No hedgehogs were harmed…

Continuing our tour of Australian treats!

While in Melbourne we visited the Queen Victoria Market several times. Like Vancouver’s Public Market, Florence’s Mercato de San Lorenzo or even Los Angeles’ own Original Farmer’s Market ,  Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market is an eclectic circus of produce, fish, meat, and bespoke food stuffs.

While it was delightful pursuing the long rows of fresh produce and authentic Australia goods (kangaroo paw anyone?), our true fascination (read infatuation) was with the collection of tiny fine goods stalls in the original building.

We spent a good deal of enjoyed time oggling the fresh cheese, pasta and cured meat stalls.

And of course there were the patisseries and bakers.  It was while TD was standing in line for his daily flat white that I spied a new-to-me treat at one such shop.  The handwritten card labeled the brownie type good as “hedgehog slice.”  Intrigued, I bought a wedge of the zebra (not really hedgehog) like confection.

First things first, the term “slice” appears in tandem with many Australian treats: hedgehog slice, caramel slice, cherry ripe slice, lemon slice, jelly slice…you get the idea.  Generally, slice in Australia seems to fall into the same category as square or bar here in the U.S.

Sometimes slice is baked, while other times, like with the hedgehog, things are just sort of thrown together and then refrigerated (kind of like magic or nanaimo bars).

And, as with nearly every Australian baked good and candy we encountered, coconut plays a central roll.  Our first impression (in the name of research) of hedgehog slice was that they were a sort fudge with vanilla cookie bits lightening up the deal (bet you never thought you’d see “cookie bits” and “lightening things up” in the same sentence).

Luckily, a review of recipes revealed that these are even easier to make than fudge.  They require no baking and can be infinitely varied (I suggest subbing-in Tim Tams for the Marie cookies).

And, like the Anzac biscuits, these were a surprise hit.

About the name.  I couldn’t really find a single answer as to why they’re called hedgehog slice.  In fact, hedgehogs aren’t even native to Australia.  Of course, neither are the British.

Hedgehog Slice

source: I tried out a couple of methods for making hedgehog slice.  The method using sweetened condensed milk was delicious but didn’t set-up properly.  The recipe below worked well the first, second and third times I tried them.  As what happens with recipes, several I came across referred back to an original posting in a magazine called Women’s Weekly.  The recipe below is a repost from a blog called Honey Kitchen

I’ve converted the appropriate measurements to US customary

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ x 200g packets Marie biscuits, coarsely chopped
  • 1 C chopped walnuts
  • ½ C desiccated coconut (shredded works just fine)
  • 250g  (about 1 1/4 C) butter, chopped
  • 1 ¼ C granulated sugar
  • 1/3 C cocoa powder
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 150g  (3/4 C) dark chocolate, melted
  • ½ tsp vegetable oil

Directions

  1. Grease a 9X9 pan and line base and two long sides with parchment paper, extending paper 2cm above edges of pan.
  2. Combine biscuits, nuts and coconut in large bowl.
  3. Place butter, sugar and sifted cocoa in a medium pan; stir over heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat; whisk in egg.
  4. Pour chocolate mixture over biscuit mixture; mix well. Press into prepared pan. Cover; refrigerate overnight.
  5. Turn slice onto a chopping board; cut into pieces. Spoon combined warm, melted chocolate and oil in a small snap-lock plastic bag. Squeeze chocolate to one corner; twist bag, then snip tip of bag. Drizzle chocolate over top of slice; refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until chocolate is set.

And the meek (biscuit) shall inherit the earth

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks in Australia last May.  The first week was work in Sydney and then I flew over to Melbourne and met TD for a little RNR.

We’d been to Melbourne before but left behind some unfinished business in the form of the Great Ocean Road as well as a host of untried restaurants, as yet to be imbibed cocktails and un-strummed scenic fall strolls.

We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I like to pick up a few new recipes while in-country as opposed to hauling back souvenirs.  This practice helps keep my luggage weight under control and is a delightful excuse to try exotic treats in the name of research.

To wit, our last trips to Australia yielded a batch of Lamingtons, Cherry Rip Bonbons and Jude Bolton Bars.

