What to do with the rest of that jar of tahini

So, you made my tahini blondies but you’ve got some tahini left and don’t really feel like making hummus.  What should you do?

Four words: Cinnamon apple tahini muffins!

These were super easy to whip up while Gracie and TD read the Sunday paper.

While these are a nod to a lunch box favorite, apples and peanut butter, the spice mixture makes them a little more exotic.  The tops get crunchy while the apples help to keep the insides moist.

Cinnamon Apple Tahini Muffins

taken directly from Food 52 (where it seems all my recipes have come from this year).

makes 12 muffins


  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 TBS baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C tahini
  • 1/3 C butter, melted
  • 1/2 C milk
  • egg
  • 1 C diced, peeled apple (about 2 medium apples)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, or grease each tin.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom, and brown sugar.
  3. Whisk together the tahini, butter, egg, and milk. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  4. Stir in the chopped apples.
  5. Divide the batter evenly between the 12 cups.
  6. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown on the top and just set. The muffins should still look slightly underbaked.

The perfect is the enemy of the good

TD here.

As you may recall from previous episodes, we spent a good amount of time, effort and shoe leather traipsing around the greater Torrance area getting approval for, among other things, a new, expanded deck for Via Corona.  Sadly, due to a lack of funds in our greater wallet area, the expanded deck was relegated to phase II.  Or III.

And so, against my nonexistent better judgment, I set about beautifying the existing deck.   The game plan going in was: “we’re not trying to win the championship, just make the loss look respectable.”  As you’ll soon see, for a number of reasons, even this was a fool’s errand.

The deck itself is kind of like Charlie Sheen. It’s 50ish, but looks much older.  Impossible to dry out.  In desperate need of lasting rehab.  Filled with cocaine and strippers.  Ok, the last one is exclusively about Charlie Sheen, but you get the picture.  If not, here’s a picture (or two).

Shannon had a 10-day business trip to the Land of China (where people hardly got nothing at all) and so I promised a new, improved, respectable deck upon her return.

I only missed it by 10 days . . . and I would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids (and the Internet, and the weather, and my own ineptitude, and . . .)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back .

Planning: Alternative Facts

Before we get started, a little note on the ABC’s of me.  For some reason my father and brother are what I would call handy people.  I am not.  Not even close.  And yet I am a perfectionist when it comes to these projects.  That is to say, I notice the flaws, rather I fixate on them  . . . and they haunt me  . . . forever.  For this reason, and the aforementioned appalling lack of handy-ness (handitude?), I normally eschew anything approaching home repair and improvement.  I once paid a man to install a toilet paper holder in our old house.  A poor man’s Bob Vila I am not.  A homeless man’s Bob Vila is more apt. [SF note: what he’s left out of this story is that he attempted to install the TP holder on his own, couldn’t, and then spent the next weekend obsessing over it while the hole in the bathroom wall grew.  Finally I convinced (hen-pecked) him into calling in a professional who not only had to install the holder but also patch and paint the wall].

Prior to owning Via Corona, I had rehabbed exactly zero decks and so I took to the Interwebs for instructions.  Surely there had to be a foolproof way to get a sparkling deck.  Right?  Well, no, there’s not (and don’t call me Shirley).

The shallow web is good for some stuff, like bitching about movies, or bitching about sports, or bitching about politics, but finding facts?  Not so much.  The problem is that every answer is there.  Should I buy a commercial deck stripper or use a home made concoction including oxygenated bleach?  What about a pressure washer?  Should I use two coats of sealer or one? The definitive answers are, of course, yes, definitely  . . . or absolutely not . . . or concentrate and ask again.   Whatever you want the answer to be, you can find some mustachioed dude in coveralls offering a video sermon confirming your preordained version of the truth.   Not to be sexist, but I found no women who had an opinion.  Guessing they were all in China.

If there was any consensus of opinion it seemed to be that the project would be cheap, easy and unless you were a complete simpleton, complete in 2-3 days.  In hindsight, this is the deck rehab equivalent of “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor” or “we’ll make Mexico pay for it” if you prefer.  Just like everything else about our dear Via Corona, it cost more, took more effort and dragged on forever.

Cleaning: Let’s Get Funky

Armed with my own set of “alternative facts” I set about cleaning the deck.  I decided to go with a belt and suspenders approach.  I started with the home made concoction with the commercial solution warming up in the bullpen.

