22 December 2009

me, as a garden

Don't you love it when you come across something... a picture, a book, a song, heck a piece of clothing... and you get that quiet/excited/tingly feeling of just: YES. That is so me.

Just happened.

Usual lunchtime clicking... found a UK gardening site/blog called Fennel and Fern. On which is posted a bunch of garden-style mood boards. I love mood boards! I do them for work sometimes, for new projects. I scan them quickly and there I am... apparently I'm a potager (pictured above; click to see big).

What are you?

Image from Fennel and Fern.

i love felt

Maybe my meds are off, but I'm totally kookoo for felt right now. Especially when I see this pure genius idea, from Rachel at Heart of Light:

I may be a wee bit over-caffeinated this morning, but I literally clutched my heart and said, Ohhhhhh..... preeeeeetty.

Image from Heart of Light

20 December 2009

happy birthday toby

Today is Toby's birthday. Not the big one... yet. This year, we're happily homebound, so we had a quiet homemade dinner. We were talking tonight about how old he was when we met. Twenty-five. TWENTY-FIVE! I had just moved to San Francisco, post-college... I was just 23. He was Mister San Francisco City Kid Cool Guy. Self-sufficient, walked everywhere. Owned his own company. Probably went to indy rock shows every night. Mission kid. I was such a newbie... fascinated by it all.

We've both changed in certain ways since then... new situations but same essentials. Above is how I know him now, in his present incarnation. Wonderful, nurturing father. Comforting, calming presence.

Happy Birthday, Toby.

19 December 2009

pizza of the week: radicchio, fontina & walnut

Um yeah, I did just do a pizza post. It's not that we actually eat pizza more than once a week, it's more that I really like posting about them. I feel inspired by a blank slab of stretched dough. And, vegetarian pizzas are what I'm really into these days... the options within the plant (and cheese, let's be honest) world are many. I like picking one interesting ingredient and then trying to match it up with friendly partners.

Like tonight's pizza--yep, I'm blogging on a Saturday night; it's how I roll these days--I had some gorgeous, glossy radicchio hiding amongst some braising greens. I'm a big fan of bitter winter greens, so I pulled out a handful of the maroon leaves. Taking cues from some delicious radicchio salads* I've eaten, I put this one together. To me, a bitter green lover, it was delish.


Radicchio, Fontina & Walnut Pizza

Start with basic dough recipe. Chop one clove garlic and steep it in extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes. Roll out your dough and brush with garlic oil. Sprinkle with a handful each of grated mozzarella and fontina cheeses. Chop 6-8 leaves of radicchio into 1/2" strips and sprinkle over pizza. Add a few rings of thinly sliced red onion, 1/4 teaspoon chopped rosemary, and a small handful of chopped walnuts. Spray or drizzle lightly with olive oil and a tiny sprinkling of salt. Bake. Garnish cooked pizza with chopped Italian parsley and a squirt of lemon juice. Slice and serve.


*Speaking of salads: as he was assembling his customary Meat Masterpiece, Toby regarded mine and paraphrased a semi-famous (at least in our house) quote from Alton Brown's hamburger episode: "This is a [pizza]. Not a salad." Wah wah.

17 December 2009

recipe alert

People, I have two important culinary items for you... one addresses the seemingly impossible. And the other is long overdue.

First, if I told you that a delicious brunch dish--as I mentioned, I'm very into brunch these days--exists that is at once rich, prosciutto-y (yes, that's a word), satisfying, decadent AND low-calorie... would you believe me? Nope, I wouldn't either. Brunch is all about eggs, cheese, cream and bread. Lubricated with gallons of coffee and champagne.

But, it's true. The morsel of deliciousness (and wee cuteness I might add) shown above is apparently a paltry 27 calories per cute little serving. Recipe here. If you wanted to get crazy and gild the lily, nutrition-wise, throw in some chopped spinach or sauteed mushrooms... or scallions or zucchini in another season. Too cute.

Second, a sad fact: apparently my beloved Nutella is filled with trans fats. Bummer... I love that stuff so much that I've made Nutella ice cream for my also Nutella-loving husband. So, instead of abstaining from chocolate and hazelnut heaven, why not make your own? Always a reliable recipe source, my boss Robin clued me into this recipe from the L.A. Times. First, YUM. Second, where has this recipe been my whole life? I'm thinking shortbread window cookies filled with homemade Nutella. I see you nodding.

