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2012 May

Snow Pea Salad with Shallot and Tarragon

You guys, it is getting hot here. This is no big surprise, but after a breezy week on the farm and several days spent in the cool of our north-facing apartment, I have been a little overwhelmed when I head out into the heat of the day. These are the kind of days when the thought of turning on the oven, or even the stove, makes you want to run far, far away (preferably straight into a bathtub full of ice water). And this is the cool salad you want for those hot nights. When Eric got home from work this evening, I convinced him that he should go jump in the pool, and I am glad he did. Since I’d been in the afternoon, I whipped up this salad while he was out.

It’s remarkably simple, and it makes great use of an item I don’t pick up often: fresh snow peas. I usually only meet them in limp and overly greasy stir-fries, but I love how this recipe keeps them cool and crisp. To slice them, you just stack up five or six of them at a time and cut them into (imperfect) strips. It takes a bit of time, but also gives you lots of munching opportunities.

The vinaigrette is a simple one, and I will jump at any excuse to use the champagne vinegar.

And shallots! I chopped them first and added them to the vinaigrette so they would have a little time to marinate.

Tarragon is another favorite of ours. It reminds me so much of the dinners Eric and I used to make in his apartment before we were married. He had just discovered tarragon, and we had so much fun putting it in everything.

Although we ate this salad as a main course tonight, it is pretty light, and it would be great with some other cold accompaniments. Fresh potato salad packed with dill. Corn, avocado, and tomato salad. Lightly salted cucumber slices. I can’t wait to get to the farmer’s market this weekend! In the absence of those other delightful salads, we polished dinner off with strawberry Greek frozen yogurt, which I picked up on a whim at the store today. We really liked it: very refreshing without being too heavy! As long as I’ve got these things on hand, summer can roll right on in.

Snow Pea Salad with Shallot and Tarragon
From Everyday Food, June 2012

2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp minced shallot
1 lb fresh snow peas, thinly sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

-In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar, and oil. Season with salt and pepper.
-Add shallot, snow peas, and tarragon and stir well. That’s it!

A Little Garden Update

As I mentioned before, my miraculous plants were all still alive after our trip, and for this I thought they deserved a pat on the back and a front page picture! I just planted these herbs on Easter Sunday, mostly from seed. I have been so excited to see them sprouting and thriving out on the balcony! It seems to me that we never outgrow the wonder of watching something come to life, and that’s a beautiful thing. I had some great conversations with my mom about gardening this weekend, and she had some lovely thoughts on the process. And her garden expansion this year is truly impressive and inspiring! Here is my little contribution to the field (ha! pun not intended, but recognized and appreciated). Above you can see my dill, happy as a clam in its not-even-a-real-pot planter. It gets bonus points for being so humble and unassuming. It even has a few arugula sprouts mixed in by mistake, but I haven’t heard any complaints.

And here is the arugula (with a few dill sprouts for symmetry). I can’t believe this was just a pot full of dirt a month ago. It’s getting close to being ready for my salad bowl! As a side note, I realize that my planting method is unorthodox. So many seeds so close together! If I had some land (someday!), then I’d space them out in even rows, but this works for me: I trim them here and there as I need them, which prevents them from overcrowding and going to seed.

My quinoa is kind of growing like crazy! I am not sure if it will really produce any grains this season, but I am still happy to have it, with its pretty pale pink stems.

The parsley is coming up really nicely too, and I am so excited to see its little leaves growing!

A few of my little sprouts are still just beginning to push up through the soil. I’ve got a few tiny little basil plants sticking their heads up.

And, most excitingly, I have three or four little chamomile sprouts! I so hope they flower so I can turn them into tea. I will be the first to admit that I definitely have plenty to learn about gardening, but for now I am finding it nourishing to nurture these tiny seeds into plants. I look forward to the day when I can plant them in the ground, but the joy it brings me to head out to the balcony with my watering can every day makes me so glad that I didn’t wait for the perfect conditions. I’m grateful that happiness can be found along every step of the journey toward where we most want to be.

A Week in the Country

Our trip to the farm last week was so special, and I want to share a little bit of it with you, from wonderful meals to wide expanses of sky, from giant tractors to frogs hopping through the grass, from the lovely town square to the indulgent luxury of reading a book in the shade all afternoon. It was heavenly.

