Mexican Tamales

img_0909Along with rice, beans, and tortillas – tamales are one of the staple foods I grew up with. The types of tamales have varied widely, from meaty to spicy to sweet, and each one is as delicious as the next. One of the most commonly known is the Mexican style tamale, traditionally made with masa, meat stuffing, and sauce. They’re also fairly simple to make, especially when you have a lazy weekend day to spare.

img_0912For these tamales I decided on chicken with a salsa verde, which compliment each other perfectly.

img_0894Ingredients (makes 40 tamales): 1 whole chicken, 3 lbs tamale masa, salsa verde (recipe to follow), 40 corn husks, salt to taste.

img_0896Before making the chicken and sauce, soak corn husks in warm water and let sit for several minutes.

Then place chicken cut into eight pieces in a large pot with enough water to just cover the chicken and boil with 3 tablespoons of salt. Cook the chicken thoroughly, then remove from water and let cool – reserving water.

img_0897For the salsa verde: 20 tomatillos, 6 serrano chiles, 1/2 large onion, 4 garlic cloves, 2 green bell peppers, 1 large bunch cilantro, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 all spice, salt and pepper to taste.

Place all of the ingredients in a pot with no more than 1/2 cup of water and simmer until tomatillos are cooked through and soft. Put everything in a blender and puree until smooth.

img_0899Shred the cooled chicken, and put in a bowl. Spoon salsa verde over chicken, and mix to coat thoroughly.

img_0900Pour masa into bowl of a stand mixer, and gradually add the reserved chicken water with the mixer on medium speed. Mix until any lumps are dissolved, and mixture is smooth.

img_0903Cut aluminum foil sheets into roughly 10″ x 10″ squares. To assemble tamales place a husk on a sheet of foil, followed by a thin layer of masa. Use the back of a spoon to spread the masa onto the corn husk, as if you were thickly spreading cream cheese onto a bagel. Then spoon chicken down the middle.

img_0904Roll the corn husk to enclose the filling, then wrap the foil tightly around the raw tamale. Place them all in a pot, with about 2 cups of water on the bottom – the steam will do the cooking. Bring to a simmer and let cook or about 50 minutes, covered.

img_0915Serve with extra salsa verde and cheese on the side. Tamales also freeze very well, making for easy meals throughout the week.

 


Our Living Room

img_0842Our living room has been a work in progress since we first moved into our house in 2015, and I can finally say that it is complete.

img_0844Though fairly small, there have been a lot of structural changes made to the space, which happened in multiple phases. The bookcases, railing, sconces, and fireplace seen in this shot were all absent when we first moved in.

beforelivingroomHere’s a look at how this room was set up when we moved in. You can see that the corners flanking the doorway were empty, and the fireplace couldn’t look more different.

bookshelvesconceptThe first change that we made was adding the built-in bookcases. As soon as we saw the empty corners, we knew that we had a great opportunity to add presence. Here you can see the concept art that James put together before handing it off to the carpenters.

img_0868The build and install was done by Martin Cabinet Designs, who we would later work with for the fireplace and our kitchen remodel. The two pieces greatly improve the flow of the space, and it’s hard to believe that they were ever missing.

img_0863img_0862The shelves allow us to display some of our books and a few favorite trinkets, filling the room with color and charm.

img_0859When thinking of the size for the bookshelves we wanted to make sure to keep this thermostat in place. Though it is no longer functional, it serves as a fun reminder of the history of our home.

img_0864After the bookshelves were up, we focused on decorating the entryway. A new Tiffany glass lighting fixture and some decorative objects made the space feel complete and cohesive with the rest of the room.

img_0874We made some simple changes to the door, such as a new door handle that would also compliment the switch plates around the house.

img_0857Hooks to hang our coats, scarves, and purses keep us organized and avoid clutter.

img_0856We use the same table that we had at our apartment to hold keys for easy access on our way out the door. The trays that hold the keys were originally used to hold our wedding bands for our wedding ceremony.

img_0855One of my favorite details of the entryway was already there before we moved. This is the mail slot where we receive our daily mail. We painted it the same color as the moulding to give it emphasis.

img_0853The next big change was working with with Isaac’s Ironworks to add the railing that separates the living room from the dining room. We opted for this small bench and some decorative pillows to put up against the railing, which gives us some extra seating without the heaviness of another sofa. A tiny side drink table gives guests a place to set down their cocktail.

img_0852The last major changes were the built in surrounding the fireplace mantel, and the media cabinet on the side. Above the fireplace, the built-in houses our television, allowing us to close it away when not in use. The media cabinet on the side hides away electronic devices, and serves as a table for our record player, which we use frequently.

img_0854After all of the big changes were done we focused on the smaller details such as setting out books on our coffee table and getting new plants to give the room extra life. I’m very happy with how this space has turned out, and all of the slow progress on it has certainly paid off.


