cooking


Phew, this was a whirlwind of a season…..  we have been enjoying every moment and are now getting back into the rhythm of our “routine”. 

The season starts on Thanksgiving.  We have spent the last few Thanksgiving dinners at our good friends house in their arbor out in their vineyard doesn’t get better than that 😉  It includes, good friends, lots of kids running around, good conversation, good food and beautiful fall weather and sun.

After a day of good food we went for our post Thanksgiving hike.  We headed out on a new trail that lead us to an ancient Redwood that looked like there should be dinosaurs walking around it – it was magnificent!  Then we headed up to this reservoir for some good old fashion echo calls – the kids got a big kick out of that – not sure all the animals around the area were thrilled but hopefully it scared off the mountain lions!

The next day was spent trudging around Moon Mountain for the perfect tree!  We always like to get the tree and the holidays kicked off early, it really gets everyone in the mood.  It was a great day spent looking for our tree.  Of course, Mama likes to walk around the mountain looking carefully at every tree while the kiddos run through the trees squealing with delight and Milo and Doug saunter along waiting for the call of “WE FOUND IT”!  For some reason it always ends up being one of the first trees we were eyeing.  I enjoy cruising around enjoying the sights and the smells, I don’t really think I’m looking for the “perfect” tree, I think they are all great, I just enjoy the time spent out there with the family – so I will keep taking “forever” to find our “perfect” tree 😉

Next comes the decorating….

Then began the baking.  Oh the baking, cookies, breads, more breads, more cookies, fudge.  I have found two lovely recipes at rhythm of the Home that I have added to my holiday arsenal – so delicious – orange, cranberry walnut bread and cranberry ginger bread and so easy.  The kids had so much fun making all the goodies to be passed out for our friends.  Baking and singing was the theme throughout our house during December – good times 🙂

The first weekend in December marked the first Christmas recital for Ryder and what was supposed to be Saige’s second recital, but…… a little bug took Saige down for the day/night (luckily she was back in the game the next day – of course) but Ryder made his debut in a hip hop routine and rocked the house 😉  He was a bit nervous but as soon as he got up on stage with his buddies he was a natural and then he came running off the stage after the performance just flying on adrenal and saying “that was too short, I want to go back and do it again!”  It was priceless.  Very proud of my little elf, but sad my little mouse missed her performance – oh well there’s always next year.

The next adventure was the Santa Skunk Train in Mendocino.  We usually go on The Polar Express but that was sold out way too quick – which I am now glad for – because the Skunk Train rocked!

That’s one groovy looking Santa Train 😉  We made a weekend out of it with another family and had such a great time.  We stayed on a bluff with access to the beach – which we enjoyed making our version of snow angels!

Then we made it to Glass Beach – I have been dying to go there.  There is polished glass all over the beach.  We had lots of fun collecting and trying to find unusual colors (only found blue and red in really tiny pieces).  We all wondered what caused all of this glass to wash up on this little cove – much to our dismay, this area was an old dump – yes, we were frolicking on an old dump!  UGH!  It was still gorgeous, maybe the years of crashing waves has washed this area clean (and unfortunately dragged it all out for the rest of the world to enjoy!)  Seriously who would build a dump on the oceans edge!

polished glass

great tide pools to play in, lots of urchins, a few crabs, some fish hiding and lots of anemones – which all equals lots of fun and exploring 🙂

The annual lighting of the snowmen happened Friday after Thanksgiving – which turned out to be a volatile stormy day and night.  We were all ready to go but right as we were getting ready to put on our coats the sky unleashed its fury and we decided to sit this year out.  So instead we visited the snowmen on a different occasion. 

The deal with these snowmen is…. every year Cornerstone sets up these vintage snowmen (lots of them) and then lights them to start the holiday season.  They have marshmallow roasting, frosty and rudolph played on a wall of one of the buildings with hay bales set up for seating, hot chocolate, etc.  Everyone who has kids in Sonoma comes.  It’s a great time – too bad for the weather.  I just love these snowmen – I would love one for our yard.

This little guy showed up at our house the first week in December.  Not sure if you’ve heard of Elf on The Shelf?  Well I heard about this a few years back, we had elves that looked just like him when I was growing up (they weren’t elf on the shelf) but my mom always had them hanging out on the banister heading upstairs and I simply LOVED them!  It was my favorite thing to get them out and line them up.  I would pretend they were alive and I would talk to them.  Well fast forward to somewhere around 2008 and here is a modern day version of what I used to pretend.  So the story goes, the elf arrives, he is named by the kids, they can not touch him/her, they can tell him/her all their wishes, he/she reports to Santa every night whether the kids were good or bad and then he/she flies back to the kids home and is in a different spot every morning.  So the fun part is when they wake up the first thing they do is look for the elf.  Ours is named Nutcracker Boy 😉  Let’s just say Mama had a couple close calls, a few mornings I heard Ryder’s voice and I bolted out of bed, ran to Nutcracker boy and replaced him (once he got thrown across the room into the christmas tree!)  Ugh!  That got me a few times throughout the month.  Ryder swears he saw his head move 🙂  On Christmas eve the elf flies back home to live in the North Pole until next season.  He usually arrives sometime around Thanksgiving. 

