Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Best biscuits

I woke up a few weeks ago dreaming of biscuits, so I spent an inordinate amount of time searching the internet for recipes. I have a biscuit recipe from Tassajara that I've used quite a few times and it's pretty good but I don't believe in being 100% faithful to recipes, even my tried and true ones. Sometimes it pays to stray.

best biscuits

I am so, so glad I cheated.

I stumbled on this Alton Brown recipe that uses buttermilk (vs. the cream the Tassajara recipe calls for). I almost never have buttermilk on hand, but I always have full fat Greek yogurt, so I mixed a couple tablespoons into regular milk and it worked just fine. I also used all butter, rather than butter/shortening. I'm sure that if you have all the correct ingredients it's even more delicious, but considering the fact that I made these twice in a one week period, I don't think it's critical.

I also love that the recipe is very easily halved, so I can easily make a small batch (although you can always freeze unbaked biscuits and bake them later). The recipe below is how I made a small batch.

Best buttermilk biscuits (my adapted recipe for a mini batch, makes 4 - 6 biscuits, depending on how big you go, original recipe from here)
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar (optional - I like a little bit of sugar in my biscuits)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1 tbsp Greek yogurt + milk to 1/2 cup, whisk well)

:: Pre-heat oven to 400 F.
:: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
:: Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter, the food processor, or your hands (as long as you don't run hot - warm hands ruin pastry). The mixture should look like crumbs, with small pieces of butter intact.
:: Pour in the "buttermilk" and stir until the dough just comes together (I always use a rubber spatula for this).
:: Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured board and pat into a rectangle, then gently fold the dough over on itself 5 - 6 times (you're creating layers here - if you haven't done this before watch the video in the original recipe for a demonstration).
:: Pat down into a rectangle at least 1" high and then cut into 4 (or 6) squarish pieces. You can also opt to make circles and then re-roll the scraps, but the second pass won't be as tender, so I go with squares and save myself the trouble.

Add some egg, cheese and bacon and these make the ultimate breakfast sandwiches.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Sizing up

We move in one week (I had a minor heart attack when I realized this - we've known for months so how could it sneak up like this?) and I'm not at all prepared right now. We'll get there.

I am dreading the entire moving process, and already shedding a few tears at the thought of leaving our good friends/landlords/neighbors, but I am also so! damn! excited! at the thought of being reunited with some of my kitchen things.

I half-heartedly did the whole Marie Kondo bit last year but didn't fully buy into it. But then we moved into our little cottage and had no choice but to suddenly simplify. Paring down for several months was a great exercise. We tried our best to guess what we would use and what we wouldn't as we packed, and anything that didn't fit was either donated or put into storage. I think we did a pretty good job. We took advantage of every little nook in our mini kitchen, and it was completely functional. We could probably continue to live with just what we have right now and it would be fine.


I've been dreaming of those storage boxes as our move approaches. Our wedding china, our wine glasses, our serving platters, my ridiculous collection of cake stands, full size baking sheets, our DINING ROOM TABLE! I'm embarrassed to admit that my heart jumps a little each time I think of them. Apparently all these things spark joy, because I can't wait to see them each day, to pull them out and use them.

Ten months of living in a small space taught me that I am not a minimalist about some things and that's okay with me. I can happily live with one set of sheets and just half a closet of clothes, but I feel deprived if I don't have five different tablecloth options. Pick your poison, I guess. I liked not having too much clutter around in our little place, though. As I start packing up I'm going to be extra conscious of what we used and what we didn't. If there's anything we haven't used since we moved in, it's not coming with us.

In the meantime, I'll be right here, just trolling through my own photos and staring at my stuff like a creepy stalker.

the table, set

plates, waiting

cake stands!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Saving citrus

We are deep in the midst of our annual citrus glut here in Southern California. Neighbors are ditching bags of oranges on your front porch and running away before you can give them back. The farmer's market is bursting at the seams.

What I mean is, it's the best time of year.

pomelo slices
{pomelo slices from our tree}

Citrus season is fleeting, and I pretty much only eat oranges during these few months. Spoiled brat that I am, I hate buying subpar oranges from the grocery store. And it's not just oranges! It's tangerines and Meyer lemons and pomelos. What do you do with all that? The answer is you eat as much as you can and save the rest.


