Friday, August 29, 2008

Wedding-y post

I have a confession to make - I read wedding blogs obsessively. It's odd because I never even thought about weddings until my sister got married last year and I planned her wedding for her, which was so much fun that it kind of got me hooked on the whole thing. I'm not getting married anytime soon, and when I do, I am unlikely to have a Martha Stewart approved shindig (current ideas being kicked around in our house are either a taco truck or a huge barbecue, which should give you an idea of what might play out for us) but I do enjoy all the eye candy floating around in the blogosphere.

So how excited was I to see that one of my favorite wedding bloggers finally posted her photos?

That dress makes me want to jump up and down. Head over to Peonies and Polaroids to check out the rest.

In more wedding related news, on Saturday I'll be in the wedding of a dear high school friend, and I'm cutting out early today to make it to the rehearsal. When I get back I'll have a couple of crafty wedding projects to share that I was keeping secret before.

Have a wonderful, long weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Praha is perfect

Grabbed my new J. Crew catalog on the way out the door this morning and was delighted to see that their latest photo shoot was in Prague! You must go to the website and check out the video if you haven't already. It's delicious.

Prague might be my favorite city in the world. I've been three or four times and I would go back in a heartbeat if someone offered me a plane ticket. It's just unbelievably gorgeous, chock full of tiny, perfect museums and beautiful little cafes. Oh, and the beer is insane. I mean, so good that the last time D and I went to Prague we came equipped with spare space in our luggage, bubble wrap and giant ziploc bags just so we could carefully wrap some precious bottles of beer for transport back to the US. Totally worth it, even though I was a little afraid the beer might explode in our bags and leave us with alcohol soaked clothes. (It didn't).

We visited the brewery while we were there, naturally. I notice that it is not featured in the J. Crew video, which I think is a major oversight.

Prague - Staropramen love

Go check out the J. Crew video! Or go to Prague. You'll love it.

Weeknight pizza

A bowl full of rising dough just makes me happy.


I was a little tired when I got home last night, but the thought of handmade dough sounded comforting. And it's really so much easier than you might think. I don't even break out the mixer for this one (and I am notoriously lazy about handmixing as a rule), just stir it all together with a wooden spoon and then knead it well and leave it to rise in the warmest place I can find.

TJ's sausage, red onions, roasted bell peppers (also from TJs), cheese

These are our standard pizza toppings because I always have this stuff on hand. We both prefer cheeses other than mozzarella. Parrano is our usual standby - it's a little like gouda.


I like a super thin crust, so I roll it out accordingly.


I pre-heat the oven as high as it will go (500F) with the pizza stone inside. Then I pull the pizza stone out, quickly lay out the dough and the toppings and get it back inside the oven as quickly as possible. Make sure you have good oven mitts.

My go to pizza dough recipe is adapted from The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking, which I randomly picked up on sale at some point. It has step by step photos for lots of basic recipes, which I've found helpful.

Pizza Dough (makes enough for 2 thin crust pizzas or 1 thicker crust pizza)
3/4 cup lukewarm water (just barely warm to the touch)
2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
2 1/4 cups flour (I use a blend of white and whole wheat)
2 tbsp olive oil

  1. Mix the water, yeast and sweetener together and allow to stand for 10 minutes. The mixture should be bubbly by the time you come back to it - if it isn't, your yeast isn't working. This is called proofing and you can skip the step, but I usually at least do a quick check. The yeast needs warmth and a little bit of sugar to be active, but water over 110F will kill it.

  2. While the yeast proofs, measure out your flour, salt and olive oil.

  3. Mix everything together until it forms a dough. I often have to add just a little bit more water at this point, but you don't want to get your dough too wet.

  4. Knead your dough. If you used a mixer for the previous step, you might not have to knead for very long, because the mixer has done some of the work for you. I like to do this by hand, and I usually end up kneading the dough for about 10 minutes. It's a good arm workout. The dough should be nice and smooth when you are done. Form it into a ball and put it back in bowl. Cover loosely with either plastic wrap or a damp kitchen cloth and place it in the warmest place in your house.

  5. Let it rise for 45 minutes or so, or until doubled in size. If it's cold, sometimes my dough barely rises and it still works out. It's pretty forgiving. Roll it out to your desired thickness on a lightly floured surface.
That's it! Make sure your oven (and your pizza stone) is pre-heated and have all the toppings ready when you get your stone out. The pizza doesn't have to cook for very long - maybe 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the heat of your oven and the thinness of your crust.

It takes just a little bit longer than calling out for pizza, and it feels about a million times more satisfying.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Butternut squash OD

You know how sometimes a recipe that sounds okay in your head just falls flat? Oh, that doesn't happen to you? Well, it does to me. And it did, on Monday. I had a huge excess of butternut squash and I couldn't think of anything to do with it. I'd had a long day at work and cooking sounded therapeutic.

