Simple Olive Garland centerpiece

COMMENTS: 16

food drink  Simple Olive Garland centerpiece

food drink  Simple Olive Garland centerpiece

The Sunday evening before last, a few of us hosted a dinner for a girlfriend who is expecting. She and her husband already have two adorable daughters (whom Hudson is wild about) and so she specifically asked for an un-shower-like celebration. I thought it might help to keep the centerpiece green, as opposed to setting out flowers. Pretty, but not precious.

The thing is, I’m kind of terrible when it comes to arranging flowers, so it was really just an excuse to go out and buy a garland! I went to the local florist and showed them some pictures. They could do something nice using green filler, but the cost was going to be pretty high owing to labor. Luckily, the young woman I talked to assured me I could do it myself and gave me a quick tutorial and sold me some some paddle wire. Here’s what I learned:

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Homeade (giant) Oreos

COMMENTS: 16

food drink  Homeade (giant) Oreos

Okay, so obviously I didn’t make that one.

But here’s the story: when Aron and I lived in Los Angeles, we would walk a few blocks down to The Grove and the Old Farmer’s Market to hang out in Barnes and Noble, grab a “Farmeo” cookie at a place called The Farm, and catch a movie. Aron was particularly obsessed with the Farmeos, which were essentially giant Oreos. They looked a lot like Whoopie Pies, if you’ve had one of those, but the cookies were slightly firmer and the filling was more like a buttercream but with that telling grit and mouthfeel of an Oreo. When we moved away he confessed how much he missed them and, so, one Christmas when I flew home to Long Beach without him, I made a point to visit the Grove and fly him home a Farmeo cookie.

However, if you know Aron, you know he has the (annoying) skill of delaying gratification when it comes to sweets and will make things like chocolate bars last for insane stretches. It’s annoying because I’ve usually scarfed my half down in the space of minutes and then have to watch him enjoy his for what feels like an eternity. So that Farmeo sat on the counter of our apartment for long enough that a mouse came and finished it for him! Ha! If it wasn’t the knowledge that we had had a mouse in our kitchen, I would have felt justice was done.

Since then, The Farm has closed and we’ve been searching for an equivalent to the Farmeo since. (Others have looked comparable, but they’ve never been as good!) Clearly I will have to figure out how to make them myself.

food drink  Homeade (giant) Oreos

food drink  Homeade (giant) Oreos

So when, a couple of nights ago, I spied a recipe for homemade Oreo cream stuffed brownies (pictured) with a how-to for Oreo filling, I immediately went to the store and bought my first-ever tub of Crisco and tried making the cream filling. So easy and spot-on. The secret, in my opinion, is basically making a buttercream and adding granulated sugar! I would wager you could get great results with my frosting-for-one recipe, too—just add about 1/4-tsp of granulated sugar.

Next up is are the cookies, but I also picked up a store-made fudge brownie to slice in half and the whole combination came pretty darn close to the original.

Potential Farmeo recipe and a way to get all the Oreo cream filling you want. Danger, danger.

P.S. On sharing desserts with Aron. And how to make your own Magic Shell.

[Top photo mine from Moustache bakery (not the Farm, sadly); bottom two by Cookies and Cups]

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Local Eats: Ella in Sacramento

COMMENTS: 5

food drink  Local Eats: Ella in Sacramento

food drink  Local Eats: Ella in Sacramento

I’ll be the first to admit that we haven’t given Sacramento very much attention since moving nearby. Aron and I have more often gone in the other direction for date nights if we’re up for driving (to nearby Winters, slightly-further Napa, and within-reach San Francisco) or looked close-by in Davis.

But one of our very first after moving out here took us to Ella—Aron planned dinner and a show at a local cabaret—and I’d say it’s been my favorite restaurant in the area (worthy of a driving destination) ever since.

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Wine tasting 101

COMMENTS: 8

food drink  Wine tasting 101

food drink  Wine tasting 101

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! When we were living in New York, I’d always try to sneak out of work for a few hours around lunch to see some of the parade. I loved feeling the beat of drums and the sounds of bagpipes echoing in my chest. And all that plaid! This year there seem to be some questions about the inclusivity of the event, so rather than share some favorite photos from past parades I thought it might be more appropriate to share some photos from a different New York-inspired activity. New York Times, that is.

