Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday cocktail - cranhattan

When we went to the Border Grill holiday cooking demonstration last year I fell in love with their cranhattan. It's a good strong cocktail and it makes the most of festive cranberries, which I'm a sucker for at this time of year. The prep is going to look a little daunting, because you have to make two components before you even start mixing the drink. Luckily, you can make them ahead of time (this weekend, maybe?) and have them on hand for any holiday guests that drop by.


So, a Manhattan is usually bourbon and vermouth with some bitters. The cranhattan recipe calls for tequila and brandy but I wanted to stick with bourbon so that's what I did. It's great both ways, so you can use whatever you have on hand. I've modified the recipe slightly because I tested it out a few times and decided that I like it less sweet. This is a strong drink. If you normally prefer light, sweet cocktails, you will hate this, there's no way around it. I'd rather you know that now than after you've wasted several cups of cranberries.

For some reason this doesn't really hold up as a pitcher cocktail, which is the one downfall. It's best mixed one or two at a time and served over a couple ice cubes.

Cranhattan (recipe from Border Grill, slightly modified - makes 1 cocktail)
2 oz bourbon (or anejo tequila)
1 oz cranberry puree (for a sweeter cocktail use 1.5 oz)
1/2 oz cranberry liqueur
Ice, for cocktail shaker
3 drunken cranberries 
Mix everything but the cranberries in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with drunken cranberries. 
 Cranberry puree (makes 3 cups - enough for 24 cocktails, can be frozen in an ice cube tray for later)
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 orange, zested and juiced
3 cups water
1.5 cups sugar 
Combine everything in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook until cranberries break open and begin to break down, about 8 to 10 minutes. Puree (in a blender or with an immersion blender), strain through a doubled up piece of cheesecloth and chill until ready to use. 
* The original recipe makes 6 cups of cranberry puree but that is a TON of it. I cut the recipe in half and froze the leftovers in this ice cube tray that holds 1 oz per cube. *  
 Drunken cranberries and cranberry liqueur (makes 20 - 25 berries and about 1 cup liqueur - enough for 16 cocktails)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup bourbon (or brandy) 
Combine cranberries, sugar, water and 1/4 cup of the alcohol in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook just until cranberries start to pop and split open, 5 - 8 minutes, swirling the pan to stir and watching carefully. Once a few of the berries split open the rest will follow, so be ready to remove from heat immediately. Allow to cool to room temperature. The berries should remain intact with a single split that allows them to soak up the liquid. Once cooled, add the remaining 1/4 cup alcohol and refrigerate 1 - 2 days before using. 
* I poured the berries and liqueur into a jar and put it in the fridge, shaking it gently a couple times a day - you can make it several days ahead of time and it will hold up perfectly fine. *
I know I've been heavy on the bourbon cocktails the last few months. I'm always partial to it but it's ramped up because we've been getting the Bulleit bourbon in the gigantic bottle from Costco. It's a crazy good deal.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust

Everyone has their birthday pie. I always pick lemon meringue and D always picks key lime. The first year I ever made a key lime pie for him I put meringue on it and let me just tell you that there are two camps of people - those who put meringue on key lime pie and those that believe nothing except whipped cream is appropriate. It was embarrassing.

I've since reformed but it's taken me years to track down just the right recipe. I tested out fancy recipes that have you make lime curd and strain it through a chinois. I've tested regular crusts and graham cracker crusts and some variations on each. The final winner uses the easiest filling (I swear - homemade curd doesn't taste any better than the tried and true version with sweetened condensed milk) and a crust that's a little out of the ordinary, combining gingersnaps and pecans.

key lime tart
{key lime tart}

Key lime tart with gingersnap crust (serves at least 8, filling recipe from here, crust recipe from here)

For the crust: 
2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about 9 oz)
1 cup pecans (about 3.5 oz)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger (you can skip if you don't have it)
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling: (see notes about doubling below)
1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Key lime juice (fresh is great, but bottled saves time)
Zest from 2 small limes or 1 large

For the topping:
1 - 1.5 cups chilled heavy cream (depending on how thick you want it)
1 - 2 tablespoons sugar

Make crust: 
Preheat oven to 350F. Grind cookies, pecans, brown sugar and ginger in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and process to blend. Transfer mixture to a 9" tart pan with removable bottom and use your fingers to press filling onto the bottom and around the sides of the pan as evenly as possible. Bake crust 10 minutes, until just set.

