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pi day

April 2, 2014

I have been waiting about two years to make this pie. Last year I didn’t get around to ordering the necessary tools in time, so it was another 12 months until it was time. Time for pi(e).

The first step is to order a set number cutters. Like, well in advance. And pay attention to the measurements because you might end up accidentally ordering ones that are WAY too big and then you are left doing a one-day order on some that are okay but smaller than you had hoped but you didn’t have time to look around for anything better, but of course a better size now pops up on a search quite easily.

Then find your favorite apple pie recipe, except you will probably need twice as many apples. Since you’re cutting shapes out of the slices, you’re going to have a lot of scraps left. I also found that the 0 and 8 digits were too tricky; I couldn’t punch them out of the cutter without breaking them. The others needed to be eased out gently with the help of the back end of a butter knife.

I decided against making a whole pie and opted to reduce the recipe for two little pies.

I was able to do the whole thing with just one crust, but as you can see the top crust on that bottom pie is piece-meal. I over-stuffed these babies with numerical goodness, which accounts for their lumpiness.

The lumpiness also meant that my clever top decoration didn’t come out as pretty as I’d hoped. But you know what? It’s pie. It’s gonna be fine.

And it was! More than fine, it was delicious.

double birthday all the way!

March 18, 2014

The title of this post, by the way, is the same subject line in the invites to my birthday party this year.

That’s because this marks the second year of the double birthday party that Jennifer and I put on. We’re 3 days apart, and with many of the same friends, it seemed best to invite everybody to one big party. Plus, more cake!

We started the tradition last year of baking each other cakes. Jennifer made a wonderful lemon & orange pound cake (upper left), and I made a chocolate sprinkle cake (lower right).

I got the idea from Oh Happy Day (where I steal a lot of party ideas, frankly), and nailed it.

It took exactly all of one giant bottle of sprinkles. The best way I can describe the method of applying the sprinkles to the sides is this: pour a bunch in your hand, and then slap your hand (gently) onto the side. Complete until covered. There will be a LOT of sprinkles falling. Next time I will also look for larger sprinkles.

The cake itself is my tried-and-true “fancy box cake” recipe:

  • Get one box cake mix (in this cake, two, because this was a 3-layer cake!)
  • Substitute apple sauce for oil
  • Substitute buttermilk (or regular milk) for water
  • Add an extra egg

I’ve done those substitutions for chocolate, lemon, red velvet, really any type of cake, and in each instance they came out great, and very moist. You can add other bits in as needed: for a lemon cake, put in a little lemon zest; for red velvet, add a packet of hot chocolate mix and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

This cake was chocolate, and I put a tart plum jam in between each layer to offset all the sweet frosting (butter-cream, store-bought, because I got enough to do already) and sprinkles. Delicious.

We had lots of other tasty treats as well:

Next to Jen’s cake is pesto guacamole. Yes, Pinterest. Yes, NAILED IT. I cheated, though, and added pre-made pesto. I don’t have a food processor, so home-made pesto is not something I’ll be making any time soon. At least not until after the wedding. I’ve got some exciting appliances on that registry, let me tell you.

In the foreground is baked brie. I borrowed the plating idea from The Glamorous Housewife, but modded the ingredients. I took a wheel of brie, and sliced in half. I put inside a couple tablespoons of pepper jelly and half a chopped clove of onion. More jelly and garlic on top, and bake until bubbly.

Because we’d been busy finishing up the dining room, decorations were a little last minute. But thanks to the 99 cent store, I was able to get some cute banners that I’ll definitely re-use later.

Easy! I hung a few paper globes in the living room (similar to the Halloween party) and called it done. We had put up the giant wall map just the day before, so I felt I had spruced things up enough already.

The real fancy part came from the guests themselves. We dubbed it a “choose your own era” costume party and encouraged everyone to dress up from whatever decade they fancied. And I finally got an excuse to wear a dress I’ve had hanging in my closet for at least 3 years.