Funny thing about those Jude Bolton Bars…I actually met him while in Sydney during this trip.  The faculty I was traveling with arranged to have him meet our group while we were touring the Sydney Cricket Grounds, where the Australian Football League’s Sydney Swans call home.  My faculty friend is friends with Mr. Bolton and in the days leading up to the visit, she sent him the post I wrote.  Now, it’s been a few years so I’ll remind you, the post was written as a humorous but genuine tribute to Jude’s…athletic superiority.  It was also not meant to be read by him.  Nor did I intend to ever meet him in real life.

When the moment of the meeting came, we were both embarrassed.  His embarrassment was charming.  Mine was that of a dirty old woman who had been caught, literally, with her hand in the cookie jar.  Thanks JP.

But anyway.  Back to baking.

The first recipe I “brought back” with me from Australia is for Anzac biscuits.  I’d heard of Anzac biscuits prior to our trip–mostly through literature.  I swear there is mention of them in M.L. Steman’s, Light between the Oceans.  And there is an entire scene about them in Liane Moriarty’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story (one of my favorites of hers).

Since they aren’t as well known here in the States, I’ll give you the two sentence explanation.  ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. During World War I, families would pack their soldiers these oatmeal-coconut cookies in care packages because while they would harden, they wouldn’t spoil.    Australian’s celebrate ANZAC Day each year in late April.  Similar to Memorial Day in the U.S., the day is one of remembrance for those who fought and died in any conflict for Australia or New Zealand.

I’ll admit, I completely underestimated these wholesome little treats.  I thought they’d be fun to make once and then I’d be done with them.  Well, I was wrong.  These seemingly simple biscuits are rich and flavorful.  The oatmeal gives them a bit of heft while the coconut and brown sugar make them taste like an exotic far-off-island (or in this case, island nation).  Need further proof that you should make these?  Several people asked me for the recipe.  That never happens!

Anzac Biscuits

(read through the ingredients and my notes first–these call for a couple of unusual additions).

Ingredients

  • 1 C rolled oats (in reviewing recipes I saw calls for both old fashioned and quick cooking.  I opted for old fashioned because I wanted the additional texture)
  • 1 C all purpose plain flour
  • 2/3 C golden brown sugar
  • 2/3 C desiccated coconut (desiccated coconut is hard to find.  The first time I made these I ordered the coconut via Amazon.  After that I just chopped up unsweetened shredded and hoped for the best.  It’s work just fine so far)
  • 1/2 C or 1 stick of  butter chopped
  • 2 TBS golden syrup (you can find this on Amazon.  If you aren’t committed to tryin golden syrup, sub-in corn syrup)
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Line 3 baking trays with parchment.
  3. Fold together the oats, flour, sugar and coconut in a bowl.
  4. Add butter, syrup and 2 tablespoons of cold water to a saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Stir for 2 minutes or until butter has melted.
  6. Stir in baking soda
  7. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and fold until combined.
  8. Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls. (as a note, the uncooked cookie balls freeze well)
  9. Place on trays, 2 inches apart and flatten slightly.
  10. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until light golden.
  11. Leave on the baking trays for 5 minutes.
  12. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Holiday 2017

As I walked into our student store the other day (I work on a college campus), I was  blasted simultaneously by air conditioning (yes!) and Christmas music (whaaat?). Turns out they were having a Christmas in July sale.

If you can believe it, I’ve already begun the pre-planning (otherwise known as daydreaming) phase of my holiday baking.

Which has reminded me that I have a blog.

That hasn’t been updated since December of last year.

I don’t really have an explanation.

But I do have a nice little back log of posts at the ready.

For this post, I present an array of marginally mediocre snaps from our 2017 holidays.

Amazing effort on your first post of 2018 you say.  I don’t disagree.  But anyhow.  Holidays 2017:

There was baking.

And candy making.

And packaging.

And boxing.

About the time all that was done, my family arrived.

So there was more baking.

And some holiday decorations.

And butter trees.

Then there’s this. That’s TD.  In our as-yet-to-be-landscaped side yard. In a cougar ski mask, holiday appropriate t-shirt and thermo BBQing gloves.

Rest assured, he was the only one of us wearing a costume.

 

 

Puttin’ suckers in fear

Photo circa 2014.

Don’t call it a comeback (but it really is)
I’ve been here for years (just haven’t had a kitchen)
I’m rocking my peers (with baked goods that is)
Puttin’ suckers in fear (literally, no sugar source is safe)

Song credit: Mama Said Knock You Out, L.L. Cool J.

