Thursday, November 29, 2012

20 Great Holiday Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List

It's a funny thing: when you don't blog for months and months, blogger up and changes the whole blogging format and layout on you. I'm not even 100% sure this is my blog at this point! Who knows!

I'm suddenly in the holiday spirit. This could be due to the weather (cold, windy, rainy and grey) or it could be due to the fact that finally, after years and years of going without, we have an actual working fireplace in our house. One that burns wood. Environmentally sound? No. Cozy and seasonal? Yes. I'll take it. In any case, bring on the holiday cheer. It's all apple cider spiked with bourbon, hot chocolate and roasted turkey around here.

Every blog on the planet has posted a holiday gift guide, so I thought, why not join in? I've seen quite a few things in the past couple of weeks that I thought would make great gifts for loved ones, and lord knows we could all use some help in the ideas department, so here's my list:

1. Instagram Frames - $30+ - Hey! Wouldn't it be great if you could frame your best instagram photos? Wouldn't be even better if you could just sync your instagram feed, select which photos to frame, chose the frame and have someone ship it straight to you in about a week for a really great price? The geniuses at Hatchcraft have this all figured out. A really great personal gift, and the process couldn't be easier

2. Gold Porcelain Clouds - $36-$66 - I've got a thing for interesting objects. I place them around the house to add some quirky dimension here and there. I love these gold porcelain clouds, they would add a whimsical touch in any room. They look great hung on a wall, placed on a table top, or used as a paperweight. 

3. Fouta's (Turkish Bath Towels) - $20 each - We recently switched from terry cloth towels to Foutas in our house, and we love them. They're light, and beautifully woven, and they're incredibly absorbant. They just feel luxurious, and they look so much nicer than regular towels in the bathroom. They come in all colors and patterns. These ones from ABC Carpet & Home are lovely.

4. DODO Case for an iPad - $60+ at JCrew - We all have a tech geek in our life that we love, but I find that they can sometimes be difficult to shop for. They often buy themselves everything they want. This case is a great find. They're protective, functional and attractive. They even have a hole in the case for the camera, so you don't have to take your iPad out of the case to take a picture. JCrew currently has a large selection of these on sale in quite a few colors. 

5. Beautiful Cloth Napkins - $32 for set of 4 - I saw a picture of these napkins that are sold on Etsy on Apartment Therapy recently and fell in love. Such a gorgeous pattern. You can find cloth napkins in every color on Etsy. They'd be an instant upgrade to any dining room table.

6. Elderflower Cordial - $15 at Terrain - Have you ever had St. Germain? It's a liquor made of elderflower blossoms, sometimes used in cocktails, often cocktails with gin. It's divine. For a non-alcoholic version, there's Elderflower cordial, which is terrific when you add just a little bit to sparking water. So good, and such a beautiful bottle. It's a great addition to a home bar set.

7. Herringbone Necklace from Bario-Neal - $108 - How gorgeous is this Herringbone necklace? It made my jaw practically drop when I saw it. Don't you think it would make a spectacular gift for some lovely lady in your life? Hint, hint.

8. Star Wars Poster - $40 on Etsy - We all have a Star Wars lover in our life. In fact, I've got about 8 of them just in my family alone. This Star Wars inspired alphabet poster is so clever. I think it would look great in my college nephew's new house.

9. Custom Print - $21 from Society6 - Have you heard of Society6? It's a website that sells the creations of artists from around the world. I bought my iPhone case from them, and they have a ton of beautiful prints, cases, t-shirts, etc. This is a beautiful print by Cassia Beck. I love how colorful and fun it is. It would look great on the wall!

10. Viking Ship Mobile - $52 from Acorn, a Brooklyn Toy Shop - I adore this Viking Ship Mobile from Acorn Toys. It would look so cute in a nursery, or simply hanging in your room. Acorn has a large selection of beautiful mobiles.

11. Gold Giraffe - $35 from Dwell Studios - Once again, I'm a sucker for shiny but tasteful knick-knacks around the house, and I love this elegant gold giraffe from Dwell. It would make a great bookend, and it would look beautiful on the mantle.

12. Pop Art Movie Poster - $30 on Etsy - Who wouldn't love a framed copy of their favorite movie poster re-imagined in such an eye-catching way? I love the Ferris Buller poster. The Goonies and Back to the Future are just two more of many that I can see hanging on the wall.

