Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Life in Verbs

Countdown to our move to Oahu: 9 days!

Our house is a disaster zone, I haven't exercised in weeks, and finding a few minutes to blog feels like a luxury I can barely afford. It may be a while till I get back into my normal groove of writing here, but until then here's a glimpse of what's going on.

Trying... to find a house to rent on Oahu. That's of this moment we are 1 1/2 weeks from arriving in Hawaii, and STILL LOOKING FOR A HOUSE. Am I freaking out? Just a little. 

Feeling... sort of sick recently. That does not mesh well with needing to pack up a house and move. All my body really wants to do is lounge on the couch and sleep all day. Ugh.

Loving... last moments with friends. Goodbye hugs and tears have been so hard, but also a true reflection of how much we've had here in Los Angeles. 

Reading... Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, an engrossing love story set in the magic of the circus during the Great Depression.

Anticipating... a big camping trip this weekend with Steve's side of the family! So excited to be outdoors and commune with nature. We'll be on the coast of Santa Cruz, where Steve's family used to take annual trips. 

Hoping... that we survive the next few weeks of moving. I have my eyes set on setting foot on Oahu's beach, and eating a warm malasada from Leonard's. 

What have you been up to recently? Share a verb or two of your own in the comments.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Pound Cake With Vanilla Bean Custard and Blueberry Sauce

We had the best Farewell Party a few weeks ago. Our home was filled with friends from all parts of our 15+ years in Los Angeles. We shared memories, hugs, and said our "until next time" to everyone.

Befitting our final party with great friends, we put together a massive spread of food and drinks. One of the desserts was this pound cake served with vanilla bean custard and blueberry sauce. It just sounds like a nice summer dessert, right?

With three components, this dessert was a bit of an undertaking. But I was pleased with the result. The pound cake was dense and buttery, the vanilla-flecked custard was rich, and the blueberry sauce added in some perfect zesty fruit notes.  Serve the cake at room temperature, with a chilled dollop or two of the custard and sauce.

Also, the leftovers make a nice bressert. Yes, I just made breakfast-dessert a thing.

Pound Cake With Vanilla Bean Custard & Blueberry Sauce

print this recipe

For the pound cake:

3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla plus 1 tsp almond extract)
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease one 9 or 10 inch Bundt pan. Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract. Gently mix in flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk. Pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 90 minutes. Do not open oven door until after one hour. When cake begins to pull away from the side of the pan it is done. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

For the vanilla bean custard:

1 cup whole milk
Seeds 1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

In a small saucepan, combine your milk and vanilla bean flecks (if using extract instead, don’t add it yet). Heat the mixture until it is warm, then set aside.

In the bottom of a small saucepan, off the heat, beat or whisk your egg yolks and 1/4 cup sugar together vigorously, until it pales in color and a ribbon of batter falls off your whisk when you lift it from the bowl; this will take a few minutes by hand, and likely just one minute with an electric mixer. Whisk in the flour until fully incorporated.

Whisking the whole time, drizzle the warm vanilla-milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture, just a tiny bit at a time at first. Once you’ve added about 1/4 of the milk, you can add the rest in a thin stream, whisking constantly.

Bring the saucepan to your stove and heat it over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until it begins to bubble. Once bubbling, whisk it for 1 to 2 more minutes, then remove it from the heat. Immediately stir in vanilla extract (if using) and butter until combined. [Updated to add] As a final step for a perfectly smooth and silky custard, you can press the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer. You can also skip this step if you’re not terribly concerned about an imperfect custard.

To cool your custard quickly, place the saucepan in a larger bowl of ice water that will go halfway up the sides of the saucepan (i.e. water should not spill in) and stir the custard until lukewarm, then divide among serving dishes or ramekins. You can also pour it into serving dishes or ramekins still hot, but you should then press a film of plastic wrap against each custard in the fridge so it doesn’t form a pudding skin. Custards keep in fridge for up to 4 days.

For the blueberry sauce:

2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the blueberries, 1/2 cup of water, sugar and lemon juice. Stir frequently, and bring to a low boil. 

In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water.

Slowly stir the corn starch into the blueberries, taking care not to crush the blueberries. Simmer until the blueberry sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and gently stir in vanilla and lemon zest. Chill. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How to Thrive, Stay Sane, and Not Go Ballistic On My Children

I'm temporarily flying solo with the kids all week while Steve is away on a work trip.

Whenever we do this, I have a heightened appreciation and awe for single parents who do this all the time. Seriously, that is another level of superhero. Thankfully, my husband and co-parent promises to return. If at least so we can resume watching 24 together.

