We’ve tried to grow a few vegetables and herbs in our backyard, and we’ve had a bit of success, but one thing that we have that is well established is our orange tree. Now that they have started to ripen, we will have fresh produce at our fingertips for a few months. They aren’t very sweet just yet, but in the meantime, we can enjoy some orangeade by juicing them and adding water and a bit of sugar.
It’s fascinating to watch the transition unfold from the blossom to the ripened fruit, and the aroma of the flowers is delightful to take in. We have no idea how long this tree has been here, but we are very lucky to have it, and we look forward to eating its fruit each year.
On February 2, 2018 we welcomed the newest addition to our family – Eva Paiz Dastoli. We were not expecting her arrival until late February or early March, so it was all quite a surprise when I went into labor on the night of January 31. My water broke just as I was finishing up organizing her nursery closet, and 34 long hours later, she made her appearance at 5:02 a.m. weighing 5 lbs. At 4 weeks premature, she is very small, but we are so grateful that she arrived healthily and we were able to bring her home the very next day.
We were all set to have my baby shower in our backyard that very weekend, but Eva decided she had other plans for us. A couple of my closest friends had it all planned out, and James put together these invitations that were fitting for the orange tree in the yard. That, and several other things we had planned for my maternity leave before her arrival quickly went out the window, giving us our first lessons in adaptability as new parents.
Each day has brought with it a new challenge, but also a new milestone. She is the sweetest little girl, and we can’t wait to watch her grow into a wonderful person. Welcome to the world Eva, we love you so much.
Ever since we purchased our home, we designated one of the bedrooms as the nursery. Though we knew it would be a couple of years before we would be ready for children, we decided to leave that room untouched until the time came. That time came this past summer when we found out we were expecting, and the opportunity to design this final room in our home has been one of the most exciting projects during my pregnancy. The room came together slowly over the past few months, and now that we’re mere weeks away from meeting our baby girl, we can at last say that it’s ready for her arrival.
The anchor piece to the room is this lovely mural that James hand painted above the crib. Adventure awaits our little one as she sets off on a ‘voyage extraordinaire’ to the furthest recesses of her imagination.
We will of course be spending a lot of time in this room as she grows, and having a comfortable spot for feeding and reading is an essential. After looking at various chairs, we decided on this wingback chair that didn’t feel too bulky, and fit this corner of the room perfectly.
Opposite the window we set up a changing station with a simple shelf above it to fill up the empty space. Owl hooks above the changing pad will be used to hang up her clothes for easy access as we get her dressed.
A variety of toys and animal friends are used throughout the room to make the space welcoming. One of my favorite touches is the blocks spelling out her name on top of the bookshelf. The blocks use Spanish words such as ‘gato’ and ‘buho,’ which will come in handy raising bilingual children.
We also used some decor pieces from Guatemala, like the wooden mask we brought back from our travels, and an adorable tiny pitcher and teacup that my mother brought from Guatemala on her latest trip.
Even when it came to practical items such as a hamper, we took the opportunity to make it a fun and endearing element by picking one shaped like a cute elephant.
Another instance where we took something practical and made it more whimsical was in hiding the baby monitor inside a painted birdhouse. This solution is not only a more pleasant visual touch, it allows us to securely hold the monitor in place where it can look over the crib, while also hiding away cables.
On the wall by the door we put up a small decorative mounted coat rack to easily access coats and jackets when we’re heading outdoors. I love how it gives us the opportunity to display more of her adorable tiny clothes.
Though we know that this room will continue to evolve as our baby grows up, it’s just right for welcoming her to her new home. We are so grateful that we have this space that she will be able to call her own.
I’ve been making this holiday spiced chocolate babka for the past few years around the holiday season. It is a great treat to make during chilly weather when you have a whole day at home to spare. I love adding cinnamon and nutmeg to compliment the dark chocolate, creating an indulgent melt in your mouth flavor that’s excellent for this time of year.
Ingredients: 3/4 cup milk, 3 tsp active dry yeast, 3/4 cup and 2 tsp sugar, 3 1/4 cups flour, 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3/4 tsp salt, 15 Tbsp softened butter, 1 Tbsp heavy cream, 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (72% cacao), 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg.
Instructions: warm up the milk in a saucepan until it’s warm but not boiling. Add milk and 2 tsp of sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer and stir gently, then sprinkle the yeast on top. Let stand for about 5 minutes, until it’s foamy. Add 1/2 cup of the flour and beat with a paddle attachment until combined. Add 2 whole eggs, 1 of the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, and 1/2 cup more of sugar while beating constantly. Continue beating and add remaining flour in small increments. Gradually add 10 Tbsp butter until everything is completely incorporated. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in turned off oven for 2 hours.
Once dough has risen for 2 hours, remove from bowl and cut in half. Sprinkle countertop with flour, and roll out the dough with a pin until you have a large rectangle. Beat the remaining egg yolk in a small dish with the heavy cream, and brush along the sides of the dough. Spread 2 1/2 Tbsp butter on the dough, then sprinkle 4 oz of chocolate, 2 Tbsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp nutmeg over butter.
Roll the dough towards you, and seal along the edge. Then make a circle out of the log, sealing on the ends. Quickly twist the circle twice, and place the dough in a bread pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Cover dough with a new sheet of plastic that has been lightly buttered and place back in the turned off oven. Repeat with the other half of the dough and leftover ingredients. Let loaves rise for another 2 hours.
Remove loaves from oven and pre-heat to 350F. Remove plastic and brush tops with remaining egg wash, then lightly sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through.
