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Fresh Open-Faced California Sandwich

This past weekend I attended the Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, California, 2,700 miles away from my home. Traveling alone is always a meaningful, reflective experience for me, and over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing vignettes that I hope are meaningful to you, as well.

. . .

“Can you tell we’re tourists?” the gossamer-haired man asked the woman at the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) information desk after she guided him through the process of purchasing a ticket. He chuckled toward his smiling wife, and they walked over toward the ticket machine.

I walked up to the information desk, wondering if I was about to annoy the attendant by asking a question she’d already been asked a hundred times this morning. Like everyone else I’d met so far in the Bay City, though, she cheerfully offered detailed advice. With some help from the tourist couple who’d gone before me, I successfully purchased a subway ticket and stepped onto the escalator to descend into the rumbling belly of the city.

After a posing a few more clueless questions to kind San Franciscans, I stepped onto a BART train and settled into my seat with a self-congratulatory sigh. We sped off only to hear a robotic voice a few seconds later announcing the next stop: “Montgomery.”

Oh. Montgomery? I looked at the map on the wall. I was trying to head to the Mission area to visit the gorgeous, iconic Tartine Bakery. Montgomery, however, was in the opposite direction — toward Oakland across the bay. Once again I turned to a stranger. “If I’m trying to get to 16th and Mission–” I began.

“Oh, you’re headed the wrong way,” she said with a smile. “You needed the train on the other side of the tracks.” It suddenly dawned on me that of course the trains, like cars, would go in two different directions. I felt a little sheepish.

“Oh, thanks! I guess it’s a good thing I realized after only one stop,” I said.

“Definitely. You’re fine. You’re not under the water yet!” she replied.

Her reassurance at once comforted me and alerted me to an alarming fact that I hadn’t considered about the trains: they go under the water. Under the San Francisco Bay. Seriously? I could hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, “What if there’s an earthquake while you’re under there?!” I jumped off at the next stop and changed trains, relieved that I didn’t have to go under the water until I visited Oakland later in my trip.

A couple of hours later I stood at a bus stop, blissful after devouring a frangipane croissant, a gruyere and black pepper gougere, and a Mexican Coke at the communal table in Tartine. I hurriedly grabbed $2 out of my pack as the bus pulled up, but I had the good sense to pause on the bus steps and ask, “Do you head toward Lombard?”

I expected the bus driver to wave me onto the bus, impatient with silly tourist questions, but again, I was met with generosity: “Oh, you want the 22 that runs on the other side of the street.” He pointed to the bus stop across the way. A kind man at the bus stop confirmed the bus driver’s words, “Just wait over there and another bus will be along in a moment.” Buses, it seemed — like trains! and cars! and everything else, Julie! — ran in both directions. Since you might be wondering at this point, I promise I’m not dumb.

I walked across the street, once again redirected by the kindness of others.

Are you plowing ahead on your own power lately? Personally, I never grew out of that independent toddler stage of life — the one where you’re constantly insisting, “I’ll do it myself!” There’s nothing quite like being alone in a strange city across the country from your home to break you of that intransigence, though.

I found my way to Tartine and then up to the Golden Gate Bridge on Friday because I was willing to accept the generosity and support of others. (And if I hadn’t found my way to Tartine, what a tragedy that would’ve been!)

Reach out for help when you need to. You don’t have to handle everything alone. And hey, you’re not under the water yet.

. . .

What better way to kick off my California posts than with a gorgeous open-faced California Sandwich? It’s just as healthy as it looks, but don’t worry — it doesn’t lack a thing in the taste department. In fact, it’s one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made in my kitchen. It’s a fresh, tangy combination of flavors that you just feel good eating. I made it on sourdough bread, which I love — and how appropriate for all this talk of San Francisco.

Was there a time in your life when you’ve had to break down and accept the help and kindness of others?

Fresh Open-faced California Sandwich



Recipe by: Adapted from Ezra Pound Cake
Yield: 2 open-faced sandwiches

This quick sandwich is cool and refreshing. The bright California salad is comprised of tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, and avocado bathed in lime juice. It rests on a tangy chive spread and a thick, toasty slice of sourdough bread. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the finished product was considering how little effort went into assembly. This sandwich would make the perfect lunch or light dinner.

