Fastest, Most Painless Winter. Ever.

26 01 2010

Seriously. We’re on pace to have the warmest January on record. It’s been pretty much sunny since we returned from Paris, save a day or two here and there. I saw a cherry tree blooming this afternoon on my walk, what a confused little tree! It is an El Niño year, which means warmer temps, less snow and usually more rain (what in the WORLD were the olympic organizers thinking when they planned Vancouver Winter Olympics in an El Niño year???). I’m sure we’ll get another blast of cold, but I don’t think we’re in for any week long shut-ins due to 18″ of snow. 

My hellebores have bloomed easily a month earlier than they have the last two winters. 

blooms just opening


My hydrangeas (yes, I have four of them now…i bought a new one in the fall when they were 40% off – it’s a deep red color, I cannot wait to see it this summer) have started sprouting new leaves and my bulbs are peeking up out of the ground. I planted over 100 bulbs in the fall this year, expect a good show in a few weeks all the way through June! 

my new fire red mophead hydrangea survived winter!


When we first bought the hellebores, they just laid down on the ground. I think they hated our house or the yard we put them in. The whole summer I watered them, wondering what I was doing wrong. Then suddenly, after their first winter, they just perked up and decided they wanted to stay. Now they are the best performers in that part of the garden. So pretty and different! 

h. x ballardiae pine knot (scientific name of the plant)


Is spring coming where you live?

Sunday Supper: Steamed Cod with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

26 01 2010

My sister Sharla gave me a great set of bamboo steaming baskets for Christmas this year. I need all the help I can get with healthy, quick meals for week nights. I have endless recipes for the long, labored Sunday dinner, but I fail miserably when it comes to the quick ones!

The concept of the stacked baskets is to put the items that require more steam to cook on the bottom and keep going on up. For example, if you had three layers, you would do potatoes on the bottom, fish in the middle, and spinach or greens on the top. Each one needs less steam to cook in the same amount of time, so everything finishes at once!

I lined my baskets with parchment paper to keep the fish from seeping into them, but many say you can line them with a piece of cabbage or lettuce. I’ll give that a try next time!

In one layer, I put two filets of True Cod (the only fresh/wild fish at the market this week – so ready for summer now) with a tiny drizzle of EVOO, some salt, pepper, a little fresh cilantro, and a 1/2 lemon.

true cod fillets

On the next layer, I put some chunks of sweet potatoes (red garnet, my favorite) with a little EVOO, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of curry powder.

red garnet sweet potatoes

Because my fish fillets were so thin, I decided to  let the potatoes get a good blast of steam before I added the fish to make sure it was all done at the same time.

potatoes on alone - be sure to put the lid on!

While the potatoes cooked, I washed some spinach and put it on the serving platter. After 5 minutes, I added the fish basket to the top and let it go for another 5 minutes.

added the fish after letting the potatoes steam for 5 minutes

both baskets steaming away happily

I put the hot fish & potatoes on the spinach to wilt it just  a bit. After 10 minutes prep, and 10 minutes cooking, I had a healthy, tasty, beautiful meal on the table!

healthy, fast, delicious dinner!

Meet Franc the Fizzy Water Making Penguin

12 01 2010

If you hang out with me when there is snacking or a meal, you might know of my love for sparkling water. It started some time around 10 years ago. I used to think it tasted like dirt. I never liked it.

One day I accidentally bought a bottle of Pelligrino and I was won. Now, I’d prefer water with gas over flat. But it’s expensive! And the bottles fill up the recycling bin so quickly! And they are heavy when I’m walking home from the store! I could go on and on…

So. For Christmas, Scott gave me Franc. He comes with some CO2 containers (that can be refilled when you take them back to Williams Sonoma) and a couple glass bottles… and makes THE best sparkling water I’ve ever had. Each CO2 bottle will fizz 60 of the water bottles.

franc, our new family member


franc with one of the water bottles

 First, you tuck the bottle of water in his back and tilt it back in.

tuck the bottle in his back

Then you close the silver part right back down. It slides down over the bottle and locks in place.

close the back down

Pull the beak, holding it down until it whistles. I like to pull it twice for extra bubbly water. Guess what the coolest part is? NO WIRES! It’s a pretty sleek little machine that has made it’s way onto the counter with no issues.

dont worry - it doesn't hurt him

Open it back up, pour water and top with lime or lemon or orange or soda or whatever little flavor you want. Apparently you can order soda flavors online to make your own homemade soda.

perfectly fresh sparkling water. thanks franc!

What a great Christmas present. Franc will be in our family for many years to come.

Sunday Supper: Stuffed Savoy Cabbage

10 01 2010

Dear Martha Stewart,

I love you. I love your magazine, I TiVo your show every day, I peruse your website daily, sometimes I even read your tweets. I wish I had been crafty enough to be MS before MS was cool. That said, sometimes your projects, crafts, and recipes aren’t nearly as easy as you make them look. I’m sure it’s just because you are so darn good at everything, but it has kept me from testing your recipes lately.

Tonight, I tried out the Stuffed Savoy Cabbage from your January 2010 issue. While it was quite a bit more time intensive — is that why you don’t put durations on your recipes? — than I expected, I planned ahead for such a difficulty. Thankfully, you caught me on Sunday Supper.

The grocery store was out of ground pork, so I went with ground lamb, the cabbage heads available were small, so I made more than 12, but Martha? Wow. These little pockets of savory meat tucked into perfectly cooked cabbage and topped with a fresh, slightly spicy tomato sauce = perfect.