On Saturday, October 14, 2017, after a three year hiatus, I officially kicked off my 2017 holiday baking.  If you follow me on Instagram (@tmhostess), you’ve already been harassed by the crappy instastories and mediocre ‘grams. I’ve even got a hashtag going: #misanthropichostessholidaybaking2017. #worsthashtagever.

While I plan to keep most of the visuals on Instagram, I thought it would be fun to include Holiday Baking 2017 analytics.  And of course, a contest.

First the analytics.  I’ve created a separate page on this site with a live feed of my baking analytics.  That’s right, real time baking data on:

  • Running total of units in-production and completed
  • Running total, pounds of butter used
  • Running total, pounds of sugar used
  • Running total, pounds of chocolate used
  • Running total, pounds of nuts used

To follow along at home, go here:

2017 Holiday Baking Analytics

Each Tuesday I’ll upload some photos and remind you of where to go to see the latest stats (because I’m a data pimp).

A box (or extra box) of goodies goes to the person who can get closest to the sum below without going over:

  • Total pounds (lbs) of: butter + sugar + nuts + chocolate

If you want to play along, cast your vote via comment to this post no later than midnight, November 9th.

Here we go, here we go, here we go again…

Chai Butternut Squash Muffins

Brace yourself.

This is the annual post where I talk about how much I don’t like squash or root vegetables  and then incorporate it into a recipe (the eve of the fall equinox seemed appropriate). You know, just like I did with these carrot cupakes , pumpkin oatmeal cookies, pumpkin blondies, and zucchini brownies.

I’m nothing if not consistent.

This year I’ve chosen butternut squash as my quarry.  To be fair, I actually like butternut squash. Especially in savory dishes like lasagna and ravioli.

I should have a good story about adding in the chai, but I don’t.  It just seemed like a complimentary set of flavors.

Somewhere I read that if you put uncooked rice in the bottom of your muffin cups it will absorb some of the grease that appears on the papers.  It wasn’t life changing, but it did work pretty well.

I was cruising the bulk aisle in our local Sprouts, spied some roasted, salted pepitas and thought it would be fun to sprinkle some on top.  It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that putting pumpkin seeds on top of butternut squash muffins might be construed as false advertising.

You know, it’s all gourd with me.

TD said these were like “fall in his mouth.”  Of course this was then followed by an un-printable list of other things he said he’d like to put in his mouth and book ended with “if you know what I mean.”  Yes, I’m married to a 12 year old. But, you knew that already.

Happy autumnal equinox!

Chai Butternut Squash Muffins

adapted from Food and Wine

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon crushed chai tea (from 3 bags)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1C butternut squash puree (make your own or buy it canned)
  • 1 1/3 C  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Roasted and salted pepitas or nuts of your choice

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°,  line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper or foil liners.
  2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the chai tea.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar, butternut squash puree and chai butter until smooth. Whisk in the flour, baking soda and salt until incorporated.
  4. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups and top with the pepitas.
  5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
  6. Transfer the muffins to a rack to cool completely before serving.

 

Ginger and peach muffins

So there I was on a Thursday evening, all set to make White on Rice Couple’s ginger and peach muffins when I realized I did not follow my own golden rule.  I did not have all of the ingredients on hand before turning on the oven.  Sigh.

In fact, not only was I short on ingredients for the target recipe, but I also discovered that the only dairy I had in the house was half a cup of Greek yogurt left over from a Blue Apron recipe.

It was getting late and I needed muffins for a meeting bright and early Friday AM.  So, I set off looking for peach recipes that only needed four ounces of dairy.

The internet is a vast and wonderful landscape and in very little time I found a base recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction.  And as a bonus, this recipe offers a rich cinnamony streusel as topping. I don’t know about you, but you could put streusel on top of an open can of Fancy Feast and I’d eat it.

Of course I played with this recipe a bit and subbed-in some oat flour (per the White on Rice Couple) for some of the AP.

I also added half a cup of crystallized ginger.  Yeah I know, I put that s*&t in everything.

These were really good and made the house smell like what I imagine heaven smells like.

