Monday, June 29, 2015

Aunt Gussie's Chocolate Cake

This weekend was my husband's birthday, and because he'd already had his favorite cake (we visited his parents the week prior, and his mom made it), I decided to try my hand at an old family recipe from my side. This recipe comes to us by way of a photo-text message from my mom - a recipe card, in my grandma's handwriting. I never knew my Great-Great Aunt Gussie, but it felt special to make this recipe that was hers, that my family has made for generations.
I used butter instead of shortening, because I don't tend to
buy shortening, and my mom said it was ok.
Thanks, ma!
I just realized that I forgot the baking soda. That could explain why the cake didn't rise very much. I just thought that was the style. And DAMN, I had bragged about how I followed the recipe exactly, to the T (I usually improvise)! Le sigh. I did get compliments on how dense, but not too rich, the cake was, so I guess people liked it anyway. Now I have to make it again to do it right!

A little hard to read, but it says 1 pt whipping cream, and 4
heaping tbsp cocoa.
I'd never used whipped cream as frosting before, but it was dang good! I love making whipped cream. Never buy the canned stuff anymore, because it's just too easy and delicious to make it the real way!

The final cake. Got a little sloppier on the
frosting than I'd have liked to (the parchment
paper slipped) but nobody seemed to notice. 
One tiny piece left. Perfect for breakfast cake!

This was a stupendous cake - spicy from the brown sugar, tangy from the buttermilk. The frosting is elegant and light, complementing the cake beautifully. I may make it again this weekend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Presenting: Lazy Pickles

About a week ago, I shared with you my "recipe" for Lazy Pickles. And I know. You've been sitting here waiting anxiously to see if my pickles turned out ok. Well, friends, I'm here to let you know that they did. Photo-journalism-style (aka lazy-blogging-style).

Sunday, June 14. 5:30pm.
Raw as can be. Just jarred.
And yes, the dill is from my garden.
Everything else is from the store.
Thursday, June 18. 6:30pm.
Getting a little picklier.
Thursday, June 18. 10:30pm.
I punched down the kraut.
What does that mean? 
Literally, take off the lid. Stick your fist in the jar.
Smoosh (or "punch" gently) the kraut down. This
forces the liquid out of the cabbage, putting it
underwater and also making it softer? Either way,
it is a very important thing to do.
Because science.
At this point, we went away for the weekend. The spears/romanesco looked and smelled done, so we put them in the fridge to stop the fermentation process. The rest got to chill on the counter for two more days.

Monday, June 23. 6:30pm.
I think they're done. The kraut tastes like kraut.
The pickles are briny as hell!
Check out how cloudy that brine is!
Full of fermentation and good bacteria!

Time to eat! We had a few pickle spears as a pre-dinner snack last night, and they were sour, salty, dilly, briney deliciousness. I used English Cucumbers from Trader Joe's - I think if I'd used *actual* pickling cucumbers, they might not be as soft. But I really don't mind. They're totally delicious, and I kind of like the softness...reminds me of the super old pickles from the Jewish delis I grew up with. Next time, I might use even more dill, and maybe either a firmer cucumber, or just a slightly shorter fermentation period.

And there you have it. 8 days. 5 days for the spears. Super lazy. Super delicious. PICKLES.

Some resources if you want to read more about this fun world: pickling vs fermenting, a little about sour pickles, basically self-fermented foods like kraut and pickles are medicine.

Questions about my methodology? Pickling stories of your own to share? Did eating fermented food save your life? Let's chat in the comments below!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Lazy Pickling

I'm a lazy pickler. When I decided to try making my own pickles a year or so ago, I looked up the easiest possible ways, aside from "refrigerator pickles" which are a little too quick for my tastes - I like my pickles old and briney.

I found a recipe that described self-fermentation, which sounded like something I could get behind. And it's brilliant. 

