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2012 November

A Few Things I’m Grateful for Lately

Dinner dates and delicious Thai soup.

Rain! This is the view through the windshield.

Beautiful and vibrant flowers.

Ice cream in our favorite little neighboring town.

This novel. Eric and I read it together and spent a lovely evening discussing it and trying to unlock its mysteries.

Cheese! Last weekend I heard Eric say, “All classy snackers, report to the dining room!” He made this cheese plate with our favorite triple creme, persimmons, pecans, and fresh wildflower honey. Delicious!

And, last but not least, pie for breakfast! It’s been a really wonderful couple of weeks. I hope yours have been the same!

A Night on the Town

A few years ago, I came to Pasadena for a conference, having no idea that I might end up living here one day. I was totally charmed by the snowflakes they project on the buildings in Old Town. There’s no way we’ll ever get snow here, so this is the next best thing. Since I’m from a place that also gets snow so infrequently that it is an awesomely big deal, I will definitely take what I can get. The crazy thing is that it was 88 degrees on Saturday. A girl can dream (of snow!)

We went to Old Town to go out for my birthday dinner, even though my birthday was a few months ago. I was sick my birthday weekend, and then we were in Istanbul, and then we were really jet-lagged, and then I totally forgot about my birthday dinner. But Eric didn’t! So we went to Vertical Wine Bistro, which we really like. The steps up to the restaurant feel very Paris arcade.

We ate a little on the early side, so we had this whole huge dining room to ourselves, and they seated us right next to the fireplace. Lovely!

I think this is why they call it Vertical. I love the ladder.

After dinner we strolled around town, and I took more snowflake pictures. Snowflakes! Maybe I appreciate them so much because I have always failed at cutting them out from paper.

And, true story: it wasn’t until I was in college that I actually believed snowflakes really look like that. This girl in a warm Southern climate thought everyone must be exaggerating.  Every single snowflake with its own unique splendor? No way. The first time I saw an individual snowflake, I stared at it until it melted. I couldn’t believe it was so tiny and perfect and so delicately ornate. It was a beautiful discovery. And I do miss that snow.

But this guy is making me feel better about it. Happy holidays!

Mile High Pumpkin Pecan Pie

…Or, as I like to think of it, the pumpkin pie to end all pumpkin pies! When I first saw this recipe, I thought it was the best of all possible worlds: the creamy richness of pumpkin with the added crunch of pecan. I ripped that page right out of the magazine and set it aside for Thanksgiving. I can’t even remember the last time I made a pie (I have come to rely on my friend Steve’s expert help!), but Thanksgiving doesn’t seem right to me without pumpkin pie and apple pie. Oh yes, I need them both. It seemed silly to make two pies for two people, so I decided to stick with this one. It definitely delivered the Thanksgiving punch, and I am really proud of how nicely it turned out!

Also, it is giant. It is baked in a Springform pan, so it’s as tall as a cheesecake, and really heavy when you’re trying to heft it out of the fridge! I miraculously didn’t have any trouble with the pastry, which was kind of a first. I triumphantly texted Steve to let him know of my victory! You were supposed to leave some overhang on the pan to keep the pastry from shrinking while baking, and that worked very well.

In fact, the whole thing gave me very little trouble. Five stars! And also five stars for flavor. The level of spice was absolutely perfect.

I would love to make this pie again for a big crowd, but I’m not sorry I have leftovers either. We’ve already got our tree up and decorated, and I’m listening to Charlie Brown Christmas music as I type this, but there is still quite a bit of Thanksgiving in my fridge, and that makes me happy.

Mile High Pumpkin Pecan Pie
Recipe from Martha Stewart

For The Crust:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for work surface
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water

For The Filling:
1 1/4 cups light-brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (29 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 cups pecan halves

-Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse flour, granulated sugar, and salt until combined. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining. Add 1/4 cup ice water in a steady stream, pulsing until dough is crumbly but holds together when squeezed (if necessary, add up to 1/4 cup more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time). Form dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour (or up to 2 days).
-Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough just over 1/8 inch thick. Transfer to a 9-inch springform pan, adjusting dough as needed to fit flat against bottom and sides. Trim dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch overhang (reserve scraps); freeze 15 minutes. Line dough with a double layer of parchment and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet 30 minutes. Carefully remove parchment and weights; use reserved scraps to patch any holes in crust. Bake until deep golden, 30 minutes; cover edge with foil if overbrowning.
-Meanwhile, make filling: In a large bowl, whisk together brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk in eggs, then pumpkin, until smooth. Slowly whisk in milk, cream, and vanilla. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. With edge covered with foil, pour all but 1 cup filling into crust, return to oven, and carefully add remaining cup filling; bake 1 hour. Remove pie from oven and top with pecans. Bake until filling is just set but slightly wobbly in center, 20 to 25 minutes more. Let cool completely on a wire rack, about 3 hours. With a serrated knife, cut off overhang and unmold.

Retro Stoplight

Eric and I haven’t taken style shots in ages, and for the last few months, they’ve just been on the balcony of our building, since I couldn’t stand to go any further in the heat. This weekend we took advantage of a cool(-ish) afternoon to head over to campus and take some pictures. I only realized after looking at the photos that I am basically a retro stoplight: red, yellow, green!

This dress was a thrift store find in Memphis. It fits perfectly, and I love the color and fabric.

It has this little attached jacket with wooden beading and embroidery detail. So pretty.

I am wearing one of the bead loom bracelets I made this fall. I think this one may be my favorite!

And my favorite mustard purse and red heels just seemed obligatory. Sometimes I wonder why I even have any other shoes. And then I remember the purple ones…also necessary!

The leaves are just starting to turn here, so hopefully we’ll squeeze some more shots in on campus before all the trees are bare.

I would love it if the weather turned cooler (and stayed that way!), but at least I had one more chance to wear this little dress.

Thanksgiving Chez Nous

Eric and I always look forward to making our Thanksgiving dinner, even if it is slightly non-traditional. Instead of a gigantic turkey, we usually skew toward the tiniest of birds. This year we had quail. With pomegranate sauce! Eric always picks the best recipes.

While he was working on the (tiny, tiny) birds…

I was trying my hand at Thomas Keller’s leek bread pudding. A success!

But long before I was slicing leeks and chopping fingerling potatoes…

I was making this: the most giant pie I have ever baked! It’s a deep (deep, deep!) pumpkin pie topped with pecans. I will definitely have more to say about this pie soon…and I will also definitely be eating it for breakfast for the rest of this week.

It made for a decadent dinner and a lot of awesome leftovers. But I think the best part of the day was really family: our little one here in Pasadena, and the time we got to spend with our parents and siblings on the phone and through FaceTime. (I woke up early and caught my parents and my little brother at home, and it felt for all the world like I was right there in the room with them. Much hilarity ensued. I love my family so much.)

I certainly missed bustling around the kitchen with my mom and dad, or being on the farm with Eric’s family, but our little celebration was pretty perfect too. It isn’t very hard at all to think of things I am grateful for, and the man at the head of the table is at the top of the list. I hope you had a wonderful day too! (And that you also have pie for breakfast!)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, not because I particularly love turkey or stuffing, but because I love the excuse to spend time with family, eat great food, and reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for. It helps that it falls during my favorite time of the year and that it is refreshingly free from the craziness of Christmas. What a perfect holiday! Wherever you are today, I hope you are having a blast sharing old memories and making new ones with the people you love. Happy Thanksgiving!

Project Life, Weeks 13 and 14

I am playing catch up on Project Life, but is making me all the more glad I have these pictures and memories. Project Life has that kind of insta-function when you realize that wouldn’t remember any of these little everyday things if you hadn’t written them down!

Week 13 covered my 30th birthday, but I’m really happy that it also features so much of Eric and the things we shared that week. None of my birthdays would be happy without him! The shot of him putting together a storage cube for the office speaks volumes–he is so supportive of all my creative endeavors and has totally not minded me taking over 75% of the office with my supplies. He is the best partner I could ever imagine. That picture also makes me laugh because I texted it to my mom right away, joking about our exciting Saturday-night furniture assembly. I used a lot of my favorite stickers on this page, and I have become a little obsessed with the borders too!

