can get, unless you're just going to the courthouse), and I have learned valuable life lessons about delegating and letting things go and biting off more than you can chew without choking and/or getting tipsy on your first glass of champagne because you forgot to eat for a few days running. I'm grateful for this, truly. Otherwise I would undoubtedly have been forced to learn these lessons while planning my own wedding, and it would have been a huge bummer. So really, this was the best of all possible worlds - I learned that I'm crazy and overly ambitious and my sister got a free, if somewhat bossy and unprofessional, wedding planner.

I looked over the last month of planning schedule that I'd drawn up and just starting jotting down memories as they occurred to me. This won't be a super intelligent summary of dos and don'ts but the rambling stream of consciousness will give you a better idea of how those last few days went anyways. Please note that I did experience frustration with friends and family during this process and for the sake of being honest I admit it in some places below. Sorry, guys. I love you tons. You already know that I'm impatient and easily frustrated so you probably won't be surprised.

:: We ditched the programs altogether and no one seemed to notice. No big deal. People will love your programs if you make them and if you don't, they probably won't notice and they will be able to figure out what's going on, I promise you.

:: I end up taking Wednesday - Friday off work to finish stuff up. I pick up the flowers from the wholesaler on Wednesday morning and that goes smoothly. I feel very optimistic. I have a car completely full of hydrangeas and there is no traffic on the 405 and this combination makes me feel uncharacteristically whimsical. What could possibly go wrong?

:: Wednesday afternoon - I realize that the cake pans we thought we had for the wedding cake weren't what we needed so I waste valuable time running around to stores to get last minute stuff. Also, we need specific color dyes for the cake, according to Martha. And cake boards. And dowels. We have to go to a cake store because regular crafty stores don't even have all this stuff. Why was this not all purchased earlier? Oh, right. Because my mom was chained to the sewing machine making the flower girls' skirts and ties for the men and a sash for my dress. I (wisely) resist the urge to yell at her (partly because I actually enjoy the cake store quite a bit and we had fun) even though it was technically on her list (I think). Sorry, Mom.

:: My sister realizes she doesn't have shoes, so we go to a couple stores trying to find a good pair. Note that by "we" I mean my mom and I, because my sister has just started a new job and can't take any vacation days leading up to the wedding. Luckily my mom has the same size feet as my sister and I have the same taste in shoes. Between the two of us, we work it out. I resist the urge to call up my sister and yell at her for not picking out shoes earlier. Even though I know she's been incredibly busy settling into her new job and dealing with more important wedding stuff like the ceremony. Sorry, Sis.

:: No one has made playlists for the reception music. I tell them I don't care because it wasn't on my list of tasks. Figure it out or have a music-less reception or just put the iPod on random. I don't even have to resist the urge to yell at people because at this point I. Don't. Care. They get the message. The best man takes over.

:: We have the rehearsal on Thursday. The lady at the chapel warns us that locking our knees while standing during the ceremony can cause you to pass out. I start having mild panic attacks, picturing myself passing out in front of over a hundred people. This could have been left unsaid, I think. Unless you are having a full mass, there really isn't enough time to pass out.

:: Rehearsal dinner was at the local pizza place with pitchers of beer. Best idea ever (my sister's, naturally). We go out for a joint bachelor/bachelorette bar hopping expedition afterward, but I bow out after two drinks, consumed with visions of uncompleted tasks.

:: All the rental stuff is delivered on Friday morning and I have to be there to supervise and sign off. It takes longer than I expected. I have to convince the delivery guys to take the stuff through to the backyard (clearly stated in the contract) instead of dumping everything in the driveway and abandoning me.

:: I spend Friday baking cake layers, a bit frantically, when I was scheduled to be leisurely frosting the wedding cake. I am so distracted that I accidentally forget to add the cream cheese to some of the batches of batter. Only realize it when I notice that I have several bricks of unused cream cheese. Still tasted okay, luckily. There was no way I am remaking anything at this point.

:: We have girlfriends over on Friday night to help us arrange the flowers while we all eat pizza and talk. They are amazing and I think this was the best part of the preparation.

:: We set up the backyard on Saturday morning and it was a bigger hassle than I expected. Helpers need to be told what to do, preferably with a scale diagram with exact measurements of chair spacing. People expect me to know EVERYTHING and I start to get a little snappy. All the serving pieces for the dessert buffet need to be put in place and non-chilled stuff gets put out. Loads and loads of ice need to be procured for drinks. Cookies have to be unpacked and arranged. I call my sister and tell her there's no way I'm going to make it to the hair appointment she scheduled for me. Sad.

