I know, I know…

…I’ve been away for awhile.  Too long of a while.  Sometimes I wonder if I spread myself too thin.  Stretching my Maven(ness) of Social Media over too many waves.  Though they each have a purpose (at least in my mind they do); each have an audience to cultivate.  

Do they overlap?  Yes.  Too much?  Maybe.  

But for the time being…let’s set all those questions and doubts aside.  Instead…let me direct you here:

Semplice Gourmet

There’s been a little updating…with more on the way.  You can also find the link to the Semplice Gourmet Etsy shop through the website.  

And remember…if you’re in the Los Angeles area and find yourself too busy to make all the things you need for that little get together you’re having on Thursday night; just want to send cookies to a friend who has been there when you needed her; or just want to treat yourself…look at Semplice Gourmet. 



Summer Heat

Today was about 90 degrees and it felt positively balmy compared to the past few days.  I almost considered grabbing a sweater as I walked out the door today to run to the market.  Okay…no, I didn’t…but it was lovely for the first time in about a week.  It’s been hot and humid with consecutive days of 100+ degree temps.  I know I live in Southern California.  I know September tends to be one of the hottest months of the year.  Doesn’t mean I have to love it.  I don’t.  It’s draining.

Crazily enough…the heat has not kept me from turning on the oven a few times over the past couple of weeks.  I baked a cake yesterday.  I had been thinking about this cake all week.  I had the image in my head of how pretty it would look and how delicious it would taste.  It was neither.  So disappointing.  I couldn’t even think of a way to salvage it.  It didn’t look pretty, it didn’t taste very good, the texture was not what I was expecting…but I will say that I loved the colour of the cake.  Not as white as an angel food cake, but close.  In fact, it was a hot milk cake, which was almost an angel food cake…but not.

I don’t like when something doesn’t turn out as it should.  And being the perfectionist that I am, I will probably try it again.  But while I’m here, instead of discussing disappointing cakes, I give you my top five for the week.

Five Favourites

1.  Mah Jongg

I started playing mah jongg on the computer a few years ago.  I would sit there for hours matching tiles, changing the layout, matching tiles.  You get the idea.  Hours upon hours upon hours.  THEN my friend, Christy (one of The Girls), offered to teach us when we had a Girls’ Night.  As in, with real tiles!  A whole new world opened up.  Mah Jongg is essentially what we do every Girls’ Night and I think I can safely say, the four of us love it.  I mean seriously…when it’s combined with good food, great conversation, and copious amounts of wine, can you really go wrong?



2.  Justin Timberlake

What was that?  I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago?  Yes, I remember.  I’ve been on a Justin Timberlake-listening streak again.   ‘The 20/20 Experience Part 2′ comes out 30 September.  I predict this topic will keep re-appearing for awhile.  Just sayin’.

3.  Upcycling/Recycling

The home (apartment building) improvements continue.  The bead board is gone from the second floor landing and has been replaced with wrought iron.  I’ve got myself a nice piece of that board and I’m thinking, ‘photo backdrop.’  It may not look like much at the moment, but a little beating up, a lot of sandpapering, a couple of layers of stain and it will be good.



4.  Kitty Bellyrubs

Since Lucky came into my life last fall, I now have a kitty that will come over to me, plop on the ground, and roll onto her back to get a bellyrub.  You have no idea how happy this makes me.  For a cat that hates to be picked up, she loves getting love and attention through her bellyrubs.  Here is what she looks like when she comes over to where I’m sitting and hints at what she wants.



5.  Serendipitous Finds

Or more Instagram shopping.  But come on…just look!  I’ve had the necklace for at least 10 years and though we’re talking about a difference of metals…how thrilled am I to have matching earrings?!



Almost There

I understand that baking is much more of a science than cooking.   The ratios need to be just right so you have a cake that doesn’t sink in the center, cookies that don’t spread to the size of a dessert plate before they set, or bread that isn’t a heavy, dense brick.

I’m not too bad with cakes, cookies, scones and the like…but bread…well…that needs work.   But I think I’m getting there.   Let’s talk about pizza crust.  Think of all the varieties…thin crust, thick crust, deep dish crust.  So many opinions, so many recipes, so hard to satisfy everyone’s needs.  Depending upon my mood, I like it really thin, thick and chewy, and yes, I do like deep dish every once in a while.  I admit, more times than not, I’ve taken the easy way out and bought the ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s.  It’s the easy way out so I don’t have to try yet another pizza dough recipe and be disappointed.  I don’t know where the problem comes in.  Maybe I don’t let it rise enough.  Is my kitchen not warm enough?  Did I not let the yeast bloom long enough before mixing the dough in?  Did I knead it too long or not long enough?  I’ve used recipes from the other bloggers blogs, from sites like Food Network, and from more than one cookbook from my own collection.  I’ve used instant yeast, rapid-rise yeast, and even no yeast.  All to ‘okay’ results.