Peach and ginger streusel muffins

adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

Crumb Topping

  • 1/3 C (67g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 TBS (15g) granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 C (60g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 C (84g) all-purpose flour

Muffins

  • 1/2 C (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 C (100g) packed golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 C (50g) granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temp
  • 1/2 C (120g) plain yogurt–Greek or regular, your call
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 C (220g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 C oat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tablespoons (45ml) milk (any kind)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups peeled, chopped peaches (3 peaches)
  • 1/2 diced crystalized or candied ginger

Directions

  1. For crumb topping: In a medium bowl, combine  sugars, the cinnamon, and melted butter. Stir in the flour. The crumb topping will be thick and crumbly. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Spray a 12-count muffin pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and beat on high until creamed, about 2 full minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  5. Add the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute, then turn up to high speed until the mixture is combined and uniform in texture. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
  6. In a large bowl, toss together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, all-spice, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and slowly mix with a whisk. Add the milk, gently whisking until combined and little lumps remain. Fold in the peaches with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula.
  7. Spoon the muffin batter evenly between all 12 muffin tins. There may be enough to make a 13th muffin in a 2nd batch, depending if there were a few extra peach chunks thrown in. Fill the muffin tins until they are full all the way up to the top. Press a handful of the crumb topping into the top of each; crumble it with your hands to make some big chunks.
  8. Bake for 5 minutes at 425F degrees, then keeping the muffins in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 350F degrees and bake for 15-19 more minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Addition final but not the final edition

Today we take on the living room addition!

If the saying “it’s not the size of the ship that counts, it’s the motion of the ocean” is true, then Via Corona’s addition is pretty much the plot to A Perfect Storm. Only, with a happier ending.

When we bought her, Via Corona’s downstairs space was limited, unfortunately distributed and to use a technical term, gross.

As a quick recap (you can tune into the saga here and here). The addition is a 200 square foot expansion of the downstairs living and dining spaces.  We started working with the architect in May of last year.  Plans went to the city in early June and the city had us chasing signatures in August.  Some other stuff happened and the plans were approved the last week of November 2016.  Construction on this component started shortly after and the first round was finished in March.  Then the floors weren’t level so they had to pull up a couple  hundred square feet of flooring, re-level the sub-floor and re-lay the hardwood, replace the baseboards and re-paint the effected walls.  For the purposes of this exercise, let’s put the finish date at July 1, 2017. That’s 14 months or 434 days for a couple hundred square feet.  Put a different way, each square foot took about 2 1/3 days or 65 hours to complete.  That’s a really long time for a space about the size of a dorm room.

Was it worth it you ask?  Let’s take a look at the before and afters, slider style. I apologize in advance, this is where a wide-angle lens and some photography skills would be helpful.  As you know, I have neither.

Here we have the view standing in the entryway looking toward the living room. For a point of reference, the original space ended right between the two headers to the left of the fireplace.

Now we’re standing in front of the fire place looking back at the entryway and kitchen.   For the record, the man standing in the kitchen is the sewer guy.  The before picture was taken the same day we got the keys.  I remember this because I was standing in the kitchen chatting with the rooter guy about our sewer lines and the previous owner just walked right in.  Luckily, that we know of, it didn’t happen again.

Standing in the kitchen looking toward the living and dining space.  The before was obviously taken mid-construction and the fridge is blocking the old living room but I think you get the picture.

I wish I’d had the forethought to take a series of photos in the same spot during construction.  I didn’t so you’ll have to put up with a “various angles” montage.  Remember, we actually lived in Via Corona for the entire addition of the addition.

So again, was it worth it?  I guess a good answer would be: why in the world didn’t they design the house this was in the first place?

In the early design for the addition, the architect insisted we install those cool bi-fold, or at the very least, telescoping doors you see in restaurants and fancy schmancy houses.  Neither option was anywhere close being in our budget.  And, even if pricing hadn’t been an issue, we learned bifolds and telescopers are basically impossible to add screens to (no one has told our indoor cats that they are indoor only so the little turds are always on the lookout for an escape route).  Anyway, we had proof early on that sliding french doors (with the accompanying, locking screen doors) were the way to go when a raccoon casually wandered onto the deck and hung out for a while.  Subsequent days and weeks saw visits from the rest of his family on various occasions.  Word must have spread because in addition to Ricky, we’ve had skunks, squirrels, lots of birds and even the occasional neighborhood cat.  Not having screens would have meant either converting Via Corona to an urban zoo or keeping the doors closed at all times.

