summer

Posted on August 12, 2016

Oh hi. I forgot we had a blog for a few months there. Kidding. I’ve been guilt-wracked since my last post in May. Sort of kidding?

This summer is breezing by. Despite the fact we both work in education, summer seems to be our busiest time of year.  Jordan was teaching a summer course in statistics, and we all know that brain research never sleeps. I was busy shepherding new versions of Seesaw into the edtechnoverse, planning and attending a huge education technology trade show, and then rolling right off of that into Back to School. Back to School is to us what Christmas is to every retailer. It’s go time.

Somehow, we also managed to squeeze in a trip to Portland, a trip to New York, a few weekend visits to Sacramento, and a bit of surfing as well. I decided the best way to tackle the massive time gap between my last post and today’s is by letting the photos on my iPhone dictate the story. According to my camera roll, I did a some halfway decent painting, made some food, and hung out with a lot of sleepy dogs. It’s a magical dream life.

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San Francisco
First, Willow. Willow knows what she likes and what she likes is napping. Preferably in the most comfortable spot available, ideally our bed. Second Jordan. Jordan is working in two research labs right now, teaching undergrads how to do psych statistics, and helping any student or lab-mate who asks for it. He is so open and generous with his time, San Francisco State is lucky to have him. Lastly, Emmanoodle. I love my job. Working to build something that has a real impact in classrooms, that helps kids feel engaged and empowered in their learning, helps families know how to support their kids, and makes teachers lives easier, and I get to to that all day with smart, fun, kind people, it’s my dream job. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say that before, and am so happy it’s true now.

Portland
We visited our friends Josh and Erin. They were incredible hosts, showing us their favorite spots in Portland—Sweedeedee for brunch, Shift, Pepe Le Moko and Expatriate for cocktails, Biwa for ramen/izakaya, Arbor Lodge for coffee, Otto’s for sausages, Bollywood Cinema for Indian. We drank a lot of coffee, cocktails and beer, ate great food, and admired the lush front yards of Overlook. Portland, you’re cute. Erin, Josh and Moon, you’re even cuter.

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San Francisco
We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary with cakes from Tartine Bakery, the same cake we had at our wedding. We ordered three cakes, ate lasagna with a dozen friends in our living room, and played Hank Williams’s ‘Baby We’re Really in Love’ on the hi-fi. I hope we host this party every year.

Also, the new SF Moma opened! It is huge and beautiful and well worth a visit. There are two coffee shops inside! And a few thousand pieces of precious art, if you’re into that kind of thing.

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New York
We stayed in Park Slope, Brooklyn with our dearest Miykaelah, a hostess with the mostess if there ever was one. It was a college reunion trip of sorts, meeting up with our favorites from my time at Georgetown. We walked all over Brooklyn, had three slices of pizza in one day (two slices after a dinner of BBQ and bluegrass). There was free opera in Brooklyn Bridge Park, bagels and smoked fish at Russ & Daughters. We watched the ever-elegant Katie Norton marry her sweetie Mark, and then stayed out until three in the morning catching up with some real good folks, even when we had flights that same morning at six. It’s hard to leave the bar when your heart is so full, and there’s early 2000s alternative rock on the stereo. This short trip was another reminder from this summer that our life is full of good, good people.

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Denver
The International Society for Technology in Education Conference. 15,000 K-12 teachers, a bunch of edtech vendors and a whole lot of Seesaw buzz. Our booth was packed all day, and it was such a joy to meet many teachers in person that I’ve talked to over email throughout the past year. To really feel the impact we’re having in classrooms, to hear our teachers’ stories firsthand, and to thank them for everything they do each day for their students. It was an even better experience than I could have imagined. And I’m so glad it’s done. Planning trade shows is no joke.

While we were bopping all over the country, Willow stayed at my mom’s house and worked on her suntan. Such an elegant hound.

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San Francisco
San Francisco summer has descended upon us. It is chilly and foggy and l love it. It feels like the first summer we moved here, waking up in a cloud, the sound of the fog horn in the distance, that misty city smell. We’ve both been heads-down at work, but taking a breather on the weekends to cook a bit, surf a bit, pop around the city and hang out with some really cute dogs. There’s always something to do when you live in the most beautiful city in the world, you’ve just got to walk outside.

