Ready for a Stroll

Sand Cherry in Bloom

Creeping Phlox

Ready for a Stroll

Birch and Bleeding Heart

Tulips

Tulips

Steinbeck

Bleeding Heart

Violets

Having grown up in California, and gone to college in the Oregon, I have a slew of friends who still reside in those more temperate climes. So while we still had snow on the ground, my Facebook feed was filled with West Coast photos of freshly bloomed daffodils. Now, June is in sight, the snow is but a memory and the daffodils have come and gone, but it feels as if Spring has just arrived in Maine. Suddenly the grass is green, the trees have leaves, and everything is in bloom.

In my own little garden, the sand cherry is in bloom, the violets are out, the bleeding heart has grown to massive proportions and the tulips are starting to fade.  My perennial bed, now in its third year,  is starting to fill in and I may have to start doing some dividing come fall.

Now that the weather is nicer, LMC and I have started taking a little stroll together before I head to work in the mornings, giving me a chance to scope out the neighbors yards for ideas. The phlox that’s everywhere? Totally want some of my own. That perennial bed around that birch tree? Divine!

When we first moved into our little house, I  started my flower beds with no real plan or knowledge. I got the gift of some plants from friend’s gardens, picked up a few of my own and started digging out red brick mulch, tearing out layers of landscape fabric, and plopping plants down and crossing my fingers. Three years later, between some experience and episodes of This Old House, I’m starting to learn more about this gardening thing. Or at least paying more attention. I know enough to know that moving plants is pretty easy, dark mulch makes everything look better and if something doesn’t work out you can always plant something new in its place.

It’s good to be out in the garden again.

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According to my big brother, I haven’t posted anything since November 8th, and I’d be the first to admit that ever since this pregnancy began, I’m lost my blogging rhythm, which I suppose can only be expected. But worry not – things have been carrying on here at the Cleaver household, in perhaps a more chaotic fashion than usual.

Work has been keeping me very busy, we’re having new insulation put in the house, I’m trying to finish up a number of deadline projects, and I’ve been building up a cache of knit and sewn baby things I hope to share with you soon. In the midst of all of this, we took off Thanksgiving week to visit my extended family in Southern California.

With three other shutterbugs snapping photos of all the family gatherings, I neglected to pull out the camera for any of the family events, but I did take my camera with us on our Tuesday trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, thanks to the generosity of my aunt and uncle. Because everyone else was still working that day, it was just Mr. Cleaver and I, but I was pleased to accompany the Mr. on his first trip to Disney.

We gamely avoided any of the non-pregnancy-friendly rides, but still found more than plenty to fill our day. Mr. Cleaver declared Pirates of the Caribbean to be the best ride, while my favorite of the day was the new-to-me Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Between all the standing in queues and walking, I think it took my legs 3 days to recover!

But it was a fabulous fun day and a great transition into the holiday season!

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Maybe it’s because I have food on the brain, but I took a lot of photos of food on our California trip, and truthfully we did a lot of eating out while we were there, so I thought I’d share some highlights.

Oxbow Public Market

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For southern Mainers, the Oxbow Public Market is like a successful version of what the Portland Public Market tried to be. INside the market there are a dozen or so food-related booths ranging from cupcakes and ice cream, to spices and olive oils, to oysters. Even on a Wednesday the whole market was fairly popular.

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We grabbed some delicious Tacos at Casa and had the unseasonable pleasure of enjoying them outside on the patio seating. Casa’s food is my favorite kind of Mexican – instead of the heayy refried bean and cheese fare at most Mexican chains, their food was fresh and light and featured some tasty but untraditional favor combos, like my blue cheese/onion/steak taco below.

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Buttercream Bakery:

My visits to Butercream are more about nostalgia than anything else. The food at the diner is simple diner fare, while the doughnuts come in regular and fancy varieties. We picked up a dozen of my old favorites, but I most enjoyed the red velvet doughnut I’d never tried before. So much for nostalgia!

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Genova Delicatessen
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A great deli in an unassuming location, this is the one spot my brother always makes sure to visit whenever he’s in Napa.

See’s Candies
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If you’re Californian, or ever been in a California airport, you probably know See’s Candies. I used to always try to get to the sprinkled one first – never realized they were mocha-flavored. If you visit one of the stand alone-stores, you get a free sample!

In-N-Out Burger
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What is there to say about In-N-Out that hasn’t been already said. Of all of my food photos from the trip, this is one that made Mr. Cleaver the most hungry again.

