Cooking Food Popular

Savory Bacon Kale Frittata

I’m still reeling from the shock of not having won the lottery, and, $500 million poorer than anticipated, headed back into the kitchen where I am destined to spend every evening (at least until I win the next one).

I love breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything in between, but there’s something I especially love about a leisurely breakfast, especially if it’s not too much work and but looks and tastes delicious. Maybe because it’s so rare to be able to have a lovely meal, enjoy the daylight and tell yourself that you have the rest of the day to burn the calories off. Speaking of, my calves are still growing from the new workout schedule. The other day, when I zipped up my boots, I could actually feel my pulse in my calves. Please tell me there is a point at which this will stop.

I’ve mentioned before that I belong to a CSA so I’m always trying to come up with creative ways to use the produce. I like kale chips, but kale chips all the time is something altogether different.

So one spring Saturday, I took out some very pretty eggs. Tanned, with some adorable little freckles. Is it disturbing to humanize your food is before you devour it?

I think these eggs look lovely and peaceful. Like they just came back from a restful spring break in Jamaica, but away from all the crazy college kids doing keg stands.

Spring break is over, friends. Time to get out of your shells and get to work! (I know, this post is getting a little weird.) Put the eggs in a bowl and beat them (and now it is disturbing to say that, now that I’ve humanized them). I actually ended up using 8 eggs, and added in a half cup of milk, but I thought this was pretty so I took the picture after 5. Beat in 1/4 tsp salt and some ground pepper.

Now slice up some bacon and fry it up — I like to do this in a cast iron pan. It weighs as much as an elephant baby but cooks really nice and evenly, and looks pretty and rustic too. Not that there’s anything about me or my life that’s rustic.

I’ve been using nitrite-free bacon lately, which is healthier but doesn’t last as long — so I’m quite liberal with using bacon when I’ve got a package open. If you had some left over you could try making a bacon nativity scene.

When the fat starts to render, add in some chopped up onions.

Once the onions begin to caramelize, grab a bowl of grape tomatoes and a handful of hand-torn kale or chard leaves, and add them into the pan.

Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring a bit, and then pour the egg mixture into the pan, over the other ingredients. Sprinkle a handful of shredded cheese (I used mozzarella). Stick into a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes, til the edges begin to brown and pull away slightly from the pan. Enjoy!

SAVORY BACON KALE FRITTATA

Ingredients

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 3 slices bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • handful of kale or swiss chard (about 1/4 cup), torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat 8 eggs in a medium bowl and add in 1/4 cup milk, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Over medium heat in a cast-iron pan or oven-proof skillet, saute bacon until fat renders. Add in onions and cook until they begin to caramelize, stirring occasionally. Add in the tomatoes and kale or chard, cook for about 30 seconds, and pour the egg mixture over the other ingredients. Sprinkle the mozzarella on top.  Cook for 30 seconds on the stove.

Put the pan into the pre-heated oven and bake for about 10 minutes, til the edges begin to brown and pull slightly away from the pan. Add additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 4-6.

Tell me if you’re gonna try this!

Food Restaurants

{San Diego} Valentine’s Day Offers and Prix-Fixe Menus

D Bar San Diego 

Recently (SuperBowl Sunday, in fact), I was at a women’s event where a couple of women a few years ahead of me on the kid timeline were talking about college, and about how a book called The College Solution changed their approach to choosing colleges and saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars. My kids have years yet before we have to start thinking about that, but it’s probably a good idea to start planning, especially if I can save a buck. Or a few hundred thousand.

All this talk of impending financial strain was on my mind when someone (a reader!) from OpenTable reached out to let me know about some great prix-fixe menus that are on tap for Valentine’s Day and I thought, YES! Because what is more romantic than showing you ways to save money on your Valentine’s Day / week dinner so that you can save for college? Oh, and if you don’t have college tuition to pay for, and even if you don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, this will still save you money. You’re welcome.

So without further ado, here is the link that will save you tons of money and help you pay for college (sort of).

