Harper’s first pumpkin patch + trip to Google

Two Fridays ago it was a beautiful day and Mike was off work, so we decided to take Harper to a pumpkin patch in the south bay.

There were pre-picked pumpkins as far as the eye could see. Most of them were in good shape, so it was kind of hard to decide which ones to get.

We ended up with two orange pumpkins and one white one. If it were up to me I probably would have taken home two giant wagonloads. I just love pumpkins. 🙂

Harper got to sit on the big tractor, just like Mike did as a kid.

And we had to sit her on a giant pumpkin just because.

In addition to carving pumpkins, they had all kinds of squashes, gourds, and even popcorn.

We took home one hubbard to cook. When she’s a little older I think Harper will enjoy some of the other stuff they had, like a hay bale pyramid and wagon rides. There’s also a whole park with farm animals there.

Since we were so far from home already and we had some time to kill before dinner, we decided to drive around Silicon Valley. I had never been to Stanford or seen any of the social media headquarters, so it was fun to check them out.

The Google campus is huge, and full of surprises like these sculptures.

I didn’t realize employees could borrow these multi-colored bikes to ride around anytime.

I couldn’t believe how many people were actually using them!

Mike showed me the parking lot dedicated to electric vehicles.

I love how someone has carefully swept around the sign on the ground.

Tesla spotted in the wild!

After that we spent some time in downtown Palo Alto, which has a really nice shopping area. They even have the only Plan Toys retail store, which was fun to check out.

I loved our day of exploration, but man is it expensive down there! We were pretty happy to go back to our little bubble (with one new toy, of course).

Homeroom mac ‘n cheese

Maybe you remember a while back I mentioned trying mac ‘n cheese at a few restaurants in the east bay. One of the places I mentioned was Homeroom, which is a restaurant dedicated to mac ‘n cheese. And their version is great — rich and creamy and even good reheated.

I’ve tried many times to recreate this type of mac ‘n cheese at home, but I’m never quite successful. My guilt-free recipe is great, but I don’t have one for when I want the laced-with-guilt version.

My adorable assistant.

The recipes I’ve tried, even ones with tons of whole milk and cheese come out lumpy or lack the creaminess I see in restaurant macs. So I was really excited when I saw that Joy had posted a recipe from Homeroom’s cookbook for their classic mac ‘n cheese. 

I tried it the other day and it was great. It seems that the secret is more butter and more flour in your roux. When you use their measurements, the sauce cooks up in minutes, so it’s not even hard to prepare. 

I decided to add some bacon to mine, just to make it a little more special. Two big slices, cut in half, cooked, then chopped into little pieces.

I mixed it in right before I put the mac in the oven so the breadcrumbs could toast.

I love panko breadcrumbs, but I think they might toast even a little better if you added a drizzle of butter on top before toasting. Then your mac will become truly evil. 

This recipe is a great base, and you can certainly add whatever other toppings you like, or change the types of cheeses to your liking. We were thinking more cheddar might make it more like the color of traditional mac ‘n cheese.

Guest recipe: Mike’s eggplant parm

This photo does not begin to do justice to my husband Mike’s eggplant parmesan. It’s transcendent, as food bloggers love to say. Instead of just baking the eggplant slices, which often leaves them undercooked and tough, he adds cornmeal to the crust and deep fries them. They end up silky soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.

You can even eat the eggplant slices plain like a fried green tomato, before you put them in the casserole dish with the sauce and cheese. That would be a great appetizer for a football viewing party, with some marinara on the side for dipping. 

I’m an impatient cook, so I don’t often make recipes that require triple dipping and deep frying at a specific temperature. Too much precision, too big of a mess to clean up. But once in a while it’s fun to make something that takes a little more effort. And trust me, you’ll be rewarded with this recipe. 

Here it is, with Mike’s signature humor. 

Mike's What Once Was Baked Has Now Been Fried Eggplant Parmesan
Serves 8
The best eggplant parm you'll ever have.
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  1. 2 medium to large eggplants, peeled and sliced into just under 1/2-inch rounds
For dredging
  1. 2 large eggs
  2. All-purpose flour
For coating
  1. 3/4 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
  2. 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
  3. 1/2 cup corn meal (more or less if you want, adds crunch)
  4. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  5. 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  6. Coarse salt and ground pepper
For topping
  1. 48 oz jar of tomato sauce
  2. 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
  1. Congratulations, you have decided to spend your afternoon on eggplant.
  2. Slice eggplants and lay out on cookie sheets. Sprinkle salt liberally onto the slices, let sit for 15 minutes to draw water and bitterness out of the eggplant. Pat thoroughly dry, flip them over and salt the other side, 15 minutes again, dry them. Look, they need to be dry, ok?
  3. Set up three bowls or trays with high-ish sides for breading the eggplant. Put flour in one; beat the eggs in the next; mix breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan, corn meal, oregano, basil, salt and pepper into the third.
  4. Heat oil (olive oil will not work well for this: it has too low of a smoke point) in a cast-iron skillet to 375 degrees for deep frying. Use a candy or probe thermometer -- keeping the temp between 350 and 400 is important.
  5. Now bread the eggplant slices, 3 or 4 at a time, however many will fit into your skillet at one time. Dredge in flour, shake off excess. Dip in egg, let excess drip off. Dredge in breading, shake off everything that's loose. There's a lesson here about shaking off excess. Pause to ponder. Then slide slices carefully into the oil, and fry on each side until golden-brown. An Asian-style wire frying basket works well for turning the eggplant. After frying on both sides, place on cookie cooling rack to drip.
  6. Fry all them eggplants. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of a deep lasagna-size dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant on top of the sauce. Cover with more sauce, then half the mozzarella. Repeat: eggplant, sauce, mozzarella. Add Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is appropriately melted/browned to satisfy your particular innermost desires.
  8. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

My rope baskets in Parade

I don’t know if any of you still get a print newspaper, but you probably remember the Parade magazine insert on Sundays. This Sunday they are doing a big story on the handmade movement, and they were nice enough to mention my rope baskets!

