Friday, December 24, 2010

JOY: Happy Holidays!!!

Hey all, hope you are having a wonderful holiday season! Though this time of year can be a little insane and stressful(and it usually is for most people), at the end of the day it always comes back to appreciating and loving the important people in our lives. And of course, to enjoy the food that brings people together too! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Take care, stay safe, warm, and cozy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

PHOTOGRAPHY: Some snapshots

I had some time today (well, sort of). So I decided to play around with Poladroid. Oh, how I love this program! The pictures from my previous post were, "poladroided," so to speak. But I just couldn't help myself, I just had to convert a few more...I hope you enjoy!








(1) Downtown San Francisco
(2) Pike Place Market, Seattle
(3) Snowshoeing in Stevens Pass
(4) My desk
(5) Greenhouse in San Francisco
(6) Montana skies
(7) Cherry blossom buds
(8) Cookie from wonderful friend


EATS: Birthday Cake!

December birthdays kind of have it rough. I mean, with all the holidays that happen towards the end of the year, it's kind of hard to schedule a birthday party. Which is why the December birthday have to do it between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa or just not at all. But what fun would that be? My good friends Natalie and Hess both celebrated their birthday early in December, and so I decided to make them both birthday cakes! One was a success and the other one was very much the opposite of that (more on that later). Either way, they were both learning experiences. Starting with my successful cake, I made my friend Natalie a yellow birthday cake with chocolate ganache frosting from Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour. Luckily, Joanne has been very generous with her recipes over the years, so I am able to post her recipe here. But the cake! Buttery, vanilla-y, home-y. So good. Like the box version, but much better. And the grown-up spin is the dark chocolate ganache which compliments yellow cake so nicely. Happy Birthday Natalie! I wish I could post the picture of Natalie with her birthday cake, but my friend Eric can't seem to get it off his phone. Oh well. I will instead post a couple of pictures that I think are representative of her.

Natalie is smart.

Natalie is beautiful

And, she has the the sweetest, sunniest personality!

For the cake: * 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks/342 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature * 2 cups (400 grams) granulated sugar * 3 eggs * 3 egg yolks * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract * 3 cups (360 grams) cake flour * 1 teaspoon baking powder * 1/2 teaspoon baking soda * 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt * 1 cup (240 grams) nonfat buttermilk

For the chocolate ganache frosting: * 12 ounces (340 grams) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped * 1 cup (240 grams) heavy cream * 1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter at room temperature * 1 cup (140 grams) confectioners' sugar * 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt * 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the cake: Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachement (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for 3–4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. in a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla just until combined. On low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the butter mixture and mix just until incorporated. Scrape the bowl and paddle again, then beat on medium speed for 20–30 seconds, or until the mixture is homogeneous. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. On the lowest speed, add about one-third of the flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture and mix just until barely combined. Immediately pour in about half of the buttermilk and continue to mix on the lowest speed until the buttermilk is almost thoroughly incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Again on the lowest speed, add about half of the remaining flour mixture and mix just until barely combined. Add the rest of the buttermilk and mix just until combined. Be careful not to overmix. At this point, it is best to finish the mixing by hand. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and, using the rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture just until the batter is homogeneous. As you fold, be sure to incorporate any batter clinging to the sides and bottom of the bowl. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 40–50 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the cakes spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks. (The cooled cakes can be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the freezer for up to 1 week. Thaw at room temperature, still wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.) For the chocolate ganache frosting: While the cake layers are cooling, put the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat (bubbles start to form around the edge of the pan, but the cream is not boiling). Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for about 1 minute, then slowly whisk together the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Let sit at room temperature for 1–2 hours, or until completely cool. (Or, refrigerate the ganache until cool, about 30 minutes, whisking every 10 minutes). Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or use a handheld mixer) and beat the butter on medium-low speed for 10–15 seconds, or until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar, salt, and vanilla and continue to beat on medium-low speed for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is fluffy and smooth. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. On medium speed, add the cooled ganache and beat for about 2 minutes, or until completely combined. Stop to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn up the mixer speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute, or until the frosting lightens in color and thickens. You should have about 4 cups. (Use the frosting the day you make it, or cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 day, then bring to room temperature and paddle again for a few minutes until smooth before using.) Remove the cooled cakes from their pans. (Be sure they are completely cool. If they are even the slightest bit warm, the frosting will melt and you will have a mess.) Using a long, serrated knife, trim the top of each cake to level it (the layers will have rounded a bit in the oven; the trimmed scraps make great nibbles). Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cake pedestal (if you have a revolving cake stand, use it). Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly to the edges. Carefully place the second cake layer, top-side down (so the even, sharp edges will be on the top of the finished cake), on top. Spoon about 1 cup of the frosting on top and spread it over the top and down the sides of the cake, smoothing the frosting as well as you can and covering the entire cake with a thin layer. This is the crumb coat that will keep any loose crumbs from migrating to the surface of the finished cake. Spoon a heaping cup of frosting on top of the cake, and spread it evenly across the top and down the sides. This is the finishing layer of frosting. If desired, spoon any remaining frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a small round or star tip and pipe a decorative line along the top and/or bottom edge of the cake. The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

