We returned from Scottsdale on Wednesday night. It was all sooo good - seeing a great new town, checking out an exciting new renovation project (think Melrose Place meets Southwest adobe architecture), having lots of free time to explore, and getting to do it all with my mom. I love coming home after just a few days away and 1.) wondering if my kids haven't each grown an inch and 2.) seeing how much my veggie garden HAS grown!
Our last morning in Scottsdale was a real cooker. At the recommendation of a friend we took a guided tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West (a school of architecture) at 10:00AM and regardless of the timing, it was so incredibly hot! I had thought that I might be able to skip this visit - did I really want to tour another FLW building? Did I really want to learn more about this genius who up and left his wife and six kids?
Turns out, I did!
These sorts of tours rarely disappoint, and I need to commit that to memory. There is just no substitute for all the great stories and details that come with visiting an historical landmark such as this. I could spend hours putting it all down (and I wish I had the time because I will probably forget most of it by next week), but I need to get breakfast on the table now.
I now want to go tour our own FLW masterpiece - The Marin County Civic Center. Even though I've walked through it a hundred times, and driven past it thousands, I know there are some incredible stories about its design and construction that will be well worth the trip. Who wants in?!
I realized this week that I wasn't clear in defining my dessert criteria in last Friday's post. (Not that anyone is losing sleep over this one, but...) It's not that I will only eat a fruit dessert if it's in the form of a crisp/cobbler/crumble, it's that I'll only eat a fruit dessert that doesn't contain chocolate if it is in the form of a crisp/cobbler/crumble.
Because I love fruit with chocolate! (Unless that fruit is an orange, of course.)
This all dawned on me when I remembered this other incredible dessert that was also served at the Shrine of the Rhubarb Coffee Cake (aka A Clean Well-Lighted Cafe, c. 1990) -- the equally intoxicating Raspberry Tart. I know it doesn't sound too fancy, I mean we see fruit tarts everywhere, right? But this tart was special because underneath its layer of French buttercream was a thin layer of dark chocolate. Simple yet brilliant.
So I gave it a shot today and I will say it tasted great to us considering all things. Like...considering I chose to use gluten-free flour in the crust (super crumbly)...considering I used too much chocolate (thick layer hard to break)...considering my vanilla cream layer jelled up before I could pour it into tart (think school pick-up), considering all these near disasters, it still tasked great. It didn't cut great, it didn't hold together great, but all the flavors came together well, and we loved it. This is definitely one worth me working on. In the meantime, all you need to take away from this is that every fruit tart could benefit greatly from a 5oz. layer of dark chocolate in it. Oh, and that a molded Eames chair can also serve as an excellent backdrop for a colorful dessert.
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.
I could go on and on about my affection for the Rhubarb Coffee Cake that was a signature dessert of A Clean Well-Lighted Cafe, just off the same-named bookstore in what used to be Larkspur Landing. Anyone remember that spot?!? I waited tables there my last year of high school and that dessert played a large role in the teenage years of my emotional development. While I tried to recreate it once, nothing will compare to my seventeen-year-old-former-self's memory. Nothing.
I could also go on and on for equal time about how little I care for fruit in my dessert. It's a rare colorful dessert that could steal my attention from...say, an all brown dessert. And orange in my chocolate? No thank you. A cherry on my sundae? Now that's just gross. The only exception I can make in the fruity dessert department is for the crisp/cobbler/crumble (and btw - that Rhubarb Coffee Cake totally qualified). Any warm fruit dish topped with a brown sugar oatmeal mixture AND a scoop of vanilla ice cream is as colorful as I can get in the later hours of the day.
It goes without saying that Ina Garten knows how to make a fruit crumble and when I came across her strawberry RHUBARB crisp recipe, I was happily transported back to 1990. It should also go without saying that it is now 2013 which is why I made this dessert cutting the sugar in half. I still enjoyed the heck out of every last spoonful. Here is my modified version:
After our jaunt into PV for lunch at Joe Jack's Fish Shack, the women and men parted ways for several hours. Dads and boys headed back to the hotel, moms and daughters walked the streets of old town looking for adventure, cheap take-homes and ice cream. (Did that sound dirty?)
