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. 

Pumpkin patchin’

We had so many good photos from our trip to the pumpkin patch, so I had to share.

It was a little strange to go on such a hot day (probably 80 degrees but felt like 90 in full sun), but we still had a lot of fun.

Mom: not in Kansas anymore.

Harper was determined to pick up pumpkins, throw them, or pull them in the wagon.

She really liked climbing this hay bale tower, which scared the bejeezus out of me.

She is so fearless. She went all the way to the top.

She also zipped through the hay maze.

They had this crazy pumpkin house that was basically a yurt that we used to get some shade.

Then Harper got to sit on the huge pumpkin.

We took a few pumpkins home for carving later. I might have gone a little pumpkin crazy this year, but I just love them so much!

Fall is really the time I miss the Midwest and the change of seasons. I’ll be going back to Kansas in November for my grandma’s funeral, so I guess I’ll get a taste of it then.

Nana’s cranberry salad

I meant to share this in plenty of time for your holiday celebrations, but I guess it will have to go on the list for next year. This is my grandmother’s recipe for cranberry salad, featured at every Thanksgiving meal as long as I can remember. I believe it was her mother’s recipe to begin with.

Normally I’m not a big promoter of Jello salads, but this one is interesting and it’s really pretty tasty. Of course I changed a bunch of things because I can never leave a recipe alone. But I think it retains its original character. Plus I got to use the grinder attachment on our KitchenAid mixer.

If you don’t have one, you could probably grind the cranberries in a food processor or blender instead. It might also help to make this recipe a day in advance so you have plenty of time to let the flavors meld together and the gelatin to set. It may still be soft, but at least not pure liquid.

Nana's cranberry salad
Serves 8
Old-school Jello salad for your holiday table.
Write a review
  1. 2 cups cranberries
  2. 1 large orange, peeled
  3. 1 package strawberry Jello
  4. 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in juice
  5. 1 cup apples, grated
  6. 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  7. 1 cup pecans or walnuts, finely chopped
  1. Put the cranberries and orange slices through the grinder attachment on your mixer until they are finely grated.
  2. Add 1 cup sugar to the mixture. (If you have time, let this sit for a few hours or overnight to pull some of the juice out.)
  3. Dissolve Jello in 1 cup boiling water. Add to the cranberry/orange mixture. Mix in the pineapple with all the juice.
  4. Pour everything into your serving dish and refrigerate for an hour or until it starts to set up. At this point, mix in the apples, celery, and nuts. Continue to refrigerate until it's completely set, at least 1 more hour.
Adapted from my grandmother, Helene Hall
Adapted from my grandmother, Helene Hall
Cara Corey

Christmas essentials

The cookies

Sugar cookie cutouts

Peanut blossoms

Chocolate Suzies

And if you’re really ambitious…

Candy stripe cookie sticks

Christmas morning breakfast:

Bubble bread

Crumb coffee cake

Quick gifts:

Twisted convertible cowl

Mason jar crafts

Recycled wax candles

We’ll be spending Christmas in Wisconsin with Mike’s family. We’re thinking of making bubble bread there, and I’ve been baking cookies and Chex Mix here. It may be 65 degrees out, but it sure feels like the holidays!

Thanksgiving recap

Thanksgiving was a little crazy this year, but we managed to have a really good dinner by the end of the day. Harper had been sick all week, so we were pretty stressed out and sleep-deprived by Thursday. It was hard to get all the cooking done since she didn’t want to be put down.

She looks a little out of it here.

But by the afternoon she seemed to finally be feeling better and we all got to eat together. Thank goodness we decided to stay home this year!

These are the recipes I used:
Smothered Pork Chops from the New York Times (half recipe)
Haricot vert with shallots from Smitten Kitchen (lots of butter, skipped the tomatoes)
• Mashed potatoes, similar to the ones in my shepherds pie recipe
Dad’s sweet potato pie from Joy the Baker

We also had some champagne mixed with apple juice, which actually tasted really good and seemed perfect for a fall meal.

I failed to finish that pork chop. But I sure tried.

The pork chops are so, so good. After they’ve cooked in their own gravy for 2 hours they become fall-apart tender. I ended up spending way too much money on them at the Berkeley Bowl, but oh well. It was a special occasion.

I also thought the pie was a home run. The crust was probably the strangest pie crust I’ve ever made. You mix in oil and milk to the dry ingredients and press it into the pan so you don’t have to roll it out. The result is almost like a shortbread cookie.

The recipe is for a 10-inch pie, so I had enough leftover from my 8 or 9 inch pan to make an extra little pie. Sadly, I broke my favorite pie pan while I was washing dishes. I guess I will just have to buy myself another one.

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family. I am totally in the Christmas spirit now!

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).

Christmas recap

Mike got this gorgeous shot of the bridge from the top of our hill.

After so many years of trying to squeeze in multiple family visits with minimal vacation time, it was really nice for Mike to have more than a week off work and nowhere to go for Christmas. But I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have any big plans because it seemed like there were a million things to do last week. And since I didn’t have family around for this holiday, I tried to squeeze in some of my traditions — mostly involving indulgent foods — where I could.

