Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday greenery

I was a bit under the weather this week and I didn't make it out for flowers. But it has been a pleasure to watch my poor neglected balcony garden perk up. Between the move (the new balcony has much more sun) and the rain (I am not exactly a reliable source of water), they've been happy.

And we're officially on Mandarin-quat Watch 2010! I can't wait for these guys to be ready to eat.


I've been counting every piece of fruit and tiny bud and sometimes I just sit outside and stare at the little tree, willing it grow. It's a cross between a mandarin and a kumquat.

There's something special about a tree. I love my parsley, but it just isn't as exciting.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Working with yeasted bread, a primer

Bread is not scary. Repeat that to yourself several times.


I am certainly not an expert breadmaker, just someone who happens to love bread and has been making for years, with generally good results and a few disasters. Making your own bread is incredibly rewarding and the entire process is peaceful, once you get the hang of it.

naan resting

For those of you who are intimidated by bread recipes, here are some of the tips I've picked up along the way. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I'll answer.

homemade pizza dough
{homemade pizza dough}

Ingredients - at its most basic, you're looking at flour, yeast and water. Most recipes throw in a teeny bit of sugar and a few teaspoons of salt. Fancy-schmancy recipes add eggs and milk and flavorings. It really doesn't matter - the concept is the same.
Flour - I use all-purpose flour and frequently substitute some whole wheat flour (up to half and half, usually). I don't recommend going completely whole wheat unless the recipe calls for it. Whole wheat flour is coarser and a bit of white flour helps keep the texture of the bread workable. Not all white flours are equal (King Arthur brand is known for having a higher gluten content, which makes it great for bread making) but don't stress yourself out about it. You can make excellent bread with just about any flour.

Yeast - I use active dry yeast, which is what you'll commonly find in the grocery store baking aisle. It comes in packets or in a little tub. Unless you are a dedicated bread maker, you probably won't use up your tub before it expires. Get the packets and store them in the freezer. There are other yeasts you can use and I'm sure they're wonderful, but so far I haven't had any experience with them.

Water - Most recipes specify lukewarm water. Some even note that it should be 110 degrees. If the water is cold, the yeast won't become active. If it's boiling, you'll kill them off. Before you start stressing and break out the thermometer, just dab a bit of the water on your wrist. It should feel comfortable - neither warm nor cold. That's good enough.
Recipes - bread recipes are pretty similar, once you get used to the formula. You generally mix the wet ingredients with the dry, let it rise, punch it down (and possibly shape it) and then let have a second, usually shorter, rise before baking. Easy, right? The problem is that some bread recipes assume you know this formula and they don't give you much explanation.
Proofing the yeast - this means exactly what it says. You are testing out the yeast to make sure it's still viable before you use it. You can skip this step (and some recipes do) but I prefer to know the yeast is working before I start putting the effort in. You just need to mix the yeast into a bit of lukewarm water with a pinch of sugar (might be a folktale, but I was always taught that a little bit of sugar helps the yeast) and wait about 5 minutes. That's it. If the mixture is starting to foam a bit, then you know your yeast is good. Go forward.

Building up the gluten - flour contains gluten, which contributes to the unique texture of bread. We build up the gluten by mixing and kneading, which is why you never want to overmix your cake or cookies - you lose the delicate texture and end up with bread-like product. To get a good start, I use my stand mixer for the initial mixing of the wet and dry ingredients and let it work the dough for a while. You can also do this by hand with a wooden spoon. When the dough forms a ball (if you're using the mixer) or is thoroughly combined (if you're doing it by hand), it's time to move onto kneading.

Kneading - I really don't think you can do this wrong. I did a quick search and found this helpful video on Epicurious. I don't knead the bread with exactly this method, but it's very similar - I think everyone has their own style. I enjoy the kneading process, because it gives me time to think and just enjoy the moment. In general, dough takes about 10 minutes of kneading.

Rising - Shape your dough into a ball and put it in a bowl (usually with a light coating of oil). Set it in a warm place and let it double in size. Times are all approximate. On warm days, your bread will rise more quickly. I'll usually search out a little patch of sunlight and put the bowl there, to facilitate the rising. If there's no warmth to be found, I'll just set it on the stove top (turned off) in hopes that the pilot light will help it along. Unless it's actually freezing, your dough will eventually rise. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or a piece of plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.

