Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Gingerbread house party 2017 - toddler edition!

Whew. It's been a while, guys.* But I can't let December close out without documenting this year's gingerbread house party, which was pretty special. When I was looking at our guest list (um, two weeks ago, because this fall has been insane and I feel like I'm constantly behind) I realized that all our regulars have kids that are old enough to more or less work independently. So obviously it made sense to make this a toddler focused party, which is both much more fun and much more chaotic.

gingerbread house party 2017

gingerbread house party 2017

gingerbread house party 2017

gingerbread house party 2017

tuckered out

We had 7 toddlers (okay, one of them was a straight up baby, so he didn't participate this year) and 19 adults, which I was afraid was really pushing the limits of our house but it worked out so well. We only made houses for the kids, since even I am not crazy enough to try to tackle close to 30 gingerbread houses. Having a kid focused party was a little different than anything we'd done before, so I wanted to make sure that we had things set up for them.

The biggest adaptation we made was to set up a toddler height table, and this was a lifesaver. I had nightmares of trying to prevent kids from falling off of benches and chairs the entire afternoon, and bringing the game down to their level meant that we could supervise without having to hover anxiously. We just pulled out our long office table (which is just an Ikea tabletop) and temporarily swapped the hairpin legs for simple coffee table height legs which D picked up at Lowes for $30 ($5/leg, 6 legs needed for a table our length). The legs take up almost no space, so we can easily stash them away which is good because I think this is what our party is going to look like for a few more years.

I also ditched the pastry bags, because let's be honest, even adults have some difficulty managing those things and we didn't want to deal with royal icing explosions. I originally ordered a few squeeze bottles that have icing tip adapters (I ordered these ones from Michael's - I looked alllllll over to find ones that weren't teeny tiny, since most are intended for decorating sugar cookies and only hold a few ounces) but then realized that the kids don't really need fancy tips yet, so I also grabbed a six pack of condiment bottles from Smart & Final for way cheaper. The tips on these are pretty narrow, so I snipped them off a bit to get a wider opening. To fill them, I loaded the icing into a pastry bag and then piped it into the bottles (the necks are a bit narrow, so spooning icing in would take forever). These worked great! The kids still needed some help, but we had zero explosions.

We also covered our rug in plastic tablecloths, for obvious reasons, and put all appetizers (and the hot spiked cider) up on tables out of kid reach.

It was a little nutty in the best way possible, and I think the kids ended up having a really good time. I'm glad we managed to pull it off, even though it was a little last minute this year.

(See lots of details on past gingerbread house parties here, including the recipe I use, how I do the stained glass windows, and how we glue the houses together, and a general overview post of the party logistics)

* I miss this space! I miss you guys. Thank you for the sweet comments and concern. This year has been a little crazy and I'm barely keeping up with general life but I do want to make a point of getting back here more often. I'll have a few more posts up soon, on general holiday and life stuff.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ladies' trip to Palm Springs

Jumping back in time to the beginning of May, when I got to spend a weekend with some ladyfriends from college/beyond. We don't all live in the same city anymore, and when we do get to see each other we're usually surrounded by children and husbands (not knocking this - our group is pretty fun and their kids are adorable). But getting away for a couple days was exactly what we needed. We rented an AirBnB with a pool and movie screening room and we drank and ate and talked and re-watched 10 Things I Hate About You and talked more and generally had the most relaxing, life affirming weekend. Oh, and we got massages. It felt indulgent but was actually not too bad cost-wise, since we split the rental four ways and cooked almost all of our meals.

Palm Springs

Ernest Coffee



Also, Palm Springs continues to get better and better. It's always been lovely, but the food and drink offerings were lackluster. I'm happy to report that things are looking up.

What we did (besides lying around the house, which occupied most of our time):

Coffee at Ernest Coffee - we went four times over the course of three days. It's that great. The place is adorable and has legitimately great coffee (when I was there they had a date shakerato that was out of this world) but also has boozy coffee options for late afternoons (their Irish coffee was so much better than any other version I've ever had that it could have been a different drink altogether). And here's the really fun part - the back half of the coffee house is a tiny, adorable tiki bar that opens up in the evening. Which leads me to ...