We embarked on “wine school” last night with some friends. Eric Asimov, the food & drink critic for the Times, invited readers to “Get Out [their] Corkscrew” and started tasting emblematic wines—the idea being to really get to know one distinct type of wine each month. So last night, instead of sipping Guinness, we sat down to taste a classic Bordeaux.

food drink  Wine tasting 101

I love anything that involves pseudo-scientific rigger and food, but this was particularly fun. Here’s the article, and the plan.

Anyway, regarding the St. Patrick’s Day parade: in looking back, I found that I wrote this on Hudson’s Nine Month photo post about one year’s celebration…

“We started the month on St. Patrick’s Day, a ridiculous scene wherein we made the mistake of trying to see the parade from Central Park and ended up fleeing the rowdy crowds while trying to keep Hudson asleep in the stroller. That meant frantic side-of-the-street changes (as another group of chanting drunk students would approach) until we ended up walking down First Avenue past the UN with Aron pulling the stroller backwards to keep the high sun off Hudson’s face. I took a picture of the struggle for when I’m tempted to recount glory days and only remember what was awesome about having a baby in the city. I can pull it out and say ‘Are you sure?’”

Haha. A good dose of reality. Could come in handy on those days I take Skyler on walks and inevitably miss passing by Everyman Espresso, Madewell, and at least four H&Ms on the way to (our) Central Park.

P.S. Our Ireland Travelogue

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Making Maple Almond Butter

COMMENTS: 11

food drink  Making Maple Almond Butter

food drink  Making Maple Almond Butter

Have you tried Justin’s Maple Almond Butterfood drink  Making Maple Almond Butter ? It has to be one the most perfect flavors out there these days. We get Hudson the Classic Almond butter for his lunches and keep the maple-tinged stuff for ourselves. I find myself digging out a spoonful to savor while I’m making coffee (usually while swaying or slightly bouncing Skyler).

However, Hudson’s favorite meal in the world is probably bananas and nut butter, and—if I’m more patient—this is how I like to enjoy it best, too.

I posted an image of the good stuff on Instagram a while back and Nicole, of the lovely food blog Dula Notes, mentioned that she had made her own—and that it was just as good!

At around $11/jar (and maybe higher as almonds rise in cost), I had to give it a try…

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Marinara to Master

COMMENTS: 17

food drink  Marinara to Master

food drink  Marinara to Master

A few weeks back, the New York Times published a recipe for a “Marinara Worth Mastering“—alongside the call to action: “Every home cook should have a basic marinara sauce in his or her repertoire.” Challenge accepted! Ever since, Aron and I (but Aron in particular) have been meaning to give this one a shot. (And judging by how long the article remained near the top of the most-emailed list for the Times, it looks like quite a few others wanted to as well.)

Our baby Skyler is one week old now, and we’re so lucky to have a lot of friends bringing by meals (or else we’d be playing clean-out-the freezer most evenings), but Aron made this one for us, one rainy, sleepy day.

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Cookbook wishlist (and my BFF, Gwyneth)

COMMENTS: 27

food drink  Cookbook wishlist (and my BFF, Gwyneth)
food drink  Cookbook wishlist (and my BFF, Gwyneth)

Yep. That’s from Gwyneth. My BFF.

(Okay, not really.)

Last Fall, Gwyneth offered, by way of her site Goop.com, to autograph copies of her latest cookbook—It’s All Goodfood drink  Cookbook wishlist (and my BFF, Gwyneth) —with an inscription of your choice when you pre-ordered a copy. Aron refers to the (often polarizing) actress as “your girlfriend” when speaking of her to me (I’m a fan), so I thought it would be hilarious to request the above inscription, wrap up the signed copy for myself, and stash it under the tree to open at Christmas.

And now, honestly, I’m really excited to start trying some of the recipes. Most avoid meat, dairy, and gluten—all things that are cornerstones of our diet around here, so that has nothing to do with the appeal: I just love the creative focus on incorporating more fresh, seasonal vegetables. It’s a beautiful book.