Make filling: 
Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl  until combined well. Add juice and zest and whisk until combined well. Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes (filling will set as it cools). Cool pie completely then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping: 
Beat cream and sugar with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Spread cream on top of chilled tart with a spatula and smooth it out. Cover and chill until serving, up to several hours ahead. One cup of whipped cream gives you a nice layer on top but I like to go for the full 1.5 cups which makes the whipped cream layer nearly as thick as the filling layer. This is a personal preference, for sure.

Modification for 10" pan: The original recipe calls for a 9" tart pan but I don't have one. I use a 10" tart pan instead. There is plenty of crust for a 10" pan but the filling ends up being spread thin. Sometimes I just leave it thin and add extra whipped cream but I usually double the filling. The doubled recipe won't all fit in the tart pan, so I pour the little bit of extra into a ramekin and bake it alongside the pie for a quick treat. I use a full 1.5 cups of whipping cream for a thick layer on the 10" tart pan, but you could probably get away with using less. 

Most recipes tell you to whip the cream immediately before serving, but who wants to be in the kitchen right before dessert? I generally whip the cream and spread a thick layer on the tart in the morning and then pop it back in the fridge. I haven't had any issues with this. That last picture was taken with a leftover slice of pie two days later and the whipped cream is a little beat up but still delicious.

birthday pie
{birthday pie}

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The weekend, briefly

smoked glass at mas malo, d's 30th
{smoked glass at màs malo}

pinata smash, d's 30th birthday
{piñata smash}

mas malo mezzanine, d's 30th birthday
{màs malo mezzanine}

d, d's 30th birthday
{birthday boy}

d's 30th birthday
{d's 30th}

party hat from otaat
{grown up party hat! from otaat}

D turned 30 last week. We're both birthday shy and D in particular almost never does anything because this time of year is so crazy. But I couldn't let a milestone pass by without comment, so I ignored both our anxieties and threw the easiest party ever. I reserved the mezzanine for happy hour at one of our favorite downtown restaurants and pre-ordered appetizers for everyone. I resisted the urge to do ANYTHING. No decorations, no details, no attempt to micromanage the playlist. I've never been so hands off and it was initially nerve wracking but I'm so glad we did it. Being surrounded by friends is a good way to usher in a new decade. And if anyone deserves a celebration, it's D. I love this guy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bourbon cocktails with grapefruit and mint

Here is the first of two holiday cocktails that we've been drinking this month. It's also the easy one! I had these ready to go in under 15 minutes.

I would never have voluntarily picked this combo even though I love our grapefruit and habanero tequila cocktail. But we were going to a Christmas party and I didn't have time to go to the store and we happened to have all these things on hand, almost. The gingerbread extravaganza had left me out of white sugar so I used brown instead and (even though I have nothing to compare it to) I think it was the right choice. Brown sugar and bourbon are a natural fit.


Bourbon Punch with Grapefruit and Mint (serves 8 - 10, recipe from here)
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup brown sugar
15 fresh mint sprigs, half set aside
4 cups pink grapefruit juice, ideally unsweetened
2 1/2 cups bourbon (I used Bulleit)
12 dashes angostura bitters
1 cup club soda

:: Make your simple syrup: bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and add half the mint. Swirl to wilt the mint. Set aside and allow to cool. Strain before adding to punch.

:: Combine grapefruit juice, bourbon and bitters in a large bowl. Add the strained simple syrup. Mix in the soda and the remaining mint sprigs. Serve cold or over ice.

Because we weren't using a punch bowl I just put the fresh mint sprigs directly in the bottles, poured the punch over them and then topped them off with the sparkling water.