The first day we were there, it rained most of the afternoon, so we spent a relaxed day inside. Eric’s mom made us these special treats: strawberry crepes. I have been hearing about these, a favorite from Eric’s childhood, for a long time, and I am so glad I got to try them. They were so delicious!

By the next day, the weather had cleared up enough for us to go exploring. I am always really happy to see the tractors, and I will never cease to be impressed by wheels that are as tall as I am!

Later in the week, we went to visit some dear friends of the family, and we got to meet their new tractor. I felt very small! There are some rather hilarious videos of me laugh/shrieking while being taken for a ride in this tractor, but I’ll spare you!

Another big highlight of the farm for me is that there are animals everywhere: deer and owls and geese and frogs! Frogs hold a special place in my heart, and I always look out for them when we’re at the farm, since they don’t usually hop up to my doorstep in Southern California. Eric’s dad found this little tree frog hanging out on the side of the house, and he handed him to me to hold. This is definitely my typical “I am holding a frog!” face, and I am beginning to think it gives my jaw quite a lot of exercise!

Wouldn’t this little guy make you smile too?

…and there are animals of other kinds too. The night we arrived, Eric’s dad showed me this little nest in the corner of a water tank. It was full of tiny baby robins, including one that hadn’t hatched yet! I was planning to get back out and photograph the nest a few days later, but when we went outside, we found…a big black snake with several baby robin-shaped bulges! Bummer! But everyone has to eat lunch, I suppose.

Soon after we saw this sad scene, Eric found me this pretty toad over by the grain bins, and then I was happy again. 🙂

Mid-week we headed into town to visit the preschool where Eric’s mom volunteers. Eric told the kids a bit about the stars and the planets, and I taught them Russian animal noises. They laughed at every single one of them, and it was so much fun. In the afternoon, we had time to stroll through the town square, which I hadn’t realized is part of the old Route 66. This is the kind of thing that makes me excited!

I haven’t been to the square in three years, but I don’t remember these cute painted planters being there. I thought the one with the distance to LA was very apropos!

They even had a pretty map of the route on the side! A map, forsooth! I hereby add it to my collection.

One of my favorite places in town in Market on the Square, which sells all locally made goods from Illinois. I love that anything you pick up has a tag telling you the name of the artist and where they are from.

We had so much fun poking through these treasures, and we brought home a reusable grocery bag made of an old feed sack. We’ll be giving new meaning to the phrase “farm to table!”

I love that this shop exists, and I love that they are supporting the awesomely talented people in the community. Eric’s mom told me that they have new stock in all the time. I wish I could be there to see it all.

No trip to the farm would be complete without a spin on the lake in the rowboat. A girl in a rowboat (especially a girl in a rowboat who is not doing any of the rowing) is a happy girl.

I loved the bright colors of the sky and the field, and the little chain of circles left by the oar.

On one of our last nights in town, we went out to Eric’s grandfather’s farm for dinner with the extended family. It was great to see everyone (especially the adorable little ones!) and to have a nice evening outside after dinner. Eric’s grandfather has this really impressive garden, which I named Garden of Dreams. I was trying to describe it to my mom, and I said, “Mom! It was like a whole produce section just rising up out of the ground!” It inspired me to garden my little kitchen herbs with more fervor. (I consider it a  minor miracle that all of my plants were still more or less alive when we got back, and I do not take this miracle for granted!)

When we got home that night, I curled up with my addictive book (Ian Frazier‘s Travels in Siberia: ever so highly recommended!) while Eric headed out with the tripod to take some shots of the sky. When he came back in, he showed me this one, and my heart melted all over again. Every time I think I could not possibly love him any more (read: pretty much every day), he does something like this. It’s a a very good problem to have. It was a beautiful end to a truly beautiful week. Can’t wait to go back again!

