Let's talk strawberries for a moment, shall we?

I'm rather smitten with berries of all sorts lately, but most especially strawberries.

I'm not the only one in the house who's smitten. In fact, given the choice, Little Man would eat only berries all day every day. I'm quite sure of it. Can't say I blame the kid.

So we've been eating a lot of berries, not only strawberries but also blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Yet the strawberries have taken a particularly important place in our diet lately.

Mostly, we've been nibbling on the strawberries picked from our front-yard patch. Or buying strawberries from the grocery store.

But this past Saturday at the farmer's market, there were plenty of local strawberries for sale, so I brought some home. And promptly set to eating them plain, making strawberry and cream biscuits (more on those later), and whipping up buckwheat pancakes with roasted strawberries (more on that coming, too).

I had a few store-bought strawberries lingering in the fridge when I brought home the fresh local ones, so I cut the last of those up too. Here's a bowl with a few of each. Bet you'll never guess which is which.
Can you believe the difference? The store-bought berries, probably shipped from California and sitting in the store for close to a week before I bought them, are on the left. They're firm, almost a bit dry, mostly white on the inside. The ones on the right are the fresh local berries. They're a bit soft, incredibly juicy, and bright red all the way through.

Bet you'll never guess which ones taste better, either.

And this is why, whenever I can, I try to buy local. Because whether it's just-picked strawberries or fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes, it doesn't get any better than something grown right here near home.


A New Kitchen (After)

Yesterday I regaled you with the tale of why we had to update our kitchen. Today I'm going to show you what the new kitchen looks like.

What's the same: The basic layout. The flooring. The cooktop and range hood. The fact that I have way too many small kitchen appliances, gadgets, cookbooks, you name it to stash in the kitchen.
What's different: The cabinets. They're a basic oak selected because it matches the trim around our windows and doors. We wanted something to lighten up the room, given the darker flooring already in place. They're nothing fancy, but very nice. (We do have the fabulous drawers that shut themselves, which is super cool). 

One major plus to the new cabinets (besides the fact the drawers actually open and the cupboard doors aren't falling apart) is a bit of added functionality. We have an easy-to-access turnaround now, a divider to make the cookie sheet cabinet more useful, and best of all, a real pantry to replace my futile attempt to create a pantry from a too-small cabinet.
(Someone else enjoys the pantry, and all the cabinets and drawers he can now get into, since we're loath to screw in childproof locks yet so only a few are inaccessible to Little Man right now.)

What else is different: The countertops. They're laminate, nothing fancy, but look like stone and are a great neutral color that hides spots and crumbs and such very well. This is a key feature in my world. (Although I kind of miss the gold and silver speckles in our old countertops. Kind of.)
The dishwasher, combination wall oven and microwave, and fridge. (Hooray for matching appliances and an oven that works! Plus now I can actually use the microwave and oven at the same time without blowing a fuse. That's big. HUGE.)
The kitchen sink and faucet (thank goodness—the old ones were seriously nasty).
The light fixtures, including the chandelier above the table. It's not nearly as cool as the retro chandelier we had before, but we don't have to worry about it burning the house down.
And the walls. Instead of old wallpaper and pink tile, now they're all just painted a sagey green. It makes for a welcoming, serene space.

I absolutely love the new kitchen. It's taking some getting used to, though. It's a place I'm comfortable with and know well, since we kept the same layout, yet it's still so different. I'm not quite sure it feels like "home" yet, but it's getting there.

I just need to spill and splatter a few more things first. And maybe actually hang something on the walls. (Even though I know the gaping hole in the soffit where our doorbell ringer is looks quite attractive as it is.)


A New Kitchen (Before)

For more than 5 years, this was my kitchen.

When we moved to L-Town, I was still working for a custom publishing company in Des Moines and spent a portion of my days looking at photos of and writing about dreamy kitchens. I did not consider this one of those dreamy kitchens. Not even close.

At first I wondered if I'd ever get used to the mismatched appliances, salmon tile, and retro wallpaper. But I did. I spent a lot of time in this kitchen, trying all different sorts of recipes every chance I got. I got used to the finicky oven, to the ever-present spots staining the white countertops, to the way certain drawers didn't open correctly. It became my home. I appreciated its midcentury modern style (and its quirks).
But then Little Man came along. And our oven moved from retro-cool to fire hazard territory, getting so hot you could actually burn yourself if you touched the outside of it without a pot holder. Not a good situation with a toddler in the house, particularly one who likes to play in the kitchen as much as his mamma does.

The oven also made it harder and harder to bake with any consistency—it got so bad I pretty much stopped using it because everything I tried to make either came out overcooked or undercooked (because I was afraid of burning things, which seemed to happen in mere minutes).

We looked into replacing the oven but, alas, they don't even make ovens that size anymore—unless we wanted to spend thousands of dollars buying a used replacement that looked like the original, with no guarantee it would be any safer.

We could have replaced the oven with a new one of different dimensions and had our contractor rig up the cabinet it was in so it looked like it fit, but we knew that would be a temporary, rather unfortunate fix.
And so replacing the oven suddenly became replacing the oven, the cabinets, and the countertops. And while we were at it, the refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher too. Oh, and tearing out the tile. And ditching the wallpaper. And painting. And getting new light fixtures in the kitchen and dining room because the lovely retro chandelier in the dining room was a fire hazard, too.
It's amazing how quickly a little project becomes a big project.

So we picked out new cabinets and countertops, ordered new appliances, found light fixtures and a new sink and faucet.

