Vintage wire baskets

Sadly, when I moved I had to get rid of my only vintage wire basket that I had been using to display items at craft shows.

I think that was a mistake. Looking around for new ones on Etsy I found that they are very expensive!

Locker baskets from Glasdeer’s shop.

Older baskets from blueflowervintage.

Plain basket from Glassnmore.

I am thinking either a gym locker basket or an egg basket would be perfect. Actually several of them would be perfect. People seem to love digging through containers — that’s why my suitcase has been so handy.

Black egg basket from LoveItBuyIt.

Red egg basket from moxiethrift.

For now I am putting my mom on the hunt for these, and I think I will go to the Berkeley or Alameda flea markets and see if I can find anything.

Or maybe the secret is ebay!

Seed stitch dish cloths

I discovered a few years ago that the world’s best dish scrubbers are handmade with inexpensive cotton yarn. But I’d always thought it was the bobbled crochet stitch that made them so great. Not so! I actually think that a seed stitch works even better for creating a grime-fighting texture. And I love the way my new dish cloths look, with a neat crochet trim in a coordinating color. They’re like tiny versions of the baby blankets I used to sell.

So here’s how you make them:

Seed stitch dish cloths

approx. 8-inch squares

Worsted weight cotton yarn in two colors
Size 7 knitting needles
Size G/6 crochet hook
Yarn needle

With the knitting needles, CO 33 stitches with the main color. Work in seed stitch pattern (K1, P1) across the first row, and all subsequent rows until piece measures as tall as it is wide (should be about 7.5 inches). Bind off in pattern.

Starting on the right side of the BO row, insert the crochet hook into the top of any stitch and pull the second color through. Begin to SC a border around the entire edge of the piece, putting 3 SC into each corner. When you reach the stitch where you started, slip stitch through it, and then snip off the yarn. Weave in ends.

You’ll definitely want to block these to make sure they come out nice and square.

Chicken fajitas

This probably sounds like nothing special, but after finding this easy recipe at Food & Wine I am totally convinced that these chicken fajitas were better than any I have made before and any I have ever ordered on a sizzling plate.

It’s not just the recipe, though. I think it’s the combination of the fresh veggies, the free-range chicken, the super soft wheat/corn blend tortillas we found, and the fresh cilantro I picked from my front porch. Good ingredients = good food. Simple as that!

I’m all for the shake-in-bag technique.

The only things I changed from the recipe was adding in some red bell pepper and using 1/4 cup of water to deglaze the pan after the first few minutes of cooking. You don’t want to lose those yummy bits on the bottom.

For toppings I made a little pico de gallo with tomato, onion, garlic, green pepper, a little green chile, salt, pepper, lime juice and cilantro.

Then I mashed up an avocado with salt and lime juice.

You will need lots of napkins for these, but they’re totally worth it!

My first SF craft fair

So, A Fair to Remember was on Sunday. I was really nervous for my first time vending in San Francisco, but really excited to be in such a cute spot.

People kept stopping to photograph the mural behind me.

Though I was expecting chilly and windy weather, I ended up actually getting fried in the sunshine. Go figure.

Jack Kerouac alley was flooded with tourists, cute couples, older ladies from Chinatown, and just about everyone else you could pack into the space. I could not stop staring at this person’s laundry floating above us. Can you imagine having your undies out there?

I was reminded once again that crafty people everywhere are wonderful and supportive of each other. In this picture you can see Abi, one of the organizers, with her cute vintage wares, and on the left is Errol, one of the ‘soap guys’ from Metaphor Organic.

I ended up getting some man soap for Mike. I was intrigued by their explanation of the chemical process of making soap. Apparently most soap you see in stores in not actually soap!

I learned a lot and met a lot of people. I am inspired to try making some new accessories.

Oh, and I just had to share a photo of the band that played for about an hour. They were awesome! The Paper Dolls play a mix of new and old songs on their ukuleles.

I love them and their stripey socks.

Vintage container gardening

As soon as I saw this article, I knew what I had to do with my bare front porch.

I had a minimal budget for gardening, but I already had both an old wooden soda crate and a wooden ammo box, plus a bunch of succulents growing in the front ‘yard’. Mike had always imagined the ammo box overflowing with pinkish flowers — the perfect ironic planter.

But first I started with the soda crate. Since the slats in the bottom had big openings, I decided to plant a succulent in each slot in its own little container. And I discovered that empty yogurt cups out of the recycling bin were the perfect width, as long as I cut the rims off. You just poke a little hole in the bottoms for drainage.

They were a little too short, though, so I used some pieces of egg cartons to boost them up.

I filled them about halfway with some sandy/rocky soil I got from the side of our house (which I ended up covering in weed blocker and mulch later on in the weekend).

I very delicately separated out a few plants down to their roots and replanted them in the yogurt containers. Then I popped them into the soda crate.

I was about to stop the project when I ran out of yogurts. But when I went to Home Depot I discovered a section devoted to succulents of all shapes and sizes and I pretty much cleaned them out. I am a fiend for those things.