In all of the videos I’d watched, deck cleaning appeared to be child’s play.  Simply squirt some oygenated bleach with dishwashing liquid mixed in and watch as years of dirt and grime magically bubble to the surface, requiring no more scrubbing than you’d use on the sensitive parts of an archeological dig or in washing a toddler’s hair (mind you, these are two additional things I’ve never done).

Maybe your deck comes clean with a gentle fairy dusting, but Via Corona comes equipped with mold, mildew and the the funk of 40,000 years.  It took a bit more elbow grease.  After two rounds of home made cleaner and scrubbing like I was trying to get Karen Silkwood clean, I called in the commercial product.  Here’s the result.

Halftime:  Come On Up For The Railing

While the deck dried, I moved to the rusty railing.  If the entire project took 400 hours, the railing took 401 of them.  Through the hours of wire brushing, sanding, taping and priming I asked why I started this in the first place.  I also listened to Spotify.  I have exactly zero railing tips or tricks; however, I would recommend the most recent efforts of the following musical artists (in this order):  Michael Kiwanuka, Bruno Mars, Rag and Bone Man and Lake Street Dive.

Repair: She Fills Gaps

When Paulie asked Rocky what he saw in his sister, Adrian he said, “I don’t know, she fills gaps.  I’ve got gaps.  She’s got gaps.  She fills gaps.”  Leaving aside the Adrian Balboa had to have been the worst sports movie wife in history (“You can’t win!” she says at one point.), I decided to fill some gaps in the deck.  In retrospect, I probably could have (and should have) left this alone, but welcome to the thing I will now fixate on forever.

This would probably be a good time to mention that I filled the holes with putty because the deck was constructed with a combination of pressure treated lumber and the original planks from the Mayflower.  Not for nothin’ but the makers of Viagra have never seen wood this soft, amirite?

Railing 2: Electric Boogaloo

I should mention here that the railing primer was oil-based and the paint was not.  I was told this wouldn’t be an issue by an employee with two (count ’em, two) neck tattoos.  Nothing says, “yeah, lifetime minimum wage is fine for me” like two neck tattoos and yet I was only too happy to buy whatever she was selling.  Essentially the staff at The Home Depot are human versions of the internet.  Walk in with a theory.  Walk out with a fact.

If Lie #1 was “requires no scrubbing”, Lie #2 was “covers in 1 coat!”  Call me a wild-eyed optimist, but I truly, madly, deeply wanted to believe the paint would cover in 1 coat.  About .0045 seconds after the paint hit the railing it was apparent it covered like a white defensive back.  No doubt I was in for a second coat.  And maybe a third.

Railing 3:  “Ahhh, Flake!”

Though she was staying at the same hotel in Beijing as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, it was eventually apparent that Shannon would return home just as the second coat of paint was drying.  That was until The Flaking.  I woke up on a bright Sunday morning to find that the black paint was flaking off in spots like it had some kind of deck leprosy.   If you’re a fan of the F-Bomb, I dare say you would have been impressed by some of the new and creative uses for the word I came up with during yet another round of stiff bristle brushing & sanding.

Sealing:  A Long Run For A Short Slide

I sealed the entire deck in 90 minutes.  Probably the first time its ever been sealed.  It looked better.  Actually good-ish.  The wood putty looked pretty stupid though.

As Shannon’s plane touched down at LAX there was work to be done on the infernal deck, but it would have to wait.  My handy brother rightly suggested that I wait a bit to see if more of the railing would flake off (it didn’t).  Besides, my spidey sense told me it would be a good idea to pick my wife up from the airport if I didn’t want to end of sleeping on the freshly sealed deck.

Completely unrelated, but we were rear-ended by a giant truck on the way home from the airport.  It had a giant roll bar on the front which was painted flat black (I notice these things now) which is how I got two holes in my bumper.  Everyone is fine, but the car has about $2,500 worth of damage.  So I’ve got that going for me  . . . which is nice.

Conclusion:  Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics

We’re closing in on 1,500 words here, so let’s put this cat in a bag . . .

Over the next week I re-filled all the holes in the deck with a different kind of putty and painted them brown so they would be less noticeable.  I repainted the railing and convinced myself and everyone around me that the flaking was weather-related.  The the railing maybe needs a third coat, but she ain’t getting it from me.  In one last fit of pique I resealed the already sealed deck with an opaque stain that looks absolutely the same as its semi-transparent predecessor in my view (I had hoped it would hide the patches).