INTERIORS: Love and Lusting in Paris

I'm pretty much in love with this bare bones approach to a beautiful 1800s property in Paris. The curves, natural color palate of warm beige and white, reminds me of my childhood in Vietnam and how close we lived to nature. My plate has been heaping full, with unexpected emergencies amidst busy non-profit fundraising and political campaigning season, the past few weeks, and there's nothing that sounds better than curling into a space like and read my resh new copy of Robert Frost:

All photos from the NYTimes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BOOKS: Laurie Colwin

I love me a good book. Even better, I love a good book with good food descriptions in it. Something about the description of what characters are eating, makes me feel like I know them and then can truly be friends with them. I think of it as breaking bread with the story and really getting to know the ins and outs of the lives of the people that I will be spending hundreds of reading pages with. Would Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley truly be properly wizardish and British without treacle tart, butterbeer, or Bertie Bott's every flavor beans? I don't think so. I was wending my way through a Half-Price Books this weekend and happened upon this book:

And in doing so, I found a kindred spirit. I am not a stranger to Laurie Colwin's writing. The first time I read a column by Mrs. Colwin was in an old issue of Gourmet magazine. I was struck then by her writing style: honest, witty, warm, and friendly. However, reading her collection of essays truly made me feel as if I were in her kitchen, gabbing about the merits of mushrooms, biscuits, and of course, books. In her book, Mrs. Colwin too, writes about her love of cookbooks and novels with fantastic cookery. And here I thought I was the only one who could gain 5 lbs from reading a book. Finding Mrs. Colwin's book made my weekend, as I curled up in a couch, hot chai in hand, and savored her words. Sadly, Mrs. Colwin died unexpectedly from a heart attack at the too-early age of 48 in 1992. I imagine that she is still much missed, though it has been nearly 20 years since her death. But I am glad that the author was able to share so much in her short time, making friends and breaking bread with all of the foodies out there, for generations to come.

Recipes of what I ate while enjoying Laurie Colwin's words:
I got this recipe by way of 3191 (thank you Stephanie!):
Stand-by Family Granola inspired by/adapted from Crunchy Granola in How to Cook Everything & 3191
6 cups rolled oats
2 cups mixed nuts and seeds (I only had nuts on hand, so it was a combination of hazelnuts and pine nuts)

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup creamy honey
Dash Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Place a baking pan (at least 9 x13) over medium heat on the stove top. Add the oats and toast, stirring for a few minutes. Add the coconut, nuts and seeds and spices and continue to toast for a few minutes more until everything begins to brown and become fragrant. Warm the brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Pour over oats mixture and stir to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for approximately 20 minutes (it depends on the size of the granola batch and the size of the pan). Check every 5-10 minutes or so and give it a good stir. Allow to cool and store in an air-tight jar.

Chai (from chai concentrate recipe found here)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Empty condensed milk into a jar or plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Stir in the sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Store in refrigerator.

To use: Brew a cup of strong black tea, such as Assam, then add two heaping teaspoons of concentrate or more to taste. Stir well until concentrate has fully melted.

To give: Pour into small jars with lids and tie with an attractive bow, or wrap the jar first. Attach a tag with instructions to keep the mix refrigerated and how to use it.

To keep: Store in refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Take care and break bread friends!


Monday, September 13, 2010

WEDDING: Project Centerpiece

Hey all!