Homemade Sourdough Bread

img_0702Bread is one of those foods that I love to eat, but had never made myself at home. Though it’s such a staple item eaten all around the world, I always found it a little intimidating. Those three simple ingredients (flour, water, and salt) needed to create a delicious loaf are in most households, but the process of converting those ingredients felt like nothing short of alchemy. Recently, I finally decided to just go for it and make my all time favorite bread: sourdough.

img_0707The most important component of sourdough is the starter dough, which will give the bread that essential tangy flavor, and provide the yeast necessary for the dough to rise. To make the starter dough mix 4oz water with 4oz of all-purpose flour in a bowl. Cover and let sit at room temperature.

img_0457The next day, ‘feed’ the dough by removing all but 4oz of starter and feeding it 4oz of flour and 4oz of water, mixing thoroughly. Repeat this process every 12 hours for a few days. The amount of time for the starter can vary, but it helps to keep it at a consistent temperature away from the cold. You will know it’s ready when it is very bubbly and even a little foamy on top.

img_0684Place any extra starter dough in the refrigerator, and feed once a week to maintain. When it came time to discard and feed the ready starter, I poured some into jars instead of discarding, and gifted to some friends.

img_0695To make the bread: add 30 grams of active starter to 75 grams of all-purpose flour, and 75 grams of water. Mix thoroughly, cover, and let sit overnight or for about 12 hours. Once the leaven is bubbly you know it’s ready. To double check that it is ready, drop a small dollop of the leaven into a bowl of water – if it floats, you’re good to go.

img_0685Mix all of the leaven in a large bowl with 475 grams of room temperature water. Mix it in with your hands until the leaven has dissolved into the water. Add 350 grams of all-purpose flour, and 350 grams of whole wheat flour to the bowl with leaven and water. You can also do 700 grams of all-purpose if you don’t want whole wheat, but I think it gives it a richer flavor. Mix until you no longer see any dry flour. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours. Once the dough has rested, dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt into 50 grams of water and add to dough. Mix with your hands to combine.

Fold the dough, in the bowl, by grabbing one end and folding the dough in half. Then, move the bowl a quarter turn and fold again. Repeat until you have folded it over four times. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes, then repeat the folding process. Do this process a total of 4 times, every 30 minutes. After you have folded it for the 4th time, let the dough rest for about 45 minutes, until it looks a little puffed.

img_0686Sprinkle flour on your countertop, and turn the dough over onto the flour. Cut the dough in half to pre-shape the loaves. Shape into rounds by running a pastry scraper or blunt knife around the bottom edge. This will start to make the top of the dough taut, and give you a more even shape. Let dough rest for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare two proofing baskets or bowls by lining with a kitchen towel and dusting them with flour. It helped me to lightly spray the towels with water first before adding the flour. Rub the flour into the towel to create a layer of flour on the towel.

img_0687Give the loaves their final shape by dusting the tops with flour, then turning them over so the flour side is down. Gently take the top lip of the loaf, and fold it into the center, then repeat with the other three sides. The idea here is to make the top more taut. Cup your hands around the edges of the loaf to give it its final shape. Sprinkle with flour, then transfer to the towel lined baskets or bowls, smooth side down. Cover with plastic, and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, or place in refrigerator and let sit overnight.

img_0691When ready to bake – place a dutch oven or heavy pot with lid in the oven and pre-heat to 500F. Remove the hot dutch oven from oven, and place one of the loaves inside, smooth side up. Score the top with a sharp knife. You can do three diagonal lines like I did, or do an x in the middle.

img_0692With the lid on, bake at 500F for 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 475F for 15 minutes. After the first 30 minutes of baking, remove lid and continue to bake for another 20 minutes – or until the crust has a deep golden brown color.

img_0699img_0704Remove from oven and place the loaf on a cooling sheet for at least 10 minutes before slicing. You will see the quintessential holes filling each delicious loaf.  Enjoy it fresh and warm with toppings of choice.

