My first pickles

I promised I would report back on pickles and I’m finally getting to it!

Our cucumber plant produced a TON of cukes so we had to figure out pickling. I wanted to keep them as simple as possible, so I followed Deb’s instructions for the easiest fridge dill pickles.

First, I had to use a vegetable peeler to scrape off all the little spiky bits on the cucumbers. Some of them were really sharp. Then I decided to slice mine into spears.

I didn’t have fresh dill so I used dried and I think it worked just fine. One thing I had to adjust, though, was to add water to fill the jars to the top. Maybe because I had spears instead of slices, my cucumbers didn’t let out enough water and they were super vinegar-y. Once I added the water they were just about perfect.

I thought they might go bad quickly in the fridge, but they have lasted weeks and weeks. In fact I think they get better over time.

Harper at 2.5

I just put this in the kids category rather than baby – I guess that says it all.


She loved when grandad played guitar for her.

Harper has changed so much in the last few months. I find myself wanting to freeze her in time when she does something really sweet and funny. She’ll be a total monster one minute and then the next minute she’ll cuddle up and say, “I love you SO MUCH!”

She’s a constant imitator, both of what we say and what she sees on her favorite shows, Daniel Tiger and Peg + Cat. One time my mom walked in the room and she was playing her xylophone like a “pinano” while watching a character play a piano on TV. It was just so precious. I’m not one to use that word often, but there’s no other way to describe her right now.

I do see her trying to exert her will more. Like with very basic things I ask her to do like put her shoes on. She’s testing boundaries and realizing her power. I’m starting to understand all the things I’ve heard about the 3-year-old personality. I’m definitely concerned about how she’ll react to the new baby since she’ll be almost 3 when he arrives. (Oh yeah, we just found out it’s a boy!)

She does not want to talk about having a baby brother at all. She will repeat pretty much anything you say, but if you bring up a baby in mommy’s tummy or being a big sister she just shuts off. It’s so weird. How could she know that?

But we have more pressing concerns right now with potty training. We’ve been putting it off for a while, but I think she’s finally ready (and we’re finally ready to commit).

 

My dad and stepmom came for a visit recently, and they had a lot of fun taking Harper on some outings. The last time Mike took her to the Little Farm she was terrified of the cows, but not this time. She LOVED feeding the animals. She was just cracking up the whole time.

And I know everyone says this, but my god, their energy! I’m still extra tired all the time and I would give anything to suck a little bit of energy out of her.

On the plus side, she has been sleeping so much better lately. Pretty consistent 2-hour naps and longer nights without waking. I don’t know what the secret is with this kid, but I’m just going with it.

She’s still a little daredevil. When we walked around the houseboats in Sausalito she kept going right up to the railings next to the water and poking her head through. I think she would have just jumped in the water if we let her.

Another thing she really seems to enjoy is gardening. She “helps” us pick cherry tomatoes and puts them in the back of her little dump truck.

She is also still very much an outdoors gal. She decided our overflowing geranium plant was the perfect hangout spot and sometimes I find her laying there.

Large trees are not all that common in our neighborhood so when she sees one she will literally go up and hug it.

She still has a great appetite, and it must be fueling her growth because she has really stretched out. She’s pretty tall compared to her peers now, so I think she is going to end up taller than me.

We’ve had her in part-time daycare for a few months now and it’s kind of a mixed bag. They say she is really reserved and plays by herself there, which is the total opposite of how she behaves at home. I think she’d probably open up more if she was there daily but we just can’t afford it. So we’ll see.

This next 6 months will hold a lot of change for this little girl, but she is nothing if not resilient.

Easy strawberry jam

I feel like jam is one of those things that seems intimidating, but is actually really easy to make. I think it’s the canning aspect that’s scary, but you can make a quick fridge jam that will disappear too quickly to bother with the canning anyway.