We use these swing top bottles all the time for transporting cocktails and even for serving them at home. So much easier to travel with than a punch bowl and they fit in the fridge nicely if you need to make your punch ahead of time. Also good for storing leftovers, although that almost never happens.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The weekend, briefly

gingerbread spices
{gingerbread spices}

L&B xmas party 2012 - table
{L&B xmas party 2012}

GB party 2012 - circe
{GB party 2012 - Circe}

GB party 2012 - candy canes
{GB party 2012 - candy canes}

GB party 2012 - Daniel's snowman!
{Daniel's snowman!}

We celebrated a family birthday on Saturday and then immediately went over to one of our oldest (in terms of how long we've been friends, not her age) friend's houses for her annual Christmas party. Her table of appetizers was gorgeous and there was an impromptu music session. Amazing.

The gingerbread house party on Sunday wrung me out and now I feel silly for thinking about posting a high and mighty set of instructions for throwing the perfect party. I'll still post it later, but I'll note that sometimes, despite all your planning, things just happen and it isn't perfect and that's fine.

Either my candy thermometer was off or in my somewhat frantic state I did something truly bizarre because ALL THE WINDOWS FAILED TO SET UP. The recipe I use is basically foolproof, or so I'd been led to believe by several years of perfect windows. I ended up having to stick all the pieces in the freezer in order to get them off the aluminum foil and set up enough that we could glue the houses together. Within 15 minutes all the colored sugar oozed out of the window holes. You know I cried but luckily I'd thought to pack my current favorite bourbon for spiking the apple cider and it helped convince me that we would all survive. We did. No one else really cared or they were too polite to say so.

I think there's a really easy way to avoid this disaster. When the thermometer hits 160 take a spoon and drip a little bit of the sugar syrup on a piece of aluminum foil. It should become hard and glassy almost immediately. If it doesn't, you should cook the syrup longer. I'll be doing this every year from now on.

I have a couple of holiday cocktails to share. I still haven't managed to grab a picture of one of them and while I've considered making one at 8 am when there is actually light in my house I can't quite bring myself to start my day with hard alcohol. And I couldn't just throw it out, obviously. Oh, blogging dilemmas.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Getting ready for the gingerbread house party this weekend ...

cookie cutters
{cookie cutters}

I'll be back with photos (and a long post on the logistics of putting together a gingerbread house party every year). 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The simplest snack

We were very into shishito peppers all summer and I was relieved when they didn't disappear as the weather cooled down.


We just blister them in a pan with a little bit of oil and then try to convince ourselves to let them cool down enough that we don't burn our mouths. They're even better with a pile of bonito flakes on top.

I get them at the Japanese market for pennies. I was there this week and they still had them, fingers crossed they stay all year.

shisito peppers
{shishito peppers}

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reading, not so lately

I've been on an extremely non-literary reading binge lately so there isn't much to discuss from the last few weeks (polished off Justin Cronin's The Twelve and then followed it up with a massive amount of re-reading from my mystery shelf).

But before that, I read two books back to back and my reactions were so strong that it's taken me a while to get my thoughts down.

{images from publishers}

We the Animals had been heavily hyped but the excerpts I'd heard were so gorgeous I couldn't resist. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it blew me away. Torres whisks you through a childhood that's rough and messy and pierced with moments of intense beauty.

I'm a sucker for stories about childhood but writing about your life is difficult and writing about that time is particularly tricky. There's a tendency to simplify your emotions and, in some cases, to work to solicit sympathy. The book was powerfully lyrical which initially made me nervous. Overly lyrical writing can so easily veer into gimicky territory and it sometimes obscures weaknesses that might otherwise get called out. But here the form furthers the function, allowing Torres to describe the brutality and tenderness of his family without judgement. He doesn't let his parents off the hook but neither does he vilify them and the result is honest and remarkably touching. I devoured the book in one sitting and then immediately wanted to read it again.