Once again I found myself wanting to make pizza, but not wanting to go out and pick up the Trader Joe’s dough again.  So I perused the bookshelf one more time and pulled out a slim book I picked up a year or so ago at The Iliad in North Hollywood (and conveniently enough…in my neighbourhood).  The book is called ‘The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking’ by Carla Capalbo.  It’s like having an Italian cooking primer.  Straightforward recipes, easy to understand, and photos of most of the dishes.

Having wheat flour on hand, I tweaked the recipe for Basic Pizza Dough (despite there being a recipe for a Whole Wheat Pizza Dough).  I ended up using less flour than the recipe calls for.  A couple of years ago, I had a discussion with a friend over the quantity of flour in some dough and he said his grandmother once told him that if the dough stops absorbing flour as you’re gradually adding it, there is enough in the mix.  I’ve kind of stuck with that thought process.  If I find myself with the last 1/4 cup of flour still waiting to be mixed in, yet the dough absorbing less and less, I don’t force it.

There is still work to be done.  I heard about the cold rise dough that Peter Reinhart uses and my curiosity is piqued.  That will be the next version to try.

Pizza Dough

(Adapted from the Basic Pizza Dough recipe in The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking)

1 package dry yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

pinch of sugar

1 tsp salt

1 cup wheat flour

2 cups all purpose flour

In a medium bowl, empty the contents of the yeast.  Add the water and sugar, mix to combine and let sit for 5-10 minutes so the yeast begins to foam.  Gradually add in the first cup of flour and the salt, mixing with a wooden spoon.  Add the second cup and stir until the dough comes together and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  

Sprinkle some of the remaining flour onto your work surface and begin kneading the dough adding the remaining amount of flour while you knead.  Knead for 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.  

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl and place the dough in it.  Cover with a damp dish towel and place in the warmest spot in your kitchen.  Allow to rise until doubled in volume (about 45-50 minutes).

After the dough has risen, punch down the dough to release the air and knead for a minute or two.  If you want a thinner crust, divide the dough in half.  Roll out to the thickness you want, top with your favourite toppings and bake in a 475 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  

pizza1.1 pizza2.1

Staying Home on a Saturday Night…

Honestly, staying home on Saturday night isn’t unusual for me.  Oh sure, sometimes I get an idea in my head and actually go out and *do* something, but I tend to spend the afternoons out instead.

Today, I got all the errands and shopping done a wee bit earlier, so I was home to enjoy the afternoon sun flooding the kitchen with the a/c running since it was hot, while cooking a pot full of plum and orange blossom preserves, and when the time was right, I poured myself a glass of chilled chardonnay…which leads to…

The Top Five Favourites

1.  A glass of wine.

What I pour depends on my mood.  I will happily drink red, white, rose, sparkling, and even slightly fizzy.   And it’s while I was drinking a glass of wine today that I remembered how much I love…

2.  Simple dinners.

Dinners that require one pot, one bowl, a limited amount of utensils, and not a lot of time.  Like pasta.  Tossed with olive oil, a little garlic, a little pepper, and a lot of grated Pecorino Romano.



3.  Salvaged pieces.

I was down in Venice early in the week and walking down a street that wasn’t really a street…it was a sidewalk with houses on either side.  It’s one of those tightknit spaces called a ‘Place.’  But it was a Place with so much character and so many great details…including these doors that someone had at the entrance to their yard.



4.  Words with Friends

Yes…I play games on my phone.  There aren’t many, but my list does include Words with Friends and Candy Crush Saga (damn you!).  I see it as a way of keeping my mind agile.  And where else would you be able to use the word ‘Za’ on a regular basis?  Those Z’s are worth 10 points!

5.  Learning to accept the imperfect.

I am forever the Perfectionist.  I’ve been that way as long as I can remember.  I have a hard time accepting that life isn’t perfect, things aren’t perfect, people aren’t perfect.  Slowly (and I mean slowly) the concept seeps into my brain.  Today by the wrapping of a present for a friend…I see it…the imperfect…and appreciate it.  Like it, even.  I thought this paper was larger than it was for what I needed to wrap.  It wasn’t.  But I made it work.  I didn’t try to make it perfect.  I tried to make it work.  I think I succeeded.



