Garden success

I can’t believe how much the garden has changed since the last time I posted about it. Mike and I keep joking about how we’ll never get anything else done because every weekend we end up at the garden store adding 3 new projects to our plates. But it is really making us happy, and it’s one of the things that’s been so rewarding about buying a house. If we don’t like something, we can change it!


Three cheers for colorful tomato cages!

When we first moved in, I thought it was a little strange that we had this huge yard with plants only around the perimeter. But now I think it’s awesome that we can just put a fence around all the edible plants to keep Harper and the dogs out, and have all the rest of the space for her to play (or for eating outside or using the fire pit, etc.). The tomatoes we planted a few weeks ago have gotten huge and started sprouting little green tomatoes. I decided to add two pepper plants, too. And then on the other side of the fence we dug out a huge ugly bush and planted more tomatoes and tomatillos, plus beans running up the side of the fence. In the past when I’ve tried to grow tomatoes they never did much. So I’m really excited that these seem much happier and might actually produce quite a bit.

The strawberry patch is doing really well. We get a few every day now. I’d still like to plant a few more, and I think with every year it will produce more.

The blueberry plants we bought this year seem to be doing a lot better than the one we bought last year. I’ve picked and eaten a few and they are yummy! Again, I think in another year they will be even better. I just saw the first raspberry flower, but they have a ways to go.


A teeny harvest.

The hydrangeas have finally started opening. I’m excited for the smaller plant, which has more violet colored flowers, to open soon.

I think the prettiest flowers in the yard have to be the calla lilies. These bright pink ones opened, and I think we will have more in different colors too.

Some other leafy plant has shot up all around the lilies, but I can’t tell if it’s going to have flowers or not. This being our first full year here, the yard has constant surprises!

Shopgirl

The last couple months, business has been sloooowww. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the changes Etsy has made (allowing bigger sellers to dominate) or the warmer weather, which always slows my sales of cozy items. But it has left me bored, restless and broke. So it was kind of serendipity that I learned that the shop in Sausalito that has been selling my hats and cowls like crazy over the last year needed some help. I had spoken to the manager before about starting some DIY classes at the gallery they also own, so it seemed like a good fit for me to come onboard.

I’ve been learning the ropes and just started working two days a week at their boutique. Almost everything there is handmade by local artists, so it’s fun to talk them up. I even get to sell some of my own stuff! The location in downtown Sausalito is gorgeous. It’s just across the street from a huge marina full of sailboats. And due to the proximity to the ferry and docked cruise ships, there is a constant stream of tourists from all over the world.

The owner also brings his dog in sometimes. Marley is just the sweetest, laziest yellow lab.

I think I didn’t realize how much I needed this. It’s probably been 5 years since I got up and went to a regular job. Certainly I enjoy the fact that most days I can work in my pjs if I want to. But it’s kind of nice to put some effort into my clothes and jewelry again. I’m dusting off a lot of things I haven’t worn in quite a while. And I’m definitely eyeing some accessories in the store.

I’m sure any crafty business owner can tell you that it’s extremely hard to live with the stress of never knowing how much your income will be. So it’s nice to have another more reliable source. And I feel like if I’m going to take time away from my business and work for someone else, I want it to be a job that I truly enjoy. This one feels like a great fit. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s in one of the most beautiful vacation destinations out there. Every time I drive to work I cross the Richmond bridge and get that gorgeous bay view with Mount Tamalpais straight ahead. Sausalito, while humming with tourists downtown, is kind of a sleepy place once you get out of that area. It feels more my speed, and it’s nice to have those getaways. A little toddler-free time works wonders, too.

Toddler team pom poms

A while back I tried making Harper some pom poms in Packers colors, and they turned out as adorably as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, though, they did not hold up to being flung around by a toddler. The strings started falling out pretty much immediately. I had made them with a traditional pom pom technique (wrap the yarn around and around something, tie it off, then snip through both ends). And as with pretty much every other pom pom I’ve ever made that way, it didn’t last. So, back to the drawing board.

I figured that the problem was that the strings needed to be reinforced so that you couldn’t just pull one out. They had to be strung together. So I gathered up all the loose pieces and very carefully wove a string through the middle of all of them. It took a while, but it totally worked! Harper has been playing with her pom poms ever since. We occasionally lose a string, but it’s rare.

We cheer for a lot of teams in this house, so I’ve been making her more in some other colors. I found that this Hometown USA yarn in team colors actually works for quite a few teams with the same color combinations. But you could also just buy a skein of each of your team’s colors and mix them together.

