Cranberry Walnut Bread

This recipe used up the last of my giant bag of cranberries, and I think it was my favorite of all the things I made with them. This bread is dense and rich and studded with tartness and a little crunch. In a word: it’s perfect.

It was also a nice break from the lovely yet ubiquitous pairing of orange and cranberry–I just wanted the tart little guys to stand on their own in this recipe, and they definitely did!

This bread would be great for a Christmas morning breakfast, as it would lend itself nicely to being nibbled on the couch in front of the tree. 😉 We always had a special breakfast of cinnamon rolls and pigs in blankets for Christmas morning, and I am still thinking about how I will make that tradition our own for our first Christmas. So many ideas! Such limited quantities of butter it is reasonable to intake!

This bread, I think, will become a fall staple for us as we stroll our way through these windy and chilly months. I am already looking forward to making it again next year to ring in the fall festivities I love so much. 🙂

Cranberry Walnut Bread

4 Tbsp butter, melted
2 c flour
1 c brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 c milk
2 c fresh cranberries
1/2 to 1 c walnuts (you can guess which one I used!)
Sugar or sugar crystals for topping

-Heat the oven to 350F and butter a 9×5 loaf pan.
-Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
-Combine the wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones until combined, and then fold in the cranberries and walnuts. Sprinkle the top with sugar.
-Bake for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
-Cool for 30 minutes on a drying rack, and then cut into it and enjoy! Happy holidays!

Button Snowflake Ornaments

I think this will be the last batch of ornaments I make for our tree this year: I have to get on to the baking! Nonetheless, I am really happy I finished these up today and equally glad to have found another creative way to use my huge button collection. I found the idea for this project on Pinterest (source link here), and I tweaked it a little.

Since I didn’t have any popsicle sticks, I used q-tips as the base instead. I am always gluing q-tips together on the most bizarre surfaces, and this is no exception. Here we have some proto-snowflakes on top of the announcement that the NYT rate is going up again. This is only a tiny sadness, though, considering the amount of happiness my Sunday paper brings me. I don’t mind paying for good journalism. But apparently I also don’t mind constructing q-tip crafts on top of it either! (Don’t ming those big blobs of glue–the buttons will cover them up).

Once the proto-snowflakes were dry, I glued buttons on (I stuck with a white and cream theme, but you could use any color you like), starting from the center, and then glued in a little loop of ribbon at the top. That’s all there is to it!

I hung my three little guys on the tree this evening, and, I have to say, they look lovely, and I’m so pleased that our first tree looks so bright and vibrant: hurray!

I have been thinking a lot about ornaments today, and about the ones I remember most from our tree at home. There are a few snowmen I really like, and a globe with a map etched on it that is a perennial favorite, but mostly I’ve been remembering the ones that my brothers and I made: lopsided Rudolphs and falling-apart snowflakes and holiday wreaths, shedding glitter and cotton balls all over the tree skirt. My parents put them up on the tree every year, and even though I have no recollection of making those ornaments, I do remember feeling proud when we put them on display. It feels very strange that it’s December 22nd already and I’m not on my way to Memphis–it’s a trip I’ve taken every year for the past eleven, and it was always such a special one. My dad would always pick me up at the airport and whisk me off to a warm and welcoming home, where the tree was  lit, Christmas music played, and there were enough hugs and holiday treats to last until the new year. This year I have a new home, for home will always be wherever Eric is, and while we don’t yet have any construction paper Santas or clothespin reindeer to display, I’d like to think I’m doing my part with these little snowflakes. 😉

Spinach and Roquefort Stuffed Acorn Squash

This recipe is a bit of a blast from the past, but a seasonal one, at least. In general, I think it’s a good idea to return to old recipes and photos, and I’m currently working on putting together a list of some of our dinner favorites, a classic repertoire of sorts, for those times when we have to make a grocery run and can’t think of anything to cook. I am so glad I stumbled upon these pictures because I remember how delicious this dish was and can’t wait to make it again! These pictures were taken in my kitchen in Oakland, before I ever conceived of the horrors of a kitchen with absolutely no natural light, and when every photo was blessed with generous rays of sunshine. On the flipside, they were also taken when I knew much less about image composition and had blue plates (not so great for contrast with food), so the result is sort of a draw. But a delicious draw at that!

I found the idea for this dish in a cookbook I picked up at a clothing swap (the range of offerings has been expanding in the past few years, and I will never turn down free books, especially cookbooks)! The book is based on the concept of making spectacular meals with three ingredients and whatever staples you have in your pantry. For a dissertating girl in the middle of moving and consolidating two households, that sounded like a big win.

