Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shortcake season

It's that time of year again ...

shortcake dough
{shortcake dough}


first strawberries
{first strawberries}

I make strawberry shortcake at least once a year because it's the traditional birthday dessert for D's grandma. I normally use my Tassjara recipe but this year I tested out Dorie Greenspan's*. The advantage is that you can scoop out the dough rather than rolling it. Normally I'd scoff at the measly time savings (rolling out your dough only adds about 10 minutes to the whole process) but I was recovering from a cold and that extra 10 minutes in bed made me a more pleasant party guest.

Verdict? I personally prefer my usual recipe, but this one is very good. If you have a fear of rolling pins, you might consider it. Strangely (to me) it doesn't call for eggs and I found the shortcake a bit denser than I like. Shortcake, like biscuits, are a very personal preference.

Those are literally all the pictures I took this weekend and that's all I've got for this week. We're approaching a critical time at work and I'm wiped out and overwhelmed. I've got a few looong posts in draft (clothing plans! Krav! budget follow up! run commute!) that I'll hopefully get up over the next few weeks, once things calm down around here.

* I will frequently type out recipes even if I haven't altered them because this blog serves as my place to store recipes I love and also because some websites (Martha Stewart, I'm talking to you) delete and move links like crazy. However, I'm happy with my current shortcake recipe so I won't be typing this one out for future use. You can find it many places online, including right here

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday flowers

For the first time in forever ...

flower trio
{flower trio}



I haven't been buying flowers lately but I had coffee with Kristin on Saturday and she sweetly brought me some of the extras from Angel's daughter's party. (Kris is my dear friend from high school who did our wedding flowers so she knows how much I love them and Angel was our wedding planner and her taste is exquisite - thanks, ladies!)

I had the best time arranging them into a trio of vases. There's something really relaxing about putting flowers together for yourself. I zone out a little and just enjoy it. Makes me want to get back into my weekly flower tradition but it'll probably have to wait until spring is more firmly established.

Those little guys in the bottom are flower frogs and I don't know how anyone arranges flowers without them. You can usually buy them at the Japanese market or you can order them online.  I have a bunch of different sizes and shapes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

My new favorite potato salad

Dustin has a problem with traditional potato salad and this has the potential to cause marital strife because I can't imagine how anyone could dislike potatoes and mayonnaise.

Luckily we've found a compromise.

potato salad
{potato salad}

This is a vinegar based potato salad but it uses bacon fat instead of oil. It's heavenly. If you're veg, you could leave out the bacon and swap in regular oil and it would still be very good, I think.
Potato salad with vinegar and bacon (recipe is from here, serves 6) 
2 1/4 pounds medium-size waxy potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
6 bacon slices, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons coarse-grained mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill (fennel fronds also work well) 
:: Steam potatoes until tip of a knife easily pierces the center of slices. This was about 10 minutes for the Yukon golds and red skinned potatoes, significantly less for the purple potatoes. Set potatoes aside in a large bowl. 
:: Sauté bacon in large skillet over medium heat until brown, about 3 minutes. Remove bacon and set aside. Reduce heat to medium. Pour off some of the fat. You want to use 2 1/2 tablespoons of drippings, which is more than you might think.  
:: Add the chopped onion and cook for about 2 minutes, until golden. Whisk in the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer until mixture is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.  
:: Pour the dressing straight from the skillet into the bowl with the potatoes. Toss gently (I actually use a soft spatula instead of a spoon to cause less breakage). Add your chopped bacon and fresh dill and toss. Transfer your salad to a smaller bowl if you'd like. Equally good warm or at room temperature. 

A few little things - 

I use my handy mandoline for slicing the potatoes.

We got a tri-color blend of waxy potatoes rather than the red potatoes the recipe calls for. Purple potatoes are gorgeous but they seem to cook more quickly. Steam them separately! Any waxy potato should work, just stay far away from russets, which have the wrong texture.

The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup water but I just use 3/4 cup white wine vinegar. I love vinegar and I don't think it's overpowering here.