13. Ceramic Glow-bowls from Diana Fayt - $95 for a set of 7 on Etsy - I've had my eye on these for years, and if they don't show up under my tree, I just may pull the trigger on my own. I love beautiful ceramic pieces, and these would make an incredible statement.

14. Beer Making Kit - $40+ at Brooklyn Brew Shop - Perhaps you, like me, have an aspiring Brew Master in your life. You might want to check out the kits at Brooklyn Brew shop. For a full self-starting kit, you can easily spend over $200, but to just get someone started, or add to their collection, check out these starter kits. I've got my eye on the Coffee & Donut Stout...

15. Goodly Whale Bottle Opener - $24 at BHLDN - You'll need something to crack open that freshly brewed bottle of beer. Why not use this adorable whale bottle opener from BHLDN? It's so cute, you'll want to display it even when it's not in use.

16. Bud Vase from Heath Ceramics - $25 at Heath - There's nothing that Heath creates that I don't love. I never get tired of their beautiful and functional pieces. I can't get enough of these bud vases, and I think they make a great gift. Currently housing two on my mantel...I love this soft red color.

17. Polaroid Z340 Instant Camera - Starts at $249 - Looking to splurge? I can't think of a better gift than this Polaroid instant camera. Nothing beats the instant nature of the polaroid. Truly the gift that just keeps giving.

18. Coral Herringbone Throw - $250 from Serena and Lily - If you're still feeling flush, check out this gorgeous throw from Serena and Lily. I can't seem to get enough of the herringbone pattern these days, and this throw looks as cozy as it is beautiful.

19. St. Helena Global Salt Trio - $25 from Terrain - I love this trio of fancy salts: Black, Pink and Grey.  They come in these lovely weck jars, which can be repurposed once the salts have been used up. A great gift for the chef in your life.

20. Handmade BBQ Sauce Pack - Homemade, Idea from DesignMom Blog - Check out this great DIY from DesignMom Blog: make your own BBQ pack! This was originally a Father's Day gift idea, but it would make a great holiday gift as well. Just set aside an afternoon to whip up the rub and sauce, and pack it together with a basting brush and maybe a few other things in some cute packaging. Such a great idea.

Whew! You're probably out of money now, but at least you've got some great gifts for everyone on your list!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Green Goddess

A summer salad and an announcement: first, the announcement. After nearly six years in the same wonderful apartment building in Berkeley, I'm moving to a lovely little bungalow in a, new to me, neighborhood in Oakland.

The Boyfriend is coming with. After a year of living together, we've settled quite nicely, and have been feeling the need to expand. That need is coupled with what is foremost on our mind: getting a dog.

Last weekend we visited several rental properties, and on our last appointment, we found it. An adorable craftsman with a gigantic backyard, a fireplace, newly updated kitchen, dishwasher, washer and dryer, a grill, a deck, and (get this) a dog house in the backyard. We feel like we've hit the jackpot.

And even though I said there was NO WAY we could move in August, as it's a busy month for us, we are indeed moving in in August. Because when you find the perfect place, you take it.

And so, we're off! Movers are hired, purging and cleaning has been tackled, and a pull-out couch/guest bed situation has been decided upon. A good thing, considering we'll have a visitor the weekend after we move in. I expect this will be happening a lot more, now that the air mattress is being put in storage. Did I mention our new place is a two bedroom?!

In between planning for a domestic upgrade, I found some time to hop over to the farmer's market for the first time in awhile. I had a Green Goddess salad dressing recipe from Melissa Clark in mind. Perfect for a hot summer day. In addition to firm zucchinis, plump avocados, and bright green herbs, I got my hands on some peaches and nectarines, fresh squash blossoms, and about 2 pounds of Padron Peppers, which Whit and I can't seem to get enough of lately. I'll grill them up and we'll pop them into our mouths one by one as we tune into the newest episode of Breaking Bad. Accompanied by fried squash blossoms, and this bright and tangy salad. Summer's best!

I've mentioned before how much I adore Melissa Clark's cookbook, "Cook This Now!" It's the best cookbook I've ever owned. I want to make absolutely ever recipe in it. I've gotten through probably 20 of them so far, and they've all been keepers. Her roast chicken makes an appearance in our house at least once every two weeks. This salad is a keeper as well.