 Drinks at Bootlegger Tiki - as I mentioned, it's tiny and only has a few booths, but you can also take your drinks outside to the Ernest Coffee patio. Tiki drinks are one of those things that I would never in a million years consider making at home (so many ingredients, so incredibly sweet) but I love a good tiki bar, especially on vacation. This is a good one.

Breakfast at Cheeky's - always worth a stop.

Morning run to the Doug Atkin installation, Mirage. Running up that hill was brutal, but the sweet reward was an utterly deserted mirror house at the top. When D and I went to see it back in March it was crowded and still blew me away. Seeing it completely empty was next level. The website says it closed on April 30th, but we were there the following week and it was definitely still open (there was a guard and everything). Maybe they've extended it?

Friday, May 26, 2017

East coast vacation

Whew. This was a great trip but we really maxed it out while trying to take as few vacation days as possible, leaving super early on Saturday morning and then getting back close to midnight the following Sunday. Normally I try to make sure we get a day at home to recover before going back to work but the timing wasn't right here. We were going to a wedding in Scranton, PA so we decided to tack on a couple of side trips to visit old friends and really make the most out of it. Totally worth it.

Queen's Museum area
{flushing meadows corona park}

Posing at the Whitney
{the whitney}

Ellsworth Kelly
{ellsworth kelly at the whitney}

Samara Golden
{samara golden at the whitney}

The Happiest Hour
{the happiest hour}

Lygia Pape
{lygia pape at the met breuer}

Sol Lewitt at Mass MOCA
{sol lewitt at mass moca}

Spencer Finch at Mass MOCA
{spencer finch at mass moca}

Power outage
{power outage!}

{deer in williamstown}

Wedding cocktail hour
{wedding cocktail hour - scranton}

day after coffee
{day after coffee - scranton}

We flew into NYC and spent a few days hanging out with various friends, visiting museums and spending way too much money on drinks. But we made up for it by crashing with our friend Beth the whole time (I think I've posted this before, but I find it incredibly life affirming that you can have people you love so dearly that squashing yourselves into a studio apartment is a joy). We try to make it out to visit her every couple years and whenever we're there I have these glimpses of our alternate life. We were thisclose to moving when D was choosing a grad school, but we made the prudent financial decision to go with in-state tuition in CA vs. private school (and higher living costs) in NYC. I think we made the right call because we'd probably be bankrupt in Manhattan and I don't know how I would have managed my family stuff long distance, but I still get pangs. Lots of pangs.

Highlights of this NYC trip: 
Flushing Meadows Corona Park and the Queen's Museum (and ridiculously good dim sum in Flushing beforehand) - I hadn't seen the Panorama piece and it was really fun.
The Whitney - that Samara Golden piece in the biennial was breaking my brain but D figured it out right away.
The Met - for the Rei Kawakubo exhibit, of course.
The Met Breuer - now in the former Whitney building. The Lygia Pape exhibition was great.
Breakfast at Sadelle's - super fancy bagel breakfast. It's pricey but you could also go to the bar and order bagels a la carte.
Soft serve from Big Gay Ice Cream Shop - the Bea Arthur is my jam.
Lovely Szechuan style noodles at Hao Noodle and Tea.
Drinks at Seamstress - crazy long menu but everything we tried was wonderful.
Drinks at The Happiest Hour - the interior alone is enough to make you feel happy.
Drinks at Death & Co with my lady LMO.
A couple of exercise classes to try to balance it all out - we both got ClassPass* trials this month specifically because we knew we'd be going on this trip and it seemed like a good time to test it out. I'm happy to report that it was super easy to use. I've always resisted because I was afraid it would be a huge pain. I'm going to see if we use it enough at home to justify keeping it.