2.5 tablespoons of bacon fat seems like a lot. It's more than you need to cook the onions, so I low balled it the first time I made this salad. Then I realized that the point of the bacon fat is not just to cook the onions, it's to make the dressing. Whether you're using bacon fat or oil, I recommend using the full amount in the recipe. I promise it doesn't taste greasy at all. If you want to make the dish lower fat, you could easily cut the fat down and it will be delicious but it's so much better as written.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Taste off

We had a double blind beer tasting contest last weekend. You know how everyone has their loyalty to some cheap beer, usually left over from college? I'll still defend Miller Lite, even though I haven't had it in a few years. The blind taste test has been on our list for ages, ever since D watched Beer Wars. We kept putting it off because we thought it would take too long to plan and then last week we decided screw it, let's just do this and we invited a few friends immediately.

double blind
{double blind}

We got tallboys (Bud, Bud Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, MGD, Miller Lite and High Life) and I covered them in brown paper grocery bags and sealed the top with masking tape. Once they were wrapped I held them out to D so he could put numbers on them while I looked away. The masking tape around the top edges made pouring a little messy but no one cared. I should have gotten a picture of the finished product but all this was happening five minutes before our friends were supposed to arrive.

beer tasting
{beer tasting}

We laid down more brown paper grocery bags to set up personal tasting stations, panicked when we realized we didn't have enough glasses for everyone and then remembered that luckily we still had leftover plastic cups from the wedding. There are no pictures of the actual tasting because it was fairly intense. Everyone wrote their guesses down on their cards, we all debated around the table and then peeled off the paper to reveal the beers. I was able to correctly identify Miller Lite, but I failed at everything else.

palate wrecker ipa
{palate wrecker ipa}

After the tasting, we moved on to a meal and much fancier beers. The Green Flash Palate Wrecker IPA was excellent.

Update - I've had several people ask about our glasses (I'm flattered!), so here is the info. They're all Bormioli Rocco bodega glasses and they're affordable little workhorses. We saw them last year at Mill Valley Beerworks and loved them and then stalkerishly emailed the owner who very kindly told us the manufacturer. I have all three sizes and they work great together. The short stout ones are the mini size - I use them for tastings and they're perfect for shaken cocktails. The medium are exactly the right size for a full beer, also great for juice or wine. We use the large ones as water glasses. I got all ours here (mini, medium, large) but you can probably find them from other sources.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The weekend, briefly

Really just isolated snippets, because I didn't take my camera everywhere.

coffee with cream
{coffee with cream}

black bean salad
{black bean salad}


hot sauce testing
{hot sauce testing}

birthday cupcakes
{birthday cupcakes}

The best part about opening up some whipping cream is getting to put the leftovers in my coffee for a few days.

We made my favorite black bean salad and I added avocado. Why not?

Another family birthday party complete with a serious discussion of hot sauce, cupcakes, and a game none of us knew the name of that's a combination of telephone and pictionary. It was good. Here is my favorite drawing of the night, from D.

Friday, March 8, 2013


Just in case any of you don't read the Fearless Flyer* as devotedly as I do ... 

whipping cream
{whipping cream}

Trader Joe's now has shelf stable whipping cream! I only keep whipping cream in the fridge from Thanksgiving through Christmas, so it's nice to have an option I can store in the cupboard. I was really glad I had it last week when I decided to make the salted caramel brownies last minute. 

The container is fairly small, and once you open it you keep it refrigerated. It's ultra pasteurized, so if that skeeves you out then you won't like it. I have no issue with it and although ultra pasteurized milk in general tastes slightly different I didn't notice any difference in the final product when using this small amount. I haven't tried whipping it (not sure if the high pasteurization would change how well it whips and flavor is key in whipped cream) but I'm going to keep it around for impromptu batches of scones and things. 

* Definitely thought it was a real (and hilarious) magazine when I was a kid. I still love it. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Our friends had a whisky and donuts party a few weeks ago and I now feel qualified to tell you this - Ms. Donuts in Echo Park has the best cinnamon sugar cake donut you can get in Southern California. It's been settled. Too bad (luckily?) it's nowhere near our apartment. Here's a partial shot of the carnage. There were even more donuts on this table a little bit later.

donut party!
{donut party!}

We got our dozen from The Donuttery, which I'd never tried before. They have crazy flavors and they were conveniently located along our driving route that day, so those were the main selling points. The red velvet was a little much for me, but their apple crisp cake donut was good. I generally prefer classic donuts, though.

the donuttery
{the donuttery}

I had a donut hangover for two days, by the way. Totally worth it.

