Thursday, January 31, 2013

Chez Panisse Almond Tart

I really love a challenge in the kitchen, particularly in the dessert arena, so I'm always happy to bring dessert to a dinner party or potluck. Last weekend I was invited to a friend's for a French-themed dinner and wine tasting, and she suggested I bring some sort of tart. I wasn't inspired by anything I found in my cookbooks, so I turned to some of my online favorites.

As usual, David Lebovitz came through. I have (and love, and have heavily bookmarked) his Ready for Dessert but his blog is also a major source of inspiration. When I read his recipe for the Chez Panisse almond tart, I couldn't resist it. Chez Panisse was founded in Berkeley in the early 1970s and is credited with kicking off California cuisine - locally grown food cooked expertly to let the flavors of the food shine. I ate there twice while I lived in the Bay Area, and while it seemed like I had a shot at producing similar food in my kitchen, I've never actually tried one of their recipes before. David was their pastry chef for several years, but does not take credit for inventing this recipe.

The crust was easy: mix it, chill it, warm it, pat it into the pan and bake it empty. I questioned the chill it/warm it steps - couldn't I just mix it and pat it? - but I tend to slavishly follow recipes for baked goods and am not a confident crust-maker, so I did as instructed. My baked crust looked great, no serious cracking, but I did take his advice and patched any possible holes with some reserved dough. I also added some height to one of the sides of the tart, as you can see at about 8 o'clock in this picture:
The filling is just cream, sugar, almonds, and a little almond extract. You're supposed to include some amaretto but I seem to have gotten rid of that in my move, so I punted and used Drambuie (which I could not taste in the finished product, for better or worse). Then you bake it. Part of what makes this recipe a little demanding is that you have to break up the setting surface every ten minutes or so, to maintain a smooth appearance. Here it is mid-bake:
 It was bubbling like MAD! I decided to bake the leftover topping in a ramekin, as you can see - my fatal mistake was not putting foil  under it, because guess which dish bubbled over? Oh yeah. Sorry, new oven!

His directions say to bake at 375 and pull it when it looks like coffee with some cream in it - unfortunately I baked it a bit low, and pulled it too soon:
I was getting nervous about the browning edges, and basically just lacked the courage to leave it any longer. I was able to detach the tart from the ring, but was not brave enough to pry it off the bottom of the tart pan (which unfortunately got a little hacked up in the cutting/serving process).

However, it was delicious. I was proud of the amazing flaky crust, and the surface was really perfect, not clotted at all. Next time, I will cook it a bit hotter, leave it in til it's browner, and make a more concerted effort to get it off the tart base. Still: major success!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Anyone who has furnished a significant chunk of their home from Craigslist is either a saint or is so lucky they should be playing the lottery. I'm trying to get some furnishings into my house, and am feeling really stymied by the process.

I *did* get a couch/day bed for the tv room, which is great, but I also want some sort of bed for my guest room. Right now my sister is sleeping on an airbed, and they are just not built for long-term usage - and aren't that comfortable anyway! I have the gloomy feeling that my mattress isn't working for me, so eventually I'll buy (yet) another and move mine into the guest room, but I really don't want to cough up the money for a new mattress right now (never mind another bed frame!).

I'd like to find some sort of twin sleeper that doubles as decent-looking furniture - either an armchair, or a couch, but not really a futon. I've found a few leads online but haven't been very successful in actually purchasing said furniture. It seems like I can either spend a lot more than I currently am comfortable spending, so I'll have nice furniture, or I can cheap out and buy something that isn't that sturdy and won't last that long - from the big picture, that's a waste of money, but it may be where I land.

Houses are exciting but kinda daunting too.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Other than the house

I AM doing things that are not house-related. I'd like to see a handful of the Oscar movies, though I'm averaging less than one movie theater visit per week.

I've been on a couple of hikes in Forest Park with friends - only about 3 miles or so per loop, but we're bumping it to five miles this coming Saturday. We even went out two weeks ago when it was COLD here.
It was fun catching the trees in a shrouded-with-fog, sun-breaking-through moment.

I've also been on a few bike rides - 6 miles on New Year's Day and 10 miles each of the last two Sundays.

AND I've been eating out some. I should probably get a list going, or review the places as I go to them. The best one most recently was Oven and Shaker in the Pearl District, a few weeks ago with some friends. I felt SO out of it since I hadn't even heard of it, but my talented friend had done some work for them and so called in a favor to get us a seat on a Saturday night. There was a miscommunication that left us standing around a bit, but they made up for it by sending some nibbles to the table and covering our first (only) round of drinks. The appetizers we had were: fried mozzerella (yum), fried chickpeas, the salmon appetizer special (lox), and two of the fried rice balls - one with saffron, one with mushrooms. We also split two pizzas, one brussels sprouts and one with mushrooms. It was a lovely night out, though I might not seek it out again soon as it's a bit loud and it's normal to wait quite a while for a seat. Also, much of the seating is on stools which I don't really like. The food itself was delicious.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Settling in

Well, it's coming together - and yep, there's a lot left to do! I've even cooked a little bit, and have been surprised and pleased to find that cooking in a roomy gallery kitchen is quite nice.