Sorry it's been awhile, August kind of just flew by, and before I knew it Autumn and September arrived on my doorstep. But what a fun month August was! My friend Dao got married, and I got to learn how to do many things: decorate cans as vases, make flower centerpieces, bake her wedding cake (with accompanying cupcakes), etc. It was such a joyful day! One project that I really enjoyed was decorating aluminum cans as vases. The cans are great because they are: 1) Pretty! 2) Environmentally friendly, and 3) Really, really, easy.

All you need are: old cans (big soup cans work well), cardstock paper, modge podge (or some sort of sealant), scissors, brush, and vintage labels. Here's the how-to:
1. Clean and dry outside of cans.
2. Cut and measure cardstock paper to the proportions of the can. It does not have to be exact measurements. In my case, using a 12" x 12" piece of paper, I eyeballed the approximate height of the can (about 8") and then chopped off 4 inches of paper. Now, a 12" x 8" piece of paper was not enough to make it around the particular can I was using, so I cut the 12" x 4" piece of paper I had leftover to cover the space. Because a vintage label is going to be going over this layer of cardstock, the end results from this step does not have to be neat.
3. Slather on a layer of modgepodge on the can.
4. Press cardstock onto can. Then modge podge this piece of paper. Continue doing this until your can is covered with cardstock and modgepodge.
5. Allow to dry for 4 hours, or for best results, overnight.
6. Slather modgepodge over the area you want you label to be.
7. Press label onto modgepodge.
8. Paint yet another round of modgepodge over your label.
9. Let dry for at least 4 hours.

I found my vintage labels here and here from i-DiY, which stand for i-do-it-yourself weddings. Great site for very pretty labels and other goodies! Here is a preview of some the labels available:

Okay all, take care, and catch you all again soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

DESIGN: Cavallini & Co

I received a delightful Eiffel Tower Thank You card today made by Callini & Co and I'm absolutely in LOVE with their products.

They have everything from rubber stamps (above) to gift tags (below).

I might even covet one of these beautiful weekly planners to get a head start on 2011. All their products are so whimsical and fun, and made with impeccable taste and quality. The thank-you card I received was printed in Italy!

My fave has to be the wrapping paper made from a printed map of Parisian monuments below. The vintage inks, coming from someone who works on maps and urban planning documents all day, these are absolutely heavenly and makes me want to revert to old school design. Hope you find these as delightful as I do!

All products and images are from Cavallini & Co's website. Enjoy!

ARTS: Moleskin Sketchers

Have you seen Moleskin's online gallery of sketches? Submitted by Moleskin lovers, there is everything from pencil sketches to complete water colors, and are absolutely stunning. I'll let them speak for themselves below, enjoy!

I think my favorites are by Paul Desmond (above) and Mattias Adolffson (below).

Monday, August 2, 2010

SUMMER: City Love

It's been awhile since I've been out taking pictures. Call it a funk. Or a bad day. That actually lasted three months. Sigh. Lots of work and studying and life can really take a toll on oneself. But, I think, after this weekend, that maybe I can say that I am starting to reclaim my mojo? I hope. Well, at least it's a start. And I can't think of a better way of getting out my uninspirational funk than by taking pictures and sharing it with you all. =) Best of all, I took pictures in one of my favorite places, Pike Place! I hope you all enjoy!

I can never get enough of Pike Place Market. Love it, love it, love it. My very first photo adventure took place here as well. So, some very good memories brought me back for another go.

Fresh veggies. Makes me think of Deborah Madison's book Local Flavors. Time to get started cooking! I'm excited.

Fresh lilies. They are so pretty, that I think I will have to incorporate these into my friend's wedding (see Tams's previous post). Won't these look nice in a bouquet with some gerbera daisies, rosemary, and sage?

The sight of these striped umbrellas and flowers in window boxes really make me happy.

I ate a big bowl of salad for dinner after taking pictures. Pretty sure this is the reason why...

Fresh juice bar. Yum! Sadly, as it was the morning when I came down to take pictures, I opted for a caffeinated drink.

My friend Monica checks out miniature cheesecakes. They had some delicious sounding flavors! It's a must-try one of these days.

Been a sucker for interesting labels and signs lately. Like the vintage tone of this one, not to mention the contents of the shop itself.

Olive oil, such an essential cooking item. The display and layout of this shop are so pretty too.

Dried fruit stand is practically mandatory every time I go to the market.

Label says it all. Dried strawberries and dried sour cherries are my favorite!

Enjoy all!