Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday flowers

The garden roses are back in full force. They really are special.

garden roses
{garden roses}

Jules wrote about roses last week and I've been thinking about them ever since. It's so sad that the store bought variety seem diluted and wan compared to the homegrown ones.

garden roses trio
{garden roses trio}

These are the real deal. They scent the entire apartment. They make me happy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cinnamon rolls

You guys. Thank you so much for all the thoughtful input on my silly table dilemma yesterday. So useful. I'm reading over your comments carefully and taking note. And even though I would have given it to you anyways, here is the dough recipe I use for our family's cinnamon rolls. (And this year I used the same dough for the monkey bread and it was fabulous).

On Saturday morning I woke up and started staging my kitchen. Easter means cinnamon rolls, always. I use the recipe for Norwegian sweet yeasted dough (recipe 26) from The Tassajara Bread Book. I make four batches, which turns out to be a good thing because our guest list keeps growing and we end up with almost 20 people.  Not that 20 people need to eat four batches of sweet dough. It's a compulsion, the over-abundance of food.

dough, mixing
{dough, mixing}

I've missed baking. There is a lull after Christmas, with no real reason to bake and plenty of guilt if you do (ruining everyone's resolutions!). I've made the occasional dessert here and there. A standby berry tart, for company (except lately I've been making them even more simply - must remember to post about that soon). Chocolate chip cookie dough, to be frozen and then baked as needed.

dough, cinnamon
{dough, cinnamon}

I miss the quiet rhythm of the kitchen, getting my mise en place ready, stirring and kneading and rolling out.

cinnamon rolls, rising
{cinnamon rolls, rising}

The cinnamon rolls are good. I make the dough the day before, because there is enough to do in the morning without waiting for dough to rise. I roll it into rectangles, always swearing that I will figure out the exact right size and write it down. I never do. The dough is just barely sweet and lightly scented with cardamom. Everyone sneaks bites when they walk past (but they are polite, actually, and usually ask first). Circe begs, shamelessly.

There is no real recipe for the filling, but you can do it however you like. Sometimes I toss pecans and butter and brown sugar and cinnamon in the food processor and pulse until I have a mixture that is almost, but not quite, a paste. Sometimes I just pour melted butter over the dough and sprinkle it with a mixture of cinnamon and brown sugar (+ a healthy pinch of salt). I roll the whole thing up (roll the long side, so you don't end up with enormous rolls!) and then slice off thick pieces to bake. Sometimes I brush butter over the top of the rolls before I bake them and sometimes I forget.

sunday morning
{sunday morning*}

We have some birthdays coming up soon and I'm looking forward to the cakes, selfishly. I'm ready for some more leisurely kitchen time.

Sweet yeasted dough (slightly adapted from The Tassajara Bread Book, serves 6 - 8 very generously)

2 packages dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 1/4 cups lukewarm whole milk (test the temp on your wrist, it shouldn't be too hot)
1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (I chop it fine, because I don't have a grinder)
1 - 2 teaspoons fresh lemon or orange zest
3 cups white flour, plus an additional 1/2 - 1 cup for kneading

:: Mix the lukewarm milk with a couple teaspoons of sugar and stir in the yeast. Set aside to proof - just let it sit for 5 - 10 minutes to make sure that it starts to get foamy. (You don't have to proof, but I always do for peace of mind). Stir in the 1 1/2 cups of flour, beating well. Set aside for at least 15 minutes in a warm place. This is your sponge - it will start to rise quickly.

:: Using a stand mixer (or by hand, but I'll warn you that it will get a little tiring later on!), cream the butter and then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Don't worry if it looks a little curdled at this point, just scrape the sides down and keep going. 

:: Add the salt, cardamom and zest and the yeast sponge. Beat in 3 cups of flour, about 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides. Beat well to form a soft dough. 

:: Generously flour your work surface and your hands and start kneading your dough. The dough will be soft, so you'll need to add a bit of flour (probably 1/2 cup, possibly a little more) to make it smooth and not sticky. It will still be soft, so don't expect it to feel quite as elastic as whole wheat bread dough. Form it into a ball and transfer to a large bowl.