Have you cracked any inspiring new cookbooks lately? Here are some other beauties I’d like to pore over…

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Kumquats and prosperity: Happy New Year!

COMMENTS: 13

food drink  Kumquats and prosperity: Happy New Year!
food drink  Kumquats and prosperity: Happy New Year!

Last year, around this time, we had just started choosing plants and making a plan for our backyard. Thank goodness many of our choices were succulents that could tolerate this drought! But we also planted a variety of citrus. Two of my favorites have been the potted Kumquat trees by the pool. They made it through a week of frost and have been so productive—they’re covered in beautiful, juicy fruit.

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Candied citrus and custard

COMMENTS: 4

food drink  Candied citrus and custard

No matter that it’s a constant, I’m always a bit surprised when I think about winter as citrus season. Citrus fruits are so bright and cheery—nothing like chard and kale and cruciferous vegetables; and lemonade… what could say summer better than that? It’s a gift of winter, really, that lemons and oranges start to pile up at the market. And here, where winter is relatively warm, it’s nice to see their bright colors on the trees.

Just before we left Sardinia, we stopped at a bakery and I found this slice of (ever-so-lightly) candied orange, set so perfectly on a light and crispy bit of pastry tartlet with just a thin layer of creamy custard beneath it. The balance of bitter (from the rind and pith), sour (from the orange), and sweet (from the glaze and the cream) was incredible. It’s not often you find desserts that involve such bright and bitter notes alongside the sweet. It was so… Italian!

I would love to replicate this. Perhaps this weekend would be a good time to try David Lebovitz’s recipe for candied oranges? (And while I’m at it, that cake he pairs with them too.)

What are your plans for the weekend? Some incredible girlfriends are throwing a little party to celebrate me and the baby girl! Can’t wait!

P.S. Our Sardinian travelogue, and an annual trip along California’s mandarin trail.

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Happy six years, Hither & Thither!

COMMENTS: 40

travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!
travel style new york home food drink family design california  Happy six years, Hither & Thither!

It’s been a fantastic year. I can’t believe this past Sunday marked six years of blogging on Hither & Thither. It continues to inspire me—owing so much to the feedback and comraderie I get from readers, but also thanks to the joy of having an outlet to practice skills like writing and photography and to the joy of documenting and sharing personal milestones. I would have never expected this to become the rewarding work that it has, when Aron and I first started building the space together on that cold January day. (He wrote the first post! With no photos!)

I really enjoyed looking back over highlights last year, at five years, and hoped you might again, too. (Warning: it’s a long one!) …

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Detoxing? That time I tried a juice cleanse…

COMMENTS: 12

food drink  Detoxing? That time I tried a juice cleanse...

Besides “organizing,” the other buzz word around this time of year seems to be “detoxing.” I have to admit that I don’t really buy into the concept (isn’t that what your kidneys are for?), but I totally get the appeal of fresh starts when it comes to one’s diet. Being pregnant, the timing isn’t great for me to enact any major diet changes (sure, I should be consuming more fruits and veggies than I do, but not cutting calories), otherwise I’d totally be all about fresh starts—heck, I might even call it a detox.

I’m actually pretty curious when it comes to people’s purge plans—and last year I tested a three-day juice cleanse in the name of research. It was sort of fascinating…

food drink  Detoxing? That time I tried a juice cleanse...

There are lots of claims about raw, pressed juices. Like I said, I’m not really a believer, but I definitely felt like I learned something from doing a juice cleanse: The majority of my eating, it turns out, is driven by habit, boredom, social obligation, curiosity, and the like… in other words, mental drives rather than physical ones.

Frankly, I’m pretty into food (what tipped you off? this?) and have little qualm with pleasure-eating, but I make some pretty bad choices when habit sends me looking around the pantry. It’s good to be aware of what’s real hunger and what’s boredom.

food drink  Detoxing? That time I tried a juice cleanse...