In the end, our creaky deck took 43 hours and about $200 to get an LA face for its Oakland booty.  In the hands of a capable person (or just a person who values his/her free time) it might’ve taken half that time.  Then again, that person would’ve charged me more than $200 beans to slap lipstick on this pig.

On Saturday I spilled a few drops of beer on the deck and it beaded on the surface.  I’m calling that a win.

And a christening.

She may not hold up during a Bruno Mars dance party but she’ll keep until we scrape together the funds to tear her down and build something nice.  That’ll do, pig.  That’ll do.

Furniture Sources:

Lounge chairs and love seat: Frontgate

Ottomans/ coffee tables: Target

Dining Table: World Market

Dining Chairs: Target

Cleaning & Resealing Sources:

Thompson's WaterSeal Wood Deck Cleaner & Brightener

Rust-Oleum (primer & paint)

Thompson's WaterSeal Waterproofing Stain


The F-Bomb








Crazy Uncle Tom’s crazy birthday cake

A couple of years ago my immediate family descended on our favorite spot in Maui to celebrate my mom’s 70th  birthday.

At the time, my nephew was two, full of energy and ready to take on the gentle surf of the Napili Bay.

One afternoon post naps and just as the sun had shifted enough to cool things down a bit, my nephew co-opted my husband into some kind of bizarre leg-race to the water’s edge.  As far as I could tell the activity consisted of one of them yelling “on your marks, get set, go” which was followed by a race to the water whereupon TD would unceremoniously belly-flop into the incoming tide.

As with most things two-year-old related, once was not enough and the two repeated this for the better part of half an hour.

Among other things, including a sand rash and sore calf muscles, this little shore activity earned TD the nickname of Crazy Uncle Tom.

Two-year-olds: they call them as they see them.

The name stuck.

I stumbled across a recipe for what claimed to be the world’s best cake.  Of course had to try it out for TD’s birthday.  It’s kind of a love child between banana cream pie and mild spice cake.  There is sponge.  There is meringue. There is toasted coconut and creamy banana.  There is vanilla bean speckled whipped cream.   It’s crazy–just like Crazy Uncle Tom.

As far as being the world’s best cake.  Well.  It’s kind of like when Buddy the Elf takes Jovie to try the World’s Best Cup of Coffee.  Enthusiasm and joie de vivre outweigh actual caliber but it doesn’t matter.

World’s Best Cake



  • 10 1/2 TBS (1 stick plus 2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 2/3 Csugar, divided
  • 1 1/3 C (170 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch salt
  • large eggs, separated
  • 1/3 C whole milk
  • 1/2 C unsweetened coconut flakes (I used coconut chips on accident and things turned out just fine)
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • vanilla bean
  • 1 to 2 bananas, sliced


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and place a rack in the middle. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, allowing some to drape over the sides of the pan.
  2. Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt and spices.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and 2/3 cup of the sugar until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Working on low speed, add the flour, baking powder, spices, and salt and mix well.
  5. Mix in the egg yolks and the milk until combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  6. Clean and thoroughly dry the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Pour in the egg whites, making sure there are no specks of yolk, and add the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Beat to soft peaks.  Spread this carefully on top of the cake layer.
  7. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and puffed. About 15 minutes through baking, cover the meringue with coconut flakes (this way, the coconut can adhere to the still-damp meringue but it will not burn in the oven.)
  8. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack. Meanwhile, make the whipped cream: Pour the cream into a medium bowl and scrape in the vanilla seeds, discarding the pod. Beat to soft peaks with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes.
  9. Carefully transfer the cool cake to a cutting board. Cut the cake in half crosswise with a serrated knife. Place one half of the cake on your serving tray of choice and cover with the cream and banana slices. Place the other half, meringue side up, on top.
  10. Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill and soften for 1 hour before serving.

Tahini Blondies

My love for all things sesame is well documented.  Black sesame macarons?  Sounds good.  Black sesame ice cream?  Yes! Tahini lunchbox cookies? Groovy.

How about tahini in bar form?

With added currants (or just about any dried, chopped fruit), these bars are a cross between a peanut butter cookie and a fig newton.  They’re dense, nutty, soft and chewy.

