Adventures in Baking

I rarely bake, but on Sunday I had the bright idea of making some pretty holiday-themed sugar cookies. Using Pinterest for inspiration, I settled on snowflakes with an intricately iced design, which looked easy enough because everything always manages to look deceptively easy on Pinterest.

While perusing the Internet, I found some promising recipes (that I tweaked a bit) and made the cookies and the icing from scratch after buying a slew of tools including a mixer, because I didn’t have one. With a bit of experimentation, I ended up with perfectly baked cookies and some suitably tasty icing. So far so good.

As it turns out, icing cookies is incredibly difficult. You have to have icing that’s the right consistency (I made a lot of icing) and you have to have the right tools. My cookies took two nights to make and ended up looking like they were made by a 5-year-old because I didn’t have a small enough pastry tip for detailed work (my flood icing worked out though, so minor victory!)

Icing is hard.

If I ever take on the arduous task of icing sugar cookies in the future (unlikely), I’ve at least learned that I’ll need a better set of icing tips and some corn syrup in my icing to get it to flow better. On the plus side, I do think my cookies ended up tasting quite nice.

Tis the Season

We stopped by DavidsTea in Burlingame this weekend and picked up the annual 24 Days of Tea advent calendar, plus a new tea mug. I got the set for the first time last year and even though it doesn’t have an entire array of teas that I love (I’m not big on black tea) it’s still totally worth having.


Last year I cheated and opened it up early, but this year I’m going to wait until December 1 and drink them on the day I open them.

This year’s list:

Blueberry Jam
Cream of Earl Grey
English Breakfast
Glitter & Gold
Read My Lips
Coffee Cake
Santa’s Secret
Stormy Night

Chocolate Orange

Vanilla Orchid

Silk Dragon Jasmine
Kokomo Green

Mango Madness

Buddha’s Blend

Main Squeeze

Cinnamon Rooibos Chai
Forever Nuts
Strawberry Rhubarb Parfait
Alpine Punch
White Chocolate Frost
Sleigh Ride
Mother’s Little Helper

Berry Picking

John and I are always looking for fun things to do on the weekends since I’m cooped up at home for work during the week, so I was super excited when one of his friends gave us the fantastic idea to go berry picking.

There are a few pick-your-own fruit places in the bay area, but we decided on one that’s somewhere in between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. It advertised ollalieberries, which are a complicated cross between various combinations of raspberries and blackberries. I managed to get carsick on top of already being sick (forgot the ginger and it’s 1.5 hours along a windy road) but berry picking was a unique (hot, sweaty, dusty, fun) experience.

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

We picked $3.00 worth of ollalieberries and blackberries, which ended up being maybe 1.5 pints worth? Plenty for us. I wanted some tayberries too, but we didn’t end up finding them. I’m not sure why, but there were hardly any signs to direct people where to go, which thoroughly irritated my inner organizational freak.

We also stopped by to pick strawberries, but since they aren’t quite in season we just checked out the field and then bought some.

Berry picking near Santa Cruz

Afterwards we went to downtown Santa Cruz, and I’m not going to lie, that was easily my favorite part of the day. Shade! Shops! Food! Ice cream! We drove by an amazing beach filled with kite surfers along the way, which made me homesick for San Diego. Visiting the beach doesn’t seem like much of a thing in the bay area, so I’m a huge fan of Santa Cruz.

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

Sometimes the pictures that the iPhone takes amaze me. I didn’t have my big camera so I only had my phone, and while I got some decent pictures, I’m definitely taking a better camera next time. It really was that blue.

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

Kite surfers in Santa Cruz

Not Dandelions

Because we only moved into this apartment a year ago, the backyard is full of mystery plants. Most of the unidentified plants are weeds, which have regrettably turned one side of the area into a wasteland despite my continuous efforts to uproot most of the plant life.

It hasn’t been hard removing the majority of the weeds since the yard is covered with a layer of wood chips that prevent them from rooting deeply, but there are a couple of tenacious weeds that have dug their roots in deep.


Two of the “weeds” are nearly two feet tall and refused to come out of the ground no matter how hard I pulled. When these plants flowered and then sprouted giant puffballs, I assumed they were some kind of enormous dandelion, but a little research has revealed that they aren’t dandelions at all, but salsify plants.


Apparently the salsify has edible but bitter roots that taste like parsnips. While I have no intention of eating them, I did appreciate the dandelion-like head of the plant, which photographs nicely.



As a side note, we saw the most bizarre behavior with a few little birds and these plants – the birds would hop onto the branch near the puffball and bounce up and down like it was some kind of fantastic salsify trampoline.

Not sure what they were doing, but since those seeds disperse just like dandelion seeds, I’m hoping we don’t end up with a yard full of birdie jungle gyms later this year.

A few backyard macros

My little backyard garden withered away a bit during the winter months, but now it’s back in full force, weeds included. While I yanked out quite a few unwanted plants a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t get rid of some deep rooted dandelions, one of which flowered yesterday.

There was a perfect puff that I was excited to get a picture of (my macro lens might not be good for much, but it takes one hell of a dandelion shot), but of course as soon as I went outside with my camera the wind picked up and scattered the seeds into the sky. This was the only picture I got:


While I hope that the two dandelions in my yard aren’t going to sprout an army of impossible-to-uproot plants, they’ve been an unexpected source of fun. This weekend two little red-chested birds kept fluttering down and bouncing on the dandelion stems, sending puffs of seeds floating everywhere. I’m not sure what purpose this served, but it sure looked cute.

I took a few other macro shots while I was outside yesterday, of my fuchsia, strawberry flowers, and pineapple mint (easily the best mint there is!):

strawberry flowers


pineapple mint

strawberry flower