Sunday, March 24, 2013

And then there were cupcakes...

These cupcakes are sinful; there's no denying that.

I make them just about once a year, to celebrate my husband's Irish heritage and the holiday his family celebrates with such enthusiasm (my mother-in-law sends us an annual St. Patrick's Day care package, complete with Irish soda bread and some form of Jameson's somethingorother...this year it was truffles).

Rather, I say that's the reason I make them. And in some ways, it is. I mean, the "Irish Car Bomb" is a Somewhat Offensive American Traditional St. Patrick's Day Drink (though I can't say I've ever had one). But that's not the real reason, of course.

The real reason is that they are delicious, satisfying to assemble, and immensely popular. They're pretty and fun for groups and just boozy enough to make you feel a little naughty...but still, they're just cupcakes! What's the harm there?

This year, Katherine and I baked the cupcakes before starting on the Pre-St. Patrick's Day Ladies' Dinner, but by the time the other two ladies had arrived and we'd all been enjoying our Irish Stout with Vanilla Vodka (do you like cream soda? do you like drinking? try this.), and well, we decided to eat dinner before finishing the cupcakes, and then we were too full and too drunk to do anything but smile sleepily as we laughed together as ladies tend to do.

So it wasn't until Monday, two days later, when some friends came over to help organize the pantry (and you know, have dinner), we finished the cupcakes. The guys scooped out the insides and made the ganache (aww their first ganache...adorable) while the ladies organized the crap out of the pantry (and PS the photos on the blog post linked above do not do justice to the transformation).

And then I made the frosting. Oh, the frosting. This year, I decided I was too lazy to deal with the star-shaped pastry tip going to go for a more foamy, heady look. You know, to imitate the foam on the top of a nice stout? I whipped the icing more than usual, and added extra Bailey's for extra creaminess. And oh man, I think I've found a winner.

Other than that slight frosting change (and maybe a little extra whiskey), I make these according to the original recipe (from Smitten Kitchen). And I can't believe I haven't blogged them before (my brain says I have, but the internet disagrees with me).

Wondering what the inside looks like?

These babies are so tasty I've been thinking about making them again, and not waiting very long to do it. What's an excuse to make them in April? :)  

Or perhaps I'll change it up and go with a lemon cupcake, filled with Limoncello ganache (is that a thing?) and a strawberry champagne frosting? Oh, the possibilities...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Garden Season is Upon Us!

Spring is here, and for the first time in months, I found myself with a weekend and nothing to do with it. No plans, no travel, just rest. So of course, I woke up at 9:30am. After a few hours of vegging out on the couch with HGTV, I cooked up a delicious breakfast with St. Patrick's Day leftovers (corned beef with scrambled eggs and Irish cheddar, fried mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and dark rye bread). 

I decided to take advantage of the lovely weather to take care of some much-needed weeding out in the garden. This time of year, the Nasturtium goes absolutely nuts, and will take over the entire garden if we're not careful! Our Dinosaur Kale, Rainbow Chard, and Parsley are still doing incredibly well, and I didn't want them to become overrun with Nasturtium. And I know, Nasturtium is edible and whatnot, but when I see it taking over the yard like this:

I just want it gone. Anyone have any killer Nasturtium recipes? Let me know. I'm sure it'll be back by the time we're ready for planting.  Anyway, this is what it looked like after approximately 3 minutes of pulling (Nasturtium is incredible easy to pull out of the ground).

Check out that Rainbow Chard (left, front) and Parsley (left, back - it's like a bush)! There's also one last Padron Pepper plant that looked alive enough to save...we'll see how it does over the next few weeks. Oh, you want to know about the sideways W (or backwards 3, or capital letter E) in the middle of the picture?'s the Dinosaur Kale.

The Dino Kale has been growing horizontally lately, sprawling along the ground instead of growing straight up in the air. I'm guessing it's because they're so top-heavy, and because they lean into the sun. After some iPhone Googling and some pacing across the overgrown grass, I determined that sometimes kale just gets tall and falls over. Sooo there's that. 

