30 November 2009

late november roses

After pouting a little about being moved earlier this year, the roses are happy again. These are from my 'Heaven on Earth' container plant, still pumping out blooms in late November.

29 November 2009

Jacky: One!

Yep, he's one!
How can a year fly by so quickly?
So many changes... so many moments I wouldn't trade for anything.

We love you to the moon and back, sweet little man.

A few pics from the weekend:

24 November 2009

thoughts on the holidays

Crisp, clear winter sky, looking East.
Shot by Toby from our last house.

The holidays are just about officially here. How are you feeling about it? Joyful? Can't wait? Dreading it all? Ho-hum? Me, I'm feeling pretty good about it all.

This is big for me, as I'm someone who used to yearn for escape and avoidance from everything holiday-related. The dread would set in right after Halloween. Of course, most of this has had to do with loss: my parents, mostly. Mom, while I was in college; Dad, more recently. Losing them kind of took all the air out of lots of formerly fun things. I'd drag myself through the whole holiday exercise, with no baking, no card-sending, no good stuff... and then promptly fall into a mid-Winter depression. To be repeated each year. Such fun.... sigh.

BUT (sorry, that was depressing). Maybe it's our lovely little boy, but even just since being pregnant last year, something has changed in my outlook almost on a chemical level. There's a sense of newness and lightness. I'm not religious, so it's not some sort of epiphany. But, now, I look forward to all that's lovely about the holidays, which are also things that I used to like: the twinkling lights, the homey scents, baking, crafting, seeing friends, (really) enjoying family, looking up at the stars, the winter stillness outside, listening to corny music. (Toby introduced me to the delights of the John Denver & the Muppets Christmas Album--priceless! Can I play it NOW?!?! Oh, too soon? ...How about now?).

Note that I did not mention visits to the mall or any of those insane "doorbuster" sales. Ick.

Now, as I approach the holidays, I find there are so many opportunities to fall into the old traps: stuff you really don't want to do. So, I love a good set of tips on how to gracefully and peacefully move through the holidays. You too? Rachel at Heart of Light is doing a series of posts this week called "Holidays, Managed." Sweet, stylish, sane stuff.

And, since I love lists, I decided to compose my own: a loose list of things I definitely want to try to do during the holidays. You know, so I make sure I don't do other stuff. Like visit the mall :) Ahem, here goes:
  • Baking. Preferably with a friend... and then everything gets wrapped up in super cute packaging and mostly given away. Especially to all those people I always say I should bake for: the super nice UPS guy, the organic bin delivery guy, our acupuncturist. I'm collecting recipe contenders now. (Any faves?)
  • Shopping for cute packaging/wrapping material (see above). This may sound like drudgery to some, but it's heaven to me: first the accumulating, and then the using. I think a trip to The Packaging Store and Japan Town is in order.
  • Hunting for gifts early on Etsy. It's where the best stuff lives, but leaving this type of stuff to the last minute means you're out of luck and heading to the mall. Boo.
  • Sending out holiday cards. Like, actually sending them, and not on Dec 24.
  • Crafting. Dunno why, but I'm having a felt moment right now. I'm thinking of whipping up some stylish, tone-on-tone white stockings for our little family and new home. Also, I'd like to make some handmade decor for our tree. Like this or maybe some simple paper-loop garlands (which I would always make with my Mom). I just need to do some sort of crafting. Maybe it'll help kick me off on more crafting next year.
  • Be prepared for fun. As Rachel mentions in the aforementioned posts, stocking up on wine and appetizer fixings just makes you want to invite people over and celebrate effortlessly.
  • Special Sunday dinner(s) with friends and family. Sights, sounds, tastes and scents.
  • Quiet moments with tea, a book, some music. Brisk walks in the canyon on cold, clear days or moody, misty mornings.
So, what's on your holiday "must-do" list? I love hearing about other people's traditions--big or small--so don't be shy!

22 November 2009

Crock Pot Alert: Pulled Pork Sandwiches

All day long, our home has been sheer torture. Since 9:30am, the divine smell of a pork shoulder braising in the slow cooker has permeated every inch of the house. Mmmm, so good. So hard to wait until dinner time.

