As you may (or more sadly may not) have noticed, this little blog of mine has run its course. When adding content started to feel more like self-induced pressure than pleasure, I knew it was time to take a long hiatus. So I hung up my amateur blogger card and called it quits. Two years later, Big N and I went and bought a ranch, and a vineyard, and we’re moving to the country. And the calling to memorialize this crazy adventure couldn’t be ignored. So I started a new blog- which may or may not be a terrible idea. If you’re interested, you can now find me on City Girl Gone. Feel free to mosey on over and say howdy.
I recently started volunteering at the Van Nuys courthouse as a mediator. Van Nuys is the next suburb over from where I was born and grew up, in the San Fernando Valley. My first experience with the Van Nuys courthouse was in high school when I and five of my friends very nearly got expelled after being caught for ditching our internship there. I haven’t always been an angel.
On my way home from court the other day I spotted a Vallarta market and I cannot resist an ethnic market. I stopped in for some carne asada and came out with bags of dried chili peppers, tamarindo, guavas, jamaica, piloncillo, spices, saladitos (an old favorite), cheap dried beans, and a surprise find: baby octopus (previously frozen but that’s the way you’ll usually find it). And unlike shopping at my love it/hate it Whole Foods, this octopus set me back a whopping $4.99.
I’ve been pseudo obsessed with octopus since falling all over myself after ordering it twice at different small plate restaurants: first at the Basque focused eatery called Racion, which has quickly become my new favorite Pasadena restaurant; and second at the much hyped (but well-deserved) Voltaggio haunt ink. Unlike your typical chewy octopus sushi, the octopus I had at these restaurants were tender, juicy, and really really tasty.
Inspired more by the flavors of the dish I had at Racion, and the duck sausage from Harmony Farms that I needed to use up in my fridge, this is what I came up with: baby octopus with duck sausage in a tomato wine sauce, served over fregola sarda (toasted) pasta with a side of sauteed broccoli rabe. And if I can brag for a quick sec, this was one of the best pasta type dishes I’ve ever concocted.
Next time you spot octopus at your local Vallarta, don’t be afraid of it. The dish I prepared was no more trouble than making a decent tomato sauce. And cooking and eating octopus for dinner really makes you feel daring and exotic, if just for an hour.
I have never been the coffee-aholic, and truth be told I make a terrible pot of coffee — I think it’s a mental block (I can’t whistle or snap either, go figure). But Big N truly enjoys coffee. Because he imbibes exactly one cup per day, he wants that cup to be perfect. And even though I drink at most a half a cup of coffee in the morning, so do I.
I also can’t resist an opportunity to learn a new DIY skill. So when my friend M turned me onto the coffee roasting class at Altadena’s Institute of Domestic Technology, I was game! First, a bit about the Institute. Altadena is becoming the hip place for foodies and DIY-ers to learn food making skills. Hosted at the Zane Grey Estate, the Institute holds classes on canning, cheesemaking (it is home to about three dozen goats at present whose milk is used for the class), coffee roasting, cocktail crafting, and the next class I intend to sign up for: bacon curing! (Note to the Westsiders- there is another location at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills which hosts similar classes).
M and I attended the Saturday coffee roasting class, taught by Plow & Gun microroaster Daniel Kent. First, we experienced a blind sniffing and tasting “cupping” lesson to demonstrate the difference between beans sourced from various countries as well as the difference the degree of roasting (light to dark, aka City to French Roast) can make on a single type of bean. Armed with our knowledge, we were then taught how to roast in the most simple of DIY gadgets: the Whirly Pop popcorn maker. With nothing but an aluminum pot and a hand crank, we dumped our beans in our Whirly Pop that was already preheating on the stove, set the timer, started cranking, and then carefully checked as the beans went from yellow to gold to brown, and listened for the first crack (a popping sound) and second cracks (more like Rice Krispies) to determine when to remove our beans from the flame.