Take an assortment of pickling spices, your items to be pickled, put in a jar, and cover with water. Leave 'em on the counter for about a week, and store in the fridge. They're not shelf stable, but that's ok with me. It's so quick and easy, and I don't need to make more than. Jar of two at a time (which fit easily in the fridge) anyway. 

I also learned how to make sauerkraut, which is so easy it's embarrassing. Shred cabbage. Put in bowl. Add salt. Mush around with fingers until it's soft and wet. Stuff into jars. Leave on counter for about a week, opening the jars to stuff the cabbage back under the water level every few days. Store in fridge when it tastes sauerkrauty enough to you.

I made a few jars today in honor of the copious amount of dill that's already grown in our garden. Summer has begun. 

L-R: plain kraut, caraway kraut, whole pickles (first time!), sliced pickles with romanesco. Day 1.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


On Memorial Day morning, we spent an hour or so thinning the new plants that recently sprouted. This is a pretty typical part of the process when you start from plant more seeds than you will think will actually grow, and then a bunch pop up, and then you have to thin them out. Otherwise, the roots don't develop properly, and when you're growing things like radishes or carrots, the thing you're growing doesn't have space to grow to a decent size. SCIENCE! (ahem)

Here's an example of what I mean - the before photos are in the top row; the afters in the bottom. It's a little hard to see. I'm not a great photographer.

Will, thinning the radishes (left).
I thinned the fennel (right).
Will in the garden, thinning our beets.
The carrots (under his right hand) are not quite
ready to be thinned...they're a little too little.

And lest you think that those thinned out bits go to waste...they're totally edible, and totally delicious! We're going to have a radish, fennel and beet sprout (aka "microgreens" - they're not technically sprouts) salad with dinner tonight.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Backyard Garden 2015

We always plant in May. Usually, May is when it starts getting warm. The days are longer, and Springtime in Berkeley is a glorious time of blooms and hope. My birthday is in May, and always falls on the same weekend as the Edible Schoolyard Plant Sale - two things that combine for a relaxing birthday weekend of planning and planting. This will be our 4th season.

I like writing about gardening. It's helpful for me to track progress; I like looking back at early photos and seeing how our little plant babies have grown. I like being able to share how our plants are doing with other gardeners (can I call myself a gardener?), and I like trying to find words to describe the magic and wonder of planting things in the ground that later become food. It's pretty special.

And so, a few weeks late, here's a little bit about what we've planted this year. Once again, we hit up a combination of the Edible Schoolyard and Berkeley Horticulture. And this year, we decided to experiment with mulch! It's been such a dry season, and California's in a pretty major drought, so I figured anything we could do to help our soil retain water would help. Plus, I hear that mulch is good for repelling pests like the snails who end up terrorizing our plants. We went with cocoa shell husk, because omg you guys it smells like chocolate. Also, it's pretty, and it wasn't expensive, and I'd never heard of it before. I like to just try things, ya know?

In this year's garden:

  • Tomatoes (5 varieties; 6 plants)
  • Beans (2 varieties; 12 plants)
  • Sugar snap peas (6 plants)
  • Lettuce (2 varieties; 3 plants)
  • Dill (6 plants)
  • Basil (6 plants)
  • Peppers (5 varieties; 10 plants)
  • Rainbow chard (6 plants)
  • Squash (2 varieties; 2 plants)
  • Beets, Carrots, Fennel and Radishes (from seed; # plants unknown)

Without further ado, the photos! 

