Thursday, March 31, 2016


I haven't been to Yosemite in over a decade and D has never been, so when our good friends mentioned that they had reserved a couple of camping spaces we were eager to tag along. It goes without saying that two nights is not enough time, but it was so beautiful that I'm glad we made the detour.

{mist trail}

{breakfast prep}

{morning light}

{buckley and circe waiting patiently}

{baby + dog in puffers}

{completely unfazed by her first introduction to snow}

We were staying in Upper Pines campground, which is in Yosemite Valley. All the campsites are close together but I have to admit that having running water definitely made up for it! The last few times we've camped we haven't had it and it's a luxury for sure.

Another great thing about the campground is that you have good access to trails with no driving required. We hiked the mist trail to Vernal Fall, which was stunning (and aptly named - we were glad we had our rain shells), and then continued on the John Muir trail a bit further to loop around rather than coming right back down.

It rained in the afternoon, so we holed up by the fireplace in the Ahwahnee for a few hours to dry out and have some drinks.

It was a good reminder that even a short camping trip is better than none at all. And to get our butts in gear to block out some weekend trips and make reservations for the rest of the year.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Berkeley birthday weekend

We made a quick trip up to Berkeley for my niece's first birthday last week. I know it's such a cliche, but I can't believe it's been a year! She's so firmly embedded in our hearts. I can even get over the fact that D is her absolute favorite because it's so sweet to see her light up as soon as she sees him. I'm just hoping I can edge Circe out for second place in her affections (it's a tight contest).


{engrossed in the toy bin}


{dustin is in demand - two dogs, one baby}

{birthday treats}

{berkeley bowl}

It cracks me up to see how well Circe does with Casey. They have the exact same taste in toys and Circe patiently accepts Casey's pets/slaps. I think a big part of it is that Circe has learned that babies drop a lot of food on the floor. Whatever it takes, right? Terriers aren't always known for their stellar behavior around small children, so I'm just grateful that she's warmed up to kids.

We spent most of the weekend hanging out with Casey, but we did manage multiple trips to Berkeley Bowl, aka - one of my favorite places on the planet. Since we were going camping right after we left town I finally had the perfect excuse to go to town on the snack selection in their bulk bins. We also picked up a bunch of produce and a pretty amazing pack of mixed beer. And marshmallows. My favorite thing about this store is that you can choose from 20 different types of local honey but still pick up normal groceries, like regular sugar. Whole Foods will never measure up.

We hit the road on Sunday afternoon and headed for Yosemite. I'll share some pictures tomorrow from our super quick camping trip.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Reading, lately

2016 got off to a slow start for me, reading wise. The move was definitely taking up most of my time and then for a while I was on the waitlist for a ton of books but none of them seemed to be arriving, so I just re-read a bunch of stuff (I do love having a bookshelf in my house again, with all my old favorites). New reads only here:

A God in Ruins - I love Kate Atkinson, so I was excited to get to this one. It was beautiful and follows the same family as Life After Life. I think Life After Life remains my favorite, but only because I tended to start skimming when it got to the really technical plane details in this one. I'm sorry, I don't care about planes, but this book almost convinced me.

Where All Light Tends to Go - Such a good title, right? This novel was fairly well done, and so sad. I had a hard time at first really believing in the characters, mostly because the underlying plot premise is a little tired (bad boy loves a girl who is too good for him) but I got attached to them as I read further and I will fully admit that the ending surprised me.

Among the Missing (by Morag Joss - there are so many books with this title!) - This was tense and creepy and I really enjoyed it. A woman who is feeling uncertain about her life seizes the opportunity to suddenly disappear. For several chapters in the middle I thought this had transitioned to an interesting novel, rather than a thriller, but no. It gets creepy again and it's good.

Bull Mountain - I thought this was a novel when I started reading it, but it's actually more of a mystery/thriller about a family of outlaws (and one rogue brother who becomes a sheriff) in Appalachia. It has a rough start, at least for me, because it's a ton of dialogue and that is so hard to get right. The long paragraphs of conversation felt clunky to me, and not realistic. But as the plot picks up and the conversation dies down a bit, I was pulled right in. The wrap up to this book is pretty crazy, in a good way.

Secrets from the Eating Lab - An interesting look at diets, eating, etc. I mostly read this because I loooove reading the behind the scenes information about food studies. The set ups are so tricky! I liked this book and it's very accessible for the layman. Perhaps too accessible? There are a ton of footnotes but it's light on much actual scientific information so you'd have to dig to read more about the studies - that might not bother you if you don't like reading actual studies but I'm always curious about how robust they actually are. Anyways, if you want to feel justified in never dieting again (a worthy ambition, I think), you will probably enjoy this book.

