Sunday, July 31, 2011

City of Angels

Last weekend I took a lengthy - 45 minute - flight down to the City of Angels to visit Heather.  Angie came all the way from Virginia and we had a great girls' weekend together.

A girls' weekend where we each had to memorialize every moment on our iPhones.  (Helloooooo Instagram!)

Occasionally I even remembered to take out my real camera to snap a few photos.

I also got a chance to snap a photo of LA's finest one-man-band who serenaded us through brunch.  He knew some wonderful 80s hits!

We tried to go to the Huntington Botanic Garden and by mistake ended up in Huntington Beach.  Apparently the two are over an hour apart.  Who knew?  At least there was ice cream in Huntington Beach!

I finally got to meet Heather's boyfriend, Andreas.  It was epic.  It's great to see your friends so happy.

I'm not sure anything makes Heather as happy as seeing little crafty peanut people called Nut Buddies (in the background), though.  I swear she almost bought a whole table-worth.

Nothing like an afternoon on a pier full of beautiful views.

Hope to see you soon, Heather and Angie!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Five Things

I loved seeing the beaches of LA adorned with umbrellas, bikinis, and surfers - just like you would expect.  If I had watched Baywatch, maybe I could make some appropriate jokes here.  

I had a great weekend in LA, and I'm about to head out to another weekend away.  Weeks just fly by, don't they?  And every week - a new five things!

I don't eat sandwiches often, but when I do, I want them to be pretty great.  At the French Market in Chicago Anika insisted I got a banh mi from Saigon Sisters.  I got one made with pork belly, and it was definitely the best banh mi of my life.  These delicious Vietnamese sandwiches are trendy now for a reason - because they are incredible!

I picked up these alphabet stamps on our way to Mendocino earlier this month and have been having fun using them on all my correspondence.  John gave me a serious eye-roll when I showed my purchase to him, but I am still enthused about them!

I am a demanding house guest.  "Teach me how to change a diaper!"  "Take me to a fancy restaurant!"  "We must go to Garrett Popcorn!"  That's pretty much what I told Anika before I visited, and all my wishes came true.  Changing a diaper wasn't as bad as I thought, and Garrett Popcorn was the best popcorn I've ever had.  Win-win.  I got the "Chicago Mix," which is caramel corn mixed with cheese popcorn.  Sounds gross, but it's actually delicious if you love a sweet-salty combination (as I, obviously, am fond of).

I finally got my act together and started eating a healthy lunch at work.  Not that my peanut butter on toast was unhealthy in a burger-n-fries kind of way, but it wasn't exactly nutrient-laden.  For about a week now I've been bringing salad to work in what I consider to be my big "green bowl."  Loads of arugula are topped with veggies and fruit at home - cucumber, tomatoes, strawberries, etc. - and when it's time to chow down, I top it with avocado, walnuts, and dressing.  Cutting an avocado at work is as messy as it sounds, but fortunately my office isn't too far from a sink.  Has anyone tried those avocado slicers?  Do they work?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Normally I split up my vacationy posts into multiple entries, but I don't have that kind of time this week, so you'll just have to deal with all the excitement in one post!  I flew into Chicago on Friday night and landed around midnight Chicago-time.  I creeped into Anika's place hoping not to wake the baby.  That would not be a good way to introduce myself to her.

Anika had an awesome itinerary planned, and we had lots of great things to do.  Our first adventure was heading to the French Market on Saturday to walk and have lunch.  Belgian fries with harissa mayo dipping sauce were a big hit with both of us.

The apricot puree we fed Arianna, however...

Was not quite a hit.  Ha.  It was so obvious she just didn't care for them.  (Babies are not subtle)

She did care for this bouncy chair, though.  Bouncing is heaven in Arianna's world right now.

We made some pea puree for Arianna's next meal, which was much more successful than the apricots.  To each her own, Arianna, to each her own.

Little A does not really liked confined spaces.  She happily enjoyed a few moments in her stroller here.

But those moments did not last long, because she is very particular about what she wants.  Out, NOW!

She is such a fun, happy baby.  Justin and Anika are such lucky parents!

And I dare say Arianna is lucky to have Justin and Anika too!  I had a great time in Chicago - thanks to the Steffens for a wonderful trip!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Five Things

I wish I could say that fun things were keeping me away from the blog this week.  I wish I could say I'd been in Chicago playing with this beautiful baby all week.  Unfortunately, I will say that I've been working all week and haven't had the time to post the pictures from my all-too-short Chicago visit.  There are quite a few of this little munchkin.  (But there are also quite a few where I am holding her and you can see the fear in her eyes.)