:: D comes down to help (he'd been in school, and couldn't get out earlier) and as soon as I get in his car I start bawling and CAN'T stop. Physically unable to stop. I give myself a full 10 minutes to cry it out (this is a epic sob fest for me, as I almost never tear up) and then pull it back together.

:: I end up frosting the cake less than an hour before the wedding, stressed in a major way. You guys, it was a huge cake. With a lot of frosting. We were supposed to have shaved fresh coconut flakes and things to decorate the cake. Eff that. My mom helped with the frosting while my stepdad cut dowels to order. Team work. We slap a bunch of leftover flowers on it, only later learning that hydrangeas are toxic. Spoiler alert - no one dies.

:: Fifteen minutes to go time. I manage to shower, finally. We somehow lose the blow dryer and I have a total freakout, but we borrow one from the neighbor and I recover, more or less. (Luckily my sister was getting her hair done at a salon, so she wasn't exposed to the craziness). I may or may not have yelled at several undeserving people at this point. I don't remember.

:: Ceremony is lovely, no one passes out. Reception goes smoothly and we go through massive amounts of champagne. I am a champagne pouring machine, which gives me a chance to talk to everyone and also ensures that they are slightly loopy for my speech. People chat and catch up. I don't blow my (unscripted) maid of honor speech. Cake is cut and served and only one person gets a dowel in his slice. It's our grandfather. He can deal with it. Dancing commences.

:: Bride and groom make their retreat, guests trickle out, family and friends help us break down all the tables and chairs and bag up the tablecloths and scrape and box up all the plates and glassware. This takes a while. I break down the dessert buffet and pawn leftovers off on guests. Give the toss bouquet to my favorite cousin because we forgot about until after my sister was gone. Wouldn't be surprised to find out my feet are actually bleeding at this point but I'm pretty sure they are surgically welded to my heels and I'm anesthetized by champagne and exhaustion.

:: D removes me and we drive through In'N'Out and I attempt to eat everything on the menu before falling asleep in the car.

This is what I try to remind people of every time they mention DIY wedding stuff. It's fun (if you already love projects - this is key), it gives you some flexibility, it can save money. But the bottom line is that there is a reason why people hire professionals and pay them scads of money. It is a LOT of work and there isn't any way of getting around it. I enjoyed it, because I'm the type of crazy person who genuinely loves planning stuff, but I still felt out of my league at some points.

In short ...

Edit your projects
Pick your battles
Remember that every fun little detail you add has to get packed up, carried in and later packed up and carried out
Pad every single time estimate you make by about 25%
An excellent day of (or site) coordinator could be a lifesaver


* I had absolutely nothing to do with the ceremony other than being told when to show up and where to stand. So anyone looking for pointers on writing your own ceremony will have to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The cookie spreadsheet, explained

Last week's frozen cookie dough post forced me to get going on something I've been procrastinating on for a loooong time. I've had lots of requests for the cookie spreadsheet I used while I was planning the wedding cookie buffet for my sister's wedding, and I'm terrible at getting back to everyone individually (and not always on a computer with the file). Sorry to everyone who thinks I'm ignoring them. This is for you! I'm honestly not sure how often anyone finds themselves in a position where they need to make this many cookies (Christmas, maybe? If you're really intense?), but it will help if you're trying to tackle a huge baking project.

And while I was figuring out how to explain the spreadsheet to you and clicking back and forth between the pages, I found the little last month of planning schedule that I'd drawn up for us so that everything would run perfectly smoothly. I looked at it and laughed hysterically for a minute and then decided to share some of my (less pretty) DIY wedding reflections with you, a few years later. That part is coming tomorrow.

For the uninitiated (people who have not been reading for long enough that you are horribly sick of hearing about this wedding already) there are a series of posts about my sister's family made wedding here (overview, invitations, dessert buffet, cake making).

Back to the spreadsheet - I've uploaded it to my Google docs, so you should all be able to view it here. I've tried to set it up so that you can't edit it, but you can download it in Excel format and play with it on your own computer. If you have trouble, let me know in the comments and I'll try to troubleshoot.

Keep in mind that it's going to take a lot of adaptation unless you want to make exactly the same cookies in exactly the same quantities that I did. I made this for myself, so it isn't foolproof at all, and it will work best if you're already very comfortable with Excel. Here's a brief rundown on how I used it ...

The first page is the master list of recipes. It includes all the recipes I decided to use and how many batches I needed. There is a little check off section so that I could check off batches of dough as I went along, to keep myself organized. There are notes about whether the cookies were to be frozen as dough or as baked cookies. You'll have to enter your own information here.

