New Restaurant…

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new restaurant in Glen Ellen, Aventine.  With rustic Italian fare, this place is delightful.  Into cocktails?  Try their take on the Manhattan.  It has a floral beginning and a smooth finish.  Or try the salumi platter covered in artisan and house made salumis.  The historic setting at the Grist Mill (which I wrote about here) isn’t bad either.  In fact, I totally adore how the current restaurant embraces the old woodwork and has added additional touches that literally look authentic.  For example, the italian pizza oven and the gorgeous metal chandelier add a nice layer of depth.

All in all Aventine is a lovely addition to this gem of a town.

Sonoma’s Culinary Culture

Want to watch a film about eating while sampling culinary delights? Well come check out the Sonoma Film Festival. And this summary post  by the legendary Sondra Bernstein who has her eye on a few of the culinary films.   One of them is even a documentary about the Organic Life here in Sonoma!

Speaking of culinary creations, have you ever tried a chocolate covered fig? Well, Sondra does them best so head to the Girl & Fig.

Want to see how we party out here in the land of wine? Check out Dreamers & Heroes

A Groovy Atomic 1960s Time

 

It’s been awhile since my last post as I’ve been wrapped up in the 1960s which was an age before blogs. ha!   Why 1960s? well my husband and my annual party was a Mad Men 1960s theme this year.   From whiskey sours to cheeseballs, we went back in time.  2014-02-22 14.22.24I even found vintage ads to decorate the walls.  Vintage hose in the restroom and sewing patterns in the kitchen.   2014-02-22 14.22.452014-02-21 18.27.22

 

 

 

 

Just when I thought I had all the decorations ironed out, I stumbled across some vintage records.  Check em out.  The best part – was Bobby asking what’s that and the ensuing music lesson.  Ahh life before streaming radio and pandora.  2014-02-22 14.22.30

but what really took the cake were the vintage canisters that my friend Rose Ann found.  Check these babies out!  With an avocado green centerpiece and grapes (oh yes, they’re fake).  We were rolling in 1960s style.

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So before it all started, Tony was checking up on some vintage tunes.  We decided to start the night with 1960s french cafe music.  Thank you Pandora.

 

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And then it was time for the bites to be displayed.  Like I said earlier, my cheeseball made with roasted garlic, mushrooms and marsala went fabulously with the wasabi deviled eggs.  Of course some trashy meatballs and smoked sausages with a very delicious surprising BBQ sauce.  To top it off, my friend brought the quintessential shrimp cocktail to go with.   Add to that all the other delicious delicacies and, bam! We were partying in style. mad men

 

I couldn’t have done it without friends and family pitching in to help out with vintage finds.  So thanks to all.

The highlight of the evening must have been my friend’s husband trying on the pantyhose,notably a bit small for his 6 foot 4 stature.  Ahem.  But who knew those old hose would still work.  Need a pair?  I’m happy to send them your way. (Wink)

All the fun while raising awareness about a local foundation that is doing great things for kids and families dealing with epilepsy.  Thank you Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California for all you do.2014-02-22 20.03.25And thank you all for reading.  Wishing you happy or in 1960s lingo, boss, groovy, atomic times.

Partying Mad Men Style While Building An Epilepsy Aware World

mad men cocktail partySo,the next party on the agenda is going to have a mad men theme.  If you aren’t familiar with the show Mad Men, it’s about life in the 1960s.  The style, glamor and tone just beg for a party.  This time, my husband and I are using the party as mainly an excuse to get friends together.

But we are trying something new as well.  We want to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California.  Epilepsy affects one percent of the population.  While sometimes epilepsy can be the result of a head trauma, most of the time the cause is unknown.  Sometimes I wonder if difficult pregnancies, like preclampsia, can cause it.  There are different types of epileptic seizures from the stereotypical grand mal seizures to something as simple as extended staring spells.

Children with epilepsy are subject to a variety of treatments from extreme diet regimens to medications.  These medications can have horrendous side effects like uncontrollable rage.  You may be thinking, ya ya, terrible twos.  No.  Much worse.  It completely alters the personality.   Anything or nothing can trigger the tantrum and it can go on for extended periods of time.  I’m talking about tantrums that draw crowds.

Other medications lack the behavioral side effects but risk things like kidney stones. Not something that would be fun for a lil one.

The good news is that there are numerous studies being done to try to figure out more and find a cure.  The Epilepsy Phenome Genome Project is collecting information to learn more about epilepsy’s causes and effective treatments.  The Human Epilepsy Project is doing an observational study to see if there are any predictors of whether medications will work or which ones for a particular person.  And, lastly there is the Epilepsy Foundation.  With a local presence, this foundation does everything from funding research to connecting parents of children with epilepsy.

