Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bounty in the Backyard

Here's a glimpse of the bounty in our backyard at the moment:
Our oranges are finally ready to harvest! Yeah! I tried one this morning and it was good! Looking forward to finding some fun uses for all these navel oranges. Ideas?
Fava beans are shooting up like rockets!
Lettuce, kale, and beets are doing well. And calendula is still going strong and giving us lots of sunshine-colored flowers to keep us in good cheer.

This weekend we also planted two kinds of raspberries to add to our blueberries and strawberries! Can't wait to enjoy all of this fresh fruit from the backyard.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Apple Hill Cake

My good people: Today I realized that I have been holding out on you. Not intentionally, but more due to a lapse of memory. You see, I assumed that I had already shared with you my family's favorite recipe for apple cake, which is in my mind, the best ever. I have shared several other forays into the apple cake realm, but not the one recipe that our family always makes year after year.  This recipe is so well-loved, I assumed it was put on the blog long ago, but when I went to look it up today on the blog before using up the last of the apples I picked last month, I saw my folly.

 I shall correct this oversight immediately! To me, this will always be the king of apple cakes. It is impeccable in its simplicity, the instructions being easy enough for a child to make it. (I made it as a child many times myself!)

 In appearance, it is humble and unassuming, but the texture is sheer genius - crackly crisp on top with moist, juicy apple-laced cake underneath. The smell that fills your kitchen while it bakes, that spiced apple one - it is heaven on earth. Oh, and the name comes from the local Apple Hill farms that are a popular autumn destination. The farms sell little cookbooks and this is one of their signature recipes.

I made the cake tonight with whole wheat flour and it worked quite well. I also halved the recipe and baked for 40 minutes in a square baking dish.

Apple Hill Cake

2 c. sugar
1/2 c. oil
2 eggs

4 c. diced apples (6 or 7)
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

Bake in a 9x13 greased pan at 350 for 40-60 minutes, when a tester inserted into the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nautical Baby Shower: My First Ever

This weekend I was very pleased to co-host my first baby shower ever. The guest of honor: My oldest friend, due on Christmas Day with a baby boy. The nursery theme was to be blue and nautical, so I teamed up with my friend's mom (known for her elaborate themed parties), my mom, and another friend (they all were good friends in high school) to throw a blue, sailing-themed shower. (My friend's husband sails on San Francisco Bay, hence the theme.) We gained so much inspiration from the Internet and Pinterest that I felt I should contribute our own twist on the theme.

Let's start at the entrance - Game #1 on the left, Guess the number of M&Ms in the Cookie Jar Mix. It's a mason jar filled with a homemade cookie mix, with a bottle topper that makes it look like a bottle. Our winner guessed the exact number - 350- and won the cookie mix (of course)!

Opposite entrance: "Pearls of Wisdom" station - Guests write advice for the new mother-to-be on white paper circular "pearls".

 This was an early afternoon affair, and lunch was to be served. Dining tables were set with navy tablecloths, with dishes of Goldfish crackers, netting, seashells...

And candles with white flowers and napkins. The napkin rings were tied with navy twine and each had a white Lifesaver candy tied to it.

Next up: The "Mess Hall".

Adorable "Baby in the Pram" fruit platter, by our artistic friend.

Sailboat deviled eggs on the left, veggie platter on the right with dip in bell pepper "boats".

Chicken salad croissant sandwiches ("chicken of the sea") with mini shrimp cocktails on the right:

Shrimp Louie salad...

Salmon-cream cheese "sand dollars":

Trio of sandwiches...

Homemade clam dip... in a crab. Whatever!

One of my contributions: a variety of blue creme sodas with striped straws - on ice:

All the food was labeled - This one is an "East Indian Artichoke Rice Salad".

After our lunch, we retired to the living room to open gifts:

The invitations had announced, "Ahoy, it's a boy!"

How detailed oriented is my friend's mother? She looked up the actual nautical flags to spell out the baby's name: Liam. I never would have guessed that this decoration spelled anything, much less his name!

After a competitive but friendly game of "Baby Jeopardy" and "Baby Gift Bingo" during the opening of the gifts, it was time for dessert.

Butter cookies that look like life preservers:

My mom made these "beachy" lemon cupcakes:

And I made the "Sailboat Chocolate Cupcake Tower".

  Last, but not least, hand-stamped napkins. Whew, I never would have thought of such a thing!

 In the end, it was a perfect shower. Fun, great food, intimate, and entertaining, with many wonderful people to meet and enjoy. I felt very fortunate to be able to work with so many talented and creative women to celebrate this moment in my friend's life.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Point Reyes Anniversary Trip

Despite being sick last week, we did not cancel our anniversary trip, but felt gratitude for having chosen a destination so close to home so that we could still enjoy it to some degree.

