Hola! It's been a while, I know. I am finally emerging from a curious funk that plauged me for over a week. This will likely sound like a lame excuse but I've been exhausted, and for no more reasons that the ones we all face everyday. I was unreasonably groggy, like jacked-up on elephant tranquilizers groggy, first trimester groggy. It was awful and I'm not sure why. I finally crawled to the store and purchased some iron and B12. I don't know if that was what did the trick, but I'm all better now.
And no, I'm not pregnant.
I have so much I want to share! Friday's dessert, final thoughts on our trip to Mexico, our trip to a local goat farm, my spring garden - it's all on my radar. But right now we are getting ready to head to our friend's house where we will be having a Mexican Spring Break Reunion Party. I am in charge of re-creating the coconut smoothies we all became addicted to while in PV last month.
The withdrawls have been brutal. This gentleman told me on our last day just how the hotel made these incredible drinks (they basically double as milkshakes/desserts): piña colada mix, ice, shredded coconut and coconut cream to finish. I'm going to give it my best shot today. Fingers crossed.
While preparing for today's task, I thought it the perfect opportunity to go explore our local supermercado - Mi Pueblo. It was super cool and such a fun experience for the kids too. They loved seeing the unusual foods like cactus and pig parts, hot pink cookies and the worlds largest display of hot sauces!
This guy was over the moon when he discovered a horchata mix that would allow him to enjoy one of his all time favorite drinks by just adding water. Imagine that! (Although I did warn him it probably wouldn't taste nearly as good as the real deal.)
I will hopefully get some good pictures this afternoon of the prepared spread our friends are picking up from Mi Pueblo. Until then, here are some pictures of last years Mexican Spring Break Reunion Party which our travel companions also hosted on Cinco de Mayo.
We dined on fresh fish tacos and horchata made from scratch.
The kids are back to school tomorrow and so it feels like the right time to get going on the resolutions. Here are mine:
1. Cook More. Ever since we moved I've been slacking. I can't quite figure out if it's that I'm busier now with work projects, or if it's that I just miss my old kitchen and garden and all that they inspired in me. Regardless, it's time to cook more.
2. Bring Back Fabulous Fridays. FF was an idea I had a while back where I wanted to cook a new dessert every Friday that would carry us through the weekend with smiles and sugar highs. I had dreams that my kids would be that much more excited to get out of school for the weekend, running home to see what surprise was waiting for them. I haven't done jack in like a year-and-a-half. Time to give it another shot.
3. Consult My Pantry More Often. I need to get better about meal planning by looking first at what I need to use up, before deciding what to make for dinner. My shelves are lined half-full bags of things like unsweetened coconut, herbs de Provence and raspberry vinaigrette, just to name a few. I threw out a bag of expired food products this week and it tore me up something awful. Enough is enough.
4. Play More Music in the House. This one is really important. I love music but simply forget to turn it on at home. Kids are naturally drawn to it, plus one of mine seems to have an extra special connection to it. I need to help him with that. There will be plenty of time for popular music in their futures, I plan to play everything else.
5. Establish Clear Rules and Responsibilities for Kids. Outlined, posted, monitored and rewarded. We got off to a good start with this in August but it all fell apart when the kids decided they weren't motivated by money anymore. Ha! Our kids need to start helping out more and I need some tools to help me get through the loud hours. I got some great ideas thanks to a good friend and we begin implementing tomorrow morning at 7AM. There is a whole post about all this coming in the near future. All good stuff!
Happy New Year! We wrapped up our 2012 quietly, and have been getting a slow start on 2013. One by one, we have been knocked-out by strep and so, for the most part, we've been cooped-up inside for two days. The good news is this lockdown has allowed me the opportunity to develop a fun and hassle-free way to get small kids excited about writing their thank you cards.
Yesterday afternoon, I decided to knock-out the task, but realized it might be a lot easier to just do one at a time. So every hour, on the hour, the set timer would alarm us that it was time to gather at the kitchen table. I would pick one family member and each child would write them a personal note. Low stress...it was just one! Easy to do and doing it in small batches allowed each child the energy to be thoughtful. Grandpa was first, Aunt J. was at noon, Nana at one, and so on and so on. By the end of the day, we had all our notes written, sealed and stamped. I can't believe how easy it all was. I can't believe we accomplished so much while being under the weather!
Christmas was good to all of us this year. It started with the kids sleeping in until 7:30 and then waiting patiently for us to brew coffee before starting in on their stockings. The kids were all spoiled again. Despite swearing up and down the street each year that we won't do it, it seems we always do a bit too much. Home runs were made with the delivery of a trampoline and the adoption of a hamster. Both are proving well worth the consideration and investment.