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Disneyland Details

We take many trips to Disney Parks, both domestic and abroad, and the work of Walt Disney Imagineering has had a tremendous influence on our sense of design. We will be traveling to Tokyo Disney Resort later this year, and here we thought that we would share some of our favorite things about Disneyland Park, as we eagerly await what the Imagineers have in store for us in Japan.

img_9682New Orleans Square is an environment that begs to be explored, rather than simply passed through. The streets take a winding path that set up a series of discoveries that are not evident from the waterfront.

img_9692The masts of that ship rising up from behind these buildings create the illusion of additional layers of depth. This implies the extension of the space beyond the visible structures, increasing the scope of the land.

img_9693The implication of a world just beyond what we can see is also present on the second floor balconies. The set dressing creates characters who live here, such as the artist who is painting this picture. The props combined with “off-screen” sound make New Orleans Square feel so alive.

img_9721Within the adobe archways of Rancho del Zocalo, we can rest our weary feet, shielded from the harsh sun of the American Southwest.

img_9774Should we venture beyond the safe confines of the hacienda to see what awaits in the town of Rainbow Ridge?

img_9769‘Character paint’ and ‘character plaster,’ seen here in Fantasy Faire, are great ways to communicate the idea of a lived in environment that has a sense of place.

img_9761This crumbling facade hints at a rich, storied past. Many people have inhabited this space before, working with different materials, speaking different languages, and facing a harsh environment. We don’t know for certain just how this building came to look this way, but our imaginations can provide the details.

img_9703The excellent forced perspective of the Indiana Jones Adventure is extremely convincing when partially obscured through the jungle.

img_9759Be careful not to look into the eyes of Mara, or else this small glimpse of daylight will be the last that you ever see, as you board your troop transport in the Temple of the Forbidden Eye.

img_9767No wonder Toad Hall needs so many fireplaces, being at the foot of that snowy mountain.

img_0446When we arrive at Main Street, U.S.A. we are immediately aware that we are at a time of transition where the horse and buggy exists side by side with the motorcar.

img_0455The gas lamps have begun to be replaced by the electric light, but the remnants of that bygone era still remain.

img_9775Every piece of set dressing that you see in the shops of Main Street, U.S.A. is giving an idea of what types of people own these shops and inhabit this land.

img_9744On a windy day, Mary Poppins is blown every which way on this weathervane atop Jolly Holiday Bakery Café.

img_9735What lies beyond the visible walls of Fantasyland? The wide open vistas of Storybook Land provide our imaginations with the necessary context to fill in those gaps.

img_9738These wonderfully composed, highly detailed landscapes are perhaps the most direct representation in all of Disneyland of the world in which the Disney animated classics take place.

img_9727Immediately upon entering the queue for Snow White’s Scary Adventures, the tone is set with a glimpse into the Evil Queen’s dungeon, and the dread that she will stop at nothing to afflict our heroine with the Sleeping Death.

img_9723From Frontierland a magic portal opens up, giving us a window into another exotic world. This is a special quality of Disneyland, which is different from the way that the much larger Magic Kingdom gradually transitions from one land to another.

img_9718Space Station 77 seems to float above the horizon, promoting an optimism about space travel, and promising adventure.

img_9715The hedges around it’s a small world make the structure feel light and airy, maintaining the scale that the interior of the attraction works in.

img_9706This boarded up tunnel is one of the last remnants of Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, which was removed to build Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It is now a piece of real world park history that also functions as an in universe history for Frontierland.

img_9700This British (we still like to pretend it is Swiss) settlement may have temporarily tamed the jungle, but we know from the Jungle Cruise and Temple of the Forbidden Eye, that in Adventureland, nature will always win out over man.

img_9695While the Sailing Ship Columbia is in dry dock, her crew can find a hot meal and a warm bed at Fowler’s Inn. This sleepy area of the waterfront offers a contrast to the hustle and bustle of New Orleans Square.

img_9741The calm stillness of the Blue Bayou lulls us to sleep before we are whisked down a waterfall into a dreamy underworld of decaying pirate corpses.

