Bath Crashers

One of the things I was really looking forward to doing when we were looking for a new house was the opportunity to redecorate. I had been talking about redecorating my bathroom for a while but never actually got around to doing so, but with the new house, I knew I didn’t want to bring anything from the old house so let the decorating research commence! The bathroom was really gross so we pretty much tore out everything [the only thing that’s original are the walls and the tub] and had the walls painted, replaced the mirrors, vanity, light fixture and added tile flooring. This renovation gave me the perfect empty canvas to work with. I didn’t really have much of an idea of what style I was going to try to capture; all I knew was that I wanted something modern and trendy but not too trendy. That was as specific as I got.

Normally I would have trolled through some design blogs for ideas but I didn’t do that. I guess since I kind of had a half-baked idea of what I was trying to achieve, I didn’t really need to check out those design blogs. For the bathroom, it all came together once I settled on a color scheme [it took more work for the bedroom but that will be a separate post]: purple, silver, and yellow. Sounds like a winner right?

It looked fantastic in my head but convincing Lindsey and my mom that it was fabulous took a lot of work. They didn’t believe in it until they saw the bathroom all put together. Lindsey hated it and openly protested my idea and my mom just was confused why I would glom those random colors together. But I had a vision and I could not be deterred, so I ignored their contentions and trudged ahead because I knew I was right.

This is how we bought it: kind of a hot mess

The main problem was that when they heard the color combination, they saw purple, shiny silver and school bus yellow but that was not what I envisioned. I had the walls painted a really delicious lavender color [Behr Silverberry 670F-4], and outfitted the visible fixtures [the faucet, toilet paper holder, toothbrush holder, standing shower caddy [even though that’s technically not visible] and towel rack] in a brushed nickel and added small accents of a soft yellow for the pops of color in the bath rug and a picture I painted. We got the vanity and sink top at Lowe’s. My favorite thing is the sink; we found a rectangular bowl that swoops down!

The hardest thing to find was the perfect shower curtain. I don’t even know how many times I wandered through Target, Walmart [online at least], Bed, Bath & Beyond, CB2 and Ikea to find something that was just right. I goldilocked my way through shower curtain shopping. There were a lot of shower curtains that were almost right but not quite there. What made it so difficult was that I wasn’t sure what I wanted but I knew I would know it when I saw it. I couldn’t say I was looking for something specific since I only knew I was looking for something modern and contemporary and definitely not floral. After some random traipsing through Amazon and Target, I finally found the perfect shower curtain. When it was finally delivered, I was so excited. I loved how it looked and it definitely fit in with the look I was going for.

Now its a place I WANT to be in

While it’s far from the perfectly designed spaces on the design blogs, I’m quite pleased with how my bathroom came together. I smile every time I’m in there and it gives me hope that I’ll be able to decorate my future home. Now if I can only convince the bf to let me have accents of green in every room of our house.

Why I wish Tyler Florence was my friend

While I don’t watch Food Network as much as I used too [or SportsCenter for that fact but that’s neither here nor there] I do usually stop to watch just about anything Tyler Florence is in because his recipes have been on point. Plus, I think he’s kind of cute. There. I said it. And I may or may not have had a dream in which I was actually friends with him  where he may or may not have cooked me lunch in his house.

I may or may not have woken up slightly disappointed after realizing it was just a dream.

Anywho, so I’m a fan and I was excited to hear he that he moved to Mill Valley and was opening a restaurant in Downtown Napa [I’m still itching to check out Wayfare Tavern in the City – any takers?]. I want to say that I was anxiously awaiting the opening but in reality I just plain forgot it was even happening. You know how long it takes for restaurants to be built? A while, plus, I don’t think they ever open on time in the first place so of course I was going to forget about all the exciting news swirling around.

But then my dear friend Christina from way back in the day [seriously, since the fourth grade!], writer of East Bay Dish and my partner in gastronomical crime, reminded me of it when we made plans to hit up Bouchon Bakery so she could experience the joy that are Thomas Keller’s macarons. Afterwards, we jetted down to Downtown Napa to check out Rotisserie & Wine. We didn’t have reservations and crazily braved a two-hour wait for a table by wandering around the block a few times and sitting outside on the patio [they had these cool rockers PLUS throw blankets to keep warm. Snazzy].

Once we were seated, we looked through the menu and began to plot our march  as we munched on the complimentary cornbread sticks with honey butter:

We started with the cheese puff and scrapple. The cheese puff was filled with a bacon mornay sauce of awesomeness, aged vella jack cheese and chives. I waffled a bit on ordering on but am so glad I did because there was no way we would have been able to share one of those things. One bite and we were both sold [we even scraped up the bits of cheese and bacon on the serving plank]. I can’t begin to describe the amazingness of that little puff but to say that I would go back just for that appetizer. If you go, order one for everyone. Seriously, even one is not enough. That little puff made me fall in love with Tyler all over again.