As I mentioned earlier, our beloved crock pot is from my parents, no doubt a 1970s wedding present. Dig the Harvest Gold color. Classic.

Anyway, since I did mention this recipe earlier, it seems only fair to share it with you. It's the kind of recipe that makes you wonder why you don't pull your slow cooker out and use it every single Sunday.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Adapted from Everyday Food, but we made some pretty significant changes, so we vouch for our version:

1 cup ketchup
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt & pepper
4-5 lb bone-in pork shoulder (very important that it's bone-in, as you'll use the cooking juices to make a homemade BBQ sauce. Just like bones make a good chicken stock, this bone will make your sauce.)

1. In the bowl of a slow cooker, stir together all non-pork ingredients.
2. Add pork shoulder and turn to coat.

3. Put lid on slow cooker.
4. Cook on low for 8 hours (or high for 6 hours).

5. After cooking, remove pork shoulder from slow cooker to a large work bowl.
6. Pour cooking juices into a fat separator and set aside.
7. Using two forks, pull pork apart until shredded. Set aside.

8. Pour reserved juices (discard fat) into a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce by half.

9. Build your homemade BBQ sauce to taste (amounts we use are in parenthesis, but taste it often and tweak it to your own taste). To the reduced cooking juices, add: cider vinegar (1/2 c), brown sugar (1/2 c), soy sauce (1/4 c), worcestershire sauce (1/4 c), lemon juice (1/4 lemon), ketchup (1/4 c), garlic powder (1 T), onion powder (1 T), mustard powder (2 T), chili powder (2 T). Taste and tweak the flavors. Hold over low heat until needed.

10. Make a quick cole slaw: whisk together 1/4 c mayonnaise, 1 T red wine vinegar, 1 T lemon juice, and 1 T grainy mustard. Add 2 cups shredded cabbage and toss well to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.

11. Sauce the meat: In a smaller work bowl, place the amount of pulled pork you plan on eating (unless you have a huge family or four stomachs, there will be lots of leftovers). Sauce lightly with your homemade BBQ sauce, and toss to combine.

12. Assemble sandwiches: On warmed rolls, place a generous portion of sauced pork, a drizzle of more sauce, plus a nice dollop of cole slaw.

13. Serve alone, or with a nice side like we did: Smitten Kitchen's Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin. So good.

17 November 2009

next house project: re-painting!

With all the plastic over our windows, it either feels like Tom Ridge gave us some questionable advice... or we're finally painting the house! OK, it's the latter. We no longer live in the Mint Green Manse. Sadly, it makes our home not quite as easy to spot from a mile away. But, I guess we'll have to adapt. Prepping and priming are underway... the job should be done before Turkey Day. Hope we picked the right colors!

16 November 2009

it's hammer time

Man, that song has been in my head for DAYS. I blame Jacky. He used to be obsessed with a spoon, but now it's all about his hammer. Gotta have the hammer!

Hammer takes a hike.

Hammer hungry.

Hammer sleepy. Crib time.

Oh, hammer hungry again.

Doo doo doo dum, dah dum dah dum. It's hammer time.

garden update: veggie beds!

OK, so this might look like a whole buncha redwood boxes, but dang... lookee what my mister done made! This is the biggest swarm of raised vegetable beds that I've ever had the pleasure of filling with dirt and seeds. I can't wait to plant!

First, I must finish putting down pea gravel. Which inspired a very geeky gardening-meets-graphic-design moment as I was spreading tiny pebbles here and everywhere: pea gravel is the gaussian blur of gardening. It smoothes out everything and makes all rough edges pretty. I'm just sayin'.

Oh, and in case you missed the "before" of this particular scrap of land, lookeehere.

11 November 2009

Garden update

So, as promised, the garden update! Those of you who know me in real life know that lately, every weekend has been all about working on the backyard. We have big plans for it, and each stage is SO exciting (for us at least).

We were delivered a ragged if relatively blank slate from the previous owners, who lived here for 50 years (we're the 3rd owners of this 1930 house). The former lady of the house gardened quite a bit we're told, but by the time they sold the house, the couple were both pretty elderly and infirm. So, the garden had slipped a bit. We're happy to be reinvigorating it in a new direction.