So I peeled it.


And chopped it.


And roasted it.


And mixed it with penne and fresh tomatoes and basil, figuring they would help bring out the summery qualities.


And it was just...meh. A little too sweet, a little too boring, not quite enough pop. I added some balsamic vinegar, which helped give it a bit more balance, but not quite enough.

Sigh. Next time I'll spend the 5 minutes looking for a recipe on Epicurious. This recipe looks amazing, and it would give me an excuse to buy a pasta maker.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why I love my parents' house

(Still catching up from this weekend!)

Dropped by on Sunday and these beauties were sitting on the table.

Homegrown roses, native asters and something else I can't identify

And this munchkin was lounging around looking cute.

Circe, the wire haired fox terrier

And late summer flowers are still popping up everywhere.

Not sure what this is, but it's a safe bet that it's a California native

Just lovely. The funny part is that my mom stresses out because the house won't seem to stay in "company ready" state. Meaning that there are sometimes piles of books and magazines next to the couch, and a bit of dust on the shelves, and someone is usually refinishing a piece of furniture, so there might be some wood waiting to be sanded, and my mom loves changing the wall colors, so there is often a room that is mid paint job.

But here's the thing - my parents are always company ready. If an unexpected guest happens to drop by, their faces light up and you get bear hugs, and they will push aside a stack of projects so you can sit down and talk.

Which really seems so much better. Because I would rather be a company ready person than a person with a company ready house. Wouldn't you? After all, your friends aren't going to don white gloves and do a dust check before they sit down to gossip. And if they do, I would get some new friends, stat.


We finally made it over here. We got lucky and managed to get a table on Saturday night despite not having made reservations. Somehow we walked in at just the right moment.

Pizzeria mozza

I'm happy to say it lived up to the hype. Squash blossom and burrata pizza was awesome. We ordered the simplest appetizer on the menu - big hunks of toasted bread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and garlic. Absolutely perfect. As D pointed out "Why would you come to Nancy Silverton's restaurant and not get bread?" I couldn't agree more, even though I did somehow manage to breathe in a hunk of sea salt (umm... trying to swallow without chewing, maybe?), which did not agree with my lungs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ikea madness

Have you ever been to the fabric section at Ikea? I hadn't. I guess when people talked about Ikea fabrics I always assumed they were hacking up the curtains or something. Not so. The fabric section is crazy - just massive bolts of fabric tossed everywhere, with no labels or anything. You are pretty much guessing at the cost, but nothing is over $8.99 a yard, which is amazing for the quality. Yes, I said quality in reference to Ikea. But they are nice cotton and linen blends that actually have a nice heavy weight. We picked up a couple yards each of these three:

Patricia, Fialena, and Stockholm Blad

The one with black and white triangles is ridiculously cute, but you have to see the whole pattern.

Wide view of Fialena, from Ikea's website

I will say that while picking out the fabrics is fun, getting them cut is not. Various employees milled in and out of the fabric section, but it took a long time to snag someone. And he was maybe 16 years old, and couldn't remember how many inches were in a yard, and they don't have actual fabric scissors, so watching him hack his way through my gorgeous Fialena was making me wince. Then, because the bolts aren't labeled, we all had to pitch in to try to figure out what fabrics we had and how much they cost. I was so relieved to get out of there, clutching my hard earned pieces.

Naturally, I picked up these little guys on my way out.

Farm vases from Ikea ($1.99 each!)

I've been staring at them online and on other people's blogs for quite a while now.

And those couch cushions I've been thinking about? Well, these aren't Marimekko, but they are green and graphic and they fit the throw pillows on my couch perfectly.

Hedda Rak cushion covers ($12.99 for two) from Ikea

Sorry. The picture is a little blurry, because the light was low, and that is the loveseat and not the sofa where they actually live, but you get the idea.

Yes, I did other things over the weekend besides shop at Ikea. Maybe I'll eventually get around to posting about them.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Apartment envy

Was anyone else drooling over the Rita Konig decorating tips that Chelsea posted over at Frolic all last week? I've been dying. Those sparse, gorgeous rooms? The oh so not perfect paint jobs? Heavenly.

I'm also jealous because my two best girl friends are in the process of moving into new apartments and they get to go furniture hunting, look at paint swatches and just generally have fun. Okay, I know that moving is stressful, but it still makes me wish I could toss everything out of our apartment and start fresh. I even spent part of last weekend dreaming of painting the apartment pale colors and throwing out all my furniture. But here's the thing - that's not my apartment.

It's like wanting to have Angelina Jolie's body. She's lovely, but I will never look like her. And it isn't that I eat too much and don't exercise enough, it's just that I am not Angelina Jolie. Those rooms are kind of like that to me. I love looking at them, and they inspire me to do the best with what I have, but in the end, I know that I'm never going to live in a sparse, airy apartment.

