Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Coffee Cake

I've done a lot of cooking in the last ten days (plus many other activities!), but very little recipe-sharing. So I thought I'd share this coffee cake recipe. It would work well for a New Year's Day brunch. I've made it several times in past years, but I forgot how spicy it is. The nutmeg, allspice, and cinnamon make it perfect for the holidays. Recently my toddler helped me make it for a breakfast we put together for the teachers at her preschool. I made two - the prettier bundt version for the teachers and the rectangular one for home. It was a success!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts (I use walnuts)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-cup tube pan, bundt pan, or a 12 X 8 glass pan.

Prepare the topping by combining all the ingredients and set aside. Stir together the flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Gradually beat flour mixture into batter until well blended.

Sprinkle one-fourth of topping into prepared pan. Spoon on one-third of the batter. Continue layering, ending with the topping mixture. Bake 50 to 60 minutes for the tube or bundt pan, or 35 to 40 minutes for the rectangular pan. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in pan; remove from pan to a cooling rack. Serve warm. Makes 1 cake.

NOTE: I have also made this where I substituted wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour. That worked well, too.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Hint for Santa

Dearest Santa,

I know that you have a challenging night ahead of you. And I know that you probably have a challenging toy-prepping season behind you. So I really hope that my toddler's somewhat challenging gift requests didn't stump you too much.

Her first request, a princess doll, was probably an absolute breeze for you. But a yellow dress in December? That's a harder one, particularly since my toddler asked for a yellow dress just like one of the Bye Bye Birdie characters wore in the Thanksgiving Day parade. My toddler notices details, too. She wanted the cute sleeves, the white detailing, the works. And even though she's only 3 1/2, she's discriminating.

Her final request might have been the most challenging. She asked for a telescope. A real telescope. And I'm sure you can't afford to break the bank on an authentic scientific instrument with all the bells and whistles. Plus, my toddler would surely break it in a matter of days. Yet a more age-appropriate view finder toy just wouldn't do either. My toddler is planning to look at stars with this toy, afterall.

Santa, here's a little hint for you. When you get challenging gift requests like these there is just one answer. Well two, actually.

First, love the Internet. Get to know it, nurture it, love it. It can only help you if you give it a chance, though, so be sure to give it its due respect. You know - trust and all that.

Second, start early. That whole shipping thing can really create problems if you let it. So even if you ONLY tackle the most challenging gift requests early, before you've wrapped up other things like final exams and law school term papers, do it. And do it early.

I know that you're a smart guy, so you've probably figured all of this out already. You probably know that these items would be the perfect answer for my toddler's challenging gift requests:

Available here.

Available here.

Santa, thanks for being on top of things. My toddler will be thrilled. Happy sledding! (wink, wink)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

So much to wrap up

It's official. Christmas has landed at our house.

Although my semester isn't entirely wrapped up yet, suddenly there are lots of other things to wrap up around here! We got our tree early last week, decorating it a bit each evening. Then in the last few days we've attended TWO holiday parties. We've made lists, we've shopped, and we still plan to shop some more. And I'm back in the kitchen. I'll share a few of my kitchen highlights in my next few posts. For now I have to get back to wrapping . . . up that paper I have to finish to finally end the semester!

Happy wrapping!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lovely and Lovely

I just finished my last final - yippee! As I came out of my "finals haze" I was greeted by two of the loveliest things.

First, my good friend Une femme curieuse showed up in my exam room to congratulate me on finishing. She appropriately reminded me that, despite my head cold and the general sense of deflation that always follows a final exam, it is time for some serious celebration. MK, I'm doing my happy dance now. Can you see? It looks something like this . . .

Then upon arriving home I was greeted by my amaryllis, which finally started to open this morning.

Lovely and Lovely.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Go hot!

When I need to be reinvigorated, what I reach for most often is a cup of hot tea. I don't know why exactly, but there's something about hot drinks that energizes me and brings me to life. And I'm talking decaf, too.

If you're looking to "go hot" yourself, you might try the Black Currant tea from Peet's. Or, if you'd like to help somebody else "go hot" then you might give the tea alongside one of the many great tea brewing options out there. I love this option for brewing an individual cup.

Or this simple, but cute, teapot.