The Details

After having the new windows installed last week, I can think about the details and cleaning up.  I have one kitchen wall that’s half plastered and half painted, a piece of blue painter’s tape on the ceiling, and a constant flood of light streaming into the kitchen thanks to the fact that I have yet to put the rod and curtain back up.  I am going to take advantage of that half-done wall and re-paint it myself…taking it a step further than the typical rental Swiss Coffee high gloss.  That’s right…there’s going to be colour in there!  Nothing crazy…just something pretty, pale, and blue.

I went to Lowe’s yesterday and came home with 30 or so paint chips.  In the morning light, I narrowed those choices down by half.  I taped them to the wall when I got home from work last night to see them in the light I love so much–the 5-7pm stream that floods the room.  I’ll live with them for a couple of days and see which one wins out.

In the meantime…here’s this week’s top five favourites.

1.  Shades of purple

Purple, violet, lilac, dusk, aubergine, eggplant.  It doesn’t really matter what shade it is, I love purple.  I especially love the violet from the inner leaves (petals?) of the artichoke I steamed last week.


2.  A beautifully set table.

Girls’ Night was last Friday and Jill was kind enough to host again.  She’s a great hostess.  And she sets a fierce and beautiful table.  I think the last two or three times that I’ve gone over to her house and dinner was involved, I’ve pulled the camera out to document the table setting.  She bought a toile quilt from Giverny on her recent trip and that was what she used as the tablecloth.  Stunning.  We embellished.  We took photos.  And we had a delicious dinner.


3.  Nostalgia

I never thought when I signed up for Instagram that I would find a huge outlet for vintage.  I have found a community of people who love vintage as much as I do and have set up vintage shops on the app to sell their found wares.  This occasionally brings on a wave of nostalgia when someone posts a photo of something I had (the Easy Bake Oven!) or we had in the house when I was growing up.  This happened a couple of weeks ago when someone posted a photo of four Fire King mugs for sale…the same ones my mom had (and probably still does!).  I’m using the daisy mug this morning for my coffee.  To this day, you will sometimes find me doodling a tulip or rose just the way they are on the cups.

fireking14.  Happy accidents.

Or when a recipe runs amok.  I set out to make cherry almond scones with a recipe I always use.  The ratios were definitely off this time around and instead of scones, I have large, cake-y cookies, or maybe flat muffin-y things.  But they taste great.


5.  Justin Timberlake

I cannot get enough of this man.  Handsome, talented, and he can dance.  I love his new single and listen and/or watch it at least once a day.  Can’t wait for ‘The 20/20 Experience’ part 2 to come out next month.

Take Back the Night

Home Improvements…

…and other ways to betterment.

Okay…I guess it isn’t officially a home improvement if you don’t own a home and you’re not the one doing the improvement.  Apartment perks?  Whatever it is…I think I like it.  Or at least I will after the plaster has been replaced, the holes filled in, and a new coat of paint brushed on.  

My apartment building has a new owner.  Someone who actually has intentions to bring this building into the 21st (if not very late 20th) century.  But this isn’t going to be pretty.  I’m trying to look ahead and not be too annoyed by the mess, noise, and inconvenience in the meantime.  

Today, for instance.  It’s new window day.  I’m hoping the new four out of five will be installed before the crew leaves today.  I know the fifth one won’t be done for awhile.  So far, they’re still working on the first two.  The kitchen and bathroom.  Supposedly, the two in the bedroom will be easy peasy pop out and pop in affairs.  

I have quite the gaping hole in the kitchen.  The upside will be not just a new window, but a new and bigger window.  Considering how much I love the late afternoon light that comes in that window, I think I’ll be a happy camper once it’s in.  But for now…this is what I have:  



I also have three cats in various states of freak-outted-ness.  Suki and Lucky have pretty much stayed under the bed (though I can’t wait to see what happens when the men are working in there).  Lucky occasionally forays out long enough to pad her way to the edge of the kitchen with a ‘WTF?’ look on her face and when the nail gun goes off or they start hammering away, she goes tearing down the hallway and scurries under the bed again.  Holly, on the other hand, is completely unfazed.  There is an awful lot of noise going on in my bathroom, a strange man in there, with another strange man hanging in the window, and she’s sprawled flat out in front of the door, like she is every day.  

Before the mess and noise ensued in my kitchen, yesterday I found an excuse to use the Cousances dutch oven I picked up thrift shopping a couple of Saturdays ago.  I’m not sure why I crave soup so much in the Summer, but I do.   I also made ricotta yesterday morning, so the base of this soup is the whey.  You can easily swap out chicken or vegetable stock.  