But in the meantime, I needed a proactive plan for this week. Because here's the thing: as much as I love my children, being with them non-stop for more than a day can feel like Crazytown. From previous experience, I've learned that some things - meltdowns, the emergence of Dragon Mom, and desperate texts to Steve ("OMG our kids are freaking nuts") - are unavoidable. Nevertheless, there are some things that help me to survive.

How to Thrive, Stay Sane, and Not Go Ballistic On My Children:
  1. Do one activity per day to get out of the house. 
  2. Hang out with friends. Schedule a few play dates, have friends sleep over, talk to people on the phone. Find ways to connect with adults and have real conversations. 
  3. Prepare meals with extras for leftovers ahead of time.
  4. Go out for afternoon ice cream and playtime at McDonald's.
  5. Pull out some "new" toys from storage. 
  6. Eat out or order delivery. Pizza solves lots of problems. 
  7. Borrow books from the library.
  8. Go to the park.
  9. Make popcorn and watch a movie at home.
  10. Get some babysitting help.
  11. Turn on the hose for water play in the front yard.
  12. Extra coffee (for me, not the kids).
Thanks to my friends who gave some great encouragement and tips via Facebook. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

10 Things I Learned in June

At the end of each month, I write about things I learned. This practice has helped me pay attention to life, myself, and God's presence. In no particular order, here are 10 things I learned in June:

1. As Steve and I celebrate 8 years of marriage, I am so grateful for all the joy and adventure we've had together. Here's to much more!

2. I might enjoy the Lego Movie more than my kids. We've seen the movie several times, and I think I laugh more with each viewing.

3. I am a better person when I get some regular time of quiet and solitude. 

4. Fear of the unknown can be worse than the actual experience. I learned this lesson from riding The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at California Adventure. Steve had to nearly drag me onto the ride, I was so anxious. The ride itself ended up being thrilling and enjoyable enough for us to hop on two more times.

5. I can't wear a white shirt for more than 3 minutes before it's dirty. The main culprits: my kids and my klutziness with food and beverages.

6. World Cup soccer is the single sport I will watch by myself.

7. My mom inspires me to grow and learn. She worked for Hawaii's governor, is currently teaching university classes, and just began classwork to obtain a doctorate. All at the age of 60.

8. There is a French bakery down the street that serves this amazing new-to-me dessert Gâteau Basque. Days after eating one, I am still haunted by its deliciousness.

Gâteau Basque from Etchea Bakery

9. You can save a lot of money by growing your hair out. When my hair was shorter, I got a haircut about once a month, and the cost really added up. Now days, I just give my long hair a trim with cutting shears and layers with thinning shears. Inexpensive and quick.

10. A few things that are greatly improving my quality of life this month are: ice coffee in the afternoon, sweet cherries, and Sam Smith's sultry voice.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Things

Movies on the lawn. 
The Lego Movie + sleeping bags + friends = great night.

 Ginormous chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.

Seeing this guy up close at the LA Zoo.

USA is moving on in the World Cup! 
I've never felt so patriotic in my life.

Summer reading.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sausage Stuffed Bread

I made this sausage stuffed bread last weekend for a party. It was a crowd-pleasing dish, and easy to bake in the oven as guests arrived. When it was ready to be served, I simply placed the entire loaf on a table with a sharp bread knife, and people helped themselves.

Baked into homemade French bread is a savory filling of Italian sausage, spinach and cheese. You can take a shortcut and get some store-bought dough. But really, if you're going to make this, you may as well go the full mile and make your own bread.

As you can see from the photo, the bread split while baking. That might be avoided by using a knife to cut a 1/4-inch deep cut along the loaf, but party guests didn't seem to mind.

Sausage Stuffed Bread

1 recipe of French Bread dough (below)
2 pounds mild Italian sausage
1 10-ounce box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped basil
1 egg, beaten
1 egg white
Remove sausage from casing and brown in frying pan; drain and set aside until cool.
Combine sausage, spinach, cheeses and parsley in a large bowl, add beaten egg and mix thoroughly.
Roll dough on a floured board into a rectangular shape approximately 1/2 inch thick. Spread filling evenly over dough to within 1/2 inch of edges and roll up tightly, folding in the ends.
Beat egg white with 1 tablespoon water and brush dough. Place on greased baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30-40 minutes.

Bake at 325 degrees for 45-55 minutes, or until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 190 degrees. Makes 12 servings.

French Bread

2 cups water
2 tablespoons yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cups canola oil
1 tablespoons Kosher salt
4 cups flour

Put 110-degree water, yeast, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for about 5 minutes until it gets frothy.

