fff feb 5

Posted in edibles, five faves friday, rosy things by nikkipolani on February 5, 2016

I can’t quite get my act together to post more than weekly, but I’m surely glad to have the Five Faves marking the time with blessings and joys. Here we go:

1. First time ever — For Lunar New Year, Mom and I knew we were making a much bigger batch of bánh chưng than previous years because there were several in the family who’d finally decided they like bánh chưng. Proportions of rice to pork to mung beans to banana leaves is always a bit of guesswork, but this year, Mom was spot on! We went through 12-1/2 lbs of raw sticky rice, nearly 4lbs of pork, and three packages of leaves, leaving only a handful of rice — resulting in 29 bánh chưng (about 5″x5″x2″).

2. A new discovery — Slicing bánh chưng is always a bit challenging because of how sticky the rice is. I applied what I learned from slicing mochi and used the same trick: wrapping the knife in plastic wrap. Worked like a charm and no impossibly-gummed-up knife to wash afterwards.

3. Gathering — The day after our epic cook day, we had a mini family reunion and exchanged bánh chưng for home-grown navels and smiles from my cousin’s little guy.

4. All caught up — It usually takes me a few days to catch up on work when I take any time off. But then a small avalanche of emails arrived on Tuesday from near and far. By the end of the week, however, I was back on track.

5. Rain! This is turning out to be a much drier February so far, but on the last day of January, we got a right blustery storm elbowing its way through with pushy winds knocking down small branches and flower petals. Thankfully, that was about the extent of the damage in my area.

Happy weekend, friends! And a happy Lunar New Year to you!

fff jan 29

Posted in companions, five faves friday by nikkipolani on January 29, 2016

I’m sorry I haven’t been around to have any proper visits with you — work and not-work have been hectic.  Thank you for your kind comments and words of condolence from last week’s fff. You’re all such an encouragement to me. This week was a more light-hearted week, apparently focused on food…

1. Sometime in December, I looked through my stash of old seeds and tossed some French breakfast radish seeds packed for 2014 into a small container with hopes that some might germinate. Well, it looks like they all germinated and I neglected to thin them. Harvesting means combing through the tangle for big enough specimens, but I loved the handful of crunchy fresh goodness (these have very little bite) that roomie and I enjoyed with some butter and salt.

2. With a visiting colleague from the Netherlands, my department took her out to lunch at an Italian restaurant (of course, right?) and had the best hazelnut gelato ever (evidence bottom left photo).

gelato then poke

3. To celebrate coming into possession of his new car, a friend took me to lunch at his favorite local hole-in-the-wall Hawaiian restaurant specializing in poke (above right photos). I love finding lunch spots close to work.

4. That financial transaction that was part of fffs a few weeks ago finally closed. It’s a weight off my mind since I wasn’t looking forward to chasing down all the details and explaining for hours on the phone.

5. In preparation for Lunar New Year, my Mom and I are spending Friday making bánh chưng (traditional Vietnamese sticky rice cakes) to share among our families. It’s a time-consuming process but we always have a great time together.

Hope you have something lovely to enjoy this weekend.

fff jan 22

Posted in edibles, five faves friday by nikkipolani on January 22, 2016

It’s been a week of sometime-sunshine and glowering clouds and pretty much high 60s — and no rain. A sometimes difficult week with services for long time friends who’ve died in the past two weeks or so. A week of sharing memories about those friends and comforting one another with the confidence that they are with our heavenly Father. A good time to be reflecting on the week’s faves.

1. Our small group has resumed weekly meetings again. This year, we’re studying the Trinity using two books by Chester and Reeves with the same title, Delighting in the Trinity. Discussions are already energizing and engaging.

2. Though we were sad not to get rain, mild temperatures were perfect for rose pruning. Roomie and I tackled her parents’ wild jungle and got about half way through before the day ended and we ran out of yard trash bins. Felt great to make some progress.

3. The white rose hedge is still blooming away, buds unfurling unhurriedly in our non-winter. With fallen petals confetti-ing the walkway, it’s a festive welcome to visitors.

4. Not far from the rose hedge is a row of osmanthus with minuscule blossoms covering every branch. Their jasmine-vanilla scent easily overpowers the faintly honey aroma of the white roses.

5. I was feeling uninspired about what to make for a week night dinner with a friend. She was arriving just a few minutes after I would get home from work. Just in time, this low-maintenance recipe popped up for baked savoy cabbage layered with mild Italian sausage, served with crusty bread and mustard. I steamed instead of boiled the cabbage, raised the oven temp to 350F, and reduced bake time to 1 hour. Perfectly savory and cozy for a cloudy evening’s conversation.


fff jan 15

Posted in cat's meow, five faves friday by nikkipolani on January 15, 2016

Ready for Friday’s Five Faves?  The Friday part definitely snuck up on me this very busy-at-work-week.

1. Though the rains in our region are on hiatus, the sunrises have been spectacular. I’m usually in too much traffic to take an unimpeded photo en route, but this one is from the office parking lot.

2. Christmas is still in the air — this parcel from one of the German international students took well over three weeks to arrive. The Grandma-made cookies were a bit worse for wear, but the chocolates survived as did this fun card. Knowing I’ve been studying German, our friend included this listing of all the different ways to say hello.