I still didn’t have quite enough to fill the crate, but I discovered the succulent secret: some of them have more than one plant per pot. I managed to get three of them to separate into two plants, just enough to finish my project. I also tucked in some old soda bottles. And after topping off the containers with potting soil, I covered the tops with peat moss so that you couldn’t see the tops of the plastic containers.

I am so happy with how it turned out.

Sometimes your crafty vision really does turn out exactly how you thought it would.

For the ammo box, I lined the bottom with three 8×8 cheap foil trays and added rocky soil to the bottom for good drainage. Then I just bought a half flat of colorful annuals that like shade and planted them inside. After a couple days they perked right up. In fact everything I’ve planted has been super happy so far. Yay!

No more weeds! Whew.

Have you used any fun objects as planters? I always see this one house when I’m out walking with a bathtub planter and it makes me smile.

Tuesday’s treat: Chez Panisse

So when my sister was here, she and her friend were deciding where to have lunch on Tuesday. It was about 11:30 a.m., and we were between a few different places, including the cafe at Chez Panisse.

I figured it was pretty unlikely we’d actually be able to get in there, but then my sister popped out to tell me that she’d made a reservation for 1:45. Sweet!

Me and my sistah.

I’m sure you probably know, but Chez Panisse is kind of a shrine for foodies, especially slow foodies. The owner, Alice Waters, has been cooking with organic foods from local farms since the ’70s. Pretty much every trendy restaurant that opens here has a chef with Chez Panisse pedigree. It’s kind of a big deal.

Their multi-course dinners are pretty pricey, but fortunately the cafe offers a la carte lunches that are affordable. We each paid $35, including tip, which was more than I would usually pay for lunch, but it didn’t bankrupt me by any means.

So, in short, don’t discount Chez Panisse because it’s too pricey or hard to get into. Just go for lunch!

One thing that’s funny is that the restaurant is kind of hard to spot when you’re driving by. It’s covered in greenery and set back off the street. But inside it’s actually really big. Fortunately, we were seated in a little nook with two other tables and a bunch of lovely tree-shaded windows.

The most adorable guy tended to our water needs (you get both still and bubbly waters in beaker-shaped bottles, just like in Europe). We preferred him over our regular waiter, who was a little hoarse from a cold and seemed kind of spacey. Generally the service leans toward fussy, but in a we-care-a-LOT-about service way that I appreciate. For example, the food came out while Bethany was feeding the parking meter, so a runner brought an extra plate to cover her dish and keep it warm.

The menus are printed every day so you know you’re getting seasonal options. Even the plates are made locally. They definitely take their commitment to local seriously.

So what did we eat?

First off, some really yummy bread and butter. Wheat, of course.

Then we split a green bean/frisee salad, which we ate so fast I don’t have a photo. The best part was the crunch of toasted hazelnuts on top.

We decided we would each get an entree, and then rotate our plates around so we could sample all of them. I had pasta with sundried tomatoes and pesto. Megan had roasted chicken with cole slaw and crispy fried potatoes. Bethany had salmon with mashed potatoes. All very simple dishes, but fancied up in all the right ways.

The only semi-disappointment was our dessert. We got a rhubarb tart with creme fraiche that was pretty tasty. But we all agreed we make better rhubarb desserts ourselves.

• Strawberry-rhubarb pie
Rhubarb muffins
Strawberry-rhubarb crisp
Rhubarb lemonade)

Overall, I’m just really glad I got to experience this legendary restaurant, and even more glad that it’s only a few miles away and I can experience it any time!

Spotted in Berkeley: knit bike racks.

Bacon cheddar meatloaf

Sounds gluttonous, doesn’t it?

I was starting to think maybe I just didn’t like the taste of meat generally until I made this and it completely restored my faith.

I cut this recipe out of a Real Simple magazine when I was still vegetarian because it looked so yummy, and I figured I could adapt it. It calls for Gruyere cheese, but I was getting practically mauled in the cheese aisle at the Berkeley Bowl so I picked up the closest thing, which was New York cheddar. I’d say it’s a pretty good substitute.

Here is the recipe, which other than the cheese swap, and cooking it an extra 10 minutes, I followed to the letter: Bacon-Gruyere meat loaf with roasted carrots and onions

I think there are three secrets to why this is so good. (And it’s not even the bacon part!)

Using ground chuck, which is fattier, helps a lot with moisture and flavor. You still drain off all the excess fat before you serve it, so it’s not greasy or anything. And then you let it rest for 10 minutes before you cut into it, which not only brings it up to temperature, it helps it retain that moisture even more. The shredded onions are also much nicer to bite into than chopped bits would be, so I’m definitely using that technique again.

The recipe says to eat it with ketchup, but I had some leftover gravy in the fridge that was an ideal topping.

We also had some spinach salads on the side.

When you plate up a chunk of meatloaf and a scoop of roasted veggies it looks so petite on a normal-sized plate you feel like it kinda needs a little something extra.

Need a veggie meat loaf? Try this one.

Bon appetit!

(Which reminds me that I caught an episode of Julia Child on the Cooking Channel the other day where she dumps a tarte tatin onto a plate and it completely falls apart. Of course she just rolls with it. Thanks for the reminder that cooking doesn’t have to be perfect!)