:: If you're going to use it right away, let it rise until doubled in size (about 40 minutes). If you are going to use it later, just pop the whole bowl in the refrigerator, covered with a damp cloth. I'll leave it in overnight and then just pull it out about 30 minutes before I need to use it so it can warm up. 

:: Shape your dough and add your fillings. You can see my notes above - I use a generous amount of cinnamon, brown sugar and a healthy pinch of salt, along with butter. Nuts or raisins are also good. Someday I'd like to just use really good jam, for a simple roll. If you are making rolls, go ahead and slice them and place them on the baking sheets (I like to use dental floss to slice dough - just loop the floss around the roll and then pull the ends tight). 

:: Allow the shaped dough to rise to about double, 20 - 30 minutes (I sometimes skimp on this and just give it 10 - 15 minutes, especially if I've done the overnight rise already). 

:: Bake at 350 - 375 degrees for 45 - 50 minutes until lightly golden. This is completely dependent on your shapes and sizes. In general, the smaller your shape, the hotter your temp. My cinnamon rolls cook at 375 for just 15 - 30 minutes, depending on how thick I make them. But if I were going to do this in a loaf then I would have used 350 and baked for closer to 50 minutes. Larger pieces of dough need more time to cook through without burning.

* This picture is from post-Easter 2009, and just looking at it makes me long for a cup of tea. Resisting on Easter, when tea and coffee were free flowing and real cream (my weakness) was readily available, was unbelievably difficult. The fact that I managed probably means that this lack of caffeine is making a difference.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Crowdsourcing - wedding layouts (slightly desperate)

So, we recently realized that we are approaching the four month mark. As in, we have about four months before we get married. Exciting and also terrifying, because we've mostly been busy procrastinating. After intense and stressful research, we booked the venue, signed a catering contract and hired a photographer. Then we gave each other high fives and stopped doing anything for a while.

I've been adamant all along that we are going to do top down wedding planning. This means that we start with the big stuff and work our way down to the details. We don't buy stuff just because we think we might be able to use it. We don't try to force colors to work in a venue that doesn't want to cooperate. We're coming up with an overall scheme, deciding which details will make the most impact, delegating or dropping everything else and then meticulously creating lists of what we need in order to complete the projects we've chosen.

And we've been stuck on tables. I don't get stuck often. I tend to weigh the pros and cons, do a quick gut check and then move on. But we've been wallowing in table indecision for the last three weeks and it's preventing us from getting down to anything else. I feel ridiculous. Even in the throes of indecision, I know that the tables are ultimately not going to make that big a difference, but I still can't pull the trigger. D doesn't want to make the call because he doesn't have a strong feeling either way and I clearly do. It's a tough spot. Price is equal for the two layouts or I would have let the money decide.

The decision feels slightly more complicated, because we don't fit in the room we originally intended to use for the ceremony, so everything will be taking place in the same space. I'm not even willing to consider hiring people to move chairs around post ceremony, so people will be sitting at their tables for the entire ceremony and reception. This makes the flow of the evening a little more difficult as well, and I'm sure you'll be getting another rambling post on that sometime in the near future. I apologize in advance, but what's the point of having a blog if you can't try to force strangers to help you make your wedding decisions?

Long tables

{rectangles! - to scale image of  the layout, click to see more detail}

feels like a family dinner
photographs well
easy for us to walk up and down the rows and chat with people
slightly bigger dance floor

harder to move around (is this true? the furthest you'd ever have to walk is 16 feet, which doesn't seem like much to me)
can only really talk to the people directly next to you and across from you
and the biggest one - our venue is a courtyard with a somewhat uneven surface, and I worry that it will be really hard to get the tables even

Round tables

66" rounds!
{66" rounds! - to scale image of  the layout, click to see more detail}

easy to walk around
more conversational (so I've been told)
less likely to look wonky on uneven ground
requires less in the way of centerpieces (um, we calculated the square footage of centerpiece for each layout)

more wedding-y, less family dinner
aesthetically less pleasing to me in our space
less defined aisle? (I think I'm just tacking this one on here to try to bolster support for the long tables, honestly)

So, if anyone made it all the way through that, thoughts? Specifically, as party guests, do you have a preference? Should I abide by the pros and cons lists and just go with the round ones? Sorry for the completely narcissistic post - I promise that once we get this settled (and a couple of other nagging issues - SoCal DJs that won't make me want to die and that I can potentially afford, anyone?) we'll be moving onto the more fun parts and the pictures will be prettier.

