Gluten-free baking success

Up until recently my efforts at gluten-free baking had been mostly failures. It’s a tough thing to master. But I picked up a couple of recipes on Kristin’s blog, and they both turned out surprisingly well. At the time I was looking for a guilt-free snack I could bake, and these seemed to fit the bill. Substituting other flours for wheat often yields a higher-protein, healthier baked good, so I thought it was worth a try.

I made the lemon-blackberry breakfast cookies, substituting blueberries since I had so many in the fridge.

I’m not usually a big fan of banana-flavored things, but in these recipes the banana was more subtle. You can taste it, but it’s not overwhelming. 

I also made flourless peanut butter chocolate chip muffins. I was amazed by how much the texture resembled something made with flour. The muffins are soft and fall apart easily, so I would not make them bigger than mini muffin size. But they taste great, and I bet you could add nuts, fruit or other ingredients to change them up. 

They disappeared so quickly, I have to make another batch!

New look

I decided my old, unsupported WordPress theme was not cutting it anymore, so the blog is getting a new look. There may be some slowdowns or strange looking things as I finish working out the kinks. As always, thanks for reading!

Dressing a post-baby body

I don’t have to dress for an office every day, so usually the style I’m going for is comfy-cute. But I realized I was looking more like bedraggled-new-mom lately. I had this uniform of skinny jeans, a stretchy tank top and a curvy fitted cardigan that I thought was flattering. But the way the sweater curved out at the bottom was actually just highlighting my stomach, which is the part I least want to highlight. 

So I tried to find some affordable and truly flattering pieces that would take my style up a notch, but still be practical for my lifestyle. I have to carry a toddler, bend over constantly and play in the dirt. So anything I wear has to work with that, plus be nursing friendly for a little while longer. So that’s pretty limiting, but I’m finding some basics that are working really well, and I just wanted to share. 

1. Merona sweater dress, on sale for $16.08 at Target
I grabbed this on clearance without even trying it on, and it has become one of my favorite pieces to wear. After I washed the dress, it got shorter, so it’s more of a tunic now. Throw on a belt if you want to define the waist a little more. The zipper detail on the shoulder is key!

2. Old Navy linen shirt, on sale for $20.
Button-up shirts don’t usually work for me, but these are softer and more comfortable than most. They’re super cute layered over a tank top, and they have shape without being too tight over a less-than-flat belly.

3. Toms cordones, $69 (get their emails for coupon codes)
I love these shoes because they’re just a little bit more stylish than your average slip-on. I don’t have time for laces anymore, so I leave mine out. Best part about Toms — you can throw them in the washer anytime they get dirty. I got these in a grey color, but I probably should have gone with black.

4. J.Crew Jackie cardigan, $65
I bought 3 J.Crew sweaters when they were ridiculously cheap on clearance, and this one is by far the best. It’s short and fitted and really comfortable. I should probably get rid of 2/3 of my cardigans and just have a couple of these. 

5. Denizen modern skinny jeans, $27.99 at Target
Over the holidays my pants were getting too tight so I went to Target and bought another pair out of desperation. I normally would not pay nearly $30 for Target jeans, but these fit so perfectly, I had to. And I’m so glad I did because they’ve become my absolute favorite pants.  They’re fitted enough to be flattering, but stretchy like a jegging. And $27.99 is really not a lot to pay for good jeans.

6. PACT cropped leggings, $29.99 (I got them during one of their 30% off sales)
I’m wearing a lot more dresses lately, so tights have become essential for chilly nights. I love pretty much everything from PACT — they’re a great eco-friendly company. Next chance I get, I’m ordering more of these.

7. Old Navy bermuda shorts, $24.94
I bought two pairs of these last season when they were on sale for $10. They are so perfect for when you need something casual to wear on a warm day. I have short legs, so I roll up the cuffs a little higher. 

8. Old Navy jersey tamis, $10
As I’ve said before, I live in these. They’re nice and long, which is an absolute must for me. Plus they’re stretchy and they come in lots of cute colors. If they ever stop making these, I will be totally screwed.

9. Old Navy terry sweatshirt, $17.94
There’s a lot of Old Navy here because I think they make the best variety of inexpensive basics. That store has saved me! (Though I am starting to explore our new UNIQLO store.) Anyway, I included this sweatshirt, because it is the least frumpy looking sweatshirt I’ve ever seen. It’s another great layering piece that I’m finding I can’t live without.

What are you wearing these days?

We got a house!