Happy plants

I have a new addition to my little front porch garden — a cherry tomato plant.

I am so happy to see that not only did the herbs I planted survive, but they seem really happy. The mint is already out of control.

And the cilantro is shocking me by growing even better than the basil.

I’m working on some more planter boxes, which I’ll show you soon. Then I need to mulch a couple of bare areas, and the garden should be all finished. I love having a garden of manageable size.

I am also loving this hazelnut half and half that I accidentally bought.

I meant to get the regular kind, but it turns out I love this stuff. It’s like creamer, but it’s actually real cream, and organic. As long as I only put in a little splash it’s not too sugary either.

This box of crackers may have fallen into the cart as well.

I can’t help it. How cute is their packaging?

I have been working on another project, which I will share with you soon, involving some giant poufs. I’ve had to get creative with my dyeing process since I can’t use the washing machine (it breaks up the rope) and it’s hard to find a container big enough. But I figured it out.

It was really funny to see the dyed rope all rolled up in giant balls.

Now I have to get ready for my first California craft fair this weekend. I am really hoping for cool, but not rainy weather.

Weekend eats

Mike had a three-day class in San Francisco and my sister came up from Orange County, so we’ve been explore/eating the last few days. Saturday morning we decided to hit the Ferry building market (where I totally spotted this celeb chef) so we could try some more things on our top 100 list.

I keep seeing porchetta on menus around here, so we hit up the RoliRoti stand to try a sandwich. It looked and smelled amazing, but it just didn’t taste that good to me. I will have to go another time to try the chicken/roasted potatoes combo.

Then we tried a korean taco, which was made with short rib pieces and rice inside a piece of seaweed. The filling was really tasty, but the seaweed kind of ruined it for me.

I gotta say, my favorite thing I ate that morning was the Blue Bottle waffle I split with Mike! That’s our secret to trying all these things without overdoing it — just get one of each and share.

I don’t have any photos from this, but we also tried a great place in Oakland called Noodle Theory. They have really delish noodle bowls (I tried tofu and garlic noodles), dumplings, and, randomly, gourmet sodas. I was completely ogling the sweet potato fries with dipping sauce at the table next to us. I could see this becoming a regular place for us. It’s just simple and tasty and not too expensive.

Sunday we went to the Mission and tried a Peruvian place called Limon. They have a lot of small plates, so we got to try chicharrones (phenomenal), empanadas (really good) and a seafood stew (just good).

At Limon these two girls sitting at the table next to us started talking to us, and we asked them where we should go for dessert. They recommended Bi-Rite Creamery, which is also on the top 100 list. So we stood in a very long line for their salted caramel ice cream.

It was a very good decision. Just look at this sundae!

We built our own with the salted caramel and brown butter pecan ice creams, hot fudge, toasted walnuts, and a slab of whipped cream. It was sinfully good. It’s hard to beat Tara’s, but I think it was actually better.

I continue to be wowed by the food culture here. Yes, there are trends and a lot of places do the same kinds of things, but they’re all so good!

Roast chicken, stock, and gravy

I thought I had lost the pictures I took when I cooked the chicken, but I found them, so I thought I’d share.

What surprised me the most about chicken 101, was that it was so easy. Though it takes some time to make from-scratch recipes, most of it is just oven or simmer time.

So here are the recipes I used again:

Roast chicken
Chicken stock
Poultry gravy

Why did I use all Barefoot Contessa recipes? I guess because I’ve seen the show enough to know that Ina makes chicken at least once a week for her husband, so after about 4,000 times roasting a bird, she probably knows her stuff.

I liked her techniques of basting the chicken with melted butter before roasting, and cooking it on top of a bed of veggies. You get an incredibly caramelized bunch of goodness in the bottom of the pan, which makes your stock and gravy better.

The chicken came out just perfect. Crispy skin and all done inside. You might have to adjust the cooking time, depending on your oven and the size of the bird.

The next day I simmered the bones with some fresh veggies, water, and spices (just adjusting down the recipe for one bird instead of three).

The recipe called for leaving the pot uncovered, but next time I will cover it, as I evaporated a little too much liquid. My gas stove cooks so much hotter than our old crappy electric one did, so I’m still getting used to that, too.

*Edited to add my stock recipe, which looks like this:

1 chicken carcass
1 onion, cut into fourths
1 celery rib, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 carrots, cut into 2-inch chunks
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
10 cups water

Simmer, covered, on low heat for 4 hours.

When the stock’s done, you can put it in the fridge until a little fat layer forms, and just scrape that off. Then it’s ready for whatever you want to do with it. I put what I didn’t use in a plastic container in the freezer.

For the gravy I finally realized how much harder it is to replicate the consistency in a vegetarian version. With meat pan drippings it comes together pretty much instantly! However, I still say my veggie shallot gravy is awesome. It just takes a little more work.

The last thing I did was shred the remaining chicken pieces and roll them up inside corn tortillas for some easy enchiladas.

I’m still perfecting that recipe, but I’m sure I’ll have something to share soon.