Incidentally, I have never actually owned any Black Currant tea myself, although I've tasted it and given it to others on several occasions. I sure wouldn't mind if it showed up in my stocking this year. (hint, hint) Hubby, are you reading?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Things are changing

Things are changing around here. We've pulled out our favorite Christmas music, like this upbeat one from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. It always gets us dancing.

My amaryllis is getting ready to bloom.

I have a festive tablecloth on the table. And with this vanilla cookie candle going, it at least smells like there are Christmas cookies baking in the oven.

My toddler has watched this Nutcracker Ballet DVD three days in a row. We love it, by the way, and it makes for a great gift for any toddler dreaming of becoming a ballerina.

And I'm busily studying for a law school final. That's part of the holidays, right? Thankfully, I know better. And it won't be a part of my holidays either after next Friday. Yippee!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Something Sweet

As I mentioned before, I think that December is a stressful month for a lot of people. So I look for creative ways to take time out from the hubbub. It doesn't take much for me to feel re-centered again, ready to tackle anything.

Here's an idea: Savor something sweet. Like these little sandwich cookies. (I buy them at Ikea, but I think you can also get them at Cost Plus World Market.)

These cookies instantly remind me of the sandwich cookies of my childhood. And the hazelnut filling is so much like Nutella that I think of the Nutella-filled crepes that I sampled on the streets of Paris.

So fun. So simple. So sweet.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Yesterday afternoon a surprise package arrived on my doorstep. It was a lovely gift from my father-in-law and his family. Any guesses what it is?

Here's another look.

Surely I can do better than that...

Ta-dah! Such a nice gift since so far there has been no sign of the holidays at my house. But that will all change Friday evening . . .

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Need a break?

There seem to be a lot of reasons to take a break these days. There are final exams and end-of-semester deadlines. There's the holiday-rat-race. And then there's the cold-weather-doldrums. My thought is that you just might need a break as much as I do.

So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite ways to take a break. My first favorite? High kicks.

We recorded the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade on our DVR, and my toddler has been watching a piece of it almost daily since Thanksgiving. She acts out certain parts of it, mimicking the trumpet players, the cheerleaders, and the Broadway characters. But whenever the Rockettes come on, she gets me involved. We do high kicks along with them, and it's loads of fun. You just might give it a try!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Did you hear?

I thought I was going to have to create my own winter wonderland this year with crafts like this from A Field Journal.

But no. It turns out it's supposed to SNOW tomorrow in Sacramento! Who would have ever guessed?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Crunchy Vegetables

Do you have any tricks for making sure that you "eat your vegetables" so to speak?

We've developed a trick at our house that's not half bad. My toddler has always been so-so at eating her veggies. She's always been fairly willing to try veggies, but in the past she didn't get much beyond licking the broccoli, nibbling the carrot, or eating a single sliced cucumber.

She's a changed girl now. One day I bit into a thick baby carrot at the dinner table. It made a huge noise that got everyone's attention. Next thing you know we were ALL crunching on carrots, trying to see who could crunch the loudest. My toddler has quite a sense of competition, so we've continued this game at nearly every meal since. We all love it, and I think we all eat more veggies as a result. We eat crunchy broccoli, crunchy celery, even crunchy lettuce. (In case you were wondering, Romaine is the crunchiest lettuce!)

So I challenge you to see if you can crunch your vegetables. You might even crunch louder than your neighbor!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, the Symbolism

A couple of weeks ago I bought an amaryllis bulb and planted it with my toddler. It was a fun little project, and it's been exciting to watch it grow. What I didn't expect was how symbolic this little living thing would become.

For me this bulb represents both tradition and the passage of time. My mom had an amaryllis that grew in our yard each year at our home in Houston, and I always loved watching it shoot from the ground and grow into a beautiful winter flower. Now it reminds me of the coming holiday and my *much needed* break from school.

For my daughter, this plant represents responsibility. When we planted it we talked about how things grow, and specifically about how plants need soil, water, and light. It's so dark when we get home in the evenings, that she becomes concerned about there being no sunlight for the flower. So she sits there a while each night, helping it out a bit.

It seems to be working because the amaryllis is growing quickly.

quickly, in fact.