Some of my favorites on the list:

  • Addison at the Grand Del Mar. Make no beans about it, it’s expensive. And I’m pretty sure they don’t even serve beans. But if you’re looking for luxury with a discount, this is an opportunity to dress up, check out fancy cars in the parking lot, and savor a delicious meal. $155/person.
  • Cucina Enoteca Del Mar. Wine bottles on the walls? Horses hanging from the ceilings? All are here at Cucina Enoteca, where there is no shortage of burrata and I have had nothing but deliciousness to report. Prix-fixe menu available.
  • Cucina Urbana. Cucina Enoteca’s sister restaurant downtown has a $48 prix-fixe menu that will not disappoint.
  • D Bar San Diego. 6 courses!!! 3 desserts!!! Did you hear that? I said THREE DESSERTS. All for $75/person. You will recall that D Bar is where we had our MasterChef encounter, so it holds a special place in my heart.
  • The Red Door. So cute. So cozy. So delicious. 3 course menu for two, $80.

Saving you money, one bite at a time.

Baking Food

Paleo Gluten-free Orange Cranberry Muffins

Since December, I’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time in sweatpants. Factors driving this behavior:

  1. They are the symbol of freedom.
  2. Nothing beats an elastic waistband when you’re eating. NOTHING.
  3. This is the year of the cute sweatpant (or, jogger, as it’s been rebranded). There are the printed type, which I like in concept but which always look like pajamas on me (probably because I refuse to wear heels with them, which I feel defeat the purpose of achieving ultimate comfort), and the solid type; these from Athleta are my all-time favorites (I got them for Christmas — thanks San-do-ra!).
  4. I left my executive job and am now consulting, mostly from home. I was just finding that even when I was at home, I was never mentally available to my family…I have a real problem compartmentalizing work (plus there were the weird hours and challenges of working in an international business). It’s been a lot easier now that I’m in full control of my work and time…and plus I can wear sweatpants.

There are, of course downsides to the exclusive wearing of elastic waistbands. The other night I went out to dinner for a friend’s birthday, and, as it was at a restaurant, I thought the occasion warranted pants (and not the elastic waistband kind that is made to mimic pants, which I have — but the real kind with a zipper and button and everything). Turns out if you move into real pants after weeks of wearing joggers, you have to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes from the extra pressure. Also, you may find yourself thinking things like, “Why should I have a separate wardrobe for sleeping?” Still, a small price to pay for the otherwise boundless joy.

While I was sitting around in my sweatpants over the holidays, we had visitors. My brother and his family came to visit. The girls had so much fun with their little cousin, who is a big fan of hats.

My brother has a gluten intolerance, and since I also had a friend visiting that week with celiac disease, I thought I’d try to make some gluten-free muffins (which also happen to be naturally sweetened) from paleo blogger Detoxinista. I added shredded coconut and chia seeds for some extra crunch and texture. I had pretty low expectations since most gluten-free baked goods I’ve seen looked kind of flat and generally unappetizing, but these orange cranberry guys puffed up nicely:

And, they were nice and moist. I’ve tried this recipe with a number of variations, and you can pretty much add in any combination of flavors and arrive at a nice paleo muffin.

My favorite part about the recipe — it’s a one-bowl wonder. Just throw everything into a bowl, mix it up, pour into muffin tins and bake! Leave me a comment if you try a different variation — I’d love to know about any winners!

PALEO GLUTEN-FREE ORANGE CRANBERRY MUFFINS
adapted from Detoxinista

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup coconut flour
  • 6 eggs
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Zest of one orange (about 2 teaspoons)
  • ½ cup pure maple syrup or raw honey, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chia seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a standard muffin tin with 12 baking cups.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the coconut flour, eggs, orange juice, zest, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, baking soda, chia seeds and salt. Use a whisk to mix well, breaking up any clumps, then fold in the fresh cranberries and the shredded coconut.
  3. Divide the batter among the 12 cups, then bake at 350F for 23-25 minutes, until the edges are golden the centers of the muffins feel firm to a light touch. Allow the muffins to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.
  4. Since these muffins are very moist, leftovers should be stored in the fridge for best shelf life, but bring them to room temperature again before serving for best flavor and texture.

