Fall Trip to Oregon

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A few days before we left for Oregon in late October, it was in the mid 90s here in LA, and the heat was getting me down. I was ready for gloomy fall weather, lots of rain, and flannel shirts. Oregon did not disappoint. Although there was a whole day of sunshine, which I was not too pleased about, we got our fill of beautiful and crisp fall weather.

We took this trip because after our Boise adventure, we were back to the drawing board for a new place to move. And we knew we liked Oregon. We also knew we liked Oregon wines and wanted to check out a town called McMinnville, where over six years ago we spent the night after very long drive from San Francisco to Portland. So we rented a place on airbnb and spent three days exploring McMinnville and the surrounding area. Then, we spent a day in Portland, eating delicious food and visiting parks. And by the end of the trip, we had decided we preferred Portland to McMinnville and it was time to set things in motion for the move. Big changes to come in 2016!

In the meantime, here're a few photos from our trip.
Exploring McMinnville.

 This kid ate ALL our food.
 One of our favorite wineries was White Rose. It was a little, dark hobbit hole at the top of the hill. When we arrived, the fog had rolled in and it was misty. Viggo was into it.
Viggo is tired of being the designated driver.

Brunch at Broder in Portland. 
Mt. Tabor walk at night.
At the end of the trip, at a distillery, Viggo decided he was going to start walking for real. 


Two Soups: Crab Bisque & Thai Coconut Soup

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This past week, I made two soups. Woop woop, soup weather! I took no pictures of the process, but both of these soups were so good (and easy!), I thought I'd share the recipes anyway, with a few random photos.
This is our pumpkin tea cake (see previous post), topped with chocolate and pumpkin ice cream. We've been having this a lot, and enjoyed it after the crab bisque. 
Bourbon Collins for a nightcap.
This guy. What a little eater. By that I mean, he's a BIG eater. Here he's enjoying pasta with a goat sauce. He wants to eat everything we're eating, and then some. 

Crab Bisque

4 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. minced shallots
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 bgay leaves
1/4 c. flour
6 c. seafood stock
1-1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1  14.5-oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
1/3 c. tomato paste
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 to 1 lb. fresh or thawed frozen lump crab meat (I used canned)
1/4 c. dry sherry, or dry white wine
1/3 c. minced fresh parsley

1) In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add shallots and garlic, and sauté until very soft, stirring regularly for 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring regularly, for 2 minutes. Slowly pour in 1 cup of the broth, whisking all the while to break up any clumping. Then pour in the remaining broth and whisk again to incorporate.
2) Turn heat up a bit to medium-high and bring broth to a boil. Then turn heat down to medium and simmer for 15 minutes. Add cream and bay leaves, and bring mixture back to simmering, stirring and scraping the pan bottom occasionally. Stir in fire roasted tomatoes and tomato paste, and then very carefully blend the mixture with an immersion blender until very smooth. Stir in paprika and cayenne pepper.
3) Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the crab meat. Cook until heated through, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the sherry and heat for another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Ladle into bowls or mugs and garnish with fresh parsley, plus a sprinkle of smoked paprika and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with good bread.

Thai Coconut Soup
(I looked over several recipes on Pintrest, and then combined a few that I liked)

1 (14 oz) can coconut milk
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
3-4 cups chicken broth
1-1 1/2 lb boneless, skinless thighs
1 large carrot, sliced into thin rounds
4 lemongrass stalks, bruised (cut off bottom 5 inches, peel off outer layer and smash the stalk with the back of a chef's knife)
handful of bamboo shoots
½ inch knob of fresh finger
1 tsp fish sauce
Fresh lime juice, to taste (I used almost 2 limes)
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Salt and pepper

1) Combine milk, curry paste, broth, chicken, carrots, ginger and lemongrass in slow cooker.
2)  Cover and cook on LOW for about 4 hours, or on HIGH for about 2-3.
3)  Remove lemongrass and ginger.  Remove chicken and cut into small pieces or shred and then add back into the crock, along with fish sauce and bamboo to cook for another 30 minutes.
4)  Add in lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.  Ladle into serving bowls and top each bowl with a bit of cilantro.