We had so much fun with this tradition this year.  We even wrote our letters to Santa and gave them to Nutcracker boy to bring with him one evening 🙂

In between all this craziness I still remembered to enjoy the beauty of the season

And I think it was a little too much excitement for these two 🙂

 

New Years came in quietly – thank goodness 🙂

Hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday season.  Would love to hear how you spent your season.

Peace and Blessings to you in 2011 – hope to see you all back here

Saige and her new big girl bike (big 3 year old!)

soccer practice and soccer games – Doug is coaching this year too 🙂

painting the bean bag toss game for the birthday party

Snuck away from the party planning to go to Power to the Peaceful to see our boyfriend Michael Franti 😉  Yes, Saige and I are quite infatuated (as well as Doug and Ryder ).  What’s not to like about the man!  Saige was bummed we were so far back we couldn’t see him – too cute!

Figs are coming in

and so are the tomatoes!  Yippee!  I am thrilled.  Not sure if you remember my previous post about my tomatoes not being so big or great, well we got a nice little heat wave and BAM  they all turned red and were decent sized and I’ve been hauling in 8lb + baskets of tomatoes weekly – I’m loving it!

So with that said I’ve been doing a lot of sauce making and storing.

something else we’ve been making a lot of …. hula hoops – 30 to be exact.  These were the “reward” for solving the mystery at the kids party (Scooby Mystery party).

our big 6 year old (yes that’s right 6!) got his first skateboard for his birthday.  He got to go to the local skateshop and had his board built and got to tour the shop and learned the “skater” hand shake – the red carpet treatment.  He was so stoked!

Shaggy and Daphne before the party.  Mama had a late night – I had some costume adjustments to make.  It was going to be 95+ degrees that day and I had to make a new dress for Saige (or I should say Daphne) one that was sleeveless.  Doug was Fred (unfortunately we did not get a picture of him) and I was Velma (yes, the smart one 😉  ).

picked some berries in the morning for a raspberry/strawberry curd for the filing of the cake.  I tried my hand at a red velvet cake and was thrilled with the outcome. I usually try out new cakes on my friends and they don’t usually turn out good (I am not the best baker) but this one turned out good 🙂

In the haste of frosting the cake (15 minutes) before the party I forgot to cross the “T” in birthday.  And no that isn’t a spelling mistake – it is supposed to say Rappy Rithday (in the words of Scooby).

The hoops were a success and Velma really liked them too 😉  yes that is me under the wig and glasses – it was way too hot to rock the turtleneck!

So after this all this, I woke up and it suddenly was October!  Ugh!

And during this time Ryder started kindergarten, I (and a few others) are trying to get the schools garden built, I started doing a daycare co-op with a friend and her two kids and Saige is back in tap and Ryder is taking hip hop – phew! 

September always seems to sneak up and fly by.  The good thing is the “gang” has their costumes ready for Halloween – no costume sewing for Mama.  Now back to my quilt (and the other 50 projects I have half finished).

I can catch my breath now

This year I was determined to plant my entire garden from seed.  Most everything was a success, minus the few that met their demise with the slugs, but otherwise fairly successful – except for my tomatoes!  Of course, another crappy year for The Calhoun’s and their tomatoes.  For those of you who know me, you know that I do not eat tomatoes during the off season and that I LIVE for that first fresh farm grown tomato from either my garden or the farmers market (usually the farmer’s market is where I get my first).  And from that moment, until the end of the season, I live on tomatoes.  Tomato sandwiches everyday, sliced tomato with sea salt or olive oil or just as is, panzanella salad (my two loves – tomatoes and bread – seriously is there anything better!?), pesto pasta with fresh tomatoes, faux bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, fresh tomato sauce, the list goes on.  I’m surprised I don’t have sores all over my mouth from the acid!

But going back to our tomatoes, I used Renee’s garden heirloom tomato seeds – I usually like Renee’s garden – so I’m not sure if it’s the weather we’ve had in Northern Cali (unusually cool and foggy) or if it was a bunk batch – but whatever it is – the plants looked lovely but the tomatoes not so much.  Small, small, small  – not big enough to slice for a sandwich.  So when all the tiny green tomatoes finally started to turn red I started making salsa, sauces, salads, etc.  They taste fine – just not that uber juicy giant beauty I like to sink my teeth into.

Luckily the farms in the area have provided me with my fix, as well as Doug’s co-worker and our friend who works at a local farm (we get lots of the leftover tomatoes – perfect for sauces). 

So I got my first batch of leftovers and other stragglers that had not been grubbed and made some sauce to freeze.  Oh, did it feel good to be in the kitchen, over the stove, smelling the slowly simmering sumptuous sauce – all made with veggies from our yard, our friends yards and a local farm (which the property is shared with our friends’ so essentially our friends property too). 