Makes 12 muffins.

Fashion Shopping Travel

{San Diego} Emme J Boutique

 

Every once in a while you come across an ethical dilemma. Let’s say you find out, through the kindness of a friend (who is obviously a lot more generous than I am — thanks Alice!), about a super secret but awesome source of brand name clothing where everything is 80%+ off. You go there and confirm, it’s true, this place is for real. This could be your secret source of inspired and interesting apparel at prices that rival those of Target…but then you meet the owner of the store who says she would love some publicity because she isn’t allowed to advertise. Do you keep this information to your self, continuing to mine it for a suspiciously evolving wardrobe? Or do you share it, introducing competition for the the inventory but bringing benefit to the business owner?

Sigh. I must really love you guys.

Emme J sells excess merchandise from the distribution centers of such major brands as Joe’s Jeans, Athleta, Free People, Anthropologie, Wilt and Urban Outfitters. Joni, the founder, came upon this business in a most tragic way: years ago, while she was working for Seven Jeans, her family was killed by a drunk driver in a highway accident. Joni, understandably, couldn’t stand to commute on the highway on a daily basis anymore. Her boss suggested that, as she was a veteran of the garment industry, she may be able to work out a way for her to set up a retail operation close to home — essentially leveraging her years of trunk show experience, while alleviating brands of their excess inventory. Though brands were initially concerned about cannibalization, she’s been able to prove that their brands and sales remain intact, while she’s able to provide for them a valuable service.

And what a valuable service it is! Especially for me (er, us). Joni gets 11,000 pieces of inventory a month (with a shipment of 5,000 bags from Nordstrom on the way!).

When you walk in, you’re greeted with racks and racks labeled $15, $25, $30 and $40. Joni also told me that most items would probably fit me well, since I was pretty much the size of the fit models they use for the brands she carries — at which point I loved her immediately, since no one has every accused me of being a fit model.

It was here that I discovered the joys of Wilt clothing, delightfully clever and slouchy awesomewear with uneven hems and clean lines.

Emme J also offers event services, such as birthday parties, girl’s night out, fashion shows and fundraisers. Tell ‘em Sandi sent you!

Emme J
6840 Embarcadero Ln (directly across from the Carlsbad Coaster station)
Carlsbad, California
(619) 208-7639

Open Tuesdays / Thursdays 9 AM – 6 PM and on select Saturdays

Food Gardening Travel

O’Henry Peaches from Frog Hollow Farm

I am going to publish a scientific paper about how time goes more quickly in the summer and when you’re shopping on eBay.

If you follow me on Facebook you know that I just got back a couple of weeks ago from another trip to England. I spent the first week in London for work, but weekends with the rest of the  family in the country. If you’re a garden lover and a runner like me, the English countryside in the summer is pretty much as good as it gets. Except, if you’re like me, you have to stop every few feet to snap photos of the gardens.

I know, it’s really bad.

I just.can’t.stop.

Can’t.

I even checked out the Queen’s gardens this time around. They weren’t too shabby either.

Aside from English gardens, summer is also really great for peaches. I can turn just about any fruit into a dessert, but sometimes, you’re best off leaving it the way it was made.

Such is the way with organic O’Henry peaches from Frog Hollow Farm. Frog Hollow is in Brentwood, California, and produces the most breathtaking fruit, lovingly packed and shipped.

I got to try this fruit because, as luck would have it, my colleague The Fruit Maven generously brought a box into the office. This is generous because, had I received this box, I would have eaten it by myself in front of the shipping container within three minutes of receipt.

My pictures, sadly, do not do these peaches justice, since they were taken with my iPhone under the romantic glow of fluorescent lights. Even so, note the beautiful read marbling on the peach slice, cut from the peach that was soft enough to be cut by a plastic knife found in the break room. The texture was soft but had the perfect amount of body, and the taste was sweet and, well, peachy…possibly the peachiest peach I’ve ever eaten. Sweet and peachy — all you could ever want in a peach.