I hacked a little solution, by way of a large tomato cage. It was tricky, because the stalks have spent so much time crawling along the ground that I didn't want to accidentally uproot them by forcing them in the opposite direction. Eventually, I got all three healthy stalks up into the cage, and tied to the top rung.

I have no idea if this will actually work or if it will just make things worse, but at least they're not sprawled out in the dirt anymore. Maybe this will even help the tiny-chalky-white-bug infestation problem?

I also clipped a few blossoms -- Kale and Nasturtium:

And lavender (which are a little too short for the bud vase - I need some rocks or something, I think: 

The garden's looking almost ready for planting now. We'll have to do a little soil turning-over I think, and figure out what to plant this year! Definitely thinking strawberries in the half wine barrel, and maybe bell peppers in addition to the Padrons this year? 

What are you planting these days? Are you still covered in snow?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning: Pantry Party

The pantry, before and after. Detail shots below.
The pantry has been bothering me for quite a while.

For months, it's fluctuated between "messy but I can deal with it" and "I can't find anything and I'm afraid to reach into the back, both because I don't know what I'll find and because something might fall on me".

But last night, we had a few friends over, one of whom really wanted to help me with the pantry. Honestly, one of the reasons it's taken me so long to do it is that I promised I'd wait for her (reason, excuse, whatever).

Can't disappoint a friend.

Anyway, after some Chinese takeout, we set to work. We took everything (and I mean eve.ry.thing) out, I wiped down the shelves, and we set to organizing. The biggest changes were the additions of the lazy susans and plastic bins, and the reorganization of the risers -- both things that helped immensely.

I'll explain via these detail shots :)

Top two shelves before and after.
Soup and oils/vinegars got the lazy susan treatment, with
the exception of the giant canola oil and the PAM.
Tea is coralled in two plastic baskets on top of a riser
(hot cocoa is below), honey is right nearby, and little-used
crackers are in the back. Canned tomatoes, beans, olives,
pasta sauce jars, and chicken stock are on the shelf with
the oils for easy use -- I think I'll get another riser for that
shelf to make can-stacking easier.
Middle two shelves, before and after.
This was just a mess. Now it's not a mess, thanks to a lazy
susan (for sprinkles and sweet spices like cinnamon and
nutmeg) and some plastic bins and repurposed risers.
Baking supplies have enough room to be stored,
grabbed when needed, and easily put back.
Little-used spices are in a little basket, and the smaller,
loose items are corralled in bins for easy access.
That's what she said.
Bottom shelf, before and after.
This shelf is for the things I use least, like boxed bread
mixes, assorted jams, oatmeal, jello pudding mix, etc.
Also: the big pot that's not nonstick,
and an empty plastic bin.

I'm already loving my new setup -- it was so easy (and dare I say fun?) to spin the lazy susan around tonight when I needed some balsamic, and being able to see everything is definitely helpful. We threw out a good amount of expired stuff too (though honestly not as much as I anticipated), which is always good. Hopefully, having everything at our fingertips will mean less stuff will go bad from now on!

And with the Spring Equinox tomorrow (officially), I feel like I've gotten a little bit of a head start on this whole Spring Cleaning thing. Perhaps I'll make it a real thing this year, since I've been feeling a bit restless as far as cleaning and organizing the house goes...I'll do my best to photograph befores and afters and blog about it. Because nothing says interesting blogging like home organization!

Are you getting in the spirit? Do you find yourself overcome with the urge to organize? Tell me I'm not alone!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Say Cheese

Oh, friends.

As usual, I've been meaning to post for weeks, but life has been getting in the way. Yada yada, things have been crazy and good and the blog once again took a backseat.

But that's changing tonight, because I can't wait one more minute to bring you this post.

I first met the folks at Sartori Cheese at the annual San Francisco Food Fete last year, and was really into their flavored BellaVitano cheeses -- raspberry and rosemary and espresso...these cheeses were interesting and delicious. This year, they presented some new flavors (chai!?), and they, too, are delicious. Oh, cheese. Cheese pleasin' me.