Way back when, I talked about Via Corona’s design aesthetic.  In a nutshell we were going for comfortable and laid back.  Beyond that, I have a hard time coming up with a description of the final product that doesn’t make me sound like an asshole.  If you desire details, you can read more of my navel gazing here: Zhushing the rectangle.

We worked hard to use the furniture we already had both to keep costs down and so that everything didn’t look like it had been ordered from the spring 2017 Crate and Barrel catalog.  In my opinion, nothing dates a place like everything being from the same time period.  Then again, if you love early 80s pastel and ice blocks  or an avocado and mustard kitchen then you should go there with your bad self–there’s a reason they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, furniture.  The sectional, black chair and TV are new and the coffee table was a gift.  Everything else we already had.  Our dining room table was a wedding gift, the media console was custom made for our last house (and magically fit into the new one) and the piano has now lived in three different houses over the last 10 years (4 if you count the storage unit it lived in for the last 2 years).   We still need a few new pieces and a some, like the dining rooms chairs that didn’t quite survive their time in storage, will need to be replaced.  Luckily, we have years to find them.

My parents very kindly offered a piece of furniture for a housewarming gift and we collectively agreed on a live edge coffee table.  They worked with a craftsman in Montana to hand select the piece and refine the design.  The outcome is both unquestionably beautiful and surprisingly sturdy.

The Storsele chair from Ikea is a great example of when good design defies the laws of expense.  I’ve liked this chair for some time but wasn’t actively trying to find a space for it in Via Corona.  However, we kept striking out on what to put in the space at the end of the sectional.  Luckily the light bulb went on at some point and I made the connection.  The sheepskin is Gracie the cat’s version of a kitten blanket and she was initially annoyed that we moved it from the master bedroom (she likes to snuggle in and make biscuits).

These Alseda rattan meditation stools from Ikea have been in and out of stock for the last year or so.  Without question, they are the best deal out there on this type of thing (Etsy is a good source but expect the cost to double with shipping).  I’d pretty much given up on finding them when there they were, right next to the Storsele chairs in the Ikea warehouse.  The furniture gods were smiling down on me that day.  Buddy immediately claimed them as his own and spends hours perched on top of them while he gazes out the French doors hoping the raccoon will visit.

And, with that, we’re down to our last few Via Corona reveal posts.  For now.  We’ve got some details to share and then there are the bedrooms (we’re waiting until we have some of the art re-framed).  Otherwise, we’re in the show and tell home stretch.   There is still plenty to be done, however, the timeline going forward will be measured in years, not months.

Want more renovation shenanigans?  Go here: Via Corona

Living/Dining Sources

Paint Color: Dunn Edwards Droplets

Flooring: Provenza Old World Fossil Stone

Couch: Ethan Allen Arcata Sectional

Media Console: It's old and the place that made it for doesn't exist anymore. 

Rug: Pottery Barn discontinued, similar here and here  

Chair: Ikea Storsele

Coffee Table: My parents had it made in Montana.  Similar here and here

Pillows: from all over the place;  pillow1 and pillowmatic are two of the less usual suspects.

Rattan Poufs: Ikea Alseda

Dining Room Table: custom made many moons ago by Larry St John  This place is a total trip to visit if you are in the Long Beach/Carson area.

Dining Chairs: Ballard Designs Upholstered Couture Chair [if you are considering these, send me a note, I'd like to share my experience]

Bar Cart: discontinued but similar here, here  and here 

Flameless candles: when you have animals or small children, flameless candles are the shiz.  My love for flameless candles simultaneously knows no bounds and is really, pretty embarrassing.  In any case, you want the ones with remotes.  There are tons of options out there, these are some of my favorite: Flameless Candles

Browned butter and rye summer fruit shortbread

I’ve been playing with browned butter and rye flour over the last couple of weeks.  Sometimes, when I get something in my head, I just have to iterate until whatever the seed that’s been planted either blossoms or dies out.

While I’m not nearly done with either browned butter or rye flour, I thought this little seedling was worth sharing.

You all know I totally crush on Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perlman.  Her presence on Instagram and Instastories has only made my grow creepier.