One of us (with cute red braids) was lucky enough to get a private lesson in quesadilla making from a sweet man who took to her good looks. She was so excited for the experience.
With a short list of things to buy (shark tooth necklace, bobble-head turtles, Mexican dresses, etc.) we headed north, crossed a small bridge and turned left into the PV’s outdoor market.
It's spring break and for the second year in a row, we are in Puerto Vallarta with friends. (When you have a recipe for success, why deviate?) With a third family in the mix this year, we are having so much fun sharing with them our favorite spots and activities. Eight kids all line-up in age and we couldn't ask for a more perfect set-up. Yesterday we took time out from our all-inclusive, piled into two large taxi vans (there are fourteen of us total!) and headed into PV's Old Town where we took lunch at Joe Jack's Fish Shack. (To get a little back story on JJ's and me, or why this post is called Part III, click here.)
Oh Joe, we love you so. My personal, absolute favorite dish at Joe Jack's is the Fish Tacos 'Baha'. If you are feeling *good* you can take yours grilled. I was feeling *naughty* so I ordered mine battered and fried. No regrets!
The chips and guac are some of the best we've ever had! P. had the octopus because he's just that kinda guy. His wife, B., is one of the best friends I'll ever have. Here is what she looks like in a wide-brimmed black hat, on a Mexican roof top, with the sun behind her back. Hay que bonita!
Get on track to the shack if you are ever in PV. Make sure to make reservations as the tables are limited. The shopping in the surrounding blocks is phenomenal with boutique stores selling interesting jewelry, clothing and homewares (although mostly at Amercan prices). I'll post about our jaunt to the colorful outdoor market next. Stay turned.
I didn't post much this week, although that's not because I haven't been online. I've been behind the scenes these last few days, making changes to the look of this blog, changes I'm excited to share in the next few days (hopefully). Friday night's dessert is worth coming out for. Strawberry-Coconut Meringue. I've made it before and it was incredible! I made it Friday night cutting out half the recipe's sugar, and it was still incredible!
This book is filled with great recipes and photography, especially for fans of backyard chickens. Such a great gift!
Honestly, half the sugar didn't stop us from licking our plates - literally! Adapted from original recipe found here.
Toss strawberries with two teaspoons of sugar and set aside to maserate.
I have been meaning to write this post since I started this blog. The story about our house is a good one, but not one that anyone would have guessed would’ve ended this way.
I grew up in this house. My parents bought it in 1970 on a whim. My mother was just out and about, picking my sisters up from a birthday party when she first entered this house and caught sight of the view from the kitchen window. She was instantly in love. When the host told her they were about to put the house on the market, my mother rang my dad, and later that night both families were sitting around the dining room table, finalizing the details of the sale.
I have wonderful memories of growing-up here – roaming free in the backyard, once dense with oak trees and magnolias, watching all the teenage baby boomers playing kick-the-can in the street on warm summer nights, my dad making wine in the garage, roller skating on the (then) terrazzo deck with my father’s jazz music serenading me through outdoor speakers.
But what’s most interesting about this story is that my parents sold this house in 1983…and that my husband and I bought it back 20 years later.
As a ten-year-old, I was absolutely crushed leaving this house. My parent’s divorce paled in comparison to having to leave my beautiful childhood home on the hill. For the next two decades I had reoccurring dreams that we were moving back. Occasionally, I would drive-by, wondering who was lucky enough to be living in my house. Then one day in 2003, only a week after my most recent dream, my sister called, her voice trembling with emotion, “It’s back on the market!!”
Now you can imagine how the rest of that week played out.
Returning to view the house with my family was an absolute hoot. We were all so emotional driving up the hill – what would we find? But the minute we walked through the front door and saw that NOTHING had changed, we burst out laughing and a very loud, free-flowing conversation punctuated with ear piercing screeches and OMG’s followed. The dark tile flooring, the grass wallpaper in the entry, the stone fireplace, and even the cartoonish wallpaper in the hallway down to the basement that had a perverted old cowboy chasing a naked barmaid, among other ridiculously tasteless and cliché old timey western vignettes. (BTW, my father still insists to this day that the wallpaper was my mother’s choice… yeah, right.) The house just had not been touched… even down to the kitchen my mother had so lovingly designed – it was all still there.