Which brings me to the plant's final meaning. You see, each time my hubby looks at this innocent little bulb he gets spooked. It seems to be growing right before our eyes. If you look away and look back, it's taller. So to my hubby, this seemingly harmless amaryllis represents....well, FEAR.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stage Was Set

We had Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt's house, as we have for the last few years. It's a really special occasion because several of my aunt's longtime friends usually join us, and we rarely see them any other day of the year.

This year my cousin's girlfriend did the tablescape. Wow, was it ever stunning! She took an approach that I probably would have taken, since I absolutely love "foodplay." The table decor was nearly all edible, with many components doubling as centerpieces and pre-meal nibbles.

But she used foods I never would have thought of. Did you ever notice what a beautiful, rich color caramels are? Well, she had several types of caramels, in several different shades, scattered around the two tables.

She used lots of color, all to compliment my aunt's pink glassware and dishes. I thought her red table runners made for a perfect combination.

And the fruit was just beautiful!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


I love layers. Sure, my hubby is complex, but those aren't quite the layers I'm referring to. I'm thinking of layers of color, texture, and flavors. You got it - I'm talking about food. Think lasagna. Tiramisu. Chicago-style, stuffed crust pizza. Hot fudge sundaes.

My new favorite layered food is this bean casserole from Moosewood Restaurant's Simple Suppers that my hubby and I made for Thanksgiving.

It had green beans and leeks on the bottom. Then I poured a flavorful puree of cannellini beans, garlic, and fresh herbs over that. (That was the best part - the puree was as rich as a cream sauce!) We added layers of gruyere cheese and more beans, then topped it with a crust of Parmigiano Reggiano and freshly ground bread crumbs. As it cooked the garlic emanated from the oven, and the sauce became thick, rich, and creamy. We will definitely try this again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Full Disclosure

Hope everyone had a great holiday on Thursday. I sure did!

I thought I better disclose my contribution to our Thanksgiving meal. I was asked to bring a dessert to my aunt's house. Somebody was already bringing a pie, so about ten days ago I set out to find the perfect non-pie recipe that would best suit the occasion.

I settled on this luxurious cake from Martha Stewart, with vanilla fresh from the pod, carmelized apples, and brown sugar buttercream.

Then my practicality set in, and I started hunting for something a little simpler. I settled on this Paula Deen recipe for pumpkin bars. The recipe has very few ingredients, and her desserts are always scrumptious.

But then reality tapped me on the shoulder. Well, truthfully . . . reality outright walloped me. I finally owned up to how little time I have available right now, and I did the right thing. I went to my favorite "Local Great" bakery at Nugget Market, exchanged money for confection, and voila!

This spice cake with maple buttercream absolutely fit the bill. And I always love an excuse to buy a cake from Nugget!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feast for the Eyes?

Yesterday I heard an interesting piece on NPR (you may have heard it too!). Morning Edition teamed up with America's Test Kitchen to explore some traditional dishes from Thanksgivings past. From the distant past, in fact. They prepared the recipes in their original form, no adaptations, and then tasted away. They gave each dish a "yay" or a "nay." Sounded kinda fun to me, but in the end I was glad it wasn't me doing the tasting!

I checked out the dishes online after hearing about them - what do you think? These mincemeat pies look pretty tasty. And not so different from what we might see on Thanksgiving tables these days.

But the Nesselrode Pudding pictured below? This is not the
"feast for the eyes" I was looking for.

It was an interesting idea to uncover old recipes, but I think I'll stick with my more modern vegetable casseroles, thank you! Like some of the Thanksgiving yummies we had at a recent Early Thanksgiving Party. I'm looking forward to tomorrow - Happy Feasting!

[All photos credited to Emily Ochsenschlager]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Different Take on Pumpkin

You can put your pumpkin pie spice away for this recipe!

At my house this soup is one of our longtime fall favorites. I love the fact that there's very little prep required since most of the ingredients come from a can. Add some hearty multigrain bread and maybe a salad and you've got a healthy, warming meal. But beware, your house will really smell like curry!