Once our beans hit the target temperature, we dumped them onto cookie sheets to cool, and then separated the newly roasted beans from the flaky chaff. All told, the process was extremely simple; the hardest part was turning the hand crank constantly for about 12 minutes. With a little practice, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to become more consistent with my roast quality (because small variations can result in big screw ups). We left the class with a bag of our first roast (I roasted my Guatemalen beans to a light City roast) and a bag of green beans to try it again ourselves at home (for which I purchased my own Whirly Pop).
M and I had a great time and I definitely recommend attending a class at the Institute, though you better hurry because apparently word is catching on. Martha Stewart herself has taken notice in this month’s Living magazine.
Since the class, I ordered 5 pounds of beans from around the world from trusted green bean sourcer: Sweet Marias. I’ve been studiously practicing my whirly technique and giving away freshly roasted beans for my fellow coffee lovers to try. I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that freshly roasted coffee tastes a gazillion times better than the preground stuff that’s been dying a slow death on the grocery store shelf for eight months. And while I’m still no expert, the feedback on my beans has been pretty good. Check out this satisfied relative!
Oh, and the best part: Whole Foods sells a pound of our former favorite Kenya Grand Cru roasted coffee for $16-20. I can make a fresher and better cup with Kenya beans purchased from Sweet Marias for about a third the price. DIY-ers unite!
*first two photos above of the Institute of Domestic Technology courtesy of Heather Bullard
I play a game with my husband sometimes, only he doesn’t know I’m playing it. When I send him off to the market to pick up something for dinner and he asks me what I want him to buy, I usually just say, “pick up a couple of proteins and a few veggies.” I leave the rest up to him. He then comes home with a bag full of Whole Foods and I have to figure out how to turn this bag into dinner. It’s a recipe roulette of sorts, my own personal “Chopped” show, and I like it because it keeps my skills sharp. You see, my husband’s choices can be random at times, but that’s the challenge and the fun of it.
Like the other night, when Big N came home with a hunky piece of Alaskan halibut, skirt steak, Italian eggplants, tomatillos, and two Anaheim chili peppers. I let the recipe roulette play out in my head, reserving the skirt steak and eggplants for an easy grilled dinner the next night, and focused on the halibut, tomatillos, and chili peppers. Hmm, what to do? With some input from Big N, here’s what we came up with: olive oil poached halibut on the grill, with a grilled tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto” sauce.
I let Big N take lead on the fish, because he can make a mean “grill packet” out of heavy duty foil, the perfect vessel to poach a fish in oil on the grill, while I worked the sauce. For the sauce, Big N grilled the tomatillos and chilis until they were charred, soft, and moist. I then peeled the chilis and threw them along with the tomatillos into the mini food processor, along with a few items I already had on hand: cilantro, pine nuts (as a thickener, which I first dry toasted on the stove to bring out their flavor), garlic, and half and half. A few pulses and some salt and pepper later, I had a delicious, thick, creamy-tangy sauce with just a touch of heat from the peppers.
I also cooked up some quick polenta with chives and freshly grated parmesan (polenta and parmesan are two more staples I keep on hand). And there you have it, olive oil poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto,” topped with grilled tomatillos, over polenta. A winner to be sure, unlike your typical trip to the roulette table.
The latest acquisition to my closet of a craft room is a Brother Embroidery Machine. It’s a starter machine that allows me to embroider anything 4×4″ or less, but I can make magic happen in 4 square inches, let me tell you. I’ve been spending most of my newly acquired machine embroidery skills on baby clothes. It basically works like this: I download a design off of etsy, fiddle around with it and add some text on my embroidery software, spray some adhesive to stick a stabilizer on my clothing item (onesie, t-shirt, hat, etc.), hoop it, transfer my design from my computer to the machine via USB, choose my colors, and then I let the machine do all the work. 20 minutes later and I have a brand new baby present. Not bad for 20 minutes. Since I’m all about the instant gratification, 20 minutes is a lot better than the 4-8 hours it takes me to sew a dress or blanket. Needless to say, my latest go-to baby shower presents are all embroidered.