Frog Hollow Farms ships too — you can order a box of peaches from this link. And while you’re eating your peach, I’ll tell you about the rest of my trip.

The second week was spent in the countryside.

My mother-in-law got the kids raincoats and wellies, so it promptly stopped raining.

Which meant that they could go on a ropes course.

I got to catch up with my neighbor Helen, who moved back to the UK two weeks earlier:

My sister-in-law took me shopping, where I fell in love with a dress that looked really sad on me:

Nevermind, though, because we hit Cath Kidston next where I got a tiered cake platter and a set of flowery napkins that my husband doesn’t like (but I love!).

We had a dinner celebration for my brother-in-law’s 40th:

and then headed over to spend a few days with our friends Simon and Laura.

And some time miming I guess.

The kids had a great time with their daughter, swimming:

hanging out:

and visiting her school:

Now I’m back at home, waiting for my flowers to be plentiful enough to place by my bedside table. Til then, this memory will have to do.

 

Cooking Food

Apricots with Mascarpone Cream

I am currently in that circle of hell reserved for people who blog about food but cannot eat it. I’ve had some kind of stomach virus (I think. Or it could be worms. That is exactly what I need. Worms.) since last weekend and though I hadn’t been hungry all week, I am very hungry now but the stomach is not accepting donations.

I’ve generally been feeling weird lately, and part of it I attribute to aging. I can’t remember anything anymore. I recently went away on a girls’ weekend (which, sadly, ended at some point) and the whole weekend was full of conversations like:

“So I have a friend that lives in…African country! Abject poverty! Blood diamonds!”

“The Congo?”

“Right! This is just like that game…shouting out clues! Have to guess the word! Board game!”

My friends and I, we are losin’ it. But the good news is that soon we won’t remember to care.

The other good news is that it’s apricot season. Apricots just look so…peachy to me — like a teenaged girl with good skin (I would never know what that’s like). I got a box of apricots from my CSA and made this dessert which I promise may be the best thing I’ve ever tasted (it’s  large category, that.). Seriously though it is incredibly awesome, like as awesome as if your tongue were a skating rink and Olympic skaters were winning the gold medal on it.

Some incredibly gifted person named Miki posted this on Allrecipes but I modified it a bit to add a bit of citrus and floral aromas, substituting lemon curd for apricot nectar, marmalade for apricot preserves and using a violet flavored balsamic vinegar .

APRICOTS WITH MASCARPONE CREAM adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients

  • 3 TBSP sugar
  • 4 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 2 TBSP lemon curd
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch ground cardamom
  • 3 TBSP marmalade
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar (I used violet flavored vinegar)
  • 8 fresh apricots, pitted and halved

Preparation

  1. Beat the cream in a chilled bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar and set aside. In another bowl, whip the mascarpone cheese with an electric mixer until very soft; beat in the lemon curd, vanilla extract, and cardamom. Gently fold the mascarpone mixture into the whipped cream.
  2. Place the marmalade and honey into a microwave-safe bowl and heat in microwave oven until warm but not hot, about 30 seconds. Mix well and stir the balsamic vinegar into the honey mixture.
  3. Stuff each apricot half with a dollop of the mascarpone cream and place the filled apricot halves on a serving dish. Drizzle the fruit and plate with balsamic sauce and serve.

Serves 8 (or 1, if it’s me).

Health Lifestyle

TMI Series: The Moon Cup Menstrual Cup

Alert! Alert! Turn away now if:

  • You want to read about food right this minute
  • You’re squeamish about blood and bodily functions
  • …and probably if you’re a man

I am about to venture deep into the nether regions of TMI land, and pretty far away from food, but I have experienced something so life-changing that I feel like I have to become an evangelist. Mostly so that I can stop blabbing about it to my husband to whom I believe I am giving nightmares.

***UPDATE: The good folks at Gladrags.com (makers of the Moon Cup) have offered my readers 10% off their purchase! Use code TMI10. Thank you Gladrags!***

If you’re like me, getting your monthly period is no cause for celebration, and is, in fact, and exercise in planning and preparedness. In short, it’s a huge pain, literally and figuratively. So recently when a friend asked if I’d ever tried a menstrual cup, I thought I’d research. I’d heard of them before, most recently from reading the Zero Waste book, but the author was also doing things like looking into using moss as toilet paper and sewing her own maxi pads, and I just wasn’t ready to go there. Even though I compost.

