Monday, December 21, 2009

Getting in the Spirit

Its been a difficult season for me to get into the holiday spirit, which is frustrating me since Christmas is one of my favorite holidays. However, some family issues have prevented a festive feeling, and it looks like I might be spending this holiday alone. In an effort to raise my spirits at this prospect, I'm hitting the bottle!

I saw this recipe for Rosemary Gin Fizz and it sounded like it might do the trick. Christmas in a glass? Yes please! It is very easy, and tasty, and I think I'll have another one tonight! Go on over to Sassy Radish and get the recipe.

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I also knit up this wine bottle cozy last night. Its a great alternative to using a bag or something as a wrapper for a gift. Its also a great stash buster to use up left-over partial skeins you might have. The pattern is from Tara's Knits, her Swirled Wine Bottle Cozy. I used some red and green yarn held double, and instead of doing the swirl pattern I went for plain stockinette since my variegating yarn looked too busy with the pattern as well. I also knit if flat and then seamed it up because I don't have the right size double-pointed needles.

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And my little fiber optic Christmas tree.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On the Side

Here are a few side dishes I've made recently:

I've had the sauteed mushrooms from our Thanksgiving dinner at The Mogul on my mind ever since. I whipped these up to go with Chris' steak one night, and they did not disappoint.

Wine Sauteed Mushrooms
based on this recipe at

1 lb. sliced mushrooms
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 c. dry white wine
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper

In a pan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and saute until browned and soft. Add garlic and wine and continue to stir for 5 minutes. Sprinkle lemon juice and parsley over mushrooms and toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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I made this quinoa salad the other night. I really like quinoa, but only ever make my Quinoa with Black Beans and Sweet Potato, so it was time to branch out. I saw this recipe at Vegetarian Times, and immediately wanted to make it. It makes a lot of salad!

The soup here is potato-leek from "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian"

Spinach-Quinoa Salad with Cherries and Almonds
from Vegetarian Times

1/4 c. sliced almonds
1 1/2 c. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 c. spinach leaves
1 c. dried cherries, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/3-inch dice (about 1 1/2 c.)
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 small red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)
1/4 c. plain low-fat yogurt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp.)

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread almonds on baking sheet, and toast 7 to 10 minutes, shaking pan occasionally, or until golden brown. Cool.

Bring 3 cups salted water to a boil in pot over medium-high heat. Stir in quinoa. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and cool, covered, in pot.

Lay 5 or 6 spinach leaves flat on top of one another on cutting board. Roll tightly into cylinder, then slice into slivers. Repeat with remaining spinach. (I forgot to buy spinach, so I used about a cup of chopped frozen spinach, which I defrosted and squeezed the excess water out of.)

Toss together quinoa, almonds, spinach, cherries, cucumber, chickpeas and red onion in large serving bowl. Whisk together yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in small bowl. Pour over salad, and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop, then serve.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Warming up the Home

With the cooler weather I've got the bug to bake lately. Not only does the place smell great when something is cooking in the oven, but it warms the entire condo up nicely as well. I saw this recipe for Cherry, Almond, and White Chocolate Biscotti over at gimme some oven and knew I had to make it. The texture is great, as promised - crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside.

Here's the ingredients:

Combine 2-2/3 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Mix 4 large eggs, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon almond extract and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a bowl with an electric mixer.

Add in dry ingredients and mix together until combined. Then add in 6 ounces dried cherries, 1/2 cup white chocolate chips, and 1/2 cup slivered almonds. Either mix by hand with a wooden spoon, or very briefly with the electric mixer.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. Knead lightly a few times to be sure that berries, chocolate and almonds are well-distributed. This dough is very sticky, so I had to add a good amount of flour. Divide dough in half.

Shape each half into long logs, and flatten to 1″ thickness. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

Remove rolls from baking sheet and cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Then cut each roll diagonally into 1/2″ slices.

Place the slices cut-sides down on a baking sheet. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove, and turn each slice over, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove and cool on wire racks.

Remove and cool on wire racks.

Drizzle with melted white chocolate.