The babka will keep for a couple of days to be enjoyed in the morning with hot coffee, or as a dessert in the evenings.
Autumn is our favorite time of year, and New England is one of the best places to take in the colors of the foliage. We just returned from a Thanksgiving trip to my home state of Rhode Island, and we had a wonderful time admiring the sights of the season. Here are some photos from the autumn trips that we have taken over the past few years.
Downtown Providence, as well as the campus of my alma mater, Brown University, are great places to take a leisurely stroll along tree-lined streets.
Of course, the best way to experience the foliage is to go for a walk in the woods. Hearing the distinctive crunching sound of the dead leaves under your feet is always a delight.
The color green isn’t entirely absent. The mossy texture on some of the fallen trees compliments the browns and reds around it.
My parents have a house with a large wooded area on the property, and some of these logs fueled the wood oven for our Thanksgiving meats.
The Newport Mansions are a sight to behold at any time of year.
When I think of the Rhode Island of my youth, I will always picture it with the colors of autumn leaves, and the feeling of the light chilly wind blowing in my hair. That window of time after the humid summers, and before the brutal winters, is New England at its best.
Beans were my very first solid food, and to this day have remained one of my very favorite foods. There isn’t a type of bean I don’t like, and going more than a few weeks without having some form of them is rare for my family. When it comes to white beans in particular, this flavorful and hearty stew beats out all other recipes for this legume.
The stars of this dish are of course the beans themselves, and the dry guaque chiles that give it it’s rich and moderately spicy flavor.
Ingredients: 1 lb white beans, 1 lb pork ribs, 1 1/2 guaque chiles, 3 tomatoes, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 yellow onion, 4 small tomatillos, 3 garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, 2 tsp ground cumin, 1 Tbsp dry oregano, salt and pepper to taste.
Instructions: Slice the tomatoes, tomatillos, onion, and peppers, and place on a hot griddle along with peeled garlic cloves. Turn over after 2-3 minutes, allowing the undersides to slightly char and soften. Add grilled vegetables to a blender with a cup of water and blend until smooth.
Add the beans, ribs (cut into smaller pieces), bay leaf, thyme, cumin, blended ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, and enough water to just cover everything to a pressure cooker. Cook for about 45 minutes, and slowly allow pressure to release. Add the oregano and stir. If you would like to thicken the stew you can take out some of the beans, blend, and re-add to the stew.
Serve hot with rice, and garnish with cilantro.
Our master bathroom is currently a very tight space that fits just the essentials. There is a closet right next to it that we plan to demolish someday to expand the bathroom to fit a double vanity and a bit more space. However, with a baby coming (not to mention the mental fatigue of home remodeling after the past year of large projects), we decided to hold off on making any big structural changes in this room. Instead, we have been making some relatively simple changes to improve upon the unsightliness from the previous owners. Overall, it’s functional and pleasant enough to hold us over for the next few years.
Previously, the floor tile was a hideous speckled blue, so we knew that was one of the first things that needed to change. We were not going through the massive undertaking of replacing the floor tile, so the only option was to paint it. We used colors that we had already been using elsewhere in the house, and placed a stencil on every other tile.
We painted the cabinet doors a color that would compliment the moulding and floor, and changed the lighting fixture and switch plates. On the mirror, we glued four little metal rosettes to the corners to give it some presence.
After the major work, we decorated with items such as new curtains, bath mats, and some small frames that would fit the space. Introducing a bamboo shelf and wicker baskets gave us more space for storage and easy access to every day toiletries. Though these changes have been small, it has made a world of a difference.
To celebrate our anniversary this year, we decided to take a weekend trip to San Francisco. We’ve made the drive up many times over the past few years. In fact, it was the first weekend getaway that we had together a few months into our relationship. Each time, we visit old favorites, and enjoy discovering something new as well. We realize that it will probably be a while before we take another trip without children, so we especially cherished these moments as a couple. Here are some of our favorite spots around the city from over the years.
The first time that we visited the Golden Gate Bridge, it was completely consumed by fog. We could only hear the sounds of traffic while looking up into a blanket of white. Fortunately, we have now been able to see it on a clear day, and it is certainly a beautiful sight.
Eating some tasty treats at the Ferry Building is a must during a pleasant stroll along the Embarcadero.
In a city full of hills, Coit Tower makes Telegraph Hill outshine them all.
We have not yet visited the California State Capitol in Sacramento, but it’s hard to imagine that it would live up to the grandeur of San Francisco City Hall.
The architecture of San Francisco is definitely not afraid to embrace color. The painted ladies around Alamo Square are the quintessential examples of this. It’s fun to think about what color schemes we would use if we were painting some of them.
The 49ers have been James’ favorite team since he was a baby. A few years ago we were able to make it to Candlestick Park during the 49ers’ final season there. It was not a very good stadium, but we were glad to see it before demolition.
Of all the beautiful sites in the city, the Palace of Fine Arts is our favorite. The landscaping around the lagoon frames the monumental architecture quite nicely.
The striking shape of the iconic Transamerica Pyramid makes the San Francisco skyline instantly recognizable.
It’s wonderful that the cultural identity of Chinatown has been maintained for more than a century. The pagoda roofs, lanterns, and neon signs give this neighborhood such a dynamic energy.
We enjoy visiting San Francisco often, but of course, we will be taking a hiatus for the next couple of years. Once our baby is old enough to roam the hills with us, we hope to bring it back as a frequent destination.