Chive Spread Ingredients:
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
Salt and pepper, to taste

California Salad Ingredients*:
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 tomato, cored and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
Squeeze of lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste
*This makes enough salad for 4 sandwiches, if you wanted to put a smaller amount on each, but I really heaped it on. I wanted more salad and less bread per sandwich. Yum!

Other Things You Need:
2 slices of thick sourdough bread
1/2 cup alfalfa sprouts

Directions:
Make the chive spread by mixing the yogurt, mayonnaise, chives, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Toast the 2 slices of bread in toaster or in a buttered skillet over medium heat. Lay these out on a plate.

Make the California salad by tossing avocado, tomato, cucumber, lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Spread each slice of bread with half of your chive spread and pile on half of the alfalfa sprouts. Then top with half of the California salad, piled high. I ate mine with a knife and fork and considerable enthusiasm.

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Quick Dinner: Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables

I was a mess of elbows and ankles today as I ran around school, the grocery store, the bank, and my apartment desperately trying to tug loose ends together.

In the store, I deftly ran over my own foot with a grocery cart just minutes before dropping not one but two 12-packs of diet Sunkist.

People stared. I acted nonchalant: Whatever, don’t act like you’ve never thrown some soda around. Totally under control over here.

I’m now doing laundry, packing Byrd’s things, packing my things, fixing up lesson plans, adjusting my budget, wrestling with Squirt’s stupid filter, and trying to find a moment to shave my legs. Oh, and writing a blog post, naturally.

All of this craziness came about because tomorrow I’m waking up at 3 in the flippin’ morning, collecting my mountain of luggage, and heading to San Francisco (with flowers in my hair! Except not really.) The 3rd annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival is this weekend, and I can’t wait to eat lots of good food and see some sweet people.

Well, I can totally wait for the airplane part, though. In fact, can we just delete that part altogether? I’m one of those hyperventilating-just-a-little, having-occasional-panic-attacks, making-weird-faces people you hope you don’t have to sit next to on the plane. It’s cool; as long as I take my pills I should be able to limit the panic to some periodic weeping in the window seat.

I kid, I kid. The pills actually knock me straight out. I may snore, but at least I won’t be convulsing?

Anyway, back to the current chaos. Even with all the hubbub tonight, I threw together a homemade dinner. I’ve been eating this quick, 15 minute pasta dish like it’s goin’ out of style since I saw it on Not Without Salt. It checks all of my most important boxes for a weekday meal: it’s low calorie, it’s almost effortless, it’s tasty, and it’s piled sky-high with fun toppings.

The peanut butter and soy sauce together form a hearty, savory sauce that’s saved from straight-up bitterness by a few glugs of white wine and some gorgeous carrot curls. I threw on some green onions, chopped peanuts, lime juice, and tons and tons of bean sprouts before mixing the whole dish together and digging in. I love that gorgeous salty soy sauce flavor in every bite.


crunch.

All right, my loves. On that crunchy, delicious note, I’m off to ‘Frisco (I know, don’t worry. I’ve already read all the blogs about how much locals hate it when tourists call it that) for a food adventure. Stay safe, and stay off airplanes, you crazies! If people were meant to fly, God would’ve given us jet engine biceps. Or helium-filled love handles. Or, like, wings or something.

P.S.: My apartment will be occupied and supervised while I’m gone. Probably by robots that throw themselves into bonfires so they can incinerate you in a fiery embrace. Nice try, thieves of the interwebz!

P.S. 2: AHHHHHHHH AIRPLANES.

Garlicky Peanut Noodles with Crunchy Vegetables



Recipe by: Adapted from Not Without Salt‘s recipe inspired by Nigel Slater
Yields: 4 servings

These noodles are bathed in a salty, garlicky peanut sauce before being topped with an array of crunchy toppings: carrot curls, bean sprouts, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds. A spritz of lime juice and a good toss finishes the dish in just 15 minutes. I love simple weekday meals.