This pattern is for teeny toddler-sized pom poms and only takes one skein of yarn. If you want them bigger, use a full skein for each pom pom.

Toddler team pom poms

Materials:
• 1 skein Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn in your team’s colors (or 2 skeins, one of each color)
• ruler
• sturdy string or embroidery floss
• needle big enough to thread the string
• scissors

Instructions:

Start by cutting your whole skein of yarn into 12-inch pieces. You can just stretch the yarn out next to a ruler to get the size right. Then once you have a few cut you can use one of the pieces as your guide.

Divide the pieces into 2 even piles. Start with the first pile.

Thread the string through your needle and start piercing it though the middle of each piece of string. One way to make sure you get it through the exact middle is to fold the string in half first.

As you work, the pieces will start forming a line. Every now and then you might need to cinch them up a little bit so you have room to add more.

When you’re finished, it should look like this.

Now bring both ends of the string together and pull to cinch up the pom pom. Keep pulling until it’s really tight, then tie a knot.

Just to get the pom pom nice and secure, wrap the string around the outside of the bundle of yarn one or two times and tie another knot. Now you can snip off the remaining string.

If you need to you can also snip off any pieces of yarn that are sticking out too much. Repeat this process with the second pom pom.

All done! It takes a while to thread all those strings, but trust me, it’s worth it to have the pom pom hold up over time. Harper loves hers. Go Royals!

Grandma’s sour cream lemon pie

My grandma loved to make this sour cream lemon pie — it is such a perfect spring dessert. Mom made one for us last weekend with some lemons a co-worker had brought from home and we ate it up!

Grandma’s other tradition was to make my mom a little pie of her own in this sweet mini pie dish. So mom saved the dish and now she can make Harper a little pie to go with the big one. So cute.

Here’s the full recipe.

Grandma's sour cream lemon pie
Serves 8
A tart and creamy dessert for spring.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup sugar
  2. 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  3. 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  4. 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  5. 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  6. 1 cup milk
  7. 1 cup sour cream
  8. 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  9. 9-inch pie shell, baked (if you have a scratch recipe, all the better!)
  10. 1 cup whipped cream for topping (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add butter, lemon zest and juice, milk and egg yolks. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mixture starts to boil and thicken.
  2. Remove from heat and fold in sour cream. Pour the mixture into your cooled pie shell.
  3. Refrigerate until the pie is nice and firm. Top with lemon slices and serve with whipped cream.
Notes
  1. Meyer lemons work great, too!
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

Bay Area fun for kids

I realized that my Bay Area travel guide really needed an update, so I added a whole bunch more restaurants and things to do and took off some that either closed or aren’t really hot spots for us. And because I know it’s a huge list, I still have my top 10 list so you can cut to the chase.


Mike and Harper at Codornices Park in Berkeley. This one has a cool hill slide and a tunnel to the Rose Garden. 

Now that we’re parents, though, we have a whole new perspective on travel and dining out. Most touristy places — well, let’s be honest, most everywhere in the Bay Area — can be crowded with long lines and inadequate parking. When you’re hauling around small children and all the stuff that goes with them, you want to make sure you’re going to be able to keep them entertained while finding things like clean bathrooms and high chairs. So, I wanted to put together a list of our favorite places to hang out with kids. When I first moved here I thought this wasn’t a particularly kid friendly place (more like dog friendly!) but now I realize that there are plenty of super fun places that cater to kids. You just have to find them. *When in doubt, search Red Tricycle.

Here are a few that are definitely worth checking out:

Steam trains and Little Farm. It’s a nice drive through the eucalyptus trees to reach Tilden Regional Park, which is up in the Berkeley hills. You can stop at one of the overlooks for a view of the whole bay. Then continue on to one of our favorite stops, the steam trains. It’s about a 10-minute ride through the woods in a cute little train. There’s a spot nearby where you can have a picnic in the grass.

You can also drive to the carousel and the Little Farm, where kids can feed farm animals. And there are some great hiking trails in the area. 

Children’s Fairyland. They call this Oakland’s storybook theme park, and I’d say that’s a perfect description. It’s full of tiny houses to explore, plus a train ride, puppet show and other performances. Bigger kids can go down slides and ride the carousel. 


Harper inside one of the little houses in Fairyland.

Lake Merritt. Fairyland is right next to gorgeous Lake Merritt, which has a great playground and nature center. Harper likes to watch the ducks and geese. There’s a huge lawn where you can have a picnic. 