Despite my fear of clutter, D and I are "stuff" people. Between the two of us, we have 3 bikes, 3 surfboards, 4 (working) cameras, supplies for lino cuts, sewing, card making, goccoing, book binding, crocheting, cooking and probably lots of other things I am forgetting. And we actually use all of it. That whole "if you haven't used it in two years, get rid of it" thing, well, everything in our place gets used regularly. I occasionally go on clutter rampages and frantically look for things to get rid of. I think D lives in fear of this. But lately, there isn't much to toss. We are busy people with more hobbies than anyone needs and we live in an apartment that is less than 700 square feet (which includes our huge balcony) and we like to entertain. And it works.

How exactly do we prevent any anti-clutter OCD freak outs on my part? Mostly with shelving. D has put custom shelves everywhere for us. In the cupboards, the closets, even shallow display shelves on the walls for the little bits of gorgeousness that we can't bring ourselves to part with. I think that every usable storage space in our apartment is being used.

So, nowhere I ever live is going to be as lovely as those beautiful spaces I drool over daily, but in the spirit of appreciating what you have, we are going to shower the apartment with a bit of love this weekend. Namely, a few more display shelves for the kitchen (I just can't bear to hide my thrifted treasures in a dark cupboard), finally hanging up the art that has been propped against the wall for three years (whoops) and maybe adding a few new pillow covers to the couch.

After Chelsea featured Kalla design on her blog, I was so tempted to buy some pillows, especially this one. But my couch currently has more pillows than anyone needs, they are just all in the same boring beige fabric. If I buy new pillows I'll have to toss some of the old ones, which seems wasteful. So now I'm shopping around for fabric that I love. Unfortunately, I seem to have expensive taste, because these were my first two choices.

Marimekko prints from Reprodepot, found here and here.

At about $45 a yard, I think I'll have to opt for something cheaper, and I do love this print.

Again, from Reprodepot, found here.

I can't decide if the colors will pop as much as I want them to. I think I'll keep looking for something green and graphic.

So, my little apartment, you may not be Angelina Jolie, but I love you. You are cozy, and comfortable, and I really do think that you reflect us.

Plans for the weekend: Fabric shopping, art hanging, Ikea trip (maybe), carpet cleaning, accepting myself (and my non-sparse non-photo ready apartment) for who I am.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Savory bread pudding

This might be one of my new favorite recipes. I found it on the internet, but it is originally from Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane Rossen Worthington. I own one of her other cookbooks, The California Cook, and a couple of my standbys are out of that one, so I trust her.

I was a little weirded out by the idea of savory bread pudding initially, but it's delicious. It's perfect for when you host brunch, because everything gets set up the night before (and the prep is pretty minimal, anyways) and all you have to do is take it out of the fridge and bake it the next day. The only thing I love more than a good meal is a good meal where I barely have to do any work.

At D's request, it has transitioned from brunch to dinner. I prepped the ingredients the night before (chopped everything, got the bread cubes ready, cooked the bacon), then mixed it all together in the morning, left it in the fridge all day and baked it when I got home from work. Easy peasy.

The finished dish

I'm posting her recipe here, but adding a couple of comments in italics throughout. I haven't tried any substitutions yet, but I'm sure I will eventually. Well, I guess being out of spinach and just leaving it out is kind of a substitution.

Savory Bread Pudding with Bacon, Peppers, and Spinach
from Seriously Simple Holidays

Serves 6 to 8 (I've tested this and it serves 6 very hungry people - you can cut the recipe in half, which is what I often do)

In this quintessential Christmas brunch dish, crisp, mahogany-red bacon and red peppers contrast with bright green spinach leaves. The pudding makes breakfast or brunch a one-dish meal, though I like to serve it with a winter fruit platter (not totally sure what a winter fruit platter is, but whatever). Remember to start the recipe two days in advance, as the bread cubes need to dry out and the pudding must set before baking. Don’t worry about this – I usually do it in one day and it just sits overnight.


  • One 14-ounce loaf olive ciabatta, crusts removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or sourdough)
  • 1/2 pound apple wood-smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
  • 2 cups spinach leaves
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 cups milk or half-and-half (I used 1% milk this time, and it was perfectly fine)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. One day before preparing the pudding, place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature overnight, or until the cubes are dried out (or stick them in the oven at 375F for 10 minutes, shaking them around a few times until they are hard).

2. The next day, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, turning once, for 5 minutes, or until evenly brown and crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain. I always cook bacon in the oven, because I am terrified of being splattered by hot grease – just lay the bacon out on a cookie sheet and bake at 375F for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally. I also pour off excess grease once or twice during this time.

3. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the cubes in the dish. Scatter the bacon, peppers, and spinach leaves evenly over the cubes. Sprinkle with the 2 cups cheese. With a large spoon, evenly distribute the ingredients. It's easier if you just mix everything together in a big bowl and then toss it in the buttered dish.

4. In a large bowl, whisk together or beat with an electric mixer on medium speed the eggs, milk, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended. Ladle the milk mixture over the bread, using your fingers, if necessary, to press the bread into the liquid. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. I actually wait to add the cheese on top until I uncover it the next day, because otherwise the cheese sticks to the aluminum foil and it’s a bit of a mess.

5. The next morning, remove the baking dish from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking (I didn't want to wait a full hour, so I filled the sink with about an inch of hot water and set the bottom of the dish in it for about 10 minutes - just to take the chill off) and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until slightly puffed, set, and browned on the top. If the center is still underdone, push the bread down with a wooden spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. Bake for a few more minutes. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into squares. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Advance Preparation

Make up to 4 hours ahead, cover, and keep at room temperature. Reheat in a 350 degrees F oven for 15 minutes, if desired.

The Clever Cook Could:
  • Substitute 1 cup smoked Gouda for the Cheddar cheese.
  • Substitute 1/2 pound cooked, thinly sliced sausage for the bacon.
  • Substitute challah or French bread for the ciabatta.
  • Add 3/4 cup sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions instead of the peppers. This one sounds particularly delicious to me!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eye candy

TenOverSix is a new accessories only boutique opening up in LA. I'm sure it will be lovely and I won't be able to afford anything in it. But it doesn't cost anything to ogle at the cute store set up.

Check out more fun photos here.

How fun is their jewelry display? It makes me wonder how angry my landlord would be if I started hacking large holes in the wall and framing them.

{via Tasha over at Racked LA}


I've been tagged (and given a Brilliant Weblog Award!) by the lovely Megan of Sweet & Low. I check her blog daily, and I love reading her sweet recipes and being inspired by all the lovely things she posts. Thanks, Megan!

What are the last 3 things you purchased?
- Super cute A-line skirt from Anthro
- Huge order from American Apparel - working on a project I can't share just yet.
- Groceries? I can't remember, but that seems right.

What are the last three songs you downloaded?

- Is it weird to admit that I've never downloaded a song? I'm such a dork - I still buy CDs. The last CD to come into our house was Beck's new album Modern Guilt.

What were the last three places you visited?
- Mexico (Mexico City, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, and a village - packed trip!)
- Prague, Czech Republic (my third trip there, which might qualify me as an addict)
- Washington D.C.

What are your three favorite movies?
- I Heart Huckabees
- The Royal Tenenbaums
- Little Miss Sunshine

What are your three favorite possessions?
- My Nikon D40
- My electric tea kettle
- My vintage Le Creuset set

What three things can you not live without (other than family and friends)?
- Neutrogena Healthy Defense Face Lotion
- Black tea
- Old school DCT Blistex - I have one for each purse, one for work, one for home

What would be your three wishes?
- To be happy
- To make other people happy
- To have all the people I love living in the same city (would settle for the same state)

What are three things you haven’t done yet?
- Traveled anywhere in Asia
- Eaten an entire pie in one sitting (so close, though, I hate to say)
- Made a serious effort to learn how to surf (sorry, D!)

What are your three favorite dishes?
- Really good thin crust pizza
- Sweet potato fries
- Lemon meringue pie

Name three things that freak you out
- Room temperature milk - must be either ice cold, or hot for hot cocoa
- Clutter
- Kidnapper vans (aka large vans without windows - I refuse to park next to them, ever)

Name three unusual things you are good at
- Dropping things but managing to catch them at the last second
- Jenga
- Standing in tree position for long periods of time

What are three things you are currently coveting?
- A sweet little house - I mean, the market keeps dropping, right?
- That stupid Old Navy jacket that I still haven't made up my mind about
- The gorgeous, insanely elegant midcentury couch I saw at the flea market (the purchase of which would necessitate a complete re-do of my apartment, because it would be so much nicer than anything I own)

I'm going to tag Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere and Melanie of you are my fave. If you have time, of course. These girls have amazing blogs that keep me highly entertained when I should be working. You definitely both deserve a Brilliant Weblog Award!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Loving it

Can anyone else believe that it is already mid-August? I'm in denial. The weather has been ridiculous this summer (I have a superstitious fear of even writing this, because I might jinx it). I think we've had maybe 5 days where it has been overly hot. Compare this to last summer, where I spent half my time sprawled on the couch, whining about the heat, and the other half scanning the movie listings, looking for the longest movies just so I could sit in the air conditioned theater. I think the mild weather has fooled me into thinking it's still spring, because I am not nearly ready to let go of summer yet. For lots of reasons, but especially ones like this...