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pelmeni and perogi

Posted on May 18, 2016

The Year of the Dumpling continues! We first had pelmeni, a Russian meat dumpling topped with sour cream, at our friends Yevgenia and Austin’s house, another couple with a deep affection for dumplings. But before we get into dumplings, let’s talk about the Davises. Yevgenia and Austin radiate positivity. I don’t think I’ve ever used the phrase ‘joie de vivre’ and meant it seriously, but these two embody it. I leave an evening with them feeling like I’ve spent a week on a wellness retreat. Now, I don’t have much firsthand experience with wellness retreats, and probably won’t need to as long as we’re friends with the Davises, but I’ve seen it in the movies.

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This recipe is based on Yevgenia’s mother’s recipe, which I tried my best to decode while making dumplings at the Davis house. This is another case of simple is best. Lamb, pork, onion, salt. Done. The lamb is makes this dish. It’s so good. Earthy and distinct.

The potato perogi recipe is inspired by a product that Trader Joe’s sold when Jordan and I where in high school. Amateur gourmets we were, we’d cook the perogis in the microwave and then dip them alternatively in marinara sauce and balsamic vinegar. Tragically, Trader Joe’s has discontinued their perogis, which left us no choice but to make our own. Think twice baked potato wrapped in dumpling skin and you’ve got the flavor profile.

And, lastly, before you think, “Sour cream and vinegar. You monster! Have all of those dumplings gone to your head?!”. Try it. It is so good.

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Perogi – Cheese and Potato Dumplings
Makes 24 dumplings
3 red potatoes
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 yellow onion, grated
salt and pepper
~1/2 package dumpling wrappers (Asian dumpling wrappers work just fine)

Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Put them in a medium saucepan and top with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them with a fork. Add the sour cream, cheddar cheese, onion and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Make sure they’re well seasoned now, bland dumplings will be a tragic waste of effort.

Lay out a few rows of dumpling wrappers. Put about a tablespoon of filling in the middle, brush the edges with a  little water, and then fold over and seal. These are a half moon shaped dumpling.

To cook the dumplings, you can boil them or pan fry them. Both are delicious. They will take just a few minutes in boiling water—enough to warm them and melt the cheese. If you like your dumplings a little crispy, pan fry them until they are golden in spots. Serve with sour cream, white vinegar and dill.

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Pelmeni – Lamb and Pork Dumplings
Makes 36 dumplings 
1/2 lb lamb shoulder, ground on the small die (or ground lamb)
1/2 lb pork shoulder, ground on the small die (or ground pork)
1/2 yellow onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
~1 package dumpling wrappers (Asian dumpling wrappers work just fine)
sour cream
white vinegar
fresh dill

In a large bowl, combine your ground lamb and ground pork. Like I’ve previously mentioned, my husband is a huge fan of his meat grinder and so I let him grind some lamb and pork shoulder fresh for me. We’re fancy like that. You can feel free to use pre-ground lamb or pork. Make sure your pork is fatty.

Combine the lamb, pork, grated onion, garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. I’d start with about 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt. Then do a little taste test by cooking up a small piece. It’s worth the extra effort now to make sure your seasoning is spot on.

Lay out your dumpling wrappers. Put a scant tablespoon of filling into the center of each dumpling. Brush the edges with a little water using your finger. Fold in half and seal. Then fold the two corners onto one another to create a tortolini type of shape.

To cook the dumplings, bring a pot of water to boil. Boil the dumplings for about 5-8 minutes, until they are floating, Then scoop them out of the water and into a bowl. Top generously with sour cream, white vinegar and dill.

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ham and cheese

Posted on April 27, 2016

Growing up I was never really a big ham fan. It was turkey or peanut butter (hold the jelly), or nothing. And then I entered into a six year vegetarian phase, considered to be a dark period by both our families, and so I really didn’t have much experience with ham before moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for my third year of college.

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Argentines are big fans of ham. You can get just about anything ‘completo’, which means topped with ham, cheese and egg. You can get a sandwich completo. An empanada completo. A pizza completo. Pizza! Topped with ham, cheese and egg! I was forced to confront my ham prejudices head on. Ham was inescapable.

And so I embraced it. My favorite way to eat ham and cheese was as a tostada. There was a little cafe in my neighborhood where you could get a cafe con leche with ham and cheese toasty. Made on thin white bread (pan de miga) with ham (jamon cocido) and mild, melty cheese (port salut), it was toasted on this terrifying wire contraption, which I tried to use at home and which always, always resulted in burnt toast. Alongside your coffee and sandwich, they’d give you two of the tiniest creme puffs. Marble sized balls of pastry filled with a tiny squeeze of vanilla pastry creme, dusted with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. If that is not a totally adorable touch, I don’t know what is.