I love how the squash are pointing off in all different directions, like tiny open mouths, in awe of something beyond my line of sight.

The recipe is pretty simple too: cut the tops off the squash and clean out the seeds, season them a bit and stick them in the oven.

While they are baking, saute some spinach until just wilted. Stuff it into the squash, along with some Roquefort cheese, and bake another 10 minutes. Voila! I have a feeling I will be making these several times in the next few weeks. Surely the spinach and squash balance out the cheese, yes? 🙂

Spinach and Roquefort Stuffed Acorn Squash
Adapted from The Three Ingredient Cookbook

4 acorn squash
9 oz. spinach leaves
7 oz. Roquefort cheese
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

-Heat the oven to 375F. Cut the tops off the squash and remove the seeds. Place the squash cut side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until tender.
-Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and add the spinach leaves. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the leaves are just wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste and divide between the squash.
-Top with the Roquefort and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. And you’re done!

Orange Slice Christmas Ornaments

Since this is our first Christmas together (yay!), we don’t have too many ornaments, aside from a few very sweet ones that Eric’s parents gave us, so I planned to make a lot of them this year. As the day draws near, these are a great option: easy and inexpensive!

I found the idea on Pinterest, of course, but the original source is here (Martha would never lead us astray!) The procedure is very simple: slice 3 or 4 unpeeled citrus fruits into 1/4″ slices. I used some Cuties that weren’t too flavorful (I deemed them better for decor than eating!), but lemons, oranges, or even limes (ohh, pretty!) would work just as well.

Once you’ve sliced them and your hands smell nice and delicious, lay them out on a cookie sheet.

I put some parchment paper down on mine, but I don’t think these will stick too much, so if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it.

Now here comes the really easy part: bake them at 175F for 4 hours. During this time you can completely forget about them while you wrap presents or do other fun and festive things. I flipped mine over after about 3 hours, to ensure that both sides dried out, but that’s all the monitoring I really gave them.

Then I just looped some pretty ribbon through them and hung them on our tree! I like the orange touch, since most of our ornaments are red and silver.  Fun!

La Note

La Note in Berkeley is a place near and dear to the hearts of many, a place you’d be willing to stand out in the cold for an hour to get into, a place you’d be willing to shiver on a garden patio in December for, if necessary. Oh yes. This weekend was the perfect storm of celebrations: Eric’s birthday, my dissertation filing, and our first trip back to the Bay since we moved down south in August. Eric flew in on Friday night, and this was the first place on his agenda, so off we trotted into the cold:)

Although we arrived at 10 on a Saturday morning, we got incredibly lucky because they opened the garden patio a few minutes after we arrived. We were whisked away to a lovely little table, and at least one of the heat lamps near our table worked, which was a gift. I used to think having to suffer through this kind of weather to eat delicious food was just a crime, but now I find that I am willing to pay the price…and it wasn’t *so* cold anyway, thankfully!

After a quick perusal of the menu of delights, I ordered a double cafe noisette and warmed myself with its delicious and perfect foam.

While we were waiting for our food, I went about exploring to revisit all my favorite little things about this sweet French cafe. Here is the patio, in part, although from this angle you can’t see the lemon tree and the avocado tree.

Here is the narrow wood-planked walkway out to the patio.

And here is the jam-packed and bustling interior, full of warmth and soft light.

Even the bathrooms are French:)

But the most important thing is clearly the food:) I usually get the lemon gingerbread pancakes with poached pears, but this time I went for the raspberry oatmeal pancakes, which were absolutely perfect: so light and fluffy and full of flavor. Eric had the cinnamon brioche French toast, which I found astoundingly good, but alas, it disappeared before I took a picture! I am so glad we were able to come because La Note is truly a special occasion kind of place, where one commemorates the passing of exams, the end of grading marathons, the completion of degrees. How sweet to celebrate here one last time:)

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse

I have been having a ball in Berkeley, catching up with dear friends over lavish dinners, traipsing around my old stomping grounds, and eating my way down some of the most delicious streets in the world. Yesterday my peregrinations led me to one of my favorite places on earth: the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. Eric found it one afternoon when he was out exploring, and I have been hooked ever since. It started as a resource for teachers, a place where they could get supplies for their students at very low cost, since everything in the store has been donated. But now, happily, it is open to the public! It was so high on my list of places I wanted to visit while I was here, and I spent a lovely morning there:)

I now lovingly refer to it as “The Depot,” and it is absolutely my favorite place for creative inspiration. There is so much awesome stuff in there, and it is all so cheap! Even though I go hog-wild sometimes, I rarely end up spending more than $10. That is a big win in my book!