First things first, we had to turn the soil. Which we did a lot.
And by "we" I mean mostly Will and our friend CC.
We have a planter box this year (thanks, landlord) due to the
dubious nature of planting things underground in that spot,
next to a tree that may or may not be poisonous.
Date: May 2, 2015
Soil turned. Compost added. Planter box filled.
Look how beautiful that soil looks!
Date: May 9, 2015
The plants are in the ground!
I repeat: the plants are in the ground!
Date: May 10, 2015
And then, the cocoa shell mulch! The planter box and that
patch in the front don't have mulch because that's where we
planted our seeds. Waiting until they become seedlings to
mulch 'em, because we want them to be able to break through!
Date: May 10, 2015 (my birthday!)
A week later - progress! Some of our seeds have started
sprouting, and things are looking pretty stable.
Date: May 16, 2015
About two weeks post-planting, we're getting some serious
sprout action from both the ground and the planter box.
Everything else has started shooting up, with the exception of
our poor delicata squash (top right; next to the yellow spiral).
It seems to have completely rotted out -- I'm not sure if it was
a bad plant to begin with, or if the soil and the mulch and the
watering were all just too much for it. Nothing else is rotten,
though there are a few patches of mulch that looked to be
a little moldy. We've turned off the sprinklers for now; it's
not very warm out anyway, and we might as well save water
and let things dry out a bit.
Date: May 22, 2015

And there you have it. The backyard garden, circa 2015! We did some thinning today, because as you can see, the sprouts were coming in a little thick. More on that to come. Happy gardening! What are you planting this year?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tablemakers at Kendall Jackson Winery

On Saturday night, I had the pleasure of enjoying an evening full of incredible food and wine, in the company of some truly lovely people, at Kendall Jackson Winery. The dinner was a part of something new they're calling Tablemakers, which is based on the concept that dining should be thoughtful. It doesn't have to be perfect; it should instead be about good food and good drink and good people all coming together to share in the joy of a meal. Now that's a sentiment I can get behind. I'm all about the simple, unfussy meal. Delicious ingredients presented thoughtfully, not pretentiously. Food that feels good to eat, and meals that spark conversation. And boy, did Saturday's event deliver!

Farmer Tucker with some gorgeous produce
(and our gorgeous dining area behind him)

We began with wine and a stroll through the gardens - including the lovely sensory gardens, where we plucked herbs to smell and taste as we tasted our wines. Farmer Tucker told us about the foods grown on the property, really kickstarting my summer garden drive (we'd spent the morning tilling our soil, but haven't decided what to plant yet this year). I'm especially inspired to plant peas, after snacking on fresh pea shoots that we harvested ourselves! Dining in the very garden in which our meal was grown, harvested and prepared? As our hosts said, "It doesn't get more farm-to-table than this."

I was so in awe of our beautiful surroundings and so delighted to be sipping my wine that I neglected to photograph the first half hour or so. won't see the trout caviar on oyster lettuce (holy crap I could eat this all day - OYSTER LETTUCE AND TROUT CAVIAR YOU GUYS) or pea shoot arancini or fennel "creamy cold soup whose name I've forgotten". Trust me, they were tasty.

Others in attendance were photographing like mad (which reminded me to bust out my camera), so check out the #kjexperience and #tablemakers hashtags on Twitter and Instagram and see for yourself! Luckily, our dinner menu included the wine pairings, so I can let you know what we drank as we ate :)

The gorgeous place settings. Major kudos to the design team!

First course: Seared scallop, estate carrot, fava beans, pea tendrils, celtuce, savory granola
First wine: Vintner's Reserve Pino Gris
First reaction: The scallop was perfect. Just, like, imagine the most perfect scallop on Earth. That's what it was. And the sauce was so delicious I mopped it up with the grape skin flour bread that was studded with olives. The wine was crisp and fresh and cool, a perfect counterpoint to the seared scallop.

Second course: Estate lamb loin, morel mushrooms, turnips, kale spring onion soubise
Second wine: Grand Reserve Merlot
Second reaction: Jesus. This lamb. Thank you for your sacrifice, tiny one, who was humanely raised about 200 feet from where we ate you. The lamb was perfectly cooked - and the morels were a special treat. The sauce, again, perfectly balanced. And I'm not usually a Merlot girl, but this Merlot was really great. Just sweet enough, just dry enough, and it went with the lamb like they were made for each other.