Add canola oil, salt, and flour. Mix ingredients. Slowly add flour. Knead for about 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball. Place dough in a large greased bowl, and turn once. Cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

At this point, dough is ready to be baked, or it can be stored in fridge for up to 4 days. If stored in fridge, allow to sit at room temperature for about 30-45 minutes before baking.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Goodbye Los Angeles

*As we prepare to move from LA to Honolulu at the end of July, I’ve been reflecting on the place and people we’re saying farewell to. I’ve written several goodbye letters. Here is one.

Goodbye Los Angeles, my home of 15 years. 

You saw me from a small town Hawaii girl who stepped off an airplane, scared, hopeful, and in awe of the vast city. At first sight, I loved your urban sprawl of diversity and opportunity. My dream of “making it” as a film director and stage actress must have been laughably naive and predictable, but you allowed me to discover my way. It took me several years of residing here, but I really have come to love you. Much of who I am has been shaped here in this city. Now, as our family prepares to move to Honolulu, I bid a fond farewell to the City of Angels. 

Goodbye USC campus and neighborhood. I can’t think of a place more significant to me. It’s the place that brought me to LA in the first place. The place where my faith journey was solidified, where I discovered joy in college ministry, where I have poured out my heart and life on behalf of generations of students. It’s the place I met my future husband, where we were co-workers and staff partners. It’s the place we held our wedding reception in McCarthy Quad. Our kids have grown up in this place. It’s where we bought our home, and built a community with great friends. I have so many memories in this place, and it will forever be a part of me.

Goodbye amazing any-kind-of-cuisine you could ever crave. What other city can boast Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Little Ethiopia, Koreatown, Filipinotown, Little Armenia, and so many other ethnic enclaves that co-exist and overlap? Though I’m leaving for Honolulu, a diverse city in its own right, I will never find a replacement for our neighborhood tamale lady who calls, “Taaa-maaa-laaaaayyy” at strange hours of the day. Mexican food in Hawaii is a joke, so before I leave, I am determined to hit up every taco truck in South LA. Bring on the carne asada and al pastor. Also, I’m sad to say farewell to Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles (where Steve and I had our very first date), pancakes at the Pantry, and Scoops ice cream.

Goodbye freeways and traffic. Sadly, I will never get back those hours spent in my car switching between KIIS FM and the Frozen soundtrack, as well as compulsively using the Waze app to confirm the accident on the 5 that is keeping me from reaching Disneyland in a timely manner. Out-of-towners really despise driving in LA, but I know the secrets of survival. Don’t leave home without checking the traffic to determine a “green route,” find a job that doesn’t require a long commute, and never ever use the 405. A standard greeting among Angelenos is, “How was the traffic?” followed by a friendly argument over the best route from point A to point B. I’m moving from the city with the worst traffic in the U.S. to the city with the second worst traffic. So, onward and upward. But seriously, I will miss the exhilaration I feel when flying on the 110 carpool lane like I’m a NASCAR driver. 

Goodbye magical, perfect weather. People may complain about the lack of seasons, but I don’t care. Give me 80 degrees and sunny, and my day is an instant win. I love being able to wear sandals and tank tops year round. Mittens, ear muffs...what are those?

Goodbye LA weirdos. There is a special category of strange people in LA. A woman living in an apartment next door to us once threw a half-eaten apple at Steve’s head, and laughed like a maniac. Or there was the time I was riding the Metro Blue Line, and saw a man step onto the train and drop something on the ground. He bent down, and exclaimed, “Shit, I dropped my vagina.” Yep, on the ground was a huge rubber vagina. Not sure where all the crazy people originated from, but I’m pretty sure they all migrated to Los Angeles. 

Goodbye celebrity sightings. Every Angeleno has their list of spotted celebrities. My list includes Hilary Swank, Mario Lopez, Jay Leno, Adam Sandler, Dakota and Elle Fanning, and that guy who played Peter Petrelli on Heroes. Just kidding, of course I knew his name (Milo Ventimiglia) right when I saw his face. I’m so in. Tip: if you want to brush shoulders with a star, camp out at the Grove.

Goodbye hipsters and screenwriters drinking expensive coffee at Intelligentsia. Goodbye tattoo parlor on Sunset that inked my wrist. Goodbye ladies who carry their dogs in a handbag and dress them better than I dress my kids. Goodbye television show tapings. Goodbye people who say “I love the beach/biking/public transportation” way more than they actually do. Goodbye $15 burgers and $13 martinis. Goodbye Facebooking every time there may have been an earthquake. Goodbye Spanish Lattes at Urth Cafe. Goodbye fireworks and concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. 

Goodbye, Los Angeles. I’m grateful for my time with you.