A Handful of Happy Things

This week has been full of small wonders, and I’m grateful for that. Eric was away at Palomar for an observing run this week that was supposed to last two nights, but he was magically able to come back home after just one. When he emailed me to tell me he was coming home early, I most definitely wrote back in ecstatic all caps. I really really really like having him around! When he came back, he brought a bounty of treasures from our favorite farm stand. Pumpkins and butternut squashes galore, and tons of fruit. I nearly gasped when I saw that he had brought me a Buddha’s hand citron. We bought one last year at Berkeley Bowl, but we don’t have a prayer of affording one at Whole Foods down here. At our little farm stand? Three dollars. It smells heavenly, and soon it will be transformed into this cake.

He also brought a bag full of fuyu persimmons, which I am really excited about. There’s definitely enough to eat and then plenty to bake with…so I am wondering what kind of tart or cake I should make with them…

And finally, there were guavas and a giant pomegranate. The guavas have taken over the airspace of our apartment in the most amazing way. It smells overwhelmingly tropical, just from these tiny little fruits. We’ve already eaten half of them, and I’ll miss their perfume when they’re gone.

But maybe the best thing of all about Eric getting to come home early was that he made it in time for dinner with our dear friend Steve, who was in town for a few days from Napa. Steve is a chef, and he is amazing. This is what we had for dinner. We eat so much better when he is around! I have so many fond memories of dinners at his house in Berkeley, and I hope they’ll be a new tradition here in Pasadena too: great wine, great food, great friends. Who could ask for more?

And, as a cherry on top, last night Eric face timed me while I was in the kitchen baking pumpkin scones, and I put him right into the cabinet (where he has been placed before while I had my hands covered in flour). He was printing a poster for a meeting, and he wanted to show me the impressive apparatus. He is the sweetest, and, seriously, he makes me grin from ear to ear every single day. I am the luckiest, luckiest girl.

Curried Lentil and Butternut Squash Salad

Eric always chooses the best recipes. This may have something to do with the fact that he often chooses from our Gourmet Today cookbook, and Gourmet will never let you down. He started making this dish about a year ago, and now it has become a staple, but I just made it myself for the first time last week

Eric kindly cubed the butternut squash for me, as I have a mortal fear of sharp knives with rock-hard vegetables.

One of my favorite things about this salad is the shallots–they become so sweet and tender after roasting.

My other favorite part is the walnuts–you just toss them in to roast for the last five minutes or so, which gives them a really earthy flavor. And I will never complain about a bit of added crunch!

Lime juice and cilantro give it a final punch of flavor. I heated up some leftovers this weekend while Eric was working on a project, and he looked up from his computer and said, “What is that that smells so heavenly?” An apt description, indeed!

Curried Lentil and Butternut Squash Salad
Recipe from Gourmet Today 

1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 large shallot
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup walnuts
1 cup lentils
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro sprigs
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice to taste

-Preheat oven to 425°F.
-Halve, peel, and seed squash and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Finely chop shallot and in a shallow baking pan toss with squash, oil, curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste until combined well. Bake squash mixture in middle of oven until almost tender, about 15 minutes.
-Chop walnuts and sprinkle over squash. Bake squash mixture 10 minutes more, or until walnuts are lightly toasted and squash is tender.
-While squash is baking, in a saucepan of boiling water cook lentils until just tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain lentils in a sieve and transfer to a bowl.
-To lentils add squash mixture, cilantro, lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste and toss until combined well.

Our China Cabinet

I have been meaning to post about this little project for ages, but now our little china cabinet is finally complete. The back wall is a mirror, so it’s impossible to shoot it without revealing myself and my camera. Hi!

This china cabinet was actually left on our balcony by a previous tenant. When we arrived from Berkeley, we found the apartment in kind of awful condition, and it made moving in so much more of a headache than it needed to be. We kept finding little things left here and there, and some of them were awesome: A whole box of laundry detergent! Enough packing tape for our next three moves! But I was not too happy about this china cabinet on the balcony. It was filthy and not in great condition, and now we were going to have to move it out. Sigh. But then a funny thing happened. When we got all the boxes unpacked, I found that we really didn’t have as much cabinet space in the kitchen as we needed. I started thinking…”A china cabinet…might actually be really useful.”