Third course: Baserri (Barinaga Ranch), Midnight Moon (Cypress Grove), Dry Jack (Vella Cheese Co)
Third wine: Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Third reaction: The cheese was a nice complement to the richness of the lamb. I'm not sure what the compotes were (I'm guessing fig) but they were lovely, as were the nuts. Of course the cab was nicely balanced, and went with the cheeses. I mean, obviously. And yes, I started to eat my cheese before I took the picture. Oops.

Dessert course: Peas n' carrots, yogurt sorbet
Dessert wine: Vintner's Reserve Late Harvest Chardonnay
Dessert reaction: The sorbet was refreshing, but the peas n' carrots was the star of dessert. That moussey situation was just right, and I probably could've gobbled up a whole lot more of it if they'd put it in front of me. Really hit the spot. I wasn't a huge fan of the Chardonnay - a little sweet for me, but that's a dessert wine for you!

Bonus course: Assorted chocolates
Bonus wine: Something magical and I don't even know what it was but it was delicious and thank you Chef for pouring it for us it was absolutely stupendous.
Bonus reaction: Always stick around to chat with your hosts, friends. Delightful conversation about gin and Chicago and wine and gardening and why Northern California is the best. I mean, it is.

We left with a goody bag that included two bottles of wine, a corkscrew and a copy of A Man and His Mountain...and thanks to the generosity of Farmer Tucker, Will and I also left with a giant box of gorgeous produce. Now we just have to think of some amazing ways to use it! Any ideas? Hit me up in the comments!

I know it's been a hot minute since I made an appearance over here at KKS, but I was so inspired by this meal that I had to show it off. Work has been nuts for the last few months, immediately following the craziness of that wedding I planned, so the blog has taken a backseat to the priority of self-care and making some space in my life for just breathing and living. But Spring is here, which means you'll start seeing some garden photos soon, and hopefully some more blogging in general as well. Here's to Spring, and a renewed joie de vivre.

While I was granted complimentary media access to this event, my opinions and thoughts are all my own, and I was not otherwise compensated or required to write this post. Thanks to the Kendall-Jackson Team for a great evening!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Well, friends the YoCP is over (well, technically it was over when Jolie ended it early mid-way through the year, but I had kept going on it...mostly). Looking back over the year, I'm impressed with how many things I got done.

There was the shoe purge, and the wrapping paper impressiveness, and of course, the big closet. My car was cleaned (and ahem, could probably use a touch up) and the BBQ was scoured. I even threw in a bonus porch project just for kicks.

But I didn't finish everything. There are still two cards left unturned, plus a few of those silly celebration cards. I mean, yes, I had a drink and admired my work in December, but there's something that doesn't quite feel right about turning over those last few "you did it" cards until I've actually done it, ya know?

I've started assessing and paring down the kitchen and dining things (erm, last week, when I also purged the pantry). We did some of the guest room boxes. But there's still work to do. And thus, I begin thinking about what this year will hold, homemaker-wise.

There's no YoCP: Redux happening, but I still like the idea of putting my projects up on the board. It really helped me to visualize all the things I want to do and only worry about them when it was the assigned time. I like structure, and I like schedules. It's my blessing/curse.

I've been feeling overwhelmed lately - something that tends to happen towards the end of the year, with the holidays and wrapping up the year at work, somehow there never seems to be enough time. This is normal, I know. But I'm also prone to overcommitment and a need to fill every moment...and we just have a lot of stuff. No more. Time for change, New Year!

2015 is the Year of The Purge. It's time to make more room in my life. Less stuff, less commitments, less crazy. More space, more time, more sane.

I'll be making a fresh board for the year, perhaps even this weekend, but all of my projects are going to focus on getting rid of things, making more space. Not to fill with new things, but just to breathe a little easier, to see clearer. To practice letting things go. The practice of letting go of physical objects will (hopefully) seep into my psyche, making it easier to say no to plans in favor of a quiet night at home, or to feel less guilty saying no to pet projects. A girl can hope.

Did you tackle any big projects last year? What's on your list for this year? Have any resolutions/goals/intentions/plans?