It's probably pure bad timing that the next book I read was Joan Didion's Blue Nights. It was a sharp contrast and it suffered by comparison. Both works deal with childhood, although Didion's book has a very different perspective because she is writing about her daughter's childhood in the wake of her death, which really means she's talking about herself as a parent. I'm not sure how to explain how uncomfortable it made me. The pain and loss are evident, but the lyricism of her writing, with short spare sentences and frequent repetition, serves to make the emotions feel at once strangely distant and too close for real reflection. It seemed overwrought and circular. I'm squirming as I write this, but self-indulgent was the word that kept coming to mind. I know critics have praised it as honest, but I felt like I was an observer being held at arm's length throughout.

The frequent name dropping (of people, brands and places) didn't help. Didion, apparently aware of the impact this will have, spends a lot of time trying to refute the implication that her daughter was privileged and that happens to be a pet peeve of mine. Tangent - I don't understand the reluctance to admit privilege. It isn't a crime. Privilege doesn't mean you are guaranteed a charmed life. It does mean that when bad things happen you at least have a few more resources than other people might. The world isn't divided into two categories, privileged or not. There is a vast scale along which we all fall and most of us reading here are already in the upper echelons compared to the majority of the world's population. It doesn't negate your efforts in life to admit that you started from a place of relative advantage and it doesn't mean you can't own your successes. It's just perspective. End rant.

It seems hardhearted to criticize a memoir but it's a published work and Didion is a literary force. I still feel a little squick-y about it, though.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The weekend, briefly

christmas mail
{christmas mail}

tree trimming
{tree trimming}

wedding ornament
{wedding ornament}



Early last week I pulled out our Christmas tablecloth and bought a tiny wreath from Trader Joe's and we had friends over for a long dinner and some eggnog. I got our annual gingerbread house party invitations out a little bit late, but at least they made it. For some reason I can't bring myself to go to email invitations for this particular party.

After all the hosting and a heavy workload over the last couple weeks it was a blissfully quiet weekend, the kind I value even more as we head into a packed month. Saturday I went to Krav Maga (I'm covered in bruises and gleefully excited about it!), ran home, got a massage and then napped. It was AMAZING. We did a little bit of running around on Sunday and I got to visit some of the ceramics Dustin has been working on lately.

As we gear up I'm reminding myself that my "obligations" are really privileges and choices. I love this month but around December 15th I tend to get caught up in a frenzy of (largely self-imposed) expectations and it's unnecessary. I want to enjoy it, both the big parties and the little details. There are so many sweet surprises, like when D's 14 year old brother, who stayed with us for a couple days and is generally in full on teenage mode, was unexpectedly enthusiastic about decorating our tree while listening to Christmas music. You can't plan the best moments anyways.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Recovering - green smoothies

I've been trying green smoothies lately. I'm not 100% convinced, people.

green smoothie
{green smoothie}

This is tasty and all, but so far nothing miraculous has happened, which is kind of what I was led to expect based on the internet ravings. Shouldn't my skin be glowing by now?

smoothie making
{smoothie making}

Currently blending:
About 1/3 - 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk (not the kind in the carton!)
A generous splash of orange juice or, in a pinch, cranberry juice
1/2 small banana
As much frozen kale or spinach as I can fit in my little blender (probably 1.25 cups)

It is surprisingly filling, which I think is down to the fat in the coconut milk. I started out with less green and a whole banana, but if I'm making one for D and one for myself then I just give us each half a banana and it's still sweet enough for me. And then I ran out of bananas completely and I can now report that it's fine without, but better with. I usually thin the smoothie with a bit of orange juice but I've used cranberry juice and if you are juice averse you could use coconut water or something similar. The frozen greens are the kind in the bag from Whole Foods, not the box of chopped frozen spinach. It probably works with the boxed kind but I haven't tried it. Also, the Whole Foods generic coconut milk is the cheapest I've found anywhere. No, they do not pay me but they are the only grocery store that I can easily walk to and that's why I mention them all the time. They have a reputation for being really pricey but their generic stuff is on par with TJ's.