15 December 2009

pizza of the week

This is my current favorite, delicious and seasonal,
from the excellent Chez Panisse Vegetables: Butternut Squash Pizza.
Very simply, it's a sauceless pizza: brush a pizza crust with olive oil in which you steeped chopped garlic. Sprinkle over a small handful (each) of grated mozzarella and fontina cheese and top with a few slices of pre-roasted Butternut squash*. Bake in the oven. During which time, fry up a handful of fresh sage leaves in hot olive oil. Drain on paper towels and salt lightly. When the pizza is cooked, garnish with the sage leaves, some chopped Italian parsley and a squirt of lemon juice. Maybe also a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil!

*So, remember this photo of Jacky & the squash?

So far, that one monster has yielded:
- healthy cupcakes for Jacky's birthday (two batches!)
- butternut squash bread (thrown in the freezer for later)
- a big batch of random roasted squash slices (frozen for later)
- TBD: I still have a big bag of uncooked slices in the fridge (any ideas?? soup anyone?)

14 December 2009

something about colder days...

I just love dressing him up in warm things... hats, jackets, sweatshirts.
And, look, big boy shoes!

11 December 2009

what to bake?

So, this Sunday my dear friend Kristen and I are getting together for Holiday Baking Extravaganza 2009. I can't wait... tomorrow, we're both picking up packaging materials: me, boxes and bags; Kristen, ribbons and baubles. Sunday, it's on! We'll be baking, drinking tea... there have even been rumors of watching P&P while we bake... Did I say Baking Extravaganza 2009? I meant Girly Dorkfest 2009 :)

But, what to bake? How to narrow it down? Such dilemmas, people! Toby will be "manning" the little guy, but we only have a certain amount of time. The list can't be endless. What I'm currently considering for this season (no, I won't get to all of these):
  • Madeleines: this is a must in my book as well as Kristen's: for her, she's always made them and she makes them so very well. For me, my mom always made them (she'd send me all-Madeleine care packages in college... awww), so it's kind of a Proustian thing. I'm still trying to re-connect with my mom's original recipe, but in the meantime, this one from Heidi @ 101 Cookbooks looks great.
  • Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookies: doesn't that just sound great? Rich and refreshing. The master shortbread recipe can also be applied to Raspberry Window cookies and others.
  • Minty Chocolate Christmas Cookies, from 101 Cookbooks. These crazy-cute little Oreo-meets-an-oyster jobbers (click link for photo) contain whole wheat pastry flour, which makes them just slightly healthy-ish. But, I do love the idea of more wholesome treats, which makes me kind of Heidi's groupie.
  • Glittering Lemon Sandwich Cookies: Hmm, I'm noticing a trend. I like lemon stuff and I like sandwich-style cookies. I'm going with it. This one is from Gourmet magazine (thank goodness the recipes archive is still accessible).
  • Linzer Torte cookies: I made a full Linzer Torte for Toby's December birthday a couple of years ago... an almond and hazelnut lattice crust with raspberry preserves, topped with crunchy Demerara sugar. It was super tasty and delightfully labor-intensive, so I'd like to transform that exact recipe (I think it was from The Joy of Cooking) into cookie form.
  • Espresso Caramels: another one from 101 Cookbooks. I've been meaning to make these for two years. This is the year! Hopefully.
So, are you baking this holiday season? What's on your must-bake list??

Photo via Sunset.

10 December 2009

a little jacky time

It's been all food here for a while, so let's take a Jacky intermission. Shall we?

These are the first few days of his second year, and this sweet little boy is lately looking like... well, a big little boy. He's taking first steps, he's using first words. Out of baby-ness is emerging a little person: a sweet, pensive and hilarious little guy.

Current faves: toast, blueberries, doggies, books and "Da-da."
(Oh, and the hammer. Viva la hammer!)

07 December 2009

december brunch ideas

We recently had a brunch for friends at the house... the thing that I most like about these things is the menu-planning*. Out come the cookbooks, but I also check my archives of saved recipes. Do you use "del.icio.us"? It's genius for bookmarking everything with nifty tags and labels, but I mostly use it for recipes. If I come across something that would be a great cookie or brunch or weeknight recipe, I save it and tag it as such.

