Fake food of my fake food, needle felted by Jordan
Today is my birthday. Coincidentally it is also my Free Friday so I'm enjoying a very lovely leisurely day. We began with candy in my shoes, fresh-baked muffins and presents. I received the most wonderful and thoughtful gifts—and so many! An artfully designed wiFi speaker from soundfreaq. The girls and I are listening to Yo-Yo Ma while I write. The new Cooks Illustrated compendium, The Science of Good Cooking, to further my culinary explorations; a gorgeous newly release boxed set of The Complete Sherlock Holmes—stunning cover art and wood block prints throughout—which Jordan has all ready dived into; and the most charming and delightful handcrafted gifts from the girls. 

I am so impressed with the girls ability to do things, to make things, to conceive and execute. Franny knitted a scarf—oh, how I love the colors and stripes!—using two new stitches that she learned while watching YouTube videos. She has a fantastic spatial sense and an ability to self-teach and tackle new concepts. Franny also made me a darling beanie, with a peaked top that resembles the stem of an acorn, that she knit using circular needles, alternating normal and vertical stitches, and all made without a pattern. 
Fresh blueberry muffins baked by Franny
Needle felted gnome that we named Toady. He's adorabubble which is beyond adorable.
Jordan ripened her needle felting skills by making a gnome (so tubby & cute!) and fake food fruit. She led me out to the dining room with eyes closed for a surprise reveal of handmade green apples, yellow pears, orange and twin cherries arranged to match the cover art of my blog. It amazes me that she can sit with a blob of wool, to then transform it into the very thing she imagined.

Franny and Jordan are an inspiration to me. They can be shy to talk to a sales clerk at a store, but they are fearless when it comes to devoting their energy to a project. Verbal acuity will happen as they mature; their curiosity and enthusiasm seem innate. The mission will be to foster that passion and creativity throughout their lives.
With my Bear, and wearing the hand-knitted scarf she made me
The celebrations started yesterday at work with a beautifully moist layer cake baked by Carole.
Gorgeous bouquet!
Tin Cup Serenade at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden's Redwood Grove Thursday Summer Concert Series, with the girls and Caryn
My past birthdays have been fun, melancholic, hectic, full of expectation, but always a time of contemplation. As the start of my new year begins, I find myself in an unusual (but getting more common) sweet spot of laid back reflection. It's been a tough year due to relationship problems that Dave and I face, but it is has also been a year filled with good growing pains. I've stretched these past months in ways that I've wanted to for the longest time. My blog currently offers a creative play space that is easier to attain than juggling schedules for rehearsals or expensive glass blowing classes. I've enjoyed my attempts to try new recipes. My blogging serves as a jumping off point for remembering the past, the preservation of new experiences, and therapeutic as I develop as a parent, partner and individual. 

What are my goals for the new year? Should I have specific objectives? Maybe the golden ticket would be to not set forth a series of intentions but to let each day unfold. But I think that's a bit far-reaching, after all, I called my sweet spot, "laid back reflection." I will always like to plan, I will always enjoy puzzling over meaning. Dave shared with me a beautiful essay,What's on Your Mind? by Joyce Dyer. Dyer speaks to her jumbled thinking patterns and how it feeds her imagination. 
For too long, I’ve mistrusted this mind of mine. I let conventional organization rush in too soon, and I chased away the reflection and associative chaos particular to the way I think — traits I’ve begun to honor now. 

-Joyce Dyer, What's on Your Mind?
I do believe that the act of self-acceptance, albeit difficult for some of us, does cultivate creativity. It's our individual approaches, our zebra stripes if you will, that make our voices unique. So why not acknowledge those quirks instead of trying to eradicate them. Possibly by embracing that my mind likes to mull things over, I might be able to continue my beneficial contemplativeness while letting go of the more debilitating aspects of scrutiny and rumination. Would that allow me to sense more intuitively, to be more in the moment? By accepting the way my mind works, could I lose the exhaustive commentary of self-judgement, and allow life to unfold with a balance of awareness and joy? Self-acceptance also fosters connection; a kindness towards yourself engenders a reciprocal loop of generosity and receptivity to the larger world. So let's start the year not with an agenda, but trust ourselves to know what we feel, to act upon those sensations and to allow our lives to be enriched with love.
Oh my gosh! This was so delicious! The recipe is from Smitten Kitchen's Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast. It was everything I love: fast, healthy, full of texture and breakfast-for-dinner! Thank you Smitten Kitchen!