Running near the playground at Lake Merritt.

Bay Area Discovery Museum. This place is much more than a museum. It’s like a theme park without all the schmaltz. Kids can explore different areas, inside and out, with climbing obstacles, water to splash in, musical instruments and a lot more.

It’s a little pricey, but the first Wednesday of the month is free! Plus, you can’t beat the Golden Gate Bridge view and the proximity to Sausalito and other fun things in Marin. 


The view from the parking lot at the discovery museum.

Treasure Island Flea. The last weekend of every month there’s a huge flea market on Treasure Island. It’s only $3 admission and kids under 12 are free. They have activities set up for kids and food trucks, where you can get a really yummy lunch. The market’s great, but it’s also just a fun place to hang out. 


Food trucks at the Treasure Island Flea.

Crissy Field and East Beach. Harper loves the water, so even if it’s freezing cold, we still have fun taking her to the beach. The one near Crissy Field is right in San Francisco and has great views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge. It has a nice walking/bike trail and bathrooms nearby. 

She also loved the beach in Pescadero, which is a bit of a drive but a nice getaway. 

Lafayette Park playground. If you’re looking for a playground in the city, you’ll love the one at Lafayette Park. We went there for a birthday party and couldn’t believe how nice it was.  


The playground at Lafayette park.

Berkeley Marina/Cesar Chavez Park. When Harper was a baby, my moms group used to meet here to walk our strollers on the wide path through this waterfront park. People come to “kite hill” to fly kites here, which is fun to watch. Nearby at the marina there is a nice playground and then a big adventure playground for older kids.

I might do a separate list for kid-friendly restaurants, but there are a few places I can recommend. For breakfast, we love Mel’s Diner. They have a bunch of bay area locations (apparently these are different from the Mel’s Drive-Ins, which would also be good), which have kids menus, crayons and balloons. For Mexican food, the Talavera in Berkeley is great because it’s right next to a little park. For ice cream, we love Fentons in Oakland. You can get huge sundaes to share, and although there’s sometimes a line, you can usually get a table pretty quickly. 


Baby-size sundae at Fenton’s.

I will keep adding to this list as we discover new things!

Back in bloom

Mom, Mike and I have spent a lot of time in the yard lately just trying to get it back in shape after “winter.” The last few months have actually been really restorative for the plants since they were struggling at the end of last summer’s drought.

We had also decided to make some changes to the landscaping and finally had time to do it. The previous owners had pretty ornamental plants and we wanted more edible ones. So we dug out all the hedges and some of the geraniums to make room for a berry patch. Most of last year’s strawberry plants survived, and we added a few more to fill in the gaps. They are going strong.


So excited for strawberries!

The blueberry bush we bought last year had basically turned into a stick by the end of the summer, but I’m glad to report that it did survive and it’s started to leaf out quite a bit.

We bought two more blueberry bushes and then two raspberry plants, both of which seem to be happy.


One of the happy raspberries. 

In order to keep the dogs and Harper from messing up the plants, Mike built a fence around them.

We did leave these pretty tulips in the middle, although we might move the bulbs later.

I actually didn’t know they were going to come up until I noticed them poking out from under one of our planter boxes. When I moved the box I discovered a little salamander family living under there. At first I thought they were newts, so I showed Harper and she kept going back to that spot yelling, “baby NEWT!” So funny.

On the other end of the berries there is a beautiful fuchsia plant that also looked pretty terrible a few months ago. I’m so glad to see that it’s back in bloom.

The other red and white fuchsia plant got sort of squished by another bush, so it’s taking a little longer to recover. But I think it will.

This mum that looks like daisies was another surprise.

I had planted it in the ammo box planter, and not only did it return, it jumped out into places all over the yard.

The mint that was growing in the box got this sort of purple trim around the edges, but it seems to be turning back to normal.

Our hydrangeas look really lush again, which is nice. We have one little and one big, but the little guy is catching up!

The calla lilies that were so pretty last year are popping through the soil again.

And I’m thrilled to see this orchid, the only potted plant I kept from the previous owners, produced these impressive blooms.

I forgot to water this plant I bought at the end of last summer and figured it was dead, but it has flowers on it again. Whew!

I had to trim a couple geranium plants because they became absolutely huge after the winter rains.

The side yard, where the dogs are supposed to do their business, got completely overgrown with shoulder-high weeds.

So I finally dug them all up, plus all the ground cover that was keeping the dogs from using the rest of the yard. We are going to regrade it a little bit to help with drainage and then plant new grass seed.