With such a worthy cause, I’ve been so inspired to throw the ultimate 60s party.  Recently I’ve been having a bit of fun on Pinterest collecting ideas.  Bored or curious?  Take a peek here.  The challenge is transforming my traditional farmhouse into a mid-century modern cocktail lounge.   Let’s just say the ideas are flowing.  I’ve also recruited local friends to help – from a fabulously talented graphic designer to a new friend with an amazing collection of 1960s goodies, people are coming out of the woodwork to help the cause.  Another friend found a recipe for avocado green deviled eggs. Want to help? Shoot me an email.  Want to contribute to the cause? Click here

Thank you for reading.  Thanks you friends for helping.  And thank you community for pitching in.  I’m so inspired.  It’s experiences like this that redefine the sense of community and demonstrate that by working together anything is possible.  For now, transporting a traditional home to the 60s, for later a world that is more epilepsy aware (and hopefully one day epilepsy free).

Rainy Day Cooking: Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

2014-01-29 13.22.45What better way to spend a rainy day than making cookies?  In my opinion, none.  So, that’s how my boys and I spent part of our morning.  Want to try them?  The recipe is below.  Before I jump into the recipe, what do you think about the plate in the photo?  I stumbled across this beautiful find at a local thrift store in Sonoma.  Although exceptionally beautiful, it had two small flaws.  A couple of small chips, hence the price.  So, i tried filling them with epoxy at least so they wouldn’t spread. I still need to figure out how to paint the chips. 

In any event, as a fan of all things vintage, especially old china I had to learn about this pattern.  Would you know it was by the same folks who did flow blue?  Furnivals a company dating back to the 18th century.  Amazing they could make this in the days of horse and buggy transportation.  The crazing on this piece is exceptional as is the painted pattern.  This plate is now the oldest thing in my house.   And, undoubtedly will remain chipped, but I love it anyway.  

Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 cup butter (my salute to Julia Child).  If you don’t want to use all butter you can use shortening or try to increase the applesauce as a substitute.
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 4.6 ounce package of chocolate instant pudding.  I used a Belgium chocolate pudding from Trader Joes
  • 1 tablespoon Vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 2 1/4 cup flour (oatmeal flour is amazing in this recipe)
  • 12 ounces of dark chocolate.  I use 72% dark chocolate from Trader Joes.  Chop it up.

Preheat oven to 375.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats

Beat butter and sugars in mixing bowl until fluffy.  About 4 minutes

Add eggs one at a time.  Will look curdled, but don’t worry.  Add pudding, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon, applesauce, nutmeg, salt.  Mix.  Add oats.  Mix.  Then mix in flour. 

Shape cookies.  An ice cream scooper is really helpful here.  Bake until the cookies look dryish and soft.  About 13 to 14 minutes. Let them cool on sheet for a minute or two.  Then on a cooling rack.  Display on your favorite plate.  Enjoy with your favorite folks, and share with new friends.  Happy baking!

 

 

Bringing Back the CheeseBall

There are some things from days of past that I just adore.  Vintage shoes, china, kids clothes and the art of entertaining.  I’ve started selling some of my favorite vintage things on Ebay which is a total digression from this post which is about entertaining.  From parties to food, there are some sweet ideas from days of past that deserve to be brought back.  For example, a Sip & See to introduce a new baby, the teacup bridal shower, and vintage hors doeuvres like the deviled egg.   There is another hors doeuvre warranting attention. Something easy, affordable and flavorful.  The Cheeseball! Even typing it makes me giddy.IMG_4874

The Cheeseball has been a party staple since the 1920s.  According to Better Homes & Gardens “they’re only getting better with age.”  I’d have to agree.

At my last party, a Rio themed birthday party (details here), I wanted to reintroduce this time honored dish to my circle of friends.  With images of the traditional cheeseball from the supermarket, you know the one the nut covered Velveeta cheese concoction, I was dying to flavor it up with quality ingredients.  My Google Search resulted in images that were brown, ugly, and with the word Kraft, which just wasn’t what I was going for.  After a little digging, I found Martha Stewart’s version which was a  nice start.  Her beautifully styled pictures gave me inspiration – a cheeseball didn’t have to be brown.  It could be green or red and served with complimentary colored crackers.  For example, beet chips make the brown cheeseball look more appealing.  Then, a photo of a pumpkin themed cheeseball from the Food Network really blew my mind.  So, I’ll be doing that around Halloween this year.