At the time of purchase, we were child-free and moving from the city. We couldn’t believe we owned not just a house, but a house with off-street parking, our very own washer and dryer and a yard with our very own trees!!! The first few days here were surreal for me, but after that it just felt like our new place.
As if all of that wasn’t dreamy enough, remodeling was an absolute dream-come-true. We took very careful care to restore certain aspects of this California ranch home, to bring modern tastes where appropriate, and to accentuate the innately beautiful features this property has to offer. My greatest joy came in selecting all the finishes: ones that gave a nod to the house’s mid-century roots, while simultaneously pulling it into the modern day. The walnut details speak to it’s 1950 construction, the terrazzo in the master bath echoes the original terrazzo decking. Items like the Jack-n-Jill bathtub and the yellow vanity in the guest bath were kept and restored.
Here is the kitchen remodel in stages, all taken from the same spot (and with a couple chicken shots thrown in at the end):
My love of gardening stimulated all sorts of change as well. The yard had been neglected for years and was mostly covered in ivy when I returned. We cleared it out and planted 34 trees, many of them fruit bearing: olive and figs, persimmon, pomegranate, lemon, apple, peach, lime, orange, and pear.
Before (above) + after (below) - we lost the oak in a storm a few years back.
We always used to say “They are going to have to bury us in the house.” As if all the above wasn’t enough to keep us here, we have been blessed with the best neighbors, and now good friends. I’m still in a bit of shock over the whole change of events and heart – we, somewhat spontaneously, decided we’d love to take on another project close by. We didn’t look hard, but we did find something that also seemed perfect for us, just in different ways, and now we are looking forward to our next adventure together.
Tomorrow is moving day. I am not nearly as stressed about the move as I am the fact that we will no longer have an incredible vegetable garden rich with red-worm-infested, nutrient-rich soil that faces south towards the mountain with All. Day. Sun!! In these last few weeks of almost complete blog neglect, I keep asking myself: Is it even fair that I call this spot Suburban Homestead when I will soon be living in a subdivision that does not allow chickens, and on a property where I’m struggling to find a sunny spot worthy of a vegetable garden?
We shall see.
We take with us incredible memories of starting a family in this house; of late-night dinner parties with the doors and windows wide open, of the annual neighborhood Easter egg hunts in the front, the spontaneous picnics on the lawn, and the gathering of good friends and family in the kitchen and living areas. But something tells me that this house holds a lot of the same for the next family who lives here. I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting them, and they are everything I would have hoped for in a new owner to my childhood home.
I have not been doing a whole lot of cooking lately, but you probably already noticed that. With everything going on, we've done a lot of take-out...and maybe even invited ourselves over to the homes of friends and family when it served us well. ;)
Speaking of food and friends(!), one of mine recently got me thinking about homemade donuts (made from pizza dough) when she sang their praises via a Facebook post. I asked her if she wouldn't mind sharing the details so I could give it a shot - maybe even blog about it - and this is the cute note she wrote me back (I detailed it out in recipe format at the end):
"We start by buying a tub of pre-made organic pizza dough at the Good Earth market here in town. When we get home B. tosses it pizzeria style and E. then rolls it out and cuts it. Because we are so fancy, E. cuts the shapes using a drinking glass and the lid from our vinegar bottle - they make the perfect size donuts and holes. We heat up coconut oil in an old Le Creuset (nice deep sides). We use about 1/2-3/4 inch coconut oil. They bob around for a bit until they are golden brown and crispy. Then we set them on a brown bag to de-oil for a bit before glazing them. Lemon butter glaze - the key to the whole affair! We start with a huge chunk of butter. We LOVE butter. I juice a lemon from our tree (and sometimes a lime because I am exciting like that) directly into the melting butter and also zest - lots of zest- a bit of warm water, and because we live dangerously - a dash of powdered sugar. Wisk-wisk-wisk and then dunk those babies in. When they come out of their glaze bath, I sprinkle a bit of shredded coconut on them and usually they are eaten before they even reach the plate. Happy donut making! --M."
"OK," I thought, "let's do this."
(It's just a photo so no, I did not cook with plastic. But yes, we did deep-fry for breakfast - so there's your daily dose of irony.)