I’m so excited to say that we bought a house! Here she is.

Given the crazy market, it feels like some kind of miracle that we were able to put in an offer on this house and it was accepted. We think it probably helped that they only had one open house and gave 4 days for people to put in offers. They wanted a quick sale and we needed a quick sale. It was also rainy that week, which might have kept people away. And the house, while in excellent shape, is a little bit … frumpy?

It was formerly occupied by a retired lady, and so many things haven’t been updated. But that’s part of the charm for us — projects!

Starting with the godawful awnings out front. They must go! Look at what they are doing to the view.

The kitchen cabinets are actually kind of cool and in great shape. I’m thinking all they need is a paint job. The microwave, on the other hand, is as old as me.

There is ugly brown carpet throughout the house, but we’re told it’s all wood floors underneath. The floor in our room gives a sneak peek. I love the inlaid pattern.

The bathrooms both need updating. We may not be able to do it right away, but hopefully soon.

There are many, many more potential projects I’ll tell you about later. First things first we have to address some problems with the electrical system. And unfortunately we have to spend $5,000 to update the sewer line. But generally the inspection revealed that this house, built in 1949, is a real gem. Good foundation, good plumbing, no earthquake retrofits needed. Whew!

(Did I mention that the home inspector had a waxed mustache and arrived on a bike with a ladder strapped to the side? He was awesome.)

Other things we love about this house:
• It has a master suite that my mom can use.
• It has a separate workshop out back that I can use for my business.
• It’s on a nice big lot with a deck and plenty of room for Harper to play, the dogs to roam, and us to use for gardening or storage (perhaps Airstream parking?)
• It’s about 2 minutes from where we currently live. We love the neighborhood and don’t have to learn a new one.
• The schools are in El Cerrito and much better than some of the other options we would have had to consider.
• Though the decor is dated, the layout is perfect and has so much potential.
• It’s on a nice flat street. So many houses in the area are on precarious hills.

Downsides are that it was at the absolute max of our budget, so we don’t have much left over for improvements, and it’s a little on the small side. We came really close to going for a house in Richmond that was closer to 2,000 square feet. It was a 1920s house with lots of built-ins, and a ton of retro charm. But it needed like $100,000 of work. In the end we went for the safer option and I’m glad we did.

If all goes well, we’ll close on April 29 and probably move in slowly throughout the month of May. That gives us time to redo the floors and fix whatever needs fixing. Then my mom will join us in August.

I can’t quite wrap my mind around just how big this is for our family. I have wanted to be able to buy a house since Mike and I first moved in together 8 (!) years ago. It felt like such a daunting task to try to buy one here. I felt so discouraged at times. But for all our hard work pounding pavement and scouring ads, I think we honestly got the best house out of all the ones we saw.

House hunting

As I said the other day, our time at our little house is up. Our landlord’s kids are off to college, so they’ve decided to move out of their big house and into this smaller one. We knew it was coming, but it’s still kind of a shock. Both the buying and rental markets have gotten so hot lately that we decided we better try to buy a house before we get priced out of the market completely. Renting costs just as much, so we might as well try to get more house for the money.

Our only knowledge base for home buying is the midwestern market, which is waaaay different than the one out here, so we’ve had a pretty big shock to the system. Shock #1 is that we pretty much can’t afford a house in our own neighborhood. When we first moved 3 1/2 years ago, our neighborhood seemed kind of transitional to me. Nothing special really. But it has really improved as people got pushed out of the city and then out of Oakland into more distant suburbs. Now there are lots of young families vying for the few houses coming up on the market.

So that brought us to shock #2 — the price is almost never the price. People intentionally price their houses low, get a bunch of offers (sometimes a dozen or more), and then end up getting 10-20 percent more than the list price. Example: One house we looked at was priced at $430,000 and ended up selling for $510,000. It’s crazy! I mean CRAY-ZEE. There aren’t enough letters to describe the crizaziness.

Then there are other houses that need so much work they will end up selling for less. So it’s hard to know what houses to even look at.

There’s also kind of a routine where people have an open house on a Sunday, then another the following Sunday, then have an offer date like the Tuesday after that. I had it in my mind that if we saw a house we wanted we would just make an offer. But it doesn’t really work like that.

So anyway, we have looked at tons and tons of houses all over the east bay. We have some possibilities, but you kind of always have to keep looking just in case something doesn’t work out. It’s such a roller coaster of emotions. First you love a house, then you’re not sure about it. Then you love another house. Then you love them both. Then you hate them both. Or more likely, you can’t afford either. I still believe we can get a house in our short timeframe. I just want it to be the right one.