A few weeks ago, her recipe for peach shortbread popped up and I knew this was a great place to start. This time of year, summer fruit is just too good to not…The recipe already had browned butter as an ingredient (though regular butter would be just fine if you were in a pint for time).  I added in the toasted rye flour after hearing about the technique on Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street podcast. I used one-part toasted rye flour to three parts all-purpose.

As for the fruit, I used what I already had on hand, specifically: a peach, a nectarine and a couple of cups of blueberries.  I didn’t touch the stone fruit before slicing and fanning them onto the shortbread base,  but I did reduce the blueberries so that they were dark and jammy and wouldn’t add too much moisture to the shortbread.

Plumbs would be gorgeous and delicious in this recipe.  So would crisp and tart apples later in the fall. Oohh–or persimmons (note to self). And, just think of the possibilities with roasted strawberries and rhubarb in the spring.

While it takes a planning ahead to brown the butter and toast the flour, this recipe pulls together easily and would be a smash at an end-of-summer BBQ or in a lunchbox.  While they were great they day they were made, I think these summery bars were even better the next day.  Just store them in the fridge in an airtight container.

Browned butter and rye summer fruit shortbread

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 C (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 tsp  baking powder
  • 2 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/2 C plus 2 TBS rye flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)–or nectarines or plumbs (you’ll probably need three of these).  If you go the blueberry route, use three-four cups and reduce first.

Directions

to brown your butter

  1. Cut up cold butter and add to a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Place over medium-low heat.  Allow butter to melt and then foam (it’ll make an odd squeaking noise).  Once the foam clears, stir constantly, bringing up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.  It will begin to darken and smell nutty (best smell ever).  When it reaches a light brown, remove from heat and strain into a heat-proof bowl over a fine-meshed strainer.
  3. Place in freezer for 30 minutes or in fridge.

for shortbread

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly spray a 9X12 pan with oil.
  2. Add rye flour to large frying pan and set over medium heat.  Stir constantly for 4-6 minutes until the flour smells strongly of popcorn.  Remove from heat and allow to cool a couple of minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, salt, spices and flours with a whisk (this should help the rye flour cool down completely).
  4. Cut up brown butter into 3/4-1-inch pieces.
  5. Using a pastry cutter, forks and/or your fingers, blend first the egg and then the browned butter into the flour mixture.  The butter should be pea sized or a little smaller.  The mixture will be crumbly.
  6. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the pan, pressing it in firmly.
  7. Tile your thinly sliced peaches (or nectarines or plumbs or a combo) across the based in a single layer.
  8. Scatter remaining crust crumbs across the top in an even layer.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes until top is slightly brown and the edges take on a little color (go a couple of minutes longer if you like your shortbread well done like I do).
  10. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before cutting.
  11. If you have the time (and will power), store in an airtight container separating layers with parchment paper in the fridge over night.

We’re working har, har, har, ha, ha, hard on the yard, yard, yard

 

Thank you Ke$ha.

If you follow along on Instagram (@tmhostess) you’ve been inundated by our very slow yard progress.  To hear us tell it, it’s as if TD and I are the first people who ever yarded.

This is because we’re not really yard people.  Though Via Corona sits on a nearly 8,000 square foot lot, one of the big draws of the property is that most of it is hillside.  If I were to guess, only about 3,000 of those 8,000 square feet are flat.  Take away the footprint of the house and garage, and we’re talking maybe a 1,000 square feet of yard able yard.  Of that, about 400 is on the far side of the garage and currently under the supervision of Stanley the giant carob tree.  We’re going to leave him and his fellow flora alone for a couple of years. Say hello to Stanley:

Take out the other side yard and we’re left with less than 400 square feet of front yard space.  [TD here.  I have cagily avoided lawn care in every sense of the word since I last mowed one during a lunar eclipse on August 17, 1989.  My father and brother are yard guys.  And so, while I’ve nodded knowingly through the years as they spun yarns about triumphantly overseeding or aggressively thatching, I secretly hoped I would forever be one of those cold and timid souls who knew neither overseedation or thatchery.  I almost made it.  At a minimum I now have a place to stand while I shake my fist at the clouds and say dumb things like, “I don’t know what could be going on in my life that I wouldn’t have time to stop at a pay phone!”  Note: I actually said this once because I am stupid.]