I don’t know if I should brag or keep this a secret, but I found this lovely piece at Ross. I know! The shoes were a Valentine’s Day gift, and are from b.a.i.t. The hat I found one weekend at Creative Reuse, and it matches *perfectly* and I was so excited when I saw it, because I knew it was meant to be paired with this dress.

So of course I decided at the last minute not to wear it and go with something else. In my defense, I just don’t feel right wearing big hats indoors.

These lovely flowers were a birthday gift from last year, and this is probably the second time I’ve ever worn then. I have a few pieces from this seller on Etsy, and love them all. So still a win, in my opinion, in terms of dragging things out of the closet.

And now time to think about March! My St. Patrick’s Day board is, well, almost non-existent. March is going to be a busy month, so we’ll see what happens!

birthday breakfast, game of thrones style

March 13, 2014

Here’s my anxiety with cookbooks: I rarely use them. I may take one or two recipes out of a whole book, and make the dish once, and the book sits forever on a shelf.

And don’t even get me started with cocktail books. I have about 10.

So when I was given A Feast of Ice and Fire for Christmas, I was determined to make at least one thing from it.

And I did. Or rather, Sean did. I saw that they had a variation on one of my favorite breakfast dishes, and asked Sean to make it for me.

Biscuits and gravy! Bacon gravy, to be precise. With extra bacon on the side.

This may end up as one of our regular breakfasts, on those rare weekends when we have time to cook something more involved than eggs.

More birthday fun coming up! Stay tuned.

framed wall map

March 10, 2014

Remember that big empty wall in our dining room? Probably not, because I never took pictures of it. We covered it with a fabric tree during the holidays, but I had big plans for it.

Big map plans.

I had been jonesing for a ginormous map for a WHILE. If I lived in a house, I may have gone so far as to cover an entire wall.

Amazing, right? But that is not my dining room. My dining room is in a rental, so wallpapering wasn’t an option.

And after looking at the costs of framing the size of print I had in mind (so much!), I was starting to wonder if this was ever going to come to fruition.

Google to the rescue! There are lots of tutorials out there for how to showcase a large print. I narrowed it down to two options: Attach the print to dowels and hang as if it were a school map, or create a faux frame. Given the sheet size of the print, I worried that it wouldn’t hang so well off dowels. Best save that for something smaller, since it’s a cute technique that can be used at any size.

So, making a faux frame.

Step 1: mount the print to the wall with blue tape

We centered it between the two walls. Since we don’t have a sideboard yet, we went off of an estimated height (33″) and centered it between that estimate and the ceiling.

I had some doubt about just taping the edges. Would the print start to sag at all? Though if we’d done anything like some squares of double-sided tape on the back, it may have made it pucker a little. We’ll see how it looks over time.

Step 2: prep trim

We bought a basic trim at Home Depot and cut it to length. We could have been fancy on the corners, but edging is tricky and the blocks were much easier, frankly. We gave them two coats of stain and one coat of finish. This is the same stain we used on the bookshelves and desk unit, so it’s nice to have a consistent color throughout the rooms.

Step 3: mount trim

We rented a nail gun, since it would leave the smallest holes in the trim. And it only took a few minutes to put it up!

Step 4: putty and stain any holes

This was also a very quick step; it only took a few minutes to putty the holes, and then go over a bit later with a paint brush. However, we found that the stain was still too light and the holes were quire visible, so I went over then again with a brown marker.

Step 5: Stand back and admire your work

Awesome!

Not counting the time it took to stain and finish the trim, this went up on the wall in about an hour. And now that we had momentum, we hung more art in the room that I’ve been holding off on doing for months.

That small “Ireland” print to the right of the door was a birthday gift from last year.

And these three I’ve had since the old apartment. They’re photos I took at the Mountain View Cemetery in Piedmont, with my old (and now broken) Lomo camera.