We rented a car with Beth and drove out to Williamstown, MA to visit our other dear friend (last time we were together was for her beautiful wedding!). Dustin and I met the two of them 19 years ago (!) at a really dorky educational summer camp and they are still our people. I feel so lucky to have them in my life and even though we only get to see each other every couple years it always feels like we're picking right back up. Our plan is to eventually retire together on a compound, Golden Girls style.

Massachusetts (we only had one full day here, but we tried to make the most of it):
The Clark - make sure to hike up the hill in back
Mass MOCA - mostly for the massive Sol LeWitt exhibit but the Nick Cave currently on view is wonderful.
Delicious breakfast at Five Corners - they had hibiscus kombucha on tap and it was the first time I've really understood the craze.
Pizza from Hot Tomatoes, which we were incredibly grateful for because we had just paid for our order when the entire town had a major power outage due to a sudden storm and everything closed down immediately. They finished cooking our pizza in the dark and we drove home and ate dinner by candlelight.
A morning run where I spotted a deer during the first five minutes and then got to run along the river, heaven.

Annnnnd then we proceeded down to Scranton, PA for the big event of the trip. The wedding was beautiful and so full of love and it had a great dance floor, which I really appreciate. It's kind of a blur but I don't think I sat down for more than 5 minutes. We were mostly doing wedding stuff, so we didn't get out much in Scranton but we had a really good time at the few places we went.

Backyard Alehouse - ridiculous selection of beers
Texas wieners at Coney Island of Scranton - the name, like the Texas wiener itself (which is a hot dog sandwich with chili on it), is somewhat inexplicable but I have no regrets.
Coffee at Adezzo and also at Northern Light

* I feel like they're always offering deeply discounted ClassPass trials, so maybe google for that first, but you can also get $30 off by signing up through this link (full disclosure - I also get $30 credit if you use it, so if you hate me you should probably not click on it) which might be better than the promo running at any given time.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Checking in

I'm traveling a lot (for me) in May and June and I want to post about all of it, soon (I swear - check back tomorrow). I haven't been taking my actual camera anywhere, since I feel like snapping quick cell phone photos is so much easier and keeps me more in the moment but I'm always a little sad when I get home and realize I don't have any high quality photos. I know, cry me a river.

BUT in the meantime I can't resist a super quick check in.

Watching: The Handmaid's Tale is my new favorite thing every week. I have read the book a million times but not in years, and no, I didn't re-read it before jumping into the series. I know the show departs from the book, but I think they made good choices and I love, love, love seeing it brought to life. There are some scenes that are just so deeply creepy and apparently my imagination is not as good as beautiful camerawork. I find Margaret Atwood's books fascinating (Bodily Harm was part of my thesis project in college - read it if you like being majorly bummed out) and she's involved with writing and producing the show which makes me happy. Bonus - I liked this essay she wrote about the book/show back in March.

We watched the second season of Master of None while we were in NYC (bingeing on TV shows on vacation is a long standing tradition with my crew and I absolutely do not think it is a waste of our time together). I hate to say this but I was SO frustrated with most of the second half of the season. Ugh, love and poor life choices. We were basically heckling the TV by the end. Bonus - NPR interview with Aziz Ansari. I have always suspected that his mom doesn't love acting. Ha.

Reading: Um, still not much action here worth mentioning. I've re-read about 20 Elizabeth Peter's books, eagerly awaiting the release of her posthumous novel in July. It's taken so long for them to get it out that I'm very concerned it will be terrible.

Listening: We listened to the entire first season of My Dad Wrote a Porno while we were driving around the east coast last week and were in hysterics the entire time. Like, it should probably be illegal to listen to it while operating a moving vehicle. I think it goes without saying, based on the title, but it is most definitely not safe for work (or public, or anywhere that children might stumble in unexpectedly).

