October 2011

I love the holidays, especially Christmas. Part of what makes this time of year so special to me stems back to childhood, where my family had dozens of traditions to turn each holiday into a month of celebrating. Halloween used to mean trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, eating candy corn, making caramel apples, and designing costumes. But in this particular stage of life — out of my family home but not yet in a new home of my own — holidays fall by the wayside. Don’t get me wrong, I want to celebrate, but since college, Halloween has meant a night out on the town and a last minute, ditch effort costume and that’s about it.

This year, I’m determined to bring back at least a few traditions and keep the holiday spirit going even longer. This past weekend, I ticked off quite a few:

Pumpkin carving!

Drinking pumpkin brews! For the record, neither really tasted like pumpkin, but the KBC that I got from Trader Joe’s was better.

Making caramel apples, snacking on candy corn, and roasting pumpkin seeds!

Eating pizza…okay pizza doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Halloween. But it’s much needed after so much candy! The boy went to Tra De Noi and picked up a pie per person — I got my favorite, the burrata.

I’m so glad I have friends in LA who are happy to spend a day just like this one! Well, days like this one AND days like Friday, when Julia met me on my lunch break for a quick visit to the pumpkin patch…then went home to test bake some pumpkin cookies for everyone to share. They were so darn good — thanks Jules!

Now I pull up to my house every night to see two glowing pumpkins, and I’m put in the holiday spirit all over again. The little things really do make all the difference!


I just recently made a discovery, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.

Two words. Pecorino Romano.

Growing up, I hated Parmesan cheese. I mean, the stuff smells like feet, right? My sisters used to tease me by passing the open container across the table right under my nose as I’d gag in protest. My Parmesan aversion basically included any finely grated white cheese…until a few weeks ago. I bought some Pecorino Romano to add to homemade pesto (I don’t mind it as much when masked by other ingredients), and it totally made the dish. Since then, I can’t stop making Rigatoni (my latest pasta favorite) or topping it with this gorgeously sharp, salty cheese. Who knew?

Malibu isn’t wine country, not by a long shot. However, there are a few different vineyards with tasting rooms, and the five minute drive to get there definitely beats the 7 hour trip to Napa. This weekend (before Stella Rosa!), the boy went surfing while I sat on the sand and watched/read for a while. High tide almost booted me off the beach, but we stuck it out and stayed until lunchtime. On the way home, we drove past the Rosenthal Estate and decided to stop for a tasting and something to eat. We ended up each getting one tasting with 6 pours apiece and a cheese plate to share.

I didn’t have my camera with me, but the boy had his phone and I discovered Hipstamatic…love, love, love. Except we couldn’t quite figure out how to frame the shots properly. Guess I’ll have to practice!

The tasting room is basically sitting squat in the middle of a blacktop parking lot. Pacific Coast Highway runs right alongside, which on one hand means a lot of loud passing cars. On the other, you can drink your wine with a view of the ocean! Cheers to that.

Last night, I was majorly craving pizza. I’ve had Stella Rosa flagged in my inbox for ages, but reading Lynn’s review really sealed the deal. Unfortunately, our 3 hour cable appointment earlier in the morning resumed around 7PM (and it’s still not fixed! Gah!), so going out was out of the question. I started to feel eat-my-arm-off hungry and turned to an easy garlic pasta that was super easy and tasted delicious. Simply saute two minced garlic cloves in 1 tbsp. olive oil on medium heat until fragrant — just be careful not to burn the garlic. Cook the pasta of your choice in heavily salted water and toss a few slices of bread brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt or garlic salt into the oven to toast. Combine pasta with olive oil/garlic mixture, add salt and pepper to taste, and top with Pecorino Romano cheese. Fresh parsley would have take this dish over the top, but basil is really the only fresh herb I ever have on hand.

After our super easy dinner, we made the best of the cable dilemma and popped in a DVD — Whatever Works. I think it’s because both my parents love Woody Allen films, but his movies always feel special to me. This one unfolded just like a play, with Larry David giving several asides and talking right to the people in the theater. Or, at home on the couch in our case. It wasn’t my favorite Woody Allen movie, but it was definitely funny and I loved Evan Rachel Wood’s clueless, small-town-girl act.

Don’t worry, I got my Stella Rosa fix on Sunday night with the boy and Rachel.

I had a nice glass of wine and a white pizza with mushrooms, gruyère, truffles, parsley, rosemary and thyme. The dough at this restaurant is made fresh daily and left to sit and ferment for 18 hours before use, resulting in a very crispy and light crust.

The boy one-upped me with a tomato-based pizza topped with coppa (a salted, cured meat), smoked mozzarella and basil.

Rachel’s pizza was the only one I didn’t photograph, but I think it was my favorite…just a plain margarita. I love slightly sweet tomato sauce which her pie had. Overall, I thought the pizza was good, but I’m still naming Pitfire my LA favorite. There’s something about the crust at that place that wins me over every time.

For dessert, we stopped next door for giant cookies. I ate a heavenly quarter of this chocolate chip sea salt monstrosity. You can’t tell from the picture, but the cookie is about the size of my face.

I gave Rachel my leftover pizza…but the leftover cookie is all mine — tucked away, waiting for tomorrow. I’m already excited to warm up the rest Monday night as a special treat to start the week. As far as desserts go, I’m not sure there’s anything better than sea salt and chocolate!

I’m a subscriber to so many different sites (some intentionally, some not). Normally I hit “delete” after a half second scan of each email, but sometimes one will catch my eye and remain in my inbox until I give it some attention. A week or so ago, I received “101 Reads for a Deserted Island” from Daily Candy. Sign me up! A few I’ve read and loved (The Imperfectionists, Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Corrections), a few I’ve read and honestly didn’t love (The Help, 100 Years of Solitude), but many more are totally new to me.

I picked up one of the books on the list, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, and read it cover to cover this past weekend, thinking that I’d have to rent the movie soon as well. At 11:15 am on Saturday, I checked the TV schedule — just in case — and would you believe it? The movie was playing once in the next few weeks…at 11:30 am that very day. Record.

I thought the book was really interesting. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s basically a narration by a young woman who reflects on her childhood and how it’s brought her to her current place in life. Much of the book centers around an English boarding school and the children who attend — children who come from unconventional beginnings and have a very specific, somewhat disturbing destiny.

But the movie…okay, I will admit, it was a lot of fun to follow the book almost immediately with the big-screen version. I actually found that all three of the main adult characters (played by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly and Andrew Garfield) did a great job. But I felt badly for all the people who must have walked into this movie and left with absolutely NO CLUE what it was about. I think this might be one of those books that’s just too hard to condense for a film version? There was one awkward scene where a teacher basically explained the whole plot out of nowhere, because there wasn’t enough time to build it up any other way.

Final verdict? Read the book! If you watched the movie, read the book!