Cheese puff of bacony AWESOMENESS!

The scrapple with smoked honey mustard came next. Christina ordered this out of sheer curiosity. I wasn’t too hot on the idea having seen it featured on Food Network and knowing it was basically meat scraps smooched together. Our server even explained it like being almost like a hot dog. Uh, okay. After some convincing, I sampled a bit and promptly offered the rest of Christina. I was not a fan. It was kind of mushy and I’m not a big fan of mushy textures. The smoked honey mustard was light on the honey and heavy on the mustard and seeing how I’m also not a fan of the mustard, well, I think this dish was doomed from the start for me.

After a small break, our entree arrived: beef and bones (prime rib eye with bone marrow, yorkshire pudding and horseradish sauce), Hudson Ranch collards, and Arbuckle grits draped with lardo and “baked” peanuts. The collards were pretty good but they did taste very vinegary [they are dressed with hot pepper vinegar], the grits were absolutely divine and buttery, practically melting in your mouth though I did not enjoy the baked peanuts that are included. I just felt that they kind of took away from the smoothness of the grits. The beef & bones were delicious, well, the beef was delicious. I wasn’t so much a fan of the bone; the marrow was too mushy for me [though I did love the crispy crust on top]. The prime rib eye was cooked perfectly [the steak knife was seriously heavy! It felt like a kitchen knife] and the Yorkshire pudding was nice and airy. I wanted to eat both halves but alas, I had to share.

Overall, the food was pretty good. The service was really good, which was shocking considering it had just opened. I appreciated how my water glass never reached half empty since someone was always there to refill it, though there was some confusion about splitting our bill at the end of the evening. I would definitely go back to try something new and, of course, get another cheese puff. Mmmm, cheese puff.

The next day, I tweeted my love for the cheese puff and was excited to see this:

I die. Seriously Tyler, let’s be friends.

November showers…

About a month ago [yeah, yeah, I know I’m waaaay behind] I hosted a baby shower for my bestie, Jacki. It was a little bit stressful but a whole lot of fun. The moment I found out she was pregnant, I volunteered to host her shower, if her mom didn’t want to do the honors. Of course, I’m at a point where I’m incapable, or more accurately, unwilling, to do things simply so you know her shower quickly morphed into quite the production.

I quickly came up with the “Baby Circus” theme after seeing a fancy, schmancy circus themed shower on Hostess with the Mostess and the insanely adorable “Animal Parade” on Meri Meri. Seriously, how adorable are those little animals? And the carousel? EEEEEEEE! [Too bad we forgot to bring it!] The food was loosely inspired by carnival fair. We served mini steak and cheese sammies, florentine and swiss cheese and smoked applewood bacon quiche, mini chicken tacos, mini corn dogs and vegetable crudites. Tammy took care of the dessert table and served brownies, lemon tarts, red velvet and funfetti cupcakes, and caramel and pink popcorn.

Of course I wouldn’t bring this up without sharing pictures with the class!

The food and dessert tables

The food was one of my favorite parts. We were a bit late getting everything ready [seriously, people showed up at 1 on the dot! I was not prepared for that. Obviously my social circle tends to roll in fashionably late] so we were still cooking up a storm and decorating cakes when people started showing up. That was a bit stressful for me and I really wish I could have been done before then but oh well, can’t do much about it. I was pretty much excited to eat everything we made for this shower, especially those steak sammies. Oh so good. And don’t get me started on those mini chicken tacos. I was excited that we didn’t use the fourth box I bought so now I get to snack on them myself. And the swiss cheese and applewood smoked bacon quiche? Just lovely. I honestly believe bacon is a magical ingredient. Seriously, when was the last time you had something bad that had bacon in it?

The dessert table was other wordly. Tammy did a great job of making all the desserts [my hand was only in the pink popcorn – she did the rest!] and everyone raved over them, though the funny thing was that because the table looked so display worthy, people were afraid of taking anything from it! People would wander through the kitchen and help themselves to the desserts that were waiting to replace the ones on the table so we had to make a general announcement that it was, in fact, okay to raid the dessert table, and boy did they.

Let’s just say there were no survivors.

Two of my pet projects were the personalized water bottles [yeah, I went there] and the favors. I made my trusty vanilla bean sugar cookies in the shape of little animals to mimic the Mothers Circus Animal cookies [I subbed blue frosting for the signature pink] and made my own label that was based off the Barnum Animal Crackers boxes. The water bottle labels were super easy thanks to Mrs. Lemon’s handy dandy template she shared on Weddingbee. It was super easy to do and made a big difference. Yet another reason to love the Internet.