Edited to add: You guys are amazing! Thanks so much to everyone who has chimed in. Hearing everyone's opinions and experiences does make it easier. I probably should have noted a couple details - we will be doing arranged seating regardless of whether we use round or long. I don't want any awkward high school cafeteria moments where people have to seek out empty seat. Also, our round tables are 66" wide and will seat 10, just barely (we did check in person) so they aren't quite as large as the 6 foot tables you sometimes see. Our rectangular tables are 30" across, which is pretty comfortable distance for talking to the people on the other side (again, we checked in person). The rectangular tables are arranged with restaurant standard room between them so hopefully it wouldn't feel anymore crowded than a restaurant. Marrying an architect has major perks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The weekend, briefly

The weekend was filled with baking and eating and visiting and driving.

easter baking
{easter baking}


monkey bread prep
{monkey bread prep}

egg trays
{egg trays}

easter 2011, daffodils, circe
{daffodils, circe}

peeps, eggs
{peeps, marshmallow eggs}

penelope, easter 2011
{penelope, easter}

I think we're all completely exhausted, including the dogs.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Guest post

Hey kids! Still haven't had a chance to go through my photos this weekend, so nothing to look at today.

BUT, Jamie had her baby (!) and a few of us are contributing while she enjoys some time off. I have a guest post up today (part one of two) for those of you who might want to start sewing but feel intimidated. It isn't scary, I promise. You can check it out right here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday flowers

For me, freesia are the clearest sign of spring. They pop unbidden out of the ground in my parents' yard, a ghostly remnant of the previous owner, a tiny old woman who adored her enormous garden and her tuberous plants. They always seem to arrive just in time for Easter, yellows and purples and whites. We tuck dyed eggs around their bases, inhale the sweet scent. They are fleeting.

flowers, wine
{flowers, wine}

The days are getting longer - have you noticed? The other day I left work, walked to the grocery store for food and flowers, came home and found our apartment filled with light. I poured myself a glass of wine and snipped away.

evening arranging
{evening arranging}

Freesia are simple to arrange, because it's best if you leave them to their own devices. I find they always want to list to one side, so I let them.


Evening light, I've missed you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Homemade peeps

I love Peeps, but few people in my family agree with me. I understand that they are completely artificial and get stale very quickly. I still love them. Last year, in an attempt to sway people, I made my own. At the very least, politeness would force them to say they enjoyed them.

beaters, dripping
{beaters, dripping}

I used my usual go to marshmallow recipe and attempted to pipe them into shapes. I don't recommend this. Getting that marshmallow goo in a pastry bag is hard and it made my complete failure even more teeth gnashingly bad.

attempt 1
{attempt 1 - this was supposed to be a chick}

The method I finally settled on is less three dimensional, but much easier to achieve. I just spread the marshmallows in a large pan as usual, let them set and then used cookie cutters dusted with powdered sugar to cut out shapes. Once you have a big pile of shapes, get a small bowl of water and a couple bowls of colored sugar (I make my own). Dip each marshmallow in water briefly and then roll in the colored sugar and set aside to dry.

homemade peeps
{homemade peeps}

They are pretty adorable, and exponentially more delicious than the original. Also good in hot chocolate if Easter evening ends up being chilly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Surprise eggs

I used this tutorial for surprise eggs from not martha last year and they were a big hit.

eggs, water
{eggs, water}

I stamped letters directly on the eggs rather than on slips of paper. I cracked a couple during the process, but not too many.

eggs to crack
{eggs to crack}

It's an easy project, but leave yourself plenty of time for them to dry. As in, make them right now and let them dry until Friday or Saturday to be absolutely sure of things. Because damp jelly beans are depressing.

shells, candy
{shells, candy}

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The weekend, briefly

So much running around and so few photos. I had one of those days where I thought I had a perfect schedule set up and then everything I did ended up taking 1.5 times as long as I expected. Hopelessly behind by the end of the weekend.

tangerines, daisies
{tangerines, daisies}

circe exploring
{circe exploring}

snowy tail
{snowy tail}

granola bars, half chocolate
{granola bars, half chocolate}


Weekend notes:

It's funny, how I can be so done with oranges this late in the season but a friend offers up tangerines and I'm all over it. They are so good. She also gave me several grapefruit, which I promptly devoured. I do love citrus.