This experiment started pre-Thanksgiving, but it's very appropriate after a week of leftovers overload. I have holiday food portion control issues and then I get in a bad cycle where I eat too much dinner and then don't feel hungry enough for breakfast and then it repeats, over and over. I've found that on days when I can't face my usual breakfast of eggs the smoothie is the best solution and it can nip that cycle in the bud without triggering the sugar cravings I get from most commercially made smoothies.

Whew. I guess I get why people talk about them so much. Apparently once you start discussing green smoothies you can't figure out how to stop. I'm not even that obsessed, I swear.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The long holiday weekend




the table
{the table}

the day after
{the day after}

new toys!
{new toys!}

napping companion
{napping companion}

In the end, my timing wasn't quite as on as last year. The turkey was just a wee bit late coming out of the oven but I don't think anyone minded. I also ran out of chilled champagne, but I think that correlates directly with the late turkey so I'm just going to call it a single glitch.

D designed our place cards this year with a clever tab system so they fit in the mini candlestick holder on our funny glass turkeys. He thinks they came out a little disco-fever-y but I love them.

I was wiped out for the rest of the weekend but luckily Circe is an excellent companion in inactivity and we borrowed her for the weekend. Her ability to nap for long stretches of time is unrivaled. We took her to Petco (her first time inside a store! - she leads a sheltered life) and allowed her to pick out her own dog toy. I think wandering around an aisle of toys was the most exciting experience in her life to date. I'm not sure it made up for the intense at home grooming session that followed, though.

I'm not one of those people who starts gearing up for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. I generally need about a week to recover and work through my leftovers. But we are having friends over for eggnog later this week and I'm feeling ready to get started.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pre-giving (friends-giving?)

We still haven't decided on the official title, but the dinner was a success.

I can't get enough Thanksgiving so we invited some friends over for a warm up meal over the weekend. I wouldn't ever want to give up family Thanksgiving but I've always been a little envious of friends who end up doing their own thing to avoid travel. We wanted it to feel relaxed and celebratory and I think it worked. I was busy enjoying myself and only stepped away from the table long enough to snap a single action photo over the course of the six hour meal so that's what we have. We made a turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and asked everyone to bring their favorite side dish.

pre-giving table
{pre-giving table}

tiny glass turkeys!
{tiny glass turkeys!}


Not pictured - several rounds of Pictionary, gin punch, bourbon cocktails, really intense discussions, a few impressions and the most balanced array of side dishes you could imagine given that we gave people NO INSTRUCTIONS on what to bring. People must have had psychic connections going on.

The tiny glass turkeys were an impulse buy from CostPlus on Saturday. I don't know why but I love them inordinately and plan to use them as place card holders, assuming I get myself together and actually make place cards this week. I justified it because I generally spend no money on table decor for this holiday. I collected a few baby pinecones over the last week and D gave them a misting of gold spray paint and then I put out those pomegranates I picked and our collection of honeymoon brass candlesticks. The table looked a bit sparse but my theory is once dinner gets started no one notices. HOT TIP - the dripless unscented candles from Trader Joe's were amazing. Actually dripless, right up until the very end (blow them out when they have about an inch to go and you'll be good, otherwise they do drip when they gutter out), they lasted almost the entire party and they were half the price of most other candles. I'm stocking up today.

Thanksgiving!!! Maybe I will live blog my preparations tomorrow? No, probably not.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Candles, finally

I approach scented candles with caution. I like to have one around so I can light it after I clean the house (apparently this is an almost universal reaction?) but I don't want candles cluttering up my space and that puts some pressure on me to pick exactly the right scent. I'd been candle-less for a couple months because I couldn't make a decision.

fig and jasmine
{fig and jasmine}

I stopped at Patchwork a few weekends ago to see my talented cousin and ended up buying two candles from this shop. I have the teakwood and tobacco in my bathroom and the fig and jasmine in the living room. They're both excellent and about 1/3 of the price of the high end ones I was considering.

teakwood and tobacco
{teakwood and tobacco}

I'm just glad I don't have to think about candles for a while.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving - plan of attack

We are one week out from Thanksgiving, which is my holiday. This is only the second year we've hosted it but I gradually started taking over the cooking years earlier. I picked up the Bon Apetit Thanksgiving issue and settled down to do my research last weekend. In all honesty, I make the same core foods every year. I just like reading the magazines and sometimes I'll make different veg side dishes or pick up some gravy tips.