Back Home

Wow, last week was beautiful. Eric and I had such a wonderful time with family at the farm, and we also had a delightful rendezvous with my parents in St. Louis, culminating in the first time I’ve actually seen my mom on Mother’s Day since my Masters exams. Good times! It was an interesting week too, since I wrote all of last week’s posts before I headed out of town and was only checking in every now and then. It was an experiment, and I’m glad it worked. I think (and hope) that everyone who spends some time away from the computer comes back feeling relaxed and refreshed, but also with a strong sense of why we bother with the internet anyway: to keep up with the people we care about. It’s kind of a beautiful thing to feel so grateful for an unplugged week, and, at the same time, so eager to catch up with all of you and see what lovely things you’ve been up to. It’s a line I’m happy to sit right at the edge of (happy enough to end a sentence with a preposition, apparently). As I write this, I am bursting with all the exciting things I want to share with you…and I am also really jet-lagged! So for now, I just want to say hello, and that I’m back home. But home is more than one place for me now, as I so happily discovered this week. Home is here, where I make messes with art projects and play in the kitchen and welcome Eric home from work every day, but home is also where I grew up in Memphis, and now, it is on the farm too, with my new family. This picture is from a sunny afternoon, when Eric took me out on the pond in the rowboat. Although I am here, part of me will also always be there. That’s enough to make me smile every day.

Adventures in Baking Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I am on a mission this spring. I want to master the art of baking hearty whole wheat sandwich bread. I love fresh bread so much, and I know that if I can figure out to bake our favorite kind from the bakery at home, it will be awesome. So I have been tinkering away these past few months, and here are the results so far. The recipe is the same for each loaf; I am just experimenting with the flour ratio, the amount of seeds and grains, and (within reason) the quantity of yeast. I will share the final recipe when I’ve got it perfected, but I thought today it would be fun to have a little baking show and tell.

This is the first loaf I tried. It has all whole wheat flour, and you can see the result: flat as a pancake! It just did not rise, and, while I knew this would probably happen, I had to try it for myself. Whole wheat flour is just different from white flour or bread flour and doesn’t rise as well on its own. Lesson learned!

I also put in about a cup of seeds and grains: amaranth, millet, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds. Without the rise of a normal loaf, the grains and seeds sort of turned this bread into a giant glorified cracker. However, it is pretty good sliced thin and buttered, as you can see here. Its main function, though, is still as a cracker. It’s perfect for slicing thin, toasting, and topping with goat cheese and herbs. Still, not quite what you’re looking for as a sandwich loaf!

On this next loaf, I changed the flour proportion. This is 2 1/2 c white/bread flour to 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour. It rose much more promisingly, and I was excited! As you can see, this loaf looks much more like bread. And it tastes more like bread too!

I have been using it all week for sandwiches. This is my new favorite: chickpea and avocado salad. This bread is really perfect with savory toppings, since it has the slight tang of fermented ko-knead bread, but it isn’t something you’d want to put peanut butter and jelly on, I think. And it still doesn’t have perfect rise for sandwich bread. So, I am going to keep working on it! Next time I’ll try a 3:1 ratio, and, if that doesn’t give me the rise I’m looking for, I’ll go even higher! In the meantime, if any of you have a favorite recipe, I’d love to try it! Happy sandwiching!

Redlands and the Great Ice Cream Quest

One of my favorite things about our getaway last weekend was that we took a slow and meandering path home. We strolled around a lake in the mountains, and we spent a lovely afternoon in the little town of Redlands. Redlands was once an orange grove town, and it has a really palpable sense of history. I just love that. The downtown area has lots of charm, found most especially in these old citrus signs posted here and there.

Eric spotted this antique letter box downtown. So charming.

After a relaxed stroll around town, we were hot and in need of ice cream, and we wanted to hit up the restroom before we got back on the road. I had spotted this little creamery, so we doubled back to visit it. We were really impressed with their flavors, and it reminded us so much of Ici in Berkeley. Strawberry balsamic! Orange honey! It was tiny, adorable, and…closed. We were so sad!

Here is the face of sadness, documenting the terrible blow of a closed ice cream parlor on a Sunday afternoon. It was only 87 degrees, but we were still in our hiking clothes, and we needed some refreshment.