For all the crafters out there, I highly recommend an embroidery machine, but I don’t want to kid you- it’s quite an investment. You need the machine, software, stabilizers, threads, bobbins, and then once you have all that, hours of time to invest in learning the darned things (thank you YouTube). And then, after all that, you’re gonna want to upgrade your machine and spend thousands of dollars just to be able to embroider an 8×11″ area. It’s never ending, but fun and I love it.
Here are a few of the things I’ve made so far. The boy basket includes a few onesies for my nephew Alex (my brother is a firefighter), plus a personalized carseat canopy and ring sling. The girl basket was for my friend D’s daughter Olivia, and includes onesies, a hat and bib set, a car seat canopy, and a ring sling. I think every new mom loves seeing her baby’s name on something handmade, don’t you?
Thank you all so much for your wonderful and encouraging comments over the last few years since I’ve experimented with throwing my random thoughts, recipes, and projects out there into the world. I know most of you found this little blog through Pinterest or other sites that featured my “Happy Stacker” ring toy, my latches board, and other various projects, and for your comments and trackbacks and pins I am eternally grateful.
While this blog has meant so much to me, since giving birth to my daughter Elliott I haven’t found enough time to devote to blogging. You can be sure I’m still off making creations in my sewing room (and recently purchased an embroidery machine, tons of fun there), and in my kitchen, but alas I haven’t been successful in finding the time to blog about my projects (nor have I found a suitable location in my new home with the perfect natural light to photograph said projects).
In what came as a great surprise to me, I thoroughly enjoyed the last several months focusing on the “Domestic” in DomesticEsq. But I also discovered that I’m not yet ready to hang up my briefcase or retire my Bar card, and at present I’ve shifted gears to focus more attention on the “Esq” part. To that end I am working on building a mediation practice. It is my hope that serving as a mediator will allow me the freedom to work part time and care for my family but also the satisfaction of helping those in conflict.
In the meantime, I will continue to strive for happiness and balance (between the Domestic and the Esq sides of me). I may entertain the sudden urge to post a special recipe or project from time to time, but for the most part this little blog of mine will be on (what I hope will be a temporary) hiatus.
Another project from:
A couple of months ago, I was feeling a little guilty about having another child — for my son’s sake. His near first two years of life were perfect: mom and dad all to himself, a big yard in which to play, going to Gymboree and the park, and walks in a stroller — the non-double kind. But then Elliott was on her way and I knew life, as Griffin knew it, was over for good. A little sister meant mom would be busy, all the time. He’d have to learn to share, which is the biggest curse word in a toddler’s vernacular. And he’d have to deal with constant crying and not being able to be picked up because mom’s hands would be full of baby. Sooner or later, Griffin would come to realize what goes through every big brother’s brain at some point: sisters stink.
Hoping that Griffin would avoid that realization for just a little while until Elliott was settled in, Big N and I decided to make an extra special gift from Elliott to her big brother that she could “give” to him when we brought her home from the hospital. Griffin is into all sorts of things now but he especially loves figuring out how to open and take things apart with his hands. At the family restaurants, when he’s given a box of crayons and paper to draw on, he casts the paper aside and spends 2o minutes taking the crayons out of the box, only to put them back in, over and over again so he can rearrange them just so. (I hope this isn’t a symptom of OCD). He also loves to be dad’s helper when he’s working on honey-do projects around the house.
After searching around, I found a few possibilities for his special present: the Melissa & Doug Latches Board seemed cool because it would allow Griffin to figure things out with his hands, but it wasn’t special enough. I spotted a hand made latches board on Etsy and knew I was on the right track but it was $75 and I thought I could do better. So I took a trip to my local True Value and scoured the aisles for some cool hardware. Then I went to Michael’s and picked up a thin wooden board. Of course, I ended up spending about $85 when all was said and done but whatever. Can’t win ‘em all.