A perfect summer salad. Fresh mozzarella, home grown (not by me) tomatoes, paper thin slices of red onion, shreds of basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - heaven on a plate.


No cooking, just a bit of chopping. And we had a little something delicious waiting in the fridge.


Just right for an early evening dinner on the balcony.


Sometimes life is so good it hurts.

I think I want this

Oh, Old Navy, why do you make my life so difficult? Your store and your website never seem to quite match up. I stopped in this weekend and tried on a little trapeze jacket that I kind of fell in love with. I didn't buy it, because I am trying to be good and I will admit that I have several light jackets. But today I decided to check it out online, just to see if it really is cute, and I couldn't find it. I found this, which I think is pretty close.
It might even be cuter, because you didn't have it in cream in store. It has adorable bell sleeves and lightly puffed shoulders and it is $10 cheaper than it was in the store, so the shipping is covered. In fact, it is kind of the poor girl's, better climate version of the J. Crew coat I am still debating over (free shipping on J. Crew this week!).

Whoops, I just stuck it in my cart and then noticed that it's a GIRL'S jacket, and while I consider myself a girl, I think Old Navy would call me a woman. How large do girl's jackets get? Could I possibly squeeze myself into one? Damn you, Old Navy. You've ruined my afternoon.

Summer burgers

I constantly work to keep my iron levels up, so I try to eat red meat once a week or so. The problem is that I wasn't really raised on much meat, and I draw blanks on what to do with it. I'm drawn to veggies and beans because they play well together and I like one dish meals. Meat is an attention hog, and it usually requires a side dish.

Last night I spent a little bit of time musing about finding some amazing dish and then I just gave up and made what I will now call summer burgers. I worked with what I had on hand.

Grilled red onions, chopped fresh basil and some sundried tomatoes

I added a big dollop of my favorite mustard, salt and pepper and then mixed everything together with some 96% lean ground beef and formed patties.

D obliged by grilling them for us (and photographing the charcoal - credit goes to him for this one and I love how you can see off the edge of our balcony).

Charcoal chimney - the only way to grill!

We didn't have any buns, so we ate them on TJs cracked wheat sourdough bread, which I actually like better.


The picture isn't ideal, because it was dark by the time we ate (makes me dread winter and the lack of photo ops), but you get the idea. I always use the 96% lean beef, which makes these very healthy, but I'm sure they would be delicious with any meat. If you do decide to use the extra lean, make sure you watch it as it cooks. It dries out very quickly. Luckily, D is an expert at this point.

They were nice and very summery with all that basil. I think it's a keeper. And now I don't have to worry about what to do with meat for at least another week.

Monday, August 18, 2008

10 things that make me happy

Sweet Melanie, of you are my fave, is going to post a series of lists this week. Mine is up today, so wander over and check it out. I've been a big fan of Melanie's blog for a while now, so I'm flattered to be featured on it. I loved her list of things, and I can't wait to see what other people come up with.


I come from a family of pie lovers. I can reel off every family member's favorite pie without even thinking about it. My mom makes pies for every major (and minor) occasion. On my birthday, I get two lemon meringue pies - one to eat with the family and the other to take home and eat by myself. Her little terrier, who has a (completely understandable) insane love of pie dough actually recognizes the rolling pin, and refuses to leave the kitchen whenever she sees it come out from the cupboard, because she knows there will be scraps of dough. My sister really wanted a whole bunch of pies at her wedding, instead of a cake, but we realized it would be insane to try to bust out dozens of pies the day before a wedding. We were so right, by the way.

Now that my pie bonafides are established, I will admit that I also love cake, and I am sometimes sad that I so seldom get a chance to bake it. Once a year, however, my mom's birthday comes around, and I make THE CAKE. It is pretty much always referred to in capital letters, because it is equally scary and delicious. My mom only eats one cake, and she takes it pretty seriously, so there is a lot of pressure. THE CAKE is the devil's food cockaigne recipe from the old Joy of Cooking, and the frosting is the fudge frosting from the same book. I suppose it is really the frosting that should be all in caps, because it is the crucial element.

Making fudge is not easy or particularly fun if you are stressed and have a lot riding on it. It is annoyingly temperamental, and shifts in humidity can make your life miserable. I spent several years crying over ruined batches of fudge, and I can't tell you how many pounds of chocolate have been thrown away. This year I spent 20 minutes beating the frosting before it would firm up (without the KitchenAid, there would be no frosting) and the whole time I was nervously watching it and telling D "I don't think it's going to work, wait, maybe it will, no, I don't think it will." Luckily, it did.