These were so fun to make and so delicious to eat for a special weekend treat. The kids were able to help and just like the donuts at M's house, ours never even had the chance to cool down. Here's how we did it:
1 serving of fresh pizza dough, either store bought or homemade
Coconut oil (we used a 14oz. jar)
4 tablespoons of melted butter
Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
Shredded coconut (optional)
Powdered sugar (not optional)
1. Remove pizza dough from refrigerator and let it sit for 30 minutes.
2. When dough is ready, begin heating coconut oil on med-high. Hot oil should be about 1/2 - 3/4" deep, and bubble rapidly when a test donut hole is tossed in.
3. On a floured surface, roll out dough and cut out as many rings as you can, using a round cookie cutter or glass, as well as a balsamic vinegar cap. ;)
4. Moving quickly, and working in batches, drop 3 - 4 rings of dough into the oil and allow to cook both sides until golden brown. While donuts are frying, melt butter in a bowl and combine with lemon juice, zest and salt.
5. With a slotted spoon, remove donuts from oil and let cool on a paper towel.
6. When cool to the touch, dunk donuts in melted lemon butter, remove and sprinkle with sugar and coconut
**It's really impossible for me to say how many this recipe *serves*. How many donuts one should eat for breakfast and how many homemade donuts one ends up eating for breakfast, are two entirely different numbers. You make the call.
I enjoyed these with a fresh brewed cup of Bosnian coffee(!!!) - a gift from a new friend who just returned from a trip back home. Blissful Sunday morning.
Normally, when I'm woken-up in the middle of the night by the bright light of a full moon shining on my face, I give a little grumble, roll over and fall back asleep.
But with moving day quickly approaching, and knowing that this would be the last time this might ever happen to me, I got up and happily took it all in.
A leopard gecko had been on our little man's wish list for quite some time. He got a tank and all the fixings for one this past Christmas, and a trip to the pet store to go with it.
At first, Daddy couldn't find the desired lizard at any local pet stores. When he finally found one for sale at East Bay Vivarium, it ran a little more expensive than planned. (Forty-five dollars, to be exact.) When the sales clerk overheard the air escaping my son's deflated body in the background, he offered up a great solution - a young, leopard gecko missing the toes on one foot. They called him Peg Leg Joe and he was only $20.
We broke-up our 4+ hour drive from Palm Springs to Solvang with an hour at Travel Town in Glendale. It was such a cute little park, filled with all sorts of retired train cars and engines.
Few things in the world are cuter than a two-year-old's anticipation of a train ride. "Choo-choo, Mama, choo-choo!"
Now then, our next stop was a really fun surprise - Solvang, a little Danish Village about an hour north of Santa Barbara. The drive up HWY 154, through the Santa Ynez Valley was absolutely beautiful. The road was quiet and lined with bucolic farms and wineries. I never expected it to deliver all the cuteness that it did. We stayed in a newly converted/remodeled hotel called The Hamlet Inn. The decor was simple, lots of IKEA and knock-off mid-century Scandinavian designs, with a little touch of Danish tradition, like the lace curtains.
Check out the windmill in the background of both pictures, top and bottom.
Our room came with complimentary coupons for pastries and coffee at The Danish Village bakery across the street. I'm not a huge fan of these things - cheese danishes and eclairs - but even I have to admit - they were incredible!
The highlight of our visit to Solvang was spotting a surrey-with-the-fringe-on-top rental shop. Everyone was beyond excited.
11,270 KM to Copenhagen, my little mermaid!
(They begged for one. I denied.)
Peddling around Solvang it cannot go unnoticed that this little European gem has an abnormally large amount of sweet shops and bakeries. It made waking up Sunday morning that much more fun because the entire town smelled like a plate of warm pancakes!
The only thing I love more than absorbing all the creative interior details of a fun-ky boutique hotel, is to digest the equally delicious food you can expect to find in one of their on-site restaurants.
The Ace Hotel's King's Highway serves up some incredible eats in what used to be an old Denny's diner. But the food was anything but old school diner quality, serving up local and organic whenever possible. I actually found my only truly vegan meal on that highway. They also offered up insane desserts with a white trasher spin to them - think behemoth chocolate chip cookies baked with potato chips, or a slice of peanut butter cream pie the size of that wicker elephant head hanging over our booth.