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Trader Joe's love - beans

Soooo .... I promised I would get some TJ's posts up and it turns out it's harder than I expected to get semi-decent photos of canned food. Andy Warhol, I am not. But I took some shots and was excited to start posting and then when I was uploading them I realized I am starting with the world's most boring category - beans. I mean, these are pantry staples in my house and I rely on them but I probably should have jumped in with some of the more exciting TJ's options (frozen meals! refrigerated dips! cookies!). But this is what I have and I'm tired of seeing product photos of swimsuits at the top of the blog, so maybe even beans would be an improvement?

Also, I'm on a super tight food budget for the next few months* which might put a damper on fun food spending, but I'll try to keep taking photos as I buy stuff and share it whenever I can. Worst case scenario, I can always resort to taking cell phone photos in the store. Ha. (But really - I could probably make that work if I had the portrait mode setting. I'm trying to make my phone last until the new iPhone is released but in the meantime I'm just jealous of everyone with the 7 plus)

Am I rambling to try to avoid posting really boring photos of canned beans? MAYBE.

Trader Joe's Beans

These are the three types of beans I always have on hand and they're the best for super quick meal options.

The salsa style refried pinto beans have been my favorite refried bean option for at least the last two decades. They're not that different than what you'd pick up at the regular store but they have a bit of heat and flavor that I love. There was a dark period back in 2006ish when they were temporarily unavailable for a year or two and I was afraid I'd never see them again. And then they reappeared, in an organic reincarnation! There isn't much to say about refried beans, honestly, but these make a great burrito and I'm not even ashamed to admit that if I'm feeling lazy I'll just eat them room temp with tortilla chips. $1.99/ can

Trader Joe's Salsa Style Refried Beans
Trader Joe's Salsa Style Refried Beans

The Cuban style black beans are an amazing quick meal option. They're just regular black beans but jazzed up with some extra flavor. They make a great side dish, especially when paired with rice, but my favorite way to use them is to heat up a corn tortilla directly over the flame so it gets a little crispy, put some beans on it and then add a fried egg on top. Best served with salsa or hot sauce, sour cream is optional but delicious. They are in a bit of (flavorful) liquid which you can soak up with rice, but I'll drain them if I'm eating them on tortillas. $0.99/can

Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans
Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans

Gigantes are one of my very favorite Greek dishes so I was super excited when I saw them at Trader Joe's a few months back. They call them giant baked beans in tomato sauce (catchy, right?) and that's a fairly accurate description of what you're getting. I won't say it's exactly the same as the best homemade version, but they're really good. These are great hot or cold and they're perfect as part of a mezze spread with pita, hummus, olives, etc. I will sometimes just eat them straight out of the can and call it lunch. $1.99/can

Trader Joe's Giant Baked Beans
Trader Joe's Giant Baked Beans

* I haven't been great about tracking our expenses since the holidays and when I finally sat down to do it I realized we've been majorly overspending on groceries since, oh, Thanksgiving. I decided to try to catch us up, but it means slashing our monthly grocery budget for the next four-ish months to make up the difference. I'm hoping that if I can keep us on a pretty tight weekly budget I'll still have enough left for a few fun grocery splurges during that time, but we'll see how bleak it gets around here.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Swimsuit PSA

I rarely post about clothes because I rarely buy them. I'm just generally lazy and we also try to keep our spending reined in and I tend to blow my allowance on coffee and the occasional manicure. But last summer the swimsuit that I'd been wearing for six years* finally started to get see through and I realized that I was going to have to suck it up and go swimsuit shopping. Which is basically the worst type of shopping, ranked just slightly lower than bra shopping and slightly above jean shopping, in the hierarchy of terrible dressing room experiences.