I've been trying to be extra good about putting up as much of the bounty as possible this year. I had a huge bowl of these beautiful Meyers and no immediate use for them, so I zested them (I used the microplane on half of them and then used a peeler on the other half to get strips of zest - I like having options) and popped the tray in the freezer and waited till everything was frozen before I bundled the zest up in the cling wrap and tucked the packets in a large freezer bag. Then I juiced all the lemons and froze the juice in ice cube trays that hold 1 ounce each (I have these and love them).

I also zest our oranges and tangerines before we eat them and at this point I am well stocked with zest from lemons, tangerines, pomelos, and a nice variety of different orange breeds.

We should be set on cocktail supplies for the foreseeable future, is my basic point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More pillows!

I was on a roll after making my crocheted pillow cover (and looking for someone I could pawn the second one off on) so I made some throw pillows for my sister, a project that's been on the back burner for over a year now, when she first mentioned that she'd like some. This is the only gift I attempted this year and I'm really happy with them. She has our dad's old leather couch, which he had for as long as I can remember. He never had throw pillows for it (too manly?) but every time I visit her we talk about how it should have some.

Now she does.

pillows on my couch, not the leather one

That couch has always felt very classic and masculine and I wanted the pillows to be in keeping with it. I decided to go with a clothing theme, if that makes sense. I had the crocheted pillow, which is reminiscent of a sweater. The camel and the houndstooth are cashmere fabrics that I salvaged from thrifted men's coats and they're backed with linen (white for the camel, black for the houndstooth). The grey one is a nice heavy duty linen that I got at Ikea (best source for good cotton/linen solids) and I gave it some pintuck pleats for good measure (and then promptly made myself one because I love how it turned out).

These Ikea pillow inserts are the best. 20" square, down filled, inexpensive. They aren't super plump, so I sew my pillow cases a bit small (17" or 18" square) and kind of stuff them in there. I like an overstuffed pillow because you don't have to fluff it up as often.

Throw pillows are pretty simple but I still manage to spend a lot of time on them, especially when I haven't done them in a while. For these I used an envelope style closure* in the back and then added a couple of buttons on each. Since they're overstuffed the buttons help prevent gaping.

This reminded me that it isn't that hard to do these little projects I keep putting off.  I can be really lazy about pulling out the sewing machine, but the end result is so satisfying. Maybe I'll actually hem those curtains that have been dragging 2" on our floor for the last six months.

* I was looking back for the tutorial I used the last time I made slip covers and was bummed to discover that the page is gone. But this tutorial has a nice explanation and works really well for the 20" inserts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Not an afghan

Back in December I decided to treat myself to a crochet project. I used to love crocheting, but I stopped because I was working pretty intensely in the lab at the time and all of it combined was aggravating my wrists. So it's been years since I crocheted anything, but I was craving it and I told myself I'd be careful.

I started about three different afghans and pulled them apart and finally decided that what I really wanted was a cover for our throw pillows. See, we've had these black and white Ikea cases that we picked up almost a decade ago and I was getting so sick of looking at them.

I mean, they're fine, I guess. I was just tired of them.

{old pillows}


crocheted cover

 (Except it was less voila and more like being hunkered down on the couch for an entire season of Gilmore Girls while I messed around with different sized hooks and learned some new stitches - deeply satisfying craft time.)

"new" pillow
{new pillow}

It plays nicely with our gold and cream West Elm pillow (that I am not yet sick of) and it brightens up the whole couch, although you can't tell from this photo because it's been gloooomy around here and all my photos are coming out blah. I was so happy with how it turned out that I immediately made another one, and then another one, and then cut myself off because I started to worry that this would become my version of the doily and soon our entire house would be slip covered in chunky crochet.