Once you've planned Thanksgiving a couple times it stops feeling overwhelming, but I still have a system. It involves lots of paper notes. I'm not sure if this will be helpful to anyone else, but here it goes.

2012 thanksgiving planning
{2012 thanksgiving planning}

MENU: Figure out what dishes you are making and which ones you are delegating. Write them all down. Pull out your recipes.

GROCERIES: Figure out your grocery list and decide which stores you'll be hitting up. I do a Whole Foods trip (free-range turkey), a Trader Joe's trip (butter, whipping cream, eggs) and a regular grocery store trip (vegetables, sugar, flour, sundries, gladware*). Decide what days you're shopping and for the love of god don't make one of them the day before Thanksgiving or you might give up altogether.

BREAKDOWN: For the dishes you are making, write down the name of the dish and then break down the steps below it. This doesn't have to be insanely detailed, but the breakdown will help, I promise. For stuffing I have: dry bread cubes, chop veggies, saute and combine, bake (30 minutes at 375). For pumpkin pie I just have: make crusts (freeze), make filling and bake (1 hour at 350). This is also useful if you have kitchen assistants because it makes it really easy to delegate concrete tasks.

I usually end up re-writing this a couple times to make sure it all fits relatively neatly on a single page. Here is my 2011 list. I'll be modifying slightly this year but it helps to look back.

2011 thanksgiving schedule
{2011 thanksgiving schedule}

PREP SCHEDULE: Then I start scheduling. The breakdown helps here because I can schedule smaller tasks on the days leading up to Thanksgiving. For instance, I like to dry my bread cubes and have my pie crusts made by Tuesday. Potatoes get peeled and chopped and placed in water on Wednesday night. Sweet potatoes get roasted on Wednesday** morning, while I'm making the pie fillings. I make the cranberry relish and sauce on Tuesday. I make little notations next to the steps and then I cross out the steps once I've completed them.

OVEN SCHEDULE: When I make the meal at my mom's house, I have a huge advantage. Two huge advantages, actually. They have giant double ovens. I, on the other hand, have one smallish apartment oven and it dictates how much hot food I can put out. I make an oven schedule and I work it around the turkey roasting time***. Since the turkey needs to rest for 30 minutes, I aim to have him out just after the guests arrive. As soon as I pull him out, I can pop two dishes in the oven for 30 minutes. The rolls always get a space and then it's a throw down between the stuffing and the sweet potatoes. I bake both the morning of but they need to be re-heated. I think this year I'm going to put one in the broiler and hope for the best. You don't even know what I would give for a third rack in the oven.

Of course, this means that we can't have any other side dishes that need to go in the oven. Which is a bummer because the slow roasted green beans with sage were really calling my name this year.

I try to avoid clutter, but I like to save my Thanksgiving schedule each year. It makes my planning the next year easier but the real reason is just that I love these sorts of preserved snippets of life. After our wedding my aunt gave me a giant binder full of old handwritten family recipes with notes and I treasure it - I rarely feel closer to someone than when I get to see the notes they've written to themselves about food they've made.

*If you're hosting it's a really nice touch to pick up a big pack of gladware (or the generic equivalent). This way you can send your guests home with leftovers and they don't need to feel obligated to return the containers later.

**I am incredibly lucky because I'm usually able to take the day before Thanksgiving off, which makes my life much easier. However, you can do everything in one day (I made our entire Thanksgiving meal in 4 hours the year we had to transport it to the hospital) but if you have any free time at all I'd recommend doing as much prep work in advance in the evenings.