Luckily for me, I happened to walk past an Old Navy a couple weeks ago and saw they were selling some cute vintage-y looking suits this year. I didn't go in and try anything on (I do not impulsively try on swimsuits - I need to be mentally prepared for that type of event) but I did go home and order a bunch of options to test at home. I used a coupon code so ordering all six options came in under $100, which is about what I would have spent on a J. Crew suit, if I were crazy enough to buy anything from J. Crew at full price, ever.

swimsuit shopping
bottom row, left to right - high waist, hipster bikini, ruched bikini

I'm happy to report that everything was pretty good! I had fairly low expectations but after trying it all on I honestly couldn't decide which pieces to send back and I'm tempted to keep everything so that I can mix and match options and hopefully avoid bikini shopping for at least another six years. The high waisted bikini bottom is a stand out, so good. I'm 5'6 and it comes right to my belly button and is actually super flattering (I was afraid it would look like I was wearing spanx to the beach so I almost didn't order it). I love all the tops, although I feel like I just got lucky with sizing. It's bizarre to me that bras sizing is so complicated but underwire bikini tops are just sold in small, medium and large. How does that compute?

There are some fun prints but I'm boring and stuck with mostly black except that one bikini bottom with the green palm print (which is super cute in person).

I decided I might as well put it out there, in case anyone else is not looking forward to tracking down a bathing suit this summer. I'm just relieved that I can cross that chore off my list. Let's not even talk about the fact that I've had to endure two bra fittings in the last three months and I'm still on the hunt for something that doesn't make me feel like I'm being slowly strangled throughout the day. I am seriously considering just wearing sports bras for the rest of my life.

* This is the swimsuit I'd been wearing forever and I love it but I was ready for a change. If you're looking for a cute vintage style one piece, it's a nice option. I'm assuming the quality and cut is the same as when I bought it, but it has been a long time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The weekend, briefly

We skipped the traditional Easter this year because we had plans with friends, but neither of us could resist a bit of crafting at the last minute. On Saturday D made his usual cascarones (confetti eggs) while I made a double batch of Deb's pecan sticky buns (verdict - very good but very messy) and on Sunday morning we put together and delivered some little Easter packages for a few of the toddlers in our life (only the ones living within a 5 mile radius - sorry to all the other babies we love, but you can take it up with LA traffic).

easter flowers


easter bouquets


pecan sticky buns

saturday kitchen

It was one of those weekends where I cleaned the kitchen about five times each day and by Sunday night I was DONE. We'll probably be eating veggie burgers all week because I'm not sure I'm willing to make a mess again, but it was definitely worth it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


podcasts april

I've been attempting to listen to podcasts again lately. I'm always hearing about great podcasts and even subscribing to them but they tend to pile up on my phone. The issue is that my mind wanders like crazy when I'm driving or walking alone. I try to listen to a podcast but suddenly realize that I've spent the last 15 minutes deciding exactly how to spend my future lottery winnings (I have a super practical plan, guys, too bad I never remember to buy lottery tickets) and I have no idea what anyone is talking about and then I have to try to back it up to the point where I stopped listening. Repeat that three times and you have my commute home, which explains why I eventually gave up. This also explains why I was a terrible student all through elementary school, before I managed to train myself not to daydream during class.

But after the third person in two weeks recommended Terrible, Thanks for Asking I decided I had to give it a try and I was hooked immediately. It's a podcast about how people deal with tragedy or hard times in their lives. The episodes vary because they're interviewing different people each time, but I've loved almost all of them. I still don't try to listen to it while driving but I've found that I can focus a bit better while I'm running and I made it through the entire season that way. And then when we drove up to Berkeley we made it through all of S-town and half of Missing Richard Simmons*, as I mentioned previously. Apparently I'm better at focusing when there is someone else around to discuss the podcast with, especially if there is drama/intrigue involved.

I do manage to listen to The Dinner Party Download almost every week, and I sporadically catch up on Fresh Air. I also do this novel thing where I listen to some shows live each week, on the actual radio, so I usually catch This American Life, Good Food, The Moth Radio Hour, and The New Yorker Radio Hour (does this make up for the fact that I gave up even attempting to get through The New Yorker every week?).