A little cottage in Point Reyes Station was our home for the weekend. A lovely welcome basket included local cheese and chickens from the hens on site, and organic McIntosh apples grown in the orchard our window looked out upon. We found a new favorite restaurant, Stellina, where we enjoyed a stellar lunch, followed by this amazing Raspberry-Pistachio Crisp with honey ice cream (using wonderful local ingredients).

Next up, we wanted to visit Bolinas, the hidden town famous for residents who took down the exit sign so often that there isn't one anymore. What impressed me about this small town was how giving, passionate, and trusting it could be, with a strong sense of community.

Observe: a room full of stuff free to anybody:
A beautiful art mural depicting the history of the town:
This is a farm stand on the edge of town full of beautiful produce. No one stands guard here - you can leave cash or mail a check. Now THAT is trusting!
And we couldn't resist a quick trip to San Francisco. Coming from this direction, I actually went over the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. (Usually coming from my neck of the woods, we cross over the Bay Bridge).
We stuffed ourselves silly with Indian food...
And made a trip to the bakery Tartine, which I deem utterly deserving of all the praise and popularity it has garnered, a legitimate foodie destination. Their morning buns, tarts and bread pudding were all divine. (Morning bun below, about to be devoured.) We shall return!
Not pictured: Two picnics on the beach... Lovely!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

My "30 Before 30" List

Hi. This is me, during our recent trip to Ashland, Oregon. My birthday is coming up before the year's end. When that happens, I will commence my 30th year of life. Inspired by several of my friends who have done "30 Before 30" lists, I decided that I would do the same and come up with my own 30 projects I want to accomplish before my 30th birthday next year. I feel comfortable sharing almost all of them - 29, to be exact. Not bad!

At first I felt indecisive about how to share them with other people. A note on Facebook with my close friends and family... who would probably quickly forget about them? Posting them silently on a wall at home where no one would know if I failed to do them? (Not enough accountability, I decided.) Finally, I decided my blog would be an acceptable place to share them with the world because I hope to share the results of these goals in this particular format over the next year. Some of these may make sense to you, some may only make sense to me, but that's ok. Ready, set, go!

1. Save up for Spain.

2. Practice yoga 52 times.

3. Bike Davis.

4. Hike Auburn trail.

5. Read 30 books.

6. Go to 3 new places.

7. Grow 3 new kinds of plants in the garden.

8. Beautify a public space.

9. Participate in 3 service projects.

10. Do something with the retreat in our house.

11. Attend a food festival.

12. Attend the Dickens Fair.

13. Attend the Cherry Blossom Festival in SF - April 13/20.

14. Go on a road trip.

15. See the Chinese New Year Parade in SF - February 23.

16. Go for 30 days without sugar.

17. Befriend someone new.

18. Sing in public 3 times (small groups, duets or - gulp-solo)

19. Take 12 self-portaits.

20. Invite 12 people/families over for dinner.

21. Host 5 book club meetings.

22. Attend the temple 12 times.

23. Connect with our neighbors once.

24. Read the entire New Testament.

25. Learn to use circular needles and knit 3 items.

26. Try 3 new types of food.

27. Can 3 food items.

28. Write a biography of my grandma’s childhood.

29. Donate (amount censored) to a charity besides church.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Beef and Bacon Chili

It happened today. There was a chill in the air, a breeze, and the heat wave finally broke. Temperatures were in the 90's yesterday but today will fall to the 80's. Autumn is finally here! I’ve been so longing for this moment, to enjoy all of those wonderful fall foods I start itching for in September. In fact, I’ve been so anxious, I’ve made some silly menu choices. I made soup last week on a 95 degree day and determinedly sipped the hot broth while beads of sweat broke out of my face. Well, starting today, I won't have to suffer thus anymore!

Chili may be the ultimate fall food, and I’ve made many in my days, mostly vegetarian, but this one is different. It is clearly a carnivore's dream, which is a bit out of character for me. But having some quality bacon to use up, and grass-fed beef and bell peppers from the farmer’s market, I couldn’t resist trying this hearty chili. My husband pointed out that it would be amazing on a chili dog, and as odd as that may sound, he's totally right. I LOVED the addition of lime and avocado to this chili, plus chives and tomatoes from the garden. I decreased the amount of meat, I’ll admit, and I thought our version was just right. Happy Fall to all!