Cake in process 2

Cake in process 1 -3: ingredients patiently waiting to be added (I always measure everything out in advance and then wash dishes as I go). 4: My new "double boiler." 5: The batter before the chocolate custard is added. 6-7:The batter after the chocolate custard has been added. 8: The fudge ingredients waiting (sugar is in my favorite pouring bowl, which cost $10 at the flea market!). 9: The fudge boiling away in a large cast iron pot.

I can't in good conscience encourage anyone to make this cake, but I will post the recipe just in case you want to try (plus lots of pictures for those who prefer to just look).

Devil's Food Cake Cockaigne from Joy of Cooking 1975 edition
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cook and stir in a double boiler (I don't have a double boiler, but I found out that one of my mixing bowls nests perfectly in my beautiful new stock pot - score!):
2 - 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/2 c. milk
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 egg yolk
Remove from heat when thickened (whisk occasionally while it is cooking). Set aside.
Beat until soft:
1/2 c. butter, softened
Add and cream until light:
1 c. sugar
Beat in, one at a time:
2 eggs (technically, you are supposed to separate the eggs and add the yolks here, then whip the whites and fold them in at the end. I did this for years and it made no discernible difference in the final product, but it was a pain. I'm a lazy baker, so I just add the eggs whole now).
Sift together (or mix with a fork, if you hate sifting, like me):
2 c. cake flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Add the flour to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the following mixture:
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp vanilla
Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Stir in cooled chocolate custard. Bake in greased pans about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean, with just a few crumbs clinging to it.

*** EDIT (8/2010) - you MUST grease and flour the pans thoroughly. Once the cakes are done, pull them out of the oven and let them sit on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes. Then run a butter knife around the edges of the pan, hold your hand over the cake and flip the pan over. Gently tap the pan until the cake gives and place it on the cooling rack to finish cooling.  I had much better luck in 2010 and all 6 of my cake layers came right out of the pan with none of the scarring you see here. ***

Cakes cooling - notice how mangled the front one is? The cake is super delicate and one of them always decides to tear while coming out of the pan.

Fudge Cockaigne Frosting (also from Joy of Cooking)
Bring to a boil in a large heavy pan:
1 c. milk
Remove from heat and stir until dissolved:
2 c. sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, grated
Bring to a boil and cook covered 2 - 3 minutes until the steam washes any sugar crystals down the sides. Uncover, reduce heat and cook without stirring to soft ball stage, 234F (you need a candy thermometer). It takes a while to get up to temp. It will get up to 200F relatively quickly and then sort of hover there. Stay patient, keep watching. It will eventually hit the softball stage. Remove from heat without jostling or stirring. Cool the candy to 110F (you can stick the bottom of the pan into cold water to speed this up). Then add:
2 -4 tbsp butter
Beat fudge partially, add:
1 tsp vanilla
Continue beating until it looks like frosting. Sometimes this is nice and quick. This year, it took the aforementioned 20 minutes, while I agonized about the prospect of making another batch.
Optional (but not optional for my mom): add 1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped.

*** EDIT (8/2010) - more details on the fudge frosting. I've been playing with ways to make the fudge frosting less heartbreakingly difficult and I think I'm mastering it. First of all, the picky instructions are mostly important if you are making actual fudge, I think. For actual fudge, you don't want to introduce any sugar crystals during cooking, because it adversely affects the texture of the final product. As the frosting gets beaten instead of being poured into a slab, I don't think this matters as much. This year I made these changes:
- Doubled the recipe
- Skipped the covered cooking stage at the beginning
- Ignored the rules about not stirring the fudge while it's cooking. I stirred it a few times (not constantly) during the cooking process and I used a heatproof spatula to scrape down the sides once or twice.
- Only let it cool down to about 150F before scraping it out into my mixing bowl.
- Mastered the mixing. This part is tricky because you have to get a feel for it. I use the KitchenAid stand mixer and start beating while the fudge is still fairly warm. The mixing time varies greatly. This year I think it was less than 5 minutes. You can tell you're getting close to the proper consistency when the fudge loses a bit of its sheen. It starts to look a little bit lighter. At this point, add the walnuts. Adding the nuts usually makes the mixture lose a lot more sheen and sometimes pushes it over into the chalky/not smooth territory. If this happens and the fudge is not spreadable, add a splash of milk (I used whole) and beat it in. You want the fudge to be thick but still spreadable, so you may need to add another splash of milk.
- Thinned the frosting for the final coat. I like a thick frosting to go between the cake layers, but I wanted something much thinner to spread on the outside. I took the last bit of the frosting, thinned it with milk as described above but made it thin enough that it was a bit runny rather than just spreadable. Then I sort of glopped it onto the side of the cake and used an offset spatula to even it out. I liked this look. ***