I tried My Favorite Murder when everyone was raving about it and it just didn't work for me. For a while I used to listen to the Savage Lovecast, but I feel like both the questions and the answers go on forever and it's almost like they're filling time (important note - definitely not safe for work, if you aren't familiar with Dan Savage already).

Anything you're listening to that you love?

* I was conflicted on this one. I totally get the impetus for the podcast, but it started to feel self serving really quickly and I felt bad for Richard Simmons. But then he signed a new licensing deal, so maybe I'm totally off base.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Celery cocktail

celery cocktail

I haven't been motivated to cook much lately, and last month I had the brilliant idea to sign myself up for a four week CSA share. I figured getting a box of vegetables delivered weekly would force me to spend some time in the kitchen.

Well ... best intentions and all that. I can't stand wasting food, so I did force myself to make sure I was using up the salad greens weekly, and it was fairly easy getting through the various fruit and potato options that came in. But I did not anticipate the celery. Dear god, the celery. A huge bundle every single week so that at the end of the month I had an entire crisper drawer of (lovely, organic) celery staring at me reproachfully every time I opened the fridge.

I finally rolled up my sleeves, pulled it all out on a quiet Saturday and tried to figure out what to do. I should note that while I don't hate celery and I'll happily incorporate it in recipes where appropriate I have zero interest in munching on sticks of celery. I'm neither a rabbit nor an 80's dieter.

I shared the dilemma on Instagram, as you do, and two friends recommended making up a giant batch of mirepoix to freeze, which was brilliant and had the added bonus of using up carrots and onion. At the end of that chopping marathon (p.s. coolest way to cut celery) I had just one bunch left and it was 5 pm and I started thinking that the quickest way to make friends with celery, as with so many difficult companions, would be to add some alcohol to it.


celery cocktail

I made a quick celery juice in the food processor, then turned it into simple syrup and improvised with the ingredients I had on hand. This cocktail is not too sweet, and the celery flavor comes through strongly and makes it incredibly refreshing. I froze the extra simple syrup* but I've been going through it so quickly that I'm almost tempted to buy another bunch of celery.

CSA celery cocktail

Celery simple syrup

1 large bunch celery, cleaned and roughly chopped
Large pinch each of sugar and salt

Blend well in food processor, then press through a fine mesh strainer to extract the juice, pressing with a spatula to make sure you're getting as much out as possible. I ended up with about 1 1/3 cups of juice from a large bunch of celery.

Combine almost equal parts celery juice + sugar (I did 1 cup of sugar to 1 1/3 cup juice, but you could do 1:1, or do slightly less sugar if you prefer it less sweet), simmer gently until the sugar dissolves, remove from heat.

Cocktail (makes one)

1 oz celery simple syrup
2 oz good vodka (I used the St. George California Citrus)
1 egg white
1 oz lemon juice

Chill your glass by filling it with ice water and setting it aside. Add all ingredients except the ice to your cocktail shaker, shake for a minute, add the ice, shake for another minute.**

Dump the ice water out of your glass, pour in the cocktail and sip as you contemplate WTF you are going to do with the three heads of (lovely, organic) cabbage still taking up a shelf in your fridge.

*Simple syrup isn't really the best candidate for freezing. The high sugar concentration makes it a bit sticky and soft even when fully frozen. But I'll still do it sometimes because it lasts so much longer than it will in the fridge. I just left these guys in the tray and I pry them out with a butter knife when I want to use them.

**This is called a dry shake and it's my usual method but when I was looking for a link to direct you to I found this method called a reverse shake which sounds intriguing - not sure I'm willing to fish out the ice between the two rounds of shaking, but I'll at least have to try it once.

Friday, April 7, 2017


sorting books

meyer lemon juice

I've been sorting through the last of my dad's stuff and it's so bittersweet. We took care of his clothes and things right away, but I kept putting off his library. Nothing feels as personal to me as books and it's just so hard to make those choices. His cookbooks are particularly heartwrenching - I have to flip through each one and look at the stains and notations, and then sometimes grocery lists and recipes clipped from the newspaper fall out and suddenly I'm transported back to a particular week in his life. We both loved to cook and we would often have entire phone conversations about what we were making for dinner, so I remember talking to him about some of these recipes. It's so strange to be seeing them this way.

