6.28.2012

window shopping: beverage dispensers.

They are quite the rage, aren't they? And a few years running, too. We received one for a wedding gift three years ago, and we don't need more than one, but I've been eyeing a few favorites.
Recycled Glass Drink Dispenser from West Elm; Southern Living's Beverage Jar from Ballard Designs.

Bubble Glass Beverage Jar from Sur La Table; *White Metal Beverage Dispenser from Target.
From Pottery Barn: Mason Jar Drink Dispenser; Square Recycled Glass Drink Dispenser.

Now's a good time to buy, if you're in the market; summer sales are abound.

*White found in-store only. Red and blue available online.

6.26.2012

dinner for three.

Well, hello there. I don't know where time went, but some light traveling really derailed my blog time, and I'm so happy to get back in the swing.

It's been two weeks now that I've been journaling dinner, and I'd say it's got us going in the right direction. I'm cooking with [red] kale, for goodness sakes. And I'm meal planning a little more. The market trips have decreased - not by much - but we're not there everyday. Which is a major milestone for our household, though we do love the friendly neighborhood Vons and all those who take good care of us there.
In the summer, we all want to eat lighter, don't we? I prefer not to log a lot of hours in a hot kitchen, but we're committed to eating with Mari, so we've accepted that we're going to eat lots of warm food, good grains and all-things-rice, like risotto, which happens to be one of my all-time favorite meals. It's like a blank canvas with endless possibilities, and over the weekend, we enjoyed it with roasted kale, pine nuts and chicken, thanks to Tyler Florence.

On recommendation from The Haystack Needle, I've been reading and loving Florence's Start Fresh, which is giving me just the confidence and inspiration I need to cook for three. This risotto was a good first step. 

Because risotto isn't complete without Parmesan, I added a good dusting. I also cooked this without bacon (sacrilege, I know) and omitted the pine nuts when I lightly pulsed Mari's portion, but we all sat down and ate this together. It was so liberating to cook only one dinner, and it was good comfort food that I could feel good about. Here's my method to this delicious dish.
Tyler Florence's Chicken and Kale Risotto with Pine Nuts and Bacon (adapted so very slightly)
From Start Fresh, page 65
Serves 4 to 6 adult servings or 8 to 10 kid servings

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 or 3 large kale leaves, ribs removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
1 small yellow onion, cut into wedges, layers separated
1 slice thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (optional)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
4 cups organic chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup (or so) of freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a pyrex or shallow glass baking dish, drizzle the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 35 minutes or until chicken has reached an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Remove from oven and cover with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and toss kale, onion, pine nuts and bacon (if using) with a very light sprinkle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop in the oven for about 15 minutes or until kale is crisp and pine nuts are lightly toasted.

While chicken and veggies are baking, bring the chicken stock to a light simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; keep warm.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the rice, toss in butter and cook for a good 2-3 minutes or until the rice is opaque. Add 1/2 cup (or so) of hot stock to the rice and cook, stirring constantly until all the stock is absorbed. Continue adding stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until the stock is gone. Off the heat, add a 1/4 cup of Parmesan and stir until rice is creamy and tender. Keep warm.
For your babe: transfer chicken, kale, onion, bacon (if using) and pine nuts (if using for kids) to a food processor and pulse on and off until coarsely chopped to desired consistency. Fold into a small portion of rice and serve warm.

For you: dice chicken in large chunks and fold it, along with kale, onion, bacon and pine nuts to the risotto.

6.18.2012

wknd snaps: top five.

On Sunday night, after Mari went to sleep, we decided that our Father's Day tradition would be that we spend it at a soccer game. Any match will do, really, because after watching the pride with which Eddie enjoys the beautiful game with his daughter, it just seems like that is his perfect day with his perfect little girl.
Now, take his pride, multiply that by infinity and you have the joy I feel when I observe this father-daughter relationship that is blooming daily, often on grass fields. It's heart-meltingly wonderful. And I never want to forget these special moments in time.

Add photo one above, and here are the top five from the weekend.

Two: Mari's flower of choice for Father's Day weekend - pink tulips.
Three: Surfer gazing from the Manhattan Beach Pier on our morning walk.
Four: Orange zesting complete for Father's Day brunch. On the menu: French Toast Bread Pudding.
Five: Ripping into dad's gifts.
Eddie: Thank you for making life so good. I love you.

6.15.2012

fresh summer salad, skewered.

Can you remember all the way back to Memorial Day weekend? What feels like yesterday also feels like it was so long ago, doesn't it?