*** EDIT (8/2012) - Successfully TRIPLED the fudge frosting recipe this year and it turned out perfectly. I didn't have the usual cast iron pot that I use so I had to use one of my stainless steel pots. 6 qts is too small by a smidge! It doesn't look like it when you start, but trust me, it is. 8 qt pot was just barely big enough, but it worked well. Cooked it up to 234, tested it by dropping a few drips into a glass of water and it didn't look quite cooked enough, so I let it cook until it did (it hit 235 on my thermometer, so not too far off). Took it off carefully and put it in the sink to cool down. Triple batch takes much longer to cool (um, not surprising) and it looked like it might be grainy, but it beat up perfectly once I got started. Yay! ***

I actually doubled the recipe, which is completely against all the rules. It might be why my frosting was so reluctant to set up. I still think it was worth it, because washing out the pan the the fudge is made in is kind of awful.

Frosting the cake

The final product

Oh, and there is a serious family rule regarding birthday leftovers. You eat what you want at the party, but once it's over, you keep your hands off the leftovers unless you have explicit permission. My mom once broke up with a man because he knowingly ate a piece of chocolate that belonged to her, apparently under the mistaken impression that she would think it was funny. No joke. You don't mess with THE CAKE (although if you ask nicely, she'll usually share).

Let me cut a slice for you...


Here you go.


What's that on the side? Oh, just hand churned coffee ice cream. My parents are pretty amazing.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Just a taste...

Today is my mom's birthday! I'll be heading over there tomorrow, which means that I am currently occupied with something a little like this...


It's tradition and it's intense. Full details on Monday. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I love other people's gardens

I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing patio in front of my apartment. It would be perfect for a balcony garden with lots of herbs, and tomatoes and peppers. I've been there for 3 years and so far no garden has materialized. Turns out it takes work, along with time and money, and a lot of thought.

I haven't gotten there yet, but at least I know people who have. I've been feasting on tomatoes brought home from work by D.


And my mom outdid herself this year. Along with monster zucchini, tons of herbs, butternut squash (which I thought you could only grow in winter) and bell peppers, she gave me these...


Cutest little red onions ever. I don't know why, but I think they are so adorable.

Someday I'll get my act together and then I can pay this garden love forward.


It only took two months, but I finally got my new makeup bag done last night. I got a sewing machine in May, after lots of jealousy over all the cool projects out there in bloggy-land. I spent a lot of time playing with aprons, and placemats and iPod covers, all of which are bright orange, because I had a huge orange sheet to practice with and I didn't want to waste any good fabric. My first non-orange project was a little makeup bag. The outer layer is from a green striped remnant that I picked up cheap and the inner lining is a gorgeous Robert Kauffman fabric that was a gift from my mom (and that I was terrified to cut into).


It took approximately 30 minutes to make the whole thing, plus three hours to handstitch the lining in. Yes, I am a very slow hand sewer, and I was also being obsessive. I loved it so much that I immediately made another one, exactly the same, and gave it to my sister.

Sadly, it is just a little bit too small to hold my all my makeup comfortably and I decided to make another one with different fabric. That's when I learned I must have just gotten lucky the first time. I carefully cut and measured and pressed and sewed and when I tried to put the two pieces together, the inner lining was too big. I ripped out stitches and re-did it and got the same result. Apparently, the inner lining stretches a LOT and the outer layer is not at all stretchy. I did what any sane person would do and shoved it in my work basket for a month.

Last night, with the Olympics on for moral support, I dug it out and re-did it. It took two more tries, and a lot of swearing, but I finally conquered that bag!


The outer lining is black, and just faintly striped.


The inner lining is a flower print, which I picked because I liked the way the black flowers jumped out. Again, a gift from my mom, whose fabric stash is unbelievable.


And it holds all my makeup!


Just for comparison, here are both bags. I tried to pick the most easily identifiable object to show the scale - after all, who doesn't know the exact size of a tube of Great Lash?

I am so relieved that I got that finished. I have a hard time moving on to other projects if I have a ton of half finished work.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shopping in my closet

My closet drawers are a bit like an archaeological dig. The top layers are the clothes that I wear, wash, put away, and then wear again. Slowly, the clothes I don't wear often migrate to the bottom, and I usually don't bother to dig down very far. Every once in a while I get desperate and start clawing through all my clothes (this usually coincides with a lack of trips to the laundry room) and renew my love for something I haven't seen in years.


A couple weeks ago I dug this shirt out, and it has now officially made it to the top layer (I've worn it three times in the last two weeks). I have no memory of buying it or wearing it, and no old pictures of me in it, but the tag tells me it is from Forever 21, and I'm guessing it is circa 4 or 5 years ago. It has a slightly gathered neckline and lightly puffed sleeves and it's been playing very nicely with my Martin + Osa pleated skirt. Did I mention that it is striped? I love stripes.

