Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The tiny happinesses of a busy life

It seems as though the busier times in my life, such as this fall has been for me, require lots of fun and happiness to keep me going. Thankfully, the busy-ness of November has simply involved a whole series of fun and happy events doing the things I love to do, spent with the people that I know and love. To be completely honest, it has felt happy the way Christmas is supposed to feel(but never does) and for that I am grateful, since we are in fact, now going into the holiday season, which I so dread. I now feel much more fortified and able to deal with the stresses and mental tiredness that Christmas brings.

November started off with the happiest of things, a visit from Parents!

This visit included a lovely tea with friends and my dear, sweet mother. It couldn't have been more perfect.

We then had a series of crazy things happen in life which required cake as a solace, so I made a happy visit to Pangea bakery and cafe, which I adore!!

I enjoyed the green tea mousse with oolong tea - this was a real treat.

And I took a few little egg custards home to share with Matthew.

The end of the month has really been lovely with celebrating Thanksgiving and simply enjoying time with friends. I've also indulged in a few little purchases: tiny pans, persimmons, funny christmas cards, etc.

The persimmon is for reference so that viewers will understand just how tiny this pan is!!

I've also been thoroughly enjoying persimmons from the Japanese market

The pan is just adorable and fits perfectly under my broiler. I always have so much trouble fitting a full sized pan under the broiler that I bought these little ones for that purpose, but also to have on hand for baking tiny squashes and other small baking jobs. Maybe I should make some itty bitty cookies on them? that might just be too cute!! =)

Well, whether I'm ready or not, Christmas is on it's merry way and I've finally started to face this fact!!

Here are a few fun cards that I thought match so perfectly my Christmas sentiments
Might be the wrong gender to be me, but the sentiment is the same =)

Hey! that's the way to make punch!! Gin Punch, that is!!

Tis the season for Gin, Gin and more Gin! =)

The Holiday display at Hillcrest Hardware - one of my all time favorite places to do my Christmas shopping!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

a clever little "burrito"

This year, for the first time in many years, Target's Halloween decor was really, really fun and totally up my alley. It was, admittedly, just their usual style of cheap knock-off versions of other brands. I saw similar and much fancier versions of Target's owl line at Pottery Barn, but that still didn't keep me from buying Target's totally affordable and much more usable versions.

So, all of this to say, I was a little bit silly(imagine that) this year and bought a whole set of tiny owl cheese knives. I'd seen them when Target first put their Halloween decor out, but knew I didn't have even one more tiny hidey-hole to store them in once Halloween was over. Lucky for me, a few weeks later I realized that I could just use them for everyday, because that's the kind of girl I am. We do keep bats and a few Halloween decorations up all year round, so the little owl cheese knives would fit in just fine with our usual tiny bat-cave ambiance.
They come extra reflective so as to show off my fabulous forehead.
Once I'd acquired the adorable little critters, I needed to develop a safe(to them and me) way to store them, hence the little burrito style wrap. I sewed this up last night with some old felt squares that I have cluttering up my sewing boxes. It was very easy to sew, since it is all straight lines. I didn't bother to pull out my sewing machine for such a small project and so just hand stitched these simple stitches. I decided to put ribbon ties on both sides of the pouch so that I can tie it up from either side, depending on how the knives roll up together. I also made one extra pouch so that I can fit another knife if need be, or just use the extra space to help cushion the other knives.

A ribbon tie on the right side
A ribbon tie on the left side, too!
The truth is, despite all the totally fun toys I make, I actually love working on useful sewing projects; it makes me happy to know that I'm solving a problem with my abilities, limited abilities though they may be. 

Fancy little cheese knives!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

a handful of blueberries makes all the difference

I'm am posting two different jams here today. The little jar in the photo contains my strawberry blueberry jam and the large jar contains my plain strawberry jam.

The two berry jam actually only contains a quarter part blueberry, the other three parts are strawberry, but that handful of blueberries makes the entire jam taste of crunch berries. It is completely delicious!

The plain strawberry is very good as well, but it has a much cleaner, more simple flavor. The color of the strawberry only jam is nicer though, and I love the brighter red color; it really has that classic "jam" look.

I have gone overboard stocking my cupboard with more jam than I need this year. A week ago or so, I made some figgy jam(much like last year's) and though I didn't do a water bath for it, I did turn the jars over for a quick seal to help it stay fresh for a little bit longer in the fridge. And, just a few hours ago I made some grape jelly out of my favorite Kyoho grapes from the Japanese Market. The grapes are a little bit expensive but have such an amazing flavor and sweetness. I added just half a cup of sugar to the entire 4 cup batch. I am worried about it's consistency though and may not post on the jelly if it didn't turn out.

All in all, a very jam filled autumn. I think I may need to start giving some jam away. Hopefully all of my friends don't mind jam made with either less sugar or even just honey. I simply love the extra fruitiness of jam that doesn't contain more sugar than fruit. It really tastes more flavorful.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Growing things...again...