My dad had planted a Meyer lemon tree in his yard a few years before he died. He babied it and worried about it and waited (incredibly impatiently) for it to start bearing fruit, updating me almost weekly on the progress it was making. It had its first big crop just a few months before he was hospitalized for the last time, two years ago. That winter he had been sending us home with bags of lemons and was so thrilled when I used some of them to make the cupcakes for my sister's baby shower. We were all so excited to meet the baby, and so heartbroken when Dad died less than a month before she was born. This year my niece turned two and the week before we went up to Berkeley I picked some Meyer lemons from his tree and made those cupcakes for a belated birthday celebration. It felt like he was there too. It's funny, these threads that pull through your life, keeping you connected to the people you love even when they're gone.

My absolute favorite vanilla cupcake recipe is here, but I used the lemon curd recipe from here and I pair it with either a German buttercream (my personal preference) or a Swiss meringue buttercream (which I did this time because I needed to use up all the egg whites leftover after making the lemon curd).

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Around here

How about a quick catch up session? I don't feel like I have enough to say about any of these (entirely unrelated) things to make an entire post so I'm just going to smash them all together.

mini garden bouquet
grapefruit blossoms

- Taking advantage of the backyard superbloom and bringing as many flowers into the house as possible. I was convinced that some of the plants in our yard were dead because of disease, but it turns out it was just the drought. Several tons of rain later and our whole backyard is going nuts in the best way possible. Plants need water, who knew? Normally I'm reluctant to pick citrus blossoms because it means less fruit, but the grapefruit tree is overloaded this year and the flowers smell so good that I can't resist keeping some by my bedside.

- Getting back into running and it feels good. I'd been avoiding it for ages because I'm not a naturally talented runner which means that if I fall off the wagon getting myself back to a place where I can run steadily (without feeling like I'm going to die) is so much work that it never sounds appealing. My usual method is to allow myself to run as slowly as I need to for 30 minutes and gradually improve my speed and distance as I build up strength. This time I wasn't anywhere near being able to run for 30 minutes continuously, so I finally let go of my ego and downloaded the C210K app. I used the C25K method to learn to run the first time, but that was before smart phones and I had to write down my workout each day and then track the intervals with a timer. Having the app is a million times easier. I don't have to look ahead or think about what I'm going to do. I just commit to putting on my workout clothes and leaving the house. And I'm running! Yesterday I ran for 20 minutes without stopping. I'm not really sure why I persist in running when it's so much work, but there's something undeniably satisfying about it. Plus, it sounds more impressive than other forms of cardio. No one wants to hear you talk about how you crushed it on the elliptical at the gym the other day. To be honest, no one wants to hear about your running stats either, but most people will feign interest because running at least commands some respect.

- Not cooking much on weeknights lately and I've been relying heavily on the quinoa cowboy veggie burgers from Trader Joe's. As I was eating my 100th burger a few weeks ago I started seriously considering starting an entire blog just to share my favorite things at Trader Joe's. I mean, I know there are people already doing that, and also I already have a blog that I barely keep up anymore so it hardly makes sense to start a new one. But I keep thinking that my love for Trader Joe's deserves its own platform, even though blogs are almost entirely dead at this point.

- Still not reading anything new, and yes, it feels weird. I'm just going with it and re-reading things here and there.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The weekend, briefly

We drove up north last weekend to see family and friends and leaving my niece and nephew on Sunday broke my heart - it gets harder every time. I did a terrible job of pulling out the real camera so I have very few decent photos but the trip was wonderful.

temescal brewery flight
Circe with toddler fruit salad
baby jellies

My niece got a new play kitchen and kept carefully presenting Circe with offerings of wooden fruit, which Circe ignored. We got to see a few friends and eat some good food and the Bay Area was being particularly show-offy this weekend. The weather was amazing, there were flowers popping up everywhere, we went to our favorite brewery plus a new one we hadn't visited before and of course, Berkeley Bowl was full of the best citrus. By Sunday afternoon I was pretty much ready to move in. I do love LA, but northern California is fairly spectacular in spring.