For some reason, one particular tostada stands out in my memory. It was a rainy day, it can really pour in Buenos Aires, and so we took shelter inside a cafe to fortify ourselves with tostadas. That tostada, it was a sandwich that felt like a hug. Or maybe a towel that’s warm and fresh from the dryer. A sandwich so perfectly suited to the moment it was eaten that I still haven’t forgotten it eight years later. This specific memory popped into my head last weekend, and I had to try to recreate that sandwich.

We got close. Not perfect, but close.

For this sandwich, contrary to grilled cheese wisdom, it’s important not to butter the bread. I’ll pause there to let you take it that in. It’s a pretty dry sandwich. The cheese should melt, but not so much that it bubbles or browns. You also want a ham that is pretty mild. I’d stay away from anything honey-baked or too smokey. Honey-baked is not the Argentine way.

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Ham and Cheese Tostada
2 slices of pain de mie bread, crusts cut off (do it, it makes a difference, ask any 4 year old)
a few slices of ham (we used a french ham from our favorite cheese spot in the neighborhood)
a few slices of mild, melty cheese (we used a french port salut, raclette would also be nice)

Cut the crusts off the bread. Put the bread on a baking sheet. Top one slice with ham, one slice with cheese. Put into your oven at 350° F and warm until the cheese melts. Once the cheese has melted, put the slices together and toast each side under your boiler, just a minute or two per side.

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the year of the dumpling

Posted on April 9, 2016

We’ve been on a bit of a dumpling kick lately. Eating dumplings at spots all around the city, making our own at home, forcing friends to work for their dinners, being forced by friends to work for ours. We’re affectionately referring to this obsession as the Year of the Dumpling, but based on how things are going, it may evolve into the Decade of the Dumpling.

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I have a backlog of dumpling recipes to share, but I’m thinking it’s best to start with a classic. Basic pork dumplings. A little garlic, ginger, scallions, and that’s about it. When I was doing research, it seems that many recipes also call for cabbage, sesame oil, onions and pepper, which we added the first time we made these. The second time, we forgot those other ingredients and no one was the wiser. Simple wins.

I like my dumplings with vinegar, a good amount of it. Jordan likes chili oil. We joined forces for this sauce—if joining forces can be described as mixing together two ingredients in a bowl. If you like spicy, make the sauce. If you don’t, mix a little soy sauce and rice vinegar in a dish. Or just eat the dumplings plain. Everyone is free to eat their dumplings however they like, we accept all forms of dumpling eatery.

Dumplings also freeze exceptionally well, which is handy because this recipe makes about fifty. I love dumplings, but I can’t eat fifty in one sitting. Yet. Make sure to take the frozen-factor into account when steaming or pan frying, they’ll take a few extra minutes to cook. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re nervous if there isn’t a bag of dumplings in the freezer. (Trader Joe’s frozen gyoza are also really good, if you’re in the mood to eat dumplings but not to make them yourself). Dumplings are perfect for a quick, weeknight dinner. Steam some rice, sauté some greens, fry up a few dumplings and you’ve got yourself a great meal. We have it at least once a week.

Basic Pork Dumpling with Chili Sauce
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into cubes and ground with a meat grinder (or ground pork, the fattier, the better)
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, diced
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 package of dumpling wrappers (about 50 wrappers)

For the Chili Sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili sauce (find it at any Asian grocery for $1.70, or substitute sriracha)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

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Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch cubes and sprinkle with salt. Chill in the freezer for 20 minutes, then grind on the fine die with your meat grinder. Or, if you don’t have a husband who loves to grind meat, purchase some ground pork from your butcher. Make sure it isn’t too lean. A little fat means juicy dumplings.

Mix the ground pork, garlic, ginger, scallions and soy sauce together until everything is evenly distributed. Lay out a few rows of dumpling wrappers on a baking sheet or countertop. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold in half and crimp the edges.

To cook, heat a small amount of water in a pot and top with a steamer or colander. Line the steamer with some parchment paper so your dumplings don’t get stuck to the steamer. Plan to cook at least 10 dumplings per person—they go down easy. Steam the dumplings for about 5 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160° F. I recommend using a thermometer to check the temperature until you get your steaming technique down. If you let the dumplings go too long, the pork filling can end up a bit dry and crumbly instead of juicy and succulent. Top with chili sauce and enjoy!

