Friday, March 25, 2011

Baby Shower: The Favors

Recently I hosted a baby shower for my friend Suchi.  Since I enjoy planning parties, I had fun thinking through the menu, the crafts, and the games.  The group of 12 attendees were mostly women that I didn't know, so it was fun to also meet new people.  I figured I post the various elements over a few different posts.

As I mentioned a while back, I recently took an invitation making class with Alison where I learned about embossing paper.  Since that class, I have bought a lot of various supplies which I wanted to put to use for this shower.  I ended up embossing the gift bags and a photo matting (which I'll cover in the games post).

embossing zebras on bags
Since her baby shower was animal themed - I got a zebra stamp on ebay that I thought looked very tribal and not cheesy.  I then embossed black zebras onto the food grade kraft paper coffee bags that I got to use as favors for our wedding and never used.  They are the perfect size for a little gift.

the zebras

I then filled red and white checked paper sandwich bags (super super cheap at Sur La Table) with homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  My hubby made them the night before while I was doing something else.  These cookies have become his specialty (we got the recipe from Philip) and we always have pre-made dough rolled into little balls in our freezer.  He made 6 dozen of these bite size cookies.

cookie time

Next I tucked the red and white paper into the bag.  I like edible favors the best.
filling up the bags...

I then put the favors in a big woven basket we got a few years ago as a Christmas gift and put it by the front door so people wouldn't forget them on their way out.
I had also ordered stickers to match her invitations (with wild animals) that had her name and date of the shower.  I put them on the back of the bag. 

I was really happy with how the favors turned out.  I thought that they were simple and playful, without being too cheesy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

flower arranging class

A few weeks ago, my friend Amy emailed a bunch of us and asked if we would join her for a flower arranging class.  Since I love taking classes, I jumped at the chance when I confirmed I wasn't going to be out of town.  The class was hosting by a flower shop called Studio Choo - I just so happened to be obsessed with their blog while planning our wedding.  They have GORGEOUS arrangements, many of which I sent to my own wedding florist for inspiration and insight into my taste.

Anyway, last Sunday four friends met up to learn how to make a beautiful arrangement.  During class they taught us their philosophy of flower arranging: a sturdy base layer, topped with colorful focal flowers, sprinkled with tiny bits at the end.

The sturdy elements

the focal flowers

the bits!

Although the six of us taking the class all used the same flowers, our arrangements came out very differently!  It was a lot of fun to see.  I've posted photos of mine below.  You can also check out Amy's flowers on her blog!  So many beautiful combinations of these flowers.

the beginning
It was hard not to get discouraged in the beginning.  I had to start over a few times.  I think the problem was lack of vision.

it's starting to take shape!
The finished product.  Not too bad!  Loved the combination of the bright orange ranunculus and the dark plum leaves.  I also loved the green and pink ranunculus.  So much fun to be surrounded by beautiful flowers and lovely friends on a Sunday morning in San Francisco. 

Now if only I had been around during the week to enjoy them instead of in Atlanta...  :)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My March Obsessions

1. Lady Gaga
I have recently morphed into a teenager as I find myself watching countless lady gaga videos on youtube.

Check out this awesome video of her recent visit to Google.

2. Mugler campaign featuring Rick Genest (those are real tattoos!)
You can check out more images from the campaign here.  I didn't realize it until later, but he is also in Gaga's born this way video above.

3. My birthday shirt from Lizard
For my birthday this year, Lizard gave me a shirt the the print of money pinned on from Dirty Coast.  They used to do this in high school on your birthday - people gave you dollar bills to pin on your clothes.  Now I have a shirt that makes any day look like my birthday! :)

The ultimate in cool gadgets! My husband still wants an iPad 2, but I love my Xoom tablet. A lot. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

melt me

My adorable niece Keira.  Melting my heart in her rabbit outfit. 

hippity hoppity keira!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Happy (Whoopie) Pie Day!

At work I am lucky enough to get free meals.  I don't think this practice is that common outside of silicon valley, but out here it seems pretty standard at tech companies.  The way to my heart is definitely through my stomach, and the food at work has been consistently amazing.  I've tried new grains (spelt, teff, etc), meats (or meat substitutes) prepared in unusual ways, and new kinds of vegetables.  However it was a dessert that caught my attention the other day - a banana whoopie pie.  I emailed the chef team and got the recipe.  The next weekend I made them on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

First I had to make the dough - banana and sour cream meant a light, moist, banana cake.
kitchen aid at work

Next the dough was placed into a piping bag.  I accidentally overfilled mine and had to use a tall drinking glass to hold it when not in use.

piping bag at work
Next they were piped onto a silpat - 1.5 inches in diameter.
post oven

After they were cool, I prepared a cake plate with powered sugar (so they wouldn't stick) and started to fill them with a cream cheese and sugar frosting.  I should say that I very strongly dislike cream cheese, but I made an exception here.  They were too good!
laying the scene
After they were filled, I started to pile them up on the cake plate.
the base of a yummy pyramid 
The finished product!  Ross and Abby were coming over for dinner, and it was the perfect dessert to share with foodie friends over hot chocolate at the end of the meal.
the perfect end to a good day
In honor of pie day (3.14), I thought I'd share the recipe with you.  So for those of you looking for a great new recipe for banana whoopie pies, here it is!  Thanks to Chef Pauline for sharing it with me! 