We were only getting a handful of strawberries from our garden every day, so I decided to save them in a bag in the freezer until I had enough to make jam. I found this recipe in Real Simple and it worked perfectly.

Basically all you do is combine the fruit with sugar and lemon juice and simmer it until the fruit has broken down into a soft, chunky mixture. Let it cool and pour the jam into a jar.

You can make a decadent toast with cream cheese and berry jam – yum!

Butter shrimp

I never knew the magic of butter chicken until we moved to a place that has a Nepalese restaurant on every corner. I’m not sure the connection, but we have a LOT of Indian/Nepalese restaurants in our area, and they are wonderful. Have you had momos, those little meat or veggie-filled dumplings? Sooo good. Anyway, I tried the butter chicken at Taste of the Himalayas (my fave) and was totally hooked. So when I saw Posie had posted a recipe for butter shrimp, I wanted to try making that at home. 

I didn’t have tandoori paste, so I tried making it myself and it was super easy. I was thinking you could put that in a lot of things to add major flavor. 

The brilliant colors of all those spices remind me that I need to cook with them more often. 

I think I only used 1 pound of shrimp instead of two. It was frozen in a bag so I thawed it in some water first. 

Anything with this much butter has to be good!

I skipped the sliced almond garnish but I definitely added peas. Overall, I was happy with how quickly this dish came together. I think the sauce is even better than the chicken tikka masala recipe I had been making before, so I might just go with this one from now on. 

No. 2

I can’t believe I forgot to mention that we’re having a baby!

One of my lab tests got lost (WTF?) so it took longer than expected for us to reveal the news on Facebook. But yes, Harper is getting a sibling around Dec. 30. We probably won’t find out for a few more weeks whether it is a boy or girl, but we are definitely finding out.

It will be interesting to see if this winds up being a Christmas, New Years, or super late baby. We keep joking that we need a December baby for tax purposes!

So far everything has gone well, although it has been harder than last time for sure. I started my job right around the time I found out I was pregnant, so it was a lot of new things at once. The nausea was a little worse and I feel a lot bigger a lot sooner. I get these pains under my ribcage that I probably didn’t get until I was 6 months along last time. But one bonus is that at 16 weeks I can already feel some little movements.

I’m hoping to start prenatal yoga soon, and I’m thinking it might be fun to take a little babymoon in Calistoga. I hear there is supposed to be a big energy boost in the second trimester, but I’m still waiting for that to kick in…

Sweet potato hash

There is this really great breakfast place near us called Sam’s Log Cabin that serves the most delicious vegan hash with sweet potatoes, carrots and greens. I tried it on a whim one time and was pleasantly surprised by how rich and filling it was. So, I really wanted to try making it at home. The other day I saw someone making sweet potato hash on a cooking show and I was like, OK, I’m doin’ it!

I, of course, thought it would be better with bacon. Similar to Smitten Kitchen’s bacon corn hash, I thought the bacon fat could be used instead of butter to cook the vegetables. So here is what I came up with:

Sweet potato hash
Serves 4
Top with an egg for the perfect breakfast or brunch meal.
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Ingredients
  1. 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  2. 2 large yams, peeled and chopped
  3. 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  4. 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  5. 2 handfuls arugula or other fresh greens
  6. 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  7. 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  8. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until it is starting to get crispy but not completely done.
  2. Add the yams, carrots, and onions and cover the pan with a lid. Continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the vegetables aren't sticking to the pan.
  3. Season with paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. When the sweet potatoes and carrots are nice and soft, add the arugula and stir to combine. Turn off the heat.
  4. If you like, top with a fried egg and serve.
Notes
  1. *To make the hash vegetarian or vegan, substitute 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil for the bacon.
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/
I like to put a runny fried egg (or eggs) on top of my hash. I just think it’s the perfect combination. I’ve also seen a recipe where you spread the hash out in a 9×13 pan, crack a few eggs on top and then bake them. That sounds pretty great, too.

