Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recovering - green smoothies

I've been trying green smoothies lately. I'm not 100% convinced, people.

green smoothie
{green smoothie}

This is tasty and all, but so far nothing miraculous has happened, which is kind of what I was led to expect based on the internet ravings. Shouldn't my skin be glowing by now?

smoothie making
{smoothie making}

Currently blending:
About 1/3 - 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk (not the kind in the carton!)
A generous splash of orange juice or, in a pinch, cranberry juice
1/2 small banana
As much frozen kale or spinach as I can fit in my little blender (probably 1.25 cups)

It is surprisingly filling, which I think is down to the fat in the coconut milk. I started out with less green and a whole banana, but if I'm making one for D and one for myself then I just give us each half a banana and it's still sweet enough for me. And then I ran out of bananas completely and I can now report that it's fine without, but better with. I usually thin the smoothie with a bit of orange juice but I've used cranberry juice and if you are juice averse you could use coconut water or something similar. The frozen greens are the kind in the bag from Whole Foods, not the box of chopped frozen spinach. It probably works with the boxed kind but I haven't tried it. Also, the Whole Foods generic coconut milk is the cheapest I've found anywhere. No, they do not pay me but they are the only grocery store that I can easily walk to and that's why I mention them all the time. They have a reputation for being really pricey but their generic stuff is on par with TJ's.

This experiment started pre-Thanksgiving, but it's very appropriate after a week of leftovers overload. I have holiday food portion control issues and then I get in a bad cycle where I eat too much dinner and then don't feel hungry enough for breakfast and then it repeats, over and over. I've found that on days when I can't face my usual breakfast of eggs the smoothie is the best solution and it can nip that cycle in the bud without triggering the sugar cravings I get from most commercially made smoothies.

Whew. I guess I get why people talk about them so much. Apparently once you start discussing green smoothies you can't figure out how to stop. I'm not even that obsessed, I swear.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The long holiday weekend




the table
{the table}

the day after
{the day after}

new toys!
{new toys!}

napping companion
{napping companion}

In the end, my timing wasn't quite as on as last year. The turkey was just a wee bit late coming out of the oven but I don't think anyone minded. I also ran out of chilled champagne, but I think that correlates directly with the late turkey so I'm just going to call it a single glitch.

D designed our place cards this year with a clever tab system so they fit in the mini candlestick holder on our funny glass turkeys. He thinks they came out a little disco-fever-y but I love them.

I was wiped out for the rest of the weekend but luckily Circe is an excellent companion in inactivity and we borrowed her for the weekend. Her ability to nap for long stretches of time is unrivaled. We took her to Petco (her first time inside a store! - she leads a sheltered life) and allowed her to pick out her own dog toy. I think wandering around an aisle of toys was the most exciting experience in her life to date. I'm not sure it made up for the intense at home grooming session that followed, though.

I'm not one of those people who starts gearing up for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. I generally need about a week to recover and work through my leftovers. But we are having friends over for eggnog later this week and I'm feeling ready to get started.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-giving (friends-giving?)

We still haven't decided on the official title, but the dinner was a success.

I can't get enough Thanksgiving so we invited some friends over for a warm up meal over the weekend. I wouldn't ever want to give up family Thanksgiving but I've always been a little envious of friends who end up doing their own thing to avoid travel. We wanted it to feel relaxed and celebratory and I think it worked. I was busy enjoying myself and only stepped away from the table long enough to snap a single action photo over the course of the six hour meal so that's what we have. We made a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and asked everyone to bring their favorite side dish.

pre-giving table
{pre-giving table}

tiny glass turkeys!
{tiny glass turkeys!}


Not pictured - several rounds of Pictionary, gin punch, bourbon cocktails, really intense discussions, a few impressions and the most balanced array of side dishes you could imagine given that we gave people NO INSTRUCTIONS on what to bring. People must have had psychic connections going on.

