One of the things that amazed me about California when I first moved out here was the varied terrain. It really is true that you can find desert, ocean, and snowcapped mountain landscapes all within driving distance. Last week James and I took a drive up to Oak Glen, California to adventure around the lovely farms hugging the San Bernardino Mountains.
We went apple picking at Willowbrook Apple Farm, which was filled with Stayman Winesap apple trees that were over one hundred years old.
A lot of the smaller apples were within a hand’s reach…
…but a lot of the big red ones were very high on the trees.
After picking apples, we headed to the farm’s cider press station where you can fill a basket with apples prepped for cider. In order to get a good balance of sweet and tart, they had both Winesap and Fuji apples.
We were able to use the press ourselves, and fill up a container with deliciously fresh cider.
The day made for a perfect autumn outing, and a new tradition that we plan to repeat every year.
Flan might be the dessert I had the most when growing up. My mother makes it in many flavors such as coconut, orange, and raspberry, but my favorite may be this simple flan with a hint of lemon. The amber colors remind me autumn, and adding a caramel candy garnish gives this humble dessert a touch of elegance and fun.
This recipe isn’t too eggy, and I used a shallow pie dish, resulting in a thin flan that is rich, creamy, and has a perfect balance of flavors. I recently served this at a small dinner party, and even a friend who doesn’t like sweets went for seconds.
Ingredients: 1 14oz can condensed milk, 1 12oz can evaporated milk, 5 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 cup sugar
Instructions: Place a large baking dish with a 1″ lip in oven, and pre-heat oven to 350F. The dish should be large enough to fit a second round 9″ baking dish inside.
Place sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and let it melt, stirring occasionally, until it has completely melted and become an amber colored sauce.
While the sugar is melting, add the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla and lemon zest to a large bowl. Whisk until all ingredients are completely incorporated.
Optional: Once the sugar is ready, make a candy garnish for the flan by drizzling some of the caramel sauce over a metal ladle. Let cool for a couple of minutes, then gently remove pieces from ladle.
Pour caramel into a round 9″ baking dish, and swivel around to completely coat the bottom.
Pour batter over caramel sauce, and place this smaller dish in the center of the baking dish in the oven. Add water to the large baking dish, until it comes about half-way up the sides of the flan dish. This water bath will help the flan cook evenly. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes.
Remove flan from oven, and let cool completely. Once cool, loosen the edges of the flan with a butter knife, then place serving platter over the flan dish and quickly flip over. The flan should come out cleanly, with caramel oozing from the top.
Garnish with caramel candy, then let chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.
At the beginning of this summer, I wanted to find some room to plant some vegetables in our yard. Eventually we plan on having large wooden planters built, but for now, we are using a small strip of dirt on the side of the house.
There were some extra bricks lying around behind the garage, so we were able to use those to set up separate beds.
When deciding on what to plant, I went with vegetables I tend to use the most in my day to day cooking, such as peppers, tomatoes, squash, shallots, and a variety of herbs.
It’s fascinating to watch them grow from tiny buds into colorful delicious produce.
It can be very difficult to grow plants in the perpetual drought of southern California. Some of our vegetables started to cook when temperatures reached 110F. Others, like this cucumber, never grew larger than an inch. However, new cucumbers have started to grow, and we’re hopeful this batch will do better.
We haven’t had any squash fully grow yet, but we have several squash blossoms that we hope will yield fruit in the autumn. Though we’ve only harvested a small amount, it has been very exciting to cook with produce from my very own garden, and I’m certainly looking forward to expanding it in the future.
One of the most delightful touches in our home is a small wall alcove in the hallway near the guest room. After recently making some HVAC infrastructure changes on that wall, we went ahead with some ideas that we had been kicking around for painting the alcove.
The entire space had been the same color as the rest of the wall when we moved in, and we knew that we at least wanted to treat the wooden mantle section the same as the trim in the rest of the hallway. For the back face of the alcove, we decided to use a paint that was ever so slightly darker than the wall, but with a semi-gloss finish to provide a very subtle separation.