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons peanut butter (or tahini if you’d rather, but I haven’t tried it)
1/3 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine (or dry white wine)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
4 servings’ worth of spaghetti (or other long noodle)

Optional Toppings:
carrot curls (just take a vegetable peeler to a peeled carrot to get these)
bean sprouts (boil these for a few minutes and then rinse in cold water for safety)
chopped green onions
chopped peanuts
sesame seeds
squeeze of lime

Directions:
Boil salted water over medium-high heat and cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain, return to pan, and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the garlic and shallots and process until fine. Scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a spatula and then add the peanut butter, soy sauce, wine, vinegar, and sesame oil and process until combined. Add this sauce to pasta in pan and toss to coat.

Serve pasta on plate topped with shredded carrots, green onions, chopped peanuts, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, and a slice of lime.

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Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles

Despite the fact that I’ve been inexplicably bought and paid for by the Son of God Himself, I feel guilty all the time. Call it a complex.

adorable napkins courtesy of sweet Erin

Sometimes it’s Byrd’s fault. She does this thing when I’m leaving for work every morning — do your dogs do this? — where she ramps up her cute factor by 200%. Suddenly she seems fluffier and snugglier. She’ll kiss my ankles and roll over for belly rubs. She’ll look up at me with eyes that I could swear weren’t that adorable yesterday.

It’s as if she’s saying, “You’re not gonna LEAVE me, are you mom? You couldn’t possibly leave your innocent wittle baby puppy, could you?”

But every morning, I break her heart by telling her goodbye and shutting her up in my bedroom. Then I walk out to my car feeling like a heel.

Other times it’s my own fault that I feel guilty. I’ll have a mile-long list of things I need to accomplish, but I’ll allow myself 5 or 10 minutes to check Facebook. And, you know, I have to check Pinterest. And what if something important happened in the world? I’ll read CNN online for just a minute or two. And what if something important happened to Reese Witherspoon? I’ll hop over to People.com for a bit. Of course I need to check my site traffic. And gosh, it’s been forever since I’ve checked Facebook . . .

Suddenly it’s 1 o’clock in the morning and my to-do list suddenly looks a lot like an accusation staring up at me from my notepad.

Last night my guilt was even more justified. I always feed my turtle, Squirt, in a plastic storage container on the kitchen counter. I usually keep an eye on him so he doesn’t climb out and get hurt, but yesterday I was just so preoccupied. I had piles of 7th grade essays, 6th grade quizzes, and 6th grade projects to grade. Modern Family was playing in the background. Byrd was playing in the floor. My head was lost in a cloud of thesis statements and Gloria’s Colombian accent.

Suddenly, I heard a thump. I walked into the kitchen and found Squirt not in his feeding tank on the counter where I left him, but standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, looking around thoughtfully.

He had fallen off the counter.


quick, think of something happy. like pumpkin truffles.

MY BABY FELL OFF THE COUNTER BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY TO WATCH HIM CLOSELY. After bursting into tears, repeatedly checking all of his little turtle limbs for injuries, hugging him (much to his dismay), and investigating the scene of the accident, I sat in floor, awash in a sea of guilt. I promised myself I’d be a better mother. I thanked God profusely that he’d fallen on the carpet and not the linoleum. I called Mike and confessed my negligence.

Meanwhile, Squirt swam around in his tank and chomped at carrots, pleased as a plum to be back in the water and apparently none the worse for the wear.

The truth is, guilt is useful insofar as it leads us to make a change. The discomfort I felt after Squirt’s fall has convicted me to never leave him unsupervised again. For some people, discomfort about the way they’re living is what leads them to submit to Christ and be changed. It’s a good thing.

But beyond that, guilt is a disease. Once you’ve made a change, lingering guilt serves no purpose but to cripple you. It’s a lying voice telling you that you’re unworthy, incapable. Don’t believe it.