Yummy, yummy in my tummy…

All in all, the shower was a success. Everyone who attended had a great time [my other partner-in-crime, one of Jacki’s coworkers did a fantastic job at hosting the games]. Jacki was floored by the amount of effort we put into her shower and I’m glad I was able to gift her such a wonderful time.

A sweet beginning to the end of my 20s

Last Saturday I had my “Ice Cream Social” 29th birthday party and I had such a great time. Y’all know how elaborate I tend to get with my birthday parties and this was no exception. I had several different ideas of what I should do however, I had to pare it down a bit while I wasn’t receiving any checks and at first thought I wanted to do a bit of a mini eating world tour, with different food for different countries, like bruschetta, mondu, mini tacos and the like complete with decorations. It sounded awesome in my head but completely daunting to make happen roughly on my own. Then somehow I got in my head that ice cream would be the way to go.

So glad I went with that. I had a blast making all the ice cream [I plan on doing a separate post just on the ice cream and recipes] and now want my own ice cream maker. Everyone had a blast trying all different flavors: Cake Batter, Raspberry Mascarpone, S’mores, Nutella and Candied Bacon [yes, I KNOW!]. The Cake Batter was probably the favorite of the day though Candied Bacon was the dark horse. Several people were skeptical but they were totally on board after trying it. The bacon threw them off and I had to explain a couple of times that the bacon was merely a mix-in and not a flavor.

My mom was a HUGE help too, making the mondu, kimbap and these awesome chicken wings for the party. I rounded out the menu with mini calzones, beef and chicken tacos and pulled pork sliders. And for dessert, cupcake cones!

I was really glad to see everyone who was able to attend and we had a great time stuffing our faces with food and ice cream [and in Pat’s case, a face full of cupcake]. It was very casual in comparison to my other parties but that’s probably because it was at home instead of out somewhere else. People were scattered all over the house chatting and relaxing and most importantly, eating. I had so much food that I told everyone their party favors were plates of food. For serious.

So a quick story: I was posing with Pat for a picture to prove that he actually attended a party [he was a pleasant surprise] and for some reason, I pushed my cupcake cone into his face. He’s a weirdly good sport with me and took it in stride only to reveal that he thought about doing the same thing to me. Good thing I beat him to it! So after he cleaned up, we finally took our picture and I made sure to keep my hands empty and where he could see them.

All in all, the party was a total and complete success. I’m already having people asking me what I plan on doing for next year. The expectations are high since it’ll be my 30th birthday and that alone deserves a big blow out. What to do…what to do.

How much do fireworks run?

Reflections of love

As part of the bf’s last visit way back in February, I arranged a photo shoot with Eddie as a surprise for the bf. Well, it started out as a surprise but I eventually had to tell him so he could dress accordingly. During my last Christmas visit in 2008 [I know, so long ago], I had noticed he was hovering around this photographer studio at Somerset Collection [yes, the fancy mall with two sides but only 3 jewelry stores. WTH?]. We didn’t take any pictures there but I thought it would be a great way to surprise him. In the five years we’ve been together, we don’t have that many pictures together and most of them are of the self-portrait variety. It would be nice to have professional pictures of us, so I floated the idea to Eddie and he was totally on board.

Fast forward to this year, we were able to score some time with the ever popular Eddie [check out his schedule. EVERYONE wants him!]. We met him on First Street in Benicia to begin our picture taking marathon. It was a little weird in the beginning, posing and being all lovey dovey in front of strangers who would stop to watch [one of the passersby actually congratulated us on our “engagement”] but after a while we forgot about them. We all had a lot of fun during the photo shoot, there were plenty of laughs and jokes all around. The photo cd actually arrived the day of my dad’s memorial service so it was a real extra joy on top of the day, and even though my family made fun of all the kissing and stuff, I am so in love with our pictures. I made sure to lay my claim on Eddie for our wedding. Again. And yes, it was at his daughter’s baptism on Sunday. I have no shame.

Looking through the pictures always makes me smile. I love just how natural we look despite being semi-posed in some of the photos. Though I think the best part are the pictures where we’re laughing because Eddie managed to catch us in a moment where we were actually talking or joking around.

So here are a few pictures from the day. Thank you so so so so so much Eddie!

This one is actually one of my favorites. You can see the wrinkles on my nose. I do that when I’m really happy.

Who knew love could be so tasty?

So do you remember when I teased you with that bottle of vanilla bean paste but didn’t tell you what I had planned for it? Well I finally made my secret treats and they were fabulous!