Holy crap, tomatoes

Last time I wrote about the garden I was impressed by how much the tomatoes had grown. Well, now they are like some kind of mutant tomatoes that have grown so much they don’t even begin to be contained by the cages we bought. One of them is getting tangled up in the orange tree and another one is so thick I don’t think I am going to be able to reach the tomatoes when they ripen. 

But considering we’ve only ever produced a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes since we moved to California, I’ll take these crazy plants. We’re starting to get lots of red and orange cherry tomatoes and they’re really good. 

One of the first plants to start producing a lot was the cucumber. It’s huge now, and the little cukes become big ones in only a day or two. I’m making pickles now, so I’ll write about that soon.

We planted a few green beans along our fence. Some of them are happier than others, but I can see a few beans. 

Mike and I were surprised that the tomatillos we bought don’t look anything like tomato plants, but they do have tons of blossoms on them. We’ll see. They’re supposed to be purple!

Some oranges finally ripened on the big orange tree, and they are so juicy and good.

They’re basically like naval oranges with a thick skin. Great for juice or snacking (Harper loves them). 

The mandarin tree is looking great, too. We’ve never had an orange on there bigger than about a centimeter. Now there are a few that are an inch or bigger. Come on little oranges!

The blueberries seem to be done for now, but I think they will blossom again this summer. The strawberry patch produces a few every day, but still not as many as I would like. I think I need to plants some more plants in the bare places. 

I’m not sure why, but all the sudden the mint started growing like normal mint does. Actually, I did put some compost in there, so maybe it was just hungry!

I’m so excited about the first raspberry blossoms. I know those plants are just babies, but I would love to have a few berries to pick.

The flowers in the yard are kind of a mixed bag. Some are flourishing while others are drying out. I think they will be the first to suffer from the lack of rain. The calla lilies are way bushier than last year with a lot of blooms (pink and yellow). 

This flowering bush, which as been just a few sticks since last summer, is finally coming back. 

But the hydrangeas look like they have a fungus and have turned some strange colors. They seem extra prone to it.

I should mention that the little garden my mom planted out front looks amazing. She dug out this little triangular patch, which has a rock border around it, and planted some drought-resistant flowers. Then, a bunch of California poppies sprouted right in the middle, so I think it looks just right now. The gnome thinks so too. 

And finally, the grass we planted for the dog area is growing pretty well. It needs a lot of watering to get going, but hopefully that can taper off once it’s established. There are a few dry patches, but those are easy to fill in.

The best summer dessert

I couldn’t let June go by without mentioning my favorite summer dessert. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it here many times, but oh man do I love a strawberry-rhubarb crisp.

It’s sweet, tart, crunchy, and even better warm with vanilla ice cream melting on top.

You can vary the strawberry to rhubarb ratio as much as you want. You can change up the nuts or leave them out. You could do fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream. Just … yum.

Montreal-Vermont-Pittsburgh

As usual, I’m a little behind in posting here, but I wanted to share some photos of our cross-country trip (without a kid!). We decided that if we were going to fly all the way to Vermont for our friends’ wedding in May, we might as well make a bigger vacation out of it. Mom agreed to watch Harper for a full week, so we went for it.

We started by flying to Montreal and staying at a super hip Airbnb apartment in the Mount Royal neighborhood. It turned out to be a great decision to stay there. We walked all over, shopping and trying out restaurants. Even though we had a rental car, we didn’t need it in that area.

I loved all the street art. It really reflects the city’s artsy personality.

Architecturally, it felt very European, with lots of brick row houses and wrought iron railings. The neighborhood was crawling with hipsters wearing man buns. Coming from San Francisco, it was oddly comforting.

For once we didn’t really have an agenda other than to explore the city. We did a lot of eating and a lot of relaxing. It was nice.

But let’s talk about the food. It was wonderful. We started out with poutine, of course. A friend recommended La Banquise, which is pretty casual and affordable. We ordered a classic poutine with cheese curds and gravy, and a giant one with beef, hot peppers and guacamole. They were both amazing and we pretty much stuffed ourselves way past full.