My favorite moments were spent watching my mother help the nearly six-year-old stitch a bed for our new rodent family member, Wellington. My mother began teaching me to sew at about the same age and so it was endearing for me to watch. I have high hopes for me, my girl and that little purple machine.
The day carried on into the night at my sister's house where we once again all gathered to feast on my brother-in-law's gumbo and a chocolate mousse torte that Mr. Noodle helped me prepare after gift opening.
Much love to you and yours!
My family has long been celebrating Christmas Eve with a crab feast hosted by my mom. It has evolved over the years from an intimate gathering of mostly adults at her house, to what is now a party of nearly twenty, half being grandkids, and hosted at our house where we have more room to move about. Several years ago we decided to celebrate the 24th a day or two early in hopes of lightening the already heavy load of Christmas Eve. This year, we came together on the 23rd.
When all the grandparents, sisters and cousins began filing in around 5 o'clock, this little guy got very shy. I spotted him looking forlorn and walking down the hallway towards his room, saying "I'm just shy, Mommy. I'm shy of the cousins." I followed him, telling him I could help, but he just continued in, sat on the edge of his bed, put his head down on his nightstand and said, "It's OK, Mommy. I'm shy, but I still love you." Sigh.
The Nanas. These ladies are so fun to watch in action. To the left is B., paternal grandma. To the right is my mom, and in the center is Granny A., also known *affectionately* as my father's second ex-wife.
This metal rooster was a hostess gift from my sister. How awesome his he? He was the perfect addition to the colorful kiddo table.
All the cousins ate a spaghetti dinner before us adults sat down for crab. I had to document the difference between the three-year-old's plate next to that of is seventeen-year-old cousin's. Big difference in the way those boys eat! My mom also prepared little Christmas themed Jell-O molds for the kids, which I thought was so clever.
After dinner we all played a white elephant game with ages ranging from three to eighty-one. My favorite moment was when Mr. Noodle, decked out in the swim gear he insisted on wearing so he could comfortably go outside in the rain and jump on the trampoline, opened the biggest box to discover a cow piñata. He clearly thought he had died and gone to heaven, and so Daddy yelled out "Rule number three, nobody takes the piñata from the kid!"
Hope your holidays were magical too!
I had originally planned to spend yesterday alone with the kids decorating gingerbread men, women, soldiers, dogs, angles and polar bears. Everything was going along as planned until Friday night when I learned my friend M. was flying solo with his girls too.
Of course that meant I had to call C. to see if she and A. wanted in. Everyone was free and so Little Miss helped me bake a double batch. I had plenty of powdered sugar and just enough powdered merengue. We squeezed colorful icing from clear plastic bottles and loaded on candy confections until they overflowed onto the floor beneath our bare feet. M. decorated gingerbread women to resemble C. and me, all while entertaining us with stories of being a solo parent to two kids, and taking morning showers with conference calls on speaker phone (and mute), until he hears his name, has to turn off the water, jump out to the phone and answer a question like he's paying any attention.
Good times. :)
Well our 14lb. turkey rubbed in 2 cups of sage butter, wrapped in a pound of bacon and drizzled with maple syrup is finally in the oven and three generations of family is about to sit down and relax before the final push.
May your home be filled with love, laughter, beautiful music and incredible food tonight.
(A Pilgrim cookie creation by the five-year-old, atop one of our favorite desserts - Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Spice Cookie)
If you've been on Pinterest this week, you most certainly saw this cake pinned.
Again. And again. And again.
My friend Jill and I tried to make something similar, but with a lot less effort involved.
Don't assume us unpatriotic. We just prefer to spend our summer days floating in the river, chatting.
We hope your Easter is filled with sunshine, blooming flowers, and of course, lots of chocolate eggs.
I'm a tad bit sad that we aren't having family and neighbors over for our annual Easter brunch, but we are off on a wild adventure this morning instead. I can't wait to take you all along with us! xo
This day last year: "Egg-ceptional Day In The 'Burbs"
Two lifetimes ago, I worked in a restaurant. Many restaurants, actually. And out of the hundreds of evenings I spent walking the floors, slinging giant white plates of hot French/Italian/American food at people, there was one night (just ONE!) when a special Tarte Tatine was offered with, not the predictable vanilla ice cream, but cinnamon ice cream!!!
It left quite the impression on me. The flavor was not subtle at all - it was big - VERY BIG! In fact, it reminded me of a creamy, frozen version of my mother's go-to breath freshener in the '70's - Big Red gum.