Sartori was kind enough to send me some samples for (ahem) further review, and I set up a taste test with a few friends. Everyone had one that he or she liked the best -- I wish I could tell you that one was the clear frontrunner, but we had 5 cheeses, and 5 people, and 5 favorites!

Perhaps you should try them for yourself.

Leave a comment on this post and you'll be entered to win a fabulous prize package...a Sartori cooler bag filled with cheese! You'll get the BellaVitanos (Chai, Espresso, Black Pepper, and Raspberry) and the SarVecchio Parmesan as well.

mmm cheese wedge

These are award-winning cheeses, folks. You should probably enter now.

Rules and Whatnot:

  • Leave a comment about your favorite cheese to enter.
  • If you Tweet/Facebook/G+/Whatever this, come back and leave a comment for each thing you do.
  • No limit to number of times you can Tweet/Facebook and come back to comment.
  • Each comment = 1 entry.
  • Winners will be chosen via random number generator.
  • Contest closes at 11:59pm PDT Friday March 22.

Full Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, except for the free cheese. All opinions are my own. I love cheese.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Happy Birthday

I've been thinking about this post for weeks, without knowing how to start. I know what I want to say, but not how to say it. But because today was her birthday, I think today is the day I'm going to try.

About two weeks ago, our dear friend Sean lost her battle with Leukemia. It was sudden, and took her life only a year after she beat breast cancer. Sean spent 2012 eating organically, exercising, and generally getting her health on; she told me once that she felt like she was given another chance, and she wanted to live the healthiest life possible. When she told us about the diagnosis in December, she laughed and said, "Well, I guess that was a bunch of crap, eh?"

Sean was one of the most generous, beautiful, open-hearted people I've ever known. I loved our evenings spent comparing marinades as we prepared our meals over the campfire, and she spent more time than she needed to listening to my ramblings, endlessly supportive and encouraging. Quick to laugh, and laugh heartily, she brightened even the sunniest days. I know, it's cliche and maybe even a little quaint, but it's true. She was just good.

And it's not fair. It's not fair that she doesn't get to live out the rest of her adventure-filled life. It's not fair that her wonderful husband doesn't get to grow old with his wife. It's not fair that we all have to live without her. It's not fair that she had to suffer.

I think the hardest thing to reconcile is the absence. In a way, it's all still so surreal. Like we all had a party to celebrate Sean, and I just didn't see her there. Like this has all been temporary, and actually she's fine, or getting better. Like it can't be possible that she's just gone. is it possible? Young people - healthy people - good people. People we love. How can they just be gone?

I know how, of course. I understand reality, and I'm not under the impression that I can change the present by wishing it were different. Of course. But it still seems so unlikely. So untrue. So unfair that a person so good could just be gone, and that's it. It's over. The finality of it is arresting.

I've spent the last several weeks thinking about loss. About grieving. About life, and death, and the choices we make, and about celebrating the people we love every day. I've talked to friends, and my husband, and my therapist. I've read far too much on the internet. And still, there are no answers. I don't think there ever are, really.

It's times like these that make me wish I believed in a higher power. I consider myself to be pretty much agnostic in matters of religion/faith/spirituality - I don't know what I don't know and all that. I wish I did, or believed that I did, because it seems that at the very least, it would be comforting.

But where I don't find that type of solace, I do find peace in knowing that Sean lived her life with positivity. Hearing her friends and coworkers speak at her memorial two weeks ago only reaffirmed what we all already knew: that this was one truly special woman. Someone told a story about becoming fast friends with Sean, and admitted (jokingly) to being thrown off by other peoples' stories -- she had thought that she was Sean's special friend. But Sean made everyone around her feel special. It was just her way.

Even Sean's occasional complaints were tempered with silver linings, or at least a good joke; she was welcoming, joyful, and pretty much just the kind of person you'd want to have in your life. Her memorial was really a celebration of her life, and I think she would have enjoyed it. I am trying to keep little bits of her spirit in me from now on - life should be celebrated, and lived with an open heart.

Grief is a funny thing. But in choosing to celebrate, I think I can honor my friend. Here's to you, Sean. You look gorgeous.