Punching down - Less violent than it sounds. I usually just push it down with my fingers, turn it out of the bowl and knead it a couple times to get it back in a ball shape and then put it back. At this point you'll either shape it according to the recipe or let it sit for a second rise.
I highly recommend working with your mistakes. I've had dough that didn't rise and I've finally just tossed it in the oven in desperation. Sometimes it even comes out well. Funny looking bread still tastes good, so don't worry about appearances - shaping takes practice.

I certainly don't make bread everyday (or even weekly, anymore), but having it in my arsenal is hugely helpful. And as much as I love the product, I find I enjoy the experience of making bread even more. It isn't quite like anything else you do in the kitchen.

Questions? Extra advice? I'll respond to all of it in the comments.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


There are many excellent types of bread to eat at breakfast time - buttery biscuits that melt in your mouth, flaky scones with a dusting of sugar, cinnamon rolls swaddled in icing that leave you no choice but to spend the rest of the day on the sofa, recovering.

But sometimes you just want something simple. A hearty bread that will stand up to homemade preserves or even a wedge of cheese. Something without sugar, that could potentially transition to a sandwich if need be.


For those times, I recommend bolillos. They are the most basic form of bread, with flour, water, salt, yeast and a pinch of sugar. There is something comforting about a food whose ingredients I can count on one hand. They emerge from the oven browned and rustic, with a crisp crust and a soft interior. This bread doesn't steal the show, but it's a perfect back up dancer.

bread, dates
{bread, dates}
Bolillos (makes 16 - 20 rolls, from Prairie Home Breads)

1 pkg active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
6 - 6 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups lukewarm water

* In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water and set aside to proof (see if it gets foamy), about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, combine 5 cups of the flour with the salt and sugar. Pour in the yeast mixture and the additional 2 cups lukewarm water and stir until the dough forms a ball (I do this in my stand mixer, but you can also do it by hand with a wooden spoon).

* Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 - 8 minutes, adding more flour if the dough gets too sticky to handle. The dough should be nice and smooth when you're done. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Because I wanted the rolls for breakfast, I did this the night before, popped it in the fridge overnight and then pulled it out when I woke up in the morning to let it warm up a bit).

* Grease two baking sheets and set aside (or use your Silpat). Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a floured surface. Cut the dough in half and divide each half into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and then flatten it with your hand into a 4 inch oblong football shape. Place about one inch apart on the prepared baking sheets, cover with slightly damp kitchen towels and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. (I find rolls this large to be slightly intimidating at breakfast time, so I made mine a bit smaller and left them round instead of oblong).

* Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. With a serrated knife, cut a 1 inch deep slash down the center of each roll. Brush with canola oil, if desired (I didn't bother). Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shopping hiatus, week 1

Week 1 flew by with very few temptations. We did do a bit of thrifting over the weekend, looking for very specifically sized filing cabinets (struck out) and I couldn't resist this sugar bowl and creamer set.

"new" sugar + creamer
{"new" sugar bowl and creamer}

They're English china and I love the simple design. They are thrifted, so they don't break my rules. At $7, they were also a pretty good deal.

Sadly, I was forced to buy something new. My nose stud lost its gemstone and I had to bite the bullet and order a new one. Despite the obvious fact that I can't purchase something like that used (ick), there is only one retailer who stocks appropriately subtle, thin gauge, solid gold nose studs (the only kind my nose will tolerate). Bummer.

We had a documentary viewing marathon on Sunday and many of them were relevant to the shopping hiatus.

What Would Jesus Buy? was not quite as amazing as I had hoped. I thought that it was an actual church, rather than a performance/activist protest group. It was still interesting.

Maxed Out was an excellent look at our country's increasing reliance on credit and it almost made me cry.

Surfwise was not technically about finances, but it was an amazing documentary that touched on earning money vs. living the life you want. It's about a couple who raise their nine (!) kids in a camper van and drive around the country surfing and living a really simple life. The beginning is hysterically funny and then it gets a bit sad. Highly recommend.

Not at all related to the hiatus, but awesome: we also watched Valentino: The Last Emperor. Full of lots of couture eye candy and a pack of adorable pugs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The weekend, briefly

A quiet weekend at home as storm clouds rolled in.


