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-

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chocolate Icebox Cake, Take 2

Last Thanksgiving I pulled out my recipe for chocolate icebox cake. We hadn't even been in the new house a full two months and I had just finished repairing the cabinetry and trim and repainting (3 coats plus primer!) the kitchen, entryway, family room, living room, dining room, hallway, and Munch's bedroom. I had unpacked some of our basic kitchen supplies, but had yet to tackle the stacks of boxes in every room of the house. I hadn't yet unearthed half my wardrobe and the majority of my shoes and hoped they'd be found before the cold weather started. Not only that, but I had done all that work on the house late into the evenings AFTER a full day teaching kindergarten. Those first months of school are always the most busy and tiring part of the year because the kids are still SO young at that point and then I even had report cards and parent-teacher conferences as well.

I was nowhere near attaining a comfort level in my new kitchen, nor did I have the confidence (or tools!) in it yet to just whip things up at a moment's notice. An icebox cake, requiring only the effort of my pulling out the mixer to whip the cream and corralling a five year old to put it together, was a perfect solution for a dessert to bring to dinner at my parents'. The cake was a beautiful success- luscious layers of dark chocolate wafers sandwiched between lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream, which after an overnight refrigeration had softened into thin layers of "cake".

Munch and I had assembled the cake in my favorite cake carrier from my old Williams Sonoma days. It comes with a springform round that clamps onto a stainless steel serving platter with an acrylic lid and carrying handle that fastens the whole thing shut. It's perfect for any type of cake that requires a springform, yet since the serving platter is already incorporated into the design, I no longer end up losing track of my springform bases when I transport desserts. The whole contraption has seen better days though, and there's now a crack in the domed lid. I'm used to its quirks though, but had forgotten that Munch wasn't.

We had arrived at my parents' in a bit of a rush and I remember feeling harried. Munch proudly announced that she would bring the cake in, and as she is so responsible and the cake was in the backseat with her, I didn't think twice. I was steps away from the car when I heard a terrible clatter- and turned around to find the cake upended onto the ground! The carrying handle had jiggled loose and slipped off the cake carrier, sending the dessert, its base, and lid in various directions. Our beautiful layered icebox cake was now a sloppy mess on my parents' gravel driveway. My exhaustion hit me immediately and for once, I had no words of comfort for poor Munch who was horrified at the mistake. My extreme silence left her even more unsettled and within moments, I think we were both in tears in that driveway.

Fast forward a few more months. The kitchen has been unpacked AND its contents rearranged after using it a while. As I'd been assigned to bring dessert to my sister's tomorrow, I figured it was time to revisit the icebox cake. Once again, assembling the layers went quickly and smoothly. Munch even had the chance to operate the mixer and watch the cream as it thickened to soft peaks. The cake is now sitting overnight in the refrigerator, waiting to be taken to lunch tomorrow. And Munch's words of wisdom this time around? "Carry the cake plate from the BOTTOM!"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Planning Ahead...

"Oh the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss is a popular gift for graduates. I didn't really think much of it though until this week when a parent of a former student brought her copy to me and asked me to sign it- for her first grader! Turns out she is collecting signatures from her daughter's teachers every year to be given as a high school graduation gift. Now THAT is planning ahead! And so much more special than just gifting the book. I enjoyed writing a note in its pages, thinking ahead to the person this student would become. And I immediately went out and got a copy for Munch to begin doing the same. Now that I've posted this, I wonder how many copies will be passing through my classroom over the next few weeks...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Navajo Tacos

Dinner tonight was Navajo tacos, a favorite recipe, that I haven't made since the move. It's basically tacos on Indian fry bread. I remember my first taste of fry bread many years ago when a student's parent of Native American descent made it for a cultural heritage day. How could you go wrong with fried dough? Yum! So I was glad to come across a fairly straightforward recipe for fry bread a few years ago. It's delicious plain, as a "shell" for taco fillings, or drizzled with honey, like a sopiapilla. What I am especially loving lately is that Munch is definitely eating like an older kid now. Her serving sizes are more consistent and easier to plan for and she can serve herself in the kitchen (so I can sit down at the table sooner AND stay there even when she wants seconds!)

Indian Fry Bread
3 1/2 c. flour (plus more for rolling dough)
2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 c. warm water

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the warm water and mix thoroughly to create a loose, sticky dough. Set dough aside to rest 10-15 minutes. With floured hands, knead the dough a few turns and set aside to rest a few more minutes. Heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan. Meanwhile, divide dough into 12 equal pieces and roll out on a floured board. Fry until golden on both sides and drain on a paper towel. Serve these right away! Makes 12 approx 6-inch dia. rounds.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fashion Plate

I just love flipping through kids' clothing catalogs- Chasing Fireflies, Mini Boden, Garnet Hill for girls- and so does Munch. She circles all her favorite outfits in the catalogs and jots notes all around them. So, just when I think that I'm depriving poor Munch of a fabulous, up-to-date wardrobe due to our limited budget, she reminds me it's not about what you wear, it's how you wear it! This clearance rack,$8 plaid dress I brought home from Target made her day and inspired this winning combination. How I wish I could bottle that attitude and confidence!