Boon Fly Cafe
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I was most excited to visit the Boon Fly Cafe.

One summer during college I worked at the under construction Carneros Inn (its parent/location) as a temp in the accounting department filing papers in a trailer full of soap and shampoo and one day my supervisor took me to lunch at the Boon Fly, which I remembered as delicious.

My memory served me well.

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The Boon Fly is my favorite kind of restaurant, simple food done incredibly well. The blackberry lemonade and flatbread pizzas were especially tasty. As a bonus the restaurant boasts a beautifully designed and relaxed atmosphere.

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Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop

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After all this food, there’s still a place for desert. While in San Francisco we stopped at the Ghirardelli Ice Cream Shop, and let me tell you they do not mess around with chocolate there.

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Other notable stops (non-pictured):

Gillwood’s Cafe – Napa locals’ favorite brunch spot

Norman Rose Tavern – a new spot w/ great comfort food and an impressive tap list that includes several local beers and ciders in addition to the expected wines.

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Last week Mr. Cleaver and I headed out to Northern California to visit my family. The weather was beautiful and we ate enough food for the entire month of January – in fact most of my trip photos were of food, so I’m going to give the eats their own post.

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Today I wanted to focus on the last day of our trip when my big brother (hi Luke!) took us to Muir Woods and San Francisco before depositing us at the airport to catch our red eye back to Maine, where it promptly snowed 8 inches on our return.

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Luke had suggested we go to Muir Woods, and since Mr. Cleaver had never seen a giant redwood tree, I heartily agreed!

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If you’re not familiar with redwoods, the coastal redwoods are the tallest living trees in the world and can grow up to 380 ft (115m) high. These amazing trees grow only in a small region of Northern California and the the Pacific Northwest and I visited them often growing up on camping trips with my family.

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Perhaps even more amazing is that these giant trees grow from the tiniest pinecones!

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Coming from Maine, it was fun to see how green everything was, even if the non-evergreens had lost their leaves.

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For a complete 180 from our woodland trekking, we ended the afternoon at Ghiradelli Square and Pier 39 in San Francisco- the epitome of touristy hustle and bustle.

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The  Bourdin Sourdough Bakery

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IMGP4812.JPGChecking out the Sea Lions at Pier 39

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Sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge.

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John and I got back home late Sunday evening after a wonderful week with the family in Southern California. It was nice to have so much time to spend with everyone. We could relax and enjoy the beautiful to us (cold to them) weather.

I am especially grateful for the stories I learned about various family members, like how my great aunt and uncle met at a roller skating rink he was running, and how when my grandfather was born they had to light the stove in the farmhouse with walnuts, because all the wood had already been taken to the new farm his family was moving to.

Makin' Whoopies

Mr. Cleaver and I stayed with my Grandfather, who requested a turkey dinner for Tuesday night, so my brother and I spent the majority of the day cooking Thanksgiving dinner #1, which included turkey, stuffing, pumpkin cake and whoopie pies. Mr. Cleaver took on dish duty. We were joined by my sister-in-law after work, and Grandpa invited his friend Patricia from church to join us for supper. Patricia has encouraged my Grandpa to take up yoga at the age of nearly 83!

Dish Duty

Chopping spices

On Wednesday we explored San Dimas and joined my Aunt, Uncle and cousins for some ten pin bowling followed by In-N-Out. Mr. Cleaver was excited to bowl over 100 for the first time ever.
Big bowling!

Choosing a ball

In-N-Out

Thanksgiving day was spent at my Aunt and Uncle’s, playing games (like Clankers( like horseshoes, but with washers), Corn Hole, and Skittles), chatting round the fire, eating delicious food, and gathering in the rec room for slideshows.

Winding the top

Clankers

Maddox

Aunt Betty and Grandpa

Starting the fire

Friday we visited the Rancho Santa Ana Botantical Garden, goofed around in Claremont, and had dinner with my Great Aunt.

Snow and desert

Don't touch!

Prickly and pretty

Loops #2

View from Aunt Betty's

Saturday we spent with my Aunt and Uncle, looking through photo albums, walking in Bonelli Park,  and catching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Rattlesnake warning

Around the Resevior

A big thanks to all my Southern California relatives, who made our visit so wonderful!!

…or you really can’t go home again.

Mr. Cleaver and I just returned from an almost week spent at my Mother’s in Napa, California. Our flight out was delayed (canceled and re-booked, really) by two days due to a huge snowstorm on the east coast, but our actual travel was fairly uneventful.