I'm attempting to grow things again, but this time I've been a bit more successful than usual. I've discovered that the trick to making things grow is to water the plants more than once every week or two, especially when it's super hot out. It turns out much better for the plants and means I get to actually enjoy the freshness of a living plant, as opposed to my usual dried up old twigs sticking up from the soil.

I was surprised the spinach actually grew up nice and healthy, considering the seed packet was several years past its best by date and the packaging was warped from having gotten wet. Now, I really should pick it before the bugs eat it!

This giant tumble of radish greens is what is left from me thinning about half of what I originally planted. I think there are still too many radish plants in that one tiny pot. They'll never produce anything. Oh well, we did enjoy a good sized bundle of baby radish greens and now that they are too big and tough to eat, I am just enjoying the greenery of them when I walk up to my front door.

I also planted a whole mess of mixed micro greens but they have already grown up to be their delicious full size of about two inches tall and been consumed by a tiny hamster who lives next door.

Growing things is so much fun!!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

fall colors, summer flavors

 This September has been abnormally hot for San Diego which isn't really a problem and I certainly won't complain about it here, but I will admit that it has set off the game of tug of war that is happening in my brain. A part of my brain keeps thinking about the start of fall and the beautiful colors that come with the start of that season, while the reality is that the weather is very warm and my taste buds want the fresh, summer flavors that are still perfectly appropriate(according to the temperature gauge).

Grated carrot and couscous salad with fresh radish sprouts from my hanging planter
Cream of tomato soup made with fresh tomatoes and basil
So, this month I've been making dishes that have summer flavors but in autumnal colors to remind me that it won't be long until my favorite season arrives....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Breakfast: bright and fresh

Taking a clue from my favorite, fancy coffee shop, Bassam's Coffee House and Tea Room, I decided to make granola and yogurt parfaits for breakfast yesterday morning. I enjoy their parfaits so much that I thought I might try my hand at making one and, while it wasn't nearly as good as their version, it turns out I can make a decently beautiful and tasty parfait. Such a refreshing breakfast!

The glass frosted up instantly because of the high humidity but you can get an idea of all the tasty layers

On Sunday, I knew I would need granola for the parfait so I whipped up more of a "kitchen sink style" of granola than I usually make. I usually follow the recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but I knew I didn't have any coconut so I just mixed a little honey, a drizzle of oil, a couple spoonfuls of maple sugar and various flavorings (a pinch of cinnamon and allspice, a splash each of vanilla and lemon extract) until it smelled good enough to eat. I stirred in a few scoops of oats and even a half scoop of rolled barley along with whatever nuts I could find in the freezer. After the grains were well coated with the "dressing" I baked the granola for a half hour or so, really just until it looked crispy and delicious.

I love improvising with recipes because sometimes it leads to delicious discoveries; with this particular recipe experimentation, since I wasn't trying to follow a recipe exactly, I felt comfortable adding a little rolled barley to the granola. Turns out, rolled barley is extra crunchy and delicious in granola. I love it!

See the different grains? the cute little barley sticking up in the middle?
 You can see in the close up of the granola a difference between the grains. The rolled oats are wider in diameter but rolled to a thinner depth. The barley is narrower in diameter but thicker in depth. I think the compactness of the barley is what makes it crunchier. Whatever the reason, it's a happy discovery! so, remember to experiment with your cooking!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

totally normal girl canning

The subject of this post is actually a total lie! I still feel like such a super talented amazing grown up with my recent spat of big girl canning projects. Perhaps with a few more canning projects under my belt I'll finally feel as though using a proper water bath and sealing up jars is "totally normal girl canning" but until then I'll continue to revel in my feeling of happy, superior success!

This week I very successfully canned four pints of tomatoes. I got a pretty good deal on some locally grown tomatoes so I went ahead and bought enough of them that I felt an intense urgency to do something with them before they all went bad.

 I don't really know what I'm going to make with these home canned tomatoes that I couldn't make with store bought canned tomatoes, but while canning I recalled a memory of my grandfather insisting that he simply could not make his favorite goulash without a quart of home canned tomatoes. He said that store bought canned tomatoes did not give his favorite dish the proper flavor. That memory has always instilled in me the idea that home canned tomatoes are naturally far better than any other canned tomatoes. Whether that is true or not, who knows! I guess I'll find out this fall when I use these happy little jars of tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Big Girl Canning

Today, for the first time in many, many years, I used an actual hot water bath to seal up my home made peach jam. It has been two years since my last attempt to seal up a sad little batch of Limequat curd and we all remember how that went!

Naturally, I used my new, itty bitty jars.

I felt very grown up doing things properly with sanitation and nice lids and using pectin, all the things I've avidly avoided in my jam making since moving to the most miniature apartment in the world (perhaps a slight exaggeration since mice tend to find it very roomy). Fortunately, all my jars sealed properly and the jam has set nicely; I guess I haven't completely forgotten everything I know about canning.