So, in pulling together this menu, I basically checked out my "brunch" file and picked out some seasonal options for this time of year. Here's what we served...

Early Winter Brunch

Egg Tartlets (or "Egg Flowers", see photo above--cute, no?), from Taste Buddies
I turned these into a vegetarian option, by trading out the bacon for sautéed chard and Fontina. Also, I obviously used puff pastry rather than short crust. Almost too cute to eat.

Canadian Bacon Strata, from Everyday Food
The un-veggie option. I upped the nutrition factor with whole-wheat, organic English muffins. I've made this recipe with regular muffins, and this worked just as well.

Winter Fruit Salad, from Smitten Kitchen
The antidote to the above :). Super tasty, wintry flavors. I decided to leave the pretty red, green and golden peels on the fruits, and added slivered almonds on top to garnish.

Cranberry Cream Scones, from Smitten Kitchen
with Orange Butter (blend 1 stick soft butter with 1 t. orange zest and 2 T. fresh orange juice. Add a tiny bit of salt (or use salted butter) and sugar (if needed) to taste).
If you ask me, scones are always part of brunch.

Oven-roasted Potato Wedges
Russets, cut into wedges, tossed with oil and spices, roasted at 400-degrees until crisp.
Toby made these delicious little slivers.

...all served with Mimosas (OJ & Grapefruit style), juice and lots of Peets coffee.


* The other thing I love about hosting brunch is it's over so early, so people can get on with their days... and we're left to enjoy a clean house full of flowers for the rest of the day. Yep, I'm officially old ;)

03 December 2009

oh carbonara...

How I love thee. Let me count the ways:

You're easy, satisfying and flexible. (Ooops, this is a family blog!)

Stupid jokes aside, is pasta carbonara part of your easy-cooking-night repertoire? For some of you, I'm sure it is. But for others... please listen up. This is a fabulous dish to master. It's perfect for almost any setting: from cooking for yourself to impressing others*. It's an alchemistic melange of egg, cheese, bacon and whatever else you want.

Lest that would make you think pasta carbonara is all sin and no vitamins... I'll have you know that we often make ours kinda healthy. Shhhh, don't tell. Whole wheat pasta, spinach, kale and other veggies routinely make an appearance in our Thursday Night Fave.

Pasta Carbonara
Chez ST&F style**

Makes 2 main-dish servings (doubles easily)

5 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
3 rashers of bacon, stacked and cubed
1/2 c. peas (organic frozen for us, this time of year)
1 large egg
1/4 c. cream
Lots of freshly ground pepper
Teensy bit of sea salt
1 c. parmigiano-reggiano cheese, finely grated
small handful of Italian parsley, chopped
  1. Fry bacon in a non-stick skillet. When crispy and delicious, push bacon pieces to one side and drain most of the fat out (do with it what you will), leaving a scant amount in the pan. Leave heat on very low. You want the pan to still be warm, not hot.
  2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
  3. When 4 minutes remain in pasta cooking time, add frozen peas. When cooking time is complete, drain pasta and peas, leaving plenty of pasta cooking water clinging to the noodles.
  4. Turn drained pasta and peas directly into the bacon skillet. Toss in the bacon-y goodness to coat.
  5. Whisk egg, cream, pepper and salt together in a small bowl. Pour into skillet and quickly stir to coat noodles. Add 2/3 of the cheese, half the parsley and continue stirring. Adjust the heat as needed: you want the egg mixture to thicken gently, not scramble. If you keep the heat sufficiently low to begin with, you may need to raise it slightly to ensure the egg mixture clings to the noodles. Don't overcook.
  6. When the egg mixture clings almost completely to the pasta, plate it. Divide pasta between two plates and garnish with remaining cheese, parsley and your best extra virgin olive oil. Dig in.

* As far as impressing others, I'll confess: my Mister always makes this dish. My job is to chop the parsley, throw in the cheese and look on admiringly.

** Some people say cream doesn't belong in carbonara, but this silky version works great for us.

02 December 2009

goodnight moon

last night... right before tucking Jacky in,
the backyard was bathed in a silver spotlight.
misty fog enveloped the neighborhood,
just like a fairy tale.

Lucky me, I slipped away and followed the moon
over misty Golden Gate Bridge...
for dinner on Dana's Sausalito boat.
Beautiful night.

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.
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