Beef and Bacon Chili
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
1 bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup chili powder blend (you know, the stuff that has cumin, coriander, cayenne, etc.)
1 lb. Lean ground beef
2 (16 oz) cans black beans, drained
1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 (28 oz) can tomato puree
Kosher salt, to taste
2 limes, cut into wedges

Optional Condiments:
Tomatoes, diced
Avocado, diced
Chives, chopped
Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
Shredded cheese

Fry bacon in large heavy-bottomed nonreactive Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, about 8 minutes.
Add onions, bell pepper, garlic, and chili powder, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Increase heat to medium-high and add the beef; cook, breaking up pieces with wooden spoon, until no longer pink and just beginning to brown, 5-7 minutes.
Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.
Remove cover and continue to simmer 1 hour longer, stirring occasionally (if chili begins to stick to bottom of pot, stir in 1/2 cup water and continue to simmer), until beef is tender and chili is dark, rich, and slightly thickened.
Adjust seasoning with additional salt. Serve with lime wedges and condiments if desired.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Apple Custard Cake

Here's what I did with those neat apples I picked myself at Apple Hill: I made Apple Custard Cake. I got this recipe from an amazing blog by a girl named Brandi, better known as The Person Responsible For The Best Dessert I Ate Last Year at Seattle's Delancey.  She's an amazing chef, and she actually shares recipes for her creations on her blog. It's a beautiful thing! This particular recipe is basically from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table- tweaked a little.

Who doesn't want a simple apple cake this time of year, especially one that looks as gorgeous as this, with those tantalizing chunks of apple? I subbed about a teaspoon of real vanilla for the vanilla bean. I also don't own a food scale  and I am including my conversions as parenthetical notes. Feel free to drizzle with caramel sauce and top with whipped cream.

From Look I Made That

3.75 oz AP flour (between 3/4 and 1 c.)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 lb 2 oz chopped apples (I used 4-5 apples)
2 large eggs, room temperature
6 oz sugar (3/4 c.)
1/2 vanilla bean
3 TBSP apple cider
4 oz unsalted butter, melted (1 cube)
unrefined sugar for sprinkling

- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch springform cake pan and line it with parchment paper. Sprinkle unrefined sugar on the sides of the pan and tap it around.

- Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl.

- In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Rub the vanilla bean seeds into the sugar and add to the eggs. Whisk until well blended. Whisk in the apple cider. Whisk in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth, rather thick batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it’s coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and poke it around a little with the spatula so that it’s even. Sprinkle the top of the cake with unrefined sugar.

- Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 30 minutes.

- Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan. Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature. If you want to remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until the cake is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan, cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment, and invert it onto a rack. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

- Eat with a generous dusting of Maldon sea salt. And caramel and whipped cream if you’ve got it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apple Picking and Finally a Decent Lunch

I have blogged before about our annual fall sojourns to Apple Hill, but this year we wanted to do things a little differently. Going earlier in the season to avoid crowds and finding a decent place for lunch were at the top of our priority list. See, Apple Hill does anything apple-related extremely well.

Case in point: Apple Cider Donut-

Or the perfect Apple Fritter with chunks of fresh apple, laced with cinnamon:

Apple pie is always a winner-

Along with Apple Dumplings, Apple Crisp, Apple Strudel, Caramel Apples, Apple Cider and...  you get the picture.

But while the desserts are superb, over the years we have been subjected to one horrible lunch after another at Apple Hill. Grisly hamburgers, cold and tough tri-tip sandwiches on squishy white buns, and puny pulled pork sandwiches (all overpriced) had slowly drained us of any hope of finding a meal that was equal to the apple desserts.

But Crystal Basin Bistro finally has us excited about lunch again.

Located next to a winery of the same name, the sunny and open space of the bistro is inviting, modern and offers a dog-friendly patio. (We didn't take our chihuahua this time, but would love to in the future.)

Lunch plates are affordable ($8 per plate with meat, $6 for a vegetarian plate) and more sophisticated than anything else in the Apple Hill area. We opted for an antipasti plate, a beef brisket and gorgonzola sandwich, and...

The ridiculously gooey and probably very fattening cheesy artichoke dip. What can I say? We lost our heads for the day.

All fueled up after lunch, we headed to Denver Dan's for some apple pickin'.

I find apple orchards to be incredibly picturesque.

Last year we were disappointed when the U-Pick option here was cancelled after a bad apple season. This year obviously the trees were making up for lost time and were heavy laden with fruit.

Customers are encouraged to taste as they go to ensure ripe apples. Besides allowing us to buy the freshest apples possible, we get access to interesting varieties not often seen in grocery stores. We stocked up on King David and Northern Spy apples in particular.

Before leaving, we found this amazing deal - $2.99 for a basket of figs. In our area, figs almost never sell for less than $5 or more a basket, so I was in fig heaven when I saw this.

Weekends like this, you wish Monday would never come.