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oysterfest 2016

Posted on April 3, 2016

Oh hi, how are you? It’s been a while. We’ve been grooving hardcore in our Northern California lifestyle. Answering those emails, building those websites, grading those exams, running those participants, and then 7:30pm/the weekend hits and it’s pure San Francisco magic. Making dumplings and sausages and paintings, doing yoga, relaxing in the park, strolling the neighborhood with a hound who’s miraculously back to her peppy 2011 self after surgery to remove glass from her paw, eating lots of foods with lots of friends. It’s a damn good life.

Now if you happen to find yourself in Northern California on sunny weekend not unlike the ones we’ve been having lately, and want to feel those good vibes that make California the greatest state in the nation, I’ve got a perfect plan for you. Go buy yourself 200 oysters for $200, drive a few miles down the road, sit on a beach and eat all of them. Works best if you have some good friends to go along with you, but I imagine you’d still have a decent time if it was just you and your shucker.

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Things you’ll need: 
– Oysters (get them fresh from the source at Tomales Bay Oyster Company)
– Ice (the boys at TBOC have got you covered)
A shucker
– Lemons and/or hot sauce and/or mignonette
– Beer and/or wine
– Bread
Cheese
– Plaid shirt
– Bocce set (optional)

The next part is easy. Sit on the beach, bask in the sunshine and eat oysters until the fog rolls in. You’ve never had a better Saturday, at least not one you can remember. That oyster-high, it’s unbeatable.

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Be back soon with dumpling recipes. We’ve been experimenting and it’s starting to get real good.

collard greens

Posted on March 17, 2016

We’ve reached the point in winter where our CSA box consists primarily of oranges and braising greens. Though I am an ardent lover of vegetables, I just can’t do braised greens. Especially mustard greens. And mizuna. Peppery, bitter and pungent, I quickly eat my portion trying not to taste them, like a kid who has to clear their plate before they’re allowed dessert. Braised greens don’t seem to phase Jordan, and as I pitifully shove greens into my face without stopping to take a breath, he just stares. If you stop shoveling or let them cool, that’s when you can really taste them.

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But, these particular collard greens, they are something else. We first had great collards when our friend Billy brought them over for dinner, along with a Velveeta mac and cheese, which was also heaven and I still think about on the regular. His collards featured a smoked turkey leg and I’m not sure what else, but it was transformative. Smoked meat and collard greens are meant to be together, and that night I learned there was a braised green I could get behind.

Silky and bacony, these collards are the essence of comfort, not the least bit abrasive like those pesky mustards. Jordan has been making these every other week or so and I imagine that will continue until we stop getting them in our farm box. A word to the wise, do not add collard greens into a smoothie. That was a mistake.

Braised Collard Greens
3 slices of bacon, cut into lardon (a smoked turkey leg or ham hock also do just fine)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 large bunch collard greens, cut into 2 inch pieces, stems included
salt and fresh pepper

In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, cook the bacon to render out its fat. Once the fat has rendered,  remove the bacon and set aside. Turn the heat to low and add the onion and garlic and let sweat for 5-10 minutes. Then add the collards and cook until they start to wilt. Add the bacon back in, along with the broth, chili flake, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cover, and let simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve over rice or grits.

 

butter tomato sauce

Posted on March 6, 2016

I first read about this recipe for butter tomato sauce on the blog Orangette a few years ago. It seems to originally belong to Marcella Hazan, but I’m sure she attributes it to generations of Italian nonna’s before her. I make it periodically when the mood for pasta strikes (and by periodically, I mean about once a week). Over the past few years, we’ve made a few tiny tweaks, but the concept remains the same. Tomatoes, onion, butter, salt, and that’s about it.

To make a dish this soul-statisfying from such a simple ingredient list and nearly no work has me convinced that butter really is the best ingredient known to man. The sauce is sweet and mellow. The butter cuts the acidity of the tomato quite a bit and thickens the sauce until it’s satisfyingly voluptuous. It’s good on any pasta, or eaten from the pot by the spoonful.

So good apparently, that I don’t have a single photo of the finished dish. From anytime in the past three years. Please enjoy this informative photo of the ingredients instead. And some artsy photos of my plants and our humid windows dripping water on the inside. The dehumidifier is currently running on full blast to keep our mold situation under control. Once it’s done its work, I’ll use that water to water the aforementioned plants. Circle of life … or something?