Makes about 3 dozen.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mashedbanana (from 1 large ripebanana)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Combine banana and sour cream in another bowl.
  2. Beat butter and granulated and brown sugars with a mixer on medium-high speed, until pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, beating until incorporated. Add banana mixture in 2 additions, alternating with flour mixture.
  3. Transfer batter to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Pipe batter into 1 1/4-inch rounds on baking sheets, spacing rounds 1 1/2 inches apart.
  4. Bake until edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Slide parchment, with cookies, onto wire racks. Let cool. (Unfilled cookies can be stored for up to 1 day.)
  5. Beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla with a mixer on medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  6. Pipe or spoon 1 tablespoon cream cheese mixture onto the flat sides of half the cookies. Sandwich with remaining cookies. Dust with confectioners' sugar, and serve immediately.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

a baby boy shower!

Today I'm hosting a baby shower for Suchi!  She's having her first baby - a boy!  Lots to celebrate.

I'll share the menu and more details later, so I'll leave you with a teaser for now - homemade banana whoopie pies!

Friday, March 11, 2011

a great book

When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before.
- Clifton Fadiman

Pride and Prejudice
makes my heart go pitter patter

I love these clothbound classics designed by Penguin book cover designer Coralie Bickford-Smith.  I want to buy them all, read them (they are the classics after all), and then line them up in a neat row on a bookcase.  Using fabulous natural rough stone bookends on either side of the pretty perfect row. Beautiful!  Browse her website to see them all. 

photos from
While we are on the subject of Ms. Austen - check out the Etsy shop of Brookish which is devoted to her.  I have ordered a dishtowel or two in my time and have loved reading Darcy's proposal while cooking.  My feelings will not be repressed!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Today is my brother Johnny's birthday!   Whoo hooo!  Last year I did a photo montage of his adorable baby photos to mark the occasion, but I thought this year I'd focus on food.  Johnny recently graduated from nursing school in San Francisco.  To celebrate the occasion, my hubby and I thought that the best gift would be to throw a big party with southern treats for his friends last December.

We made grits and grillades from the Plantation Cookbook.  The grillades were made at our house and gingerly transported to SF with the help of some painters tape.

grillades on the go
We loaded up the car with lots of goodies (including our punch bowl for some egg nog) - and headed up to SF.

party in a bag
The grits were made in huge batches - enough to feed the 20 or so guests at my brothers small (but efficient) apartment.

The unexpected star of the show was the egg nog. We had gotten the recipe from a priest a few years back, and it has never failed to disappoint.  We get requests each year for the recipe.  It is so rich (and so alcoholic) that you really only can have it once or twice a season.  There is nothing better than homemade eggnog at the holidays.

that's a lot of eggs...

Everyone always thinks that the topping is whipped cream.  Well my friends, that is whipped egg white, not whipped cream.  Sorry to burst your bubble!  That light, glossy confection is not what you think!
topped with whipped egg whites!
The finished product
By the end of the night, the eggnog was completely gone.  Below is a picture of the table at the beginning of the night - before the grits, grillades, and salad are put out.  I didn't take another photo of the table, but it looked really pretty when it was all laid out. 

the table
yes - that is my dad's sazerac bottle in the back
Dessert was a giant gingerbread man - topped with powdered sugar frosting and peppermint pieces.  

Gingerbread man!
Johnny and his friends seemed to have a great time!  It was really fun to meet his classmates, friends, and extended SF family.  This summer we plan to recreate it with a southern style crawfish boil.  Now the only obstacle is finding live crawfish in the Bay Area... 

a happy birthday boy!

Congrats to the birthday boy and recent graduate!  Love you!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oscar style

Recently I was in an airport and picked up the latest People magazine to check out this year's Oscar fashion.  I missed the actual ceremony because I forgot it was so early in the day!  Anyway, I finally got a good look at the dresses from this year and there were some stunners!  However, my favorite was Mila Kunis in an amazing dusky lavender Elie Saab confection.  The color of the dress was perfect for her skin color.

Photo from

The Elie Saab dress on the runway
photo from
I am officially in love with this dress - and actually the entire 2011 spring/summer collection.  I love the defined waists with grosgrain ribbon.  I love the use of lace and transparent tulle panels around the neck and shoulders of many of the dresses.  I love the delicate femininity of the pieces.