These are only a few of the myriad ways that Disney Parks have created the perfect setting for our imaginations to run wild. Experiencing new parks is always a thrill, but Disneyland will always be our favorite. Over the past 60 years, it has developed a set of quirks that give it a unique charm that is hard to beat.


A Tiny Laundry Room

 

img_0332The final part of our kitchen remodel was finishing up the attached laundry room. When conceiving of the layout, size was the biggest consideration. This is a very narrow space that was certainly not built with the size of 21st century appliances in mind, so the very first decision we made was to stack the washer and dryer, instead of having them side by side. We knew we wanted to de-emphasize how far the washer and dryer extended out, and wanted to have a visual divider from room to room, so we put a curtain in the doorframe to create a soft separation from the breakfast nook.

img_0336We were able to make the most out of this small space by having a custom cabinet built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who also built our kitchen cabinets and breakfast nook. We gave them details on how we wanted it to look, and they created it to fit the space and our needs perfectly.

img_0345Our kitties, Titan and Atlas, have their own private doorway to enter their litter box, and the bottom of the cabinet rolls out for easy cleaning.

img_0339On the opposite wall from the washer and dryer, there was just enough room to put up some hooks that I use to hang a few small purses and scarves.

img_0337A couple of small shelves on the wall complete the room by giving us a little extra space for storing items. It may be tiny, but our new laundry room fits all of our needs, and the kitties seem to be pleased with it too. It just goes to show that you don’t need to knock down walls in order to make a space more functional.


Brooklyn

img_0235After having visited Manhattan two years ago during the Christmas season, we decided that this year we would take a trip to Brooklyn. We have some friends who are living in the borough, and it’s one part of New York City that we had never explored before.

img_0229I had walked across the Brooklyn Bridge during school field trips, but James had never had the opportunity. We bundled up and braved the winds to cross over from Manhattan.

img_0230From the Brooklyn Bridge, we had a great view of James’ favorite bridge, the Manhattan Bridge.

img_0237This hilarious sign, which has not quite deterred lovers from vandalizing city property with their padlocks, was a warm welcome to the borough’s personality.

img_0243img_0245We spent the night at a hotel right across the street from Borough Hall (formerly the seat of government for the City of Brooklyn), which we had a great view of from our room window.

img_0274After crossing the bridge and settling into our hotel room we took to the streets for the day. Not far from our hotel was the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, which gave us a chance to see other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, locations that we would like to visit on later trips to New York.

img_0272img_0288The highlight of the trip was strolling past all of the 19th century brownstones that line the streets of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. It was very reminiscent of our recent trip to Boston, where we saw an abundance of row houses on Beacon Hill.

img_0279img_0280Many of the residences were tastefully decorated for the season.

img_0299img_0308img_0304Park Slope offered another pleasant residential neighborhood to walk through, right across from Prospect Park.

img_0295We also visited the Brooklyn Central Library, which is part of a completely separate library system serving only that borough, not affiliated with the New York Public Library.

img_0317We then headed towards Green-Wood Cemetery, which feels like a storybook setting. Many of the most famous (or infamous) New Yorkers have been buried here, such as “Boss” Tweed. Here is the gothic gate that serves as the northern entrance.

img_0324img_0328The cemetery is a vast collection of statues and mausoleums, in addition to the expected headstones. Meandering through the curved pathways is a very peaceful experience.

img_0331We had a wonderful stay in Brooklyn, and were so glad to finally explore the area. We will continue to travel to New York City when we can, revisiting the boroughs that we have seen, and exploring new ones as well.


2016 Holiday Cards

This year for our holiday cards, we went a different route and decided to print one design, as opposed to previous years, where we crafted individual cards for each family.

img_0183When brainstorming ideas for the cards, we knew we wanted a holiday appropriate design that would also be representative of this past year. Since this year has been very focused on remodeling and really settling into our home, we decided on featuring our newly finished fireplace and hearth.

img_0181We started with a pencil sketch, and then digitally did some cleanup, and added color. I love that the cards have the hand sketched look to them, making them warm and inviting. Happy Holidays!