When we started this whole adventure, those 400 square feet were 400 too many. As the schematic shows, the space is long and narrow.  There is sort of a little courtyard space to the left and then what we’ve dubbed the bocce ball court to the right (positive thinking).   Like the rest of the Via Corona, this long strip of land did not start out with much in the way of personality.

It didn’t help that construction disturbed or destroyed virtually everything that had once taken root in Via Corona’s rock hard soil.  Case in point,  the decent-sized plumeria which you can see propped up in the left corner against the wall.  Without calling in Jim Rockford, we share an OJ-did-it level of certainty that the previous owner stole the plumeria before we had a chance to put it back in the ground.  There’s also the bougainvillea you see below.  Like Batman or David Hasselhoff’s career – it appears to be unkillable.

But wait, you say — there’s hope!  Despite the fact that the former owners went with an “Arizona desert” theme for the yard, there’s a sprinkler system.  Alas, while there are sprinklers, there is no system.  The levee is dry.  Please drive your Chevy elsewhere.  Good day, sir!

Did I mention that we didn’t budget for this space in the overall reno project?

And so this, my friends, this is what Via Corona’s front yard looked like upon completion of the exterior.

Charming, right?

Over the winter holidays TD and I patched (well, TD patched), primed and painted the wall.  It was super fun and definitely motivated us to get cracking on the yard.  Not.

In fact, I have NO shame in admitting that our plan was to basically ignore the elephant in the room until we had the energy and funds to have someone who knows what they are doing come in and address the issue.

But then my mom came to town.

She is a certified master gardener and although my parents live more than a thousand miles and four states away, I got the distinct feeling that our front yard was embarrassing her.  Not kidding, she was out in the front pulling weeds before she’d even unpacked.

When your spry but north of 70-year old mother says that you are going to weed and plant the yard.  That’s what you do.  Within a couple of days we’d pulled out all of the weeds from the long bed and made trips to all of the local nurseries.  [TD Here.  I had thumb surgery smack in the middle of this gardening adventure.  I’ve never been so happy to be temporarily physically disabled in my life!  My mother-in-law is truly a wonderful woman, but she has more energy naturally than I’d have if I received a blood transfusion from a 22-year old  while shotgunning a sixer of Four Loko.  She gets up every day at 5 am (as does her daughter), so when you’re visiting and you roll out of bed at 7 am  you feel like a complete slacker.  You just kicked off the covers and she’s already fed the birds, made breakfast, run an Ironman triathlon, punched a mountain lion in the face, etc. etc. etc.  That said, lovely woman.  I think she even likes me!  Now back to our story.]

After my parents left, TD and I spent the month following pulling out all of the Arizona rock (aka gravel), amending the soil and planting jasmine, roses bushes and Mexican feather grass.  The idea on the jasmine is that they’ll climb the wall and hide the leftover “rock” feature that pops up every eight feet or so.  In preparation for this, I created a wire trellis for each.  This meant I got to buy and use (remember, TD is indisposed at this point) a hammer drill.  Should you have a need for a hammer drill, give me a call.  I’d be happy to fulfill your hammer drill needs.

We originally planned to install decomposed granite (DG)  in the courtyard space, put the chairs back and call it a day.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), two things happened.  Our research revealed that installing DG close to the front door isn’t a great idea because it tracks into the house and can damage the flooring.  I was not about to have anything threaten those pretty floors we put down (except cat barf).

The second thing that happened is that we just couldn’t leave well enough alone. What started out as an attempt to make the front yard “presentable” turned into a little bit of an idea monster.  When your mission creeps, the only thing to do is get out the graph paper.

After watching many YouTube videos (I’m pretty sure this the 21st century version of saying “hold my  beer”), we decided that even with our limited DIY skills, we could hustle our way through a cement paver and grass patio.

And so, over the fourth of July weekend, armed with a bottle of sunscreen and hours of the Pandora Bruno Mars station, that is what we did:

Did you see that blue party bucket in the slides above?  That is what we used to haul the sand, gravel and dirt because neither one of us has a car big enough to bring home a wheel barrow.