Shaved Zucchini and Avocado Salad with Green Goddess Dressing
adapted slightly from Melissa Clark's "Cook This Now"

For the dressing:
1/2 cup packed plus 2 tbsp basil leaves
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup packed parsley leaves
1/4 cup packed cilantro
3 tbsp olive oil
2 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced
1 anchovy fillet
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
Freshly squeezed juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp kosher salt, additional to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 

1 medium zucchini
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into chunks
2 tbsp roasted pine nuts
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Combine dressing ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, thinly slice the zucchini into rounds. You could also try using a vegetable peeler lengthwise for long, paper thin strips. Combine zucchini with avocado, tomatoes and pine nuts in a bowl. Pour dressing in and lightly coat the salad. You'll have some dressing left over. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Heath Ceramics Spring Line

Saturday was a beautiful morning in the Bay Area, so we took the ferry from Oakland over to the San Francisco Ferry Building (a 15 minute trip for $6.50,cheaper than parking and a much better view) and hit up the numerous cheese stands, stocked up on produce and noshed on freshly made Italian Doughnuts.

I couldn't resist perusing the Heath storefront in the Ferry Building. Their seasonal collection for summer is out, and the color is pretty much perfect. All of these have landed on my "want" list.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Kauai Trip - Recommendations of Where to Stay, Eat and Play

I promised a post on my Kauai recommendations, and I'm delivering on that promise. My guide on a trip to the Garden Island. It's something I wish that I would have found before we left: an outline of the not-to-be-missed spots with a lot of unique local flavor.

We had the famous Blue Book to guide us on our way, and I'd done quite a bit of research before we left, but no one blog post or book fit exactly the way we like to travel, which was something of a disappointment considering how many books I referenced. I was reading an article today in which Anthony Bourdain gave his top 5 travel tips, and number one was "eat where the locals eat." Any local I could find in Kauai that was willing to give their 2 cents, I asked for recommendations. Yelp was also a big help here.

The truth about Kauai is, you're not there for the food. Hawaii is not exactly known for it's cuisine (unless spam with rice and seaweed is your kind of comfort food) and you're probably not going to have the best meal of your life there. But there is good food to be had, it just takes a willingness to break away from the tourist spots.

So here's my Kauai quick list on where to stay, the best hikes we did, and of course, where to eat:

North Shore Lodging -
We stayed at the Sea Lodge in Princeville. A 1 bedroom condo right on the bluff overlooking a reef and several palm trees. It was a great bargain, and out of three places that we stayed on the trip, our favorite. Totally private, well-stocked, and in a great location from which to explore the North Shore, which is in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the island.

North Shore Hike -
Don't miss the Kalalau Trail. Fair warning, you don't want to hike this trail in bad weather. When it rains, the trail becomes a creek with a drop off on one side of hundreds and hundreds of feet. You need to be careful and have good hiking shoes on for this. A walking stick is highly recommended.

You can do the first 2 miles of this trail to Hanakapiai Beach. Another 2 miles from the beach, inland, will bring you to a waterfall. Keep in mind that if you go all the way to the falls, it's an 8 mile hike round trip. You'll want to bring plenty of water, and give yourself enough time to hike, as it's relatively slow going. The trail is very rocky, and incredibly slippery if wet, and you don't have the right shoes. The views, however, are incomparable. Be prepared to stop every few feet to gawk at the Napali Coast.

North Shore Eats:

Red Hot Mama's - This is a shack on the side of the road. She tells you what she has for the day, you order that (paying extra for the hot sauce) and then you buy beer at the general store next door. You then pay the lady and take your food to the beach for an impromptu picnic. What could be better than eating a freshly made burrito made with local ingredients on the beach in Kauai with your beer of choice? Nothing, my friend. Nothing is better than that.

Maybe she only has pork that day, maybe she only has beef. Who knows! Who Cares?! You do not come to a place like this for options!!! You eat what you are told and you will like it!!!

My suggestion is that you stop here before you go to Tunnels or Ke'e Beach for your picnic.

Bar Acuda - This was our favorite meal in Kauai. Come to find out later that it's owned by a former San Francisco chef and restauranteur. Go figure. I like the Slow Club, I like Bar Acuda. Basically, this was the only fine dining restaurant we ate at in Kauai that could hold it's own on the mainland. You can't miss it, and if you're staying on the North Shore, you'll probably go back more than once for dinner. That's cool, you won't miss much else in terms of food.

Fair enough pricing comparatively (much less expensive than the St. Regis). And a much better wine list than anywhere else on the Island. I highly recommend the garlic shrimp.