I don't have exact instructions, but here are the details - I wanted something as close to knitting as possible (I should really learn how to knit) because I wanted a lot of texture. I ended up searching for ages to find more information about Aran crochet. The pattern I found most useful is this one. It's for an afghan, but it does a nice job of clearly describing several different stitches that create great texture. I worked through the rows a couple times on a test basis, just doing a short piece instead of the length they call for. Once I felt like I was comfortable with the stitches, I started on the pillowcase. The base is single crochet and then I would throw in rows of pattern randomly. For this pillow I just used the front ridge and cable patterns. I stopped when I had the right size front (about 17" square for my 20" pillow insert). Then I created two back panels out of single crochet so I could do an envelope closure in back. On one of the pieces I skipped a few stitches about 3/4" in from the edge to create buttonholes. At the end I pinned all the pieces together and then pieced them together by running a quick slip stitch along the edges.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Citrus salad

We are overrun with pomelos around here.


I tried to force Circe in there for a size comparison but it still isn't quite doing justice to the scale of these things. They are huge. I tried zesting one and realized that I couldn't do it alone because I needed both hands to hold it and therefore couldn't also hold the microplane.

Pomelos are closely related to grapefruit, but the flavor is a bit milder. You can easily eat them without any sugar at all, although they aren't as sweet as an orange.

A few weeks ago we were going to a party and I needed to bring something. I stumbled on this citrus salad with bitters and honey  recipe and we had everything we needed. Done.


After spending over an hour supremeing all that citrus I was starting to regret my decision not to run to the store and pick up a bag of chips instead. But the end result was so good that I'd actually be willing to do it again, although probably on a smaller scale. I used pomelos, Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges and Satsumas (I tend to go nuts in the citrus stall at the farmer's market this time of year) and then added some sliced kumquats and pomegranate seeds for garnish. So, so good.

Regular fruit salad skeeves me out. I think it's the bananas (that inevitably turn brown) and the grapes, which I love on their own but hate mixed in with other things. But a pile of citrus is always a winner.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ornament for Dad


My sister and I made these ornaments for my dad's birthday this year. He was born in early December, so it seemed appropriate to have something we could put on the tree (or the wreath, in tight quarters) each year.

I designed the background in Illustrator and included his initials in his handwriting, which I scanned from a letter and cleaned up in Photoshop.

The central piece is a fly that my dad hand-tied for fly-fishing. He was an avid fly-fisherman and always tied his own lures, so we have a really beautiful collection of them and we chose some of our favorites for the ornaments.

I spent forever looking for the right type of ornament and finally realized I should be searching under jewelry findings. I wanted something that felt classic and a little antique-y. I ended up purchasing these shadowbox lockets from this Etsy seller. They were perfect. I did as the seller suggested and sealed them with E6000, since they aren't meant to be opened up repeatedly.

I haven't put it away yet and I probably won't this year, but in the future I think it will be nice to pull it out of the box each year as we're decorating the tree, which always falls right around his birthday.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Once a month meal planning - January

Trying out this new thing, where I only plan monthly instead of weekly. I don't know that I'll do this indefinitely, but January is always a rough month for me and this one will be particularly insane. Work is crazy for me, D is going to be studying a lot, we're going to be moving. I didn't take the moving thing into account when I made this schedule, so part of me feels like I've already failed, but I'll adjust as necessary.


I've always been a weekly meal planner but I'm a fairly repetitive cook. I tend to make the same few dishes regularly, so I figured - why not run with it? Those of you who like to make new things all the time will probably die of boredom just looking at my list. I did have that month where I tried making a different (new) dish every weeknight and it was fun, but not sustainable for me.

What I did here was assign each night of the week a different theme. Mondays are spiralizer nights (and you'll notice that this month I'm just sticking with our favorite - sweet potato noodles with bolognese). Tuesdays are lentils, and this month I'm alternating between two of my favorite recipes. Wednesdays are crockpot nights as long as it's chilly. Thursdays are for baked potatoes and Fridays are for whatever can be made as fast as possible, because I have a three hour weekly meeting on Friday evenings and by the time I get home I'm exhausted and starving.