Go here for the full story. 

Go here for the slide show that includes my basket. 

I still sell my baskets on Etsy: Small / Large / Set of two

Or, if you’d like to make your own, I sell the pattern on Etsy and Ravelry

Of course the handmade movement is nothing new to me, but it’s nice to see it get some attention. 

8 months

Harper is 8 months old now, and that means one thing — she’s 2/3 of the way to being a year old! I know I shouldn’t be thinking about that already, but I can’t help it. She’s changing so fast now, and the months are flying by. 

There was one week this month when it seemed like she changed more than she ever had. All the sudden she had her third tooth, she was saying “ma-ma-ma” and getting halfway to crawling. She had never shown any interest in crawling and then all the sudden she was not where I put her! 

She’s now figured out how to get up on all fours, but hasn’t quite gotten the moving forward part. Half of me is urging her on. The other half is hoping she takes her sweet time figuring it out. 

This month it finally felt like some kind of weight had lifted. There was just an ease that had never been there before.

We had some hard days when she was teething and some nights when our good sleeping schedule got completely out of whack. But we know how to recover now. And I think I’ve been able to realize when to give myself a break so I can be a better mom. 

This month my stress was about work. The orders picked up and I had to get ready for a craft show. It wasn’t always easy to fit in that much work, but I managed to do it, and it felt good. 

Harper is still full of smiles for strangers. She is pretty good at entertaining herself for short amounts of time. One week she was cracking me up staring at her hands.

I love that we are able to play games now. We can interact with her in new ways and get a response. Her giggles are so infectious. 

She is starting to scare me a little bit with her newfound mobility. We had to lower the crib and start putting her on the floor instead of on furniture. 

Our biggest battle is over items to chew on. She wants absolutely anything that is not a toy. She loves cell phones and remotes and cords and yarns. 

It seems like whatever is most dangerous is what she wants to play with or put in her mouth. 

Foodwise, I think she has eaten pretty much everything we eat now with no ill effects. But she takes a few bites and then loses interest.

I guess we are just following her lead and when she’s ready she’ll eat more. She is able to feed herself things that she can hold in her hand, which is pretty cool (especially for the dogs). 

Her baby chub is so freakin’ cute. She just has a cascade of rolls on her arms and legs. 

For all those rolls she is still really strong. She can jump for days in her jumperoo. I love how happy it makes her. 

And if we help her she can start picking up her legs to walk. 

The next month will only get busier with work, so it will be a challenge to watch her as she gets more mobile. But I cherish this time, especially now that I realize it is sailing by. 

Anniversary date night

I’ve been meaning to talk about our anniversary (Sept. 18) for a while, but things have been crazy with craft show prep, so I’m just getting around to it. We decided that instead of giving each other gifts, we would gift ourselves a night out at a fancier-than-usual restaurant.

We booked a babysitter (um, prices have gone up since my babysitting days!) and started our night at our favorite bar, the Hotsy Totsy Club.

It has yummy mixed drinks and retro decor. The crowd is a mixed bag, and usually there’s at least one dog. I love it.

Then we drove to Rockridge and had dinner at Wood Tavern. I’d read good things about this restaurant, but I always try to temper my expectations, especially around service. Fortunately, this place was excellent. I only have one crappy iPhone photo of the food, but it was so, so good.

We had roasted Brussels sprouts and I think a corn chowder, which was more like a bisque. Then Mike had the halibut and I had an enormous pork chop. It was cooked to perfection and topped with a sauce that also included our favorite padron peppers. Apparently those are becoming a thing at bay area restaurants.

I don’t normally have more than one drink, but since it was a special occasion I also tried their “badass sidecar.” It was good enough to deserve the name.

Service was a little slow, but otherwise attentive and friendly. I would definitely go there again, and I’d like to try the restaurant next door, Southie. We also discovered another arm of the Belgian beer bar, the Trappist, down the street.

One thing that makes me sad about living here is that I don’t have the money to patronize these cool places all the time. But we get to them when we can!

Lighter pumpkin bread

I had some extra canned pumpkin leftover from making pumpkin muffins and I really wanted to make pumpkin bread. But it’s not exactly the healthiest recipe, so I thought I would try to adjust it a little.

I used all whole-wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour and left out 1 cup of sugar. I also used organic cane sugar, which is a little less refined than the white stuff. And because wheat flour tends to dry out recipes a little, I added an extra 1/4 cup of pumpkin.

It turned out awesome! Certainly not as sweet as the original, but pretty darn good. I put it in the fridge so it’s nice and cold when you eat it. I think because pumpkin has so much moisture it really masks the wheat flour. You would never know that’s what I used.

The recipe makes two loaves, so you could also cut it in half or make mini loaves.

Re:Make this weekend

Tomorrow is my first show of the year and the first one I’ve done since Harper was born. It’s called Re:Make and it’s hosted by the cool DIY site Brit + Co

I’ll have all the usual goodies for fall:

Hats in a reversible knit style,

fingerless gloves,

chunky cowls,

and baby legwarmers in a bunch of sizes and colors.

I was hoping to have some of these cute elephants made, but I ran out of time!

I have quite a few poufs this time, too.

It looks like there are going to be a ton of cool vendors there, so if you’re in the area I hope you can make it. It’s a good chance to shop for handmade goods before holiday shopping goes totally nuts!