I tried a new Giada De Laurentiis salad that I had flagged in this cookbook (which happens to be one of my favorites in my small library, btw). We enjoyed it at a birthday BBQ for Eddie and my brother, alongside chicken sausages and cole slaw. It was a refreshing alternative to your average fruit salad, due in large part to the appearance of basil (love it when it's homegrown!). Plus, anything on skewers just screams yum and fun, yes?
Go get yourself a juicy watermelon (use this knife!) and try this this weekend.

Giada De Laurentiis' Tomato, Watermelon and Basil Skewers
from Giada's Kitchen, page 25

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (cannot live without this balsamic)
1/4 cup sugar
1 four-to-five pound watermelon, cut into 1 1/2" cubes (about 32ish)
36 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
16 skewers

Combine the balsamic and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool.

Skewer your fruit as you like. Giada recommends this order: watermelon, basil then tomatoes. You can lay flat or serve upright, whatever you like. Drizzle the skewers with balsamic and olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt.

If you are going to arrange in advance, I recommend saving the drizzle and sprinkle for just before serving.

This is a great summer salad for party-going, potlucks and the like. If you're in the market for some short bamboo skewers, these are my favorite.

6.13.2012

home.

And, I'm back. Just returned home from a five-day stay in Lake Tahoe. It's really one of the most beautiful places I've ever laid eyes on, and for me, it was a brief trip down memory lane. We spent many summer vacations in Incline Village, in the same exact condo we just packed eight adults and two babies in, in fact.
It was the kind of family vacation I always imagined, where everyone converges under one roof from near and far, games are played, stories are told, laughs are had late into the night, babies share bath time and all that really, really good stuff. It was pretty special.

But, after any trip, long or short, I'm always so happy to be home. Even when that means a return to the same old routine, which now that I'm a mom, has been carefully crafted - but certainly not perfected - over the last 11 months (btw: Mari girl, happy 11 months today!). And, after our trip to the most beautiful lake nestled in the most beautiful mountains, coming home felt so good, especially for Mari.
Traveling with baby isn't hard, but it's not easy. This was our first plane trip with the little beauty, and it was a short, easy one (yes!). But, unlike our past trips, Mari had a tough time once we arrived in the mountains. She just never seemed to get comfortable. I don't know if it was the new stimulating surroundings, the weather (which was perfectly sunny and crisp, but a bit cool), the altitude or what, but she wasn't herself, and I think for the first time, she recognized she wasn't home.

Is that possible? Well, I'm sure it could have been a million things, but that's what I'm going with.

Because with babies, you never really know what's wrong, do you? Well, maybe you do (and if you do, can you clue me in?). Yes, I know her and she's my daughter and I should know what's wrong with her 24/7, but the truth is, I don't. I try so hard it makes me crazy, but I don't. Even when she's 11 months old, and seems to communicate with me so clearly 23.9 hours of the day. It's that 0.9 that had me all twisted inside, and I felt like the only cure was home.

I'm sensing that this is my nearly one-year-old reality check: my sweet Mari is growing up. She's so curious. She's fearless. She's a tough cookie on sleepless nights. She's got spunk. She's a little explorer and she seems to be acutely aware of her environment and who's a part of it. It's all so amazing to witness. Her auntie, uncle, cousin and grandparents make her smile, laugh, scrunch her nose, fake cough - you name it - but I think she's a bit too much like her mom. She craves home, routine and all that goes along with it.
And you really can't beat sleeping in your own bed.

I took a vacation from taking photos. Babies and grandparents shot lakeside, courtesy of my sister-in-law, Whitney. Second most adorable baby in the world pictured is Mari's cousin Carson, 3 months her junior.

6.07.2012

journaling.

Like so many of you, I'm a journal'er and love all things related. I love the art of writing details in long lists, on calendars and a lot of times, in emails to Eddie. These days, our lives seem to be meshed in Outlook, especially when it comes to daily to do's, like Mari watch, Target runs and nearly every day: what's for dinner.
In the past couple of weeks, making Mari's food has got me a little uneasy. For the last few months, I've had a well-oiled machine going of steaming, pureeing, freezing and storing everything from cauliflower to chicken. I feel good about what she's eating even when I'm not the one feeding her.

But, she's growing, and so is her palette, and now I can make fabulous things like barley with mint and asparagus (wow!); meals that are meant to be eaten fresh, and not thawed from the freezer. How am I going to do it everyday as a working mom?

I've had minor internal panic attacks about it, until last week when I found Dinner: A Love Story. This blogger/writer/mom extraordinaire has got me believing that if I can just start making a list, I can do it. Since 1998, Jenny Rosenstrach has been journaling what's for dinner - every. single. night. That's pretty remarkable, in my book.