AND, they’re even better when eaten frozen.  Full disclosure: I feel the same way about white grocery store birthday cake and those Lofthouse cookies with the icing and sprinkles on top so, consider the source.

Tahini Blondies


  • 1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted and cooled
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 3/4 C golden brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 C tahini paste (make sure sesame is the only ingredient…unless you like your blondies garlicky)
  • 1 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • Currants or raisins (if desired)
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling on top (if desired)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line an 8X8 baking pan with parchment.
  2. Whisk melted butter into the sugars.  Add salt.
  3. Whisk eggs into sugar mixture one-at-a-time.  Whisk in vanilla.
  4. Fold-in tahini.  Fold-in flour until just incorporated.  Fold-in currants.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Top with sesame seeds.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Sour cream Irish soda bread

It’s pretty embarrassing that until today, this blog did not have a recipe for Irish soda bread.  My Irish ancestors (because we all have them) are probably tipping over on their heavenly bar stools.

I can’t quite figure out why I’ve never posted a recipe for Irish soda bread.  This bread is quick (literally), fun to make and is ridiculous as toast with butter and a drizzle of honey.

Soda bread itself isn’t actually Irish.   I read that Native Americans were making a version of this bread long before sodium bicarbonate was introduced to Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century.  As luck would have it, the type of wheat that grew in Ireland was more responsive to baking soda as a leavening agent than yeast and so became the favored method for bread baking.

Folklore says it that the cross was cut into the top in order to ward off the devil.

In our neighborhood,  the Goodyear serves the same purpose and he was flying laps around the house as I was baking this bread.  Unlike soda bread, the Goodyear Blimp’s leavening agent is helium and a lot of hot air (and cheerleaders).

Though there are many variations on Irish soda bread, I’ve gone with a currant, orange zest and sour cream version here (sometimes called a spotted dog) mostly because I had sour cream in the fridge.

While we’re on the subject, happy St. Patrick’s Day to all.  I often find myself on other continents for the grand celebration of green beer.  This year I’m in Beijing but in other years I have celebrated from Taipei and Hong Kong.  One year I was even at the source in Dublin.

Irish Soda Bread

borrowed from All Recipes


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • Zest of an orange
  • 1 cup raisins or currants


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan, an 8X8 square pan or  two 8×4 inch loaf pans.
  2. Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, sour cream, orange zest and currants/raisins and mix until just combined.
  3. Form dough into a rough ball. Score top if you desire your bread to be demon free.
  4. Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for 1 hour.

Put the lime in the coconut…cookies


I was obsessed with that song (via Resevoir Dogs, not in the original) for a summer in between my junior and senior year of  college.

College was a confusing time for me musically.  And don’t get me started on the fashion.

Dorie Greenspan’s new cookie book has an entire section on sables.  This tropical, crunchy, citrusy version was the first one I made under the guise of  attempting to heat our open to the elements house in late December.

There are few smells better than the aroma of toasting coconut.

For these and a host of other recipes in her book, Dorie uses a baking technique that involves muffin tins.  When I made this recipe, all of my muffin tins were in storage and so I  used the roll, slice and bake method here.

I should be reunited with my muffin tins (why does this sound like code?) later this month.  When the time comes, I’ll be sure to play with the technique and share the results.

Coconut-Lime Sables

Adapted from Dorie’s Cookies, Dorie Greenspan

  • makes about 2 dozen


  • 1 1/2 C (204 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C (32 g) cornstarch
  • Pinch of ground coriander
  • 2/4 C (134g) sugar
  • Zest of 2 limes (don’t forget to juice them and use it for a margarita)
  • 2 sticks (8oz, 226g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temp (cut into chunks when cold)
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt (kosher salt will work)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2/3 C (80g) shredded sweetened coconut (toast 1/3 C and set aside)
  • Shredded coconut for sprinkling


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch and coriander.
  2. Add sugar and lime zest to bowl of a stand mixer (or use hand mixer), using your fingertips, work the zest into the sugar until it is moist and fragrant.
  3. Fit mixer with paddle attachment and add butter and salt to bowl.  Beat on medium for about 3 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.
  4. Turn off mixer and add flour mixture all at once.  Pulse mixer until flour stops flying.  Adjust speed to low and mix until flour just disappears into the dough.
  5. Fold-in toasted and untoasted coconut.
  6. Turn dough out and divine in half.  Working with one half at a time, gently roll into two logs (I like to start the log and then roll it back and forth across a piece of parchment paper to lengthen the log.   Wrap each in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or freeze).
  7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  8. Slice dough (I like about 1/4 inch cut) and place on sheets.  You should be able to comfortably fit 1 dozen on each sheet.  Sprinkle tops with coconut.
  9. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until cookies are a pale golden brown, rotating sheets halfway through.  Let cool completely on baking sheets.




