Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sugar Cookies

Yummmmm...chewy, sweet, with just a hint of crispness at the edges. I love these sugar cookies. We made a batch today while watching the Olympics- Munch is absolutely hooked. She stayed up for the entire Opening Ceremony, reading off all the names of the countries and commenting on their outfits and population statistics as I fought off yawns. I think she'd park herself on the couch munching these sookies for the next several days if I'd let her!

Sugar Cookies
2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 c. sugar, plus 1/3 c.
2 oz. cream cheese, room temp.
6 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c. vegetable oil
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbs. milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Whisk together the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and melted butter at medium-low speed until smooth. Add the vegetable oil, egg, vanilla, and milk and beat to combine. Add the dry ingredients a few spoonfuls at a time, scraping down the bowl occasionally.
Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough and roll gently into balls. Roll dough balls into additional 1/3 c. sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Using the bottom of a glass, press dough balls gently to flatten slightly. Sprinkle with additional sugar and bake until edges start to tan but cookies are still pale and puffy, about 9-10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Makes about 3 dozen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Opening day of the county fair finally arrived and Munch's Dairy Day category was among the first to be presented and judged. We wrapped Munch's cheesecake up really well for transport. She chose a deep blue platter which gave the cheesecake a really nice red, white, and blue presentation. Having never participated in something like this before, we didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, there was a LOT of waiting. That was easily remedied with an ice cream topped funnel cake!

More waiting, and finally all the entries, 18 in the junior cheesecake division, were in place-

The judges reviewed the entries, tasted, and deliberated-

Participants were given ribbons for entering, but Munch's name was not called. Turns out she placed 6th in her category!

Her "prize-winning" cheesecake-

And the prize check that later arrived in the mail-

Monday, July 2, 2012


Now that we are living much closer to San Francisco, I've been trying to get Munch into the city more often. We recently visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The ticket booth was not yet open, so we stopped into Peet's for a latte and a cup of hot chocolate, as it was a typical gray, rainy San Francisco summer morning-

It was fun sitting at a cafe table on the corner and watching, hearing, and feeling all the busy-ness around us.

Once inside the museum (kids 12 years and under are free when accompanied by an adult!), we enjoyed the twinkling lights that hung over the entry. As we ascended the stairs, we could see that the lights actually formed a sort of video screen. One gallery had a lounge area with an interactive presentation where Munch could explore artists and styles, create her own artwork, and even email it so someone. The presentation, based on artist Roy de Forest's Country Dog Gentlemen, is also on the museum's website-

To prepare Munch for our visit, we had talked briefly during the drive over about modern art, the variety of media she would see, and I had her bring a notepad. Munch paused in several galleries to make little sketches of things she saw, but this portrait of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera inspired her to stop and draw for a long time-

The museum actually has a great education center, which we didn't come to until after exploring most of the second floor. However, I'd recommend that families stop in there first to pick up a few Family Guides or a MOMA treasure hunt, which contain fun activities to help keep kids focused and thinking about the artwork during their visit. There are even activities to keep adults entertained during their museum visit, many which have been designed by other guests (such as photograph the strangest item to be checked in to the coat check). Munch also chose to try an art hunt in which she donned a mask and adopted the persona of another character to try to find artwork in the galleries that might appeal to that imaginary character.

Before leaving, we sat and enjoyed this beauty, probably our favorite of the day, Collection by Robert Rauschenberg-

Monday, June 18, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow? Update

Our mid-summer garden. I am amazed at how happy the tomatoes are and never expected to grow as tall as me! My carrots and beets did not do so well, but I might try for a fall crop when the intense heat of summer has passed. Lettuces never turned up either, so we'll try a fall planting of those too. The corn is starting to set and we are getting a zucchini ever couple of days. The blueberries seem to be finishing up- we got a nice big harvest of those. So, for a first time vegetable garden, I'm pretty pleased and at least have a better sense now of what grows well and where and what our summers will be like for future planning!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hello Summer

A gorgeous day in the Bay Area, so we headed out to the Bay Area Discovery Museum with Munch's cousin. At 6 and 7, they are closer to the older side of the kids that visit, but both still had so much fun building, creating, and exploring. When we got home, there was more playtime and bouncing on the trampoline before a delicious dinner of white chicken chili, cornbread, and for dessert, S'mores bars!