The second page is the master list of ingredients. I tried to include most of the common ingredients so I would know what to buy in bulk. I looked up rough cup to weight conversions for the dried goods, and they probably aren't exact but I didn't end up way over or under. In order to calculate the totals, you have to tell Excel where to find the values. We'll get to that.

The third and fourth pages are the broken down recipes. For each recipe, you'll need to enter the ingredients and the amounts in the correct columns. The spreadsheet will automatically calculate your scaled up amounts if you enter the number of batches you want to make. To figure out how many cookies you're getting, change the formula in the box that says "total" by substituting your number of cookies per batch for whatever number I have in there. Excel will automatically multiply it by the number of batches you've entered.

In general, I made four batches of each cookie by making two double batches. This saved the most work. Make them one after the other and you won't even have to wash the mixing bowl between batches, most of the time. I automatically had Excel calculate the amounts needed for the double batch, because I found this helpful.

Now the fun part - pulling it all together to get your shopping list. I won't lie, this part can be tedious and it's easy to make mistakes. You'll have to do it yourself because all the cells are going to be moved around once you sub your own recipes in for mine. Let's say you're trying to figure out how much flour you need. You go to the second tab (master list ingredients) and select the cell between "flour" and "cups". Delete whatever is there, because it's my information. Type an " = " sign so that Excel knows you're going to enter an equation. Then click over to the tab with your recipes and select the cell from the first recipe with the total amount of flour for that recipe (you're looking at the "extended" column). Once you've selected the cell, enter a " + " sign and then click on the flour cell for the next recipe. When you've selected all the flour cells, hit enter. You should automatically be taken back to the master list ingredients tab and the total amount of flour needed will show up.

Excel is picky and it can be annoying when you aren't used to it. I don't recommend this spreadsheet to beginners, but if you have some experience I think you'll find it's significantly faster than trying to manually figure out all these totals.

I left my random bits and pieces of information in here as well. If you're curious to see how the last month-ish  of wedding planning went, you can click over to the last tab and see my calendar. I work full time, so I packed in all the major activities on Saturdays. I had goals for each week (you can see them in one long cell that underlines the week in question), and this was stuff that I had to do during the evenings. I started baking on the first of October, to give myself a full month. I aimed to spend about three evenings a week baking or mixing dough, getting two - three recipes done each week. It actually wasn't that bad. Once you have it all laid out, there aren't any decisions to make. You just plug along until you finish the checklist. When you're making double batches of dough, it all goes relatively quickly. The cookie part of this went exactly as planned, but the last week of wedding prep was a killer, for everything except the cookies. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meat + veggie balls

I love meat balls but they have a tendency to feel a bit leaden. I don't know if it's just the sheer meatiness of them or the fact that they get manhandled as they're mixed and shaped, but they make me think of winter and huddling over heavy meals.

This recipe, on the other hand, feels positively summery. The meat gets a nice lift from copious amounts of shredded carrot and zucchini and the flavor you get from the fresh herbs is unbeatable.

grated carrots, zucchini
{grated carrots, zucchini}

The food processor is your friend here, but a little bit of elbow grease and a box grater will suffice. My carrots were straight out of my CSA box and came in a fancy variety of colors, but regular old orange ones work just as well. The veggies are sauteed and as they cool you chop herbs and plop the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Everything is gently mixed together and then you settle in for a little rolling session.

ready to bake
{ready to bake}

I like to make them on the small side, so that they can simply be picked up and popped in your mouth, no fork required. Of course, they're also amazing paired with marinara and pasta or piled on a fresh baguette.

meat + veggie ball
{meat + veggie ball}

I've played a bit with the original recipe, increasing the veggies and decreasing the meat and upping (and changing) some of the spices. I like to use fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme from my garden, but you can easily just use one or two of these, substitute dried spices, or choose different spices altogether. We also had some fresh chives lying around, so I chopped them up and tossed them in as well. The recipe is nothing if not forgiving.
Meat + veggie balls (adapted from The California Cook by Diane Rossen Worthington - serves 6 - 8)

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 - 4 medium carrots,* finely grated)
2 medium (not massive!) zucchini,* finely grated
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/3 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I use Sierra Nevada Porter mustard, always)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried)
2 teaspoons finely chopped oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (nice, but you're okay without it)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

:: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the onions and saute them for 7 - 10 minutes, stirring often, until they're soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the carrots and zucchini and cook for another 10 - 15 minutes, until the mixture is tender (but not mushy) and sweet. Set aside to cool.