So I spent an afternoon scrubbing and Windexing and scrubbing some more, and then we brought it inside. It is, wonderfully, not as heavy as it looks. There is a piece of wood missing from the bottom, so I painted the edge to match the color of the rest of the cabinet. Eric’s sweet dad has offered to make us a replacement for that piece of wood if we ever decide we want one. While I initially considered this cabinet the scourge of our balcony, now I kind of like its retro style and that open part at the top (which is caused by that missing piece of wood at the bottom). Every now and again, I look at it and want to paint the whole thing red (a la British phone booth), but since I know nothing about sanding and priming and all the responsible things you have to do to successfully paint furniture, I think I will save that for another day.

The reason I think the china cabinet is complete now is because of this little tea set we bought at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Eric picked out the pattern, and we didn’t realize until we got back that it’s kind of a perfect match for our china. I love these little cups, and I love that they speak of far-off adventures as much as our china speaks of home.

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That

Sometimes I come to the computer with a million posts in mind, and sometimes I come wondering what I will write about. It’s all part of a larger balance, and I think that’s a good thing. Writing here every day is a rhythm and a routine that keeps me on my toes–if I didn’t have this internal commitment, I am sure that less than half of these blog posts would be here. Even though I don’t think every one of them deserves a gold star, every one of them does deserve its place in this little record of my everyday life. I’m so glad I have them all here, whether they speak mostly in images or mostly in words. Sometimes a handful of pictures will jump out at me as I’m scrolling through my files, and that’s just what happened tonight. Here, then, is a little collection of things that speak of this fall. When we got back from Istanbul, Eric made us the most amazing pulled pork in the slow cooker, and we ate it every single night for a week. I never got tired of its rich, peppery flavor, which is good because we still have half of it in the freezer.

Last weekend Eric made us milk punch, in our attempt to try a seasonal drink. It was delicious, but so strong! I don’t think I even finished half of mine, but it was still fun to try. It reminds of me the nights when we’d make mulled cider or hot chocolate and listen to Christmas music, back in those early days when we were dating.

And, continuing the theme of marvelous things Eric has made us, here is my favorite lemon-lime and bitters soda. For some reason this past week I have been craving carbonation, and this is much more palatable than straight tonic water. Eric used to drink it in Australia, and he is so good at making them. This one was so zesty and lemony it made my lips pucker. I loved it.

This past weekend, Eric and I had some dear friends from Berkeley over for dinner, and we had so much fun cooking together. The menu was a fall classic: pumpkin fondue and roasted brussels sprouts. It was so, so good to spend an evening laughing and sharing stories with friends. That, in conjunction with the (finally!) chilly weather we had this weekend, made me practically giddy. Oh fall, you never disappoint.

Daydreaming

I have been thinking so much lately about this little kitchen.  This is where Eric and I cooked our first meal together. It’s where we celebrated our first Thanksgiving. It’s where we held hands and looked out at the hills more times than I can remember. I miss this little kitchen, and I miss how Eric used to walk through the door, drenched with rain, ready to warm up at the table. But mostly I feel grateful that we are still cooking together, still holding hands and gazing out the windows, and that every time he walks through the door, it still feels like a gift.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake

Have I mentioned that this is my favorite time of year? There’s nothing I love better than spice cake, so whenever I can break out pumpkin and add it in, I am a happy girl. This year, though, I thought of a little addition that would make it even better: chocolate chips.

When this cake is served warm, the chocolate is deliciously melted, and, at room temperature, ever so slightly crunchy. Next time I make this cake, I may throw in some pecans or walnuts too because I can never have too much of a good thing.

The batter is nice and thick, and this will make a large cake that will last at least…several days. You know, depending on how many people you have on hand to eat it…or how much you like pumpkin and chocolate.