I served this over a bit of brown rice.


Fall is for Pumpkin Tea Cake

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When someone asks the husband about bread baking and his best recipe, his reply is always "get the Tartine Bread book, it will teach you how to bake."

But when it comes time to make desserts, we rarely turn to the Tartine book. I think we've only made the lemon cream tart, which was delightful, bit not necessarily quick. Recently, the husband was inspired to open the big book of desserts again and found a super quick, super simple pumpkin cake recipe. It looked too easy to be good. But, it was better than good! It was super tasty and we made it again a week later. It's a great every day cake. If you like eating cake everyday, with a cup of tea, after dinner, curled up on the couch. Just saying.
 Stay away, baby!

Pumpkin Tea Cake
via Tartine

The ingredients are shown in the photo above.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

In another bowl, beat together the pumpkin puree, oil, sugar, and salt on medium speed until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Scrape down the sides again, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. The batter should have the consistency of a thick purée. Make sure not to overmix, or you will end up with a coarse, tough crumb.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the topping sugar. Bake until a tester emerges clean from the center, about 1 hour.

Let cook in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes. Then invert the cake onto the rack, turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature. The cake will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.


Oktoberfest 2015 (plus Viggo turns one!)

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Last year, when the husband suggested we host Oktoberfest while I was 9.5 months pregnant, I was less than enthused. But, he insisted he and a friend would take care of most of the details, and it turned out to be a great event. Lots of brats, lots of beer, lots of friends. 

So when it was time to host Oktoberfest this year, I was fully on board. And since Viggo turned one a few weeks before, it was a good time to celebrate keeping this kid alive, well and happy for a WHOLE year. 

We made 40 pounds of sausage, 20 of bratwurst and 20 of Polish. It was a group effort. My dad trimmed the meat and did a lot of grunting and supervising, as the husband and his friend labored away. And because we have such awesome friends, who go ALL out, they made custom beer caps and labels, and brewed kegs of beer for the occasion. And the rest of the gang brought side dishes, desserts and good cheer. We had a blast catching up, having our house terrorized by kids and consuming all the deliciousness. 
Sausage-making day.
Labels and bottle caps in honor of Viggo.
This guy goes ALL out. He actually built that beer dispenser behind him! And brewed all the beers for the party. AND wore that ridiculous outfit. 

As always, I forget to take photos. So here's one our friends took, above, and my dad took, below.
And I did get a shot of some of the munchkins playing inside. Don't scratch my coffee table!

Oktoberfest made me realize that I've missed hosting parties this past year. Parenting has been tiring. I feel extremely fortunate that Viggo sleeps. He sleeps all night. He goes to sleep easily. He stays asleep. It's great. But, working all day and then rushing home to feed, bathe, and entertain a kid every day, has really taken a toll on my desire to host gatherings (also exercise, cook or leave the house). And it makes me sad because I miss spending quality time in the kitchen, where I'm not constantly saying, "Stop. Not there. That's not for babies!" 
 Viggo's first track suit is all the way from Texas.

Although I might not have practiced my hostess skills this past year, I did get lots of parenting practice. The last 12 months have been interesting and fun (and I think I already mentioned TIRING), while we adjusted our lifestyles, attitudes and emotions to raising a child. I've learned a lot about myself, my family and what being a good parent means to me. 

And without getting too serious on this fun Oktoberfest post, I hope as I evolve as a parent and celebrate many more birthdays with my little boy, I can set aside my own expectations and raise Viggo without stipulations of what it means to be my son.

We waited nearly 10 years after getting married to have a kid. There's a lot of reasons for that, and one of the main ones is that I didn't want to ever make my child feel like they OWE me anything because of what I gave up for them or will gladly give up for them in the years to come. What I choose to provide for my child, I want to do it with a pure heart, without expectation of some sort of repayment. I don't want to be a debt collector. Parenting has been a humbling experience. And if anything, I OWE him so much for teaching me that.

My only hope for future Viggo is that he continues to be healthy, good-natured and sweet. I'm sure there's lot of other good and bad qualities he'll pick up along the way, but that's what it means to grow up. I hope he can make his own path in life, without feeling like he has to look back over his shoulder to please his parents. I’m sure this will not be an easy task, and the husband and I are bound to stumble along the way, but it’s a start.
Our happy little guy celebrating his big day at daycare with cupcakes.
Best buds. These two make me smile.