Thanks for making my first Sunday Supper of 2010 great. I hope you are recovering well from your trip to Thailand (don’t be scared readers, she talked about it on her show this week – I’m not a stalker) and you, Francesca, and Sharkey have had a great start to the year. I’ll be giving some more of the recipes in Jan 2010 a try.

Mrs. Lpod

Stuffed Savoy Cabbage
Martha Stewart Living, January 2010

image of different stuffed cabbage via










for the tomato sauce (makes 3 cups)
1 can (28 ounces) whole, peeled
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
coarse salt

for the stuffed cabbage
coarse salt
1 large head savoy cabbage (2-3 lbs)
12 ounces ground chuck (90% lean)
12 ounces ground pork
2 cups cooked brown rice (from 1 cup dry)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon hot paprika

1. Make the tomato sauce: pulse tomatoes with juice in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly, until onion is tender, about 6 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and juice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thick, about 20 minutes. Season with salt. Let cool completely.

2. Make the stuffed cabbage: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cabbage head, and cook until outer leaves are just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Peel outer layer of leaves, and drain. Return remaining cabbage to water, and repeat until all leaves are cooked and removed. Pat each leaf dry with a kitchen towel. Select 12 large light-green leaves. Reserve remaining leaves for another use.

3. Preheat oven to 375°. Using 2 forks, gently stir together beef, pork, rice, onion, parsley, paprika and 1 tablespoon salt.

4. Working with 1 leaf at a time, trim the thick part of the rib with a paring knife, leaving the leaf intact. Arrange about 1/2 cup filling (less for smaller leaves) in center of each leaf. Fold stem end of cabbage over filling. Fold in sides of cabbage. Carefully roll cabbage over to form a package, overlapping ends to seal. Transfer each, seam side down, to a large, shallow baking dish.

5. Spreads sauce over stuffed cabbage leaves. Cover with parchment-lined foil, and bake until cooked through and cabbage is tender, about 1 hour.

Make ahead: tomato sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Notes: I used 10 fresh tomatoes instead of canned. I happened to have 10 tomatoes that might go bad this week, so I used them up. It made for a very fresh sauce! I also could not find ground pork today, so I used ground lamb instead (I get the impression that any ground meat would work just fine).

Lastly, I think the entire step 2 took a long time, hurt my hands, and made a mess. Other recipes I’ve read indicate you can cut the leaves off the raw head of cabbage and boil them for 2-3 minutes instead of the long process I did. I’ll give that a try next time for sure!

Bonne Année (Happy New Year)!

10 01 2010

New Year’s Eve ended shortly after the end of my post. Kind of. We stayed with the crowd at the Tower for a little while, listening to the music and watching the crowd. Fireworks are legal in Paris, so there were many impromptu amateur shows going on. It was an interesting group of people from around the world. Any time a small bunch that seemed slightly out of control, hackles went up in the crowd around us. I felt like groups of perfect strangers were protective of us (and vice versa) when there was any discomfort. Honestly, there wasn’t much discomfort, just a big mess of cultures and languages confusing each other. 🙂

We wanted to take the Metro (underground subway, one of the best I’ve seen in the world, to date) home, but as we approached we realized there was no way. It was SO crowded. So we walked home via Champs Elysees. There were thousands and thousands of people out. It was fun. We took part in quite a bit of yelling “Bonne Année” or Happy New Year at all the other people on the street. It was really fun. We left the tower shortly after midnight and I don’t think we arrived at our apartment until just before 3am. It took forever to get home – there were just so many people out on the streets, you just had to walk with the crowd. Once we got home, we uploaded some pictures, talked about the night, checked football scores (yeah, can’t leave it alone. ever), and decided we should finally go to bed.

The next day, just about the only thing open was Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens). New Year’s Day was bitterly cold with an uncomfortable wind, once again. We still enjoyed our walk through the park and talked about it’s history (I did not know very much, Scott had all the wisdom).

grove of trees at luxembourg

The garden houses the French Senate, which is housed in the building below – Luxembourg Palace.

cott in front of luxembourg palace

In the summer, this fountain can be seen with many children sailing model sail boats (apparently :)). There is also a great puppet theater here.

luxembourg palace

my favorite area of the garden

After we left Luxembourg Garden, we did a little French geocaching (ohmygoodnessidonotlikegeocachinginsubfreezingtemperatuers) and happened upon a little market that was open. We picked up a few ingredients to make dinner that night in our apartment, as all of the really good restaurants are not open on New Year’s Day. We also stopped by The Louvre for some night pictures outside.

the louvre

I like that this picture below that shows the building through the pyramid. These pictures were very difficult in the dark since we didn’t bring the tripod. I’m not a photo genius, but I did ok.

the louvre pyramids

I picked up this guy in front of the pyramids and dragged him to my apartment to keep me company while I cooked up some lovely dinner.

handsome man in front of the pyramids

For dinner, I made a “quick” (read: didn’t take 2 days) coq au vin (chicken with wine). I smashed up some potatoes, sliced some bread, and Scott figured out how to get the Rose Bowl on our computer. AWESOME! That is my kind of new year! The coq au vin was lovely, it’s now time to make the real deal at home, the wine was tasty…we have a bottle of champagne on table accompanied by the red wine I used for cooking the chicken – we didn’t drink both bottles :)…and the company was grand. We stayed up really late watching football, figuring we’d wear ourselves out for the 10 + 4 hour flights home the next day.

mr rose bowl coq au vin

Our flights were relatively easy. Getting out of Paris was frustrating, but fine. Security was like a throwback to 2001, which was less than fun, but in the name of safety… We’ve had a week to recover and get back into the swing of life and are happy to be home.

What a great way to end 2009, we both hope yours was as fun and full of promise!

Bonne Année!