Every time I go out for breakfast, I have poached eggs. I love the delicate white texture contrasted with the warm, gooey yolk, but I find poaching eggs at home to be troublesome. These five minute boiled eggs capture that delightful texture with no hassle! 

My very favorite brunch spot in the world is Tartine in NYC in the West Village. I have so many fond memories of brunches there with friends. While Cate was attending massage therapy school, I would go to her rent control apartment and she would "practice" on me, both swedish and shiatsu techniques. Afterwards, we'd walk down the block for breakfast at Tartine and indulge in the very best hollandaise sauce. On the weekends, they offer Eggs Benedict (with canadian bacon, Dave's fave) or Eggs Florentine (with spinach, my fave) with dark, crusty-browned potatoes, orange juice and coffee. They do booming business with a line that snakes around the block every weekend. 
Even better than eating outside on a sunny spring day, was being bundled up in winter, waiting in line filled with anticipation. Here's Wendy, Dave & Mike, preparing for our Tartine ritual.
I loved Cate's apartment. It was light-filled and looked down upon one of those rare-Manhattan sights, a neighbor's backyard garden. I remember one warm summer evening, Cate, our friend, Joel, and I, sat out on her fire escape and chatted about the books we were each reading. I had so much time in those days. It never felt like it though. I was always rushing from one thing to the next, but in comparison to my life now, the days were long with vasts amounts of free time. Now the hours, weeks, months tumble by, and I'm trying to learn to better savor each day. I'm attempting to worry less about how things turn out, control only what I can control (i.e. how I respond to the out of control) and to stay present (less regret about the past and less anxiety about the future). I think that's what this blog is about. An attempt to have fun, reflect, be a little creative and an opportunity to practice really tossing things out there.

Last night, the girls were out at a birthday party, so I tried SK's smashed eggs for mine and Dave's dinner, and was richly rewarded with memories of our old Manhattan days. Maybe that's a good formula. Indulging the senses with nutritious and memory-invoking food, blogging about good times with dear friends, and again, remembering to appreciate what I have.
The ingredients!
Does everything I love start with shallots?
SK said to use a "small puddle of water." I'll call this about 2T.
4 oz. of spinach. Washed but does not need to be dried.
Just wilted and about to remove to drain in a colander.
Melt 1-2T butter, saute minced shallots until soft, translucent and fragrant, but before they get brown.
Add drained spinach
Add 2T half and half, pinch of salt, a couple of turns of fresh ground pepper.
Add eggs to boiling water and cook for five minutes.
Toasted bread thinly spread with dijon mustard.
Peel eggs under water to remove shell. Be sure to peel away thin membrane, and pat to dry.
Gushy goodness! Eat with a fork and knife, or just pick it up and eat with your fingers.
Smashed Egg & Spinach on Toast, from Smitten Kitchen


small sauce pan
fry pan
fork, butter knife, serrated knife
wooden spoon, measuring spoons

2 large eggs
4 oz fresh spinach leaves
2 slices of hearty bread. I used herb slab sliced in half
2T shallots, minced
2T butter
2T half & half*
1 tsp Dijon mustard
kosher salt & fresh-ground pepper
1T crumbled cheese, such as feta or goat**

*Smitten Kitchen uses heavy cream. I always have half & half for my coffee so I substituted that instead and it tasted great!
**I skipped the crumbled cheese, and for me, it was plenty rich without the extra dairy. 

I have a hard time getting everything to come together at the same time. SK begins the process with boiling the water and then cooking the egg for 5 minutes. I find that's a lot to juggle so I waited to boil my water until after the spinach & shallots were cooked. I think that was a little late, so in the future, I plan to start the water after draining the spinach.