At the core of Jenny's blog and her just-released-first-cookbook is that everything starts at the dinner table, and that's something I can get behind. My brother and I were raised with well-balanced, home-cooked meals nearly every night, and that's something to which I'm committed. Except, right now, our evenings are a bit of marathon sprint tending to Miss M. We get her fed, but we don't eat until after she's in bed. Which is usually at our coffee table, in front of the TV, and I don't think that that's what you'd call a family dinner.

Until last night. My husband made dinner and set the table for the three of us. It was a real first, and while we mostly just adored and fed Mari while our pasta cooled, I realized that we can do this, with four hands on deck and some serious planning.

Which starts with a journal. To my list of 2012 intentions, I'm adding this: planning / journaling dinner, every day, starting today. Who's with me?
By the way, the whole purchasing-of-journal on the same day as our first dinner at the table was a wonderful coincidence. I love it when life works in all the right ways.

Thanks to our good, good friends, Mari has her own placemat, and this thing really works.

6.06.2012

drool alert: caramel brownies.

I know we've been over this, but I'll start by saying: I'm not a chocolate person. I make chocolate desserts because I know that the majority of the majority loves chocolate, and when paired with caramel, you really can't go wrong.
I make chocolate for the masses, but I make caramel for Eddie. He loves it. So, for his birthday weekend, we treated ourselves to Annie's Eats' Caramel Brownies, and wow. I've tried a couple of chocolate/caramel-esque desserts, and now I'm done searching. This chocolate-non-lover has found The One.

Eddie doesn't love nuts in desserts, so I omitted the pecans, and my unpredictable oven required a little more baking time than suggested. These brownies are so ooey gooey that it's hard to know when they're done, so don't go far from the kitchen. This is an easy recipe that you want to make several hours ahead of serving time so they can cool, settle and gel just perfectly.

If you're wondering what soft caramels are, you're looking for the little caramel cubes wrapped in clear plastic. We couldn't find these guys, so Eddie, shopping for his own birthday dessert, gambled with Werther's Chewy Caramels and I have no complaints.
For a lovely, sandy afternoon at the beach with lotsa little hands, I wrapped the brownies in parchment paper and my favorite Divine Twine.

Go see Annie for the recipe, complete with mouth-watering photo. You can thank me later.

PS: Don't skimp on the foil prep. I'd say that it would be nearly impossible to remove the gooey goodness without it.

6.05.2012

water babies.

I'm totally crushing on little girl swim suits, thanks to my little water baby. Mari loves a swim, especially with her daddy.
A little one-piece- and patriotic-obsessed, I've been scouring websites and shops, and here are a few favorites, if you're in the market.
From left to right: Janie and Jack Dot Skirted Swim Suit; Boden Ruffle Swim Suit; Circo Anchor Swim Suit; Snapme Swimwear Freedom Stripes (found, thanks to Zulily).

From left to right: Juicy Zest Stripe; Kate Mack Striped Halter; Kate Mack Picnic Sail Two-Piece; Love U Lots One Piece.

Find any favorites yourself? Drop me a line!

6.01.2012

DIY: let's top a cake.

A long while back, I pinned this pretty pink rainbow cake and bunting, and it was the inspiration for cheery yellow garland that topped the cake at Krisa's shower. With some cardstock and few extra tools you probably have laying around your house, you can sweeten up your next dessert. Here's how.
You will need:
+ cardstock (felt, fabric or wide ribbon would be fun, too!)
+ stamps + ink (optional)
+ twine/string/ribbon (the thinner the better for small dessert toppers)
+ ruler
+ wooden skewers (check your local market!)
+ pencil
+ sewing needle (preferably one with a large eye to accommodate twine/string/ribbon)
1. Cut out triangles, rectangles or whatever shapes you like. I used the ruler and pencil to sketch straight lines. A protractor would probably be really helpful for triangles, but I just eyeball'd it.

2. If you're going to add any embellishments, like stamps, now's the time to do it (and if you do stamp, allow ink to dry completely).

3. With a needle (or a really mini hole punch), prick the corners of your flags so your needle has somewhere to go.
4. With a lot of extra slack, thread your needle and start 'sewing' your flags together. You will figure out what style you like, whether the thread crosses across or behind the flags. A lot of this is trial and error. I messed this up about 18 times before I got it right.
5. One you've threaded all flags, tie a knot or bow, tightly to your wooden skewers. I recommend leaving the skewers long until you are ready to top the dessert, at which point you can trim down if necessary. Same goes for your twine. I left it long and flow-y.
6. Voila. Cake topped.
And now, I'd like a slice (of that Susie Cakes vanilla celebration cake, to be exact). Happy June weekend, all!