Kibbles and bits

We went into escrow on Via Corona a year ago today. It’s also TD’s birthday.  Happy birthday TD.

We are so close.  Based on my project worksheets, all the big tasks are complete. And yet, as they say, the devil is in the details — and boy do we have details.  Lots of sanding and painting, grouting here and there, face plates, some hardware installation, a ton of cleaning and caulk, caulk, caulk!  Kibbles and bits, odds and ends, nooks and crannies. We’d be very glad to call it a day in the next three weeks.  Realistically though, I’m guessing this will drag on for another six or so.

Either way, a moving van with everything that’s been living in storage since 2015 shows up on March 24th.  Ready or not.  This will be the fourth time we’ve hired movers in the last two years.  Our moving team knows us by name and vice versa.  Not a joke.

In the meantime, allow me to show you some pictures of mostly done stuff.

In the living room we have a “necessity is the mother of invention” situation that turned out pretty well.  In order to bring our 50 year-old lady up to code, the city required not one but two headers (one in the old space, one in the new).  The ceiling height (or lack thereof) meant the headers had to be exposed.  It looked a little odd, but luckily our builder came up with a brainstorm that made lemons out of lemonade.  Or fed mayonnaise to the tuna fish if you prefer.  We added a couple of additional beams and some trim and voila, it’s a coffered ceiling effect.

Last weekend was the first time we could stand in the Southeast-most corner of the house and look out to the Northwest.  The feat sounds trivial but it was kind of a big deal for us.

As you can sorta see, the deck remains a disaster.  Once the crew finishes up, and because we enjoy pushing the outer boundaries of our marital union, TD and I are going to strip and refinish the railings and decking.  We hope this will hold us until we’re ready to have the deck completely rebuilt.

You may have heard the “Drought Buster” rains we’ve had this year were the largest in recorded human history (unless they’re not).  The immediate aftermath also caused a bit of a neighborhood drama.  Namely, our hill ever so slightly slid into the street.   The mud in the photo is probably a foot deep.  There’s a tarp on the hill right now and no fewer than 12 neighbors and city officials have harrumphed extensively while “surveying” the “damage”.  Theories and opinions on the subject range from the ridiculous (“It’s an illegal drainage cover up!”) to the sublime (“It’s private property, we want nothing to do with it.”)  After weeks spent rending garments and gnashing teeth, supposedly there is a solution afoot.  Once we’re informed of what that actual solution is, the Via Corona I-Team will be sure to bring you the details.

Although it’s not quite complete in this picture, the shiny fireplace has become one of my favorite features in the house.  This makes me think that instead of spending hours and hours and hours researching all the finishes I should have just thrown darts at options and gone from there.  Live and learn.

In a project of this magnitude priorities are essential, and so the singular piece of furniture currently taking up space downstairs is committed to booze storage.  Someday this well-traveled Ikea relic will give way to a nicer alcohol storage system, but for now we’ll rely on the trusty Kallax to get us through (although this one is so old it may be an Expedit!)  For the record, that joke kills at Ikea conventions.

Via Corona is starting to shape up on the outside as well.  She’s painted and stuccoed (all in Cool December if you’ll recall).  We finally have exterior lights,well, two of the three…the third light has somehow disappeared since arriving in early November.  I guess we should call ourselves lucky if this is the only collateral damage other than the microwave mishap that TD still can’t bring himself to talk about.

All that’s left to do on the outside is the detail trim above the door and bay window and, of course, mailbox installation.  Someday we’ll give the remaining 1/3 of the house a fresh coat of paint, but today isn’t the day for that and tomorrow isn’t looking good either. [TD here–Shannon won’t let me go up on the roof which makes a DIY paint attempt difficult.  Luckily she’s going out of town for a week or so.  That third of the house might just get painted.  I may also fall off an die.  Either way she wins: a completely painted house if I live, no need to ruin one of the 1,000 pillows on the bed by smothering me if I die.]