This was another busy week, with Eric traveling for work and me finding new ways to amuse myself in his absence: jewelry making! We saw this “Is it fall yet?” display at our favorite bookstore, and I instantly loved it–it was still so hot back then, and I wondered if fall would ever come! I am in love with the green color of this paper, and I like the way the orange circle border echoes the pumpkins that Eric brought me back from Palomar. Have I said lately that he is the best?

Pumpkin Fondue

Given my great love for pumpkins (and cheese!), it should come as no surprise that this is one of my fall obsessions. I make it every year. And it all began with my undergraduate advisor, who came to give a talk at Berkeley about five years ago. We were having coffee and discussing our various pursuits, scholarly and otherwise, and he mentioned this thing  to me, this pumpkin thing: “Well, you gut a pumpkin and then you fill it with bread and cheese and cream and then you bake it. Pumpkin fondue!” I looked it up as soon as I got home, and now it is a fall staple around here.

The wonderful part is that when you scoop out the bread and cheese, you get a nice chunk of pumpkin with it. It is glorious. The cheeses are Gruyere and Emmentaler, both favorites of mine.

Also, they look pretty gorgeous just out of the oven. You expect your academic advisor to lead you through the pratfalls of studying twentieth-century poetry, but but when he also leads you to your new favorite fall dinner, you know you’ve got a real gem.

Pumpkin Fondue
Recipe from Gourmet

1 (15-inch) piece of baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices (7 oz total)
1 (7-lb) orange pumpkin (I use sugar or pie pumpkins, and it’s hard to find a 7-pound one, so I usually buy two 3-4-pound ones)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyère (6 oz)
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental (6 oz)
1 tablespoon olive oil

-Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third.
-Toast baguette slices in 1 layer on a baking sheet in oven until tops are crisp (bread will still be pale), about 7 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.
-Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a circle (3 inches in diameter) around stem with a small sharp knife. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin with a spoon (including top of pumpkin; reserve seeds for another use if desired). Season inside of pumpkin with 1/2 tsp salt.
-Whisk together cream, broth, nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.
-Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup cream mixture. Continue layering bread, cheese, and cream mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 1/2 inch from top, using all of cream mixture. (You may have some bread and cheese left over.)
-Cover pumpkin with top and put in an oiled small roasting pan. Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Pumpkin can be filled 2 hours before baking and chilled.

November: Currently

Some of my favorite bloggers periodically do a “currently” post, and I love the idea of it. I think it captures some of the small everyday things that might otherwise be lost in the tide of blog-worthiness, however that is measured. So, here goes. This is what I’m doing, currently.

Reading Murakami’s 1Q84 (finally) and feeling totally riveted.

Trying to decide on Thanksgiving side dishes (it’s all about the vegetables!). Do I have it in me to make Thomas Keller’s leek bread pudding?

Scheming about getting a Christmas tree early this week, since we’ll be out of town for Christmas. Cannot wait to inundate the house with pine scent!

Enjoying all the goodies Eric’s parents just sent us in a care package. Spice cookies! Pumpkin placemats! Pistachios!

Listening to this song over and over again, because it is just such happy music.

Working on some secret Christmas presents.

Playing Letter Press like crazy. Even though I usually lose.

Spending a lot of time on the couch under the blanket I just finished knitting.

Knocking out some of my November goals and feeling awesome about it.

Looking forward to seeing my Dad in early December.

Feeling very, very grateful.

Cable Knit Blanket: It is Finished!

I have been working on this blanket for such a long, long time, and I have loved every bit of it. The pattern is just simple enough that I can pick it up idly (since I only really have to pay attention every six rows), and, as it has grown colder, I have enjoyed sitting under a blanket while knitting said blanket. I always intended this blanket for our couch, and that’s how I chose the color. I love that it’s ready in time for wintry evenings with a novel.

The comedy of this blanket is its size. I didn’t use the brand of yarn the pattern suggested, and I had more than enough. But I was having too much fun to quit, so I just decided to keep going until I ran out of yarn. I laid it out on our queen-size bed for scale. It’s almost a comforter! But not quite. I measured it at 56″ x 72″, roughly. It’s definitely taller than I am!

The cables were not hard to do at all, and I’m proud of how perfectly twisty they look.

At times I worried about this blanket being too long, and Eric reassured me that he is tall and would appreciate the extra length. Here he is, completely covered by it!

And here he is peeking his head out!

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