Curried Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup
Serves 6 to 8
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 T. curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
  • 2 large red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can pumpkin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
In a large saucepan, saute garlic and onion in oil 4 minutes. Add seasons, then stir to coat. Add chickpeas, stir to coat, and saute 2 minutes more. Then add potatoes, stock, water, and pumpkin. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and keep at a lively simmer for about 12 minutes. When the broth has thickened slightly and the potatoes are tender, the soup is done. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with cilantro, and enjoy!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekend Recap

A few of the things I did this weekend:

1. Enjoyed an icy cold Anchor Steam beer at a Davis burger joint. (Anchor Steam is my favorite local microbrew - check it out if you haven't had one!)
2. Took my toddler to her first tea party.
3. Donated two large bags of canned goods to my local food bank.
4. Ate a super-tasty home-cooked meal made by my wonderful hubby. (The recipe just might appear on here soon!)
5. And spent hours and hours studying for my last round of finals, my least favorite tradition this time of year. Ick!

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Recently we've had a lot of conversations about Thanksgiving at our house. Now that my toddler is 3 it feels like the first year where she can have some real understanding about the changing seasons, the holidays, and family traditions. Plus, several things I've read have inspired me to delve a little deeper into what it all means, like a review of this book by Margret Visser that points out that gratitude is more than just saying "thanks." Visser's idea is that it's of a kind of worldview, a way of paying attention, and a way of deliberately beholding and appreciating another person. Then I read this post over at Wide Open Spaces about the author's efforts to instill gratitude in her kids by making handmade thank-you cards to give to the people they appreciate.

So finally my hubby and I set out to teach my daughter more about the deeper layers of Thanksgiving. At preschool she's learned about the Pilgrims. We've talked about the mechanics of Thanksgiving, so she knows that we'll watch a parade, have a big meal with special people, and eat pumpkin pie. Each time we have a conversation I explain a few things, we discuss back and forth, and then at some point a look of understanding crosses her face. She looks pleased, and I'm assured that she actually understands what I'm trying to tell her. Well, maybe. But maybe not.

There have been a couple of conversations that didn't end like I had initially expected when that proud look of comprehension first appeared on my toddler's face. First we talked about being thankful. We talked about what it means, what I'm thankful for, and what my hubby is thankful for. Then when I thought she was ready, I asked my toddler what she was thankful for. She had anticipated the question. Her face brightened and she looked very proud. Then she answered, "Myself." I tried not to giggle, since I was being so serious about it all and she clearly was missing most of what I was saying. So I patiently gave her a few more examples, then asked her again what she was thankful for. Her answer? "My shirt."

This morning we discussed the Thanksgiving celebration they had at my toddler's preschool yesterday. We're vegetarians, so I had sent soy chicken for her to eat instead of turkey. So we were discussing what people eat on Thanksgiving, and how the three of us don't eat ALL the same things that other people eat because we're vegetarians. Again we reached the point when comprehension crossed her face. She got really excited, bouncing on the bed. Then she announced, "Yeah, we're veg-e-tarians. That means that we don't eat regular turkey. We eat big, GIANT turkeys!"

So I've realized another thing I'm thankful for ~ laughter.

Friday, November 20, 2009


I just made myself a pretty little lunch that I thought I'd share. I started with two small handmade corn and whole grain tortillas (from La Tortilla Factory out of Sonoma, but sold in the regular grocery store). I added a shmeer of roasted red pepper hummus, a sprinkle of shredded parmigiano reggiano, and freshly ground black pepper. Then I topped them with some crunchy red pepper spears and romaine lettuce.

The tortillas are pretty dense, so these could easily be wrapped in plastic wrap for later. Yum!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I've Got a Winner!

It's nice to see us vegetarians getting a little attention every once in a while, but especially around the holidays. Trust me - it's no easy feat creating an enticing Thanksgiving meal that's both traditional and, well...turkeyless. But it CAN be done. While many people turn to slightly less traditional main courses for vegetarians, like this fantastic lasagna or this ravioli, I prefer to stay a little closer to mainstream Thanksgiving flavors. (You know, something savory that you could easily eat with gravy and mashed potatoes!)

One of my favorite things to serve at holiday time is a stuffed mushroom - large portabellas for a substantial main course, medium-sized creminis that work as a main or a side, or small mushrooms as an appetizer. They're flavorful, filling, and beautiful!

