Sunday, March 09, 2014

You Melt My Heart*


Work's been busy and I haven't been cooking as much as I would like; so last week, I decided to take a breather and just make something semi-fancyish for dinner. Jude and I didn't really do anything special for Valentine's Day and I had won a set of Le Creuset cookware at my office's Dinner and Dance, so I thought, hey, let's make eggs en cocotte (just a spiffied-up name for baked eggs) in a pair of heart-shaped ramekins that were part of the set.

These really are a cinch to make:
1) Generously butter your ramekins like it's your job and turn your broiler to about 400F/ 210C

2) Start with some vegetables-- that night, we used arugula but I can imagine baby spinach, grilled onions, sautéed fennel, roasted sweet potato... virtually anything really

3) Protein-- we used thinly sliced salami but ham, bacon, smoked salmon will all work. If you're going vegetarian, I might suggest some chopped olives, or sun-dried tomatoes, or cubed avocado (if you're going with the avo, you might want to sprinkle a wee bit of salt and pepper, maybe even a squeeze of lemon or lime)

4) A layer of shredded cheese-- because the point isn't to thoroughly cook the contents through, you probably don't want any cheese that won't melt easily (like cubes of cheddar). A soft cheese like goat cheese or bits of brie might be interesting (watch the salt content though...)

5) Two eggs, carefully cracked (you don't want to break the yolks). I don't have to tell you that the fresher your eggs, the better.

6) A splash of cream

7) Top with an obscene amount of good melting cheese (manchego, swiss, gruyere, fontina-- basically, anything you'd use for mac & cheese)

8) Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, about 6 minutes, by which time the tops will be amazingly gooey but the insides, still soft and luxurious. For an extra indulgence, I drizzled a little truffle oil (great on eggs!) and a dash of herbs de provence.

And voila! Dinner in under 15 minutes :) It's perfect as a brunch thing and an easy weekday dinner. Traditionally served with buttered toast soldiers (again, fancy name for buttered toast sliced into long pieces for easy dipping) but we just had it with some good warm bread and butter on the side, and a large-ish salad.

*the name the little sister would give if the dish were served in her imaginary cafe/bistro/bookshop...

**This dish is decidedly Sophie-unfriendly because of the cream and cheese so the girl had soup, some sweet potato, and shared our bread. She was more than happy :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

That she may always believe in magic


Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book of the Week 2: Up in the Tree


This week, Up in the Tree (Margaret Atwood, Author & Illustrator-- yes, she does kids books too!). Her first children's book and published in 1978, the illustrations on this are so arresting and vivid that even I couldn't stop looking at it. It's a slim volume-- it's really a poem, actually-- and we usually read it two or three times over in one seating before Sophie feels she's done.

It's a sweetly odd and whimsical poem, all about the joys of playing. Throw in a couple of badgers and an owl, and it's just the most delightful little book.

It's made all the more precious by the fact that Atwood did the illustrations herself as well as the letter-type. And everything's in blue and red because of cost issues-- since it was considered too risky to publish a children's book back then, Atwood published it herself and did it as economically as she could.

Available from:
Amazon


Book Depository


National libraries:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book of the Week 1: Rosie Revere, Engineer

I thought it would be a fun project to highlight a book every week that we're reading with Sophie that she really enjoys. We've read so many wonderful stories and have fallen in love with so many of them that I thought this might be a good way to share them with you. These aren't always award-winners or Great Children's Books, but just ones that we love reading and that ring close to our hearts.

First up, Rosie Revere, Engineer (Andrea Beaty, Author; David Roberts, Illustrator)


What if Rosie the Riveter had a great, great grand niece? Well, her name would be Rosie Revere, and she would want to be an engineer when she grows up! We only borrowed this book this morning and Sophie has read it three times already! It has a great storyline about a girl who loves building things-- whether it's a cheese dispenser-propelled helicopter or helium pants

Through the course of the story, Rosie learns-- with some help from her great, great, grand-aunt-- that initial failure is just the necessary first step to eventual success, engineer or not.