One of the most magical things about the Depot is that you never know what you’ll find. A box full of old reading glasses? Sure! A pile of postcards from the past four decades? Absolutely! More pretty paper and book binding supplies than you can shake a stick at? For sure! I wanted to take you on a little tour of the glories of my recent visit, showing you just a few things that made my heart go pitter patter:) Here is a box full of old puzzle pieces. Imagine what you could do with them! (At least that’s what I tend to do!)

And then there was this pile of beautiful bottle caps!

Usually there is also some scientific-type stuff, like beakers or flasks. Today I found these pretty…fuses? I am not sure what they are, but I like them! In case you might be thinking this stuff isn’t worth buying (I hope not, but I do recognize that one’s woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure!), bear in mind that it all costs pennies. You could get yourself a big bag full of bottle caps or puzzle pieces or fuses (?) for a few bucks. That sounds like a bonanza to me!

Moving along through the store, we come next to these fun little buttons, printed in many different languages. I bought a big bag of Russian ones when I was teaching Beginning Russian, and I gave them away as prizes and for Russian holidays. It was awesome to see them on my kids’ backpacks and coats:)

Another category of Depot stuff might be called Blast from the Past. I present to you…floppy disks and Zip disks! Remember those big hunks of plastic? I think my undergraduate thesis is saved on one of them, which means I may never see it again (that would be okay with me!)

The Depot is a mecca for those looking for all types of outdated musical recordings. Here are some records, but there are also tapes and usually 8-Tracks as well. One time Eric bought an old player piano reel here, in great condition. So awesome.

And, of course, the Depot is full of traditional art and craft supplies. I *love* getting sewing stuff here. Look at these pretty zippers! I totally bought some!

Embossing powder! Pretty!

The Depot also usually has really great fabrics. I got the prettiest silk here for $1 per yard. Unheard of! Today they had lots of nice jersey knits, and I wished I had more room in my suitcase…

My favorite item in this category, hands down, is the vintage sewing patterns. They are *amazing*! I once picked up a bunch of fun 80s patterns, but the ones today were mostly from the 60s-70s. And they are 25 cents each. I tend to go a little wild with these!

I know I have already shown you an incredible amount of awesome stuff, but I have saved my favorite category of stuff for last: Personal History. There are boxes and boxes of old photographs, capturing significant moments, moments worthy of preserving back in the day when we only had 24 exposures instead of nearly limitless memory cards. I love looking through these old pictures and imagining the lives they belonged to, the emotions they captured, the meaning of the moments that someone wanted to encapsulate. There are usually also a lot of old slides (thus combining the Blast from the Past and Personal History categories), which are fun to hold up to the light and decipher, if only in a negative exposure.

The postcards also fit into this category, and I love reading their antiqued messages, but today I found something I had never seen before: a box full of old ticket stubs. This intrigued me, as it indicates a deliberate act of preservation of memory. Someone had an experience and used this tiny object to encapsulate it, to embody a moment that passed them by. I love to imagine what those experiences must have been like, and to thank these past collectors for passing their memories on to us. I believe so strongly in the power and importance of the object in human experience, and especially in memory, and rifling through these treasures at the Depot truly takes me to different times and different places, lets me walk in the shoes of people I’d never have the chance to know otherwise, the beautifully scuffed wooden floorboards creaking under my feet.

Krug the Thinker, Ph.D.

The fateful day has finally come: today I officially submitted my signature page to the university and got my Ph.D. lollipop! Woohoo!

As I arrived on campus this afternoon, I realized that someone had hung little hearts on Sather Gate: so sweet! I know they weren’t for me, but they made me feel happy and welcomed. An added bonus of the day was that I got to see so many lovely friends, the people who formed the fabric of my life here in Berkeley. I also had some really positive farewell meetings with my professors. I couldn’t feel more grateful. Time to celebrate! 🙂

The hilarious part of all of this was that it was all accomplished…with salsa on my jeans! Everything was going so smoothly with the trip, and when I hit the streets of Berkeley, I decided to have my favorite burrito for lunch. It is so succulently meaty and delicious (it is the blurry culprit in the picture above) that it can only be eaten with a knife and fork. I was being very careful, and then, whoosh: salsa all over my jeans! I washed it out pretty well, and there was no stain, but I felt like I smelled nice and taco-licious for the rest of the day!