I've front loaded the recipes that involve actual cooking at the beginning of the week. That leaves me flexibility because if we have too many leftovers I can just skip the planned Thu-Fri meals and the ingredients will keep till next week (or the weekend). We're only in the first week and I'm already taking advantage of that because D ended up having lunch meetings every day this week and didn't need to take any lunches to work, so the three cooked meals will probably carry us.

As usual, I don't meal plan for weekends, because we often end up being out and about and if we're at home there's generally leftovers or something quick.

Can't decide if I'm going to get super bored and go off the rails. I actually don't think this is much more repetitive than I am normally, but there's something about seeing it all laid out that makes it feel more repetitive.

Recipes that I'm using this month: 

Sweet potato noodles with bolognese - not a real recipe, but I mention it in my spiralizer post and it's one of our favorites. I bought all the meat at once and divided it up and froze it into four portions. If I was truly getting serious, I could have made a huge batch of marinara to portion and freeze but I just bought four jars. Baby steps.
Coconut curried red lentils 
Black lentils with caramelized onions
Butternut squash coconut chili (new to me)
Chicken in cashew nut sauce - as usual, I'll make a double batch of the sauce and freeze half for next month
Sweet potato and black bean chili - I love this recipe and I've been making it about every three weeks to use up the odds and ends of sweet potato leftover from spiralizing.
Chicken enchilada soup - still a favorite around here.

This month is going to completely decimate my freezer supply of homemade chicken broth, so I'll probably make sure that a couple of our weekend meals consist of rotisserie chicken so I can restock. The homemade broth makes such a huge difference in soups.

I did most of our shopping last weekend and it was surprisingly not that much work. We're only two people, and there are a few things I'll have to pick up weekly (salad greens and produce) but all in all it was really manageable. It was also really cheap. I know the bill will go up because we'll still be purchasing things throughout the month, but it was crazy to see what a small portion of our grocery budget went towards the bulk of our food needs this month. The lentils help with that. We're not vegetarian (clearly) but I try to limit how much meat I eat and this is the general level that I'm comfortable with. This month we have red meat once per week (but we each get two servings because there are leftovers) and we have chicken every other week (again, we each get a couple servings). I've posted about how we approach meat here.

I'm mildly obsessed with meal planning and don't hesitate to switch up my system as our lives change, so you can find lots of other posts on it here if you search "meal plan." My original post on developing my meal planner is here and my 2014 update is here. This post is about coming up with your own system. Here is a post on three weeks of meals in detail.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Holidays, 2015

Apologies that a couple of these are recycled from Instagram. I keep thinking I'll manage to get my photos off my camera but at this point it's getting a little late for a holiday recap anyways so I don't think I should wait any longer!

{citrus sea-salt caramels}

{yule log!}

{christmas day}

{circe + champagne}

{NYE negroni bar}

The holidays were hard this year. I knew they were going to be hard, and it still surprised me (this is a theme lately, I'm noticing).

I was careful in the lead up, taking time for myself, paying attention to what I wanted to do. I made citrus sea-salt caramels (caramel recipe here, citrus sea-salt instructions here - FYI, these caramels were okay but not great, but that might have been my fault). Emily and I decided at the last minute to bake a yule log and it ended up being awesome to spend those hours together in the kitchen. It's been a while since we've been able to carve out that much time for a purely fun project and it was special. I think that taking care of myself helped a lot and I'm glad I did.

Christmas Eve was the day we always spent with Dad. This year we went to his house, as usual, but of course he wasn't there. The second I walked in and was greeted by his beloved dog I started to tear up. I lost track of how many times I ended up crying that day. It was hard, being there, surrounded by his things, without him.

Don't get me wrong - there was plenty of good. Time with our families, room service breakfast on Christmas morning, a NYE celebration with friends where the negroni bar was so good that I had to take a nap halfway through the party so I could make it to midnight. I'm grateful for all of that, and I do feel ready to go into this new year. I had some good downtime the week after Christmas and I spent it planning, figuring out financial stuff that had been on the backburner, and coming up with a meal system that will take up minimal brain power from me in January, and strategizing for our rapidly approaching move (yes, we're moving again, and yes, it's been planned forever and it still managed to sneak up on me). Hello, 2016.