**I use Alton's Brown's turkey roasting method and I swear by it. It cuts the cook time down considerably but more importantly, it makes the best turkey. I don't bother with the brining most years because I hate wrestling a cold turkey into a pot of liquid and I don't think it matters if you start with a decent quality bird. I would highly recommend this, not just for taste reasons but for ethical ones. There has to be something wrong with meat that costs less than a dollar per pound. I pay more than double that for our turkey and I opt to buy a smaller turkey so the overall cost difference isn't too crazy. The last two years I've ordered from my local Whole Foods because they offer options from a company I've looked into and feel comfortable doing business with.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Closing shop

I closed my Etsy shop before the wedding because time was in short supply. I intended to re-open it in time for the holidays last year, but um, I'd realized that actually having free evenings was amazing. So I told myself I'd give it a year and then make a decision.

The bottom line is that while I always turned a profit, by the time I'd paid taxes (doing my taxes was fairly hellish in and of itself) and figured out what my actual gross for the year was and then started calculating how many hours I was putting into the shop, it started to look ridiculous. I never finished those calculations because it was too depressing. I'm pretty sure I was working for less than $2 an hour. And while I loved custom orders and interacting with customers and the entire business of it, I value my time more highly than that. I was doing enough volume to take up virtually all my free time so it was hard to call it a hobby and I've never believed in treating a business like a hobby anyways. While I was sewing items over and over again for resale, it was hard to feel motivated to do my own projects.

So I'm closing the shop, for good. It was a great experience and I'm not saying I won't ever try running a business again, but this particular one is finished.

Sept 2010 shop update

I've gone ahead and listed all my remaining inventory and I'll keep the shop open until December 15th. I'm also clearing out all the fabrics I used for the rosebud line so if anyone is interested in crafting material, just let me know and we'll work out a good price.

Thank you all for your support over the years, both here and in the shop!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The weekend, briefly

sage, waiting
{sage, waiting}

saturday coffee
{saturday coffee}



rose hips
{rose hips}



I'm in full on Thanksgiving planning mode, which is one of my favorite places to be. I picked the sage we'll be using and I'm crossing my fingers that I can keep it alive for a week and a half. It's the Cleveland sage I love and once you use it you can't go back to the grocery store varieties. I'm babying it and refreshing the water every day.

The pomegranates came in a little late this year, but they're gorgeous. They're so readily available now, but I still think of them as precious and I wait for them all year. I don't think we're going to manage to make jelly this year, so I can eat them with impunity. You know you've picked a good pomegranate when you accidentally drop it and it splits wide open and spills juice all over the floor.

I'm doing recipe development for a holiday cocktail that will hopefully involve cranberries, ginger and bourbon. It's slow going because I can only test 2 or 3 drinks before I'm no longer an impartial judge. I'm an extremely amateur mixologist.

Rose hips and roses go together so well and I can't decide which is more beautiful - the flowers themselves or the traces they leave behind. The hips look just like scaled down pomegranates and I love them.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pudding (and thanks)

Thank you all so much for the support this week - your comments and emails have meant so much.

Pudding is my comfort food. Luckily, the Japanese market stocks a good selection. I couldn't choose between two extremes so I gave up and got both for a pudding-off. Mango pudding with sour cream topping vs. classic vanilla.

puddings, two options
{puddings, two options}

The mango was good, but the vanilla killed it. Ridiculously rich and smooth with a tiny bit of burnt sugar on the bottom. I'm studying the ingredients list on the label to figure out if I can re-create it at home. I think the secret is a whole lot of heavy cream and not too much sugar.

These are both from MamMoth Bakery in Gardena and Marukai stocks them around LA.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four years

I guess I'm still writing these yearly check in posts. They do something for me. Articulating where I am each year helps me see our situation more clearly and lets me put it in context. It's the most personal post I put up each year and I always debate whether I want to do it, but then I do. The accident, year one, year two and year three are right here. 

This day four years ago it was a Wednesday and the election results were splashed all over the news and I got a phone call from my mom as I stepped out of the shower at the gym and our lives changed in an instant.