From Martha Stewart’s post, I learned that the base was cream cheese, salt & lemon.  To that you can add what you like. I wanted to make two, one sweet and another savory.  For savory, I added mushrooms sauteed in butter, Marsala wine, Gruyere cheese and roasted garlic.  When that was too bland, I added a half cup of blue cheese.  For sweet, I went on a berry and orange theme.  So I added a fig & cranberry compote and shredded sharp cheddar.

My basic recipe this is more than enough for a crowd of 60

  • 32 ounces cream cheese
  • juice of one lemon
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 5 dashes hot sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste

Split into as many portions as you want balls. I decided on two.  For the mushroom I added 2 cups of chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter, a tablespoon of bacon fat; 2 tbsp Marsala wine; 1 tbsp roasted garlic, 1/2 cup blue cheese, 1 cup Gruyere.  For the cranberry, I added about 1/4 cup of fig & cranberry compote & 2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese.  Next time, I think that I’ll add some roasted figs. I might even get really daring and add some prosciutto.  Form the final product into a ball – wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Here’s the trick.  To let the flavors marry let them sit overnight in the fridge.

Then it is all about presentation.  For the mushroom ball, I decided to roll it in scallions and parsley.  The textures of which gave it a really pretty effect, sort of like a moss ball you’d see in an English garden.  To compliment the green color and salty flavor, I served it with salty yet classic Ritz crackers.  I served it on a shiny pewter platter, but next time I’ll use a rustic cutting board.  For the cranberry ball, I took another approach. I rolled it in cranberries.  When I didn’t have enough (oops), I chopped up some dried cherries to finish it off.  The deep dark red of the cherries mixed with the lighter red of the cranberries to provide a beautiful depth.  To add elements of sweet and orange, I served it with Anna’s Orange Swedish Cookies.  I served it on a vintage cake stand made from green glass from the Depression era (which began my love affair with vintage glassware).  The great thing was that the cranberry orange cheeseball also went with the Ritz crackers, so folks could make it more salty of they preferred.

Here’s how the berry one turned out –IMG_4872

My thoughts are that the cheeseball is a fabulously easy dish to offer at your next gathering.  It’s almost too easy!  So, yes – it’s time to bring back the CheeseBall.  And sorry friends, you’ll be seeing this time and time again.  Next time at the MadMen themed cocktail party to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation.

Happy Holidays

After weeks of anticipation, the boys went to Santa Land in San Francisco.  Singing Christmas carols walking around town, I was not expecting their reactions.  The picture says it perfectly.  Poor Santa even gave up his throne.

So, here ya go.  The yearly Santa picture.  It was definitely a Royal Tenenbaum moment.IMG_4442

 

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday filled with memories, and even some of the Royal Tenenbaum variety.

Life: Crumbling Cake Crisis

With my husband’s birthday last week, it was time to honor the yearly tradition of making his favorite cake, a chocolate cake with lemon frosting.  You may be thinking what an interesting combo which is exactly what I thought when I learned about this southern classic.  This special cake from his childhood was created by his mom who by the way is an amazing chef.  Let me tell you, the zesty lemon adds a refreshing twist to the traditional chocolate cake.

Over the years, I’ve switched things up.  Making the batter with different types of chocolates, changing the icing base from butter to cream cheese, etc.  This year, however, I did something radical.   I learned his mom used to make it out of a Duncan Hines box mix.  So, I decided to make the cake authentic.  I thought it would be super easy.  Cut open the mix, add the ingredients and presto, cake batter.

I did something else that was totally out of character for my cooking routine – I followed the directions step by step.  Well to be honest, I nearly followed all of the directions – except one seemingly teeny weeny thing.  The mix wanted 3 eggs.  Since my son B has an egg allergy, I added egg replacer for some of the egg.  There was no way an ingredient specially formulated to act like an egg could get in the way of my husband’s birthday bliss.

So after adding the ingredients, I followed the directions and mixed the batter for four minutes.  Let me tell you that the batter ended up looking like more of a mousse, which took me by surprise.  But rather than start over, I went ahead and put it in the oven.  After all, I “followed” the directions.