The main part of this project was creating a stencil that was similar to the one we used over our front door. The curved surface made this process a bit tricky.
The stenciled shapes are just rough enough to feel right with the texture of our walls.
Small touches like these are the types of things that made us initially fall in love with this house, and it feels wonderful to be able to embellish upon it and make it our own.
Growing up with peach trees in my backyard, I have always thought of stone fruits as the quintessential summer produce. As summer slowly comes to an end, I’m taking full advantage of the season’s produce while I still can, and adding them to a variety of dishes. For days when you want something light and summery, but still a bit hearty and filling, this stone fruit panzanella fits all of the above.
Ingredients: 1 small loaf of bread, 3 nectarines, 3 plums, 2 large heirloom tomatoes, 1/2 cup burrata, 3 cups arugula, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Instructions: Pre-heat oven to 350F. Cut the loaf of bread into slices, then rip apart using your hands to make small pieces. Toss the bread with olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then place on a baking sheet. Bake in oven for about 8 minutes. You want the bread to be a little toasted, but not so much that they turn into crunchy croutons.
Slice nectarines, plums, and tomatoes into wedges and add to a large bowl. Add arugula, bread, and burrata in small dollops.
For the dressing: 1 shallot, 1 cup packed basil, 1 garlic clove, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
Add all dressing ingredients to a blender, and blend on high until all ingredients are completely liquified.
Drizzle dressing and fresh ground pepper over salad before serving.
After many months of working on different parts of our home, we have finally finished our dining room. It was difficult to figure out what to do with the flow of this space at first, because it is not a room in and of itself. The living room steps up into this dining room, and the kitchen is visible from both. Our goal with the design of the dinning room was to form a transition from the richer dark woods of the living room, to the lighter rougher textures that will one day be in our kitchen. Though this is a fairly small room, it included many individual projects such as the staining and upholstering of our chairs.
We had intended on simply purchasing a bar cabinet online, but when it arrived, the wood turned out to be significantly redder than we anticipated. Like with our chairs, I decided to re-stain it, and changed out all of the handles from black to a subtle gold. The cabinet didn’t quite fill out the wall, so a small plant and colorful framed art were perfect for filling up the empty space.
With the cabinet we now have a chance to display some of the items that we’ve had hidden away for ages, such as our wedding china.
We have also displayed other pieces that have some significance, such as the crystal glasses James used to propose, the framed number from our wedding table, as well as souvenirs from trips such as our honeymoon.
We were able to find this mirror with corners that echo the scrolls of the chandelier and the round backed chairs. In this piece we needed to use paint to bring the blacks and golds more in line with the browns of the room. We contemplated a frame at first, but decided on a mirror since it would reflect parts of our living room.
Our biggest infrastructure project so far has been the installation of central air conditioning. We decided to house the thermostat inside of this decorative metal box cut into the wall, and picked out similar decorative vents for the ceiling as well.
In order to create a separation between the dinning room and living room, we added a small railing which was a custom design built by Isaac’s Ironworks. We gave him reference material based off of the staircase in our old apartment building, and he made it exactly as we envisioned. When designing for our house, we’re always keeping in mind what we loved about our apartment, and the iron, the color of the hardwood, and the paint of the doors all create a sense of continuity with those memories. We are relieved to have another room finished in our home, and look forward to entertaining friends and family in this space.
Summer at the farmers market means an abundance of produce options. We’ve started to go somewhat regularly to stock up on produce for the week, enjoy a meal from one of the hot food stands, and browse around to discover unique items. On our most recent trip, I purchased a box of squash blossoms. I couldn’t wait to fill them with a creamy cheese mixture, serve with a flavorful tomato sauce, and share them with friends.
Ingredients (for blossoms): 30 squash blossoms, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup shredded manchego cheese, 1/3 cup goat cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 Tbsp ground cayenne pepper, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup cold water
Instructions: bring a large pot of water to a boil and add all blossoms at once. Boil for about 30 seconds, then immediately remove the blossoms and add them to a bowl of ice water. After blossoms have sat in ice water for about a minute, dump them into a colander, then place them on paper towels to drain.