S'mores bars- super easy to make!
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
12 oz. chocolate chips (the recipe calls for milk chocolate for authentic s'more flavor, but I prefer bittersweet!
4 cups mini marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Mix well and reserve 1 cup of the crumb mixture for the topping. Press the remaining crumbs into a lightly greased 13x9 baking pan. Bake the crust for 10-12 minutes, or until golden. Sprinkle the top of the crust evenly with the chocolate chips, then return the pan to the oven for 2 minutes. Remove the pan and turn on the broiler. While the broiler heats, spread the chocolate into an even layer over the crust. Sprinkle the marshmallows over the chocolate, pressing them lightly, and then top with the reserved crumb mixture. Broil about 2 inches from the heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute, watching closely, until the marshmallows are puffed and golden. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Artist(s) in Residence

As much as I loved the idea of a detached garage at our old house (you know, that whole out-in-the-country multiple building thing) opening to the alley, I didn't like the idea of schelpping all the way out there to do fix-it projects. Bonus points to our new house for having an attached garage! The problem? We can't get a car in there without a) blocking the second fridge, washer/dryer, and workbench or b) being blocked in by the car sitting out in the driveway.
So in the meantime, I've gotten busy with a number of furniture repainting projects (yay, utility sink!), and with Munch's cousin here for a sleepover this weekend, pulled out the easels so they could have some art time. Each of the girls got to choose a canvas and set up a paper plate palette of paints (say THAT three times, quickly!). I also gave them a jarful of assorted brushes, with the reminder to switch brushes when they wanted a new color so that their paint wouldn't get runny, from rinsing, or muddy.

Both girls started out with bright paintings of rainbows. As I dug through my various supplies, I also found palette knives, sponges, paper towel tubes, and other odds and ends which cousin D. eventually experimented with. She blotted paint to create a soft, smudgy effect, dipped the tube into paint to print designs over the painting, and played with scraping away paint with the palette knife. Now that the paint is dry, I think I'll give the girls additional art materials so that they can try adding collage elements or drawn elements to their paintings, followed by another round of painting. It will be interesting to see how their artwork evolves.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


After an early dismissal from an all-day teachers' workshop at a local university, I swung by my sister-in-law's to pick up Munch. It was a beautiful, warm day and since I'd be heading out to volunteer at the high school later (and missing family dinner and bedtime), I thought that maybe we'd grab a cool treat on the way home. When I arrived to pick her up, Munch was quiet and moody, which I've been seeing a lot of lately. Turns out my slightly early arrival had interfered with their tentative plans to pick up Slurpees at 7-11. Munch proceeded to pout, stomp, mope, and sigh loudly as she packed up to leave, all the while not saying a word to me- gee, can't wait until she's a teenager! As we got into the car, I made the quick decision to tell her that I HAD been planning on a treat and that her attitude pretty much eliminated that possibility. Munch burst into tears and apologized, so I got out of the car to give her a hug and we got on our way.
As we got closer to home, we stopped at the library. I'd been meaning to get library cards for the both of us and we had a few extra minutes. I also realized as we were parking that an ice cream shop was just across the way, and maybe we could still stop in. As it turned out, filling out an application for her own library card and getting a stretchy bracelet to attach it to lifted Munch's spirits considerably. She happily skipped to the car, holding my hand, and clutching her books. Boy, was I glad I didn't mention anything about ice cream earlier! Because as much as I wanted the enjoyment of taking her out for a treat, I realized that Munch had learned several lessons that afternoon about her attitude, accepting disappointment, and moving on to enjoy other experiences. So I gave myself a pat on the back for making the right parenting choice- but I still really wanted that ice cream!

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Friday, May 18, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Not even a month later and it's amazing to see the growth in the vegetable bed! I've decided, despite the dubious looks and warnings that I've planted things too closely, that I really like the "square foot" method. I appreciate having a straightforward "system" that feels manageable and knowing that I can plant more squares as I am ready without having to do everything at once. I added a few tomato seedlings which just took off in the rich soil as soon as the weather warmed up. The corn is coming up, as are the snap peas and beets. I planted a few more seeds of the vegetables where I found empty spaces. I think I'll let the seedlings grow a bit larger before transplanting them. None of my lettuce seeds survived past the barest hint of a seedling- I think those really hot days we got a couple of weeks ago did them in, so I sowed more of those seeds too. Next steps are to fence in the veggie beds so the dogs are no longer tramping through there, and probably to make cages to protect the newly planted seeds from birds- I've noticed they've gotten more numerous and noisy as the weather has warmed- probably advertising to all their friends where the yummies are! Next month, I really should get the vertical supports in for the melons and squash- people are already pretty skeptical about the fact that you can train those large fruiting vines UPWARDS, but it supposedly works!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Green Thumb