:: Add all the other ingredients to a large mixing bowl. Once the veggies are cooled, add them as well. Using a large wooden spoon (or your hands, if you aren't grossed out) mix everything together until evenly combined.

:: Preheat the oven to 375 F. Have a couple of baking sheets ready, lined with aluminum foil or with a Silpat. Start with slightly damp hands and roll the mixture into meatballs that are about the size of a ping pong ball, or a bit smaller if you want dainty appetizers. Bake for 35 minutes (5 - 10 minutes less if you're going for a smaller size). 
These can easily be baked ahead and then re-heated to serve. I like to just eat them cold out of the refrigerator sometimes. Classy.

*The recipe tells you to peel your veggies first, which is probably a good idea if they're the standard supermarket quality. If they're organic and young, I would recommend leaving them alone and using them peel and all.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The weekend, briefly

Felt like we were barely even in the house this weekend, between family and friends. Which isn't reflected here at all - most of my weekend photos are still life, because sometimes the camera feels disruptive in actual people moments. Still deciding whether I want to try to break out a bit or if I actually prefer it this way.

sunday brunch
{sunday brunch}

sunday coffee
{sunday coffee}

fan
{fan}

washed
{washed}

Not pictured - lunch at umami burger (finally! - and it is as good as everyone has been telling us), longest baby shower I've ever attended (5 hours at least, but it was more fun because it wasn't exclusively female and it felt more like a regular party) and a catch up brunch with old friends that lingered on into the afternoon and ended with a walk to yogurtland.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday flowers

This is what my oregano looks like sometimes.

oregano flowers
{oregano flowers}

I think you're supposed to keep it trimmed so this doesn't happen, but I love those blossoms.

lavender, oregano
{lavender, oregano}

In other news - I did not kill my lavender! It's back in action, finally.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cookies to go

I discovered* the magic of freezing cookies and cookie dough while working on my sister's wedding and now it's my standard method. It's perfect for people like us because we never keep anything sweet in the house and we're fine with that, but it makes impromptu entertaining a little tough. I feel oddly compelled to provide some sort of dessert when we have guests.

We had people over a couple weeks ago and we wanted chocolate chip cookies. I made a double batch of dough, scooped it out onto a couple of baking sheets and stuck them in the freezer for a few hours. Once the dough is frozen, you can transfer all the cookies to an airtight container and just store them in the freezer until the next time you want them. No need to defrost - they'll only need a minute or two of extra baking time.

cookie dough balls
{cookie dough balls}

The advantage to this method is that you can bake just as many cookies as you need - no trying to pawn the extras off on your dieting coworkers. The disadvantage is that frozen balls of cookie dough are insanely delicious, so it can be tough not to pop one every time you walk through the kitchen. I store them in the most inconvenient place possible, forcing us to dig through piles of frozen stuff to get to them. It helps, a little. Consider yourself warned.

cookie dough ball
{cookie dough ball}

This method works perfectly with most cut out cookie recipes as well. As far as longevity goes, I've stored dough up to 2 months in the freezer and it's been fine. We've never managed to make it last any longer than that.

*Discovered is the key word here - not invented. Freezing baked goods or dough is pretty common, but I had never thought of doing it until I was faced with the logistical difficulty of making hundreds and hundreds of cookies.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Jars, update

So I bought some of those jars I was talking about last week. Here are my thoughts ...

32 ounces is not nearly as large in person as it is in my head. These wouldn't work for flour or sugar unless you like to buy those ingredients in very small portions. I can't even use them for nuts, because we buy them in bulk and they are, well, bulky. They are perfect for storing lentils and grains, however.

emma jars, lentils
{emma jars, lentils}

The lids are not super tight fitting, but they have a little gasket so I think they're still air tight. Under no circumstances should you attempt to hold the jar from the lid only. Disaster will ensue.

They are kind of stackable. If you have them against the back wall of the cupboard, they'll be fine. But they aren't exactly meant for stacking, which is sad.

emma jars, in use
{emma jars, in use}

I wrote on them with the sharpie, but this time added some pertinent information to the top of the jar. Cooking ratios, times and serving sizes, for quick reference.

instructions
{instructions}

I think I need some of the 20 ouncers for couscous and rice, which I purchase in smaller quantities.They look a little lost in the larger jars.