I will look forward to that cold rainy winter day when I pull out a bag to use for our dinner.  The smell will bring me right back to the beautiful summer day when this was simmering all day – as kids run barefoot through the house squealing with joy.  Ahhhh a moment in time 🙂

We LOVE granola bars in our house.  But sometimes finding “good” granola bars that aren’t uber expensive  – well, that’s a challenge.  So you can imagine how excited I was to see this super easy recipe for homemade granola bars.  I like it because it’s all ingredients I always have around and I’ve figured out that you don’t need as much of the brown sugar or butter and you can add any fixings (I omit the chocolate chips – unless I’m making them as more of a treat). 

I recently (yesterday) made a double batch for “snack day” at Ryder’s school.  Once a month each family is responsible for bringing snacks for all of the kids.  I really like the additions I made for “snack day”.  I used almond butter instead of peanut butter, I added some unsweetened coconut, dried cherries and almond extract – then kept the recipe as is (limiting the sugar and butter) and I cooked it for double the time.   So yummy 🙂

The hint of coconut with the almond and cherries – delish – now I just wish there were left overs!  Looks like I know what we’ll be doing tomorrow. 

I always have my taste tester (Ryder) try out my new recipes – I got the “thumb’s up” on this one 🙂  Man I love that boy!

I wanted to share how we store our lettuce.  Not sure if you’ve ever had the experience of having lettuce go bad – the smell, the black slime 😦   yuck!  My succession planting has not gone exactly how I had planned, I still harvested, in one day, (4) gallon size bags of lettuce!  Much better than the past where I’m harvesting the entire planter in one day, but I need to get a bit better with my succession planting. 

Anyways, we eat a lot of salad and use lettuce on our sandwiches, but that’s still a lot to eat before it all goes bad.  But I have found a way that seems to prolong its refrigerator life (well at least it works for us).

Here’s how it goes…..

Harvest the lettuce

pull individual leaves, wash and spin

lay out a layer of paper towel, spread lettuce leaves in a single layer (you can overlap some but just don’t do too many) and then lay another paper towel over and continue the above process

I usually do 3 high and then I fold it over and store in a ziplock bag in the veggie drawer. 

 

This keeps the lettuce nice and crisp but also keeps it from having too much moisture which is what seems to be the culprit of the lettuce rotting so quickly and it’s ready for your meals.

With this method none of our lettuce has gone bad and it’s not a total pain when you are getting ready for dinner and want a salad – no washing or spinning – it’s already done for you.

And I always save the paper towel and bags and reuse (because I know it sounds very wasteful) but I just had to replace one of the bags paper towels (and this was after 5 uses).  You could also use tea towels if you prefer.

We have been enjoying wonderful salads every night with dinner – the kids love them too!

savory tart

I have been LOVING savory tarts lately.  The tart crust is super simple to make and you’ll never guess where I got the recipe from?!  Yep, you guessed it The Art of Simple Food (if you have not already gone out to get this you must).   🙂

2C flour

1/2 C ice cold water

12 TBSP butter

1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)

cut butter into cubes – work into flour – I like using my hands for this but you can use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on low for 30 seconds.  Start pouring water (about 1/2 the water) in (along the sides of the bowl if using stand mixer) – use only enough water to form a dough ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is not too sticky.

Split dough into two, cover with plastic wrap and flatten into disks and chill.  After chilled – when ready to use – pull out and let dough get a little warmed up so it’s malleable and easier to roll.

I usually double the recipe and freeze the rounds that I am not using. 

I use all different kinds of veggies for my tarts – whatever is in season and ready in my garden or at the farmers market.  I always use a lot of onions (cooked very slowly so they get super sweet – almost caramelized).  I have been using a lot of chard and kale lately but truly it’s just whatever is around and of course cheese to top it off.

Place the sautéed veggies in the middle of the rolled out dough – leaving about 1/2 inch border and then fold that border over the veggies – leaving an exposed middle.

Brush the crust with egg and milk so it gets nice and crispy and golden.

Bake at 375 for 45 – 55 minutes and enjoy. 

The beauty is you can put in whatever you want.  And keep changing it up as the seasons change.  I also use the same recipe for my fruit tarts – I like it because it’s not uber sweet and it really highlights the fruit.

Peach Tart

A few posts ago, I had said that the strawberries were finally coming in and I showed a little basket of berries I had picked, which at the time I was thrilled about because we had been waiting for them to arrive.  Well they have arrived….

one days harvest

a few days later!

We are LOVING this!  Every morning we have strawberries with our cereal – so yummy.  We had so many that we made some strawberry ice cream (just grabbed a cheap ice cream machine at Target – not totally sure about it) – it was yummy – but we didn’t have the rock salt so the ice cream didn’t quite do what it should so we put the mixture in the freezer instead.  The custard base recipe was from, none other than, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters – my bible!  So creamy. 

We have another big batch of berries waiting to be picked so we’ll try again (we now have the rock salt – let’s see if that was the issue). 

In the meantime we will continue enjoying our berries as is, whenever we want them 🙂

What is your favorite way to eat strawberries?  In salads? In ice cream?  Right off the plant?

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