Being too young at the time to know an ice cream maker from crock-pot, I bought a half gallon of Dreyer's ice cream, let it soften until I could blend in heaping scoops of spice, and re-froze it. In the morning, I ran to the freezer, (maybe I'd have ice cream with my coffee,) but was shocked to find my half-gallon of ice cream had shrunk during the night to little more than a pints worth. That morning, I was awoken to an undeniable reality of cheaply made, mass produced food: additives. In this case, the additive was a lot of air!
That was a long time ago now, and since then I've tried several brands/versions of cinnamon ice cream, but found them all to only *hint* at the spice. For me to be able to relive that first taste of cinnamon ice cream, that creamy cold scoop of *Big Red*, I needed to take matters into my own hands. Thankfully, it's simple. Here's how I do it:
Cinnamon Ice Cream
1 cup of very cold whole milk
2 cups of very cold whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mix all ingredients and turn in your home ice cream maker per manufacturers instructions. (My ice cream maker is by Cuisinart and I mix it for about 20 minutes before storing it in the freezer for several hours before serving.)
I don't quite know what the deal is on this one, but I harvested about 50 Sun Gold and Cherry tomatoes on New Years Eve.
Did this happen for anyone else in Northern California? I ripped out most of my tomato plants months ago and only had two still planted (for no other reason than shear laziness). I had been walking past those remaining two for ages, never really allowing the visual information of colorful fruit to fully register.
And then it just sort of hit me. So I tried one and it was delicious. As I went to pull them off the vine, I hardly had to put a bit of effort into the harvest. It was as if my approaching body heat gave them cause to jump ship themselves - they were literally dripping!
I baked a large pasta dish that night and just threw them on top before finishing it all off with bread crumbs and baking. Such a treat!
This day last year: "Olive Oil Muffins"
As I finish packing up the last of the Christmas decorations, there is one item I've decided must stay out all year.
This little incense smoker is too cute to only enjoy one month out of the year. He's staying out here with me.
Light up a little incense cone to fit inside him and watch the smoke rise out of his tiny mouth - just like he's smoking a pipe.
He's made in Germany by Erzgebirgische Volkskunst. Check out their full line of smokers here
Last night, on a whim, I purchased tickets for myself and Little Miss to see the second-to-last performance of the San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker.
It was absolutely SPECTACULAR!!!
If you haven't gone yet, you must go next year. In the mean time, go to the website here and watch a short video preview that will leave you in a dream state.
This day last year: "The Spirit of Papa"
This Christmas morning, we ate the same tart I made last year, only I used my recently-made pomegranate jelly instead of quince. And instead of topping the tart with circular cuts of pie dough, I used *North Pole Animals*.
Of course, there was also eggs, bacon, sausage and coffee. But you can't really form any of those into cute, cold-weather loving animal shapes, now can you. Enjoy your food!
All the presents have been opened, and we are now happily doing the things we love: playing, napping and blogging.
This Christmas was egg-ceptional in that the kids initial reactions to seeing the Christmas tree this morning were, for the first time, satisfying and rewarding. In years past, I've always found myself a bit saddened that they never seem as thrilled with their surprises as I'd hoped. "Hey, Mom. Look. It's a pink bike."
This year they were great -- thrilled, gleeful, thankful, surprisingly patient. :)
But what I really, really, really want to share is the most incredibly thoughtful, generous and creative gift my kids received from their Granny.
You may have heard of Heifer International, an organization that provides livestock to families in the third world to help improve nutrition and generate income in sustainable ways.
I've been familiar with this incredible organization for years, and have held onto their catalog as a reminder of a great gift to give. I just haven't ever done it yet, for reasons I now know to be silly.
See granny gave my kids the gift of a pig - donated to a poor family in need, and did so in their names. And to mark the gesture, she gave them several pig related gifts so that they could "remember all day the pig present" that they gave to another family in a different part of the world.
I have tears in my eyes (again) as I write this. What an incredible Christmas gift for anyone to receive, but to give it to children, in such a fun and creative way, was absolutely heart-warming. I will have to steal this idea and encourage you to as well!
Their piggy gifts included bacon gummy candy, piggy bath scrubs, piggy booties for a baby doll and piggy banks filled with chocolate coins.
Thank you, Granny Alexis!!! You are the absolute BEST! xoxo
I have always admired the whimsical Bouche de Noel (aka Log Cake), although I've yet to bite into one.
That will all change TONIGHT! I signed us up to bring one to Christmas dinner at my sister's house and if the reactions from licking the bowls are any indication of how this is going to go, I think Mommy has a new Christmas tradition.
The kids and I had a blast yesterday morning making all the holiday desserts. They loved making the marzipan mushrooms.