 And here's our little family at Descanso Gardens this past weekend. One of our favorite hangouts.


Chocolate Lavender Cake for Couch Day 2015

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Dear Readers,
Everyone says having a baby changes everything. And I want to blame the baby (who is really a little boy now, and not really a baby, tears!!!) for the fact that Couch Day 2015 was very different this year. But, I can't. Viggo was READY for our traditional Couch Day -- drinking at noon, and sitting on someone's lap as we took a group photo on our front porch -- but, our so-called friends and Couch Day regulars moved on. Some actually moved, far away, and some decided to take trips during this sacred couch weekend. So, we did what people do best - adapt and make new memories. We had a mini BBQ with some baby friends, and baked a fancy chocolate cake. It was fun.

The husband wrote about his cake struggles (below) and Viggo decided he would do his very own Couch Day photo shoot. As you'll see, he was a natural.

By the way, I know the husband doesn't mention how the final product turned out, but, it was delicious. Maybe not the best cake in the world, but definitely the best cake he's ever made.


I have a love for cakes, but I also have a cake curse.  Never, ever, ever have I made a good cake.  This is not hyperbole.  With my younger brother’s assistance, I’ve made cakes that are dense, that fall in on themselves, or are dry as a desert (not dessert, sadly).  Most often, someone in my family will take a bite, and then express their condolences.  The worst critique, the one that goes down even more disappointingly than a slice of my own sad cake, is when someone, usually my mom, says “wouldn’t it be easier to just use a box mix?”  Ouch.  When something is difficult, and I’m not good at it, I’ve learned it’s easiest to give up.  And so I did. 

But then a few things happened after I forsook cake making.  One, the blog lady loves cake now that she’s a mom.   Second, Lincoln opened near our Altadena home.  They make beautiful cakes.  Tasty cakes.  Cakes for all seasons.   One day, me and the blog lady split a slice of of their multi-layered lavender cake that nearly made me weep.  This was then followed by one of our friends making an incredibly rich, flavorful lemon cake after cooking a whole pig in a caja china.  These instances inspired some part of me I thought I’d thrown away. I began to believe that maybe I could make a cake.  A cake that people would eat, and more importantly, enjoy.

I went back to lavender.  I wanted a lavender cake, with lots of dark chocolate.  And I wanted it to have this simple but elegant look to it (elegant for a guy who can’t really spread frosting on baked goods).  Thanks to the internet’s ability to ensure anything I dream up has been done before and oftentimes better, I found the recipe I wanted to use. 

There were a lot of stops and starts, logistical butter issues, and a delay of about 3.5 weeks to get this cake out.  But on the weekend of Couch Day, when all of our Couch Day friends had forsaken us by moving to new places, visiting Utah, or some such things, I decided to honor the couches and our dinner party guests with a cake.  
Viggo wants ALL the cake.
While we ate ribs, corn, slaw and cake, Viggo did his best to eat his baby friend. Here he is trying to pretend he's not going to eat her.
 Viggo takes on the Couch Day photo shoot, solo.
Dark Chocolate and Lavender Cake
via www.butterandbrioche.com

For the dark chocolate and lavender cake:
1 tbsp. culinary lavender
430 g / 15.2 oz. plain flour
90 g / 3.2 oz. dutch processed cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
510 g / 18 oz. caster sugar
115 g / 4.1 oz. salted butter, melted and cooled
3 medium eggs
115 ml / 4.1 fl. oz. milk
225 ml / 7.5 fl. oz. boiling water

For the chocolate frosting:
200 g / 7 oz. dark chocolate (70%)
280 g / 10 oz. salted butter, at room temperature
200 g / 7.1 oz. icing sugar
60 g / 2.2 oz. dutch processed cocoa powder
½ tsp. vanilla bean extract
4 tbsp. whipping cream

Making the chocolate and lavender layers:
1) Pre-heat the oven to 170 C / 350 F. Grease and line three 15 cm / 6-inch cake pans. Alternatively, prepare one and bake in three stages. We used two 9-inch pans.
2) In a food processor, blitz together the lavender and 3 tbsp. of the sugar to combine. Stir this mixture back in with the rest of the sugar and set aside.
3) Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and soda into a bowl. Add the sugar, melted butter, eggs and milk. Beat for a few minutes to just combine. Add in the boiling water and beat to form a thick and uniform batter.
4) Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pans for 10 minutes, before inverting them onto a wire cooling rack. Once cool, level any domed tops.