First off, for those of who you are unfamiliar with the concept, a menstrual cup is a silicone cup inserted in largely the same way as a tampon, but instead of absorbing the flow, it catches it. At first glance this sounds very, very messy, but…it’s not. And if you have a sick fascination like I do with the output of your Biore strips, I think you’ll actually enjoy it.

I started investigating online and found thousands of reviews from women talking about how life-changing the cup has been for them. And after having gone through my first cycle with one, I can confirm that for me, the following claims held true:

  • I really appreciated the no-paper-trail, no-landfill-polluting nature of the cup. That is, no crinkly papers to deal with, no garbage created in your (or someone else’s) home, no worries about whether your tampon is going to clog up the plumbing. I’m usually mortified at the amount of waste I create each month, and this month — maybe just a few extra sheets of toilet paper. The cup is reusable for a number of years (the manufacturer of the Moon Cup mentioned that their customers use it for up to 10 years).
  • I found it more comfortable than a tampon, and it doesn’t “fall out” like some tampons do.
  • Because it doesn’t absorb like a tampon does, the risk of TSS goes way down, and you don’t have to worry about the uncomfortable removal of a tampon in the later days of your cycle…if you know what I mean.
  • I had less cramping with the cup. I have no idea why this is the case but other women mentioned the same thing — I’m not going to complain.
  • I had just about no leaking with the cup (and this is my first time ’round, so I was learning), and I am on the heavier side of the normal flow range, I always leak with a tampon, and I was using o.b., which I found to expand laterally better than the other brands. The cup forms a suction along the vaginal walls — so generally, no leaking.

If you’re about to embark on this adventure for the first time, there are a few things to know:

  • Cups come in different sizes and shapes. You’ll want to get an idea for how far up your cervix is before buying, because having a cup right up against your cervix can cause cramping. This tutorial shows you how.
  • This link and this one have pretty comprehensive comparisons of the measurements, shape and texture of the various cups on the market. If you’re going for bigger capacity, like what you would get with the Diva Cup, just be sure that the cup isn’t going to end up right against your cervix. I liked the idea of bigger capacity, but started with the Moon Cup (US — there is also a UK version) instead and I probably have to change it more on heavier flow days than I would with the Diva Cup, but it is completely comfortable. I also cut the stem on my Moon Cup about 3 mm and that made it perfect for me. The Diva Cup talks about a “twist” to pop it open, but my Moon Cup pretty much pops open on its own. It also comes with a cheerful yellow gingham carrying bag which seems to say “Yay period!”
  • There are also slightly different insertion and removal methods that work with each cup, but there are plenty of great videos that show you how to insert and remove a cup. Ladies, you must break the vacuum seal before pulling out the cup, or I imagine it could be quite painful.. With the Moon Cup in particular, I find that the best method is to grab the stem with toilet paper, for better grip, and then to break the seal by pressing one side of the base of the cup away from the wall, and wiggling it down side to side. When it’s low enough, I grasp the base of the cup with my thumb and forefinger, and this gives me a good handle on the cup so that there’s no messy spilling. You do have to be unafraid to get your fingers up in your business, but that wasn’t an issue for me since I was an o.b. user anyway. Just dump the flow into the toilet. I found that after a few runs I was able to do the removal with very minimal mess.
  • Ideally, you’d rinse the cup with soap and water before reinsertion, but in a public bathroom, you can wipe it down with toilet paper and reinsert until you can wash it. I’ve read about people bringing water bottles or peri-bottles with them in stalls for the rinsing, and that sounds like a good idea too. Other women said they just carried two cups, and would stick cups to be cleaned into a plastic baggie until they could get home.