Sophie and us got to talk about what being an engineer means, the different ideas that go into building something, and even a little bit of history when we told her about how Rosie the Riveter and other women like her worked in plants near Ann Arbor to build planes when the men were at war. I think this really resonated with her :)

Available at:
Amazon

Book Depository

National Libraries

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A little year-end meditation

It's the first week of December and the year tumbles towards its end. I love this time of the year-- people just seem nicer, happier, more generous with each other and themselves. The fact that Christmas is round the corner helps :) The year-end always brings with it a deep sense of contemplation and I think about all the small and big things that have made up our year. The one big thing was the move to our new place, of course. We are loving our new home deeply and with great pride-- it may be small, but it's ours and we love being stewards of it. It doesn't matter how tired I am from work or how wretched I feel from the crazy weather we're getting right now, arriving home is just the salve I need to restore my aching soul.

Smaller things are important too-- I had resolved to be more forgiving of myself and others this year. And also more thankful for the little things in our lives. For the most part I think it's worked. Things can't be perfect especially when both of us are juggling full-time jobs, a rambunctious pre-kindergartener, and managing a house by ourselves. But as long as there is always love and laughter in our home, I don't care if the laundry waits a few more days, the dishes don't get done till the next morning, or if we put off cleaning the bathrooms for another week.

I love my job-- a lot, but I try not to bring it home. I give it my all when I'm at the office, but after 5.30, other things occupy me, like hanging out with Sophie and Jude-- reading to one, reading with the other. Most evenings, after Sophie goes to sleep, we sit in the living room with something nice on the stereo-- anything from Daughter on vinyl to Thelonious Monk on Michigan Radio-- and all is well. When Jude is busy, we don't do a lot of talking-- he works and I read-- but we're sitting together and there's a quiet communion nonetheless. And I feel grateful.

"To wake at dawn with a winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving.”
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Home
Home

Monday, October 14, 2013

Our new backyard

I love that we have a forest just within walking distance

I love that we have a forest just within walking distance _7448

"I want to run EVERYWHERE!!"

Believe it or not, this tropical gorgeousness is literally just a hop and a skip from our new place. And we love it. It was an awful weekend for me for the most part-- battling some random bug that rendered me bed-bound whenever Miss Sophie would allow and lethargic whenever I was awake. But then we decided to spend the evening exploring our new backyard and really, it was all the medication I needed to revive my ailing body.

Having grown up in Ann Arbor has made Sophie very much a child who loves wide open spaces, enjoys picking up sticks and leaves, and who can never resist a pretty rock/ stone/ pebble. And I think our evening jaunt gave her all that and more :) She was so much in her element among the lush greenery-- running, tumbling, picking, poking; basically, exploring all that was within her reach. For me, that beautiful fresh air really helped alleviate whatever crazy bug it was that hit me and did me a whole ton of good.

I'll write about the new apartment soon(ish)-- for now, we're really grateful for what's outside, literally in our backyard.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Post-move in Day #3

Home office unpacked for now
Home office almost unpacked

And we're moved in!

Things have mostly been unpacked (living room notwithstanding...) and regular routine resumes tomorrow as we all return to work and school. As much as we hate to move, the process has not been as painful as we had dreaded it would be. Many thanks to an uber reliable and professional moving company (Shalom Movers rocks!), family who lovingly babysat and prepared meals for us to bring home, and friends who visited and brought with them food and dessert so we didn't have to worry about cooking amidst unpacking. You guys rock! Most importantly, I can't imagine doing this move with anyone else but Jude-- I think I would have lost it at that third leaking storage bag or the umpteenth random box that just won't fit anywhere else in the new apartment.

Thank god for soul mates...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Renovation Diaries: Let there be light

It's 12 days to move-in and we're in the home stretch now-- the kitchen cabinets have been installed and the floors are done, the walls are being painted as we speak, and next up will be the toilet fixtures. The last big things to be installed after are the lights. They were also the last things we shopped for because Jude was away-- lighting is important to us and I wasn't about to make those decisions alone.