The tiny glass turkeys were an impulse buy from CostPlus on Saturday. I don't know why but I love them inordinately and plan to use them as place card holders, assuming I get myself together and actually make place cards this week. I justified it because I generally spend no money on table decor for this holiday. I collected a few baby pinecones over the last week and D gave them a misting of gold spray paint and then I put out those pomegranates I picked and our collection of honeymoon brass candlesticks. The table looked a bit sparse but my theory is once dinner gets started no one notices. HOT TIP - the dripless unscented candles from Trader Joe's were amazing. Actually dripless, right up until the very end (blow them out when they have about an inch to go and you'll be good, otherwise they do drip when they gutter out), they lasted almost the entire party and they were half the price of most other candles. I'm stocking up today.

Thanksgiving!!! Maybe I will live blog my preparations tomorrow? No, probably not.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Candles, finally

I approach scented candles with caution. I like to have one around so I can light it after I clean the house (apparently this is an almost universal reaction?) but I don't want candles cluttering up my space and that puts some pressure on me to pick exactly the right scent. I'd been candle-less for a couple months because I couldn't make a decision.

fig and jasmine
{fig and jasmine}

I stopped at Patchwork a few weekends ago to see my talented cousin and ended up buying two candles from this shop. I have the teakwood and tobacco in my bathroom and the fig and jasmine in the living room. They're both excellent and about 1/3 of the price of the high end ones I was considering.

teakwood and tobacco
{teakwood and tobacco}

I'm just glad I don't have to think about candles for a while.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving - plan of attack

We are one week out from Thanksgiving, which is my holiday. This is only the second year we've hosted it but I gradually started taking over the cooking years earlier. I picked up the Bon Apetit Thanksgiving issue and settled down to do my research last weekend. In all honesty, I make the same core foods every year. I just like reading the magazines and sometimes I'll make different veg side dishes or pick up some gravy tips.

Once you've planned Thanksgiving a couple times it stops feeling overwhelming, but I still have a system. It involves lots of paper notes. I'm not sure if this will be helpful to anyone else, but here it goes.

2012 thanksgiving planning
{2012 thanksgiving planning}

MENU: Figure out what dishes you are making and which ones you are delegating. Write them all down. Pull out your recipes.

GROCERIES: Figure out your grocery list and decide which stores you'll be hitting up. I do a Whole Foods trip (free-range turkey), a Trader Joe's trip (butter, whipping cream, eggs) and a regular grocery store trip (vegetables, sugar, flour, sundries, gladware*). Decide what days you're shopping and for the love of god don't make one of them the day before Thanksgiving or you might give up altogether.

BREAKDOWN: For the dishes you are making, write down the name of the dish and then break down the steps below it. This doesn't have to be insanely detailed, but the breakdown will help, I promise. For stuffing I have: dry bread cubes, chop veggies, saute and combine, bake (30 minutes at 375). For pumpkin pie I just have: make crusts (freeze), make filling and bake (1 hour at 350). This is also useful if you have kitchen assistants because it makes it really easy to delegate concrete tasks.

I usually end up re-writing this a couple times to make sure it all fits relatively neatly on a single page. Here is my 2011 list. I'll be modifying slightly this year but it helps to look back.

2011 thanksgiving schedule
{2011 thanksgiving schedule}

PREP SCHEDULE: Then I start scheduling. The breakdown helps here because I can schedule smaller tasks on the days leading up to Thanksgiving. For instance, I like to dry my bread cubes and have my pie crusts made by Tuesday. Potatoes get peeled and chopped and placed in water on Wednesday night. Sweet potatoes get roasted on Wednesday** morning, while I'm making the pie fillings. I make the cranberry relish and sauce on Tuesday. I make little notations next to the steps and then I cross out the steps once I've completed them.

OVEN SCHEDULE: When I make the meal at my mom's house, I have a huge advantage. Two huge advantages, actually. They have giant double ovens. I, on the other hand, have one smallish apartment oven and it dictates how much hot food I can put out. I make an oven schedule and I work it around the turkey roasting time***. Since the turkey needs to rest for 30 minutes, I aim to have him out just after the guests arrive. As soon as I pull him out, I can pop two dishes in the oven for 30 minutes. The rolls always get a space and then it's a throw down between the stuffing and the sweet potatoes. I bake both the morning of but they need to be re-heated. I think this year I'm going to put one in the broiler and hope for the best. You don't even know what I would give for a third rack in the oven.