D likes chocolate on his granola bars (shockingly, I'm not crazy about chocolate, so I usually don't go for it). The method I've settled on is to sprinkle chocolate chips over his half of the tray after the bars are all rolled out. Then I stick it in the (still warm but not on) oven for a few minutes to let them soften up and use the offset spatula to spread them out. Cool in the fridge if it's warm out. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday flowers

More ranunculus for me this week. I splurged on three bunches in different colors (still only ended up being $9 total).

ranuncs, taxes
{ranuncs, taxes}

I love their ruffled petals, but I also love the delicate windy stems. They manage to be sparse and lush at the same time. 

ranuncs, close
{ranuncs, close}

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Best mashed potatoes

This is one of those things that I do and I'm assuming everyone else already does it, so I don't bother posting about it. But maybe you don't?

I use always use Greek yogurt when I make mashed potatoes.

mashed potatoes
{mashed potatoes}

You will need about 1/2 cup per pound of potatoes. I use the Trader Joe's 2% Greek yogurt. Your potatoes will taste like the fully loaded kind - you know, where you add sour cream and butter. They are just a bit tart and completely delicious. I'll sometimes add just a wee bit of butter (about a tablespoon) but I'm not sure you can taste the difference. And you might need a splash of milk if you like them thinner. Salt and pepper as usual. They are the best, truly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Keeping track

Okay, so the chalkboard craze is definitely a little overblown. But I still maintain that part of the reason it's a craze is because it's useful (while still being more attractive than a whiteboard). Case in point - I was having a hard time maintaining a mental list of what we had in our fridge at any given time, and chalkboard decals seemed like the easiest option.

fridge organizer
{fridge organizer}
Sorry - it's impossible to get an accurate picture because there is a window directly facing the fridge and it reflects light. In person, it's a lot easier to read these. 

Basically, I found these chalkboard decals and we stuck them on the fridge. Ta da! You can peel them off and reposition them, in theory, but we haven't tried that yet. (Another option would be chalkboard contact paper, which is cheaper, but I didn't want a whole roll of it lying around)

Currently, we have separate lists for "leftovers", "to buy" and "to eat". The "to eat" list usually has all the veggies that come in our CSA box and also any bits and pieces (half a container of stock, for example). If you eat something or use something, you erase it off the list. The leftovers list is particularly helpful in the mornings because it reminds us to grab a container of leftovers for lunch as we're running out the door.

I think this plan is going to help us maximize our food efficiency, which has always been a weak point for me because I just plain forget what we have open. We've definitely done a much better job of eating at home for the last couple weeks, and while I'm not sure that it's because of the system, I think it's helped make it less daunting.

The problem is it's hard to stop - I'm totally tempted to paint some little squares on our leftover containers with chalkboard paint, so that we could label them as we stick them in the fridge. Probably overkill, but it would be so satisfying to look in there and see everything neatly labeled.

P.S. - The calendar on the fridge is the fabulous perpetual gardening calendar from krankpress. I bought it a couple years ago and flipping the page each month gets me excited for the new seasonal produce. And they now offer it for several different regions, so it isn't just for so cal people anymore.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The weekend, briefly

We had goals this weekend.

weekend plans
{weekend plans}



tangible love
{tangible love}

late lunch
{late lunch}

rescued succulents
{rescued succulents}

Weekend notes:

I did get my taxes done, but I bailed on wedding planning. We need to figure out the floor plan and we keep getting stuck on table layouts (and round vs. rectangular). And we're not allowing ourselves to move onto anything detail related until all the big stuff is settled. Humph.

The first oranges of the season are for eating, absolutely. The last oranges of the season, so ripe they only last a day or so out of the fridge, are for juicing. I normally don't bother with cute gestures (because I think they are mostly wasted on men - even very stylish architects with excellent taste in design) but I had been an exhausted and generally lame partner last week, and I knew D wanted to get around to juicing those oranges, so this was a thank you specifically for him.

Quiche makes an excellent weekend supper. I used my basic recipe, but this time used a whole bunch of swiss chard (sauteed and then finished with a splash of vermouth), brown button mushrooms, and green onions.