Enjoy with your morning coffee, or cup of tea.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wine Tasting

Last Saturday I went wine tasting at Pride Mountain Winery in St. Helena, again. Same cast of characters, and just as fun. Its interesting to see my tastes change since last year - I said then that I found many of the wines rather dry, but not this time.

This is in the tasting room - a regular bottle of wine, and a mega bottle that holds something like ten bottles and costs about $800!

After tasting a few wines in the tasting room, a Voignier unfiltered and straight from the fermenter, and more wines in the caves, we had a picnic lunch at the lookout area at Pride Mountain. There's such a nice view up there, and plenty more wine to ward off the chill in the air.

I got to use my picnic basket!

So sweet... I think I just got a cavity.

Why yes, I did go wine tasting in stiletto booties and my grandmother's
suede and fur jacket. I felt rather glamorous that day.

A fantastic Merlot, and chocolate, and teeth stained from wine tasting.

I did not go home empty-handed. Oh no! Rich gave me one of his uncle's private label wines, and it is fan-freaking-tastic! I like it more than the Pride wines. And I got a hug from his uncle, who was sweet and funny and all-around great. And Stef and Philip gave me an ice wine. What can I say? I am one lucky girl!


Thursday, December 10, 2009


Stephanie over at Dispensing Happiness hosted a Blogging By Mail event, which is sort of like a Secret Santa gift exchange. She matched up bloggers and we were to send a package to our recipient with five of our favorite de-stress indulgences. I sent my package to Arlene in NY, and I received my package from Lindsey of Lindsey's Kitchen. And she sent me a great one!

First up, the chocolate. I think almost everyone probably sent chocolate; I know I did. There's a package of different chocolates from South America, and a dark chocolate orange that you have to whack on something hard to break up into segments. I love those!

Trader Joe's Chocolate Palette, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Orange

Next up, a big variety of teas. Man did these come in handy, since I've been sick for the past week. I've probably drank more tea recently than I have in my entire life, and I've had a great selection to choose from.

Bigelow Vanilla Chai, Tazo Calm, Tazo Green Ginger, Bigelow Pumpkin Spice, Tazo Zen, Tulsi Sweet Rose, Bigelow Apple Cider, Good Earth Sunset Red, Trader Joe's Pomegranate White

Next, soaps! I've always considered buying "fancy" soaps when I see them, but never do. But now I have some! I'm using the lemon verbena now and it smells wonderful, a real pick-me-up in the shower. I'm looking forward to trying the others out too.

Bisous de Provence Lavender and Lemon Verbena, Trader Joe's Tea Tree Oil

Fancy salt! This is another item I always look at and never buy, usually just sticking with my plain sea salt. This Celtic grey is really good; I've used it in soups and other dishes, and a little goes a long way so this will last me quite a while.

Celtic Sea Salt Light Grey

And finally, wine! I think I love you, Lindsey! This wine comes from a winery near her that she loves, and I can't wait to get together with some friends to open it. Isn't the foil pretty? And check it out, the bottle is numbered!

Lynfred Winery "Fred's White"

Major thank-you's to Stephanie for being the organizing force behind this event. It was a lot of fun planning my package to send out, and so cool to receive a care package in the mail. And kudos to Lindsey for sending such a great box of goodies my way. You have excellent taste!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Our Thanksgiving was spent doing housework at my father-in-law's place. All. Day. It really needed to be done and I'm glad we were able to take care of it for him. However, by the time we got back up to Mammoth none of us felt like cooking a meal, and I was suffering a cold or flu (which has returned, no-thank-you-very-much!). So we went out to The Mogul for Thanksgiving dinner. Greg had the flat iron steak, Chris had the porterhouse (huge!), and I went for a bowl of corn chowder. Veggie options are limited since its a steakhouse, and I was felling pretty terrible anyway so the soup was the perfect thing for me, along with about 4 cups of hot tea. We also shared the sauteed mushrooms, which were amazing, and for dessert had the Cinnamon Charlotte (my appetite returned for this delicious creation!).

So, Friday I was feeling a little better. The boys went out hunting and I decided I'd actually cook up a meal for us: baked chicken, risotto with roasted Delicatta squash and Parmesan, and salad. And to top it off, Greg's favorite: Apple Pie.