Bubba Burgers - The In N Out of Kauai. We tried both these and the famous Duane's Ono Char burgers. Honestly (and this is based on a basic cheeseburger) I liked both, but Bubba might have a slight edge taste and fries wise. Just get it the way they tell you. Don't try to add lettuce or tomato, they don't do that. American cheese, dude. Let's be authentic about this.

I think this place is better than a lot of people seem to be giving it credit for. Honestly, I didn't expect to find a good cheeseburger in Hanalei, so I was impressed.

The St. Regis Bar - You're going to pay $20+ for that glass of wine, but I guess you should think of it as paying for the atmosphere and the service, both of which can't be beat. So enjoy those with your very expensive glass of wine and consider two of these starts atmospheric points. Really, the beach and view here can't be beat. We were here nightly during our North Shore stay.

Tahiti Nui and Iti Wine Bar - This was a fun place to start our vacation. We just sat on the porch at night with a couple of drinks (skip the Mai Tai's and go with a beer or a basic cocktail) and enjoyed being on the North Shore in Hanalei. The live music was actually pretty good that night, and Iti Wine Bar right next door was pretty good. It was a great place to spend an evening relaxing.

Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza - Best spot we found for a low-key breakfast. Great pastries, even better pizza and salads. Fresh coconut too. We went back twice after the first time. The cinnamon roll wasn't quite as good as Java Kai, but it was the best pizza we had on the island.

Java Kai - Crazy good cinnamon rolls, good coffee and fresh fruit. We had egg and bagel sandwiches that weren't anything special, but they hit the spot for a day of exploring. The cinnamon rolls are worth bragging about.

East Shore Lodging -
For our 2 days on the East Shore, we stayed at The Dilly Dally House. A Bed & Breakfast inland, outside of Kapaa. Some friends came here on their honeymoon and highly recommended it to us.

Our hosts were great, very laid back (as most on the island are) and were happy to provide us with everything we needed/wanted and more. You basically won't need anything but your clothes when you come here, they provide everything else you could think of.

The grounds and pool are lovely, and the house itself is great. We stayed in the Suite, which came with a wonderful king size bed, sitting room with futon couch, a tv fully stocked with cable (including HBO) and there are tons of DVD's that you can borrow.

Both days we stayed, the breakfasts were great, and the hosts were more than willing to offer up suggestions on things to do and see. Much appreciated.

To top it all off, it was more affordable than any of the hotels near by, or in Poipu. We got so much more for our money, and such a unique experience. I'd definitely go back.

East Shore Activities -
Don't miss kayaking up the Wailua River. We also did a hike from the midway point of our kayak trip, to a waterfall called Secret Falls. The amount of other people there belied the name, it's certainly not secret, but it is incredibly beautiful.

East Shore Eats -

Duane's Ono Char Burger - I didn't expect to have good cheeseburgers in Kauai, but I did. Both Duane's and Bubba's were good. Bubba's might have been a little better, but we're splitting hairs at this point. They were both good.

To be fair, I didn't have the suggested pineapple teriyaki burger, which apparently is their specialty. I had a basic cheeseburger. As stated: very good.

I'd recommend taking the food to go as the atmosphere leaves a bit to be desired. Why sit next to the highway when some of the best beaches in the world are so close? If you do sit there, be prepared to shield your food from the deranged roosters that you've by now become very familiar with.

Monico's Taqueria - I was surprised that this place didn't get an ONO in the famous Blue Book. It was pretty decent, and fairly priced. Much better than Scotty's BBQ, and it seems the locals agree. It was packed with local folks.

Was it great Mexican food? No, but it was better than I expected it to be, and much better than a lot of the highly recommended restaurants we tried, without the insane price tag.

Get yourself a Negro Modelo and order up some tacos. They'll keep you stocked with chips and salsa. Really good service.

South Shore Lodging -

So here's where I think we went wrong: we stayed at the Sheraton, which I wouldn't go back to. My problem with the South Shore is that it felt, by far, like the most touristy part of Kauai. We were missing the North Shore as soon as we got here. That said, the South Shore does have the best weather. So if you're set on staying South, I'd recommend looking for a good deal, and spending as much time out of your room as possible.

Same was true for food. The one place we tried here that we liked was a tiny little deli in Koloa, The Koloa Deli, that had great bagels and Italian sandwiches that we took with us on a hike near Waimea Canyon.