Of course, this means that we can't have any other side dishes that need to go in the oven. Which is a bummer because the slow roasted green beans with sage were really calling my name this year.

I try to avoid clutter, but I like to save my Thanksgiving schedule each year. It makes my planning the next year easier but the real reason is just that I love these sorts of preserved snippets of life. After our wedding my aunt gave me a giant binder full of old handwritten family recipes with notes and I treasure it - I rarely feel closer to someone than when I get to see the notes they've written to themselves about food they've made.

*If you're hosting it's a really nice touch to pick up a big pack of gladware (or the generic equivalent). This way you can send your guests home with leftovers and they don't need to feel obligated to return the containers later.

**I am incredibly lucky because I'm usually able to take the day before Thanksgiving off, which makes my life much easier. However, you can do everything in one day (I made our entire Thanksgiving meal in 4 hours the year we had to transport it to the hospital) but if you have any free time at all I'd recommend doing as much prep work in advance in the evenings.

**I use Alton's Brown's turkey roasting method and I swear by it. It cuts the cook time down considerably but more importantly, it makes the best turkey. I don't bother with the brining most years because I hate wrestling a cold turkey into a pot of liquid and I don't think it matters if you start with a decent quality bird. I would highly recommend this, not just for taste reasons but for ethical ones. There has to be something wrong with meat that costs less than a dollar per pound. I pay more than double that for our turkey and I opt to buy a smaller turkey so the overall cost difference isn't too crazy. The last two years I've ordered from my local Whole Foods because they offer options from a company I've looked into and feel comfortable doing business with.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Closing shop

I closed my Etsy shop before the wedding because time was in short supply. I intended to re-open it in time for the holidays last year, but um, I'd realized that actually having free evenings was amazing. So I told myself I'd give it a year and then make a decision.

The bottom line is that while I always turned a profit, by the time I'd paid taxes (doing my taxes was fairly hellish in and of itself) and figured out what my actual gross for the year was and then started calculating how many hours I was putting into the shop, it started to look ridiculous. I never finished those calculations because it was too depressing. I'm pretty sure I was working for less than $2 an hour. And while I loved custom orders and interacting with customers and the entire business of it, I value my time more highly than that. I was doing enough volume to take up virtually all my free time so it was hard to call it a hobby and I've never believed in treating a business like a hobby anyways. While I was sewing items over and over again for resale, it was hard to feel motivated to do my own projects.

So I'm closing the shop, for good. It was a great experience and I'm not saying I won't ever try running a business again, but this particular one is finished.

Sept 2010 shop update

I've gone ahead and listed all my remaining inventory and I'll keep the shop open until December 15th. I'm also clearing out all the fabrics I used for the rosebud line so if anyone is interested in crafting material, just let me know and we'll work out a good price.

Thank you all for your support over the years, both here and in the shop!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The weekend, briefly

sage, waiting
{sage, waiting}

saturday coffee
{saturday coffee}



rose hips
{rose hips}



I'm in full on Thanksgiving planning mode, which is one of my favorite places to be. I picked the sage we'll be using and I'm crossing my fingers that I can keep it alive for a week and a half. It's the Cleveland sage I love and once you use it you can't go back to the grocery store varieties. I'm babying it and refreshing the water every day.

The pomegranates came in a little late this year, but they're gorgeous. They're so readily available now, but I still think of them as precious and I wait for them all year. I don't think we're going to manage to make jelly this year, so I can eat them with impunity. You know you've picked a good pomegranate when you accidentally drop it and it splits wide open and spills juice all over the floor.

I'm doing recipe development for a holiday cocktail that will hopefully involve cranberries, ginger and bourbon. It's slow going because I can only test 2 or 3 drinks before I'm no longer an impartial judge. I'm an extremely amateur mixologist.

