November 2011

I’ll never get tired of summer Sundays in November. Never.

Today the boy and I took the paddle boards out for a few hours. We didn’t see any dolphins but we did see lots of fish, herons and some sting rays (or maybe they were skates?). I was sweating and HOT in just a bathing suit. Love.


When it comes to cooking, my motto has always been go big or go home. If I’m cooking for more than two, I tend to go a wee bit overboard on the number of dishes and quantity of food I make. That’s the reason Julia and I found ourselves in the kitchen all day yesterday, prepping a 22 pound turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, two kinds of stuffing, roasted brussel sprouts, biscuits, and pie. No shortcuts either…everything we made was start-to-finish homemade. Well, we cheated with the pumpkin pie and got one from Trader Joe’s. But considering that Julia made her own crust and a gorgeous strawberry rhubarb pie, we can let that one slide.

Did I mention we made all of that for just the two of us and Rachel?

To be fair, we were planning to spend all day cooking, and every minute was so much fun! We started our morning with a walk to Malibu Kitchen in hopes of getting scones for breakfast but sadly the place was closed. Instead we snacked on bananas and cereal while watching the parade and prepping the turkey. Julia and I split up our duties quite nicely. She is great at cooking meat, and at baking, so she handled the turkey, gravy, classic stuffing, biscuits and pie. I’m more of a side dish gal myself, so I covered the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, and a second stuffing. While Julia trussed up the turkey, I got to work chopping and cutting.

Curious to know what four loaves of cubed, toasted French bread looks like? Yes, that bowl is three times the size of her head!

One of the stuffing recipes called for cooking sherry. The wine guy at Trader Joe’s said we could absolutely drink some as an aperitif, but it was awful. Rachel gave the glass one sniff and walked away.

Luckily, Rachel brought over some champagne and a traditional favorite, sparkling apple cider. We quickly dumped our baby pours of sherry for these two drinks instead!

While cooking, we watched some holiday movies on Lifetime (terrible, yet entertaining) and taste-tested our way through each dish. Finally, around 4pm, everything was ready to go! Here’s our meal:

We went shopping for all the ingredients on Wednesday night, which is how we ended up with a ridiculous 22 pound turkey to feed three. We’re warned for next time…but still, Julia did a beautiful job.

Classic mashed potatoes in my family means potatoes, butter, milk and salt to taste. Delicious every time.

The grocery store was out of buttermilk (there were literally 8 people gathered in the milk aisle, searching for some), so we improvised with plain Greek yogurt in its place. Oh yeah, and I don’t own a biscuit cutter, so Julia went with Christmas tree shapes instead. Too cute, right?

I wanted to make a bread pudding-style stuffing, of which everyone was wary, which is how we ended up with two kinds instead. Julia made a classic version, simple with celery, onions and lots of herbs.

I followed this recipe for herb and apple bread pudding stuffing, and it was awesome! Not dry in the slightest; the only change I might make is more apples? Those bites were my favorite.

Rachel made another traditional dish, broccoli casserole. She used real cheese instead of fake cheese, and it turned out really good.

Normally we eat many more veggie sides, but we were running low on time so we decided to just let this recipe be the star. I saw roasted brussel sprouts with grapes and walnuts on the cover of Whole Living and immediately emailed myself the recipe. It was super simple and super yummy…I think I’m most excited for these leftovers!

Of course, we rounded everything out with homemade cranberry sauce. This year, I cut the sugar in half and couldn’t taste the difference. Cranberry sauce is another favorite that I only eat over Thanksgiving but absolutely love. Making the cranberry sauce the night before was our one big job as kids, and even now, I just love hearing those fresh berries pop!

Here’s my plate, plus many more nibbles on everything.

After dinner, we watched another movie while waiting to digest a bit. As soon as our stomachs had a bit more room, we dug into the pies. Here’s Julia’s beauty, step-by-step:

The pie was oh so good! We also had our cheaters’ pumpkin pie, which was actually pretty tasty.

After pie, we watched Just Friends (pure Ryan Reynolds gold) and changed out of jeans into stretch pants. I’m serious…I think that’s a sign of a fabulous Thanksgiving ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I decided to take a few trips that had been in the planning stages for way too long. I knocked Madison off my list a couple months back, and this past weekend, I finally made the trip to visit my college stomping grounds in DC. I think DC is a great city; after four years of school there, I was ready for something different, but I honestly do miss living there sometimes…and I miss my two lovely girlfriends, Lauren and Nicole, all the time!