On my heaviest days (for context, I would soak through an o.b. Super Plus tampon in 2 hours, and any other brand within 1.5 hours), I found that emptying the cup every 3 hours was sufficient and resulted in no leaking (if I used a Diva Cup, which has larger capacity, I might be able to go for longer — but I’m a little worried that it will hit my cervix). For the first time ever, I went without a backup pantiliner or a pad…though I would advise on heavy days using a pantiliner just in case. Now that I’ve gone all eco I think I’m going to try these reusables from Gladrags, the distributors of the Moon Cup US. On lighter days, I only needed to empty it once or twice a day, and I had no problem swimming with it on a heavy day. And overnight it was a DREAM. None of the gross issues I’ve had with overnight pads, and ZERO leaking (I emptied right away when I got up).

Now you know this has to be good if I’m as excited about this as I am about food. Feel free to ask questions below in the comments and I’ll try to get you the answer. Thanks for not fainting!

Cooking Food Popular

The MasterChef in My Kitchen

This post is dedicated to all of us out there who have to watch MasterChef with a drool-catching napkin in our laps.

Have you ever watched MasterChef Junior? It’s like The Hunger Games and The Food Network put together minus the killing. Anyway, I can’t get through a MasterChef Junior episode without weeping — I just get so sad when those kids cry! Which is why I was glad that we moved on to MasterChef Season 4. And why my kids talk like Gordon Ramsay at dinner every night. I think we watched the whole season within a couple of weeks.

Several of the contestants on Season 4 were from San Diego. One day, when I was driving on the highway, I could have sworn I saw Lynn — one of the top 10 contenders — in his car. When I got home I told the kids and they squealed like little girls (ok, they are little girls) and peppered me with questions about the encounter (which, I remind you, was just me thinking I saw someone who was maybe potentially him on the highway, for which “encounter” is a strong word).

My older girl’s birthday was coming up, and I didn’t have any good ideas on what to do. She’s always been really easy and low-maintenance, and I wanted to do something special for her. So I had an idea…if she was so excited about me maybe possibly seeing Lynn on the highway, what if he showed up at our door? He always seemed super nice and level-headed on the show, and also, I wanted to eat his plates.

Leveraging the internet as the superb stalking tool it is meant to be, I found his contact information and emailed him my unusual request. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks and figured he put me in the Scary folder of his Inbox, but one day he did respond — and he said he would do it! I emailed him pictures of the girls and we arranged for him to show up at our house for my daughter’s birthday to teach her and her sister to cook a few dishes.

A few weeks later, while we were on our spring break staycation, we went to D Bar in Hillcrest for dessert.

I had this Poco Coco Loco, which was a panna cotta topped with a layer of tapioca, with a passion fruit compote, a passion fruit cloud and a macaroon. I might have shed a joyful tear in between bites.

Now, I knew from my online (let’s call them “research”) skills that Lynn had taken some of the photos on the D Bar website, and since he was due to show up to our house in a few weeks and since it had been some time since we had finished watching Season 4, I wanted to be sure the girls remembered him when he came over. So I asked, “Do you know who took the photos for the D Bar website?…Lynn! From MasterChef!”

The girls started whispering and giggling and then my younger one said, “And he’s right over there!!!”

And he was.

Which made me look like the ultimate stalker.

After a few false starts my older daughter finally got up the guts to go talk to him, and he recognized her from the photos and said, “Oh hiiiiii….”. He turned to me and said, “Sandi, right?” at which point I could only wave like a girl on a parade float awkwardly trying to figure out how to keep this all a surprise for a few weeks later.

“Mom, do you know him?!?” daughter #2 asked, at which point I said, “No! Of course not!”

“Oooooh, I get it,” she said, “He recognizes you from the car!”

Ri-i-i-i-i-ght, I said, from the car! Because how could you not remember me if I maybe possibly saw you on the highway, right?

As it turns out, Lynn was with Shaun, another MasterChef contestant, who also happens to be a magician (and was in town for a magic convention)! So I guess you could say it was quite a magical evening as we were regaled with wizardry and sleight of hand. Lynn was delightful and answered all our incessant questions about his MasterChef experience and gave us tips on how to make macaroons.