Rose hips and roses go together so well and I can't decide which is more beautiful - the flowers themselves or the traces they leave behind. The hips look just like scaled down pomegranates and I love them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pudding (and thanks)

Thank you all so much for the support this week - your comments and emails have meant so much.

Pudding is my comfort food. Luckily, the Japanese market stocks a good selection. I couldn't choose between two extremes so I gave up and got both for a pudding-off. Mango pudding with sour cream topping vs. classic vanilla.

puddings, two options
{puddings, two options}

The mango was good, but the vanilla killed it. Ridiculously rich and smooth with a tiny bit of burnt sugar on the bottom. I'm studying the ingredients list on the label to figure out if I can re-create it at home. I think the secret is a whole lot of heavy cream and not too much sugar.

These are both from MamMoth Bakery in Gardena and Marukai stocks them around LA.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four years

I guess I'm still writing these yearly check in posts. They do something for me. Articulating where I am each year helps me see our situation more clearly and lets me put it in context. It's the most personal post I put up each year and I always debate whether I want to do it, but then I do. The accident, year one, year two and year three are right here. 

This day four years ago it was a Wednesday and the election results were splashed all over the news and I got a phone call from my mom as I stepped out of the shower at the gym and our lives changed in an instant.

Four years feels like forever and nothing at all. I thought this year would be easier, a plateau where we could all just take a breather, but we're finding that it's just as difficult in different ways.

After last year's post I went on obsessive internet searches looking for solutions. I found an affordable adult daycare close to my parents and it's been a mixed blessing. It gives my mom a break for a portion of the day, but it still isn't nearly enough time to take care of the house, the usual errands and herself. How can you fit a life in 7 hour increments? Dave hates it and rebels by dawdling as long as possible in the mornings, whittling down the time. We hate that he hates it but haven't found a better option. It's heartbreaking. How can I reconcile myself to knowing that there is no good solution for my family? That we're always going to be choosing between competing needs? I cling to my assertion that Dave is a part of our family and even if he isn't fully capable of understanding that anymore, he needs to be part of the team and that means he won't always get what he wants, just like the rest of us. Underneath my skin I feel flinty and bruised, all at once.

Dave has enough of his faculties left to be aware of his deficits, but not enough to resolve them. There won't be any improvement. The doctors can't tell us exactly what to expect, but the consensus is that brain injuries can accelerate the onset of dementia. We're not sure how much time we have and that makes it hard to plan. He needs to be within earshot of someone at all times, day and night. He'll put something on the stove and forget about it, he'll fall asleep in the shower, he thinks he hears us calling to him and he gets up and wanders off, he has seizures that terrify him.

We've started looking for residential facilities, with no idea of how we could possibly pay for them once the time comes. We found a place that looks promising but Dave is concerned that everyone there is too old. It broke my heart when I realized that he thought he was more functional than they were, these elderly people with walkers who were clearly still able to hold their own in the lunchtime gossip sessions. He has no idea. We observed and ate our soup with crackers, asking Dave questions to keep the conversation going, as we've learned we have to do. I can't find a place close to us that has residential traumatic brain injury care and I'm not sure Dave would like it any better if I did. Every brain injury is different, experienced differently by the individual. Where does Dave fit in now? Where will he fit in five years?

What Dave wants, what we all desperately want, is the life we had pre-accident. Realizing we have to settle for something very different was hard enough for the rest of us and it's proving nearly impossible for Dave, understandably. My mom is worn thin and I'm afraid that a few more years of this and I'll lose her as well. I suddenly see the appeal of families with seven kids. My sister and I aren't enough, can't be enough. We need hands to trade off, people to step in, schedules that could be coordinated in giant color coded spreadsheets.

I worry about how Dustin and I can keep our lives moving forward, when we're constantly tugged back home. There isn't enough time to give to everyone who needs us, so we exist in a near constant state of guilt, but we can't keep shorting ourselves either. I alternate between thinking we'll never have kids, to spare them this kind of caretaking and then wondering what will happen to us if we don't. I make a mental note to check into long term care insurance, either way. We talk about setting aside a certain number of days each month that are just for us. Sometimes we even manage it.