Sunday brunch.

jam and cheese
{jam and cheese}

An afternoon on the couch.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday flowers

The most amazing bright orange tulips, purchased on sale the day after Valentine's Day.

tulips, clock
{tulips, clock}

Three people stopped me as I walked home with these, just to exclaim over the color.



I love spring. We're currently alternating between sunshine and rain and it's perfect. Mostly because I can avoid watering my poor neglected plants - I may love flowers, but I do not have a green thumb and I'll take all the help I can get.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shopping hiatus, take two

Last year, when Joslyn announced her shopping hiatus, I happily jumped right in. I was thinking of the money I would save more than anything else.

It turned out to be so much more. I saved money, yes. But I saved more time. I honestly had no idea how much time I spent shopping, comparing items, deciding whether or not to buy things. I felt a bit calmer, less pressured. I am not a wild spender by any means, which might make it worse, because I will agonize over purchases and it's exhausting.

saturday afternoon tea
{random relaxing picture}

I'm thrilled that Jos is leading the hiatus again this year. I'm excited to dive in, a bit wiser. D decided to join me, possibly because his graduate student loans have just entered repayment. We're doing this for 12 weeks. We started Monday, officially.

My personal guidelines:

- No non-essential items - obviously, we will still be purchasing food and toiletries.

- A small amount of used shopping is permissible - I see my thrift store purchases as neutral, because they aren't new items and they're usually things we actually need.

- Exempt purchases - we have a small list of items that will need to be purchased soon, due to our move - we've spent hours looking over our floorplan and arranging our current furniture and figuring out how to purchase the least amount of stuff possible. Currently, we're searching Craigslist for the items but if we can't find them in a month or so we'll have to buy them.

- Business purchases - I'll still be buying supplies for the shop.

- Experiences are fair game - this isn't a spending freeze for us. We'll still go out to eat on occasion, we'll still pay for movies and concerts and things we want to do.

Missed the whole thing last year? Here is my summary of my experience with links to my weekly summaries.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Heart day goodies

Circe got her Valentine's Day gift from me. I've given into the bandanna fixation and I made her a reversible one* for maximum styling potential. It has a delightfully cheesy print on one side (I woof you!) and a more refined white heart on red background print on the other.

It received a much more enthusiastic reception than the cowl.

circe, wagging
{circe, wagging}

She knows what she likes, clearly.

circe, ears back
{circe, ears back}

And I got the sweetest little swap package! From cevd, so naturally the card was awesome. I shared the bacon chocolate bar with D, just to be nice.

{swap goodies}

And my swap package went out to the lovely Lily. The theme was salt, which sounds a bit strange, but you know how much I love salt and she is a fellow salt enthusiast. I didn't manage to snap any pictures because I was in a god-awful rush trying to get to the post office before it closed, but Lily has some up on her blog.

Many thanks to the genius Amanda, for being the arranger of Valentine's swap delights!

*Making the bandanna was even easier than the cowl. I just layered the fabrics, right sides together, cut out a triangle (make sure the long side is long enough to tie around the canine neck) and then stitched around the edges, leaving a small opening to make it possible to turn it right side out afterwards. I find it easiest to leave the opening in the middle of the longest edge. It's tempting to leave the opening on a corner, but that tends to look wonky at the end. Push the fabric through your little opening so that the right sides are out. Use a pencil (or a crochet hook) to stick into the very edge of each corner, so that they turn out all the way. Then press your bandanna with a nice hot iron (making sure the opening you left is tucked in nicely) and stitch around all the edges again, without leaving an opening. I used pink thread on the printed side and white thread on the more subtle side, just by using different colors in my bobbin and spool.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The weekend, (very) briefly

Long busy weekends always seem to mean fewer pictures, somehow. And they all involve food. I guess we know where my priorities lie.

Breakfast at Tavern. I had a very strong latte and one perfect salted caramel macaron. D had huckleberry bread pudding.

tavern breakfast
{tavern breakfast}

And real soda.

bubble up
{bubble up}

Reason #754 why being an adult is the best...

cake in bed
{cake in bed}

I can go to the bakery and pick out an enormous slab of the most garish cake they make and then bring it home and eat the entire thing by myself, in bed. And call it lunch.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday flowers (finally)

Look! I bought flowers!

decanted iris
{decanted iris}

Let's just pretend that I didn't have to unceremoniously dump a huge pile of stuff on the floor in order to clear a large enough space to take a picture of them.