Spring is definitely here and my garden tasks are keeping me from blogging as often as I'd like. Our new home came with a couple of large raised beds already in place as well as another on the corner of our yard outlined with a concrete curb. My dad spent several days helping me prepare all the beds, loosening the soil, and adding lots of compost. The result is a beautifully light and fluffy soil in which I finally started planting vegetable and herb seeds and seedlings- something I always wanted to do at the previous house, but never got around to, beyond a few tomato plants. I also came across "square-foot gardening" and thought I'd give it a try- I do love anything that is so clearly explained and looks so organized! The beds are now marked off every foot with twine and I've followed the book's recommendations for planting intensively. I like the way that the system automatically assists with crop rotation, as you never leave a square empty. Once harvested, the square is immediately replanted.

So, what's in the vegetable beds? A couple plants each of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and brussel sprouts. About a dozen squares of corn, 4 tomato plants, a couple of squares of beets, carrots, snap peas, and edamame beans, which each contain about 9-16 plants, a couple each of cantaloupe, winter squash, pumpkins, and zucchini plants. Also a few squares of onions and nasturtiums. I try to take a picture every week or so, because with the pattern of rain and warm sun we've recently had, everything has been growing quickly! For the times when I'm not quite ready to replant, I've also picked up some buckwheat seeds to use as a cover crop.

I also have a few large pots containing citrus trees, several strawberry plants, lettuces, and (yum!) lots of blueberry shrubs! Next step is to get a compost or worm bin started, and THEN maybe I can tackle the front yard and all the "pretty" (vs. edible) landscaping!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Favorite Flashbacks: Who Will Help Me Eat This Bread?

revisiting my favorite past posts...

Who Will Help Me Eat This Bread?

It's Little Red Hen week in my kindergarten, which means we're making bread- lots of it. Every day, I take a small group and we mix up a batch of Irish Soda bread. It's an easy recipe- doesn't require too many ingredients, isn't off-putting to picky eaters (some soda bread recipes call for raisins and caraway seeds), and the measurements for the various ingredients are simple to divide between several kids. I forget how much I like this recipe (it's so good toasted and slathered with jam) until I start baking a loaf every night for a week. Munch is curious about the dough I keep carting home, so we may be making some this weekend for her to taste!

Irish Soda Bread
4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the buttermilk and stir until thoroughly incorporated (no dry crumbles remain) and dough begins to form a ball. Turn dough into a greased pan and bake for approximately 40 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a cooling rack.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lemon Meringue Tart

One of the nice things since our move is that we live SO much closer to our families. My parents popped in this afternoon and I invited them to stay for dinner. Thank goodness, because I would have otherwise frittered the rest of the day away on the couch reading Catching Fire and checking Facebook. While they napped watched a little golf and DiY Network, I whipped up a lemon meringue tart for after dinner. I chose this recipe as an alternative to a traditional lemon tart because it uses fewer eggs and I was down to my last handful (time for another trip to Costco!) I know that I'm beginning to feel more at home in this kitchen as putting this tart together went quickly and smoothly, with all ingredients and tools easily found.
After mixing up my pastry dough and putting it in the freezer to firm up, I got to work on the filling- light meringue folded into a lemon custard.

The lightly baked tart shell ready for filling-

The last slice of tart-the recipe says it serves eight but really, it made just enough for four adults and one Munch-

for the pastry crust:
1 c. flour
3 tbsp. sugar
pinch of salt
6 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
approx. 2 tbsp. ice water

2 eggs, separated
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

powdered sugar, to sift over finished tart

For the pastry crust, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. water over the mixture. Using a fork, mix gently until it begins to form a rough, shaggy mass. Drizzle a second tbsp. of water over the crumbs and stir again. Continue adding water, just a few drops at a time, until the dough begins to come together. Knead the dough gently a few turns to incorporate all the bits of dough and pat into a disk. Wrap dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate approximately 30 min.
For the filling, use a mixer to beat the egg yolks with 2 tbsp. sugar on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 tsp. lemon juice for the meringue and stir the remainder into the egg yolk mixture. Transfer mixture to a saucepan and add the butter. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. Strain the filling into a bowl and chill until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured board, roll out the chilled pastry dough into an 11-inch circle. transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Press the dough into the tart pan evenly along the bottom and sides of pan and trim away any excess. Prick the pastry all over with a fork then press a sheet of aluminum foil firmly over the surface to keep the dough from shrinking as it bakes. Bake until pastry crust is light golden brown- remove the foil and start checking the dough at 15 minutes. Set pastry crust aside to cool.
Using a mixer, beat the egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and gradually add the 1/4 c. sugar and 1/2 tsp. lemon juice. Beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Fold the chilled lemon-egg yolk mixture into the egg whites and pour into the prepared tart shell.
Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 18 min. until the filling is light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Girls Day in Chinatown