For breakfast we knew we wanted to try bagels. I didn’t realize Montreal was so famous for them, but they are definitely in the do-not-miss category. They’re thinner and crispier on the outside than New York bagels. We had some at a little cafe where you could watch them slide the bagels into a brick oven with a super long and skinny peel.

For lunch we had to try Schwartz’s. It’s a trip. You walk in and there are just tons of people squeezed into these long tables, so you are bunched up against strangers while you eat. It was actually kind of cool. We talked to the people next to us (and by the way, not knowing French well didn’t seem to be a problem at all). On the menu is “smoked meat.” Apparently that is a thing in that region. It’s basically brisket, and you get to choose your level of fattiness. We had sandwiches with mustard and pickles, and they were super good and filling. Don’t ask questions, just order the smoked meat!

For another meal we tried a Tibetan restaurant, which was also very good. Probably the best mango lassi I’ve ever had. And we got to try this Tibetan bread, that is basically wrapped up like a cinnamon roll.

On our last day there, we walked around Old Montreal, which feels much more like historical areas in Europe. But very touristy! We picked up some souvenirs and had crepes.

Overall, I really liked Montreal and it made me wonder why I have not traveled more in Canada. Especially after crossing both the US and Canadian borders twice, I really felt like Canada is so much more laid back. They just don’t get as worked up about things as Americans do. For example, when we went to rent a car we just gave them our reservation and they gave us the keys. No trying to convince us to buy insurance or inspect the car for 15 minutes or whatever else they do. Little things like that happened over and over. Plus, it’s like getting to Europe for half the price, and your money goes farther in Canada. So yeah, I’m definitely putting more Canadian cities on my to-do list.

After Montreal, we drove across the border to Vermont. We stayed at an adorable inn near Waitsfield, where they told us not to worry about coming in late because they literally never lock the door. Sigh. I loved Vermont so much. It is my kind of place. Laid back, outdoorsy, full of hippies. Into pickling and homebrew.

We went to the Waitsfield farmers market, which is surprisingly big and great for such a small area. We kind of went nuts and bought jam, cheese, soap and a tie dye T-shirt for Harper. We even bought whiskey from a local distillery to gift to our friends. Afterward we found the best baby/kids store and talked to the owner for a while. Everyone was so friendly!

Then of course we had to tour the Ben & Jerry’s factory. The tour was super cheesy, but at least there was ice cream at the end. That evening we went to the wedding, which was just beautiful and perfect. Congrats Torey and Chase! I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures, I just ate delicious barbecue and ice cream sandwiches.

The last leg of our trip was to Pittsburgh to visit our friends Jennie and Patrick. They traveled all over the country looking for a new city and ended up picking Pittsburgh. So I was anxious to see what it was like, since it sounded like a city going through a lot of changes. Plus, Mike lived there briefly before we started dating and he wanted to see how much it had changed.

It really did seem like the whole city was under construction and a lot of cool things were happening. As Patrick says, it’s got good bones. The infrastructure is there (and affordable), so people are converting old buildings into new bars, restaurants, and other cool spots. But it still has a lot of history and plenty of old-school joints. Like Primanti Brothers! That restaurant has been on my wish list for a long time. It’s the one where they put fries and cole slaw on the sandwiches and mash it all together. I could only manage to eat half a sandwich (they are huge!). And honestly, I thought each part would have been better separately. But I’m still glad I got to try it.

One thing I thought was really cool were the inclines. In order to get up or down these super steep bluffs that look out over the city, you can ride on little cable cars. I’m not the best with heights, so it was a little scary. But the views at the top are amazing. And I’m glad they preserved the cars — it’s a really unique thing.

So that was our trip. It was kind of crazy, but all the parts came together and we really enjoyed some time to relax and do adult things, for once.

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!