Today as Squirt basks under his sun lamp, I’m going to ignore the deceitful voice of guilt. I’m going to believe that I’m the best mommy for that reptile. I’m going to give myself a blank slate. And I might even try to cut down on the Facebook…

…after I post another status update about pumpkin truffles.

Since we’re on the topic of guilt, here are some truffles for you to eat way too many of — and to forgive yourself for later!

They’re worth it. In this super simple recipe, rich pumpkin cheesecake middles are coated in indulgent dark chocolate. The resulting truffles are adorable and totally poppable. Give yourself a break and make some dessert.

What kinds of things do you feel guilty about sometimes?

Chocolate Pumpkin Truffles



Recipe by: Adapted from Whole Foods
Yields: About 30 truffles

A creamy pumpkin mixture spiced up with gingersnap and graham cracker crumbs is rolled into a ball and coated with rich dark chocolate. These delectable truffles would make a lovely autumn gift since they’re so cute and poppable, but don’t feel guilty saving them all for yourself!

Ingredients:
2 cups dark chocolate chips (see note below recipe)
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
3/8 cups finely ground gingersnaps
3/8 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of orange zest (I used a dash of orange extract)
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
pretzel sticks (optional, for pops)
sprinkles or extra cookie crumbs (optional, for decoration)

Directions:
Make the pumpkin middles: In a large bowl, melt the 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips according to instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each). When the white chocolate is melted, let it cool down for a bit before adding the gingersnap crumbs, pumpkin, graham cracker crumbs, sugar, extract or zest, cinnamon, salt and cream cheese. Beat this mixture until it’s completely smooth. Cover it and refrigerate it for about 2 hours until it’s firm enough to roll into balls.

Roll ’em: Roll the pumpkin mixture into balls and place them on a wax-paper lined baking sheet. Refrigerate them for another hour to let them firm up. When you’re ready to make your truffles, melt your dark chocolate according to the instructions on package (usually in the microwave on half power in about 30 second intervals, stirring between each).

Insert the pretzel sticks: (Obviously skip this step if you’re making truffles and not pops!) Take a few pumpkin balls out of the fridge at a time. Poke the end of pretzel sticks into the melted chocolate and stick one in the center of each pumpkin ball, placing them back in the fridge to set. Repeat with all of the pumpkin balls.

Dip ’em: Take out a few pumpkin pops at at time (if you just inserted pretzel sticks, use the ones that have been chilling the longest) and carefully dip the balls into the melted chocolate while holding the pretzel, using a spoon to help you coat them. Gently bounce and turn the pop (while supporting the whole pretzel stick) to let the excess drain off. Sprinkle on some sprinkles, graham cracker crumbs, or gingersnap crumbs if desired, and then stick the pop into a foam block in the fridge to dry. Alternatively, if you’re making truffles instead of pops, use two forks to dip the pumpkin ball into the chocolate and pass it between the forks to drain the excess. Roll it carefully onto a sheet of wax paper in the fridge to dry. Chill the pops about an hour, until they’re completely dry and set.

NOTE ON COATING CAKE POPS OR TRUFFLES: When it comes to coating cake pops or truffles, there are several options. My favorite coating is usually Candiquik or candy melts, because they have a lovely texture when melted, dry quickly, and don't melt if they sit out of the fridge. In this recipe, though, I chose to use plain dark chocolate to coat my truffles. Though it takes longer to dry and can get melty in your hands even once it's set, I wanted the taste of rich dark chocolate to contrast with the pumpkin. My chocolate of choice is always Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips — they are seriously delectable.

OTHER TIPS:
– If you need to thin your chocolate or candy melts, stir in a scant spoonful of shortening until it’s melted. Add more as needed until desired consistency is reached.
– Don’t ever put water or water-based substances in chocolate or candy melts, or they’ll seize and become unusable.
– Keep your bowl of melted chocolate or candy melts inside of a larger bowl filled halfway with hot water. The heat from the water will keep your chocolate liquid while you’re dipping all of your truffles, so that you won’t have to keep reheating.
– See this video for a visual of how to dip cake pops and truffles.

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