I feel like I'm in a house with lots of hallways but no doors. Every option that comes up is flawed, every potential solution is unaffordable or impractical. I pingpong between rage, optimism and hopelessness. I know that our situation isn't unique. Caretaking is something most families will deal with in some form, sooner or later. That doesn't make it less lonely.

The sadness is an undercurrent that runs beneath us but we try not to let it pull us in. I'm glad that Thanksgiving comes shortly after this anniversary. My favorite holiday, a chance to regroup and remind ourselves that we're a family, that we chose each other and we continue to choose each other, even when life doesn't turn out the way we'd anticipated. We're going to keep looking for solutions this year, because I refuse to accept that there aren't any. Family is worth fighting for, always.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The weekend, briefly







{downtown at dusk}

We had two family birthdays and lots of driving around.

I checked on the progress of this year's avocado crop and the pups helped. They know that the avocados that fall on the ground belong to them so they have a vested interest. It's going to be at least a month before we can pick any, but I'm already looking forward to it.

We all took advantage of the spike in temperature and spent a lot of the weekend outside, but it didn't stop us from using the fireplace briefly. We're pretending it's fall. The weather might not be cooperating, but the light certainly feels right.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Barbie cake - adventures in fondant

I've never used fondant and I've always been scared of it. We made a trial Barbie cake a couple weeks before the party and I just did the bodice with buttercream. Terrible, terrible idea. The bodice looked okay initially, but it's tough to pipe on a doll and as soon as the cake came to room temp we had issues. It smeared if you looked at it wrong. There wasn't any way to keep the hair out of the way and synthetic hair + buttercream is supremely unappetizing.

test barbie
{test barbie with buttercream bodice}

I spent a lot of time researching fondant options in cake decorating forums and it seems Duff's fondant is superior taste wise but might be a bit soft. Wilton fondant is middle of the road. Serious cake decorators seem to like the Satin Ice fondant which I didn't even see at Michael's. I went with Wilton because it had the smallest package available and I figured the taste was completely inconsequential since I didn't anticipate anyone attempting to eat the bodices (spoiler - no one did, so we were safe).

barbies ready to party
{barbies ready to party}

There are a million fun looking fondant tools but I couldn't justify spending money on them. We just sprinkled powder sugar over a cutting board, rolled out lumps of fondant with my usual rolling pin and went for it.

experimenting with fondant
{experimenting with fondant}

Fondant tips from a completely unqualified person: 

Roll it out with powdered sugar. Cut it with a sharp knife. Start by draping it around the bodices so you can get an idea of how it feels to work with it. I didn't have a template for the tops, so we just winged it, basically cutting squares and then trimming them with a knife.

If you want to color it, gel food coloring works best and you can just dip a toothpick in the gel, then smear it on a lump of fondant and knead it in.

You can make ruffles without any fancy tools. I just rolled the fondant out, cut a few strips and then used the wrong end of a paintbrush as a tiny roller. If you run it along one edge of the fondant it creates a ruffle effect.

Attach the fondant to the bodice and to itself using clear alcohol (i.e. vodka). Just dip your finger or a paintbrush in the alcohol and lightly brush it over the surface.

If you want to use food color spray, it's best to cut the shape first and then spray it and let it dry before attaching it.

I made the gold bodice using some luster dust that's been kicking around my kitchen for well over a decade (if we were going to eat it, I might have worried about the age, but whatever). Any cake decorating store should stock it. To use it, just mix it with a few drops of clear alcohol and paint it on.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Barbie cake!

The makings of a quadruple Barbie cake. Because we are all about fulfilling long delayed childhood dreams for those we love. Also, we like a baking challenge.

quadruple barbie cake
{quadruple barbie cake}

We bought a Wonder Mold, three extra doll cake picks, one small package of white fondant. Optional: decor of your choice - we picked out silver food spray (because how could I resist?) and some sparkles and I already had some gel food coloring. This is all cheaper if you strategically use Michael's coupons but in hindsight I'd probably just order everything online because three trips to Michael's (my personal hell) in one week nearly unhinged me.

