…because i just do.

thoughts and things that make me happy

Month: July, 2012

My Old Kentucky Home

Last Tuesday my son Mack and I hopped onto a plane to Louisville, Kentucky for a 2 week visit to my hometown.  After leaving for college when I turned 18 most of my visits to Kentucky have been during the winter holidays.  Unfortunately, the weather during December in Kentucky can be pretty gloomy;  leafless trees, cold (but usually not cold enough for snow) and just gray and dull.  Once Mack was born we have been visiting family during July/August so that we can enjoy all of the joys of summer in the south.  The trees are full and everything is a gorgeous green color that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else in the world, fireflies come out at dusk, crickets chirp through the night, thunderstorms rumble through and if you are lucky you’ll get a couple of days without extreme heat and humidity.

My favorite place at my childhood home is my parent’s backyard.  It is full of beautiful flowers, a giant Honey Locust Tree, a shady patio, bird houses and feeders, and lots of little friends hidden here and there that my son loves to discover.  The photos above are of some of the whimsical treasures you can find in our backyard.

Expect more posts about our adventures in Louisville over the next week!

orange, it’s obvious

Summertime makes me obsessive about bright colors.  In anticipation of my trip back home to Louisville I treated myself to a pedicure yesterday.  I decided to try something new and had my toes painted my favorite color, orange.  I’m quite pleased with the bright, cheerful color (called “orange, it’s obvious” by Essie).  It’s just right… not too dull yet not too neon and truthfully it makes me smile every time I look down.  It also looks great paired up with my new orange rope bracelet.

 

Got Milkweed?

Samples from our yard: Monarch caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly.

About 3 years ago a landscape designer introduced me to an amazing plant called Milkweed.  I had seen this pretty plant around the neighborhood with its tiny orange and yellow blossoms but I had no idea how much joy our single, potted Tropical Milkweed plant would soon bring our way.  I quickly learned that Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on Milkweed plants.  Once the eggs hatch the tiny caterpillars feed upon the leaves and flowers of the plant until their skin splits and they pupate.  Once they have formed their tiny jeweled chrysalis it takes about 10-15 days (depending on temperatures) for a beautiful Monarch butterfly to emerge.

I grew up in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky bordering open countryside.  I have a 3½-year-old son who I desperately want to love and appreciate nature, something that can be a challenge living in a bigger city.  He absolutely adores watching the tiny caterpillar hatchlings grow day by day.  Once we notice any new hatchlings our morning activity becomes finding and accounting for all of our caterpillars.  It’s amazing how quickly our little friends get around and how much they can eat.  Don’t worry if you get a Milkweed plant and it seems stripped of all its leaves and flowers once the caterpillars arrive.  I have found them to be very hardy plants and with water and sun, the leaves and blooms return quickly.  Once you see a caterpillar hanging from the bottom of a branch in a “J”, the caterpillar is about to pupate.  Once the chrysalis has formed we check daily to make sure nothing has harmed it and to see if it has changed colors.  Usually, once the chrysalis turns black (a sign the butterfly is close to emergence) I cut a small piece of the branch holding the chrysalis off and put it into a plastic, vented terrarium.  This way I can ensure that we get to see our butterfly.  Once our magnificent orange butterfly has emerged Mack and I release our new friend into our little yard.  Anytime we have caterpillars on our plant Mack shows every visitor.  He is incredibly proud and protective of the Monarch life cycle and I am overjoyed that he gets to watch something so beautiful happen in his own backyard.

Milkweed is easily purchased in most nurseries in Southern California.  It makes a great gift for a toddler or child.  By giving a potted Milkweed plant you are giving a child a gift of nature, a chance to take on the responsibility of caring for a living plant and then the chance to observe the amazing life cycle of a Monarch butterfly.

Below are a few websites dedicated to the Monarch life cycle and the Milkweed Plant:
www.butterflyencounters.com
www.thebutterflysite.com

A recent article from the LA Times and a blog from the LA Times about raising Milkweed:
articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/10/local/la-me-ortho-monarch-20120710
latimesblogs.latimes.com/home_blog/2011/01/milkweed-for-butterflies.html

A reminder for the weekend…

TAO Healing Arts Center.
Main Street, Santa Monica.

CRAFTED at the port of los angeles

This past Sunday I took a trip about 30 miles south to a little town called San Pedro.  Recently, the creators of Bergamot Station, an art gallery complex in Santa Monica opened a new venue in this once sleepy fishing village.  They have converted an old warehouse into what will likely grow to be the nation’s largest indoor year-round craft marketplace featuring artisanal food makers, designers and craft-artists.  It is basically a permanent home to DIY-ers to sell their wares and it is AMAZING.