Also, under no circumstances should you ever dunk a donut in whisky. You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Combining finances

Thanks for all your input on the budgeting issue last week! I love reading over your suggestions and seeing what works for everyone. We just finished our first month with the punch cards and it's been great so far. I'll admit that we ended up eating random stuff out of the cupboard for the last two nights of the month but we survived. I'm working on making a template of the punch cards but please be patient with me because it means wrestling with making a writeable doc in Adobe.

If you hate discussing money, do yourself a favor and skip this long post.

As I mentioned, 2013 is different because Dustin and I are combining finances for the first time. We've been living together for 7 years, married for 1.5 and I guess we're ready. Sharing money is a big step for me. I've been working in some capacity since high school and I love having my own money. Those numbers in the bank feel like tangible security to me.

Prior to marriage (and for 1.5 years after) we'd shared a joint checking and savings account and had a joint credit card. Once a month we both deposited equal amounts of money in the joint checking account, transferred equal amounts of money to the joint savings account and then all our joint expenses went on our credit card and got paid from our joint account. It worked perfectly, partly because we both earn exactly the same amount of money and so we didn't have the awkward situation where one person has more disposable income than the other.

mostly separate

Our sharing but separate set up worked great, but it started to get more complicated once we got married. Both our healthcare costs started coming out of my pre-tax paycheck, which means I was suddenly taking home slightly less and this seemed like a good time to transition (obviously we could have easily remedied this by having D reimburse me or contribute more to our joint account but we both felt ready). If either of us wants/needs to change jobs in the future, we should feel supported and pooling our money is a good way for us to get to that place. At this point it's more of a mental shift than anything, because we do still earn roughly the same amount of money.

mostly combined

In February we started depositing our paychecks in our joint account, then transferring a monthly allowance to our individual accounts. I'll still have my personal retirement account and we'll still have personal savings along with joint savings. Almost all our expenses will go on the joint card but our allowances will be dedicated for clothes, times when we go out solo, gifts, etc. We aren't ditching our personal cards because they carry credit history but also because we both appreciate having some personal space. I have no issue with the fact that my favorite lip gloss costs $20 and I have weeks where I buy two cookies a day at Tavern but I like pretending I have a thin veil of privacy because no one else sees my statements. D has similar issues with shoes, I think. I don't know. That's the point of the cards. Anyways, the idea is that as long as our personal spending fits in with our joint goals, it's no one's business where the allowance goes.

Annoying logistics:

We didn't even have to set up new bank accounts and this was still a huge pain. I sat down with a spreadsheet and wrote down all our balances (checking, savings, credit cards, student loans, retirement) for both our joint and individual accounts. I wanted to start from zero so I figured out what we each needed to contribute to pay off our credit card statements (we don't carry a balance on any of our cards, so we zero it out each month) and how much we needed to have in our personal accounts to avoid fees. Previously this hadn't been an issue because I'd had direct deposit going to my personal account and if you do that most banks will waive a monthly service charge without requiring a minimum balance. We transferred money from our savings accounts to make sure we had more than enough in both our personal and joint accounts because we weren't sure how long it would take for re-routing to take place. Then we re-routed our automatic withdrawals for our student loans and retirements to our joint account. I re-routed my direct deposit to our joint account.

We're checking everything carefully for a couple months to make sure it all worked. So far one of my student loans re-directed successfully but the other didn't (bizarrely, they are serviced by the same company) so I had to pay it manually.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


This could more accurately be called things we have eaten lately because I haven't been hauling my camera around as much. We're still getting used to each other although I think D just discovered how to change the focus settings and I think our relationship (with the camera) is going to improve dramatically. Stay tuned.

red velvet donuts
{red velvet donuts}

grilled cheese
{grilled cheese}

meyer lemon
{meyer lemon}

caramel, overcooked
{caramel, overcooked}


family barbecue
{family barbecue}

birthday desserts
{birthday desserts}

We haven't been keeping bread in the house much lately, which just makes the occasional grilled cheese sandwich that much better. Topped with avocados from the tree, which are particularly good this year.

D traded some of our avos for a Meyer lemon supply and we've been reveling in them. Meyer lemon juice and tamarind simple syrup cocktails. So good.

We had a family birthday party on Saturday, which justified a little bit of baking. I hadn't baked anything since the holidays, so it was nice to get back in the kitchen again. I made Deb's caramel brownies and her Meyer lemon tart. I overcooked the caramel like crazy so it was a danger to everyone's dental work but still delicious.