Oh popcorn, how I love thee.  Did you know that microwave popcorn bags are a bit of a hoax?  Popcorn just pops without being in that slightly metal-laced bag (which makes no sense but that's what I always assumed it was)!  You can pop it in a plain paper bag, or you can do what we do, which is pop it in a large ceramic serving bowl and just put a plate on top as the lid.  It takes a long time to pop - maybe 6 minutes - and the bowl will be VERY hot when you are done, but you have perfectly popped popcorn for a fraction of the cost of the bags.  We spray canola oil spray on it and then sprinkle kosher salt (if you're John) or sugar (if you're me) to season it.  Or feel free to melt some butter over top, sprinkle with Parmesan, or top with cayenne pepper.  I highly recommend you try this if you are a popcorn lover!

I resisted for quite some time, and I've now caved.  Everyone was raving about the new Heidi Swanson cookbook, and I snagged myself a copy last week on Amazon.  This has been my nighttime reading lately, so that I can dream of millet muffins and baked oatmeal (I just finished the breakfast chapter, obviously).  It is one of the most beautiful and inspiring cookbooks I've ever seen.  The recipes are vegetarian and focused on using healthier grains and sweeteners.  I am eager to give the recipes a whirl to see if they taste as amazing as they look.

Ugh, spice shelf, I am not very proud of you.  It isn't pretty, but it does the job.  Maybe one day I'll put them all in nice jars that are hand-labeled, but for now they are a mish-mash of different bottles of all shapes and sizes.  What I am grateful for however, is this spice step that allows my spices to be much more visible than they would be all jumbled in a corner.  My mom took me to the store to buy one a couple years back when she saw my horrid spice display.  I can't even imagine how mad this spot would look without it.

Harper has had a few beds since we got her, but we recently go this old dog bed out of storage to see if she liked it.  Does she ever!  She loves to plop in it day or night, and I swear she tries to look as cute as possible when she's in it.  Doesn't she look like a doll?  So glad I get to come home from work and see her wagging tail every day.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread

Zucchini bread is healthy, right?  I mean it has zucchini in it, so it must be.  Sorry to get all Jessica Seinfeld on you here.  I merely set out to make some zucchini bread while I was inspired by the fresh (and cheap!) zucchini at the market, and instead I made something that is bread in name-only but cake at heart.

There are zucchini bread recipes of all kinds on the web, but why bother making any other kind once you know you can make one with not one, but two types of chocolate?

I brought most of this loaf into work, and I left a Post-It explaining what it was - lest someone find a teeny piece of something green and wonder how that got into their rich chocolate cake.  This zucchini bread disappeared faster than if I had just called it brownies!

People probably allowed themselves seconds because they felt they might not get home in time to have a good dinner (hey, that happens at law firms), and they might as well have some zucchini, at least.  I fully endorse this backwards thinking because this "bread" is worth eating and savoring wholeheartedly, ditching guilt on the side.  It tastes like a decadent brownie and the buttermilk, oil, and zucchini all keep it from getting dried out.  Get yourself in the kitchen immediately and whip up this easy and delicious zucchini bread - I promise it will be the best one you've ever had.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Bread
From Baking Bites

2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/3 cups vegetable oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 medium zucchini shredded (done easily with a food processor), about 1 1/4 cups
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 8x5 or 9x5 loaf pan with butter.  Set aside.

In a large bowl sift together 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  In a medium bowl whisk together 2 large eggs, 1/3 cup vegetable oil, 3/4 cups buttermilk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Add your wet ingredients to your dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Add in shredded zucchini and 1 cup chocolate chips and slowly mix it into the batter until incorporated.  Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out of the center clean or with a few moist crumbs - about 50-60 minutes.  Cool in pan and invert over a cookie rack to extricate from the pan before slicing.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Five Things

I'm off to Chicago this weekend to visit some friends and remind myself why I don't live somewhere that is 90 degrees in the summer.  Here are five of my favorite things for this week - brought to you from a Norther California 70 degree day.

I was in between books this week and I decided to read this cookbook, given to me by John's mom, as my bedtime reading.  Consider it a Cliff's Notes version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking - one that is much more readable in a week.  It has a bunch of base recipes and slight adaptations for when you change meats or vegetables.  It's a great way to further your understanding of French cooking and to inspire you to seek more precise methods to your everyday cooking.

