Saturday, March 31, 2012

gray and yellow: yarn vase still life

There is pleasure in creating, even when it is as simple as taking an old jar, wrapping with yarn, and filling with flowers. Recently, inspired by an image found on pinterest, I assembled the above vignette.  It turned out to be a happy little scene to greet us all week long.

The yellow ranunculus' practically vibrate with color. Against the gray palette, they seem to glow.

I always look forward to the arrival of daffodils.

I stacked up gray books to give height variation. The small white pebbles are from a favorite beach back home. The grapefruit candle is from here.

I picked different gray yarns for the vases- thick wool, cotton, etc. Some of the yarn was easier to apply than others. The thick yarn covered a multitude of crafting mistakes, while the skinny yarn was a bit trickier. To make the vases, I simply liberally applied Elmers glue to a clean glass jar and wrapped the yarn around and around until the jar was covered. (If it is not evident enough from the visible errors in the vase pictures, I will say that I am not a terribly crafty person, which is why I have not even attempted my own tutorial on making yarn vases. I am sure there are some excellent ones already out there, like this one.)

I like the juxtaposition of textures between the smooth petaled flowers and the nubby yarn.

I also think these vases would be a great (inexpensive) table decoration for a spring baby or bridal shower- there are a myriad of options between matching yarn and florals. They would also be lovely on an Easter buffet table.

Harriet is starting to become quite the little photo bomber.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

chocolate chocolate hazelnut cookies

I really love the combination of chocolate and hazelnut. I know I am not alone in this and there exists already a plethora of chocolate hazelnut concoctions and recipes to satisfy but I submit this one more: the chocolate chocolate hazelnut cookie.

In addition to really loving the combination of chocolate and hazelnut, I really love a good unpretentious drop cookie. Now days it's all french macaroons and fancy cupcakes (which I adore as well) but sometimes it is nice when just a straightforward drop cookie comes along. I have noticed hardly anyone is making them from scratch anymore. I think me and you, friends, we should start a drop cookie revolution.

I made these cookies on Saturday. I had already created a doozy of a to-do list but in the slump of the afternoon (post Ikea visit- need I say more?) I snubbed my to-do list in favor of the kitchen and this batch of cookies.

The original recipe is from Ina Garten. I adapted it because The Barefoot Contessa includes white chocolate chips. I disagree with her on very few points in life and white chocolate is one of them. Instead I add to the chocolate dough base 2 (2!) bags of semi sweet chocolate chips and 1 1/2 cups of rough chopped hazelnuts. The result is more like eating a candy bar than a cookie and I am perfectly okay with that.

chocolate chocolate hazelnut cookies

1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2/3 cup good unsweetened cocoa
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 12 oz. bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups rough chopped hazelnuts

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2) Cream the butter and two sugars until light an fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the cocoa and mix again.

3) Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and add to the chocolate with the mixer on low speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and hazelnuts.

4) Drop the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, using a 1 3/4-inch ice cream scoop or a rounded tablespoon. Dampen your hands and flatten the dough slightly.

5) Bake for exactly 15 minutes (the cookies will seem underdone- listen to wise Ina on this one. Otherwise, hockey puck cookies.) Remove from the oven and let cool slightly in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This cookie should really be served with a glass of milk. Also good with coffee for breakfast.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday afternoon biscuits

It is a rainy gray afternoon. The puppy is snuggled up sleeping on the couch. I am bouncing between books (my usual habit) and right now that includes revisiting Anne of Green Gables. It has been a few years since my last reading but I never fail to be charmed by the scenery, the characters, the pitch-perfect language.

Inspired by all of this and wanting a cozy afternoon at home, I settled on making a batch of biscuits. It is Ina Garten's recipe. I omitted the chives to better pair the biscuits with a small jar of raspberry jam I brought back with me from my last visit home. Whenever I read Anne, I feel a distinct lack of good preserves in my life and an urgent sense to remedy it.

From the picture you can see I did not cut the biscuits into rounds. Instead, once I patted the dough into a rectangle shape, I simple cut it into smaller rectangles. In this way, they could be considered lazy Sunday afternoon biscuits. Or maybe just greedy Sunday afternoon biscuits, as I did not want to lose one scrap of butter flaked dough.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives or fresh parsley (optional)
1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2) Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is the size of peas.

3) With the mixer on low, add the half-and-half and beat until just mixed. Add the chives (if using) and mix until just combined.

4) Dump the dough out on a well-floured board and knead lightly into a rectangle 3/4 inch thick. Cut out rounds with a 2 1/2 inch round cutter and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with the egg wash.

5) Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are firm. Serve warm.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

blooming branches

During a recent visit, my mother commented to my sisters and I that if she had access to fresh flowers like we do, she would always have them in her house. She lives in a small community in Alaska and I believe she made the statement while wondering through a Safeway, past the display of buckets filled with bundles of tulips and bunches of roses.

Her sentiment stuck with me. Living life away from my family, I try to find ways to weave them into my every day: picking the same books to read together or watching the same movies, preparing a meal I know they would love, quick text messages and phone calls. Since my mother made that comment, I have found myself drawn to pick up flowers during the week.

I never arrange them in a fancy way (wouldn't know how to, even if I wanted to) but love the softness and texture their organic shapes lend to a space. I also look forward to featuring my weekly floral selections in still life settings in various parts of house.