Here’s how it went:

Unless you have a juicer and can make your own, pressed juices are expensive! Somehow it was easier to justify a single high expense if I could  mock-amortize the saved costs of eating out (at fancy-ish spots, of course). I had all of the juices delivered (I chose BluePrint cleanse) at once; that way they were there waiting for me whenever I needed one. After I finished the cleanse, I went into Whole Foods to buy a couple of juices individually but when faced with $10 for a single bottle I couldn’t, well, stomach the cost.

The juices tasted good (some even tasted great). There was never an issue there. But I did miss some of the ritual of solid foods. The slicing, the chewing… And I bemoaned how fast I was done with each “meal.” I took to drinking half at a time when at home to stretch it out. At the end of the day, I had a serious headache. The calories in a day’s worth of juices are fairly equivalent to what I would otherwise consume (though made up of more sugars than fats or proteins), so I think the headache actually had more to do with caffeine withdrawl, as I had given up coffee for the exercise. I vowed to include more water the following day, too. (I should note, however, they did recommend “preparing” for the cleanse by slowly phasing out caffeine and certain foods. Whoops.)

That night, we went out with family and I didn’t want to admit that I was doing something so silly as a juice cleanse. I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow, after all. Luckily, it somehow went undetected that I never touched the pizza in front of me but just occasionally traded plates with Aron.

I felt fine the next day, and looked forward to the juices–certain ones more than others. In fact it was shockingly easy to get through the day!  Still, I found myself wandering over to the pantry from time to time out of habit before reminding myself not to snack. I was never hungry, so it was odd realizing just how much thought went into food every day.

By this point, I started feeling good about my willpower (bonus!), but then we ran into a group of friends and joined them at a pub. There I had to justify why I wasn’t drinking (no, I wasn’t pregnant) or ordering fish & chips—the sort of greasy things I’d usually be pretty excited about. That was rough. Again, I wasn’t hungry, but the smell of french fries was really hard to ignore!

By the third and final day, I was on a roll. The only problem was having ended on the weekend. The day went smoothly but then Aron and I had already scheduled a babysitter for the evening, so we had to come up with a date that didn’t center on eating out. A movie was an obvious choice, but I still wanted a date that let us hang out and talk and enjoy the lack of toddler interruptions. We ended up going bowling and then to a movie. However, just before we pulled up to the theatre, Aron confessed he was hungry. Uh-oh, the social part would do me in.

So we drove through Jack-in-the-Box.  And I couldn’t do it. I failed. One juice left to go and I broke the cleanse early for a Sourdough Jack.

A greasy (yummy) burger with bacon on it is pretty much the exact opposite of the recommendations for coming off of a juice cleanse. You’re supposed to re-enter the world of solid-food very slowly… as-in, dense foods on day-5 post-cleanse and things like pieces of fruit to begin. Again: whoops.

I didn’t lose weight or notice a new glow to my skin in the end, but I did get physical confirmation that the cleanse had had an effect. Let’s just say I paid for that burger later. My stomach was none too happy about it, nor was it too keen on any rich, fatty foods for a few days.

I did (temporarily) lose my craving for certain flavors. So it actually did leave me in a good place to reevaluate my diet and make a fresh start, after all.

food drink  Detoxing? That time I tried a juice cleanse...

Would I do it again? Yes. I still don’t believe that drinking all juices for a few days is going to rid my body of evil toxins, and I’d never advocate it as a sensible diet plan, but I loved getting a healthy dose of reminding about one’s appetites—and how differently they manifest. And, while in the midst of it all, I enjoyed the sensation of triumph over my own.

Have you ever tried a juice cleanse? Would you? What’s the craziest diet-fad you’ve experimented with?

P.S. If you’re looking for something on the other end of the spectrum, don’t let this stop you! Today would have been Elvis’s 79th birthday—maybe a peanut butter and banana, “Elvis sandwich” would be appropriate? I’m a big fan. (Of Elvis and the sandwich).