Anyway, perhaps a pictorial narrative is in order!

First, I found this Google image of the block from before we bought the house. Look at what a jungle the backyard is (click to enlarge). You can't see the ground:

Next, a view of the back of the house, from about a year ago, a few months after the purchase. The jungle had been cleared for the sale, but vines and thorny things were making a reappearance. Construction renovation was well underway, but the garden was a head-scratcher for us. We weren't even living here yet, so we kinda let it ride. Mostly, we stopped by to pick limes for G&Ts.

Here's a view of the yard from the house, during construction. Note our house's guts in the yard. And the encroaching wave of nasturtiums.

This Summer, after our Spring move-in, the garden make-over began in earnest with a re-clearing, and a new retaining wall through the entire yard. (When you live on a hill, you need things like retaining walls. Keeps the neighbor's yard out of yours.) Turns out I married a pretty handy DYI guy, so we grabbed our shovels and started digging ditches. Like 70 feet of 'em. It was mostly Toby, truthfully. And it was hard work. We have a friend who thinks ditch-digging should be the next workout craze for brides-to-be, but that's another story. Anyway, the big rock pile to the right is the former retaining wall, which Handy Guy busted apart with his two hands and a sledgehammer. Dang.

Before we moved in, a deck was built (below). But Project Retaining Wall moved along with the setting of posts. Giggle, giggle:

Then, walls started to materialize:

And steps!:

And, then a patio! Connected by stairs to the upper deck! Our backyard now has three levels where it used to have one... eventually, there will be lots of sitting areas, tables, umbrellas, BBQ, hangout space, etc. Just getting those beautiful stairs in is so exciting. They're so shiny and new to me that I love just hanging out there in the sun:

Pablo approves, too:

So... this coming weekend, we tackle that craziness just beyond the railing. Soon, it'll start taking shape of my amazing kitchen garden. Raised beds and "civilized" pea gravel. Stay tuned!

10 November 2009

Spotted: garden stuff

People, I'm so garden crazy right now. I owe this blog a huge garden makeover update--this week sometime, I swear!--but all I can do right now is daydream about seeds, trees, veggies, climbing vines, etc. If gardening were a puppy, I would mush its face into mine and squeeze it, and hold it, and love it and... and... OK, OK.


Yesterday, Jacky and I made a between-naps outing to, where else, Flora Grubb to do some shade plant research. Shade plants aren't usually on my radar of awesomeness. But, it seems we have a shady, somewhat damp corner in the back of the yard, and it needs to be treated well. So, cappuccino in hand, I steered us over to the shady part of the nursery... but not before being totally distracted by the oh-so-not-in-the-shade latest vertical garden at FG:

I wasn't so into these felty pockets as displayed inside the store, but the plants they used outside (full sun, natch) make this whole pocket product look pretty cool to me.

06 November 2009

Pizza of the week

For whatever reason, our dinner ideas seem to peter out by Thursday. Pizza to the rescue! Toby created his usual festival of pepperoni... for me it was chopped spinach, red onion, feta, anchovies and capers. Drizzled with our new, spicy Spanish olive oil.

04 November 2009

Kitchen Essentials: Top 10

It's just about that time, people... the weather is turning colder, and it's the season to spend some quality time in the kitchen. I've received a couple of really great kitchen tools recently, and rather than share them piecemeal, I've put together a list of the 10 items that make our kitchen tick. Some are absolutely for treats (which are essential, right?) and some are more every-day. Without further ado, my top ten current kitchen crushes!

Pizza Screens - As you know, we're all about homemade pizza at Chez ST&F. As I've mentioned before, these little mesh trays allow us to slide our uncooked pizzas into a 500-degree oven without a dough disaster. Or 3rd-degree burns.

Crock Pot - Imagine this: you wake up, pull on your bathrobe, grab some coffee... put a nice pork shoulder plus some sauce and spices into a beautiful piece of crockery... turn it on, walk away. Return 6 or 8 hours later and dig in. Bonus is that our crockpot is my parent's vintage 1970's "Harvest Gold" model (a wedding gift, I'm sure), with real crockery insert. When we moved recently, this was by far the item I most lovingly packed up.
Super cool crock pot image above from Etsy.