Last weekend we installed the the house numbers plaque.  Well, TD installed the numbers while I made quick work of removing the rusty gate.  As with most endeavors involving the two of us and home improvement, the activity was not without an element of danger.  I disassembled the 200 lb. (rough estimate) gate without incident.  However just as I removed the iron casing strip that the gate locked into, a large, scary and most likely hairy spider crawled out from the underside.  In a reaction that can only be describe as girly, I screamed and flailed my way through the “get the spider off me dance.”  In my haste to relocate the venomous (no doubt) creature, I indiscriminately threw the heavy metal piece directly at TD.  Luckily for us both, I missed.  Still, one or both of us might have wet our pants a little.

We promise we’re building up to an interminable series of reveal posts soon . . . and none of this season-ending cliffhanger nonsense.  Hopefully the finished product will be worth the time, money, effort, blood, sweat and tears we’ve spent living it and you’ve spent reading about it.  We’re looking forward to tearful reunions with furniture and clothing we haven’t seen in 15 months and, of course, getting to the part where we make the house a home (Note:  Probably also alcohol-related).

Until we move-in near the end of the month, Instagram (@TMHostess) will be the best source for Via Corona updates.  Posts for the next three weeks will all be recipes;  I’ll be in China for work and TD will be too busy re-living his bachelor days with generous helpings of fast food, movies he’s seen a million times already, salmon patties and wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament.

Cardamom Snickerdoodles

This recipe is a forehead slapper of a “why didn’t I think of that?”

These cookies were also a surprise hit and more than a couple of  people have asked for the recipe (I can never guess what people will fall in love with which is part of the fun).

Think snickerdoodle base with the beautiful bouquet of cardamom and dried currants for a little depth and texture.

These cookies are exotic enough to be interesting but familiar enough that even the xenophobic will like them (though I’m not sure why we should give them cookies).


Cardamom and currant snickerdoodles

recipe by fiveandspice via Food52


  • 1 C unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2C packed golden brown sugar
  • 1 C granulated sugar
  • 3 C all purpose flour
  • 1tsp ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground, or at least fresh)
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 C dried currants
  • 3 TBS granulated sugar (for cookie coating)
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (for cookie coating)


  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the sugars, flour, 1 tsp. cardamom, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs into the melted butter, then stir in the vanilla.
  4. Fold the wet ingredients and the currants into the flour mixture, stirring just long enough for everything to come together into a dough.
  5. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together the 3 Tbs. sugar and 1 tsp. cardamom for the coating.
  6. Roll the chilled dough into 1 ½ inch balls then roll each ball in the sugar coating, and place onto ungreased, parchment-lined cookie sheets with about 2 inches of space in between.
  7. bake for 8-9 minutes, until they look golden and cracked on top but still a bit doughy in the middle.
  8. Transfer immediately from the baking sheets to a cooling rack and allow to cool.


Guest bath reveal

I’ve begun to think renovating Via Corona is like running a marathon (or driving to Vegas).  While the distance has been long and we’ve endured considerable chafing in parts I won’t mention, our attitudes for the first 21 miles (in this case, first 8 months) have been mostly chipper.  If our builders are to be believed (eeeehhhhh?), we’ve just rounded the corner on mile 22.  Or as runners call it: the wall.  The downstairs is currently a disaster:  I can see the guts of the fireplace (and the accompanying spider webs), the protection cardboard covering the hardwood has been on the floor so long its begun to curl up at the (no longer taped) edges and there is so much dust everywhere that everything looks like its been run through an instagram filter.  We may only have four miles…or four weeks to go but it’s the cruelest distance.  So, this week I’m sharing something that’s pretty close to being finito: the guest bath.  All sources are listed at the bottom of the post.

As you might recall from the plans, this gem of a washroom sits at the top of the stairs and it is meant to be shared by the three non-master bedrooms.

At move-in, this bathroom offered an array of charming attributes including wall-to-wall carpet, an extra low vanity (with white fixtures), and a front and center commode.

It also had only one point of access.

One of the main reasons for getting ourselves into this mess was so that we could have a comfortable place for guests to stay when coming from afar: foreign countries, other states and the occasional nomad from the valley or Pasadena.