Once my semester ended, I hastily packed up our kitchen (for such a small space, it's amazing how much stuff we had in there!) and tried to take off the wallpaper on the soffit. It was dreadful, let me tell you. The number of hours I spent steaming and scraping was ridiculous given how little progress I made. But that's a story for another day.
Once the kitchen was cleared out, we ran off to Georgia. And when we came back two weeks later, we had a new kitchen. How's that for glorious timing? I can't imagine how dreadful it would have been to try to work from home and keep an incredibly curious dog and little boy away from the action for two weeks. So I highly recommend getting the heck out of town the next time you hire someone to work on your house. It was terrific.

Anyhow. Now that I've talked all about what our kitchen was and how it got remodeled, I'm going to stop for today. You'll just have to come back tomorrow to see the "after."



I love reading food blogs. If time allowed, I'd spend hours gazing at them. All those striking photos of decadent cakes, divine dinners, and everything in between are like porn for food lovers.

My cooking and baking life is nothing like those food blogs. Sometimes, when I have a success with a recipe I try, I think I may be getting there. But you know what? I'm not even close.

In fact, I've determined recently that my success ratio in the kitchen is about 3:1. For every three tries that work out beautifully (or at least reasonably well), I have one failure. Usually an epic failure.

(Here's one—some flourless banana muffins, a popular recipe on Pinterest. They were the most hideous things I ever made and didn't taste all that great either. They actually looked a lot worse than this in real life.)

The failures happen for any number of reasons. Sometimes I just pick a dud of a recipe that is rather lackluster even when I follow the instruction to a T. But often it's user error. I don't quite have the right ingredients so I leave something out intentionally. Or I just plain forget something that was vital to the recipe's success. Sometimes I fail to measure things out precisely enough. Or I get distracted by Little Man and my timing is off. There are lots of reasons I fail and fail often in the kitchen, and I'm realistic about my abilities being middling at best.

Case in point: Recently I made homemade graham crackers for Little Man. I tackled it, as I do with most baking these days, once he went down for a nap, excited that he'd have fresh, warm graham crackers for his afternoon snack. Only I decided to throw in a load of laundry and handle a few other minor household to-dos before I started in on the recipe, and alas, as he's wont to do anytime I'm baking, he woke up earlier than usual from his nap, while the just-mixed dough was still sitting on the counter.

By the time I was able to get back to rolling it out, the dough was incredibly sticky and hard to work with, so I wasn't able to roll the crackers as thin as I should have. Needless to say, the end result wasn't all that fantastic. Fail.

Fortunately, I followed up that failure with a couple of successes. Some decadent chocolate-caramel-shortbread bars I'll share with you soon, the crepes I posted recently, and a Father's Day sponge cake that also will make an appearance here before long.

That was three, so I was bound for another failure. And this one was a doozy, as it resulted in the complete ruination of dinner. Usually my failures are of the "well, it's not the best but it's edible" variety, but this one was just plain bad. And it was pizza, by gosh. How does one mess up pizza that bad?

I'm not sure what happened, but I knew something was off with the crust after it rose (very little) for an hour and fell apart when I picked it up. I thought it was maybe just a little dry but, on the bright side, that meant it wouldn't stick so much when I rolled it out. So I proceeded to make the crusts and then load the pies with toppings and bake them some more. The end result looked good, but it was so chewy and hard we couldn't even really eat the pizza.

(I forced myself to eat some so as not to waste all that food, Little Man devoured his toppings but left the crust alone, and Conservative Hubby had to scrounge around for something edible to substitute for dinner.)

Big disappointment. Big. Huge.

Now I have to figure out how I'm going to redeem myself.


Buckwheat Crepes

My first—and for the longest time only—experience with crepes came when My Parents would occasionally throw parties for their friends. Everyone would get dressed up and have cocktails and eat all sorts of tasty treats. I never attended these parties, mind you. But I'd enjoy the leftovers, and my favorite leftovers were the crepes My Mom would make on her old crepe maker (yes, there is such a thing), fill with ice cream, freeze, and serve with homemade hot fudge sauce. Heavenly. And, I thought, something only to be bothered with for very special occasions.

It wasn't until I was in college that I realized crepes weren't reserved only for the sweet—and that some of the best crepes are actually the savory ones. (That's also when I learned how to actually pronounce crepe, so thanks, Little Diplomat!)

Yet until today I never even considered the possibility of actually making crepes myself—at least, not without My Mom's handy crepe maker. And I never in a million years thought that making crepes could be so easy.

Then I stumbled across a recipe for buckwheat crepes on the Gluten-Free Girl website. (Yes, they're gluten-free, but that's beside the point.) They included a video showing how easy crepe-making was. Little Man sat patiently on my lap and, enthralled, watched the video with me. That's when we decided we were having crepes for dinner.

Just like that. No big menu-planning. No dinner party-throwing. No agonizing over technique. Just, come on, let's make crepes for dinner.

And you know what? Crepes are easy to make. I'm not saying pretty crepes are easy to make, as mine definitely are not. But they're easy to whip up. Milk, eggs, buckwheat flour, a dash of kosher salt. That's it. I didn't have coconut oil, as the recipe called for, so I used butter instead, and it worked just fine. (But you don't want to do 2 tablespoons all at once. That first crepe was ... uh ... buttery, to say the least.)

To keep things simple, Little Man and I had ham and cheese crepes for dinner. As you can see, he was a fan (though he pulled everything apart and ate the ingredients separately ... lovely).

For dessert, I may or may not have indulged in a crepe slathered in peanut butter. Just because I could.

Now that I've stopped thinking about crepes as something only trained French chefs (or lovely mothers looking to impress dinner guests) whip up, I'm imagining endless possibilities. Sweet, savory, you name it.

However, I do plan on making some homemade ice cream soon, so re-creating My Mom's fabulous dessert crepes may be on the agenda first.