West Side Hike -

Kokee State Park - Keep driving to the very end of the road. There, you get to the Puu O Kila Lookout, and you can hop on the Phiea trail, which connects to the Aleka'i Swamp Trail. The views from here are probably the most incredible you will ever see. Totally jaw dropping, and not to be missed. This hike was one of the highlights of our trip.

That being said: do not attempt this trail if it's been raining or is raining, or else you'll be in for it. One cannot say enough about the mud: it is all encompassing. You will not escape it, and it will ruin anything it touches! The red Kauai dirt/mud on this trail has the consistency of clay, and it's like walking on oil when it's wet. That, combined with steep, boulder covered passages, makes for a very challenging trail. But, you can go as far as you like. The views stay with you from beginning to end. Just be prepared before you attempt. We found this to be true with all the hikes we attempted in Kauai ;) That said, we did have a lot of rain while we were there. But I hear that's true throughout most of the year.

Other notable mentions: Waimea Canyon Lookout on the West Shore, Spouting Horn on the South Shore, Maha'ulepu Beach on the South Shore, Waiula and Opeaka'a Falls on the East Shore.

Favorite Beaches: Ke'e Beach, Tunnels Beach, Hanalei Bay, the beach at the St. Regis, Rock Quarry Beach, Hideaways Beach, all on the North Shore

Maha'ulepu Beach on the East Shore was a favorite, as well as a great hike.

So those were the highlights for us. If you have any questions, just leave them in the comments. I'm happy to make other recommendations if I can!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Had to Share - Oven "Grilled" Steak

Ahem. Excuse me while I brush the cobwebs away in here.

The thing is, I had to share a new recipe discovery with you. So good and easy that it brought me back to blogging here.

The past year and a half brought so many new changes to my life, a relationship, a new job, a move, living with someone for the first time, and most recently, an amazing trip to Kauai, where we did our best to explore every inch of the island for 9 wonderful days. The weather didn't always cooperate, but we did our best to enjoy and experience everything Kauai had to offer.

I think that I'll do a post soon with Kauai recommendations. Like everyone else, we used the infamous "Blue Book." But I was a bit disappointed by it's food suggestions, which were a bit more mainstream than I like. Stay tuned for that one, it's coming, I promise.

I'll admit, blogging hasn't been on the forefront of my mind, despite the fact that I'm doing a lot of cooking lately. Ahi and Mahi Mahi with mango salsa in our little condo in Princeville, Garam Masala Roast Chicken with Chickpeas and Carrots, Thai Chili Coconut Beef Short Ribs, Roasted Red Pepper Soup and Shrimp Scampi with Fennel and Pernod, just to name a few.

Along with a recipe, I have a recommendation: if you don't already have your hands on Melissa Clark's new cookbook, Cook This Now, please do yourself a favor and order a copy today. I've never treasured a cookbook so much. I'm working my way through this book, and I've yet to try something that I don't immediately want to make again. It's that good.

Now: onto the promised recipe.

I apologize for the lack of photos, I can't stand taking pictures of food without natural light, and all of my cooking happens at night after work these days. But please believe me when I tell you, this resulted in the finest steak I've ever cooked.

Which is saying a lot, because I've always had a difficult time with steak that isn't grilled outside with charcoal. I mean, clearly, that is the way to do it. But we currently own neither outdoor space, nor grill. Valentine's Day was upon us, and for a relaxing, romantic night in, I knew I wanted to cook a steak. How best to do so in the oven, and still get that delicious crust and perfect medium-rare steak?

Mark Bittman has the answer, and it goes like this...

Oven "Grilled" Steak
Mark Bittman - NY Times

Ingredients -

1 1/2 to 2 lbs strip or rib-eye steaks (2 large steaks)
salt and freshly ground pepper


A pizza stone for the oven (not necessary, but helpful)

Put the pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and fit another rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to maximum, 500 degrees or more for at least 20 minutes. Put a cast-iron or other ovenproof heavy skillet large enough to hold the steaks over high heat on the stove top to heat. Wait 2 or 3 minutes, until pan is beginning to smoke.

Add the steaks and let them sit on top of the stove as long as you can before the smoke becomes too much. For me, this was about 2 minutes (and yes, my smoke alarm then went off, but that's the trend in our small apartment. All the better for the steak!) Immediately transfer the pan to the preheated oven. Roast the steaks for about 4 minutes, or until nicely browned on the bottom, then turn and cook on the other side for another 3-4 minutes, until done.

Remove, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let meat rest about 5 minutes, then serve.