With this in mind, we basically flipped the entire layout so the main guest bedroom had direct access. Before I show you the goods, one word from the war-torn.  If you are renovating and can avoid it, you don’t want to move around your plumbing.  It is shockingly expensive. You could almost get in an entire renovation without moving the plumbing for what it will cost to move the plumbing alone.  We learned this lesson not once, but twice.  We are nothing if not committed to our own folly.

Because design inspiration had to come from somewhere, I started with the floors.  As I explained in the plans post for this room, I originally wanted Moroccan fish scale tiles.  However, unless I wanted to make my own, the mermaid scales  were very much out of my budget.  Honed marble herringbone isn’t a bad compromise if you ask me.  I paired this with polished white subway tile and brushed stainless fixtures.  But then I got tired of all that stainless and threw in some brass (sadly, it wasn’t from Tijuana.  But, we are going to have a sound system where you can play Tijuana Brass while in the bathroom if it’s any consolation).

While the result is significantly more feminine and…pink…than I imagined, it’s a pretty decent improvement over what was.

The once shower-nook now provides tidy access from the guest bedroom (and a more discreet potty locale).

Like every other room in this house, the space is just a little tight.  We’ll warn guests about closing the door completely before using the privy if they don’t want to get hit in the knees with it.

The main compromise (other than the flooring) was the loss of vanity geography.  In retrospect, I wish we had pushed the builder a little harder to do a custom vanity and gain a few inches.  I’m not in love with this fixture, though changing  knobs helped. I think the full-scale shaker styling on the smaller piece makes it look clumsy and I should have gone with plain-fronted drawers.  Oh well, too late to go back.

The good news is that while a petite 36 inches, there is plenty of space to do bathroom things.  Even when one or both Kitchen Gods are supervising (which is most of the time).

When we first started this project, I was naive to the number of bits and baubles required for a bathroom.  From TP holders to sconces, bathrooms have got to be the most accessorized rooms in the house.  I will say I am particularly fond of this little lighting find.  No one will ever notice (or care), but it matches the curtain rod exactly.  When I first found the piece it was way out of my price range.  But I dug around the interwebs enough to not only find it in my budget but also snag free shipping. Alas, victories like this were few with Via Corona.

After site-stalking these hooks for weeks, I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a couple.  I loved the look of one but not the other.  This resulted in trips to five different Anthropolgie locations to find just the right agates (I’m pretty sure it’s really resin but am not going to look too closely).  Yes, someone has control issues.

Though we’re lucky to have natural light in this bathroom, the window is inconveniently placed (unless you want to recreate Amsterdam’s red light district at home–if so, we’ve got a house we’d like to sell you).  For now I’ve hung a curtain that provides coverage but still lets in the light.  This is actually the third curtain I’ve tried out in this space which makes me think drapery may not be what this window needs.  Alas, I’m out of inspirational steam and so this will have to do, pig, until we come up with a better solution.

This room is still missing a piece of art–but that’s in storage and who knows when it’ll be liberated.  Maybe I can start thinking about it when we hit mile 24 and are suddenly inspired with a last burst of home renovation energy.

Wanna see some bathroom guts? This is a slowish loader because I don’t know how to  crunch it…I apologize in advance.


Vanity: Acclaim Vanity
Bath Tub: Mirabelle
Faucet: Delta Ara
Shower/Tub Faucet: Delta Ara
Shower Head: Delta Two-in-One
TP Holder: Delta Ara
Mirror: CB2 Infinity Mirror
Vanity Sconce: Feiss 4 Light Tonic Vanity Strip
Vanity Knobs: Geometric Glass Knobs
Agate Hooks: Anthropolgie Swirled Agate Hook
Towel Holder: Brushed Steel Wall Mount Towel Rack
Flooring: Similar: Tilebar.com 
Pain: Benjamin Moore Opal 891
Curtain Rod: West Elm, no longer available, similar: The Curtain Rod Shop
Curtain: Anthropologie Stripes Curtain
Buddy the Cat: not for sale

Is this the end?!?

Mama told me one day it was gonna happen

But she never told me when

She told me it would happen when I was much older

Wish it woulda happened then

– Ricky Bell, New Edition, “Is This The End?” (1983)

See what I did there?  It’s BOTH a pertinent question and the title of a New Edition song!

TD here.