And yes! Curtains! These were from Target and a Christmas present to Sean and me from “Santa” (me). They’re slightly off-white, and give a nice balance to the whites and browns in this room.

The dining room can now be considered almost finally finished! We just need a sideboard, perhaps a fancier bar cart, and I already have a few other prints I’m thinking of buying. But now that there’s art and curtains, it definitely feels more comfortable.

allspice cocktails

March 6, 2014

Forbidden Island in Alameda is a great tiki bar. It’s an amazing bar. It’s an award-winning bar.

And they took my favorite drink off the menu.

We took some friends there in January, and their menus had been re-printed. I browsed through to find my favorite and found that it was gone, gone, gone!

It was the In Vino Veritas, and it was the best.

Not to worry, I’d already figured out how to make it at home! The menu had described it as a mix of rum, red wine syrup, citrus, and allspice. I could do that.

(But the cocktail is still on the website? I couldn’t have missed it, I scoured that menu. But it was also dimly-lit, and we’d also just split a Virgin Sacrifice, sooo…)

allspice

Step 1: Acquire allspice.

Not as easy as you’d think! I couldn’t find it at any local stores (didn’t know what it was, would have to special order it, sold out and didn’t plan to re-stock), so I had to order it online and cough up the extra cash for shipping. I threw in a bottle of Hangar One Spiced Pear Vodka, just to make the purchase worth my time.

Step 2: Make red wine syrup.

Red wine syrup is extremely easy to make. It’s simple syrup, with wine instead of water. Simple!

Step 3: Guess at the rest of the ingredients.

There was some trial and error. What did they mean by “citrus”? A splash of lime? Lemon? It took a few tries, but eventually we figured it out:

In Vino Veritas Maxime (“In Wine, There is Truth, Mostly”) — from Forbidden Island, Alameda

  • 1 shot dark rum
  • 1 shot red wine syrup
  • 1/2 shot allspice
  • top off with orange juice

And there it is! Mostly. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s close enough that my memory of the original can’t tell much of a difference.

I’ve been enjoying allspice so much, I tried recreating a few other cocktails from local restaurants:

Santo Spirito Magis et Minus (“Holy Spirit, More or Less”) — from Boot and Shoe Service, Oakland

  • 1 shot rum
  • 1/2 shot allspice
  • splash of simple syrup
  • splash of lime
  • top with tonic

The original is also served with a sprig of mint. When I asked the server if he could leave off the mint, he started in with the whole “That really changes the flavor of the cocktail…” spiel. Dude, it’s a garnish. I hate mint and love everything else in this cocktail. I just didn’t want to pick it off and waste food.

Angry Russian Mule, Probably — from Build, Berkeley

  • 1 shot vodka
  • 1/2 shot allspice
  • dash of bitters
  • splash of lime
  • top with tonic
  • sprinkle with ground clove

Yum! Sadly, the allspice didn’t make it through winter. The last was used in a rum/apple cider/ginger beer punch over the holidays.

Worth it.

christmas party!

March 3, 2014

You saw a peek of the apartment all dressed up for Halloween (more photos on Flickr), and I really wish I had taken more of our Christmas decor. Because I am all about the mini trees. I am not even joking.

So many that I ran out of space in front of the fireplace!

And then of course Sean’s mother gave me two more, which I’m saving for next year.

We’ve decided to order a tree next Christmas — a big white retro one! I will have to show constraint and not put out all the mini trees. Unless I want to make a Christmas forest. Hmm…

Back to the rest of the apartment. I took inspiration from this idea on Oh Happy Day and my continuing tree obsession to make these lovely hanging decorations.

The best part is that they stack up neatly and can be re-used next year!

My favorite decoration was, yes, another tree. But bear with me here, because this was really sweet.

It’s a photo tree! I picked up this fabric from IKEA last year. We stapled the top to a large dowel, and attached that to our bare dining room wall (not bare anymore — stay tuned for that post!). We put it up after Thanksgiving and added photos any time someone came over. By the end of the month, the tree was full!