I have finally come up with a recipe that I'm really happy with. I made these for Early Thanksgiving with fairly large creminis (which are sometimes labeled as baby portabellas), but the recipe can be adapted to suit your needs.

Holiday Stuffed Mushrooms
  • 2 lbs. cremini mushrooms
  • About 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil (maybe less)
  • 3 T. butter
  • 1 small dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 T. (2-3 cloves) minced garlic
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 1/2 c. fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted, then finely chopped or coarsely ground in a food processor
  • 1/4 c. fresh parsley, minced
  • 3 T. fresh sage, minced
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
  • Salt & pepper
1. First prep the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp paper towel. Cut out the stalks and chop them to use in the stuffing. Then gently scoop out some of the gills to make more room for the stuffing, also reserving these to flavor the stuffing. Place the mushrooms on a greased baking sheet, cavity side down. Brush the back side of each with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Turn the mushrooms over and repeat with the tops and cavities of the mushrooms.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted add the cayenne, garlic, and shallots and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Then add the mushroom stalks and gills, season with salt and pepper, and saute another 4 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

3. Remove the mixture from the heat, then mix in the herbs, cheese, and ground pine nuts. Adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Then stuff the mixture into the mushrooms, gently pressing it into the hollowed out center. (You can make them in advance up to this point, refrigerate them for up to 12 hours, then bake immediately before serving.)

4. If you use large cremini or mini portabellas, bake them for approximately 30 minutes. Larger portabellas will take approximately 40 minutes and small appetizer-sized mushrooms may take only 20 minutes. They are done when the mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is hot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Slippery Milk

Have you noticed that milk cartons are often pretty slippery? Mine are usually barely moist from condensation by the time we make it home from the store. Just moist enough to be really, darn slippery.

Recently after I arrived home from the grocery store, I took on the "grocery challenge" like usual. I tried to make it inside the house with all of the groceries in a single trip. I reached into my trunk and picked up the heaviest reusable grocery bag first. Then I went for the moderately heavy bag. Feeling pretty loaded at this point, I decided I would grab the milk jug next, then end by carefully adding the final lightweight bag to my arm.

But I didn't make it that far. As I started to swing the milk towards me, planning to shift it to the other hand before reaching into the trunk again, I noticed that the carton handle felt kind of slippery. As the milk started to slip, I clutched harder. For a moment I thought I had recovered my grip - that I had saved myself from the impending blunder. Then the bottom of the container grazed the edge of the trunk. The milk slipped again, I reached for it with the same hand, then I clutched for it with the other hand. Meanwhile my already loaded grocery bags swung precariously from side to side on my arm.

And then it happened. The plastic milk jug hit the ground. HARD. So hard, that the container busted open and milk rushed onto the ground and down the driveway towards the street.

And there I was, NOT crying over spilled milk. I don't know about you, but I never heard the rule about what to do when faced with milk gushing down your driveway. So I just hovered. That's right, I pretty much stayed frozen in the same position as when the milk last left my hands. Absolutely useless. As far as I was concerned, I had failed the milk challenge. All Was Lost. Game over.

Fortunately, my husband had heard what to do when standing over milk gushing down your driveway. You should try to save it, of course. Or at least try to prevent some of the mess.

Turns out, we were able to fill several pitchers and save about 3/4 of the milk. (A gallon of milk is a lot of liquid!) I'm so glad my hubby had heard that milk rule. The other milk rule, that is.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thanksgiving Yummies

To get you in the mood for Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share some food pictures from our Early Thanksgiving Party we went to last weekend. I threw together the centerpiece above, and the pre-dinner munchies below. Believe it or not my toddler loves feta cheese, so I made this tray with her in mind.

Nearly half of us were vegetarians, so as a veggie main course we had corn enchiladas.

And turkey for the meat-eaters. (Sorry the picture isn't better - can you tell turkey isn't my thing?)

My stuffed cremini mushrooms doubled as a veggie side dish or main course.

We had classic green beans.

We also had a fantastic butternut squash crumble.

Thanksgiving is not complete without mashed potatoes and gravy, right?

And rolls to finish things off.

We ended the evening with 3 desserts, but unfortunately I didn't snap a picture. Thanks for a great party, AV!
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