On Monday, January 23rd we met with our contractors for the expressed purpose of finding out just when our long national nightmare would finally come to an end.  As a reminder, we took ownership of Via Corona on April 19, 2016, we hired the builder a week later and work began in May.  We began chronicling the adventure in early June.  We ran out of things to talk about months ago, but now “sh*t’s getting real” so to speak.  Or, maybe not.

Back in June we were wide-eyed optimists who were dumb enough to actually believe it when we were told the house would be complete and the end of October.  Today we are hardened, first world problem veterans with the thousand yard stares to match.  It’s now clear that we, as my friends in Southern Illinois would say, just fell off the turnip truck as it relates to this project.  To be clear, I’ve never actually seen a turnip truck and have no idea why falling off it confers a sort of dull wit, especially when its second cousin, falling off the wagon seems like a pretty awesome strategy.  At least in the short run.  Make no mistake, I would willingly jump off of a moving vehicle before eating a turnip, but I digress.

Back to a couple of Mondays ago.  With our trusty spreadsheets at the ready, we walked the house stem to stern and talked in detail about the final touches in anticipation of their estimated completion date.   After, a brief conference, it came.

“Four to five weeks,” they said.

“Bull$%*&,” we replied in unison, although silently enough so as to be drowned out by a passing turnip truck.  (The driver most likely had stopped to use our outhouse.  This is a thing we’ve observed.  It seems our porta potty serves the same function of most urban public libraries.)

If you’re stuck without a calendar, their due date is March 6.  A hair over three weeks until our world is no longer covered in gypsum dust.  This is just enough time to decide whose side you’re on, dear reader.  Are you all in for Team Shirley Make It or are you ride or die with Team Betty Won’t?


Feel free to base your judgments on current photographic evidence and place your bets on the official end date in the comment section.  Winner gets a dozen cookies from me which truly makes us all losers doesn’t it?

Let us begin . . .

Here’s our spreadsheet as it existed on January 23rd.  You can see there are a few things marked complete.  A few.


Starting on the exterior.  We have stucco and trim here that needs paint.  Also outdoor lighting, the new mailbox, some tweaks to the siding and shutters and a doorbell for the expected seven trick or treaters we will have in the next decade.  True story:  A friend who has lived his whole life in Torrance recently said of Via Corona, “I rode my bike down there when I was like 11, realized it was a dead end and thought that was lame.  Haven’t been back since.”  


We also are in need of stucco on the new addition.  Then you’ve got paint, installing the exterior lights, replacing a tiny amount of decking and 86ing the old dishwasher.  Have we mentioned that the larger deck is no longer in the works during this phase?  Yeah, there’s that.  A casualty of mission creep.


Now we’re on the inside.  It’s a small thing but, the garage needs drywall.  Obviously this previous effort gave new meaning to the word insufficient and no meaning to words like craftsmanship, aptitude and effort.  Someday soon this is where the old refrigerator will live amid what Shannon rightly believes is a growing colony of radioactive spiders (seriously, she volunteered to be the one who parks on the street because the garage is, and I quote, “spidery”).  The rest of the garage is a project for later.  Much, much later.  Think 3rd Trump Administration later.


The aforementioned new addition sits in a medium raw state.  Here we still need paint, lights, flooring, the all-important TV install, a fireplace redesign that I will never fully understand and some kind of ceiling decor design element thingy that I’m assured will be “sick” (as described by the builder).


A new TV and a totally boss speaker system sit ready to make this room an oasis for the insane amount of quality sitting and napping I’ll be doing very soon (once the non-stop construction sounds dissipate).  I truly have a great napping ability.  Everyone agrees that I am a terrific napper, so there’s no concern about my napping, believe me.  And when I awake from a blissful slumber, this will be my view.


Or this . . . actually, mostly this.


There are exactly 77 other jobs great and small (paint touch ups, pieces of trim, minor electrical, patching holes in drywall) that could be accomplished by one handy person and a Thermos of coffee, but that streetwise Hercules has yet to show up to fight the rising odds.

So, there you have it?  Is this the end?  Are you my friend?  It seems to me we ought to be free . . .

Place your bets in the comment section as to when we will be officially complete and earn yourself the treasure of a lifetime.  Who knows?  This could be the greatest day of your life, but only if you follow the words of the immortal Navin R. Johnson.

Take a chance and win some crap.