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!

Shopgirl

The last couple months, business has been sloooowww. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the changes Etsy has made (allowing bigger sellers to dominate) or the warmer weather, which always slows my sales of cozy items. But it has left me bored, restless and broke. So it was kind of serendipity that I learned that the shop in Sausalito that has been selling my hats and cowls like crazy over the last year needed some help. I had spoken to the manager before about starting some DIY classes at the gallery they also own, so it seemed like a good fit for me to come onboard.

I’ve been learning the ropes and just started working two days a week at their boutique. Almost everything there is handmade by local artists, so it’s fun to talk them up. I even get to sell some of my own stuff! The location in downtown Sausalito is gorgeous. It’s just across the street from a huge marina full of sailboats. And due to the proximity to the ferry and docked cruise ships, there is a constant stream of tourists from all over the world.

The owner also brings his dog in sometimes. Marley is just the sweetest, laziest yellow lab.

I think I didn’t realize how much I needed this. It’s probably been 5 years since I got up and went to a regular job. Certainly I enjoy the fact that most days I can work in my pjs if I want to. But it’s kind of nice to put some effort into my clothes and jewelry again. I’m dusting off a lot of things I haven’t worn in quite a while. And I’m definitely eyeing some accessories in the store.

I’m sure any crafty business owner can tell you that it’s extremely hard to live with the stress of never knowing how much your income will be. So it’s nice to have another more reliable source. And I feel like if I’m going to take time away from my business and work for someone else, I want it to be a job that I truly enjoy. This one feels like a great fit. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s in one of the most beautiful vacation destinations out there. Every time I drive to work I cross the Richmond bridge and get that gorgeous bay view with Mount Tamalpais straight ahead. Sausalito, while humming with tourists downtown, is kind of a sleepy place once you get out of that area. It feels more my speed, and it’s nice to have those getaways. A little toddler-free time works wonders, too.

Toddler team pom poms

A while back I tried making Harper some pom poms in Packers colors, and they turned out as adorably as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, though, they did not hold up to being flung around by a toddler. The strings started falling out pretty much immediately. I had made them with a traditional pom pom technique (wrap the yarn around and around something, tie it off, then snip through both ends). And as with pretty much every other pom pom I’ve ever made that way, it didn’t last. So, back to the drawing board.

I figured that the problem was that the strings needed to be reinforced so that you couldn’t just pull one out. They had to be strung together. So I gathered up all the loose pieces and very carefully wove a string through the middle of all of them. It took a while, but it totally worked! Harper has been playing with her pom poms ever since. We occasionally lose a string, but it’s rare.

We cheer for a lot of teams in this house, so I’ve been making her more in some other colors. I found that this Hometown USA yarn in team colors actually works for quite a few teams with the same color combinations. But you could also just buy a skein of each of your team’s colors and mix them together.

This pattern is for teeny toddler-sized pom poms and only takes one skein of yarn. If you want them bigger, use a full skein for each pom pom.

Toddler team pom poms

Materials:
• 1 skein Lion Brand Hometown USA yarn in your team’s colors (or 2 skeins, one of each color)
• ruler
• sturdy string or embroidery floss
• needle big enough to thread the string
• scissors

Instructions:

Start by cutting your whole skein of yarn into 12-inch pieces. You can just stretch the yarn out next to a ruler to get the size right. Then once you have a few cut you can use one of the pieces as your guide.

Divide the pieces into 2 even piles. Start with the first pile.

Thread the string through your needle and start piercing it though the middle of each piece of string. One way to make sure you get it through the exact middle is to fold the string in half first.

As you work, the pieces will start forming a line. Every now and then you might need to cinch them up a little bit so you have room to add more.

When you’re finished, it should look like this.

Now bring both ends of the string together and pull to cinch up the pom pom. Keep pulling until it’s really tight, then tie a knot.

Just to get the pom pom nice and secure, wrap the string around the outside of the bundle of yarn one or two times and tie another knot. Now you can snip off the remaining string.

If you need to you can also snip off any pieces of yarn that are sticking out too much. Repeat this process with the second pom pom.

All done! It takes a while to thread all those strings, but trust me, it’s worth it to have the pom pom hold up over time. Harper loves hers. Go Royals!