Our lights shopping technically began while Jude was away-- Restoration Hardware was having an incredible online lighting sale in July and we thought we'll get the lights delivered to our friends' where Jude was staying and he'll bring them home with him. He could only carry so much so we limited ourselves to just lights for the kitchen and dining. Our first purchase was this clear glass cloche pendant light. It uses gorgeous Edison-style filament bulbs and if one could fall in love with a bulb, I did when I saw this. The lamp isn't very large so we bought 3 for the dining nook.


And for the kitchen, this aged steel/aluminum piece. The kitchen ceilings will be painted a dark gray and we thought this would be a nice complement.


In the end though, because of the very careful (read: bulky) packaging, we had to ship these lights back via DHL. Between the dismal baggage allocation and the bulkiness of the boxes, there was just no way they could have made it on the plane with Jude.

We finished up the light shopping last week in Balestier Road with two hanging lamps for the living room. For our entryway/ front of the living room, this Tom Dixon-esque pendant (read: replica). I love how sculptural it looks and the fact that it kind of reminds of a brass cooking pot or some kind of water vessel :)


We also really like the blown-glass pendants from Niche Modern but the prices are waaaaaay out of our league (actually, the league of all mere mortals, if you ask me...).


Thankfully, we were able to find something very similar at Form + Light Concepts for a fraction of a fraction of the original price (think less than 10%!!)

The rest of the lights in the house (bedrooms and bathrooms) are just simple ceiling lights with acrylic covers. We'll get desk lamps and a bedside lamp for Sophie once we've moved in and have a better sense of where things go and what we need. We're probably going to eschew conventional bedside lamps in our bedroom mostly because it's a small space and we may not even be getting bedside tables large enough for lamps. Right now, we're thinking of stools for the bedside (just enough for our glasses and reading material) and clip-on reading lamps from a shallow shelf we'll have above the bed. Something like this:


The coming week will be a big one-- I'm just going to assume that everything will miraculously fall into place while we're not looking and that when we see the flat next, it will look more like home and less a construction site in transition...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Renovation diaries: WonderWalls

Since we have a small flat, we're trying to capitalize on all the space we have to maximize design potential. So what we don't have in floor area, we're compensating for in wall area using tiles and color. One of the things we had chosen quite early on the the renovation process were accent tiles for a small panel of the kitchen wall.

Untitled

It does look a little busy right now but the fridge will go in front of it so you'll only see the edges and top eventually. My mom thinks it's silly that we paid for an accent wall just to have it mostly covered but I think it'll be an interesting touch to the otherwise rather industrial feel of the kitchen.

Another tiling project was for the dining nook where we chose one wall to be tiled with lovely white subway tiles. I've seen one too many subway-tiled kitchens on Pinterest to let this opportunity slip by and thankfully, it turned out beautifully.

Subway tiles wall completed.

We chose to have it grouted in a medium gray so you can still see the definition between the tiles but not dark enough that it ends up looking like actual dirty tiles in the New York subway ;) We're also building a cabinet at the bottom and open shelving at the top for added work area and storage/display space. The eventual result will hopefully look a little something like this.

As for the rest of the kitchen walls untouched by cabinets, we're having them covered with cement screed, both in the interest of time and cost, but also because we kind of like the effect of cement walls for the kitchen. They'll be treated with a protective coating so we won't have to worry about the naturally porous cement absorbing cooking grease and smoke.

Apart from tiling, we've also been agonizing over paint colour. This has been particularly vexing because we were torn between using what's available in the contractor's catalog and having him mix existing colors to achieve what we want, which will not only cost more but also be potentially problematic whenever we want to do touch-ups. In the end, we went with what was available and I guess the colours are slowly growing on me. The living room is quite small and we have a fairly striking green couch so we're keeping the walls there white. We have a little hallway leading from the living room to the kitchen/ dining area and one wall there will be painted a medium gray to contrast with our pale wood vinyl flooring.