So, way to go, F21! I know we have a tempestuous love affair (no sooner do I fall madly in love with a shirt, than it immediately falls apart, or only shrinks in one direction after the first washing) but I'm glad to see that at least one of your pieces has endured the test of time.

Five minute lunch

Yesterday I was running late and didn't pack a lunch, and I was forced to spend $7 on a seriously mediocre teriyaki chicken bowl. Determined not to fall into that trap today, I mixed up a quick meal.


I fully realize that this is not the most appetizing looking dish, but I swear it's good. And did I mention how quick it is? It's just one can of drained tuna, one cup of chickpeas (you could use other beans, too), one tablespoon of olive oil, some chopped red onion, and a little splash of white wine vinegar, plus salt and pepper.

Usually I'll mix it with some whole wheat couscous, but I'm out, so I'm going to stuff it in a pita with some spinach and tomatoes instead. The nice thing about the dish is that it's so flexible, and you can basically add or subtract anything you want.

It makes enough for two lunches, so I'm set for today and tomorrow. Sweet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chocolate blizzard cookies

I really have no idea why these are chocolate blizzard cookies ... I guess because they still have a little bit of flour on the outside edges? It doesn't really constitute a blizzard, at least in my mind. But I do love them. I came across the recipe when I was doing an all out internet search for freezable cookies. I love cookies I can make ahead of time and then just bake or defrost.


These are so good that I always make a double batch of dough and then freeze it in logs, as directed. We often have at least one log in the freezer, absolutely perfect for when people come over unexpectedly and I want to have dessert. You just slice them and bake them. The key is not overbaking them. They'll still seem a little gooey on the bottom when they come out of the oven, but they set up as they cool. The recipe calls for pecans, but I've always used walnuts. You can also leave the nuts out altogether, and the cookie doesn't suffer.

Here is the doubled recipe (original linked above, from, for those who don't like math, but do like cookies:

2 pounds bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I use chocolate chips)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 eggs
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
20 oz. white chocolate, chopped
4 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Melt the chocolate and butter over hot water. You don't have to have a double boiler. I just take one of my aluminum mixing bowls and rest it over a pot with boiling water in it and it works well enough.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Reserve.

3. Beat the eggs with the sugars until light and stir in the melted chocolate. Add the flour mixture, chopped white chocolate and nuts. Refrigerate the dough for at least a couple hours (it will be way too sticky until it cools down).

4. Shape the dough into rolls, like refrigerator cookies. This is the tricky part. Keep your hands well floured and don't worry too much about the mess. You'll have to experiment to see how thick you want the logs to be. I prefer them to be fairly small, because the cookies have such a rich flavor, so I usually make logs with a diameter of about 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Wrap with saran wrap, and then wrap with aluminum foil and put in a ziploc freezer bag if you plan to store them for more than a few days. Wrapped up well, they will last for at least 2 months in the freezer (probably longer, but they usually get eaten quickly). Let them sit in the freezer for at least a day before you try to cut them - it works better if they are really frozen solid.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (or your Silpat!). Slice the cookies 1/2 inch thick. Bake only 10 to 12 minutes or just until they lose their sheen. They should just barely hold their shape when cool, and should be moist and chewy inside. Gently lift the cookies off the cookie sheets and cool on racks. Eat the ones that inevitably fall apart when you try to move them, because they are really good fresh from the oven.

Add these cookies to your list of things to try. Seriously.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I have an addiction

I wasn't planning on going to the Rose Bowl flea market this weekend, partly because I don't need anything, and partly because I knew that the heat would probably exceed my very limited tolerance. However, D has never been, and I guess I've spent too much time bragging about all the amazing mid-century furniture, because he was intrigued and actually had free time for once, so we headed out to Pasadena.

The heat could have been much, much worse, and my thick layer of sunscreen managed to save me from what I've come to think of as a "flea market burn" - you know, a miserable sunburn that manages to semi-permanently etch the outlines of both your tank top and your purse straps into your shoulders. It did not, however, save me from this...


It is a cake stand, and it is lovely. It cost $15, which is about standard (I might have been able to bargain down to $10, but the heat was making me antsy). The problem? I already own this cake stand. In two different colors.


I bought my first one at the antique mall that I love, for an amazing $8 (it's chipped) and when I found the second pink one I snatched it up for a similar price. There is really no excuse for buying another blue one, except that I couldn't resist. It was dusty and unloved and I felt bad for it. They are called Jeanette cake stands, and they were made in the 1950's and they are not exceedingly rare. I don't know why I feel compelled to buy every one I come across. Oh well.

Other good finds...


This beautiful blue enameled aluminum stock pot - $1 and it's in perfect condition!


A fun piece of fabric that is actually really good quality - $3. I can't wait to play around with it. It is a nice thick cotton - it almost feels like canvas.