This jam was made with honey, instead of sugar, and so it has a slightly richer flavor than if I had made it with sugar. I also added about a tablespoon of vanilla extract to the jam to give it a slightly more complex flavor. Yum!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Emergency pickles

Last Tuesday, while I was prepping veggies for ease of that week's dinner preparation, and therefore digging around in the frightening depths of my fridge, I came across a sad little baggy of baby carrots that I knew I needed to use very soon or else summon up the will to throw them away. I decided that a quick pickling was the best way to save them from a sad, slimy fate.

Here are the carrots layered with some thinly sliced cucumbers that were also taking the slow path to the garbage can.

I made a very salty brine and warmed it briefly, then tossed the carrots in the hot water before layering everything with a couple cloves of garlic and some tasty spices.

A refreshing, crunchy snack on a hot day!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

favorite summer soup

The Garden Zucchini Soup recipe from The City Gardener's Cook Book has long been my favorite summer soup. I realize that "summer soup" sounds a little crazy, so I should probably clarify that this can be served hot or cold. I actually prefer it as a chilled soup.

I started making this as a way to use up zucchini from the garden, back in the days when I was living at home and my Mother would plant a half acre garden. Of course, long gone are those days of picking everything fresh and complaining about having too much fresh zucchini and heirloom tomatoes. Still, I did create my own mini zucchini crisis last week by purchasing too much fresh summer squash at the market and have spent the last week trying to figure out ways to use it up. I have to admit, that feeling of zucchini overload really went a long way to making it feel like summer around here, well, that and the crazy heat wave we've had this past week in San Diego (what? you say 85 isn't a heat wave?).

So, once again, because this book is no longer in print and is, in fact, almost impossible to find I'm going to go ahead and post the recipe to this blog.

Garden Zucchini Soup
6 cups sliced zucchini
1 onion, chopped(naturally, I use shallots)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups broth
1-2 Tbsp curry powder
lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper

cook veggies in olive oil in a sauce pan for 10 minutes. Add curry powder and salt to pan, cook a further 1-2 minutes, add broth and heat until veggies are soft. Using stick blender, blend soup to smooth consistency. Add lemon juice and pepper to taste.

I love to eat this soup when it is hot but I prefer it even more after it has chilled and the flavors meld in the fridge. I am finding that the easiest way to store soups in the fridge is in a large canning jar. I used to try to stuff the whole sauce pan into my, usually, very crammed fridge but when I was back home the last time I noticed my mother keeps her leftover soup in a half or full gallon sized canning jar, which she has done for as long as I can remember. It is only now that I realize how perfectly this solution works. Vertical storage!!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

wee-est canning jars

 I just have to show off the newest addition to my canning jar collection. While browsing the shelves of my local hardware store, I found a whole flat of these teeny little canning jars.

12 jars is really too many to store in my miniature apartment

You can see these 4 oz. jars are even smaller than a half pint, these are quarter pint sized. So, itty bitty!
 In all honesty, I don't have the space to store even a mouse in my tiny house and would have preferred to buy just 1/2 a dozen of them, but since they only come in a box of 12 I figured I should buy the 12 and hope it encourages me to can and then give away tiny jars of jelly. So cute!!

These would be ideal for canning things like hot peppers or relish that would only be used in small quantities. Foods would stay fresher.

These Raspberries are just average sized so you can see just how teeny the jars are when a half a handful fills up the jar.

I love the fact that the lid is almost the same size as the jar. It makes the jars look very top heavy, as though they still need to grow into their lids.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cheery little thank you tarts

 I suppose it goes without saying that I've been just a little bit busy this past month. Like this blog post, these tarts were long over due in the making.

Way back in December, I had, on a whim, purchased a jar of sour cherries from the Jewish Restaurant/Deli in town and then promptly stuffed them into the back of my fridge. (Yes, I know, I'm supposed to stop saving food just because it is too special for every day consuption! I'm working on it!!) Just a couple of weeks ago, on my way to emptying out the refrigerator in anticipation of being gone for a week to Oregon, I found the lost, forlorn little jar looking up at me from the now empty shelves. I gave it a quick promise to make something truly grand with those bright little darlings when I returned from Oregon, and today I managed to keep that promise.

The reason behind making the tarts was not just to use up the cherries that I had been saving, but instead, my primary goal was to make something really cheerful and tasty as a thank you for one of my neighbors. Because of the fact that eating a full sized cherry pie is nearly impossible for a single person, or even for a couple, I made tiny tarts that could be slowly consumed over the course of a few days without getting too soggy(I hope!!).

I baked the tart shells on up turned muffin tins
Please do not mind the appalling state of the undersides of my muffin tins. I firmly believe in allowing my baking ware to get as crusty as possible, if only to save on elbow grease(it surely isn't laziness on my part). After all, I don't want my elbows getting rusty!!  

The little, unfilled cups looked brown and toasty. I wanted to eat one just plain!
I love the rustic edges of these tarts(I have to like them, otherwise I'd be disappointed)