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Butter Tomato Sauce
1-28 oz can whole tomatoes (it’s worth splurging for San Marzano, we’ve tested it)
1 onion, sliced in half
2 garlic cloves, pealed (optional)
6 tablespoons butter (not optional)
salt, pepper and chili flake

Now for pasta! Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottom sauce pan. Add the tomatoes, the onion halves, the garlic cloves, a sprinkle of salt and chili flake. Smoosh the tomatoes a bit. Let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, until the sauce has thickened a bit and the flavors of the onion and garlic have infused the tomatoes. Remove the onion, and puree the sauce a bit with an immersion blender. Add the remaining 2-3 tablespoons butter, and season with salt and just a little pepper. Top your favorite pasta, tortellini or ravioli with the sauce, and maybe a sprinkle of parmigiano.

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king cake

We don’t celebrate Mardi Gras, Lent, or much of anything really, but I refuse to miss an opportunity to bake a themed dessert. Next Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and so King Cake!

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According a photo of an old Google search printout sent to me by my dear friend and New Orleans native, Kelly Pearsall, the king cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans from France in the 1870s. It’s eaten to celebrate the carnival season, everyone’s last hoorah before Lent. King Cakes are decorated in royal colors; purple for justice, green for faith and yellow for power, and a tiny plastic baby is hidden inside. This hidden plastic baby (or dried bean, if you can’t get your hands on tiny babies) supposedly represents Jesus revealing himself to the three wise men. The cake is served at a party, and whoever gets the baby is named King for the day, and must provide the King Cake next year.

Seeing as I got the baby last year and Kelly has moved half way around the world, I’m making our King Cake this year. I’ve followed her recipe, stashed a tiny baby in some sweet brioche dough and gotten crazy with food coloring. Truth be told, Kelly prefers to sprinkle her King Cake with colored sugar and then bake it, but since she’s 6,700 miles away, I’m going off script.

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King Cake, from my baking spirit guide, Kelly Pearsall 
Sponge
1/2 cup (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons (0.22 oz, 1 packet) instant yeast
1/2 cup (4 oz) whole milk, lukewarm (I used 2% without incident)

Dough
4 (8.25 oz) large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups (13.75 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 tablespoons (1 oz) granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons (0.35 oz) salt
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked until frothy for egg wash
1 small, plastic baby figurine

Icing
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons milk
green, yellow and purple food coloring

Make the sponge. Stir together flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the milk and stir until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes in a warm place.

Make the dough. Add the eggs to the sponge and whisk or beat with the paddle attachment until smooth.  In a separate bowl, stir together flour, sugar and salt. Add the flour mixture to the sponge mixture. Stir until all the ingredients are combined. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Add the butter, one quarter at a time, stirring the dough well after each addition. This should take a few minutes. Continue mixing for another six minutes on medium speed. You’ll have to scrape down the bowl from time to time. The dough should be smooth and soft.

Refrigerate the dough. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Mist lightly with oil or coat lightly with oil using a brush or paper towel. Transfer the dough to the pan, spreading it into a rectangle about 6 inches by 8 inches. Coat the dough lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, or for at least four hours.

Shape the dough. Line a baking sheet with parchment and coat lightly with oil. Remove the dough from the fridge and immediately shape into an oval ring. The dough will double in size so you’ll want to keep that in mind. Most importantly, hide your baby Jesus in the dough! Coat the top lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap.

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Proof the dough. Let the dough rise in a warm place for about 2 hours. It will just about double in size. After about two hours, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Coat the dough balls throughly with the egg wash. This is what gives them their beautiful shine. Let them proof for another 15 – 20 minutes.

Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes or longer, depending on how large your cake is. It should be golden brown and 180 degrees F internal temperature. Baking brioche will make your house smell like heaven. You’ll probably want to have the scent of baking brioche as a perfume and you’ll likely text that exact thing to several friends. Cool on a rack for 20 minutes before icing.

Ice your cake. Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Add a 3 tablespoons of milk. Whisk to combine. Add a bit more milk if the icing is still chunky. Divide the icing into three different bowls and color with green, yellow and purple food coloring. Ice your cooled king cake in the style of your favorite modernist artist.

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Share with friends (and share virtually with friends who’ve moved too far away for your liking). Whoever gets the baby is king for the day, and is bound by tradition to provide the King Cake next year!

buttermilk biscuits

Biscuits are tasty.
No need for a lame boxed brand.
Butter, flour, salt.

Oh flaky layers,
with your comforting embrace.
Pastry of my dreams.

So good with collards,
eggs, cheese, meat, jam, and honey.
So good all the time.