Did I mention my mom will be moving in with us? We finally convinced her to relocate from Kansas. I am beyond excited about that!

Date night: Gather

When Mike’s parents were in town recently, we got to have a date night. I wore my new Madewell dress (snagged on mega sale, woo hoo!) and we went to this restaurant I’ve been eyeing for a while, Gather. It’s one of those trendy looking farm-to-table places and they specialize in crackly crust pizzas with unique toppings. I just noticed that their web site says the New York Times called it a “Michael Pollan book come to life.” My kind of place!

I was a little worried we were veering into snooty territory here, but they were actually really nice. Even though we had no reservation at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, they found us a seat right away. We had yummy cocktails — the list is long and fascinating — and a kale and sweet potato appetizer. 

Our pizza had shaved asparagus, goat cheese, and an egg. It couldn’t have felt more springlike. I thought it was all great, and reasonably priced. I loved that from our seat at the bar I could watch the cooks (between several jars of pickled veg) as they tossed pizza and carefully assembled plates. 

After dinner, we were so tired and it was getting late so we did what two nerds in love do — we went to 1/2 Price Books and spent $87. I was joking to Mike that he is the only person I know who could go to a cheap used book store and find a $35 book to buy. Gotta love us. 

still here

Just popping in to say that I am still here, but so very busy lately. February is not usually a busy month for me, but for some reason it was about as busy as a holiday shopping season this year. So busy in fact that we ended up hiring a nanny two days a week so I can get some work done.

We also found out that we have to move out of our rental house this summer. Though we have outgrown it for sure, I have become more attached to it than I realized. So it’s going to be very hard to leave this first house in California. The house we first called our own as a married couple. The one we brought Harper home to. Sigh, it’s a lot. But I guess it’s going to push us out the door into finding a home that’s really our own. (And the right size.)

After quite a bit of much-needed rain, our landscape is looking a lot greener lately. The little succulents in our front garden are so happy — their little blooms are reaching for the sky. 

Back soon, I promise. 

12 months!

A few days ago, Harper turned 1. We survived the first year! And that is something. 

Here she was as a teeny newborn. 

And here she is now.

It’s incredible how someone could change so much so quickly. Here she is, month-by-month.

In honor of her birthday I thought I would give you 12 things about Harper at 12 months:

1. She loves yogurt.

This girl cannot get enough yogurt. She can eat more at one sitting than I can! In fact, she eats way more than you would ever think such a tiny person could eat. But that’s because she’s going at full speed all day. 

2. Her hair finally lays flat.

Harper has had some epic hair fluff throughout her life. We always said she took after her dad that way, he of the spiky hair. But now it’s finally long enough and heavy enough to lay (mostly) flat. The only exception — post-nap hair.

3. She can walk. She just won’t.

Evidence here.

She cruises around all day. Either that or her funky crab crawl with one leg out. But I still have to convince her to walk by herself. As with so many things, you can’t make Harper do something if she doesn’t want to.

4. She’s a strawberry blond. For now. 

She’s gone from brown hair to red hair to blond with a reddish tint. I can’t imagine it will stay that way forever, but it seems to be sticking around for now.

5. She gives great hugs.

One of the many reasons I like this age is the hugs. She cuddles and gives you a full-on squeeze now. It’s so sweet. I might be in the minority but I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for the newborn days. This age is a blast in comparison.

6. She’s starting to form her own language.

I think she’s on the cusp of syllables turning into words. She repeats things rather than saying them totally randomly. I think mama, dada, and dog are in there somewhere. You know, the important stuff.

7. She pretty much always has a cold.

This picture really sums up what our January was like. First she had a stomach virus (and her first real throw up, ugh), then a cold, then another cold. Mike and I got them too, so we’ve been a bunch of phlegm wads all month. I didn’t realize there were so many things kids could get sick from, but I’m learning fast! Thank goodness for boogie wipes. 

8. She’s nothing like me.

I joke, but she really is so much like Mike. Both in appearance and in personality. She looks a lot like he did in baby pictures with the blond hair. And especially the way she scrunches up her nose when she laughs. She’s mischievous and expressive and social. But there is one thing we all have in common — we want things done our way!

9. The dishwasher might be her favorite toy.

I don’t know what it is about the dishwasher, but she could stand there for hours. We are going to have to start eating with only spoons so she doesn’t poke herself. 