The next day, of course, was spent watching MasterChef Season 4 episodes all over again.

Fast forward a few weeks to the birthday weekend. 2 PM, the doorbell rings, and we ask the birthday girl to open the door.

Lynn was perfectly charming with the kids and brought some amazing ingredients from Specialty Produce, like these beautiful basil flowers:

He got them started on prepping parsnips and taught them some proper knife skills.

They made a vinaigrette:

and learned the best way to juice a lemon to prevent the seeds from falling in:

They tasted as they went along:

and plated:

Here’s what they cooked up: first, a lovely heirloom tomato salad with red onion, basil and basil flower:

A side of roasted cauliflower:

And a rack of lamb, which was seared…

…then baked and served atop a parsnip puree, garnished with chive flower, alongside the colorful cauliflower and purple carrot medley:

And let me tell you, that lamb. I would fight you for that lamb.

Dessert was a mascarpone sorbet with raspberry coulis and coconut flakes:

I’m sorry it’s not totally in focus. I was concentrating on not eating it long enough to take the picture. Can you say so creamy that you want to die (in a good way)?

And as I licked the sorbet bowl clean while nobody was looking, Lynn packed up his knives and was off to his next gig…something involving sous-vide and a beer pairing for 50 people. Like a short rib-bearing Santa Claus. Thanks Lynn!

Travel

{Travel} Palm Desert and Anza-Borrego State Park, California

A native of the east coast, my impression of the desert has always been as follows:

  • You are always crawling through it on your knees.
  • Saying “agua”.
  • Then you see an oasis. But you collapse before you get there.

Since I’ve lived in California, though, the desert has become a restorative place for me. Nowhere is the sky bigger, the vista larger, the hues more serene. The desert has a majestic quiet about it, coupled with a resolute sense of determination. The desert lives on through the harshest conditions, and surprises us with its resilience.

I’ve been in the desert a couple of times in the past few months. In February, my parents, my brother’s family and mine spent a week in the Palm Desert area.

While we were there, my parents celebrated their 45th anniversary.

I posted this cute picture of them on Facebook and got a bunch of comments from relatives in Taiwan. Embarrassingly illiterate, I had to rely on Google Translate:

灑恩愛,很有版面,值得讚許,願您們在世的日子牽手共度嘉年華。

Sprinkle loving, very layout laudable, you would like to spend their days on the earth in hand carnival.

你們在溫暖中享受鴛鴦划水,我們在冰箱中成為蚯蚓了

You enjoy duck paddling in the warm, we became the earthworms in the refrigerator

I’m a little worried about what I wrote in response, but Google Translate would never lead me astray, right?

We did spend a good amount of time floating around in a pool:

…but we also found time to enjoy the vistas at the top of Mt Jacinto, via the aerial tramway:

The girls had a great time playing with their baby cousin:

It was a fantastic, relaxing vacation and I left restored.

Until a week later.

Back in the full swing of life and work and acquisitions and activities, I was tired again. It was time for a weekend getaway, this time a camping trip to the Anza-Borrego State Park.

This was our first time camping in the desert, and we were excited. Not the least of which because we had finally invested in a tent that actually fit 4 people — not the 4 person tent we had before which entailed my husband sleeping diagonally across the legs of the children.

This was the view from our campsite:

I love those two palms. At night, they look like a frizzy-haired couple watching the moon together.

This was the first time that the kids were able to do some pretty serious hikes. I’d say there were only 3 wpm (whines per minute) as opposed to the 45 or so that we’re used to. And they made it to the top! Of what I don’t know, but it was definitely the top of the trail.

 

One of my favorite new plants we encountered is called the ocotillo:

I just love its vibrant red flowers and its weeping yet sturdy form.

We also did a 3-mile hike to an oasis — this involved a bit of climbing, and it did get pretty hot along the way, so maybe it wasn’t so far off from the desert I had in mind originally. But eventually, we did get to the oasis. Sound advice for the desert: bring lots of water. You’ll need it before you get to the oasis.