I was initially inspired by this recipe I found on Tastespotting. Then, a day or so later, I came across this and thought, THIS IS IT! I just loved the look of the frosted cookie and thought the x and o would stand out a lot better on that background. Plus, I was completely in love with the idea of a vanilla sugar cookie and extremely obsessed with getting a bottle of that amazing vanilla bean paste.

And that is why I went on a mad dash to track down a bottle of this stuff. After figuring it would be cheaper to just trek to the store to pick it up [after accounting for shipping and wait times], I went off to Williams-Sonoma to pick up a bottle, only to find it was closed for inventory! I was sad, dejected, upset because I was convinced I’d have to make yet another trip the next day to buy it but then I stumbled upon Sur La Table just around the block, who saved the day and my gifts.

I used Bridget’s recipe and decorated it like I saw in Meaghan’s original blog post for my Valentine’s gifts this year to the bf, my sisters, and my nieces and nephew. I was super excited to make these and now I’m super excited to make them again. And in case you were wondering, this dough freezes really well. I made one batch and baked up a dozen or so for the bf, cut the rest out, and then froze them until I needed to bake another batch right before Valentine’s Day. It did take longer to bake them straight out the freezer but the frozen baked cookies tasted just as delicious as the fresh baked ones so don’t hesitate to make and freeze for a later day!

This is seriously all the ingredients you need for this. No, really. I looked over the recipe a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

This is why I am so in love with vanilla bean paste: you see those little black flecks? That is the vanilla bean. Get a bottle of this stuff; it’s a lot more cost effective than buying vanilla beans. Sure I spent $11 for a 4 oz bottle but compare that to almost $3 for 2 beans at Cost Plus – where I would have used probably one whole bean for this recipe. See, math CAN be fun.

The finished cookie, fresh out the oven. I’m also a huge fan of parchment paper now because I no longer have to sacrifice a cookie to the cookie pan. If you’re still on the fence about buying a silpat [or don’t know what one is], definitely use parchment paper whenever possible.

This was my first attempt at lining and flooding with royal icing. I love how easy it was and am already thinking of other ways I can decorate cookies. This has really opened up the possibilities! And see! More vanilla bean flecks! And the final product? Delicious AND cute. And utterly addictive. Just ask Lindsey, who nearly finished a dozen in less than a day.

Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies
via Bridget at Bake at 350

3 c unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 c sugar
2 sticks butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (Bridget’s original recipe calls for 1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract and 1/2 pure almond extract)

Preheat oven to 350.

Combine the flour and baking powder, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix.

Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom.

Roll onto a floured surface and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Royal Icing*
via Meaghan at The Decorated Cookie

4 tblsp meringue powder
1/2 cup water
6-7 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup Crisco

Whip the meringue powder and water on high speed for a looooong time, several minutes, until it’s fluffy and peaks form.

Gradually add the rest of the ingredients to desired consistency.

Store at room temperature in a sealed container for up to a month.

*I halved the royal icing recipe and that was enough for roughly 5 dozen of these cookies with leftovers.

In the Kitchen: Orange-Glazed Salmon

And it returns! It’s been almost a full year my last weekend foray into the kitchen but since I put this back on my list of new year’s resolutions, I’m hoping to get more in the groove of cooking. I’m pretty much on the clock in terms of living at home and I’m going to have to cook for myself and the bf and eventually our kids. I might as well get more comfortable in the kitchen where I can still ask my mom for help if I need it. I did make a couple other dishes before this but nothing really to write home about. Okay, so there could potentially be a story. I’ll work on it.

Anywho, we had some salmon that my mom was going to cook so I decided to find a recipe and make it myself. I’m not sure what made me look for an orange glazed recipe but I suddenly wanted some. I found this recipe through the wonders of Google and it’s delicious. I’d definitely make it again. Not only is it super easy but you can essentially use this marinade for other meats. Mmm, meat.

Asian Crispy Orange-Glazed Salmon
via Tastebook

2/3 cup orange juice
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp lite soy sauce
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 (1″ piece) fresh ginger grated
4 (4-6 ounce) salmon fillets
2 tbs olive oil
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper
2 tbs honey

1) Stir together orange juice, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, and ginger in a bowl.

2) Drizzle 1 tbs olive oil into a baking pan. Add salmon and turn to coat.

3) Pour liquid mixture over salmon and let marinade for 30 minutes or more.

4) Remove salmon from dish and reserve marinade. Season salmon with salt and pepper.

5)  Heat a large nonstick skillet over Medium High heat and add remaining 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook salmon 3-4 minutes per side and remove from pan.

6) Pour reserved marinade into skillet and add honey. Heat for 3 minutes or until syrupy. Serve over salmon.