Another Elie Saab stunner
Photo from
I also fell in love with the above dress from Elie Saab spring/summer 2011.  I would love to wear it somewhere special, although perhaps in the lavender color (if I'm going to dream, may as well go big).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

king cake heaven!
My parents came to town last weekend and we celebrated Mardi Gras in style!  They sent three king cakes to Cali for the occasion - heaven!

Mardi Gras Madness - in Cali!
Thanks to the in-laws (and their friends) for hosting a wonderful party and supplying LOTS of good food. Also, thanks to Plush Appeal (and Uncle Daryl) for supplying the decorations!

Mardi Gras time!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Caribbean Red Bean Stew

Now that we get a meat CSA (which I love), it also means we have to get creative with cuts of meat we don't usually buy.  Last month we got pork stew meat in our CSA box.  I immediately started looking for interesting recipes.  I checked all my cookbooks (Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, John Besh, the list goes on), but I finally found the kind of thing I was looking for in the Joy of Cooking - that faithful standby.  I am almost annoyed with the Joy of Cooking because it always has what I am looking for. Why do I have all these other cookbooks?  :)

you start by boiling the beans for 1.5 hours with seasoning
I found a recipe for a Caribbean red bean stew that called for one pound of pork stew meat - exactly what I had on hand.  Because I love New Orleans style red beans and rice, I'd though I'd try a new spin on an old favorite.  I searched online and found some pictures of the recipe in action on a blog called The Joy of the Joy of Cooking - a woman who is cooking her way through the Joy of Cooking.  It is a fun blog, definitely check it out.  She is adventurous (made smelt two different ways recently).

You start the recipe by boiling red beans for 1.5 hours with an onion, bay left, celery top, and cinnamon stick.  You then reserve the cooking water for the stew.  The cinnamon stick made a huge impact!  It was very aromatic.  As someone who likes cinnamon in savory dishes, I was quite pleased. 

browning the pork stew meat
The recipe called for hot paprika.  My mother-in-law went to Hungary last year and brought us back paprika - including spicy paprika - which I used in this recipe.  Thanks for the gift!  It has now been transferred to reusable spice jars and become part of our permanent spice collection.

paprika trio

meat, seasoning, and veggies 

Once you add the cooking liquid back, you let it stew for another hour until thick.  The finished product was very fragrant from the cinnamon and paprika and creamy from the beans (I like to use a potato masher and mash some of the beans).  The pork was a little tough, so I think next time I'll find a way to make it in the slow cooker.  I was hoping that the pork would shred, but it definitely stayed in stew meat chunks.  I would also serve it over rice in the future.

While there were differences between this dish and New Orleans red beans (the biggest was the seasoning choices and the inclusion of sweet potato), the fundamentals were the same.  Aside from red beans, they shared the the southern holy trinity - celery, onion, green pepper

Friday, March 4, 2011

onion, fontina, kale panade

Last weekend we made an onion, fontina, and kale panade adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook given to us by my brother and sister-in-law for Christmas one year.  I had seen the recipe on one of my favorite food blogs The Wednesday Chef (my recipe for baked eggs comes from her as well).

The long weekend was the perfect excuse to try something new.  The recipe was 3 pages long in the cookbook, but I figured I had time (for the first time in a while).  I adapted the recipe in a few ways:

  • I cut it in half (seriously 6 cups of onions and 10 cups of bread!) - I'm cooking for two here...
  • I had kale from my CSA instead of chard so I used that (they are similar to me!)
  • I chopped the onions instead of sliced them - my mistake from not reading the recipe closely enough...
getting a the onions golden brown 

wilting the kale 

I assembled the final product in a cast iron Le Creuset Au Gratin baker given to us by Dan and Ginger as a wedding present. It was the perfect tool for the job as the panade had to cook on the stovetop after it was assembled, yet before going into the oven.  I'm not sure that this step was necessary in retrospect, but the recipe said to do it, so I did it.
grated smokey Fontina makes everything better
The layers in my case were (I followed the instructions here): onions, bread, onions, kale, cheese, bread, onions, kale, cheese.

Voila!  The finished product - straight from the oven.  Sorry that the picture is a little redish - I snapped it with my phone quickly before diving straight in. The smell was incredible.  The cookbook called the flavors/aromas unctuous.  It was the perfect word for this savory bread pudding.

The texture was soft on the bottom, and crunchy on top.  Every bit was a little bit different. My hubby had made some slow cooked pot roast the night before, and it was a beautiful compliment to the panade.
dinner time

In about 15 minutes, we managed to eat half of what we had made.  It was that good.  It is definitely one to make again.  The hands on time was about 30 minutes, and the baking time was about 1hr 45 min.  If I had to do it again, I might make more onions, but I'm not sure I'd change a thing - except maybe not cut the recipe in half!

soooooo gooooood

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