10. She still loves to be outside.

Fresh air goes a long way with this kid. Now that we’re all well we need to plan some more adventures.

11. She is a little too fearless sometimes.

Harper got her first fat lip this month when she tripped and fell while cruising around. I’m sure it was more traumatic for us. Her mouth was bleeding and I couldn’t tell what from. Turns out it was just a cut lip. But ooh, it makes you scared for the future!

12. She’s going through rapid-fire development.

It’s amazing to watch the wheels turning as she figures things out. You can’t trick her anymore. If she wants to go somewhere or play with something, she points or shakes her head no.

It has to be incredibly frustrating to want to do so many things and not be able to communicate those desires. So I’m sure that’s the origin of a lot of her crankiness.

She cracks us up with her dancing and her peek-a-boo games and her fascination with small dogs. (Her favorite is Mike’s office dog, Juan Carlos.) She’s big on handing you things, but not necessarily giving them to you. 

We had this birthday picnic planned at a park in Berkeley, but of course the long-awaited deluge of rain happened last week. We moved the party indoors and it ended up being really fun.

Happy birthday to my baby girl!

Chicken wild rice soup

My mother-in-law made this soup over Christmas and it was so good we decided we had to make it when we got back here. The recipe comes from the Pie Place, the sweet restaurant in Grand Marais, Minnesota where we had our rehearsal dinner 3 years ago. While we were in Duluth last month we picked up some hand-harvested wild rice. It’s hard to find in other places, so you have to get it while you can. Though regular wild rice works just fine in this recipe.

We decided to bulk up the soup with some chicken, carrots and leeks, and it was wonderful. It’s creamy, but not too thick or gloppy. The wine and sherry really makes the flavor. Try it!

Chicken wild rice soup
Soothing winter soup with a hint of white wine and sherry.
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Ingredients
  1. 6 tablespoons butter
  2. 1 small onion, chopped
  3. 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  4. 3 leeks, thoroughly rinsed and trimmed, then chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
  5. 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound)
  6. 1/4 cup flour
  7. 4 cups chicken broth (homemade stock, if you have it)
  8. 1 cup heavy cream
  9. 1/4 cup white wine
  10. 2 tablespoons sherry
  11. 2 cups cooked wild rice
  12. 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  13. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. If your wild rice is not already cooked, boil it while you prep the other ingredients.
  2. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and add the onions, carrots, leeks, and chicken breasts. Season with salt and pepper and saute, turning the chicken once, until both sides are lightly browned and the chicken is cooked through.
  3. Remove the chicken to a plate and let it cool before shredding it with 2 forks.
  4. Meanwhile, add the flour to the pot and stir until the veggies are coated. Add the chicken broth and whisk until smooth. Add the cream and sherry and bring the pot to a simmer.
  5. Now you can add back the chicken and the cooked wild rice. Stir in the cheese.
  6. When the soup is heated through, it's ready to go. Season with more salt and pepper before you serve it.
Notes
  1. • Leave out the chicken and sub veggie broth for a vegetarian version.
  2. • Leftover turkey from a holiday meal works great in place of the chicken.
  3. • If you don't have leeks, just leave them out.
  4. • Rinse chopped leeks in a bowl of water before you cook with them. The dirt will fall to the bottom.
Adapted from The Pie Place Cafe Cookbook
Adapted from The Pie Place Cafe Cookbook
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

Coming up for air

Whew, this month has been brutal, but it’s finally starting to feel normal again. Harper slept through the night the last two nights. THE WHOLE NIGHT. Without any sleep training. I think I had gotten so adjusted to living on less sleep I didn’t know what to do with myself the last two mornings. Parenting is not getting any easier, we’re just getting better at it. That must be how you manage more kids, because otherwise the thought is overwhelming. 

We had a tiny bit of rain last night. Not enough to make a dent in our rain deficit, but it was nice. This tree in our back yard thinks it’s spring. I love those blossoms. 

My mom was here for 10 days. It felt like 5 minutes. I had this super long project list for while she was here, but I only crossed off one item. I had time to make orders and hold a baby. That’s it. I finally cleaned the house on day 10. 

I have a zillion ideas for my shop. I wish I could just stop everything and work on them, but such is life. It makes me feel good to know that I still have such excitement for what I do after several years of hard work. It feels like the right thing, so I keep going and keep pushing. Same as with a baby — it’s hard but so, so good.