You could easily put a glaze on this cake, but we like it just fine without one. Maybe I am already shifting into a Thanksgiving mindset, but I can’t help but think that a nice big dollop of vanilla whipped cream would be a perfect addition to this cake. Mmmmm.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 cups canned pumpkin puree
2 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup chocolate chips

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-to 10-cup Bundt pan; set aside.
-Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg together into a medium bowl; set aside.
-In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar. Add pumpkin and eggs, one at a time, on medium speed. Add flour mixture and chocolate chips; mix on low speed until just combined.
-Pour batter into prepared pan and transfer to oven. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 70 to 80 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes before inverting cake onto rack or serving plate.

A Touch of Berkeley

It’s no secret that there are a ton of things I miss about Berkeley, and this morning I found myself thinking about this one. After my first semester at Berkeley, I got my first ever digital camera, and although it was a big clunky thing, I loved toting it around with me and taking pictures. One morning on the way to meet a friend for breakfast, I spotted this fish car and was duly impressed. How could I not be?

Fish car, I hope you are still swimming through the streets of Berkeley and looking forward to the oceanic conditions of the rainy season.

El Molino Viejo

Eric and I have been wanting to head down to El Molino Viejo (The Old Mill) for a while now. It’s just one little town south of us, and it’s amazing having that kind of history right in your backyard. We’ve loved learning about the California missions in the years that we’ve lived here, and this mill was actually built to serve the San Gabriel Mission, which is just a bit further south. The mission was built in 1771, and the mill was built in 1816.

By 1823, another mill was built closer to the mission, and this mill became the Old Mill. It was still used for quite some time, before it was passed through the hands of a number of Los Angeles families and eventually beautifully restored. It is such a lovely building, and it’s surrounded by gorgeous gardens filled with native California plants.

The courtyard was full of pomegranate trees, which we had never seen before. So pretty!

The pomegranates were ripe, and they looked like giant Christmas ornaments decorating the tree.

There was also this atmospheric gazebo, covered with grape vines. It was lovely from outside, but the real magic was inside…

The vines created these gorgeous translucent curtains of green. I could have stayed in there all afternoon, and not just because the shade was a welcome respite from the 90-degree heat.

And, of course, there were plenty of succulents to ogle. I can’t help but think that this would make a lovely background image. Kudos to Eric, who spotted it first.

One of the greatest things about the mill is that they host artists in the garden, and you can see them at work. Definitely makes a girl want to break out her paintbrushes.

Finally, on the way out, I noticed this little vine hanging from a nearby tree. I thought it was so gorgeously delicate.

We had such a wonderful afternoon traipsing through the grounds. I love being a tourist in my own town!

Ring of Fire Bead Loom Bracelet

Now that I’ve started making these bead loom bracelets…I can’t stop. I love the act of weaving and the feeling of a fabric that’s created by the beads. I love watching them come together. And I love designing them. And I love choosing the colors. (So basically, I love all of it…a recipe for addiction!) When I set the beads out for this one, I told Eric I wanted it to look like fire. And I’d like to think it does.

My loom and I are becoming best pals, and I am so happy about that. This bracelet is a little thinner, and thus a little easier to work with than the previous one (at least until I get a longer beading needle!)

I really wanted to show off these copper beads, and I love the way the orange ones pick up the light.

I love having these beauties around my wrist!

An Autumn Stroll Around the Neighborhood

One of the things I missed so much this summer was being able to take an afternoon walk. Now that things have finally cooled off, I’m back to my old gallivanting ways. I saw so many beautiful things this week. This is absolutely my favorite time of year, and it feels so good to be out experiencing it.

This is the pretty window display at Anthropologie, where I stop in from time to time to gawk at the lovely things. I’ve never actually bought anything there, but I always leave feeling inspired.

Another frequent stop in my peregrinations is this beautiful arcade. When we first moved here, I was out for a walk and discovered it, and I was so excited that I texted Eric, “I found an arcade!” He was very confused by this, as I have no love for video games, and it still makes me laugh to think of his bafflement. Someday I will take more shots inside because there are a few old school red phone booths in there (and, in fact, in a few other locations in Pasadena. They must have gotten a deal buying them in bulk!)

I am charmed by this element of decor on the side of a shopping center. What better indication that we live in science town?

And finally, here are some splendid fall flowers. I love these colors–they make me think of a warm kitchen and lots of people crowded around a big happy table. I think fall has gone to my head!

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