Zojirushi Water Heater - This appliance is simply indispensable around here. It's basically a hot water machine, but it's so much more. Hot water is always ready--always ready. We use it for morning tea (see below), making cups of coffee (see below), braising kale, heating up cold baby bottles or homemade purees, thinning out thick sauces, etc. Probably the best wedding present we received.

Tea Brewers - If you like loose tea like we do, these are just genius. You can brew individual cups and dispense the tea into your mug in a snap, by placing the brewer on top of the mug. We're all about tea in the mornings: the Mister likes a China Black and I love Oolongs, both from Peets.

Single-cup Coffee Brewers - We pretty much drink coffee only on the weekends. Since being pregnant, my caffeine intake has stayed pretty low. (But this time-change may change all that!) And, maybe we're getting old, but a whole pot of coffee is WAY too much for just us two. I know, some of you (Nance) are shaking your heads ("wimps!"). Anyway, old-fogey wimps that we are, we have been digging these single-cup brewers. We make each cup one at a time, and none of the coffee sits idly, cooking on a coffee maker's heat plate. Bonus is that during pregnancy, I could whip up a cup of decaf for myself without cramping anyone else's style.

Green Bean Frencher - Just got this for my birthday from The Mister. I've been wanting this King Champion of Unitasking ever since seeing Jamie Oliver with one. I love my green beans frenched (i.e., sliced lengthwise very thin. Makes them cook quickly.) but you can really cut a finger off trying to do it with a knife. This little jobber works like magic. I actually think it's kind of fun to use. But, I'm into that kind of thing.

Mini Tart Tins - I like these for a couple of pretty simple reasons: Baking is (newly) fun to me. But, making a whole tart for two people is insane: we either eat it all (no good) or it goes to waste. Enter tiny tarts! Problem solved.

Mesh Produce Bags - My co-worker Gayle turned me on to these. Instead of adding to our already bulging stash of plastic produce bags (which we reuse), why not bring some of these to the store or farmer's market for your lemons or salad mix? Aside from the obvious eco benefits, who really likes bringing excess clutter (i.e., tons of annoying bags) into the house every week? Not me.

The Bins - Every Friday, we receive a big, green bin (or two) full of mostly local, seasonal, organic veggies, meat, bread, cheese, nuts, fruit, etc -- delivered right to our door. I've been using this service since being a single, solo-dweller, and now it's a big part of our family's food plan. It's kind of like a CSA, but it draws from many, many farms (and it's a family-run business), and you get to choose what's in your bin. I still go to the farmer's market when possible, but with the bins, we still have amazing food if we miss a trip to the market.

Food Saver - OK, full disclosure: I own one but haven't used it yet. Not so essential, you ask? Au contraire. If I look into my crystal ball, next summer we'll be swimming in a sea of homegrown blueberries, green beans and peas... which we'll seal up in the Food Saver and pop into our (also as-yet unpurchased) deep freezer down in the basement. Can't you just see it??

So.... what are your must-haves for the kitchen? Any gadgets or basics you just can't do without? I need to know, so I can covet your favorites too.

03 November 2009

The Halloween Attempt

As we kind of imagined might be the case, once we got Jacky in his Halloween costume (no mean feat), it stayed on no longer than 40, maybe 45 seconds. However, our family papparazzo was prepared and deftly snapped some proof... my favorite above.

So, what's he dressed as? You'll have to guess... but let me give you an ENORMOUS hint and say that since this is the "freebie" year when parents get total choice on a kid's costume, I deferred to Toby. You know, the complete Star Wars geek? So obvious!

02 November 2009

some things never change

When I watch Jacky on the video monitor, with its grainy, grayscale feed, I sometimes feel like I'm looking at him on the ultrasound again. You see a little creature in there, sometimes it's easy to pick out his various parts, sometimes not. But it's hard to stop watching.

This morning, I was brought back to his in utero days again... he's taken to kicking the crap out of his crib while he's supposed to be napping. Just like last year around this time, when he would use my organs as a punching/kicking bag. Precious.

kicky from blake kahan on Vimeo.

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