I also rolled out some Christmas lights in marzipan, a trick I stole from our grocery store's log design. The almost-five-year-old made the mushroom below on the right - which I love. It's true to form with all the baby mushrooms shooting up on the big on.
I used this recipe but reserved 1/3 of the frosting recipe to use on the exterior of the log - something that wasn't actually called for. I will serve it up at my sister's house surrounded by leaves and dusted with powdered sugar, like this photo. I'm already thinking about next year's cake - I'm going to dress up the log with little gnomes, red capped mushrooms and tiny presents. Happy Holidays!!
We are so lucky to have several extraordinary houses near us that go all out on the Christmas decorations for everyone to enjoy.
Above is Nisja's Bear House, located at 383 Quietwood Drive in San Rafael. The entire yard is decorated with lights and moving figurines that all compete for your attention while a train zooms here and there. Just around the corner...
...is our favorite - Linda's Snow Village - which less about a decorated house and more about a big glass box in a woman's driveway, housing a miniature electrical town. Located at 563 Miller Creek Road, San Rafael.
Every year, Daddy receives holiday gift baskets from various business associates. Occasionally, there will be a lovely box of Harry + David fruit and nuts, if we're lucky. But more often than not, the boxes contain mass quantities of not-worth-the-calories dark, chocolate fudge, brownies and cookies. Right now I have a 12" pecan pie, "Made in Texas", that I'm wondering what to do with.
And it always makes me wonder, who is in charge of ordering this stuff?
I'm guessing whoever is in charge of ordering is just sending out the same thing to every client. And I understand why this must be, but at the same time, I just cringe at all the waste.
I have never asked Daddy what his office sent to their clients in the past, half-scared to know the answer. Instead, I offered to take over the ordering this year, in an effort to lighten the world a few more mommies having to dump seven pounds of mediocre dessert food (to their chickens).
Walking through the San Francisco Ferry Building recently, I got the idea to send out gifts from local producers. Not only would we be sharing our favorite foods from home, but we could keep the money local while supporting small business.
Here's what I sent:
If you are a business associate of my husband, and you have 2+ kids, I sent you Miette Bakery's Valencia Hamper.
Gosh - I wish someone would send us one of these! (Anyone? Anyone?!?) I know it is on the sweet side, but it's Miette, so that makes it OK.
If you are an associate of my husband and you are married with a grown child or two at home, I may have sent you a Cowgirl Creamery Holiday Collection,
For small offices with several people on staff, I sent the Miette Holiday Box.
If you are a single woman, or mom, I sent you a selection of body products from McEvoy Ranch, as well as a bottle of their olive oil.
On a more personal note, I also wanted to give gifts to all the wonderful service providers in our immediate life: the dog walker, the gardeners, etc. In the past, I have always given them cash but with the introduction of Milly's dog walker, who takes her for an amazing 4-5 hours a day, 2 days a week, and with whom I have more of a personal relationship with, I wanted something a tad more thoughtful. So to all these people I gave $25 gift certificates to Rustic Bakery. I love that I get to share one of our favorite spots while supporting a local business, owned and operated by women supporting our local agriculture.
This day last year: "The Island of Misfit Toys"
I'm going to sound entirely like Fancy Nancy when I say this, but we went to a Teddy Bear Tea today. And it was at the Ritz-Carlton.
*Nana* took a gaggle of us girls as her guests and we got to dress up! Little Miss wore her party best, and I wore a vintage blouse my mother sewed in the '60's from silk fabric my uncle brought back for Japan. (Epic, Mom.)
Growing up, I remember four rotating dinners upon my TV dinner tray: Kraft mac-n-cheese, fish sticks, spaghetti marinara and chicken pot pie.
Three out of four came from a box.
I loved them all, but there was something special about those chicken pot pies -- they were all mine, and I didn't have to share the contents of my little tin tray with anyone. There were no family style dilemas to be had while eating pot pie - it allowed for total culinary independence, and that was empowering. I ate a lot of those little pies, served up on a folding fiberglass TV dinner tray, inlayed with maple leaves and little gold squiggles. Janet, Chrissy and Jack Tripper, along with George and Weezie Jefferson, were there with me for every last bite.
Flash forward thirty years and I still love me some chicken pot pie comfort food in the winter! The only difference now is, I make my pies from scratch.
I recently hosted a cookie decorating class, instructed by my friend Kate, and opened it up to all my friends with early morning availability.
Kate baked cookies for nine, and brought all the necessary elements for decoration. For 2-1/2 hours she instructed on how to make piping and flood, how to correctly prep all your tools and lastly, how to decorate gorgeous holiday cookies. (I, of course, couldn't help but throw in lunch - Ina's Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette... of course. ;)