Making the chocolate frosting:
1) Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Set it aside and let it cool to room temperature.
2) Beat the butter until light and creamy. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder a little at a time until evenly blended. Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Add the whipping cream gradually and beat for a few more minutes until the frosting is smooth, thick and shiny.

Assembling the cake:
Place the first leveled cake layer on a plate or stand. Evenly spread about 2 tbsp. of the frosting over its face. Repeat this process with the second layer. Place the third layer, on top, cut side down. Spread a thin layer of the frosting all over the cake to form a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes or until the frosting has firmed. You can leave the bowl of frosting out while the cake chills. Once chilled, spread a thick layer of the remaining frosting evenly around the cake. Decorate with pesticide free lavender flowers if desired.


Koncert for AmeriKarine: A Celebration of 19th Century American Music

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It is kind of strange to think that the very first Koncert took place three years ago! In some ways, it seems like it was 10 years ago. After that initial, and fine evening, I thought there would never be another Koncert again. But, I was proved wrong. Twice. And thankfully so.

The second Koncert, maybe because it took place while I was still constantly nursing a tiny three month-old, seemed like a blur. But this third, and final Koncert (that's the word on the street), was truly special. Not only because the husband brought everyone together for practices during a very busy summer, but also two of the performers were moving across the country, just days later, never to be seen again. (JK, they just moved to Boston, We're seeing them in November!)

A few highlights from this evening:

- The setting. Our friends moved into a great place in Eagle Rock. There's like 2,000 stairs to climb, but once you get up there, the beautiful outdoor patio(s) and great views made for a magical stage.

- Viggo! This kid was confused, attentive and a little scared (trombones are frightening). And it was a blast watching him react, listen and refuse to clap (something he had just learned a few days prior).

- Wine and friends. Friends and wine. It all made for a good time.

- The effort. I mean who else has friends who put on koncerts for them? Anyone? I'd like to meet you.
 The hostess and little guy.
 The captive audience.
 Viggo is enthralled. 
Oh, look. It's the Bostonians.


Road Trip to Boise

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Shortly after having a kid, we started scratching an itch. An itch to get out of LA. We've definitely thought about this for a while and even had a Portland 2020 Campaign, but then Portland got really pricey and life got busy.

Yet, post baby, we had time and desire to find some place better. Some place with more space, better schools, affordable housing, and less traffic. You know all the things that become important as you age and your tolerance for bullshit declines, drastically. 

So we joked about Idaho. Mostly because we knew nothing about Idaho. And then we did some research and went "hey, this sounds like it could work". And in July, we packed up the Subaru, and drove 18 hours to Boise. Straight. With our almost 10 month old. And we survived. Barely. And decided that on the way back, we would definitely stop for the night. 

We have friends in Boise. Who also recently had a baby. A cute little four-month-old chubster. Viggo tried to eat him the entire time we were there. We stayed the weekend in Boise, checking things out, seeing if we wanted to live there. Then we spent a night in a cabin in Hagerman, on a creek. It was lovely.

As for Boise? It was fine. But, not for us. The best way I could think of describing it is that it's too medium for me. Not enough of a small town, and definitely not a big city. So despite having a fun time, we crossed Boise off our list. Smell you later, Idaho! But not to worry, we have found an even better town, one we've been to already and LIKED. We will be making another exploratory trip this fall. But in the meantime, here are a few snapshots from our road trip. 
Baby meet-up.
The capital building is pretty fancy.
Best breakfast in town.
Our cabin in Hagerman, which was along the Billingsley Creek.
Oh look! It's the three of us in one photo.
Viggo lounging in his Vegas suite.