The iris are in an enormous crystal decanter that I found for $10 (originally $200) at Macy's when I was supposed to be Christmas shopping for other people. The nice salesman gave me an additional discount so it was only $9.20 with tax. And since I don't decant things I justified it by telling myself I could use it as a vase. Done.

I brought heart shaped treats to work today. I sent a flurry of cards in the mail. I am perfectly content to wallow in paste and red paper and leave the romance out of it, thank you.

Valentine's Day is tricky - I love it, platonically. I love baked goods swathed in pink icing. I love seeing cheesy cut out hearts everywhere. I love paper lace doilies. I do not love bouquets of tight budded red roses and diamond earrings and fancy restaurant reservations and high expectations.

D and I just realized that this will be the first Valentine's Day we've spent together in three years. No, we aren't doing anything in particular. We aren't exchanging gifts, because I always feel like it's a bit awkward and forced unless you happen to have a brilliant idea. One year, in high school, Dustin bought me a hamster. Best gift ever.* Actually, I got a coupon (with a hand illustrated hamster) and then I got to pick out my own hamster. Because really the logistics of something like that are tricky - you cannot in good conscience stick a rodent in someone's locker as a surprise.

Hope your weekend is lovely, Valentine's Day or not, with or without fuzzy rodents.

*Absolutely not a hint that I want another hamster. As much as I loved Creeper, I'm done.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Various hearts

Little paper hearts, scattered on all surfaces...

little paper hearts
{little paper hearts}

Delicious brownie hearts, waiting to be nibbled...

heart brownies
{heart brownies}

(brownie recipe from Deb - I cut them out with a cookie cutter instead of slicing them)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Vintage fondue pot

I love LA, but I have to admit that I usually have better luck thrifting in the suburbs. The person who sets the prices at my favorite thrift store clearly disapproves of mid-century modern pieces and prices them accordingly.

This enamel-ware fondue pot was three bucks. I have to admit that I have never made fondue, but I couldn't just leave the poor thing languishing there unwanted.

enamelware fondue pot
{enamelware fondue pot}

It doesn't have a maker's mark on the bottom, but it looks very similar to some of my Dansk pieces.

enamelware fondue pot
{enamelware fondue pot}

I think he'll feel right at home with us.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

More me

I did an interview over on the Design Boards blog - hop over if you've ever wondered what I would take for a year on a deserted island.

Neckwear for the dog

Okay, so I am really not the kind of person who dresses up animals. I swear.

But this little terrier has a mind of her own. And she's obsessed with neckwear. The bandanna was a Christmas joke, but now she wants to wear it constantly. If we try to put it away she finds it and brings it over. We pry it off to wash it every week or so and she gets giddy with excitement when it emerges from the dryer.

inspector circe
{inspector circe}

Feeling sad that she's still wearing a jingle bell bandanna in February, I crocheted a little cowl for her. If we must have a dressed up animal, she might as well be hip.

circe, cowl
{circe, cowl}

Her reaction was less than enthusiastic. She will wear the cowl with minimal complaint, but she continues to beg for her bandanna. And she resolutely refuses to pose for photos.

circe, cowl
{circe, cowl}

If you'd like to try to put a cowl on your dog, this is just a simple bobble stitch alternated with single crochet. Rather than putting fastenings on it, I just crocheted it as a single piece, so it slips over her head.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Handmade Olympics!

Heart of Light has been nominated for the 2010 handmade olympics over at the rickrack studio blog!

I'd love your vote (in the thrifty-forward, sustainably-minded blog category) if you're so inclined, but you must go over and check out all the categories regardless. There are so many amazing finds that I want to set aside an hour or so to click away and bask in all the loveliness.

See my category here, check out all the wonderful categories here.