Prior to the move, Munch and I would typically stick to the East Bay when exploring. But now that we're closer to San Francisco, we have a whole new area to discover. In the middle of two days of forecasted rain and showers during Spring Break, we pulled on our rainboots and grabbed our umbrellas and headed to SF Chinatown, figuring that the rain would keep most tourists people away. A trip into the city meant we could also visit my aunt and uncle before they left for Wisconsin, so on the way we stopped in the Richmond district to bring them some char siu bao, baked bbq pork buns. Lung Fung makes our family's favorite. As they are "Lolo Owl's" favorite, we also grabbed a few cocktail buns and a small chicken hand pie that Munch wanted to taste.

At my aunt and uncle's house, Munch attempted to capture her favorite cat, Annie, and have a mini fashion show. My aunt had made Munch the most darling crocheted hats-

Other than a lot of roadwork, Munch and I had a fairly easy drive to Chinatown. I realized that other than driving past the dragon gates, I had never been for a visit either.

We walked uphill several blocks to find our first stop-a bakery to pick up some dumplings- Munch's favorite har gow, of course- and what I had read on yelp were really delicious gai bao- buns filled with chicken, boiled egg, a bit of chinese sausage, and a whole shiitake mushroom-

Just up the street I saw the sign for Golden Gate Bakery. Chowhound discussion boards have been buzzing about this place for years- are they open or closed, their frequent vacations, the passing of their pastry maker, the long lines, and their AMAZING dan tat. Walking closer, I saw that the bakery was open (hooray!) and the line was just a couple of people out the door (even better!). Munch and I quickly joined the queue for our custard tarts, making sure to get a few extra for Grandpa-

Their moon cakes looked beautiful too, but I had no idea what the differences were, so Munch and I quickly chose one filled with lotus seed paste and an egg yolk-

By now Munch and I were carrying two pink bakery boxes and were hungry, so I asked a young couple behind me where their favorite bubble tea place was. They directed me to the Sweetheart Cafe a couple of blocks away, where Munch ordered a soy mango smoothie and I had a fresh taro smoothie with coconut milk. Service was strangely slow, but the drinks eventually came out and Munch and I enjoyed them with a variety of the treats we had gathered.

Bellies full, Munch and I were ready to shop. She picked out a bright pink parasol from one store, we wandered a few alleyways before stumbling upon the fortune cookie factory, then we stopped in a market to pick up some snacks to take home where Munch found the most adorable panda cookies-

On our way back to the car, we came to the shop behind St. Mary's Cathedral where I found a children's prayer book for Munch. We ducked into the church for a few minutes to rest and admire the stained glass windows while Munch read her new book and practiced the "Our Father". I was surprised that Munch mentioned not seeing the holy water as we came in, but she found a bubbling fountain in the foyer and made the sign of the cross as we exited the church.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Incredible Jesus

On Easter Sunday, I took Munch to church for the first time in our new neighborhood/parish. She's been to mass a handful of times before and I have emphasized the connection to Jesus during the holidays, but I've been waiting to introduce religion in a more purposeful way until she was old enough to understand it better. So when I decided to sneak in an afternoon snooze and left her alone with a handful of supplies and her impressionable imagination, this is what Munch came up with- attached to a door hanger even!

I'm not exactly sure why Jesus resembles the Incredible Hulk, but being that Munch has probably never heard of him (I feel old), it's probably totally a coincidence...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring Break

It's Spring Break and Munch, AudioDad, and I are all home for the week. As we've been running around doing things with family for the last few days, I took advantage of our first quiet morning to slip out of bed while everyone was still asleep (what else is new?) to make these-

When Munch finally got up, she invited her two friends along for breakfast-

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Flashback Favorites: The Icing on the Cake

Revisiting some of my favorite past posts. I LOVE this recipe for all the lighter cakes of spring!