All in all, they're a pretty solid addition to the kitchen and they're relatively affordable. The 32 ounce jars were on 4 for 3 promotion, so I got 16 jars (4 packs of 4 and yes, I realize that I have a ton of dried goods - this only took care of my grain cupboard) for $54, with free shipping. The 20 ounce version isn't on promotion right now, so I'm holding off for the moment but I'm going to keep an eye on them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pearl couscous with shrimp

We eat couscous because I'm lazy. I've never mastered the art of making rice, and I don't eat nearly enough rice to justify the purchase of a rice maker. I actually gave in and started purchasing those frozen packets of already cooked rice from Trader Joe's. Yes, it is kind of ridiculous and a waste of money and packaging. But they take 3 minutes to cook and they make just enough rice for the two of us. It's my indulgence.

Back to couscous. I normally just get the whole wheat stuff that you mix with boiling water and fluff. Upgrading to the pearl couscous is a bit of a revelation. The texture is amazing and it holds its own in a cold salad. I'm pretty sure that the fresh herbs were key in this recipe because although the dressing is simple, it really sang. I think you could easily sub in whatever vinegar you have on hand and cut down on the olive oil just a smidge (I'm not a huge fan of too much oil in a cold salad). I also cut the amount of shrimp in half* and still felt like I was getting shrimp in every single bite.

Fair warning - we found this to be a massive quantity of food. Next time I'll be cutting the recipe in half, unless we need to feed an army.

israeli couscous + shrimp
{israeli couscous + shrimp}
Pearl couscous with shrimp (6 - 8 generous servings, original recipe here)

*The recipe calls for grilling the vegetables and shrimp - I'm sure this is amazing, but I took the easy route and just roasted stuff in the oven and used precooked shrimp. Gasp. If you want the original grilling instructions, click through to the original recipe.*

3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup olive oil
2 1/4 cups pearl couscous (aka Israeli couscous; 3/4 pound)
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl ounces)
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
2 lb large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined if necessary (1 lb was plenty for me)
2 medium red onions (1 pound total)
2 pounds large zucchini (about 4), cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
6 ounces feta, crumbled (1 1/4 cups) - totally optional, but delicious
:: Whisk together vinegar, oregano, thyme, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl until salt is dissolved. Add 1/3 (I think 1/4 cup would be better) cup oil in a slow stream, whisking until vinaigrette is combined. 

:: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wide 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then toast couscous, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and pale golden, 3 to 5 minutes. While couscous toasts, stir together broth, water, and saffron in a large glass measure. Add to couscous with 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed and couscous is al dente, 10 to 12 minutes.  When finished, the couscous will be tender but not mushy and the saffron gives it a beautiful golden color. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 10 minutes. Stir vinaigrette to combine, then stir 2 tablespoons into couscous and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature. 

:: Preheat oven to 425F. Cut onions into chunks and slice zucchini into wedges. Toss the veggies with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt in a large bowl. Spread out on a lightly oiled baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender, about 10 - 15 minutes. Don't crowd the sheet too much - I did this in two batches. 

:: If you are starting with raw shrimp, peel and devein them and you can either cook them in the oven or give them a quick saute in a pan. Shrimp cook in mere minutes, so this is easy. If you are even lazier, like me, you can just purchase cooked shrimp and proceed to the next step.

:: When the veggies are all cooked, toss them with the dressed couscous. Fold your cooked shrimp into the salad mixture. Serve right away or pop it in the refrigerator. It will be delicious straight out of the fridge the next day (or for the next four days, because this makes a ton of food and there are only two people in your house).
* Shrimp is one of my all time favorite foods but I save it for rare occasions because it's so hard to find ethically harvested options and shrimp farming is incredibly destructive. If I were an amazing person I would give it up altogether, but I settle for eating it a few times a year.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The weekend, briefly

We had a teeny tiny trip down to San Diego. To be more specific, the old town San Diego state historic park, possibly the most touristy area we can find. It has sentimental associations for us but I have to admit that I'd probably love it anyways. I have a wholly unaccountable fascination with places that look like wild west stage sets. I know. When I was a kid I owned a bonnet. And wore it.

agave
{agave}

old town SD
{old town sd}

We ate some serious white people mexican food (um, definitely wouldn't recommend actually eating here, but I always manage to forget that in the heat of the afternoon) and then headed over to Balboa Park for some walking and people watching.

papel picado
{papel picado}

mineral and gem society
{mineral and gem society}

Sunday afternoon I got to meet the new baby girl in our crew. She's the first born to my tight knit group of high school friends, so we're all honorary aunts. We took turns holding her and marveling over how calm and collected she is. I'm not one to get all mushy about babies, but she's pretty perfect.

sweet arm
{sweet arm}