I need a LOT of storage space for my kitchen stuff, and wanted to be sure I had plenty of workspace, so for now I've got a counter-height cart in what could be viewed as the dining area. So from this:

I'm now doing this:
Except I've already gotten rid of the small table thing by the doorway. That was overkill.
I'd like to get some tall chairs so I can sit to eat a meal - I've been doing a lot of kitchen-standing, which feels nice when I've been sitting and working a lot, but isn't practical or hospitable when I have visitors.

Right now I'm focusing my money and Craigslist energies on getting other furniture (a family room couch and a guest room daybed), so the chairs will have to wait.

Monday, January 14, 2013

In which I am smug

I just got my first paycheck that's been hit by the restored payroll tax - we got a 2% reduction a few years ago, but most people didn't seem to realize it, and that provision has elapsed, so we're all paying 2% more from our paychecks again. I objected to the reduction in the first place as it was the first time that the mandatory payroll tax was mucked with. My understanding is it's used to fund social security, which hello, is already a mess - why on earth pay LESS into it? I like Obama a lot but did not approve of this measure.

BUT I figured it wouldn't last forever, and it didn't. So when we got the 2% increase in our take-home checks a few years ago, I increased my retirement savings by 2%. Now that we're  paying our full portion of the tax again, I'm going to decrease my retirement savings by that 2% - ordinarily I'd leave it alone, but between paying a bit more for benefits as a remote employee, and having just engaged in a mortgage and all manner of unknown utility payments, I'm happy I can give myself that 2% to work with.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I'm in!

Moving weekend passed in a blur of activity:
Friday night: two carloads of stuff with a friend
Saturday: have fridge delivered, move a carload of stuff, buy tv & bring it to the house
Sunday: beautifully orchestrated move with a lot of people swapping in and out. We started at 10, had some truck-related chaos, and were finished by 1:30, and that includes about an hour of driving to the storage unit.

A few friends put my bed and dining room table together, another two hung my shower rod & curtain, and yet another pair unpacked much of my kitchen for me. Another friend assembled my lamps and seemed disappointed I didn't have more projects!

The internet/cable guy spent 4 hours rigging me up and insisted on helping unpack and set up my television to be sure it worked (and to save him a call in a few days, I'm sure!).

I've spent my first day in the house mostly hanging out in the living room, enjoying the light and working (wow busy day at work). I've taken a few breaks to rearrange and flatten boxes and give a Skype tour to my parents and sister.

The house has great light, holds heat well, and is really quiet. Plenty of room for my stuff, I think, and one day I'll have enough furniture for it! It's all really really great.

hoo boy am I tired!

Friday, January 4, 2013

new-house smell

Well, I got the key to the house yesterday (and a welcome mat from my agent), so went over after work with one of my friends to get a whiff of new-to-me-house smell! Bonus: since it was recently recarpeted/painted/cabineted/floored, it actually does have a new smell to it.

My friend and I rolled all over the living room floor, giggling like lunatics, then we drank some bubbly (that a friend had given her on HER new-house move-in but she'd never opened). It was entirely awesome and I felt overwhelmed and happy.

Then I went to Lowe's and bought the first of many series of things (lightbulbs, shower curtain rod, toilet scrubber).

Then I took myself out for some ridiculously tasty chicken wings at a restaurant I've been hearing about for a while. I got enough wings for three meals! Score!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Signed all the papers! It didn't even take that long. The only minor wrinkle was that I'd already wired the closing costs using the amount they told me on Monday, and that was about $169 less than the total on the paperwork today. The problem was they'd included the cost of the mobile notary into the closing costs, when on Monday they planned to have me write a separate check. I didn't want to have to do a second wire for $169 since there's a $20 fee for each wire transaction from my bank; fortunately they agreed to let me write a check for the $175 mobile notary fee and said they'd fix the papers.

So, future reference: don't wire the funds until you see the paperwork and the total amount on it! That was probably a rookie mistake; ah well. I've also pored over the GFE vs the actual closing costs, and can see they estimated very high on a few matters, explaining the costs being even less than I expected.

It's a bit anticlimactic without keys in hand. At least I accidentally kept the notary's (cheap) pen.

The penultimate stuff

On New Year's Eve morning I got a call from the title company asking if I could come in to sign papers. They actually woke me up and it took a while to process that this must be the green light - the sale is really really going to happen? What an odd way to absorb the fact of it.

Fortunately I remembered that my agent wanted to be present, and I wanted her there, so I pushed the signing to the 2nd. I'm paying a mobile notary to come to me, which is better than taking a half-day off work and driving to the very inconveniently-located title office. This may be one of the last profligate things I do!

I just wired a great thwack of money to the title office - the rest of the down payment and the closing costs. The closing costs are an entire $5,000 less than the estimate they gave me on the Good Faith Estimate form and I don't know why. I expected a $2,500 discount/rebate for some program they're running but am stumped about the other $2500. Should I be waiting for the other shoe to drop on that front?

Anyway, notary is here in 10 minutes. Eeeeek.