[we're not actually getting our paint from Benjamin Moore but the sample colour comes close to what we chose]

The rooms have dark wood vinyl so we've chosen more muted colors. And only one wall in each bedroom will be painted so the colours won't be so overwhelming. In our bedroom, it's going to be a pale shade of smoke that's close to this:



And for Sophie's room, this shade of pink:



We had asked her what colour she wants for her room and being the fairy/ princess obsessed 4-year-old she is now, it was either pink or purple. But she didn't really say which shade of pink or purple so I went with something that would induce as minimal a headache as possible (but would still be considered pink because I *know* Sophie would totally fight me on this). The pink we're trying to achieve is hopefully more ballet-slipper (which I can live with) than Strawberry Shortcake (which I can't...). I know, the line is so fine before the former tips irrevocably into the latter... And lighting is going to play such a big part too: cool-white vs. warm-white vs. daylight, etc. And so, as with so many things in this whole renovation process, we're crossing our fingers...

Speaking of lighting, that post will be up next...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A very orange birthday

Two days ago, Sophie turned four. I know. How did that happen? One minute she was a screaming, yelling peanut of a 5-pound-12-ouncer, and now she's a talking, walking, sassypants of a 4-year-old. Who isn't afraid to tell you exactly what kind of birthday party she wants, no less. "A Lorax party," she unceremoniously announced 3 weeks ago, and so it was to be (even though we were in the midst of Jude not being around, me having a busy season at work, and the on-going renovations of our flat).

In retrospect though, I did have fun thinking of all the different ways to incorporate the Lorax story into her party-- designing the invites were easy since there are tons of templates for Lorax party invitations online. As for treats, it's as if the story was designed with a kid's party in mind-- Humming Fish (goldfish crackers), Brown Barbaloots (teddy grahams and marshmallows-- a concession to the movie adaptation), Truffula fruits (grapes), and Truffula seeds (jellybeans). We also served some chicken nuggets and homemade popcorn as per the birthday girl's request.

Two things I was particularly excited about was the party favours and Sophie's birthday cake. Since we were already laying out treats for everyone (plus a piñata stuffed with candy), I didn't want to pack more goody bags; instead, we prepared little glass cups with four pinto beans on damp cotton balls for the kids to grow their own bean sprouts. It was Jude's idea actually and I thought it was brilliant. It's a novel favour that'll help the kids learn something about plant life and it's totally in sync with the theme of the Lorax story as well!

Pinto beans birthday favours (as Truffula seeds)
"The last of the Truffula seeds..." 

As for her birthday cake, it was the perfect place to bring in Sophie's favourite part of the story-- the Truffula trees. Sophie's still dairy-allergic so I was going to have to bake her vegan cupcakes anyway. So I ordered a regular chocolate cake for everyone else (from an old favourite, of course...) and made a batch of vegan chocolate cupcakes for Truffula trees. I frosted them with green sugar crystals (for "grickle grass"), stuck in striped straws, and topped each straw with a tuft of cotton candy. Voilà! Truffula trees!

Truffula tree cupcakes
Truffula forest

All in all, I think everyone had a good time, especially Miss Sophie-- she got balloons, glitter tattoos (four, to be exact...), hugs galore, a candy-filled piñata, all the treats she wanted to eat, and free-flow of undiluted Ribena :) We didn't get to throw her a proper birthday celebration last year because my grand-dad had just passed away-- and she really didn't know any better then-- so it was nice to finally do something with her surrounded by family, friends, and neighbours. Her parents were thoroughly exhausted by the end of the night but seeing that happy and satisfied glow on her face after was worth all the cupcake-baking, paper-cutting, and stencil-making that went into making her Lorax party a reality :)

[click for more photos]

1. Girl with balloons, 2. Teddy graham and marshmallow "Brown Barbaloots", 3. Gong Gong gets in on it too!, 4. Yiyi love!, 5. Jubee the Lorax/ Gnome ;), 6. Hovering around the snack table with Ely, 7. Happy birthday, sweet sweet love!, 8. The closest we got to a family shot, 9. With Debbie, the amazing glitter tattoo lady