The Red Hen

It’d been two and half years since I’d last been back and it was the first time I was truly hit by the fact that I didn’t live there anymore. Though in general Napa has gotten more touristy, with large hotels and tourist-aimed shopping centers being the most noticeable changes, not all that much was different (the Uptown Theatre is still closed, the flood abatement project still isn’t completed, the Cinedome still stands tall, my mother’s favorite restaurant is still the Red Hen, and Butter Cream still makes the best doughnuts in town).

But it wasn’t home – I didn’t remember my way around the roads, my childhood bedroom was filled with boxes of things that weren’t mine, all the art seemed lower on the walls, I couldn’t recall where the pots went in the kitchen, the bakery I once worked in was now a hair salon. I not longer had any ownership of the place as it is, only as it was and it was a sobering feeling.

That said, the weather was beautiful and it was nice to see family (Mr. Cleaver got to meet a lot of my mother’s side of the family for the first time) and friends (shout out to Angie & Steve, Sean, Heatherly & Angelina!). I love that there will always be people in my life that no matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked or seen each other (which is regrettably often too long), we can always pick back up right where we left off – and that’s a comforting feeling.

City Drainage Basin

I didn’t take many photos while on the trip, but I did take a series of shots on Christmas morning when Mr. Cleaver and I visited my neighborhood park (which is, yes, also a city drainage basin). I’d like to point out that Mr. Cleaver is wearing my Christmas gift to him, a Woven Bands Pullover re-imagined as an Elizabeth Zimmerman shirt-yoke seamless sweater knit in Cascade Eco-Wool.  Mr. Cleaver loves it, which makes me so happy  – you have no idea.

Swingin'

Sleeve

Balance Beam

Chin Up
Dandelion

S'more Pie - Perfected

Back on May 14th, 2008 I posted a pie without a recipe or a link to a recipe – it was an attempt that didn’t quite work out and I hadn’t gotten another chance to test out a new version.  My brother has not let me live this down. He pretty much brings it up every time we talk.

S'more Pie - Perfected

In general, I just wasn’t all that inspired to give it another try, but then I had the Snicker’s Pie at the Great Lost Bear and found my chocolate filling. That, along with  having my company holiday potluck today, gave me enough reason to make a second go. (Oh  – and can I say my company’s Christmas potluck includes a fresh raw oyster shucking station and a pound of local shrimp is the parting gift? I love Maine. )

The tart was a big hit at the party –  it turned out exactly how I wanted, chocolately without being too much like cake or pudding and a perfect balance of flavors.  And so after a year and a half of waiting,  here it is.

Merry Christmas, Big Brother.

S'more Pie - Perfected

S’more Pie

Makes 8 to 10 servings

For crust:
8 to 9 graham crackers,  finely ground (about 1 cup)
5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

For filling:
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) heavy cream
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (not more than 65% cacao if marked)(as always, I prefer Ghirardelli’s)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

For Topping:
Half a bag of mini-marshmallows

Equipment:
a 9-inch round fluted tart pan (1 inch deep) or 9-inch pie pan

Make crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Shift together graham crackers and sugar. Stir in melted butter and press evenly onto bottom and up sides of tart pan. Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on a rack 15 to 20 minutes

Make filling:

Bring cream to a boil, then pour over chocolate in a bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. Whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt in another bowl until frothy, then fold into melted chocolate.

Pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until filling is set about 3 inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Cool completely in pan on rack, about 1 hour.

Add topping:
Distribute about half a bag of mini marshmallows on the tart, until the top of tart is evenly covered and place under broiler until marshmallows are golden brown (about 1-2 minutes, but watch carefully and rotate as needed).

Best served when marshmallows are warm and gooey! (If you don’t eat it all in one sitting – and I’d be amazed if you do – it’s seriously rich, store in the fridge. Let sit out until room temperature before eating and if desired, microwave for a few seconds to re-gooify the marshmallows).

In other news, last weekend I made my annual batch of peanut brittle and this photo op was too good to skip, even if my hair is a little crazy and I’m wearing one of John’s flannel shirts.

Peanut BrittleCHOMP!

Peanut Brittle

In other, other news. I’m off to my hometown of Napa, California for a week come Sunday. I haven’t been back since before I was married! I may not have internet while I’m gone, but I’ll let you know all about it on my return. If you’re a Napa-based reader, send me a email/comment before Sunday – I’d love to meet up!