It’s been about six weeks since TD cast his (grass) seed and things are looking very green.  We’ve added a couple of citrus trees (Eureka lemon and blood orange) to match our lime and olive trees [yes, we have a cocktail garden going] and we’ll eventually add climbing roses to either side of the wall at the entrance of the Yanni path.  [TD again.  Color me stunned that this project a.) actually came together and b.) didn’t cause an untimely divorce–especially considering geometry was involved.  I guess this is what being a yard guy is all about — capturing the feeling of landing a lunar module or jumping a Harley over 14 Greyhound busses just by laying 11 pavers and not permanently maiming yourself or terminally pissing your wife off in the in the process.  The contractors even asked who we hired to do the job.  To quote a former boss who once quoted the estimable R. Kelly in the most monotone voice imaginable, “I believe I can fly.”]

For the first time since we bought the house, the front actually looks inviting from the street.

A note about pottery.  It’s expensive.  If you live within diving distance of Los Angeles, I highly recommend Pottery Mfg. & Dist. Inc. The place is huge. While you could easily drain your retirement savings on outfitting your insides and outsides with drool-worthy vessels and acoutrements, they also have a ginormous section of second run and slightly “off” items.  We spent a couple of hours there one afternoon and probably spent half of what we would otherwise on our glossy black pots and bowls.

Speaking of training things up the wall (we weren’t?  well, now we are), everything we’ve planted in the long bed has gone a little crazy.

As of this writing, two of the three jasmine have summited the wall and the third isn’t far behind.

What once was our view from the front step (you haven’t lived until you’ve had a rusty bathtub in your front yard)…

is a little more respectable these days.

I’m hoping this means my mom has written us back into her will.

As is obvious, there is still much to be done.  Later this fall, once the temps have cooled a bit and our South-facing house spends more time in shadow, we’ll finish planting the beds in the courtyard space.  We also have plans to sod the bocce court (aka that giant strip of dirt still taking up most of the front yard) and lay the remaining six pavers. Of course this all assumes we’ll be able to keep everything alive.  We’re cool if you want to place bets on how that’ll turn out.

 

 

 

 

Hummingbird Cookies, Mon

This is one of those situations where the dish’s name is a symbol of honor, not an indicator of the main ingredient.  I mean come on, hummingbirds are like key limes, who has time to catch and bone two dozen of the little critters for a recipe?

I’m kidding.

So here is the story.  Hummingbird cake is from Jamaica and named after the island’s national bird.  Which begs the question, what do you think would be in a bald eagle cake?

Anyways, several years ago, I did a recipe for hummingbird cake so it seemed time to do a cookie version.  As a refresher, hummingbird cake has a banana base and is then studded with all kinds of fruits and nuts.

Anytime there is a variety of goodies like dried pineapple, coconut, raisins and such in a recipe I take it as license to use whatever I have on hand.  You should too.

The recipe from which I’ve adapted these hummingbird cookies involves a more complicated cream cheese frosting.  I swapped it out for a simple drizzle of icing because a. I needed to transport the cookies and b. am of the opinion that there is already enough going on with these soft but crispy mound of deliciousness that they didn’t need a complicated topper.

As I’ve said more than once over the years, the cinnamon, raisin, oatmeal genre really isn’t my preferred flavor profile.  So I was surprised at how much I liked these cookies.  I also feel like there is enough of an element of muslei in them pairing them with a strong cup of coffee makes for a delightful breakfast.  And who doesn’t want to eat cookies for breakfast?

Hummingbird Cookies

adapted from Southern Living (it only seemed appropriate)

Ingredients

  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 C butter, softened
  • 1 C firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 medium-size ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 1/2 C regular oats
  • 1 C finely chopped pecans
  • 1/2 C finely chopped dried pineapple
  • 1/2 C coconut.  Use shredded or flaked, it’s up to you
  • 1/2 C of anything else you think would be tasty in a cookie.  Maybe some raisins, dried cherries or as is the case here, cranberries
  • 1 C powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 4 ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with an electric mixer 3 to 5 minutes or until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and banana; beat just until blended. Add oats and next 4 ingredients; stir until blended.
  2. Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Flatten each, using a lightly floured flat-bottom glass.
  3. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until golden. Cool on baking sheets 10 minutes; transfer to wire racks, and cool.
  4. Once cookies are cool, combine powdered sugar with water 1 TBS at a time until you reach desired consistency.  Drizzle over cookies and allow to set.