This day is so wonderful, though, that no salsa can spoil it:)

Color Quilt

When I was working on my pinwheel painting, I ended up with some leftovers. Because I was mixing my paints and playing with them until I got the shade I wanted, I sometimes was left with a big blob of paint on my palette. Instead of sending it down the drain, I painted it onto some notecards. Soon I had a few dozen of them, a pretty little rainbow, and I decided to tile them on some cardboard for quilted look. This was actually the first thing I did after I filed my dissertation: sat on the floor with my Mod Podge and worked away! I guess I needed something to keep my hands and my mind busy that afternoon 🙂

This is a really easy project that doesn’t take much at all: just some painted paper, some cardboard (or wood, even) and Mod Podge. My notecards are the opposite of high quality, but the Mod Podge really sealed them down tight in one coat, even though they were all curled up from the paint. Magic!

In my typical fashion, I didn’t really plan out a color scheme, but just put the cards down where I thought they looked good. I was trying to make it proportionate between warm and cool colors, but that’s about it. I decided to lay them out 5 across and 4 down, and I trimmed my cardboard accordingly.

After I had them all laid out and glued down, I put another layer of Mod Podge over the top to give it a nice shimmer. In this picture it is still wet, but looking pretty!

Once it was all dry, I pondered how to hang it. I didn’t think it would be too hard, since the cardboard is small and not heavy, and this, reader, is the glorious method I came up with: I secured a yarn “hanging wire” onto the back of it with big blobs of Aleene’s Tacky Glue. It is holding perfectly, and thus I consider this a totally legit way to hang a small piece of cardboard!

Once it was finished, I hung my little color quilt directly above my desk, which is exactly where I want light and bright colors to shine down on me. 😉 I am hanging my pinwheel painting on the other side of this wall, in the same position, and I like the secret echo of color. 🙂

Oh, Happy Day!

As some of you know, I have been working toward my PhD in Russian literature for the past seven years. After four years of course work and two sets of grueling comprehensive exams, I was set free to write my dissertation. I have been working on it for the past three and a half years, and comrades, it is finished!! These pictures were taken just after I received the green light to file it with the university. I don’t think it has completely sunk in yet, but I am very happy nonetheless!

For such a happy occasion, nothing but my red boots would do:) They are so beloved, and I feel kind of magical when I wear them. (My mom found these for me at our favorite thrift store–yes, I know, my mom is made of pure gold!)

What’s all the more wonderful is that this is such a joyful season to be celebrating in, and there are so many happy things to look forward to! On Wednesday I head up to Berkeley to file and to receive my official PhD Lollipop (a Berkeley tradition!), and then Eric is coming up on the weekend for more celebrating, including of his birthday! Then it will be Christmas, and then Eric’s parents are coming to see us in late December, which is going to be tons of fun! I feel kind of overwhelmed with gratefulness, and I think that’s not a bad thing at all:)

I am so grateful to everyone who has loved and supported me in these years, everyone who has encouraged me, everyone who has stood by my side during this process. This PhD belongs to you too:)

Eat My Blog Recap: A Visual Feast

This past week I was baking away for the Eat My Blog Charity Bake Sale, which took place in Pasadena this Saturday. Holy moly was there a lot of deliciousness going on, but also, everything was so *pretty*! I did my best to contribute to the overall effect:) Above are my labels, which I cut with my new circle-cutter toy: fun!

When I tied them onto my loaves of pumpkin bread, I thought they looked like little Christmas ornaments, and this made me happy!

A few days before the event, the wonderful Cathy Chaplin of Gastronomy Blog released the full menu of goodies, and it was seriously impressive! Black forest brownies. Lemon-lavender madeleines. Rosemary olive oil teacakes. Oh. my. goodness. I had already dropped off my pumpkin loaves the night before, but Eric and I headed over as soon as we could to get some treats! This is just part of one of the two packed tables. So many goodies!

It was a gorgeous day in Pasadena (actually, it was even a little hot!), and I was so excited to see lots of people swarming around the tables:) We kept going back and forth, adding new things to our bag each time. We are still eating our way through them, but so far my absolute favorite has been the chocolate-dipped pecan pie by SarahtheBear. I wish I had bought all of them!

Those pretty little guys with flowers are coconut panna cottas with rum banana jam. WOW.

There were savory treats as well as sweet ones:)

And there was truffle dust. I think I have made my case. 🙂

I was happy to see my little loaves among the prettiness, with the cutest little sign. I am not sure who does the graphic design for Eat My Blog, but it is awesome!

The best part is that the event was a huge success, raising over $4000 for the LA Regional Foodbank! Hurray! Thank you so much to all who baked and all who came, but most especially to Cathy for spearheading the whole event, and to her husband Vernon, who helped a ton and contributed some truly awesome chocolate chip cookies!

This was the 4th Eat My Blog, and I am already excited for the 5th! It was truly an honor to participate, and I am grateful to have met so many wonderfully talented, creative, and generous people. Looking forward to seeing you at 5.0!

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