Four years feels like forever and nothing at all. I thought this year would be easier, a plateau where we could all just take a breather, but we're finding that it's just as difficult in different ways.

After last year's post I went on obsessive internet searches looking for solutions. I found an affordable adult daycare close to my parents and it's been a mixed blessing. It gives my mom a break for a portion of the day, but it still isn't nearly enough time to take care of the house, the usual errands and herself. How can you fit a life in 7 hour increments? Dave hates it and rebels by dawdling as long as possible in the mornings, whittling down the time. We hate that he hates it but haven't found a better option. It's heartbreaking. How can I reconcile myself to knowing that there is no good solution for my family? That we're always going to be choosing between competing needs? I cling to my assertion that Dave is a part of our family and even if he isn't fully capable of understanding that anymore, he needs to be part of the team and that means he won't always get what he wants, just like the rest of us. Underneath my skin I feel flinty and bruised, all at once.

Dave has enough of his faculties left to be aware of his deficits, but not enough to resolve them. There won't be any improvement. The doctors can't tell us exactly what to expect, but the consensus is that brain injuries can accelerate the onset of dementia. We're not sure how much time we have and that makes it hard to plan. He needs to be within earshot of someone at all times, day and night. He'll put something on the stove and forget about it, he'll fall asleep in the shower, he thinks he hears us calling to him and he gets up and wanders off, he has seizures that terrify him.

We've started looking for residential facilities, with no idea of how we could possibly pay for them once the time comes. We found a place that looks promising but Dave is concerned that everyone there is too old. It broke my heart when I realized that he thought he was more functional than they were, these elderly people with walkers who were clearly still able to hold their own in the lunchtime gossip sessions. He has no idea. We observed and ate our soup with crackers, asking Dave questions to keep the conversation going, as we've learned we have to do. I can't find a place close to us that has residential traumatic brain injury care and I'm not sure Dave would like it any better if I did. Every brain injury is different, experienced differently by the individual. Where does Dave fit in now? Where will he fit in five years?

What Dave wants, what we all desperately want, is the life we had pre-accident. Realizing we have to settle for something very different was hard enough for the rest of us and it's proving nearly impossible for Dave, understandably. My mom is worn thin and I'm afraid that a few more years of this and I'll lose her as well. I suddenly see the appeal of families with seven kids. My sister and I aren't enough, can't be enough. We need hands to trade off, people to step in, schedules that could be coordinated in giant color coded spreadsheets.

I worry about how Dustin and I can keep our lives moving forward, when we're constantly tugged back home. There isn't enough time to give to everyone who needs us, so we exist in a near constant state of guilt, but we can't keep shorting ourselves either. I alternate between thinking we'll never have kids, to spare them this kind of caretaking and then wondering what will happen to us if we don't. I make a mental note to check into long term care insurance, either way. We talk about setting aside a certain number of days each month that are just for us. Sometimes we even manage it.

I feel like I'm in a house with lots of hallways but no doors. Every option that comes up is flawed, every potential solution is unaffordable or impractical. I pingpong between rage, optimism and hopelessness. I know that our situation isn't unique. Caretaking is something most families will deal with in some form, sooner or later. That doesn't make it less lonely.

The sadness is an undercurrent that runs beneath us but we try not to let it pull us in. I'm glad that Thanksgiving comes shortly after this anniversary. My favorite holiday, a chance to regroup and remind ourselves that we're a family, that we chose each other and we continue to choose each other, even when life doesn't turn out the way we'd anticipated. We're going to keep looking for solutions this year, because I refuse to accept that there aren't any. Family is worth fighting for, always.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The weekend, briefly







{downtown at dusk}

We had two family birthdays and lots of driving around.

I checked on the progress of this year's avocado crop and the pups helped. They know that the avocados that fall on the ground belong to them so they have a vested interest. It's going to be at least a month before we can pick any, but I'm already looking forward to it.

We all took advantage of the spike in temperature and spent a lot of the weekend outside, but it didn't stop us from using the fireplace briefly. We're pretending it's fall. The weather might not be cooperating, but the light certainly feels right.