The cakes rose and baked as usual.  It wasn’t until I went to get them out of the pan that disaster struck.  It crumbled out of the pan.  The cake fell like the Tower of Pisa.  After initial frustration and anger, (oh, and my four year old consolingly asking “mommy what’s wrong,”) I decided to try to solve the problem.  I whipped up some lemon butter-cream.  While thinning the frosting with whole milk, I became hopefully optimistic.  After all, frosting can solve anything? right?  Isn’t frosting supposed to work like Spanx?  Shouldn’t it smooth out the lumps and bumps?  Well unlike Spanx the customary crumb coat didn’t solve anything.  It only made things worse. IMG_4070Again B asked what was wrong and sweetly offered to help.  So, I thought why not take out the second layer.  After all it couldn’t be worse than the first.  Maybe it would give some structure to the cake and hide the first layer? Like some bad game show or that second strike in baseball, the cake taunted me.  Again I was totally wrong.   Like a California earthquake the second layer crumbled more than the first and split in two.  I just had to laugh.  I thought about my options – could it be saved?  could I turn it into a trifle?  make it some sort of bread pudding? should I just start all over?

If you haven’t guessed it by now, I’m like most of the women in my family, extremely stubborn.  We attribute it to my late Croatian grandmother who was as stubborn as the day is long.  A lethal combination when coupled with my late grandfather’s Swiss-German steadfast persistence.

Determined to conquer this cake, I slapped on the rest of the butter-cream, broke out a bag of marshmallows and made a fondant.  I mean can’t fondant solve everything?  All I had to do was somehow sculpt this pile of crumbs into some sort of shape.  Ready to see it?  Well, this is what happened.  Isn’t this gorgeous!IMG_4071

I couldn’t even get the buttercream to stick to the cake!  It would just peel off.  Talk about a disaster.

Refusing to yield to this fricken cake, I broke out my battle axe and went to town on the fondant.  B and C helped flatten it out.  B colored some purple to make a Bat for daddy as daddy wanted a Batman cake.  C kept tasting things to make sure it was edible.  I would have been in trouble if he spat it out.  Luckily, he didn’t.

Disaster struck again – the fondant wouldn’t roll.  About to throw this cake in the kitchen sink, I took a breath and complimented B on his purple creation.  I kept trying.  Then, finally, a miracle happened.  The fondant yielded.  Like a choir of angels, things seemed instantly brighter.

Then came the real test, would the fondant stick to this Java the Hut type cake?  I wasn’t convinced and with how everything was going, I thought there was no way it would work.  There wasn’t a chance.  Maybe the cake would end up splattered all over my kitchen.  After taking a deep breath, I cautiously carried the rolled out fondant over to the crumbling cake.  Gently placing it over the top, I prayed it would hold in the mess and make it something beautiful (or at least presentable). IMG_4072Check it out – it worked!  What a relief.  Now, all I had to do was to cut out some shapes to decorate the top.  Bs purple fondant turned out with a marble effect, however.  The perfectionist in me was screaming, but the mom in me stayed calm.  So, rather than try to make it solid or have him change it, I decided to go with it.  After all a marbly batman symbol was unique.  B placed the shapes on top.

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Viola, what once was a sad lump of chocolate crumbs was now a “cake.”  It didn’t matter that what was underneath was a pathetic pile of crumbs.  All that mattered  was that it held together and would (hopefully) hold the candles for B & Cs daddy to make his wish.

IMG_4074Guess what?  The cake held together!  Like a blazing torch, the cake’s inner strength supported nearly 40 candles.  With that cake, I had my victory and B&Cs daddy got to make his wish. What was my wish?  Well to teach my boys to treat life like this conquest.  After all when life throws you crumbs, find some fondant.  Either make it yourself or go on a search to get some.

Roasting Up A Seasonal Snack: Pumpkin Seeds

photo(26)Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins!  Whether they are in baked goods, coffee or homes as decorations, I just can’t get enough.  As decorations, pumpkins have an additional feature.  Carving Jack O’ Lanterns has an added benefit to their luminescent glow, seeds.  The perfect opportunity to roast up some seasonal snacks.

For years, I avoided tackling the seeds, opting to purchase them at the store.  Mostly because of the time it takes to wash them and the inconsistency in baking them.  For whatever reason, the insides would always turn out stringy.  Now, though I’ve figured it out.

Interested?  Here’s a version to try:

Preheat the oven to 320.  Remove the seeds from the pumpkin pulp.  The easiest way to do it is put everything in a bowl of water.  Mix it all together.  And, the seeds will come loose from the rest.  As my son B says, they float!  So, you can just scoop them off the surface.

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Next, boil them in an uncovered pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil for about 10 minutes.

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Strain. Dump on a baking sheet.  I prefer the one by Chicago Metallic.   Coat with seasonings.  This can be a fun job for little hands.  My boys loved getting their hands dirty by mixing the seeds and spices.

Bake at 320 for about an hour, mixing around every 15 minutes.  Let cool.  Enjoy!  My boys and even our sweet pug love enjoying these as a snack.