On the hike back, we ran into a rattlesnake. I was too chicken to get close enough to take a picture, but then we ran into this guy later on:

We also came upon a group of people with binoculars who had spotted some big horn sheep in the distance. I’d like to think that I saw them too — I just couldn’t tell which part of the brown they were.

But what I did see was the utter vastness of the desert. The open expanse of big sky and mountain ranges as far as the eye can see…I love this feeling of being diminished, of feeling that I’m but a small part of something so much bigger. For an anxious person like me, it takes the pressure off. It’s a nice reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
— Mary Oliver

Baking

Gluten-free Chocolate Quinoa Cake

The world is awash today with images of hearts and chocolate. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends. I know what you’re thinking. Chocolate, hearts, berries…but what’s Valentine’s Day without quinoa? I hear you, ye tired, hungry and gluten-free. Because having quinoa in your cake is like having dinner together with dessert. It’s just more efficient.

I happened upon this recipe at the Week of Menus blog. She must cook during the day because she has way better lighting than I do, and is reflecting on how to be a better mother while I am just thinking about my hair and thinking about how I can make dinner into a dessert. (I cut my hair. After a couple of weeks of awkward silences and people averting my gaze trying not to comment on it while I was figuring out how to work with it, I have finally found a way to make it look effortlessly tousled which requires way more time than if I tried to make it look like I made a concerted effort. But such is the price of beachy.)

Week of Menus has done a good job laying out the recipe, so I’ll just link to it below, but the basic gist is that you mix the quinoa in a blender with a bunch of stuff and end up with a batter that looks like this:

Bake it like she tells you to. I’m sorry, but making my hair look effortlessly tousled has drained me of my will to share detail. You’ll end up with a cake.

Then you can cut a heart out of wax paper, snowflake-style:

Place it over the cake and dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar:

End up with this:

So follow the recipe. Eat it. Enjoy.

Cooking Food Popular

Vegan Coconut Chana Saag

I’m about as vegan as Fox News is liberal (I recently purchased a vegan leather jacket, because, how often do you find a jacket made of vegans?), but when I was killing time one day while my kids were at their riding lesson when I started reading a vegan cookbook. And it was fascinating. It was like cooking within a completely different universe. The fundamentals were different. It was like learning another language. Switching from PC to Mac. Learning to write with your navel. I’ll come up with the right analogy eventually.

And you know what? The dishes are beautiful. And flavorful. And most surprisingly (I always envisioned vegans as starving), filling.

This is the first recipe I tried. It was really quick, easy, and so flavorful. My carnivorous family loved it.

All you do is brown some onions in coconut oil:

And then add in everything else (spices, tomatoes and chickpeas). Cook it for about 10 minutes.

Stir in the kale and cook for another 5 minutes, and squeeze in some lime juice. Let it sit for 10 minutes and make sure you serve it with something like rice or flatbread to mop up all the vegan deliciousness of the sauce. Enjoy!

COCONUT CHANA SAAG from Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Isa Does It

Ingredients

  • 2 TBSP refined coconut oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TBSP minced fresh ginger
  • 2 TBSP mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Several pinches of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp anise seeds or crushed fennel seeds)
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 24 oz can whole tomatoes
  • 2 15 oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 8 oz kale, chopped
  • 1 14 oz can regular or lite coconut milk
  • 2 TBSP fresh lime juice

Preparation

Preheat a 4 qt pot over medium heat and add the coconut oil. Saute the onion in teh oil for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the curry powder, salt, pepper, anise seeds, garam masala, cumin, and cayenne and toss to coat the onions, letting the spices toast a bit (for a minute or so).

Add the tomato juice from the can, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze, simply hold the tomatoes and let the juice strain through your fingers. Now add the tomatoes from the can, squishing them with your fingers as you put them in the pot, to mash them up. Add the chickpeas and mix well.

Cover the pan and bring the heat up a bit. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the kale and stir until wilted, then let simmer for 5 more minutes, uncovered, to cook it down even further.

Add the coconut milk adn heat through. Add the lime juice, then taste for seasoning. It tastes best if you let it sit for 10 minutes or so.

Serve over basmati rice with a little mango chutney and cilantro on top.