Carrot and Ginger Soup 

Serves 4

2 1/4 cups whey or vegetable stock

2 cups water

8-10 medium carrots, cut in chunks

2 cloves garlic, sliced thin

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 medium red potato, cut in chunks

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1 cup milk

In a large pot, add whey, water, carrots, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium high, add potato and leave on a low boil under carrots are tender.  Turn off heat.  With an immersion blender or regular blender, blend soup until smooth, gradually adding milk.  Additional salt and pepper to taste, if you like.  You could also top with a dollop of creme fraiche or Greek yogurt.  






An Exercise in Frequency

Okay…I’m going to give myself a little test.  Since I spend a lot more time on my other blog and I’m feeling guilty about the lack of time I spend here, I’m going to try a little experiment.  I have seen on quite a few blogs around the internet that once a week the bloggers post a Top Five or Top Ten list.  It varies from their favourite recipes of the week to things that inspire them or any top lists of favourites.  I like that idea.  If nothing else, you may learn a little more about me and you might find yourself tempted to comment (which is always welcome!).  And with a little nudge on my end…it should get me in gear to write more here.  Sound good?   Good!  Let’s go!

My Top Five 20 July 2013

1.  Summer tomatoes.

Are there really any other kind of tomatoes?  I went to the farmers market this morning and came home with half a dozen heirlooms and a handful of grape tomatoes.  I was popping those little ones into my mouth in no time.  I am trying my hand at growing tomatoes for the first time this year and I have three on my vines, one that is well on being ripe soon.  I cannot wait.


2.  A touch of East Coast weather in Los Angeles.

The humidity has been a little higher here than usual, though not too bad.  But today, the cloud cover came in mid-afternoon, the breeze kicked up big time and at one point I looked outside and thought to myself, ‘This could be rain.’  Alas, it wasn’t…at least not here.  Redlands, San Bernadino…yep…they got a thunderstorm or two.  I’m a little jealous.

3.  White, twinkling Christmas lights.

Of course, strands of white Christmas lights aren’t just for the Christmas tree anymore.  I have a strand along the archway between the kitchen and the living room.  Some nights I don’t put on the lamp in the living room and just have the glow of those lights.  They may not twinkle, but I love their ambiance.

4.  Ladyfingers.

Not only are they vital for tiramisu, but they are delicious right out of the package.  I’m partial to the imported Italian ones.  They are fabulous used as a crust for little pies or for a crumb topping.  My favourite way to use them though is right out of the package, dipped in homemade jam, and put right into my mouth.

5.  Vintage flatware.

It’s not that new flatware doesn’t have great patterns, but there’s something about the look, the feel, the patina on older pieces.  Though why is it so difficult to find spoons?  Plenty of knives and forks to be found.


Like Those Women from the Past

I work with a girl who says I remind her of ‘women from the past who would make everything themselves’.  Each time she says it, my mind sees a cabin in the middle of a thick wood and a woman roaming about foraging mushrooms or a woman on a farm carrying a fresh pail of milk.  My sister gave me a book last year called ‘The Homemade Pantry.’  The subtitle is, ‘101 foods you can stop buying and start making.’  This is a book right up my alley because over the past couple of years I’ve learned how incredibly simple it is to make some foods.  For example, ricotta cheese.  Milk (or milk and cream), salt, and lemon juice.  That’s it.  Three ingredients, a little heat, a little cheesecloth.  Some time to strain the liquid.  Ricotta cheese.  Better than any you’ll find in the grocery store cold cases.

Then there’s granola.  There are quite a few on the market and they’re not inexpensive.  But if you make it yourself, you can make add whatever you want.  If you go to a store like Sprouts or Whole Foods, you can buy rolled oats in the bulk section or even if you shop at a typical grocery store, you can probably find the big canister of Quaker Oats on sale.

I made a batch of granola the other night after looking in my pantry to see what nuts and dried fruits I had on hand.  Oats, fruits, nuts, a little oil, a little sweetening, some time in the oven and time to cool.  Granola.  Done.  Ready for breakfast the next morning.

You could even conceivably have granola on top of your ricotta cheese.  With a little drizzle of honey, it would be heavenly.

Apricot and Pistachio Granola

(Adapted from a recipe on Food52)

Makes roughly 3-4 cups

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp light brown sugar

3 tbsp agave

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

2 cups rolled oats

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 cup pepitas

3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped

3/4 cup dried cranberries

Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees.  Line a rimmed pan with parchment paper.  In a small saucepan, heat the olive oil, agave, brown sugar, salt, and vanilla until bubbling.  In a large bowl, mix the oats, pistachios, pepitas, cranberries, and apricots.  Mix to combine and add the olive oil mixture.  Stir well to combine.

Spread onto the baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until golden, turning every ten minutes or so.  Remove from oven, let cool, and store in an airtight container.  


granola3.1 Apricot Pistachio Granola