The Icing on the Cake

I like frosting, really I do. When it's just right, it makes a simple cake something truly special. Some people love all kinds, no matter how sugary- even the shortening based ones from the supermarket bakery. They're also usually the ones who as kids, ate all the frosting off their cupcakes and tossed the actual cake in the trash! I know that my very best friend will always want a corner piece of a sheet cake- the one that's essentially half cake, half frosting- if there's a big ol' honking icing rose on the top of it, so much the better. I'm the type that's often hopeful about the frosting, but end up leaving most of it on the plate. I want to like it, but am often disappointed.

My latest challenge has been to find a nice, simple vanilla frosting for when I decide, at the last minute, to whip up a batch of cupcakes or a rectangular cake (you know, the one in the 9x13 pan, that you end up snacking on, one little bit at a time, all weekend?) I haven't been happy with most of the frostings I've tried that use butter and powdered sugar- they're usually too sweet for my tastes. But I'm also too lazy to try anything more involved (meaning, a stovetop as is called for in some frosting recipes). But this weekend, as I rooted through my cupboard, I came across a recipe for white chocolate butter cream frosting on a package of Bakers' white chocolate squares. It turned out to be exactly what I've been searching for- easy, a subtle white chocolate flavor, and more interesting than "plain vanilla", which surprised me because I'm not much of a white chocolate fan. This will definitely be my "go-to" frosting from now on!

White Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting (enough for 1-9x13 pan, double the recipe if you're stacking 2 round layers)
3 oz. white chocolate
3-4 tbs. heavy whipping cream
1 stick unsalted butter (mine was still a bit chilled from the fridge, but not rock-hard)-cut into pieces
1/2-3/4 c. powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla

Break white chocolate into pieces into a microwave-safe bowl. Add the cream and heat at 50% power for 30 seconds, stir, and heat another 30 seconds. Stir until white chocolate is melted and smooth (heating for a few seconds more at a time as needed). Stir to cool mixture slightly. Combine butter, 1/2 c. powdered sugar, white chocolate mixture, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed until light and fluffy, adding more powdered sugar as needed to make desired consistency.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Favorite Flashbacks: Dinner at Ubuntu, Napa

Revisiting some of my favorite past posts...

Dinner at Ubuntu, Napa

I love Ubuntu in downtown Napa. My first visit was with AudioDad in late winter. I had heard so much about Ubuntu's seasonal menu. AudioDad didn't quite know what to expect when I told him it was a vegetarian restaurant (and actually, all their dishes can be prepared vegan). But we both loved it and I was really looking forward to going back, especially because I couldn't take many photos- much too dark! So when I recently got together with the girls for dinner, I suggested Ubuntu and was thrilled that we ordered one of EACH! dish on their small plates "garden" menu- "ten dishes inspired by the beautiful bounty of biodynamics, seasonality, and creativity"
our amuse- baby carrotsa starter of glazed cumin nuts (replacing their popular lavender almonds)- at first the cumin seemed odd with the sweetness of the glaze, but they quickly became quite addictive!

pane carasau-Sardinian flatbread with truffled pecorino, early summer leaves and flowers, soil (a really earthy tasting sprinkle of mushrooms possibly?)my favorite dish of the night- a clear cataloupe and sage gazpacho, blackened melon, "rat tail" radish, aloe vera, and spearmint marinated beets and whipped sheep's milk cheese, purslane, caramelized apricots, lavender congee, noyauxsteamed bun with onions and wild plumsone fo the more interesting dishes-savory chocolate financier, smoken pecan, estrella family chevrette, over green tomato mosaic, lemon balmrancho gordo yellow bean stew- you'd never know there wasn't meat in this dish- it's so heartypasta with assorted squash, fennel fiore, lemony carrot top brothroasted potatoes and cucumbers, lady's slipper, horseradishox-heart carrot salad, nasturtium panade, ras el hanout, crushed cherriesarbuckle grits with farm eggs, goat's whey. fennel, strawberry soffritto
Then dessert (again, we went ahead and ordered one of each dish!)...warm white chocolate lavender cookies and strauss milktcho chocolate and smoked cherries, noyaux ice cream, tarragon, cocoa nib tuilefrog hollow peach and corn pudding, popcorn streusel (sooo good- we liked it so much, our server brought us an extra bowlful with our check), blackberries, goat's milk ice creamslow strawberries and torn brioche with basil, verbena & long pepper ice milk, lemon curdThe only dessert I didn't photograph (surprise!)- the blueberry float with shiso soda, lime tapioca, and chamomile granita
The girls-