Don't be fooled by the still shots - she was a big, hot mess all through dinner.
OK - not the best shot, but sometimes I have to lighten the load and make due with the iPhone. Designed by one of my favorites, Jonathan Adler, the irreverent Parker Hotel pays homage to that crazy, old, world-traveling aunt of yours. With two restaurants to choose from, we opted for Norma's, serving up more casual fare. I indulged in some ridiculously good fish tacos after powering through a bowl of corn-off-the-cob soup and half of Daddy's calamari. Their signature dessert was a build-your-own milkshake that allowed you to select your own ice cream flavor and favorite slice of pie to be blended all together into one crazy shake. Somehow, we restrained...
The newly opened Saguaro Hotel. We had an afternoon date at Tinto before heading to Sunnylands.
Our waiter did a good upsell with us when he suggested the marcona almonds and olives. Wow. Wow. Wow. The nuts were smoked to perfection, giving them a sort of *bacon* essence. And the olives, well, who knows what they did there - they were just damn good.
Citron at The Viceroy. I'd been hearing about this hotel for years and finally got to catch up. Designed by Kelly Wearstler, it was much smaller than I imagined. But at the same time, it's quaint feel was refreshing for a hotel.
The recently opened Sunnylands Retreat in Palm Springs was without a doubt, the highlight of my week.
I had been reading a lot about Walter and Leonore Annenberg's west coast retreat in the early months of this year. There has been no shortage of press surrounding this incredible icon of mid-century design, its expansive grounds and art collection, or its historical significance. As soon as we decided to visit Palm Springs for spring break, I thought of Sunnylands (well actually no, I thought about Trina Turk's flagship store and then I thought about Sunnylands) and so I began making plans to book a tour. At 9am on March 15th, I sat at my laptop and continually pressed the refresh button on my browser until the April block of tickets opened up. I grabbed a midday slot ("Crap! That's high sun!), threw it in my basket, and in doing so, felt about 2 inches taller.
We have been here in Palm Springs for a couple days now...and all is forgotten.
Tiki Hut, I forgive you.
I wanted to share this incredible find, spotted by our little bird lover, right outside our bedroom window. At first glance, you might just think it's a little rock garden, decorated with mod sculptures. But look again.
A mommy hummingbird and her two coconut jellybeans! We've been keeping a close eye on her and monitoring the jellybean situation whenever she flies away to refuel on nectar. No movement yet. It all reminds me of this major event in our backyard last year.
Our next stop after Santa Barbara, and before Joshua Tree, was at The Farmer's Daughter Hotel in "Gloss Angeles", as the five-year-old calls it.
What's not to love about trough-like bathroom faucets, garden trellis headboards and chicken wallpaper?
OK, OK, OK - time to power through another day-late travel post!
The Canyon at El Capitan, just north of Santa Barbara - very cool! I stumbled upon it after I stumbled upon Ciao Bambino, a resource for traveling with kids absolutely anywhere in the world. The Canyon was highly rated and so I said "Sign us up!"
We chose a two-bunk cabin, with extra room in a loft. Every detail was addressed for the luxury camper - two feather comforters on each bed, in-cabin heat and bathroom, even a local market to grab good meals to eat if needed.
And we needed.
Strolling through the canyon, there were so many picture perfect moments with all the mature trees (oaks and elms?), rustic modern cabins and various surprises like llamas, yurts, a swimming pool, playground and sports playing fields.
After dinner at the market, we grabbed a smores kit, went back to our cabin and waited for some fire wood to be delivered. Luxury camping - who knew?! ;)
Vacation posts - they are fast and furious at best. I have learned the hard way never to leave my camera back in the room as I always miss something spectacular if I do. But at the end of the day, I hardly feel enough of a spark to actually start a dialogue about any of it. Vacations are fun and fun can be exhausting!
That said, here are ten scribbles of things we did during a surprisingly painless seven hours spent traveling down the California Coast on Easter Day.
1. We stopped to...eh hem, *utilize open pastures*.
2. We drew each other pictures, while waiting for our green bananas to ripen on the dashboard.