Wednesday, March 30, 2011

And we're back!

Mr. CP and his class went to France for a trip about architecture.  I tagged along and we tacked on an additional five days in Barcelona as a last hurrah...the babymoon.  =)  Although I am about 7.5 months along now, I found Paris and Barcelona to be very walkable.  It was great to stroll through the cities to museums, architecturally significant buildings and gardens and the food was great.

Before leaving on the trip, I checked out a ton of travel guides from the San Francisco Public Library, but none were really organized in a usable way for just a few days in each city.  Also, I wanted to pack light to avoid checking bags and didn't want to carry a bunch of heavy books everywhere.  I finally found the Frommer's Day by Day series and the Paris and Barcelona versions were very useful.  They are pretty small, contain great street and metro maps and feature about 20 different day plans to see the city.  You can decide to see the city by major highlights, or special interests (i.e., gourmet walk, architectural walk, shopping highlights, etc.), or neighborhood.

Paris Day by Day
Barcelona Day by Day
You can click through to purchase these from  I'm also offering to sell mine for $5 each.

We had great weather the whole time, and I'll post some photos from our trip and some tips for traveling to these great cities soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Backyard - Before and After Phase I

After moving in last July, Mr. CP and I had so much on our plates,we neglected our backyard.  In the beginning, that just meant some grass-like weeds that grew a little high and unpruned trees.  But, after the winter rains, tons of oxalis plants started to sprout up everywhere.  I'm not a neat freak, but the sight of our messy yard was starting to drive me nuts.
Our lemon tree
The back of the yard overrun with oxalis
A rose bush which needs pruning next to a dead rosemary tree
Another shot from the back of the yard
I started to look at my gardening services options on Craigslist and yelp.  Some gardeners have flat hourly rate while others charge a package fee for a job.  Our job was mainly weeding and pruning, so I figured finding someone with some experience would be good, but I didn't need to pay extra for tons of experience.   We opted to try out a method called sheet mulching which involves laying down paper or cardboard over the weeds and then mulch on top of that rather than hand weeding the entire yard.  Below are the "after" photos for phase I of the project - sheet mulching the beds.
The lemon trees sans weeds

The rosemary bush has been removed
The Japanese Maple has been removed from the back bed and placed into a wine barrel planter
It's quite a transformation for one day of work! We think it looks great.

Phase II will involve mulching the back of the yard and pruning the various trees and bushes.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sticky Blueberry and Lemon Rolls with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

I L-O-V-E me a good cinnamon bun, but this recipe caught my eye as I was searching for another great way to use my lemons. It has the texture of the best kind of cinnamon bun....large and super fluffy without too much weighing it down, but has the refreshing tanginess of fresh lemons.  I made a few modifications to this recipe from The Kitchn.

Ingredients for the Dough
1 envelope (= 2 1/4 teaspoons) yeast

3/4 cup milk, warmed to about 100°F
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 lemons, zested
2 eggs
1 handful of blueberries

Ingredients for the Lemon Filling
1 cup sugar, minus two tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft

Ingredients for the Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 of the juice of 1 lemon
1 cup powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon for garnish 

1)  In the bowl of a stand mixer sprinkle the yeast over the warmed milk and let it sit for a couple minutes.

2)  With the mixer paddle, stir in the softened butter, sugar, vanilla, and one cup of the flour.

3)  Stir in the salt, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Stir in the eggs and enough of the remaining flour to make a soft yet sticky dough.
4)  Switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes or knead by hand for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is elastic and pliable.

5)  Spray the top of the dough with vegetable oil, and turn the dough over so it is coated in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let the dough rise until nearly doubled - about an hour.

6)  To make the filling - In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the nutmeg and ginger, then work in the lemon zest with the tips of your fingers until the sugar resembles wet, soft sand. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon. 
7)  Lightly grease a 13x9 inch baking dish with baking spray or butter. (I use a small convection oven, so I split the rolls into one 8x8 inch dish and one 5x8 inch dish.) On a floured surface pat the dough out into a large yet still thick rectangle of about 10x15 inches. Spread evenly with the softened butter, then pour and spread the lemon-sugar mixture over top. Sprinkle the blueberries on top of the filling.  Roll the dough up tightly, starting from the top long end. Cut the long dough roll into 12 even rolls, and place them, cut side up, in the prepared baking dish.

 8)  Cover the rolls with a towel and let them rise for an hour or until puffy and nearly doubled.
9)  Heat the oven to 350°F. Place the risen rolls in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into a center roll reads 190°F.
10)  While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze. Whip the cream cheese with a handmixer until light and fluffy. Add the lemon juice and blend until well combined. Add the powdered sugar and blend until smooth and creamy.
11)  When the rolls are done, smear them with the cream cheese glaze, and sprinkle the zest of 1 additional lemon over top to garnish. Serve while warm.

The rolls were very tasty, especially right after coming out of the oven.  I think next time, I might make regular cream cheese glaze/frosting without the lemon juice and lemon zest garnish.  If you are a lemon fiend though, I'd encourage you to stick to the recipe above.