I enlisted my husband and his drill to put it all together (I could have done it myself but it was a fun way to spend some time together outdoors), and added the stamped finishing touch to personalize his board. We then hid the comleted board until Elliott was born.
When we brought Elliott home from the hospital Griffin walked around with a worried look on his face, understanding that something was different but not really sure what or why. He was curious about this new baby that seemed to be permanently affixed to his mother, but he also seemed a little lost. We knew it was time to pull out his “special present from Elliott.” It was an instant hit. He said a quick “tank yoo” to Elliott and immediately sat down on the kitchen floor with his new latches board. And it seemed to work. He was fully transfixed by his new puzzle and all was right in his tiny world again.
Since then he’s been a wonderful big brother, kissing and hugging Elliott, and telling her goodnight before bed. He’s had a few “moments” as well, but to date he has only chucked one jar of lotion at Elliott’s head. I convinced myself it was an accident and gave him the benefit of the doubt…for now.
You may recall this post where I revealed my mood board for Kidney Bean’s nursery. Well, Kidney Bean turned into my daughter Elliott Marlene, who is a month old today, but this mood board was not destined to morph into her nursery. Somewhere along the way I scrapped the muted whites, dusty plums, and aquas and went in a totally different direction. I decided, since I only got to do this once, that I wanted something brighter, cheerier…funkier! I kept just one thing from my first iteration: the swan end table, and dumped the rest.
I started with crib bedding. Unfortunately, with the move to our new home and the fact that my craft room is a hot mess, I didn’t have time to make the bedding myself. Thanks to Etsy and the folks at Modified Tot, I was able to select fabrics to create a custom one-of-a-kind crib set in a palette of lime green, plum, and teal. I bought a blanket, crib bumper, crib skirt, pouf, and even window valences in this awesome ikat fabric (I may have gone overboard).
The green zebra rug from Zinc Door came next. The chair I recycled from Griffin’s old nursery (he didn’t need it anymore now that his nursery is packed toddler playroom), and added finishing touches such as jade milk glass drawer pulls on the changing table, shelves featuring silver heirloom baby dishes (a gift from Aunt Jane) and handmade creations (I made the aqua pinafore dress hanging from the shelf, see my dress how-to post here), and birth announcement artwork, also purchased on Etsy from graphic designer A Lovely Detail.
I still lust after this bird’s nest chandelier from my mood board, but have had to let it go because it’s now sold out, boo!
The last detail we added was the dandelion wall decal, also purchased from Etsy. This brought the personal touch to Elliott’s room. The dandelion represents all of my wishes for her happy and healthy future, but more importantly, it reminds me of my mother Marlene, after whom I named my daughter. This was the last picture we took together as my mother died soon after this was taken. Elliott will never meet her grandmother, but the dandelion is a reminder that my beloved mother will always be a part of my beautiful daughter (and I think Elliott has my mother’s eyes).
Elliott had been staying in her bassinet next to my bed for her first month, but we moved her into her nursery last night. She slept for 5 hours straight. I think she likes it.
Late August brings Hatch chiles to the markets. From New Mexico, these beauties resemble Anaheim chiles but are much more flavorful, with hints of apple and a smokey quality that make them perfect for roasting. They add a tangy punch of flavor and spice to meat and fish dishes.
At my local Bristol Farms, hatch chiles were the hype of the market, and I picked up a few along with a flyer with several recipes to try at home. Most appealing was the grilled salmon recipe with hatch chile cream sauce (adapted to my liking below).
To really make the dish pop, I added a garnish of finger limes, another August produce find. Finger limes aren’t like any citrus you’ve seen before. They’re tiny and adorable and when you cut them in half you find little cavier-like lime pearls. You can’t “juice” them per se, but the lime “caviers” added a touch of sweet soapy lime citrus to the dish and look really impressive on the plate. Fun stuff. (Also try adding finger limes to tuna poke. Yummy.)