I picked out our recipes. This would have been much faster if we used cake mix. Normally, I have nothing against cake mix in a time crunch and if you make your own frosting most people will never know. The Barbie cake dilemma is that the ratio of cake to frosting is way off. You have a big slab of cake with just a small outside layer of frosting, so I was concerned that the cake mix taste would be too prominent.

I made a master shopping list.

D and I brainstormed decorating ideas and came up with some sketches. We spent waaaay more time talking about these cakes than any sane couple ever would. We're firmly united in our love of ridiculous projects.

I made a schedule:
Tuesday night - bake chocolate and red velvet cakes.
Wednesday night - bake semolina and coconut-lime cakes, make french buttercream frosting.
Thursday night - re-whip french buttercream, make cream cheese frosting, make chocolate glaze, frost all cakes, make fondant bodices and set aside.
Friday - transport (rock solid from the overnight refrigeration) cakes out to the desert, stick the bodice picks in at the last minute.

It worked out pretty well, but you probably won't be surprised to hear that we were up until 2 am on Thursday night. If I'd been able to take a half day off of work it wouldn't have been an issue, but I wasn't about to tell my boss I needed time off to make an enormous Barbie cake.

Here are the ladies and the recipes I used for each of them.

coconut skirt
{coconut lime cake with a french buttercream crumb coat under the lime glaze, decorated with coconut flakes}

cream cheese ruffles

french buttercream scallops

chocolate with sprinkles
{double chocolate cake with chocolate glaze frosting, gradated sprinkle effect}

Recipe notes: 

Everything was a single batch except the chocolate frosting which was doubled. The cake mold holds 5 - 6 cups of batter, which meant some of these cakes had more batter than I could use. I filled the mold 3/4 full each time and if there was leftover batter then I poured it into little ramekins and baked them for snacking. Cake fuel!

We've made the coconut lime cake from Smitten Kitchen before so we knew it would be good. I think next time I might want to try subbing in some coconut milk for the buttermilk. I love coconut, so I can't get enough. I did a crumb coat with some of the french buttercream I made for the lemon rosemary semolina cake, then drizzled the lime glaze over it and then just packed coconut flakes on top.

I'm not a huge red velvet fan but it's always a crowd pleaser so I searched for a recipe online. The one I used was very moist but had enough food coloring that I could taste it in the finished product and it squicked me out. I'd probably make it again but I'd cut down on the food coloring by 3/4 and see if it was still red enough to give the effect. The cream cheese frosting that goes with the recipe (scroll down to see it) is good and all I did was add a little splash of lemon juice for extra tartness and slightly less powdered sugar. It made the frosting a bit soft, but I'll take taste over structural integrity any day. I was going for this ribbon effect but I didn't have anything even closely resembling the right tip, so it turned out a little wonky. It didn't help that it was 100 degrees out and I kept having to stop and stick everything in the fridge to cool down.

The lemon rosemary semolina cake was very, very good and will get added to my binder. It isn't very sweet and is slightly reminiscent of cornbread. The rosemary is just a hint of flavor, I might even up it next time. This cake doesn't need frosting at all, but if you have to frost it then Brave Tart's faux French buttercream is a good option. The frosting is rich but not very sweet. If you aren't a fan of butter, you won't like it, but it paired really well with the simple cake. I generally make this Swiss buttercream, which uses egg whites. The French buttercream uses egg yolks and the taste ends up being almost like ice cream. Like Swiss buttercream, it must be eaten at room temperature. If it's even the slightest bit cold, all you taste is butter.

The double chocolate cake remains the only chocolate cake I'll happily devour with or without frosting. I used the emergency chocolate frosting recipe and they paired perfectly. It was the simplest one to decorate because I just used an offset spatula to slather the frosting on and then added sprinkles.

And here is a rather grainy cell phone picture of the ladies in action that night. We bought sparkler candles, placed one on each cake and crossed our fingers that we wouldn't end up with any flaming Barbies.

quadruple barbie cake!

Adventures in fondant coming tomorrow ...