There are still several empty booths in the warehouse but what is there is impressive.  In the photo above you can see a sampling from some of my favorite vendors.   The owls pictured above, which I envisioned perched on my bookcase were at a booth called Fruition.  Here,  Raychel Huff already expanded her 10×10 space so that she can continue to sell her own beautiful jewelry alongside Whitney Smith Pottery and a carefully curated selection of other ceramics and artwork from fellow crafters.  The booth at Paradise Preserves houses a rainbow array of artisanal jams, jellies and marmalades.  In the midst of obsessively taking pictures of her colorful,  eye-catching spreads  I forgot to buy myself a jar (a good excuse to return).  My husband happily planted himself at  Hepp’s Salt Barrel where he had a lesson about gourmet sea salts and brought us home some truffle salt (which tasted delicious atop macaroni and cheese later that night).  The terrariums and hanging planters at Branch of Life were breathtaking and insanely affordable (the tiny hanging terrarium pictured in the collage was just $8).  At Knotical Art, local artist Gus Lopez hand knots brightly colored bracelets, nautical mats, keychains and custom knotboards.  Feeling nostalgic for the white rope sailor knot bracelets of my childhood, I couldn’t resist taking home the neon orange bracelet pictured below.

It was such a treat to get to shop amongst this community and support local artists.  The vibe is incredibly relaxed,  friendly and fun, complete with great music and food trucks out in the parking lot.  Current hours are Friday: 11am-7pm and Saturday/Sunday: 10am-7pm.  Admission is free and parking is plentiful and only costs $5.  If you are looking for truly unique gifts take a weekend morning or afternoon and spend it at CRAFTED.  I definitely know where my holiday shopping will be happening this year.

For more information check out their website: www.craftedportla.com

The Best Chocolate Cake

As a way to celebrate the “birth” of my blog I decided it was appropriate to start with the recipe for my favorite birthday cake.  I recently made this cake for my friend Shannon’s 40th Birthday Party.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to personally see the reactions but I was told it was a huge hit.  I know it has become one of the most requested desserts at our house and I think it is definitely one of the most moist and delicious chocolate cakes I’ve ever tasted.

The cake recipe is taken from the Pro-Baking I class at The New School of Cooking in Culver City, California.  The recipe for the icing is from Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America.

This recipe also makes delicious cupcakes.  Keep in mind that this is a very wet batter so you will want to fill the cups close to the top.

Shannon’s 40th Birthday Cake.

CHOCOLATE BUTTERMILK CAKE

1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (room temperature)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare 2 8″ cake pans by spraying sides and bottom of pans with non-stick cooking spray.  Then place a pre-cut parchment disk in the bottom of each pan.  Finish by giving the top of the parchment paper a quick mist of the non-stick cooking spray.

Mix together, using a fork cocoa powder and boiling water.  Add brown sugar, followed by buttermilk and vanilla.  Set aside. Let cool.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt and whisk together (whisking these dry ingredients eliminates the need for sifting.) Set aside.

In a Kitchen Aid® mixer, using the paddle attachment beat buttter until light and fluffy.  Add sugar and conitnue to beat for 1 minute.  Add the eggs one at a time.  (Always break eggs individually into a bowl before adding them to the mixture…this avoids ruining the batter by getting a “bad” egg and ensures that your batter is shell free.)

Add the cooled cocoa mixture and dry mixture into the batter until thoroughly mixed…keep the Kitchen Aid® at a low speed and do not overmix.

Pour half of the batter into each prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes before inverting them on to cooling racks.  Let cakes cool completely before icing.

DEVIL’S FUDGE ICING

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup hot water
2 1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar (sifted)

In a Kitchen Aid® mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the cocoa powder and butter on low speed until blended, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed until very smooth.  (this will take between 2-4 mintues as it takes some time for this much cocoa powder to mix into this little butter)

Add the corn syrup, vanilla extract and salt and continue to mix until evenly blended.  (approximately 1-3 mintues)

Add the hot water and mix on low speed until evenly blended.  Continue to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your rubber spatula as needed. (When I first made this icing the consistency seemed completely wrong at this point…have faith it will all come together.)

Add the confectioner’s sugar, mix on low until blended, then increase the speed to medium and whip until the icing is very smooth and light, 2-4 minutes.

Use immediately or transfer to a storage container, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.  Allow the icing to return to room temperature before using it.  If necessary, beat the icing using the paddle attachment on low speed until it is smooth and spreadable.

*For tips on how to properly frost your cake I suggest looking at this tutorial from Joy the Baker.

Mack…a satisfied customer.

*A NOTE ON COCOA POWDER*

When baking or cooking at home, ingredients make all the difference.  If you are going to take the time and energy to make something homemade I suggest using all organic ingredients or at the very least a top of the line cocoa powder.  My suggestion is to use either Valrhona or Scharffen Berger cocoa powder (which I have also found at Whole Foods Market).