The hatch cream sauce for my salmon used basic simple ingredients and was easy enough to make (though you need to bust out your blender), and anything creamy on salmon is a treat. Grilling the salmon is the only way to go for this recipe because you want that smokiness from the grill to complement the sauce. I served my salmon with an heirloom tomato and feta salad and an Oregon chardonnay. A perfect late summer meal to enjoy on the patio.
*Note: if you have any extra cream sauce, reserve and refrigerate it. The cold cream sauce will turn into an aioli of sorts. Last night we grilled burgers and topped them with grilled hatch chiles and used the cold cream sauce in place of mayo. Delish!
Behold: grilled salmon with hatch chile cream sauce and finger lime cavier. Fancy, eh?
Another project from:
So you may have noticed my little hiatus. No biggie, I just took a short break to give birth to our daughter, Elliott. Born last week, she’s perfect, and already adjusting well to her new house and new family. Big Brother Fin is also adjusting. He hasn’t shown a hint of jealousy, but that’s probably due in large part to the fact that Daddy has been home this past week and Griffin has been attached to his hip.
A new baby means lots of things, but most relevant to this little blog of mine are all of the new projects! First up, a ring sling baby carrier. This is an easy one, even for a beginner. It took me two hours start to finish.
I should probably mention that I already own two carriers. The Baby Hawk is great for Dads and hikes, but it takes a little time to put on and can make the baby and the wearer schvitz. Not so great for this summer heat wave. I also own the Moby Wrap, which I wear around the house and Elliott seems comfy in it, but it’s not so great to wear outside because it also takes some finagling to get on and the baby strapped in, and the material is so long there’s no way to prevent it from dragging on the dirty ground while you’re trying to tie it.
Recently my friend M sent me a pic of her husband wearing her homemade (and totally unemasculating) ring sling while drinking a beer, along with a website that gives step by step instructions for making one yourself. After looking online at various ring sling sites, I discovered that a ring sling is quick to put on, quick to get the baby situated, and is great for breastfeeding in public in a pinch because the baby can sit low and the “tail” covers the baby’s face (and the boobie). After reading the instructions to sew one myself, I decided it was easy enough.
For the fabric, I wanted something sturdy so that I would only need to use one layer, and unisex enough that my husband wouldn’t mind wearing it. I ordered some fair trade fabric imported from Guatemala. It wasn’t cheap, but the fabric is thick, strong, and perfect for a sling because there is no “wrong” side. The front and back of the fabric are the same, which is a good thing because both sides of the fabric are visible after you sew and thread the sling through the rings. 2 1/2 yards is enough to make a sling long enough that will fit an adult male.
Next I ordered rings from SlingRings because you want to make sure the rings you get are strong and weight tested, specifically for slings. Craft rings from Michaels are a no go for this project. I ordered the medium sized aluminum rings but probably should have ordered the large rings due to the thickness of my fabric. The medium ones worked fine, but my sling is a little harder to adjust.
Once I had my fabric and rings, the rest was easy:
- Cut fabric so it is 30″ wide by 2 to 2 1/2 yards long (2 yards is long enough if the wearer is an average sized woman, 2 1/2 yards for larger women and men)
- Hem both long sides and one short side. (Fold over 1/4″ and press, fold over 1/4″ again and press, sew over folds)
- On the last unhemmed side, pin overlapping pleats (follow the instructions here) and sew across the pleats in two places a few inches apart to secure.
- Sew edge where pleats are several times to prevent fraying.
- Place two rings in pleats, fold pleats over, and sew to enclose the rings. Done!
- Instructions to wearing the sling can be found here (pdf), here (web) or here (video on nursing while wearing sling).
Here’s baby Elliott sitting nice and snug in her sling. Doesn’t she look comfy? Don’t mind her manners. I don’t think she’s giving you the bird, she’s just trying to say “stay away from my milk factory bitches.”
Happy Ring Slinging.