Depraved Heart (new Patricia Cornwell) - OMG, so bad. At this point I think the only possible explanation for this terrible-ness of this series is that all the bus billboards have gone to Cornwell's head and she refuses to accept any input from an editor. Either that or they're in cahoots and just testing us to see when we'll stop reading. It's not just the insane plots, guys, there are sentences in here that I had to re-read multiple times to figure out what she was trying to say. I know, I know - why continue to read these? I have no good answer for that. I've been reading this series since I was 13 and my mom asked the used bookstore lady what she would recommend next for a girl who had read all the Agatha Christie mysteries already (note - this was a terrible recommendation for a 13 year old. I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep for a month). Every time a new one comes out, I dutifully put myself on the wait list at the library and then kind of dread getting the email notification that lets me know it's my turn. This probably indicates some type of deep rooted psychological problem.

Gold Fame Citrus - This might have hit a little too close to home for me, since it's set in a near future scenario where California has completely run out of water and the remaining inhabitants live in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Reading this as we experienced our hottest February on record (when the promised El NiƱo rains had failed to materialize) made me feel incredibly anxious. Drought aside, I'm still a little torn on it. The writing is sometimes beautifully lyrical, but other times it felt like it was working too hard to be lyrical and the plot sometimes drove me a little mad. But all in all, I liked it more as I got further into it. 

A Manual for Cleaning Women - And then I moved right on to this collection of short stories, which is both lyrical and cutting and feels effortless. There are a lot of stories in here and many of them are wonderful. There are just a few that fell flat for me, but in a collection this big that isn't really surprising. I had a hard time slowing myself down while I was reading these and it was one of those books where I wanted to be re-reading it even as I was reading it for the first time, if that makes sense. As soon as I finished I started selectively re-reading some of them, but it's turning into most of them.

As seems to happen with the library, after the dry-spell of February I suddenly started getting emails this last week that all the books I've been waiting for have come in, and now I'm going to have to really set aside some time to try to get to them all before my loan period is up. Which probably means I should be putting some books on hold now, so that I don't hit empty as soon as I finish this current batch. What are you guys reading?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Best oatmeal cookies

Chewy oatmeal cookies in one bowl, no mixer required.

best oatmeal cookies

I like oatmeal cookies but they aren't my favorite so I rarely make them. But when I saw that Stella had developed a recipe, I decided to test them out. Every recipe I've tried of hers has been delicious, so I trust her implicitly. Also, we were having people over for dinner and I was a little bit short on flour, so my dessert options were limited.

best oatmeal cookies

These turned out soooo well. They are chewy but still a little crisp and the flavor is perfect. I meant for D to take the leftovers in to work, but they were so good that we ended up eating almost all of them over the course of the weekend.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I used chocolate chips instead of unsweetened cranberries and I made the scoops 1.5 oz instead of 1 oz. What can I say? I like big cookies.

The recipe calls for regular AP flour, and I only had unbleached, so I think they spread a bit more than they would have otherwise. Really interesting explanation of why she recommends not using unbleached flour in the comments, right here.

I am definitely looking for an excuse to make these again very soon.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Once a month meal planning - March

March is a little wonky because we'll be taking a short trip and the way the calendar works out for my system it's actually five weeks instead of four. I'm trying to add in more side dishes this month so that we're getting more veg. I'm normally really lazy about sides other than salads but now that I have the bigger kitchen there's no excuse. I guess I'm still being lazy because mostly what I'm doing this month is adding a big side of saag to our crockpot meals. I love cooked spinach and since I'm not doing any cooking on crockpot nights anyways, it won't feel like I'm adding too much extra work. Baby steps, right?

March meal planning

Recipes for this month:

Spicy tuna cakes + arugula salad (thinking I'll improvise a Meyer lemon and olive oil dressing for this) - I love this simple recipe and I haven't made it in a few months. I do NOT use the muffin pan because I find they stick like crazy and cleaning a muffin pan is annoying in the best of circumstances. I just form patties and bake them on the Silpat.

Braised cabbage + poached eggs - a perennial favorite. I always like to add some thinly sliced fennel and extra carrots.

Sweet potato dirty rice - another good spiralizer recipe.

Brown rice noodle and vegetable bowls - planning to increase the veg:noodle ratio by getting some large carrots so that I can spiralize them and have carrot noodles. Hope the recipe is good, since I haven't tried it before and I'm using it twice this month!