I used a pre-made pie crust since I didn't want to deal with making my own pate brisee in an unfamiliar kitchen. I still find the pre-mades too salty, but good in a pinch. I used this recipe from Joy of Baking, with no modifications. Despite macerating the apples and concentrating the syrup my pie was still weepy, but tasty. Next time I'd concentrate the syrup further I think.

Apple Pie

2 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 c. granulated white sugar
1/4 c. light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch

In a large bowl combine the sliced apples, sugars, lemon juice, ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Let the apples macerate at room temperature for about two hours. Then, place the apples and their juices in a strainer that is placed over a large bowl (to capture the juices). Let the apples drain for about 15-30 minutes or until you have at least 1/2 cup of juice. Spray a 4 cup heatproof measuring cup with a nonstick vegetable spray, and then pour in the collected juices and the 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Place in the microwave and boil the liquid, on high, 6 to 7 minutes or until the liquid has reduced to about 1/3 cup and is syrupy and lightly caramelized. (Alternatively, you could place the juices and butter in a small saucepan and boil over medium high heat on the stove... this is the method I used; I'll try the microwave next time.)

Transfer the drained apples slices to a large bowl and mix them with the cornstarch. Then pour the reduced syrup over the apples and toss to combine. Pour the apples and their syrup into a chilled pie crust. Moisten the edges of the pie shell with a little water and then place the top crust over the apples. Tuck any excess pastry under the bottom crust and then crimp the edges using your fingers or a fork. Using a sharp knife, make five 2-inch slits from the center of the pie out towards the edge of the pie to allow the steam to escape. Cover the pie with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill the pastry while you preheat the oven.

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Place the oven rack at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on the rack before preheating the oven. Place a piece of aluminum foil on the stone (or pan) to catch any apple juices. Set the pie on the stone or pan and bake for about 45 to 55 minutes or until the juices start to bubble through the slits and the apples feel tender (not mushy) when a toothpick or sharp knife is inserted through one of the slits. Make sure to cover the edges of the pie with a foil ring to prevent over browning after about 30 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 3-4 hours before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream. Store at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

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I also completed another knitted blanket, specifically for Greg, and realize I never took progress photos of it. Oh well, here's a couple badly-lit pictures of it:

Its actually a pine-green color, Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick & Quick yarn, about 10 balls/skeins. I based it on the Big Gray Blanket I made for Chris, but added some cables in alternating directions. My quick pattern:

CO 105 sts. on size 13 circular needle
Work 4 rows in garter stitch
* Set up pattern: 4st garter border, k7, p2, left-cross cable over 6sts, p2, k14, p2, k6, p2, k15, p2, left-cross cable over 6sts, p2, k14, p2, k6, p2, k7, 4st garter border
Work 5 rows even
Next row: 4st garter border, k7, p2, k6, p2, k14, p2, right-cross cable over 6sts, p2, k15, p2, k6, p2, k14, p2, right-cross cable over 6sts, p2, k7, 4st garter border
Work 14 rows even *
Repeat from * to * until you've reach the length you want, then work 4 rows in garter stitch
BO (I used the p2tog method).

I left my tapestry needle at home and had to improvise to weave in the ends with some needle threaders I picked up at the grocery store with big plastic handles and small-gauge wire threaders that I was able to bend to accommodate this chunky yarn. It worked decently enough, and while this was intended to be a Christmas gift for Greg I gave it to him right away, since he can definitely use it now.

Stay warm!

Monday, November 30, 2009


We headed up to Mammoth... again... for Thanksgiving.

The drive home

Thanksgiving morning Greg took Chris duck hunting at Crowley...

Borrowed gear, borrowed gun, borrowed dog, and borrowed duck

McGee Creek

Successful hunt


There was working at Chris' dad's house...

Mac helping with the raking

There was a snowstorm, and playing in the snow...

Ayla zooming around; Mac being to dignified to zoom for the camera

And there was the long drive home...

My favorite little valley, north of Bridgeport

Icy trees after Coleville

And there were sleepy dogs after a busy long weekend...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Whatever you think might be a novel idea... isn't. I suddenly thought up "apple pumpkin muffins" the other day, but a quick Google search let me know that I'm far from the first person to put together apples and pumpkin puree in a muffin batter. Ah, well...