P.S. - During our drive we listened to all of S-town and then started on Missing Richard Simmons, which made the 12 hour round trip much more bearable.

P.P.S - Because I haven't been writing regularly I have all these random things to talk about and none of them feel like full blog posts so I'm struggling with that a bit. Hopefully I'll have some bits and pieces up around here soon in some form.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Camping pancakes

We normally stick with eggs and sausage for camping breakfast, but if we have friends joining us I'll take it up a notch with some pancakes. I loathe doing dishes while camping, so I avoid anything that requires mixing on site. Making pancakes ahead of time is tricky because they usually depend on baking soda and/or baking powder as leavening, both of which act quickly and lose power if they sit around. So for camping I rely on a yeasted recipe instead.

Don't expect traditional diner style pancakes here. These are yeasted and allowed to sit for a few days, so they have a tender, almost lacy crumb texture and a slight sourdough flavor. The batter is only lightly sweetened, but they pair beautifully with maple syrup, or with my personal favorite pancake topping - Greek yogurt swirled with jam.

To adapt for camping I put the batter in a gallon ziploc bag. Because the yeast are active little buggers the bag will fill up with CO2, so you do have to remember to open it up and press the air out once or twice a day. When I'm ready to make pancakes, I cut a corner off the bag and use it as a batter dispenser.


camp pancakes

Camping pancakes (serves 4 - 6, original recipe here - scales up easily)

1 teaspoon (about 1/2 package) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the water and set it aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.

In another bowl, beat together the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Add in the yeast mixture, which should be nice and foamy by now if your yeast is working properly.

Mix the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined (don't worry about lumps).

Pour the batter into a gallon Ziploc bag and stash it in the cooler. Remember to check on it twice a day to let out pressure or you could end up with a batter explosion on your hands.

When you're ready to cook, heat your griddle to medium, butter it and then snip one corner of the bag off and use it as a pancake dispenser. Cook until bubbles appear on the surface, then flip. Camp stoves aren't precision instruments, so be prepared for the first batch to be a trial run as you adjust the heat. I find that it takes a couple of minutes cooking on each side once the heat is adjusted properly.

Pancake batter should hold up for at least three days. I usually make it on Friday evening or Saturday morning and cook it on Sunday, so I haven't tested the limits of this.

Camping pancakes

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Anza Borrego camping - 2017 edition

We loved our Anza Borrego trip last year so much that we vowed to get a reservation during wildflower season this year. Of course, when you're picking your dates you have no way of predicting the exact week that the flowers will explode. But we booked a site and then some friends booked another site next to us and then other friends booked a third site and pretty soon we had a 25 person camping trip* in the works.

Luckily the timing was pretty good. We didn't see full on fields of color, but there were so many beautiful flowers and it was amazing to see the desert this green for the first time in years. We stayed in Borrego Palm campground again, full review of the campground in my previous post.

desert wildflowers
camping morning
avocado prep
camping breakfast
campground dogs
desert river
desert dog

On our way home we took a detour so we could check out some of the DesertX art installations in and around Palm Springs. Definitely worth getting home a little later than usual.

Doug Aitken - Mirage
Doug Aitken - Mirage
The Circle of Land and Sky - Phillip K Smith III
Claudia Comte - Curves and Zigzags

*In case you're wondering how you coordinate a 25 person camping trip - SHARED SPREADSHEET. Rather than having everyone bring their own food we assigned a certain number of people to each meal and asked people to sign up. Other communal items you should have people sign up to bring - coolers with ice, firewood, french presses, camping stoves. It was really nice sharing out the meal duties because we only had to bring breakfast stuff.