When it was time to take it down, I gave many of the pictures back to people. Then we rolled up the tree and stuck it in the closet until next year!

The camera we used, if you’re wondering, is an Instax Mini 25. Why did I pick this over other Fujifilm/Instamax cameras? Because it has a little mirror next to the lens, for selfies!

We had quite a spread for our holiday party, but I was especially proud of my food wreath. I didn’t even get the chance to take a picture of it before it get being devoured.

Yes, I got the idea from Pinterest, and yes, there weren’t even any real instructions! I gotta brag about this one, it looks just like the original, AND it was very yummy.

All in all a very fun and festive party. You can check out more pics of my holidays on Flickr.

adventures in juicing

February 27, 2014

I got a juicer for my birthday! I’ve been interested in trying out having juices for breakfast & lunch.

Our regular meal plan, you see, is incredibly boring. Lunch during the week is chicken and mixed veggies. The chicken is just boiled and cubed, and we rotate through various sauces that we’ll pour a tablespoon of on top — curry, jalapeno jelly, pesto, peanut sauce, etc. The veggies are usually broccoli, green beans, peas, corn, etc. We buy them frozen and just dump them into the container with the hot chicken. By lunchtime, the chicken’s cooled off anyways, and the frozen food is still frozen. It all heats up uniformly in the microwave. And if you’re crying out, “But why not cook your veg fresh??” you may want to consider the opinion that frozen veg may actually have more nurtients. In truth we do it out of convenience and to save time in the mornings.

And dinner is usually more of the same — protein and vegetables. Fun times! Weekends we have more carbs and sugars, but nothing too crazy. We’re in Girl Scout Cookie season, here, so I’m going to cut myself some slack.

So, juicing.

We chose the Breville Compact, due to its size and price. It works great! Though I think my favorite feature is the little foam blocker on the pitcher, it really helps pour out just the juice.

I started by playing around with just a sweet juice in the mornings, combining carrots, oranges, apples, sweet potatoes, and beets — using any 3 out of those 5. Both oranges and apples are what sweeten it, so I wouldn’t recommend using a lot of both in one batch.

carrot cake

The above juice was my very first creation — a “carrot cake” juice.

  • 4 carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 1 1/2 sweet potato
  • dash of cinnamon on top

Delicious! And just a little bit creamy.

But now I’m moving on to green juices. A little less palatable, honestly, but I’m working on it. I’ve adjusted to my regular bland diet, I’m sure I can adapt to a liquid salad.

beet veggie

Easing into it, this is a good beet juice recipe:

  • 4 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 beet
  • 3 handfuls spinach

I found that the spinach didn’t yield a lot of juice. I’ve experimented with when to put it in, and first seems to be the best option. And it if makes too much pulp, empty that out before putting in the rest. Beets and carrots also make a lot of pulp, despite all the juice that comes out.

After combing through dozens of recipes online, I’ve come to discover that they’re mostly all variations on the same key ingredients: cucumber, celery, leafy greens (kale, spinach, lettuce, parsley, etc), lemon, and sometimes ginger. More than 2-3 stalks of celery will add a strong peppery taste, so many recipes also throw in an apple or two to sweeten it. Some people recommend Stevia or Splenda, but I’m hesitant to add artificial sweeteners.

IMG_20140227_080148_071

Packed for work: kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, apples, and lemon.

Things I need to consider: This is actually going to have more carbs than the very minimal intake that I’m used to, and also more fructose. I’ll have to stick with green juices and avoid too much fruit. Plus I’m losing out on the fiber, so dinner will feature more salads and roughage than steamed veg. Weekends will have to be a bit more regimented as well, with fewer indulgences.

So we’ll see how it goes. If I decide to keep going, I may ramp up to a 7-day juice diet. You know, for fun science. In the mean time, I have plenty more recipes on my Pinterest board.

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