Recently, my grocery store had bundles of blooming branches. It took a bit for the color to pop out but even in the meantime, I admired their slim austerity against my white white walls. After a few days, the blooms fell and the pink petal dusting was it's own kind of pleasure.

Monday, March 19, 2012

winter citrus

It is citrus season in Southern California.
When I first moved here I was shocked at the timing. Citrus in winter?
Moving from Alaska I had always associated the flavors of lemon and lime with summer sun.
But here in So Cal, where our January/February/March are just as likely as not to bring balmy 75 degree days, the citrus arrive in winter (or our version of winter).

Pictured is a beautiful pink grapefruit and a couple of cara cars oranges. This is a new orange variety to me and I love their pinkish tinted segments. I picked up a bag at my local Trader Joes- I recommend giving them a try.

A few favorite citrus recipes:

citrus ice 
lemon butter cupcakes
candied orange peel 
broiled grapefruit 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

simple St. Patrick's Day desserts

Two ideas for quick and easy St. Patrick's Day desserts: thin mint cookie milkshakes and stout floats. 
If you are serving these at an event with both kiddos and adults, make sure the right group gets the right glass. 

thin mint cookie milkshake 

handful of thin mint cookies
good quality vanilla ice cream

Blitz all of the above in a blender to your taste.
Enjoy the creamy frosty minty yumminess. 

stout float

This idea is from a Martha Stewart Living magazine from a few March's past. Here I have made it with Murphy's Irish Stout, but Guiness is also an excellent option. The point is the contrast between the smooth vanilla sweet ice cream and the bitter dark caramel of the stout. A lovely combination.

good quality vanilla ice cream
1 pint good stout beer

Place a few good scoops of ice cream into a glass and top off with the stout. 

Cheers to all ! 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

dabbling in print and pattern

I am pretty plain jane about things. I have been known to get nostalgic for 90's minimalism. I am all about solid colors and straightforward silhouettes. I own an enormous number of gray shirts and navy trousers. (If you find me on Pinterist, you'll begin to notice the themes.)

However, lately I have found myself tempted by prints- large bold graphics, small brocades, contrasting stripes. It has not veered out of control (no plans to reupholster the couch in Sister Parish fabric- although there are some lovely options). I thought I would share a few of my recent forays into prints and patterns.

  • gray and purple striped crocheted blanket for my goddaughter (project in progress)
  • black and white graphic pillow, Ikea

  • Penguin Classics hardcover books: the great classics with whimsical prints. Do you have a favorite classic? A closer look: 

For true short-term pattern involvement, might I suggest some gorgeous printed paper? Low on cost (about $2.50 per sheet) and commitment (it's wrapping paper), it is a momentary indulgence on a gorgeous print. My favorite place to browse through them is at Periwinkle.

I like to keep store them in large wooden vases as they are too cheery to be relegated to a closet or drawer.

P.S: While taking the above photos, my normally camera shy dachshund, Harriet, insisted on being in on the action. I could not resist sharing.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

wine poached apricots

I do believe it is one of the more disappointing creative experiences to pick a recipe out of a magazine or cookbook, study it, shop for it, slave over it, only to have it turn not turn out. I only share recipes that have not disappointed me in the hope that you, dear reader, will also find the cooking efforts worth your time.

So it was a few weeks ago when meandering through the latest gorgeous glossy Martha Stewart Living that I lingered on the story featuring Bellocq Tea Atelier. The pictures and recipes were quite inspiring and I was particular captured by a recipe for Gewurztraminer-poached Apricots. Gleaming plump apricot jewels in a wine syrup- sounded like heaven.

They reminded me of that dialogue exchange from the film "Notting Hill": the one where Hugh Grant's character tries to be charming and play the good host to Julia Roberts movie star character and offers her apricots, soaked in honey. (I do love a good movie food reference: here and here) So, inspired on multiple fronts, I made them. (Small clarification: I made them but failed in advance to read the recipe all the way and so I had no cardamon pods or star anise. However, one of the nice things about a little kitchen experience is that I no longer panic when I do not have ingredients just as planned. I left out the star anise and substituted 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamon for the whole pods.)

Such relief that they turned out to be quite lovely. They also hold a nice balance between the wine and spices while still retaining their apricot-iness. They traveled with me that weekend on a picnic out to Joshua Tree. We met up childhood friends from Alaska and adventured around the boulders, cactus' and snow (Yes! There was snow in Jtree! It was quite fun.) One of my friends captured the adventure on her travel blog. Please check it out here for lovely pictures and wonderful descriptions of all sorts of travels she's embarked on. Reading it is a good antidote to the late winter blues.

I served the apricots alongside my ever trusty cream cheese poundcake but I think they would be equally lovely to end a meal by themselves with a glass of wine on the side.

Gewurztraminer-poached apricots

1 1/2 cups Gew├╝rztraminer wine
3/4 cup sugar
10 green cardamon pods (or 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon)
5 whole star anise
3 wide strips fresh lemon zest
2 cups dried apricots

1) Bring wine, 3/4 cup water, the sugar, cardamon, star anise, and lemon zest to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

2) Add apricots, cover with a round of parchment, and simmer until fruit is softened and plump, about 45 minutes. Let apricots in syrup cool to room temperature. Apricots can be refrigerated in syrup up to 1 week.