At the Mendocino craft fair we also picked up this nifty device.  Don't know what it is?  I didn't at first either. It's a garlic keeper that is supposed to help your garlic last longer by keeping it away from light and still allowing air to circulate.  I'll let you know how it works when I get a better idea.  For now, I just like the idea of having a place for all my garlic.

And lots of garlic I do have.  Garlic is in season, and I picked up this bunch at the market last weekend.  Needless to say, I was enamored by the fact that the stems remained attached.  Too bad I have to remove them to fit into my garlic keeper!

I finally get it!  The nuts in oatmeal thing came to be a bit late.  I had sliced almonds leftover from a recipe and have been throwing them into my oatmeal all week.  I love the crunch and flavor they add to my morning routine.

In Boonville I picked up these gorgeous bowls at one of my favorite stores of all time, Farmhouse Mercantile.  They have a slightly rough aesthetic now that the owner said would smooth out through use.  I wonder if they were intended to be used with sour cream and onion corn I may or may not have just done.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011


All the Boons down in Boonville are right up my alley.  Part of the fun of going to Mendocino is our stop in Boonville on the way there and back.  We remembered it being at the halfway point, so we envisioned eating lunch there on the drive out.  Oops - it's almost all the way to Mendocino.  Who knew?  (Google Maps might, for instance.)

I had the freshest-tasting chicken salad sandwich I've ever tasted on the drive home, though.  John had a great ham and cheese.  All of the restaurants on their tiny strip focus on organic and local ingredients.  You can see why I love it there.

Last time we traveled to Boonville they were on the brink of opening up this ice cream place, but hadn't gotten there yet.

Paysanne Ice Cream was open this time, and needless to say, we got ice cream on the way there and the way back.

I'm a sucker for good ice cream, especially from a place that uses clips and ribbon to display the day's flavors.  I got lemon cookie ice cream on the trip out and vanilla on the way back.  Incredible.

I also had to try a cookie to make sure they were as good as they looked.  They are!

I didn't succumb to my newest weakness - chocolate coated sunflower seeds - that they had for sale.  Small victories, right?

I love the idea of hanging buckets from the wall with striped ribbon to hold fresh homemade candy.

In case you want to read while you're there, they have some magazines available.

Harper gave me the evil eye when I wouldn't share my ice cream.  Sorry, sweetie, even a mother's love has limits.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heath Bar Cookies

I have the most unfortunate seat in the office.  A seat located directly opposite the secretary who is the keeper-of-the-candy.  Every morning she refreshes the candy bowl with fresh candy, and the selection varies every couple of weeks.  This isn't the cheap stuff like peppermints and the like.  It's Kit Kats and Snickers bars and Butterfingers.  I can literally see the candy bowl ALL DAY LONG.

A few weeks back the secretary had mini heath bars - something I was happy not knowing existed.  These little suckers were delicious and addictive.  It's a bad sign when everyone in the office learns your candy bar of choice. When you are eating all the Heath bars out of the bowl every day, you know you have a problem.

Right around the time the mini Heath bar stash ran out, I decided to make these incredible cookies.  If you like toffee, you will adore these guys.  They are chocked full of plain toffee pieces and chopped up Heath bars.  Because toffee's perfect compliment is nuts, 1/2 cup of walnuts are tossed in for good measure.

I love toffee and I love cookies, so these morsels rank pretty highly in my list of Best Things on the Planet.  Next to John and Harper.  Behind John and Harper, of course.  It's best if I don't say how far behind.

Heath Bar Cookies
Adapted from Simply Recipes

2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda* (see note)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package Heath toffee bits
3 Heath bars, chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda.  In a separate bowl combined chopped walnuts, chopped Heath bars, and toffee bits.  

With a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar together for two minutes on medium speed.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then beat in vanilla.  Alternate between mixing in 1/3 of the flour mixture and 1/3 of the Heath mixture until just blended. (Adding chunks to a stand mixture will cause it to work a little harder, but it works fine.)

Refrigerate your batter for at least 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and place 1-inch dough balls 3 inches apart to avoid them spreading into one another.

Bake 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown.  Cool on cookie sheets for a few minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. 

*Many commentors on the Simply Recipes post complained of flat cookies and suggest substituting baking powder.  Well, I used baking powder and still had flat cookies, so I'm not sure there is a solution.  The depth of the cookies is inconsequential once you taste these beauties, anyway.  
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