We had quite an adventure getting a Christmas tree. I was just going to buy one at the Berkeley Bowl for around $20 like we did last year. But they were out of trees! So we went from lot to lot on our way home, gasping at the prices. We ended up paying $50+ for a noble fir, which seemed crazy to me (they didn’t even have hot apple cider!). But it is a beautiful tree.

Unfortunately, one day while we were out, the dogs decided to tear into our wrapped presents and ruin my surprise gift to Mike. The gift was a Sodastream (which is awesome and you should totally get one), so that night also involved trying to get colorful syrup smears out of our couch and carpet.

We made out pretty well in the gift department. Of course the baby got lots of adorable goodies, but we also got a new Cuisinart griddler (plus waffle plates, thanks babe!), and a grinder attachment for our KitchenAid mixer so Mike can make homemade sausage. I got Mike some fancypants Scotch and some curvy Belgian beer glasses.

I had a lot of orders to fill after Renegade, including some that needed to arrive before Christmas, so I was a busy bee knitting and boxing up orders. But I also made time for some baking every couple of days. I made Chex Mix and puppy chow, plus these yummy pecan balls from Real Simple. Then, from my classic cookie archive, I made peanut blossoms and sugar cookies.

And most importantly, Mike and I prepared a bundt pan of bubble bread on Christmas Eve so we could wake up to it Christmas morning. It was just as good as I remembered it.

For Christmas dinner we decided to try this recipe I found in the New York Times magazine for smothered pork chops with anise brine. I’d never brined anything before, but it was really easy to do the night before we cooked. (By the way, I halved the recipe). Though it takes some time to cook in a dutch oven, the recipe could not be simpler. And it was so, so good. Probably the best pork chops I’ve ever had, and the recipe makes a ton of gravy that goes well with mashed potatoes.

We watched A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and all the other classic movies we could find on TV. Then we planned our trip to see the northern coastal redwoods, which I will tell you about very soon.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you happy holidays from our growing family to yours.

We’ll be putting the bubble bread out to rise tonight and looking forward to opening the gifts that the dogs didn’t already get into (sigh) tomorrow morning.

All the babies

And now for your much-delayed Thanksgiving recap.

First, we flew to Minneapolis and then drove on to Eau Claire, Wisconsin to stay with Mike’s family. (And it only took one car ride, two trains, one bus, two planes, and another car ride to complete our trip, yeesh.) I finally got to meet my niece, Grace, who is now 8 months old and impossibly adorable.

I learned many things about babies at this age, such as: they love crinkly things, they put everything in their mouths, they crawl fast (and thus can really use a pair of baby legwarmers!), and they will put their drool-y hands all over your face, and that’s OK.

I mean seriously. Who could resist?

We had another shower where we acquired several cloth diapers (woo hoo!) and lots of other sweet goodies. And of course we ate all the Wisconsin essentials.

Before we flew to Kansas we had to make a stop at our friends’ place in Minneapolis to meet their new baby, Aldo. At just 2 1/2 weeks, he was so tiny I was afraid I would break him. But we all got to hold him while we learned about how little sleep we’ll be getting in a few months.

Also learned: little babies really will scratch their faces with teeny fingernails. Ouch!

In Kansas my mom loaded us down with more baby clothes and my dad with things from his house since they’re moving to Colorado. We succeeded in bringing all of these items home with the bag-in-a-bag technique (pack an extra one inside your checked bag), which I highly recommend for holiday travel. We flew Southwest home, so it was all free.

At my cousin’s house in KC, we had Thanksgiving #2. Man, it was good.

She and her husband just had their baby girl 5 weeks earlier, so we got to hold little Isla, too. It was fascinating to see how much babies change in just a few weeks. She was pretty patient with us all banging pots and pans and passing her around until she reached maximum stimulation. Then people, including my Aunt Lark (chef extraordinaire) took turns keeping her moving.

Note to self: get these.

We learned so much about what to buy/not to buy there that I redid a bunch of our registry when we got home. Having so many new parents in our life is infinitely helpful right now. Also, how amazing is the aptly named Buy Buy Baby?

Speaking of baby things, I have to show you this picture of Sadie, who decided the giant box our playpen came in would make a good bed for her. We found her sitting in the box after she had ruffled the paper inside to her liking.

Now we are back, listening to the rain and getting ready for craft shows. And maybe we’ll get out the Christmas decorations one of these days!

Pumpkin House pop-up shop

Earlier this spring I did a really fun craft show at the Pumpkin House in Oakland, and I’m happy to announce that I will be doing their holiday show this weekend.

Here are the details:

In addition to my usual goodies (poufs, cowls, fingerless gloves, cable berets, owls), I’ll have lots and lots of little crocheted bowls.

The weather is supposed to be crappy, but we’ll have plenty of snacks plus hot coffee and tea. And I’ll find something cozy for you to wear home. 🙂