The weekend, briefly

It was one of those beautiful stormy weekends, when it rained off and on and the light was heavy and moody.

rainy weekend
{rainy weekend}

We ran a lot of errands, including stops at a few thrift stores, where we didn't find what we needed, but I did find things I wanted.

new (old) thread
{new (old) thread}

And I tried to take pictures of a seriously reluctant terrier.

circe, cowl

Friday, February 5, 2010

(No) Friday flowers

Things are still pretty temporary around here. We have tissue paper on the walls marking spots for artwork. Said artwork is stacked against bookshelves, walls, and tables all over the apartment. Surfboards and tools are looking for their final homes. Books and other treasures are being arranged, slowly.

But it's starting to feel like our home.

No flowers quite yet - I even stopped and took a look at the market but nothing there jumped out at me. Next week I think we'll be in prettification mode.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Special splurge

My mom has one beautiful Catherineholm lotus bowl that she received as a wedding gift 40 years ago. It's always been one of my favorite things in her kitchen. It's enameled metal, which means it's lightweight enough for every day use but durable enough to last a lifetime and pretty enough to go straight to the table.

And after years of waiting and searching, I finally have my own set. Found on Etsy, of course.

catherineholm lotus bowls
{catherineholm lotus bowls}

I am smitten. I love them even more than I thought I would. They cost more than I care to think about, but my doubts about the expense evaporated the second I pulled them out of the box and held them in my hands.

catherineholm lotus bowls, nested
{catherineholm lotus bowls, nested}

You know those big splurges that end up being the best value you ever got? I think this is one of them. Here's to the next 40 years of cooking together, beloved bowls.

catherineholm lotus bowls
{catherineholm lotus bowls}

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hippie pancakes

I love pancakes of all sorts, but I have a special fondness for the ones my mom makes.

pancakes, syrup
{pancakes, syrup}

They are pretty 1970s, with a mix of flours and just a pinch of sugar. The original recipe calls for wheat germ and vegetable oil instead of melted butter. Apparently they were afraid of butter back then. I believe wholeheartedly in using real butter, when the situation calls for it. And while I'm fine with wheat germ, I usually don't bother adding it to these. I think the rye flour is what makes these pancakes taste so different - the original recipe actually calls for oat flour, but in my family we always use rye. The pancakes are light and a little spongy (in a good way) and soak up syrup beautifully.

sunday breakfast
{sunday breakfast}

Pancakes are easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients in your cupboard (except maybe rye flour). I follow my mom's lead and make several batches at once, seal them in small bags and place them in a large ziploc bag in the freezer. Save the empty bags in the large bag so you can re-use them over and over. Never buy pancake mix again.

pancake mix prepared
{pancake mix prepared}
Pancakes (modified from Jane Brody's Good Food Cookbook)
makes 4 - 6 servings

2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup rye flour (original recipe calls for oat flour)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cup milk (or 1 cup buttermilk + 1/4 cup milk)
2 eggs (original calls for 1 egg + 1 egg white)
1 tbsp melted butter (or oil, if you prefer)

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl. Whisk eggs, milk and butter together and pour over the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Cook on a large griddle at medium temperature for a couple minutes on each side, until golden brown.
*My pancake shapes are from Williams-Sonoma, I think. I've had them forever and I don't see them in the online store, but they look just like these.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New shoes

I gave in.

{image from TOMS}

I still think that TOMS shoes look like your feet are swaddled in bandages, but I made the mistake of testing them out at Whole Foods the other day (I was just curious!) and they were so comfortable I couldn't convince myself to take them off. I think my feet may have actually let out a little sigh when I slipped them on.

I'm kind of in love with slip on shoes. Because I always seem to be running late in the morning and spending an extra 30 seconds tying my shoes makes me miss my bus, without fail.

*Posts might be a little late this week - they connected our phone (yay!) but managed to disconnect our internet (boo). We're working on it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The weekend, briefly

We had oh so much work to get done this weekend, making sure our old apartment was in perfect shape before we hand over the keys. The downside of brightly colored walls is the number of coats of paint it takes to get them back to white.


We also met up with friends for a pretty intense three team game of Pictionary. Playing drawing games with architects is a bit scary.


And we made time for Sunday brunch in our new kitchen, just the two of us.

sunday morning
{sunday morning}

We're making progress settling in. We didn't coordinate everything very carefully so we spent the last week without phone service (and I lost my cell phone charger during the move, so I am completely unavailable - it's like being back in the 90s!) or television. It's been kind of relaxing but we're re-joining the rest of the world tomorrow, hopefully, if Verizon wills it.