A local shopping center did a lovely job landscaping with foxtail agave but hasn't been keeping up with it and the planters are over run with pups. D couldn't handle the temptation anymore, so we rescued a few and brought them home so they could be appreciated.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday flowers

We are big sage lovers around here. I like it in pancakes, added to mac and cheese, on pizza, sauteed with cabbage, grilled with pork chops, stirred into risotto, baked in quiche. And I haven't even posted about my undying love for sourdough bread and sage stuffing.

Clevelandii sage is my very favorite, and the variety I have planted in our little garden is lackluster by comparison. So I took some sprigs of Clevelandii sage from my mother's garden and I'm going to let them root and then transplant them.


I just cut some stalks from the original plant, making sure to get the woody portion of the stems. Then I put them in a jar of water which I refresh every other day. Fingers crossed, I'll have some new sage babies soon. This does work - I tried it with basil last year!

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I gave up caffeine* a little over two weeks ago. And while I'm luckier than I deserve to be (no headaches, no sleepiness), I'm mourning the loss of my daily cups of tea and occasional coffees.

saturday afternoon tea
{saturday afternoon tea}

I know I could switch to decaf, but I'm stubborn. So I'm mourning. Drinking even more water than usual to make up for it (I'm up to well over a gallon per day, which shocked me when I added it up as I was writing this).

I'm still deciding whether I can allow myself the occasional coffee if I go out somewhere (I was really sad that I couldn't order coffee to go with our monkey bread on that rainy Sunday) and I think I probably will, at some point. And I'll go back to tea eventually. This is just a break, not a break up.

* I've always had trouble with anxiety, and I'm (mostly) okay with that because it's part of who I am and I've learned to deal with it. Periodically, I get hit with more anxiety than usual and caffeine apparently exacerbates it. So this is an experiment to see if less caffeine = fewer panic attacks. So far, I think it's helping. Even if it is a bummer.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spice clutter

Our spice area had gotten out of control. I tend to buy in bulk and then transfer them into recycled glass bottles. I hadn't put labels on the bottles because I (usually) know what they are and also because I have this grand idea about finding the absolute perfect replacement and then labeling them.

Apparently, after too many frustrating attempts at guessing the contents, D took initiative. I walked into the kitchen one day and found this ...

spice racks
{spice racks}

Green masking tape was not exactly the elegant solution I had in mind, but I'm surprisingly into it.

And to be honest, I've wasted more hours of my life searching for the perfect spice jar system than I even care to admit (besides checking all the standard places, I've also done extensive research on labware suppliers, but I've yet to make up my mind - it's ridiculous). Someday I'll figure it out, but for now, this totally works.

If you're wondering, we're using an Ikea rack for holding the spices, but it wasn't designed for that purpose. We bought a wire basket kind of like this one (they don't sell the one we have anymore, sadly) and then took off the handle and screwed it directly to the wall. Luckily, our current apartment has a space on the wall away from both the stove and direct light, so we can store them out for easy access without worrying about damage from heat and light.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The weekend, briefly

very interested
{very interested}

circe eats a taco (carnitas)
{circe eats a taco (carnitas})

baby head
{baby head}

tiny feet
{tiny feet, baptism dress}

bike conglomeration
{bike conglomeration}

tasting flight
{tasting flight}

tasters finished
{tasters finished}

train tracks, wisteria
{train tracks, wisteria}

Weekend notes:

* Circe likes carnitas or chicken tacos on corn tortillas. She is only allowed one. She does eat the tortilla.

* A baptism for a dear friend's adorable baby, and I'm pretty sure that the baby won for best dressed, hands down. Do you see that pleated tulle? We were all jealous of her outfit.

* The Eagle Rock brewery is so cool that it doesn't have any signage, apparently. But the bikes in the front were a huge giveaway. The beers were good and they have growlers that you can get refilled, which is why I found them in the first place, doing obsessive searches to see if I could find a local source. Sadly, this isn't nearly local enough for us to be swinging by for regular fill ups. I'll keep looking.

* The wisteria is popping up all over the place and I love seeing it. I was tempted to walk further down the tracks to get a better picture but the trains were running pretty frequently and I decided to be reasonable. You can just barely see the purple blossoms draping over the fence in the last shot.