I went with this recipe over at All Recipes. With a 5-star rating and 150 reviews, how could I go wrong? I made a few changes, which are reflected in my recipe below: less sugar, more pumpkin, no liners. These muffins are very moist flavorful. Next time I think I'd cut back the sugar to 3/4 cup, and use Granny Smith apples, which are more tart. I took half of the batch in to work and my coworkers were searching me down to let me know how much they enjoyed these.

Apple Pumpkin Muffins

2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
15 oz. (1 can) pumpkin puree
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 c. chopped peeled apples

Streusel Topping
1/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
4 tsp. cold butter or margarine

In a bowl, combine the first five ingredients. In another bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in apples. Fill greased muffin cups mostly to the top. In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over batter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

I made a dozen muffins and 8 or 10 mini muffins. If you make mini muffins be sure to take them out of the oven earlier, around 15-20 minutes should do it. You can check the muffins with a cake tester, toothpick, or, in my case, metal skewer. You should only have a tiny bit of muffin sticking to your tester after you insert it in the middle of a muffin.

By the way, these make the house smell delicious...

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The animals have all been very snuggly lately, probably due to the colder weather and the fact that we keep windows at least cracked open in our home most of the time since we like fresh air. All week the dogs have been hanging out on the couch with us of an evening, and the cat has taken to sleeping on top of Ayla.


Kitty no like flash photography!

Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and curl up with the one you love!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ooh, gourmet!

That's exactly what Chris said as I set a plate of this risotto and some baked chicken in front of him for dinner tonight. And it was quite good, too. Risotto can seem intimidating, what with all the stirring, but its definitely worth making. And there's something peaceful and zen about adding the stock, stirring, and watching it bubble away. The end result is creamy and warm and comforting.

Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic

1 small butternut squash
6 garlic cloves (less if you prefer)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

4-6 cups vegetable stock
4 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 c. Arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white wine (or water)
Parmesan cheese

Roast the squash:
Peel the squash, cut the neck off, and cut each half in halves. Scoop the seeds out of the bottom halves. Chop into 1" cubes. Roughly chop garlic. Put squash and garlic on a foil-lined baking sheet (trust me, it really aids in clean-up later) and drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Roast in a 375° oven, tossing occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until golden and roast-y.

Make the risotto:
Heat the veggie stock in a sauce pan over low. In a deep skillet melt 2 tbsp. butter over medium heat. When melted, add the Arborio rice and stir. Let the rice toast in the butter until glossy, stirring occasionally, 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine/water and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let the liquid bubble away.

Once the liquid is mostly gone start adding the warm veggie stock. Using a ladle, add about a half cup at a time and stir. Continue to stir every minute or so, and once the liquid is mostly gone, add another ladle-full. Continue in the manner. Start tasting after 20 minutes - like pasta, the rice should be soft on the outside with a slight bite in the center.

Once the rice is done add in the roasted squash and garlic, as well as the other 2 tbsp. butter. Top with grated Parmesan and serve immediately.

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I played a gig last night with the Hornet band, for a rather large crowd at a dinner event. Many people danced, which delights me to no end. One old woman wearing a forest green velour pants set had also penciled her eyebrows on in a matching green. Another old woman with a walker did slow, yet charming, spins around the floor, with a flourish at the end and obvious enjoyment. The youth group facilitating the dinner loudly danced to our big band music and drew in attendees to dance with them. It was wonderful fun.

After, a few band mates and I went for coffee and apple pie at a fast food place. The only other patron by that time of night was a truck driver, who chatted in line with us a bit. As we were fixing our coffee side by side the following conversation ensued:

Him: I've been working 29 years, 6 months, and 29 days.
Me: Not that you're counting or anything.
Him: I recently saw my hiring sheet. My date of hire was April 22, 19xx.
Me: Really? That happens to be the same day I was born.
Him: Well then, you are now 29 years, 6 months, and 29 days old.
Me: So I am.

We shared a laugh, and then went out separate ways. What an amusing and coincidental interaction with a complete stranger.

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Here are the faces of today's successful trip to the dog park...