Daunted but determined, we carried on with our quest. I remembered that there was a Baskin-Robbins a few streets over, and, while it wasn’t our first choice, it was better than nothing, so we headed that way. When we got there, it was crazy crowded…and there was no restroom. We whipped out our phones and kept searching. Eric found a TCBY, so we drove off in a different direction to find it. The streets we drove down were gorgeous and studded with pretty Victorians. This served to assuage our pain when we drove right past the spot where the TCBY was supposed to be…and it did not exist. I found yet another frozen yogurt place on the phone, and we drove a bit further. This place also did not exist. At this point, we were beginning to feel like we were in the twilight zone. We pulled into a shopping center to get our bearings, and what should appear before my eyes but a frozen yogurt place! We drove closer to park the car and saw…that it was permanently closed. My favorite thing about the whole quest is that we were laughing hysterically about it. I am so glad for that. We were just going to run into a nearby grocery store when I found one more place on my phone: a frozen custard place. Frozen custard is, in my opinion, even better than ice cream or frozen yogurt. But the map was showing that it was sort of in the middle of a hospital complex. Not a likely story, but we decided to give it a whirl. And it did exist! The world’s most perfect frozen custard place, with a restroom to boot!

We both got a concrete and a big glass of water and sat out in the shade to enjoy it.

I could not have imagined a more idyllic place to eat frozen custard. We sat at this sweet table in the shade, orange groves just behind us. This is proof that good things come to those who wait. And also to those who drive all over town looking for ice cream! Our wild goose chase just made this experience all the more wonderful.

On our way back to the freeway, we stopped to look at the orange groves. They are such a huge part of Southern California history, and it made me so happy to see that some of them are still there.

Even though the groves are not what they used to be, they live on in the spirit of the town. I loved the street signs, resplendent with oranges.

On our way out of town, we took a quick spin through the other side of downtown, where we found this enormous amphitheater. Redlands has a huge outdoor summer Shakespeare festival: awesome!

When I got out to take a picture, I realized that they were building the sets! This theater nerd was very excited! Apparently, excited enough to not notice this solar flare. Oh well!

Eric and I absolutely love to explore new places together, and Redlands was a special treat for us. We sort of randomly picked it out on the map as were heading back to LA, and it was such a fun and beautiful town. I’m so glad we stopped there, and I hope we can go back sometime soon, maybe for the Shakespeare festival!

DIY Yarn Wrapped Bracelets

I made these bracelets last week, and I am in love with them. They are really easy, and they make great use of a few items of which I have a serious surplus.

One of them is this pretty yarn. My awesome aunt gave it to me many moons ago, and I have used it for a few felting projects. It’s really thick and scratchy yarn (closer to carpet yarn than wool), though, so it’s not exactly something you’d want to make a sweater out of. Thus, it has been languishing in my knitting basket for a while. I have always loved these two colors together (so bright and spring-like!), and I thought I’d try them for this project.

The other surplus item is…yogurt containers! Ages ago, I saw a bracelet made out of old ties, buttons, and yogurt containers, and I was intrigued. I asked Eric to start saving them for me, and the result has been the source of much laughter in the intervening weeks. We really like yogurt!

To get started, I used a box cutter (be careful!) to make a slit in the plastic, and then I cut it the rest of the way with some all-purpose scissors (not my sewing scissors). I just wanted the top inch or two below the lip (the middle circle in the picture), and it was easy to cut. I straightened the jagged edges, and voila: a bracelet base!

For the two-strand bracelet, I cut a length of both yarns and then tied them together inside the bracelet.

After that, I just wrapped them both around in alternating directions until I ran out of yarn, and then I tied on more. I used about three lengths of each yarn for this one, since otherwise the yarn would be too long to work with. I made sure that each tie-on was inside the bracelet, and then I tied them off again when the whole bracelet was wrapped. That’s it!

For the solid color bracelets, it’s even easier. You can either tape or glue the end of the yarn inside the bracelet, and then get wrapping!

When you’re done, just glue or tape the end on the inside of the bracelet.

That’s it! I am so happy with the way these turned out, and I can’t wait to wear them. Not bad for $0!

Quinoa Cherry Cookies

It is no secret that quinoa is one of my favorite foods. I would put it in just about anything, and this recipe is proof of that! I don’t bake cookies too often (my love for cakes and scones keeps me occupied), but I really really love these.

I have nothing against a decadent chocolate chip cookie (bring it on!), but I like that these cookies offer a more healthy option. They feature whole wheat flour, oats, and, of course, quinoa. A glorious trifecta!