3. I’ve been enjoying some post-Christmas arrivals from friends: a binary collection of cat cards (that handmade one on the far left was sent by Glo) and bird-themed gifts, safely segregated on opposite ends of the shelf.

4. For years my kitchen trash can has been a 13 gallon plastic bin with a lid that was just set on top, the kind of lid that gets dirty quickly for all the handling required. I finally bought a simple step-on trash stainless steel container that slotted in very nicely and makes me smile every time the lid pops open.

5. Last Sunday was rather a day for excitement. Our street had no power for about an hour in the morning. Then there’d been reports of rain and hail in some parts of the region. During the cats’ evening meal, the house shook with one big bounce from a 3.1 earthquake epicentered about four miles away. Most of the cats darted for under-the-bed, but Sammy took cover under the dining table. It took a bit of cajoling before they would return to their dinner.

Well, friends, hope your weekend is free from the excitements in #5.

fff jan 8

Posted in edibles, five faves friday by nikkipolani on January 8, 2016

Happy New Year!  Though I didn’t take any extra vacation time over the holidays, it seems like a real return to work this week with office desks occupied again and new meeting notices instead of cancelled ones. And it feels great to be back with Friday’s Five Faves with Susanne!

1. Timely help – I was transferring an old 401k and needed a medallion signature guarantee, a service most banks in my area have stopped providing. After an entire morning spent calling banks and waiting on hold for hours, I contacted a good friend on her last day (!) working at a credit union and got connected with someone who could provide what I needed. Felt like a major victory! (Bonus: the absolutely best ever customer service I’ve had from a financial institution were two guys from T.Rowe Price.)

2. Good time – You all probably already know about the rains finally arriving in Southern California (hurray!). I had braced myself for a week of snarled commute but it seems everyone else was exercising their work-from-home privileges and I’ve been getting to/from work in record time.

3. Good news – Two good friends of mine started new jobs this week. One had been looking for work for months and the other only too thankful to leave a bad management situation.

4. Productive work – It felt terrific to tackle some big projects at work and get them wrapped up. My co-workers seem energized for the new year and that energy is contagious.

5. Fun recipe – There’s no fast way to solve a craving for lasagna when one is allergic to wheat. Frozen offerings are weak, at best, and gluten-free lasagna noodles have proven to be …odd. So I adapted a popular online recipe and simply used brown-rice ziti pasta. And because I didn’t make layers and had homemade marinara in the freezer, the ingredients came together quickly for a weeknight meal (not to mention lunch and future frozen dinners – this makes a 9×13; below is my version).

january 2016

Posted in cat's meow, companions, edibles, rosy things by nikkipolani on January 4, 2016

Congratulations to Snowbird, winner of the random drawing for “ice cream money” coin purse! It’s winging its way to you now (p.s., happy birthday!).  Thanks to everyone who played: Lydia, Willow, Jerralea (your comment made me smile), Flighty (yes, everyone’s on the mend!), Barbara H., Elaine, B-Sister, Katie, Glo, Ellen (those neighbors are Serious Cat Lovers), readingcaliforniagarden (yes, I love vb if only I could get it grow reliably), Natalie, Sis (eek! how exciting!), Barbara R. (so nice to see you again). Linda, I was surprised that you knew the brand ;-)

The new year began with seemingly endless blue skies and quick crisp breezes to knock down all the golden leaves, to the cats’ delight.

Well, mostly Sammy and Wimsey. As promised, after Christmas, we swept the patio (only a very temporary respite from dust and leaves with our afternoon winds) and let the cats have Liberty Hall.

Emmaline worked pretty diligently to gather her fill of catritus while George prowled the perimeter.

Readingcaliforniagarden‘s comment in the last post nudged me to share what’s going on with the roses (besides the confused Iceberg hedge blooming away out front).  Most of the roses got an exasperated hard pruning in November. With the subsequent smattering of rain and December’s reprieve from 100F temperatures, they ventured out again.  Still, some looked like this (below left: Peace, an own-root virus-free version; below right: Jubilee Celebration, a David Austin shrub).

…while a few others sported a handful of buds (Bolero, Westside Road Cream Tea, Le Pactole). Several were left to their own devices and are bearing orange hips (Cardinal Hume).

Roomie and I sat out enjoying the warmth of sunshine and a few slices of banana bread (this gluten-free version is my current favorite because I usually have all the components). I made a few changes, swapping maple syrup for honey and hazelnuts for the cocoa nibs.

Whisked together: 1/2 cup coconut flour, 1/2 cup almond flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 coarsely ground hazelnuts.  In a separate bowl, I blended together:  2 ripe bananas, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 teaspoon maple flavor.  Dry ingredients were blended in until well mixed and split between three small loaf pans (or you can use one 5×9 loaf pan) lined with parchment paper.  Baked at 350F for 35 minutes (longer if using one larger pan).

It was quite pleasant sitting out (when there wasn’t a cat stealing one’s chair) with a cup of tea and something warm and fragrant to eat. Not a bad start to 2016.


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