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Buttermilk Biscuits, adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 lb (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces and very cold
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, very cold

Preheat your oven to 425° F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, plus flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda together until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the butter has been chopping into pea-sized pieces. Turn into a large bowl.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, and pour in the buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon until just combined. Don’t over mix, you don’t want tough biscuits. Turn the dough onto a counter and pat into a 3/4″ thick rectangle. Cut into 12 or 16 pieces using a pizza cutter, and place immediately in a hot oven. (Do not wait to bake them!  You’ll cry later at the rocks surrounded by pools of burnt butter you pull from the oven. If you must wait, put them in the freezer). I chose square biscuits because I did not want to waste any of that delicious, buttery dough, but you could also use a round cookie cutter. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm.

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—Emily and Jordan

japan

Posted on January 6, 2016

Oh hi, I hope your holidays were lovely, restful and delicious. We spent ours in Sacramento with the families, managed catch up with a few old friends while in town, and tacked on two beautiful, snowy days at my grandparent’s cabin in the mountains to ring in the new year. We also said goodbye to sweet, old family dog and weathered scary stint in the ER with my mom. Life is an ever changing balance between lightness and darkness. A little Jedi wisdom for your Wednesday.

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It seems like ages ago now, but Japan! Japan! I am fortunate enough to work for a company for whom sending the team on a sightseeing trip half way around the world is fair reward for meeting our yearly goals. Not many are so lucky. (Ps. We’re hiring). Our co-founder Chaz arranged a jammed-packed itinerary, cramming two weeks of activities across Toyko, Hakone, Kyoto and Nara into just 5 days. Not unlike our last trip to Taipei, it was an amazing, fascinating blur.

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Japan is beautiful and perplexing. Tradition and modernity seem to coexist peacefully in remarkably close quarters—a tolerance foreign to us in the United States. Though it may be energetic, neon and fetishistic, Japan is also calm, orderly and rooted in history. The care and attention to detail across every facet of life is astounding and so, so pleasurable to experience first hand. And everything is adorably decorated, designed or packaged! I loved it.

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We began in Toyko. A massive fish market, breakfast sushi, 10+ story anime/gaming mega stores, exquisite tempura, adorable stationary, dinner sushi, tiny bars,1 am ramen, 53rd story views, contemporary art, more ramen. Why sleep when you’re in Tokyo for just two days.

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Then we were off to Hakone to stay at a traditional Ryokan inn and experience Japan at a very different pace. Upon arriving, you change out of your western clothes and into a special robe, which coincidentally is the perfect attire for a product roadmap meeting. Our rooms were simply furnished in tatami mats, low tables and adorable lamps. In the basement of the small inn, there were hot springs. Segregated by gender, you ditch your robe, shower and then lounge in the natural hot spring water for as long as you like. If there is anything more peaceful than relaxing in a hot spring under the stars or with the sunrise, I’d love to hear about it.

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After a amazingly intricate Japanese breakfast and short walk around an outdoor sculpture museum, we took the bullet train to Kyoto. A city of centuries old temples, Kyoto is home to the most stunning fall color you’ve ever seen in your life. We arrived at the perfect moment. The gardens around the temples in Japan are exquisitely maintained, but still flowing and organic. The plants are allowed to be themselves, not forced into geometric shapes, and it is glorious.

We visited the longest temple, the temple with the most buddhas (1001 and each hand-carved!), the largest temple, the goldest temple, the oldest temple (1000 years old!), the temple with the most red gates, the most powerful temple. The craftsmanship of every one is impeccable—it has to be to survive for so many years—and it was lovely to see the diversity and the continuity between temple designs. We received our love fortunes (mine was very good, thankfully, and has found a home in my wallet) and said prayers for success, health and happiness.

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In Kyoto, we ate several kaiseki, a traditional, seasonal multi-course meal. Kaiseki is where the Japanese attention to detail really shines. Each dish is served in a perfectly matched vessel and topped with adorable garnishes. Artistic is the best way to describe kaiseki.  The pork katsu we had for lunch one day at Chaz’s favorite spot from college was also pretty stellar. Better than mine, I must admit.

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We ended our trip in Nara. In Nara, the deer outside the temple demand you feed them perfectly packaged crackers by nipping at your pockets. There was also soba noodles, nato and matcha soft serve ice cream. The ramen at the Osaka airport is perfectly serviceable.

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And after all that,  I’m sure we just scratched the surface. I cannot wait to get back.

I took most of these photos on our trusty Canon AE-1, but lost a roll due to a tragic film-winding failure. A sadness rarely felt in this digital age. Luckily, my talented co-workers Adrian, Chaz and Steven, had my back. Several photos in this post were taken by them.

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