My whole trip was great. Everything I did with the girls was just so quintessentially DC. First, it was freezing there. Well, compared to 70 degree weather in LA, of course. I borrowed a huge puffy, knee-length coat from Lauren for the first two days, which I fell in love with a little bit and seriously contemplated buying for myself. Luckily I remembered the whole 70 degree weather thing before buying an expensive down jacket. Second, everyone is so dressed up! I forgot just how cute and preppy and professional everyone in DC looks. Seriously, I felt like I was in a crossover commercial for The Limited and Express. I showed up wearing booties with thick socks sticking out the tops, yoga pants, and a huge cable knit sweater. Luckily, I like trying to persuade everyone to dress that way, so I didn’t mind. Third, DC has some great happy hours. Because of #1 (cold) and #2 (professional jobs), everyone heads home at 5 p.m. on the dot, stopping at a bar or two to warm up and celebrate the end of a long workday. That’s what Lauren and I did on Thursday with our friend Amy.

We took a metro (another thing I miss!) back to her neighborhood to meet her roommate at another, later happy hour. The next day, we had a nice lazy morning before heading out into Bethesda. Lauren and I actually lived together during college in Bethesda, and the stroll down memory lane was really nice. I kept pointing out all the things that were the same — like Cafe Deluxe, the independent movie theater, and Smoothie King — along with all the things that have changed — Chicken Out is gone! There’s a Paper Source! THEY BUILT A WHOLE NEW STREET! We decided on an oldie for lunch – Tara Thai – for soup, noodles and more noodles.

A few weeks back, I heard a segment on NPR about a Degas exhibit in DC. Lauren is a dancer herself, and the exhibit was still showing, so it seemed like the perfect way to spend a Friday afternoon. We started at the Phillips Collection; I’d never been before, but the building was only two blocks away from my old job in Dupont Circle. Again, old…new…old…new…it’s so intense visiting a former home.

Also, check out the puffy coat. You can’t tell from this picture, but it goes down to my knees. Kind of awesome, right?

Since we were on a bit of a museum kick after the very beautiful but very small Degas collection, we decided to head over to the Smithsonians. Sometimes when you live in a city, you don’t do the touristy things there very often, if ever. But I went to the museums and monuments all the time during college! At the National Gallery of Art, we stumbled upon more Degas. I might like his sculptures even more than his paintings…

We headed home for lattes and pinning (yes, I signed both girls up for Pinterest over the weekend), followed by a night of photo-free sushi, dancing and 3am pancakes! In the morning, Lauren and I said our teary goodbyes, and I took a metro cross town to Nicole’s place.ย  The two of us spent most of Saturday just hanging out and catching up. We talked a bit about her wedding planning (!!!), which was especially meaningful because I finally met her fiance for the first time — hi Justin! Nicole is a vegetarian who also eats almost no dairy or fish, so we talked a lot about food too. She made a delicious vegan pasta with avocado for lunch.

After a late afternoon stroll around downtown Alexandria, we headed back to Nicole’s up-and-coming neighborhood in Northeast DC. She and her fiance live in a super adorable house that’s about a 15 minute walk from lots of bars and restaurants. The three of us had an amazing round of drinks before dinnerย  — bourbon + ginger = delicious!

For dinner, we went to a place that specializes in mussels cooked in all different kinds of broth. How cool is that?! We had fun with my camera while we were waiting on the food…

I think I convinced them both to put my camera on their registry after Saturday night! We started dinner with beers. I’m not much of a beer drinker…but when in DC, right?

Luckily Justin is good at sharing, so I ordered a super creamy butternut/sage broth for my mussels but also got to taste his spicy-style bowl! Both were delicious, although I preferred his version for sopping up leftover broth at the end. Don’t be fooled if this bowl looks small. It was a massive amount of food!

We also got some really good fries for the three of us to split. Before ordering, I told Nicole and Justin that I’d probably just eat a few fries. With mussels, I prefer french bread over french fries — but these were awesome and I easily ate my share.

After dinner, we decided to walk back to the house. We stopped in one of their favorite bars but were ready to call it quits and left after a few minutes. By the time we got home, Nicole and I were practically falling asleep. Well, actually literally falling asleep, as we both unintentionally dozed off. The next day, we went for brunch at Busboys and Poets. The original location was around while we were in college, but I never ate there then. I had no idea what I was missing…grilled raisin walnut bread sandwiched with Fuji apple slices, fig spread and Gorgonzola cheese. What a delicious combo! I would never think to make this at home, but why not? It actually would be pretty easy to recreate, as long as you use really good bread. The Gorgonzola is a must, otherwise the cheese taste would be mostly lost.

Nicole ordered a veggie burger, which led to a 15 minute conversation on ingredients and texture. I love that she’s a crazy food lady like me!