They are lightly sweetened, and they have that perfect caramelized sweetness that oats usually produce when combined with honey and brown sugar. Yum!

I added walnuts and dried cherries because they are my favorite, but this recipe is a great base for experimentation. Cranberries would be great, or a dash of cinnamon and some pecans. Perhaps even pine nuts and a bit of rosemary. I just love this kind of daydreaming.

Can you taste the quinoa? Just a little bit, and not in every bite. But it really does add a bit of nutty crunch and texture to the whole cookie. I have a feeling I’m going to be making these all the time! Hope you enjoy!

Quinoa Cherry Cookies
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

Makes about 2 dozen

1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

-Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a Silpat.
-Whisk flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
-Using an electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars, and honey in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
-Add eggs and vanilla; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time.
-Stir in quinoa, oats, cherries, and walnuts. Spoon dough in 2-tablespoon portions onto prepared sheets, spacing 1” apart.
-Bake cookies until golden, 12–15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Store cooled cookies airtight at room temperature for 1 day, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Mod Squad

I have this cute patterned jacket that I found at a clothing swap, and I have discovered that it magically turns any look into an insta-60s ensemble. Not a bad piece to have in your closet!

I love the wide cut, which really makes it half-jacket, half-cape.

And I love the pattern!

I paired it with my raw silk dress, which holds a special place in my heart. I bought it at a thrift store years ago, when it was big, bulky, and boasting shoulder pads. It was one of my first alteration projects to turn it into something more modern. My favorite thing about this dress is that it’s fitted, but the skirt still flares out a bit at the bottom. The best of both worlds!

The sun was out in full force today, so I put my hair up in a twist. This is what I do with my hair 364 days out of the year. It’s so quick and easy, and it lets me show off my favorite clips. And my favorite earrings! I love the hefty chunkiness of these purple ones.

And I am once again wearing my red heels and carrying my green envelope purse. I love how this shot captures all three colors. Thank you, sweet husband!

This was our last shoot before heading to the farm: hurray for vacation! Hope you had a great weekend too!

Heading to the Farm!

I’m really excited to say that on Sunday Eric and I are heading home to his parents’ farm for the week! It is such a beautiful and special place to me: the place where my sweet husband toddled around in the grass as a youngster, the place to which my wonderful parents in law have dedicated their hands and their hearts for over 30 years. This is the old barn, which, in a previous life, was the home of an earlier generation of farmers. The wooden part was the house, and the darker part in the front was a later addition. That palpable history just makes it all the more lovely.

Family is so important to Eric and to me, and we both try to make it home at least once a year. We didn’t get to the farm last year because we were busy getting married in Memphis, but now that I have met so much more of his family, I am even more thrilled to be heading that way. As if Eric weren’t already a gift enough in my life, his family is so incredibly kind and welcoming to me, and I am so happy that now they are my family too. I can’t wait to give them giant hugs!

There are so many things I am excited to see and do at the farm. This city girl is always happy to take a stroll around the pond and catch sight of frogs, owls, deer, and any other animals that may be out to play. I hope we’ll have time for a spin around the pond in the rowboat and some star gazing at night with Eric’s telescope. And those sunsets at the farm, they are just unreal. But more than anything I am looking forward to the conversations we’ll have. Eric’s mom is an amazing cook, and some of my favorite memories from visiting the farm are the laid-back evenings we spend at the table, talking about anything and everything, and knowing in our hearts the peace and comfort that only family can bring. There is such an overwhelming joy in the feeling that you are deeply known and deeply loved, and that joy is always present at the farm.

This trip is going to be all the more special because Eric’s brother is also coming for a few days (yay!), and then, on our last day in town, we’ll all meet up with my parents in St. Louis. Have I mentioned yet how excited I am?! Although I’ll be away next week, I have posts written, scheduled, and ready to go, so there will still be something new here every morning, Monday through Friday. I will probably only be checking in intermittently, so if I am slow to respond to comments, it’s not because I don’t wholeheartedly appreciate them, but probably just that I’m in the middle of a welding lesson or a great conversation! I will miss you all and hope you have a fantastic week! I’m looking forward to sharing more about our trip when we get back!

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