Just a bit better…

We dug up a LOT of weeds to make a little tomato patch, and then fenced it in.

We got a few more plants to fill in some open spots. And of course I can’t give up my dream of having dahlias.

I also can’t give up on our little mandarin tree, which has yet to produce an edible orange. It was happiest in the shade of one of our ugly hedges, so now that the hedge is gone I keep moving it around the yard trying to find a good spot.

It does at least have some small oranges all over it. The other orange tree, though, has totally flourished.

When we moved in it had one orange and no new blossoms. Now it is producing like crazy. It has fragrant blossoms and bees all over it.

It has some tiny green oranges and some that are almost ready to pick.

We pruned it a little and weeded around it, but mostly we are just waiting for those oranges to ripen. Exciting!

Our little front-yard garden got kind of disrupted when we had our sewer lateral replaced, but it still looks pretty good. And then mom dug out the little triangular spot in our driveway, planted some pretty flowers and decorated it with a cool rock. I’ll have to post some photos of that.

All in all we are feeling really great about the yard and just hoping it stays healthy as long as possible since another dry summer is pretty much guaranteed.

My first time making gumbo (and corned beef)

I used to be a pretty voracious blog reader, but lately my Feedly has been skimmed to a select few blogs I occasionally have time to read. I keep reading them, though, because I realized that even though that time is precious, it is mine. And I really like discovering new recipes, new crafts, and whatever else I find there. It’s kind of nice, actually, to have culled a giant mess of posts down to the ones I truly care about and will get something from. 

So, that is how I found this recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo from one of my long-time favorite reads, Iowa Girl Eats. Check out her post for pictures of all the steps. I was kind of intimidated to try gumbo, but it was not hard at all. And it turned out so well! We all wanted to lick our bowls after dinner. 

Changes I made (of course): I used chicken breasts cut into chunks instead of thighs so I wouldn’t have to shred it after it cooked. And I realized mid-week that I was out of tomato paste, so I just squeezed in a little ketchup and that seemed to work. Sometimes you gotta be MacGyver in the kitchen! 

For St. Patrick’s Day I also tackled a new-to-me meal — corned beef and cabbage. I used Martha’s recipe, which is not so much a recipe as an instruction to throw everything in the Crock Pot and let it cook all day.

I was surprised that it made a clear broth rather than a gravy after all that time, but the meat turned out perfectly and the veggies were good, too. I had so many left over that I ended up roasting them in the oven with a baked chicken yesterday and they were even better. 

Donut muffins

Speaking of recipes you have to make…

I found this recipe for donut muffins on Red Tricycle and I knew I had to try it. I first had one of these scrumptious breakfast desserts at Bette’s Diner in Berkeley and I immediately fell in love. The muffin itself is pretty plain, but then it’s dipped in butter and rolled in cinnamon sugar (a la Bubble Bread), which sends it over the top.

The only thing I changed was to scale back the cinnamon to a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon. I feel like people have a compulsion to add too much cinnamon to recipes. Or maybe it’s just me. But I thought the batch of muffins I made turned out perfectly and they were gone in a flash!

Make this carrot cake!

Mom wanted a homemade cake for her birthday a few days ago, so I dug out some recipes I had been wanting to try. One of them was for “the BEST carrot cake,” and it sure looked like it. So we decided to give it a try.

Oh man, was that a good cake. I went ahead and made the full recipe even though it made way too much cake and frosting. I added pecans but no raisins or pineapple or anything like that. The layers baked up beautifully and I managed to construct a cake that wasn’t too lopsided.

Normally I like ice cream with cake, but this one didn’t even need it. It was rich, a little spicy, and perfectly spring-ish. I highly recommend giving it a try, maybe for Easter?

Arm knit cowl pattern

I’m happy to say that my first knitting class went very well. We had a huge turnout — 16 people. Which is a challenge as far as helping each person goes, but it was fun to see that many cowls come together in all different colors.

I put together a tutorial for the class and I thought I would make it available here in case anyone wants to give arm knitting a try. It’s certainly helpful to have the in-person instruction of a class. But there are a lot of helpful YouTube videos that are great if you are trying to teach yourself.

Download the PDF here.

The pattern shows you how to make either a single loop or longer double loop cowl.

I’m thinking that teaching more classes could be a really great next step for me in my business. So I’m trying to come up with more ideas for quick and easy projects. After churning out so many of the same design it’s fun to put on your super creative hat sometimes!