Crockpot chicken tikka masala + saag (using that recipe minus the paneer) + cauliflower rice (I get it frozen from Trader Joe's) - I haven't tried this recipe yet but I'm hoping it will be a keeper.

Dal nirvana + saag + naan (frozen from Trader Joe's) - Another new to me recipe, recommended by a kind reader!

Roasted root vegetables with soft polenta - Not really using a recipe for this, but similar to this one (+ some mushrooms, probably) except that I like polenta soft rather than sliced, so the polenta will be more like this.

Cashew nut chicken + saag + cauliflower rice - Making a triple batch of sauce this time, freezing the other two portions for future months.

Sweet potato bolognese + salad - again, no real recipe. It's just 1/2 lb ground beef, 1/2 lb hot sausage, 1 jar marinara and 2 large sweet potatoes that have been spiralized. (spiralizer post is here).

And the grocery list for the month. The top left corner is where I write down pantry items that I'm pretty sure I have but I need to check. I get all of my meat for the month at Whole Foods and then divide it up and freeze it. For veg, I decide which items I can get at the beginning of the month (onions, garlic, etc, usually last fine, bell peppers and fennel and the like will hold up a couple weeks) and which items I have to get week by week (salad greens, mushrooms, etc). For the most part, it's been going pretty smoothly and I feel like I spend a lot less time at the store.

March grocery shopping

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Once a month meal planning - February revisited

February was a little rough for me. I was pretty emotional about my dad, Dustin had an insanely heavy work schedule so I was solo most nights, and it just didn't seem worth it to cook all those weeknight meals. I ended up skipping two of the lentil dishes I had planned (weeks 3 and 4), but that's fine because the lentils will keep. I stopped even marking up my planning page after week 2 because I was cooking on different days and just generally doing whatever was most convenient, rather than sticking strictly to the schedule. But it was still nice to have it laid out and know what my options were.

I'm sticking with the monthly system again for March (post up tomorrow). I think it's helping a lot because we hardly ate out at all in February (although that might be due to the whole D = working, me = sad thing I mentioned). I did go over on our grocery budget this month by quite a bit, partly because we entertained a few times and I made a Costco trip to restock some critical items (enormous bag of chocolate chips, bourbon) and partly because I might have been treating myself a bit too much (flowers, wine, good cheese, nice beer). But hey, you do what you need to do, right? I'm going to buckle down again this month and make sure to hit our target.

February meals

New recipes I tried in February: 

Lentil and garlic sausage cassoulet - I thought this was pretty tasty but so much work for a relatively simple dish! You make the broth, skim, then cook the lentils, then you're supposed to bake everything in a casserole dish. I would only make this again if I were going to streamline it a lot, or I would have to move it to weekend only rotation.

Spiced butternut squash, lentil and goat cheese salad - This was great, and it came together super fast because I did cooked the lentils and roasted the squash on Sunday afternoon while I was doing stuff around the house.

Canal house lentils - Didn't get to this one.  : (

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Spending a lot of time around the house, specifically, in the kitchen.

quiet afternoon

one bowl cocoa brownies

o'keefe and merritt stove

spinning salad greens

fresh flowers

butternut squash galette

blood orange

Last week was the anniversary of my dad's death, and I just felt quiet and deeply sad. It seems unbelievable to me that we have been living without him for an entire year. I have a million things to say about it but there don't seem to be any words that are right. I just miss him, so much.

I've been taking it easy, self soothing in the kitchen and spending time with people I love and keeping the house full of flowers. Having a larger space makes it a million times easier to have people over for dinner or drinks or no reason at all and it's already been pretty wonderful.

I'm sticking to our monthly meal plan pretty well (monthly updates coming soon) and I like that the weekends are left up for grabs so I can cook something fun if I feel like it. We haven't been going out much but I have been cooking and baking (it feels so glorious to have a full sized oven!), which means I went waaaay over on our grocery budget this month but we hardly touched our entertainment/eating out fund. It'll balance out in the end?

I made the butternut squash and caramelized onion galette from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook last weekend and it was pretty dang good. I used an aged Gouda which might have made it a touch salty and I honestly think in the future I'd cut the pastry dough recipe in half, because it felt like a very high dough:filling ratio. But we did devour it, so I'm not complaining. (Actually, the version on her website looks like it is similar but might be better balanced?)

I'm experimenting to try to find the best cocktail for all the blood oranges that pour into the market right now. So far this margarita recipe has been the biggest hit, although I'm still tweaking it a bit.