By the time we got back to her place, it was time for me to start packing my bag and heading home to LA. Nicole drove me to the airport and we soaked up our last hour together. After another hard goodbye, I guess I can at least say that I know we all three had a great time. I think all New Year’s resolutions should be as much fun as this one ๐Ÿ™‚

This past weekend, my mom came and visited LA! Her trip included the perfect mix of lazing around and trying new things. Usually when people come into town, I’m compelled to pack the schedule with favorite LA activities, but my mom has already done most of the things that are normally on my list. We ended up eating dinner at home three out of four nights, watching funny TV, playing a few rounds of Apples to Apples and talking every morning over lattes. All of this downtime together was great, but we added two special outings to the list. The first was Rachel’s idea and a place I’d never before been — Griffith Observatory. The sky was cloudy and my camera died after this picture, but the three of us had a great time wandering around outside in the cold. What a beautiful building! What gorgeous views! I can’t wait to come back some time at sunset…with my fully charged camera of course.

Our second little adventure was my idea and a first for Rachel (both places were a first for my mom of course) — Malibu Wines. The three of us, plus the boy and Julia, spent a few hours snacking, tasting wine, and chatting. It was a little chilly out, but since the forecast was predicting rain and thunderstorms, we were happy that the weather wasn’t worse! Luckily I remembered to charge my camera battery and got snap happy with some of my favorite people.

In addition to the wine tastings that are offered, you can bring your own food and picnic on the tables or grass. Rachel and I put together a nice little spread including bread, crackers, goat cheese, brie, comte, white cheddar, fig jam, honey, salami, hummus and carrots. I’ve been to multiple Trader Joe’s locations with my eye out for this fig butter and I finally found it the other week. It’s absolutely delicious!

I also got a coupon for Sabra chipotle hummus through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program and saved it specifically for this picnic. Even with the chipotle label, I was pleasantly surprised by how spicy this hummus tasted. Sometimes I find hummus flavors to taste a little “watered down” for the general public, but it was packing a lot of heat and everyone loved it!

Usually I try a few different tastings but this time I got the “Thanksgiving” one twice because it ended with a caramel-tasting port. I never buy port wines because it takes me way too long to finish one bottle, but I might have to change that…port plus dark chocolate is a great combination.

At Malibu Wines, tastings range from $10-14 and include 4-6 pours in each. Plus, for each wine tasting, you leave with the glass. Julia donated her glasses to Rachel, upping her stash at home from zero to six in one afternoon. We stayed to sip and wander until our fingers got cold and the sun set…

…yup, we closed down the joint ๐Ÿ™‚

Starting Monday, I’m looking at three very busy weeks coming up. This weekend though, I don’t have too much to do and am making the most of my downtime by…doing nothing. After 10 hours of reading, surfing online, and lightly cleaning, even I get bored. I was suddenly inspired to make some homemade hot pretzels, so I found a recipe and happily discovered I had all the ingredients on hand. My eggs were almost three weeks past the package date (can anyone finish a dozen eggs? I always have at least six that are wasted), but a quick Google search confirmed that they’re still good 3-5 weeks after the sell-by. Whew! Having to go to the store for more eggs would have defeated the whole purpose of my lazy day at home, you see?

Homemade pretzels are actually pretty simple to make. After I wrote down the entire recipe so I could tack it to the fridge while baking, I discovered the words “standing mixer fitted with a dough hook.” Um…I definitely do NOT have one of those in my kitchen. I wish! I tried kneading the dough by hand for 6 minutes instead and you know what? It worked just fine.

The ingredient list is fairly simple: water, flour, yeast, brown sugar, egg, butter, salt and baking soda.

The dough came together quickly, but took me way too long to roll out. I might just have to ask for some real wooden boards for Christmas, and upgrade my rolling surface from the current too-small cutting board. This recipe didn’t call for boiling, but for dipping the dough rope into a mixture of water and baking soda before shaping the pretzel on a baking sheet. Each one got brushed with egg whites and doused in salt too.

I was pretty hungry while I was baking these, so it makes sense that I ate six pretzels hot out of the oven…right? They are SO tasty! The one thing I would change is to use some real coarse salt, instead of the sea salt I had on hand. Speaking of salt though, I ended up drinking two bottles of sparkling water before I went to bed. I could not believe how thirsty I was…totally worth it.

Can you believe it’s already November?? Luckily we’re still having a bit of Indian summer weather here in Southern California. When I left for work this morning, it was super bright and breezy, but warm — maybe the Santa Ana winds at work?

My normal morning commute has always included a big travel mug of flavored coffee, with a splash of milk or creamer and one Splenda. Certainly nothing to write home about, but it did the job. I used to drink lattes sparingly, as a treat. However, we recently got a Nespresso machine, and my massive morning cup has been replaced by a vanilla soy latte. Using the machine is super easy; just turn it on, pop in your coffee pod, pull the milk container out of the fridge and press a button for cappuccino, latte, macchiato, or espresso — that’s it!

Now my travel mug is drained before I even get to the office, but the coffee tastes so much better and I don’t need to use any artificial sweetener. Buh-bye Splenda! I will definitely drink to that.