While blossoms are drying a bit, prepare the filling. Combine cheeses, egg, cayenne, and pepper in a bowl and mix until smooth, then scoop filling into a piping bag. To fill each blossom, gently open them to have access to the center. Place piping bag tip toward bottom and fill until filling reaches the opening of the petals. Cover the exposed filling by folding the petals over the top of blossom. Place all blossoms on a plate, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes so that the cheese will set.
To make the batter, combine 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, and a dash of salt in a bowl. Slowly add cold water to bowl while whisking with a fork until batter is thick but still creamy.
Add 1/2 inch of oil to a heavy skillet and heat to 375F. Take blossoms out of refrigerator, and lightly dust with flour. Dip blossoms one by one into batter and place in hot oil. Cook for about 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. You’ll see the batter crisping and setting on the bottom as your cue to flip. Set each blossom on a plate with paper towels as they cook.
Ingredients (for sauce): 1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 large sliced garlic clove, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper.
To make the sauce, add tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Let tomatoes simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve blossoms over warm tomato sauce as an appetizer or as a snack.
While visiting family in New England this past Independence Day weekend, we took a day trip to Boston to walk the Freedom Trail, and explore the city. Though we had both been there when we were younger, our experiences until now were very limited. This trip was our first opportunity to check off many Boston locations from our list, and we couldn’t have been more pleased with all that the city had to offer.
Since we typically fly into Boston when visiting the northeast, we usually only view the city from an airport terminal, but on this trip we finally got a view from the middle of Boston Common.
The gleaming gold dome of the Massachusetts State House sits just on the edge of the Common.
Not far from the current State House is the Old State House. This building housed the government of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and was referred to by John Adams as the spot where Independence was born.
Faneuil Hall and the Custom House Tower are two of the most recognizable landmarks in Boston.
The imposing brutalism of Boston City Hall is very much out of place in the heart of the city, but the raw concrete and adjacent brick desert create a fascinating interplay of shapes that has influenced James while developing science fiction projects.
The City Hall that was used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is certainly a much more pleasing structure.
If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll see a parade of ducklings while visiting the beautiful Public Garden.
Strolling the Federal style rowhouses of Beacon Hill is a great way to get out of the sun on a summer day, and it’s charming paths made this my favorite neighborhood in the city.
All the vibrancy of an immigrant community can be found in the narrow streets of the North End, a primarily Italian neighborhood.
Once we finished walking the entirety of the Freedom Trail we decided to continue exploring the city. Newbury Street is a wonderful place to shop, dine, or simply walk. I loved that the shops are housed in a variety of 19th century buildings, making it unique from other shopping centers I had ever visited.
While most of the historic sites are Georgian Colonial, the Richardsonian Romanesque Trinity Church stands out as perhaps the most beautiful. This church was not even on our list of locations to visit, but we were thrilled to run into it on our way to the library.
We have yet to see a game at Fenway, but we were able to take part in the atmosphere of Yawkey Way after a Red Sox win. This trip was one of many that we will take to Boston, and we look forward to having new experiences in the city, as well as revisiting our favorites.
We recently acquired a few recipe cards from James’ late grandmother’s collection, and it has inspired me to get better about writing out recipes on cards myself. To continue expanding my small collection, I decided to design my own, rather than purchase existing cards.
The cards we received from family contained some variety, so when deciding on my own pattern, I knew I wanted to make something unique with a floral motif for my own recipes.
The cards were first created digitally, incorporating an antique wallpaper pattern, and then printed. I then embossed a teapot and teacups using a set of stamps, and used a gold ink with clear embossing powder, following the same process as when we made our wedding invitations.
Once the design was printed and cut, it took just a few minutes to stamp and emboss a whole set of cards. I love the finished product, and am very excited to collect all of my recipes in one place.