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Kitchen Remodel

img_0108After a full year of planning and saving, we have finally completed the first major remodel in our home: the kitchen. As soon as we bought our house, I knew that the kitchen had to be one of the first major projects. Not only do I spend a lot of time in the space, but the previous kitchen looked unappealing and was hardly even functional. The changes we made compliment the texture palette of the house, provide functionality and organization, and give the space the charm that it was begging for.

before_and_afterAs you can see from this before and after, we mostly kept the layout of the kitchen the same. However, there are some major differences in the sizing and features of cabinets and appliances. The previous cabinet doors were very small and poorly spaced, making it almost impossible to store anything larger than a medium sized pot. Most of the drawers were either broken or didn’t open, the faucet was turned to one side and refused to budge, the vent did not function, and the teeny oven couldn’t even fit a standard cookie sheet. These were all very frustrating issues for someone who cooks as much as I do. We had our custom cabinets built by Martin Cabinet Designs, who were able to construct everything just as we envisioned.

concept_artEven before we bought our house, I had a general idea of how I wanted the kitchen to look. Once we had the measurements, James created this concept art to help us figure out exactly how it would all come together. Though some changes were made to the final version, the feeling you get when you see something you designed come to life is nothing short of exhilarating.

img_0086img_0087The biggest change to the layout was opting for open shelves above the stovetop, instead of cabinets like it had before. This change has been so impactful not only visually, but also functionally. I absolutely love that the tile goes all the way up to the ceiling, and now I can display more items while keeping common pantry items organized and within reach.

img_0106The small oven was one of my biggest complaints, so after a lot of consideration I decided to go big and add not one, but two standard size ovens. I have always loved the look and flexibility double ovens provide, and I’m already so glad I went in that direction.

img_0081img_0084Going with butcher block countertops was one of the very first decisions that we made. We picked out this beautiful acacia wood that has a wonderful variety in color. It’s perfect for the the galley layout of our kitchen, and adds so much warmth and country charm.

img_0080img_0093One of my favorite features of the kitchen is the wall mount faucet. The butcher block counter top dictated that the faucet not be mounted to the counter, so it created the opportunity for it to come out of the tile instead. For the farmhouse sink, James insisted that the apron absolutely had to be fluted to breakup the large white front, and I couldn’t agree more.

img_0097Aside from the kitchen galley, this remodel also included the breakfast nook corner. The same team that made our cabinets made this built-in bench with a top that lifts for extra storage.

before_2Here’s a look at the corner before the remodel.

img_0071We kept the original built-in corner cabinet which we always liked, and just gave it a fresh coat of paint to match the new cabinets.

img_0076img_0074There are a few items in our new kitchen from our trip to Guatemala that we previously had on display in our old apartment. Not only do they work well with our terra cotta floor tile, but they provide a sense of continuity with our first home together.

img_0098We felt that it was very important to incorporate a variety of patterns with these pillows to liven up the breakfast nook.

img_0120We also added several new plants throughout the space, which are a simple way of adding life to any room. I made these macramé hanging planters using twine to fill in some of the space above the bench without feeling too heavy.

img_0089I am so pleased with how the entire remodel came out, and relieved to have such a large project completed. I have already been busy using the new space, and look forward to many delicious meals that will be cooked in our lovely new kitchen.

 

 


Gingerbread Mini Bundt Cakes

img_0061 The holiday season is in full swing, so I have been baking to my heart’s content.  Gingerbread is a classic holiday baked treat, and this recipe is for the true gingerbread lover. The flavor is ultra rich with a perfect amount of holiday spice, which pairs wonderfully with unsweetened coffee and tea. Making the gingerbread as individual sized mini bundt cakes not only makes hosting easier, it also helps for saving them for later – and these mini bundt gingerbread cakes get even better a few days after making.

img_0051Ingredients: 1 cup oatmeal stout, 1 cup molasses, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 Tbsp ground ginger, 1 Tbsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground gloves, 1/4 tsp cardamom, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Butter and lightly flour bundt cake pan, shaking out excess flour. Place in the refrigerator. Add oatmeal stout and molasses to a saucepan and bring to a boil, then add baking soda. Let stout/molasses mixture sit and cool.

img_0058Beat together eggs, sugars, and oil, then add molasses and stout mixture. Add flour, baking powder, and spices and continue to mix until fully incorporated. Pour batter into bundt cake pan, filling to nearly the top.

img_0062Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes (until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into cakes). Remove from pan by flipping it upside down onto a cooling rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

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