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Baking Gluten free Chocolate Chip Cookies

COMMENTS: 2

food drink  Baking Gluten free Chocolate Chip Cookies
food drink  Baking Gluten free Chocolate Chip Cookies
food drink  Baking Gluten free Chocolate Chip Cookies
I’ve shared the recipe I usually use for Chocolate Chip Cookies, but I’m certainly not above keeping a roll of Pillsbury dough on hand for those in-a-pinch cravings! Especially handy is the new line of Gluten-free doughs from Pillsbury, as the share of our friends (and friends’ kids) diagnosed with celiac-disease symptoms (Gluten intolerance) increases. Right now, Pillsbury offers cookie dough and two other Gluten Free Doughs that you can read about here.

Never one to pass up a chocolate-chip cookie, I gave the new Gluten Free Dough a try.
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French toast. First brunch.

COMMENTS: 6

food drink  French toast. First brunch.

Our traditional first meal on New Year’s day, throughout the five years we lived in New York, was brunch at Frankies. Thank goodness they have a cookbookfood drink  French toast. First brunch. . I’ve been practicing the French Toast. (And I’m getting closer. I just need someone to ship me the Sullivan Street Bakery bread they use.) Do you have a first meal of the New Year tradition?

On an unrelated note, this Google Zeitgeist video is one of the best “highlights of 2013″-reels I’ve seen. Enjoy! And again, Happy New Year!

P.S. The best waffles and my favorite way to cook eggs.

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Happy New Year! (& how to open champagne)

COMMENTS: 2

food drink  Happy New Year! (& how to open champagne)

Some of you have no doubt already welcomed 2014, but we’re still many hours away from the greeting the New Year, out in California. Wherever you are, I hope 2014 begins brightly for you!

If you’re still in preparation mode, maybe you’d like to brush up on your bubbly-opening skills with Jacques Pepin. I find his French accent—and demonstration of how to quickly chill and properly open champagne—goes so well with the French spirit, don’t you?

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Winter’s sweet Mandarins

COMMENTS: 11

food drink california  Winters sweet Mandarins
food drink california  Winters sweet Mandarins

The weekend before Thanksgiving, we paid a repeat visit to Miller’s Citrus Grove—a 5-acre citrus farm from where we’ve (for years) been gifted, and from where we’ve (now) purchased delicious, sweet Mandarins. It’s always a pleasure to go to the source—which, in this case, is about 40 minutes away in Placer County, roughly 30 miles east of Sacramento. The fruit is left to ripen on the tree, so it’s exceptionally sweet.

As with the previous year, something in the golden, setting sun said fall, while the start of the mandarin season beckoned winter.

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Top Thanksgiving Cooking resources

COMMENTS: 7

food drink  Top Thanksgiving Cooking resources

They’re already playing Christmas music on the radio, but we’re still considering dishes for Thanksgiving dinner over here. Here are a few favorite cooking resources, in case you’re doing the same!

On Troubleshooting:
I listened to much of the America’s Test Kitchen Thanksgiving Special on NPR the other day, “Turkey Q & A and The Real Story of The First Thanksgiving,” and loved hearing them answer the top ten Thanksgiving day questions they get.

On Basics:
New York Times Essential Thanksgiving (Their paired-down take on the wisdom gleaned from years of reporting on the subject.)

On a new favorite method for cooking the turkey:
Jacques Pepin’s Steamed Turkey

On Menu inspiration
Many families have their sides set in stone, but if you have some flexibility and are looking for inspiration, Gourmet came up with some sample menus (back in the day) that would no doubt please; and Saveur has created a fun menu-generator this year, or you could just look at their 12 sample menus.

On Timeline suggestions:
When to do what, if you’re trying to get ahead, from one of my most trusted resources.

On Wines to pair:
Food & Wine‘s top bottles, all under $20.
And more general advice from Silverlake Wine.

On Table decor:
Pinterest! Search “Thanksgiving Table” (or, I’ve been making a dedicated Thanksgiving board)

On What’s Trending:
Aron told me about this NPR podpast where they discussed how, last year, the trend in cooking magazines and among chefs was to stray far from tradition—whereas this year is all about the classics.

Anything you’d add?

P.S. Holiday wreaths (place one on the table now and on the door later?) and an alternative to pumpkin pie.

[Lovely image via The Effortless Chic]

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