1. Mince shallot into very small mince.
2. While washing spinach leaves (no need to dry. Yay!), heat 2T water in skillet over medium low heat.
3. When water bubbles, add spinach. Cook just until wilted. It should still be a bright green color. 
4. Drain spinach in colander, and press excess water out with a fork. Don't squeeze. You want the spinach to retain its shape.
5. Pat dry the pan (though I found the residual heat evaporated the left-over water from the spinach), and melt 2T butter over medium low heat.
6. While the butter melts, start boiling the water for the eggs in a small sauce pan, and slice & toast the bread.
7. Add shallots to melted butter and saute until soft, about 3 minutes or until shallots are fragrant and translucent, but not browned.
8. Add two eggs to boiling water, lower heat a bit so they don't knock around too much, but water is still boiling. Cook for five minutes for a really loose egg.
9. Add the spinach to the saute pan and incorporate. 
10. Add 2T half & half (or heavy cream) and incorporate, simmer for about a minute
11. Add two pinches of kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste. Turn burner off, but it's okay to leave in the pan on the stove to keep warm. 
12. Spread about 1/2 tsp. dijon on each slice of toast.
13. Drain eggs, peel under warm tap water. At five minutes, they are quite jiggly so gently pat dry with a paper towel.
14. Arrange spinach on toast, making a nest with an indented area for the egg to nestle.
15. Place egg in nest, smash with a fork and sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, serve immediately.
Fresh-baked blueberry muffins, coffee, tangerines & deep purple anemones!
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey is one of my favorite children's books. I love the warm relationship that Sal and her mother have, and the loving relationship of the mother bear and her cub. "Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!" go the blueberries as Sal drops them into her tin pail. We meet Sal again in One Morning in Maine. Her family lives on a tiny and isolated island with a rocky beachfront and soaring trees. Sal's older now and goes digging for clams with her father, when she loses her first tooth. Sal's rite of passage, her parents loving attention while simultaneously teaching Sal how to be resilient and strong, make me long for a more self-sufficient, slower lifestyle with a real connection to my natural surroundings.

One Valentine's Day many years ago -- I think it was as long ago as 2001! -- Dave gave each of us a gift. Jordan got Blueberries for Sal, Franny got what soon became another favorite, Love Songs of the Little Bear, and I received the BBC miniseries production of Pride and Prejudice (the definitive version with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth). All three gifts have woven deep threads into the narrative of our lives.

I guess that's what I think about when I eat blueberries. Family, tenderness, nature. And blueberries in muffins make for even more warmth on a weekend morning. These blueberry muffins, from Baking Illustrated by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine, are my new favorites. These muffins brown beautifully resulting in a firmer, toasty goodness on the outside while still remaining fluffy tender in the middle. 
Buttering the muffin tin instead of spraying with non-stick spray is really worth the effort. The result is better browning and rich flavor.
Whisk vigorously until the sugar & eggs thicken.
Add the just-out-of-the-freezer frozen blueberries (or fresh) to the dry ingredients. This coating helps keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of your muffins.
Whisk the dry ingredients together to mix.
Add the slightly cooled melted butter in 2 or 3 additions and whisk to incorporate.
Frozen blueberries are convenient and work fine in this recipe. 
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry.
Add sugar to the beaten eggs.
Add the sour cream in three additions. I use a 1/2C measure cup (4 oz) twice, followed by a 1/4C (2 oz).
The dough is very thick.
Even though the blueberries have stained the batter purple, the muffins bake up just fine. Bake 25-30 minutes in a 350 degree, pre-heated oven. In my oven, it takes 30 minutes.
Clean up begins while the muffins bake!
Golden deliciousness!
Let muffins cool for 5 minutes, then turn them out on to a wire rack so they don't steam and get soggy.
Tender and fluffy, with well-distributed blueberries thanks to dusting the still-frozen berries in the flour mixture.
Blueberry Muffins from Baking Illustrated
Makes 12

Equipment needed
1 muffin tin
2 medium bowls
1 whisk
measuring cups & spoons
small saucepan to melt the butter
rubber spatula
soup spoon for scooping batter into muffin tins
wire rack fitted into a half-sheet pan (optional) for cooling

2C unbleached all-purpose flour
1T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1C sugar
4T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter -- melted and cooled slightly
1-1/4C (10oz) sour cream
1-1/2C (7-1/2 to 8 ounces) frozen or fresh blueberries

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, wire rack in the middle position
2. Butter muffin tins
3. Whisk the dry ingredients in a bowl to combine
4. Beat the egg in another bowl until well-combined & lightens in color 
5. Add the sugar and whisk vigorously until the mixture become thick and homogenous
6. Add the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions and combine well after each addition
7. Add the sour cream in 2-3 additions, whisk just to combine
8. Remove the blueberries from the freezer and add to the dry ingredients. Gently toss to cover. *If using fresh berries, be sure that they are well-dried after washing.
9. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick and that's okay! It's also okay if small spots of flour remain or if the batter is stained a little purple from the berries.
10. Spoon batter into the muffin cups. Ina Garten would use a spring-loaded ice cream scooper for perfectly consistent sized muffins, Cooks Illustrated says to spray your spoon with cooking oil, but I think both are unnecessary.
11. Bake until muffins are golden brown, about 25-30 minutes, turning the muffin pan once for more uniform browning. Insert a toothpick in the center of the muffin. If it comes out clean, they are done, though the tops being brown are really a great indicator.
12. Cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to keep muffins from steaming. Enjoy warm, though they're good cold, too!