How to ‘do you’

It’s the holiday season, which apparently means we’re supposed to run around the stores acting like people possessed, if I’m to believe the non-stop news coverage of Black Friday.  We also had to contend with Cyber Monday this week, as we pulled ourselves out of our post-Thanksgiving depression, induced by obligatory family time and the crushing realization that the year is almost over.  I don’t know about you, but I’m already feeling like an utter failure this season.  My artificial tree is up, but the lights aren’t working, so forget ornaments just yet.  I updated my Amazon Wish List, but it’s only got three things on it now that I don’t even really want.  I’ve started my shopping, but at the rate I’m going I won’t be done until Saint Patrick’s Day.

I don’t have answers to everything, but I do think I’ve cracked the code on ‘how to do you during the holidays.’  Time, money, and energy are a precious commodity, so you have to set boundaries.  Like most people, I am not immune to parental guilt trips, which is why I’ll be spending 7-9 days driving the length of California this Christmas.  Okay, maybe I still have work to do on drawing better boundaries, but I’m finally confident in saying NO to buying gifts and spending money on things that don’t inspire me.

Last night my partner’s step-dad sent us a picture and a link to a turtle tea set that my mother in-law likes or that he wants to buy her (it’s unclear to me which of the two it is).


Kathy Ireland’s Turtle Bay Collection

My immediate reaction was, “Excuse me, I have to call everyone I have ever met.”  Thank you, Cordelia Chase.  My next thought was more practical, how much is this turtle tea set going to set me back?  It turns out that the going rate for this puppy is more than I want to spend.  A younger, more easily influenced Christina, probably would have caved and just bought a teacup and saucer and deeply resented the dent in her checking account.  But the older I get, the more thoughtful I am about how I spend my hard earned money.  At the very least, I need to be excited by what I’m buying as gifts in order for them to have any meaning.  I hope my mother in-law gets her tea set if that’s what she wants, but she won’t be getting it from me.

Over the years I’ve picked out thoughtful things like a leather handbag and wallet when she went into real estate, and Christmas Fiestaware to add to her regular collection of colorful dishes.  This year we’re going the local food and handmade goods route, and I couldn’t be more excited.  I have faith that even if it does take me a little longer to cross everyone off my list, their gifts will be perfect for them and perfectly me.

So, what is on your shopping list and wish list this year?

A Belated Ode to Autumn

In the hottest part of summer all we can do is hope for crisp fall days, trading tank tops for sweaters, and dreaming about everything flavored with pumpkin spice.  The reality is that autumn is an idyllic imagining of a season that is much beloved but too short, if it ever arrives at all for some of us.  Living in southern(ish) California means we suffer from a year-round temperate climate.  This week the forecast calls for seventy degree weather with a slight chance of rain.  For many of my colder climate friends this is ideal shorts weather, but there’s something inherently wrong about celebrating Thanksgiving in cutoffs and flip flops (blame it my northern California upbringing).

While I’ve adjusted what’s in my closet so that my outfits work year long (give or take a scarf and a cardigan), I haven’t adjusted my expectations for the fall season.  I still look forward to comfort foods piping hot from the oven, my down comforter, and those gorgeous autumnal colors.  Last week the trees finally cooperated and it looks like fall is officially here:


This is good news since Thanksgiving means it’s basically winter, which means it’s practically Christmas, and that essentially means it’s 2014 already, OMG LET’S FREAK OUT.  Anyway, I definitely haven’t gotten my fill of the season yet, so here’s my belated ode to autumn.

A List of my Favorite Things:

1. Decorative Gourds:  I buy a pumpkin every year to decorate my table.  Sometimes I’ll buy a few and try to arrange them like I’m Martha Stewart (I’m really not).  One time I let a pumpkin go past ripe and it burned a hole in my table.  Ok, not a hole, but the rotting flesh did stain my table and now I have to cover it up with a pile of placemats.  This season I only bought a small pumpkin and it’s perched next to my scented candles.  The only thing that makes me happier than decorative gourds is this beautiful rant about them by Colin Nissan over at McSweeney’s, aptly titled “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers.”

2.  Apple Hill:  It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Apple Hill, up in the Sierra Foothills in El Dorado County, but it’s always going to live in my memories as a magical place where all my apple flavored dreams come true.  There are pies, turnovers, candied apples, caramel apples, apple juice, apple cider, and so many varieties of delicious farm fresh apples from which to choose.  I do my best to get by with farmers market apples and cider, but this is a northern California fall/winter tradition that I miss and remember fondly.

3.  Pumpkin Spice:  You can get pumpkin spice in just about anything these days, from lattes and chai tea mixes to ice cream and soda.  I only embraced the trend fully last year, but like Ilana Plen, I felt jilted by my love when it left me without warning.  Read her “Open Letter to Pumpkin Flavored Seasonal Treats,” also at McSweeney’s.  (And if you have Peet’s Coffee nearby, I highly recommend the Pumpkin Latte.)

4.  Thanksgiving themed TV shows:  I’m a sucker for a Thanksgiving special.  The holiday brings out the best and worst in people, and who better to make us laugh about it than our favorite characters?  Monica dancing with a turkey on her head will never not be funny.  I also think many Americans can get inspiration from Lorelai’s stance on Thanksgiving as an Olympic sport in eating.  And if I love one good trope, that means I love two combined even more.  How about last year’s New Girl where Jess tried to “parent trap” her divorced parents on Thanksgiving?

Required viewing:
Friends, “The One with All the Thanksgivings”
Gilmore Girls, “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving”
New Girl, “Parents”

5.  Food:  Last year I hosted Thanksgiving for my family and my in-laws.  It was incredibly stressful, but so rewarding to make eight dishes from scratch in my apartment-sized kitchen.  I say that with zero sarcasm, actually.  If Lorelai gets a gold medal in eating, then I should have gotten the gold for cooking.  One of my favorite things I made was an arugula salad with pomegranate, persimmon, and pears.  I liked this so much, I’m bringing it this year as my contribution to dinner on Thursday.

Arugula Salad with Pear, Persimmon, and Pomegranate


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Community Seafood: Albacore Tuna

It’s been hotter than blazes this week, despite the fact it’s November.  This Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised to receive the email update from Community Seafood letting us know our fish share would be Albacore Tuna.  I couldn’t wait to try a new product and new preparation, and I was immediately enticed to do a seared tuna since the fish would be sashimi grade.  The Community Seafood newsletters have been hit or miss for me, but I liked the simplicity of the recipe inspired by one from Rodelio Aglibot, and I thought the dish would be perfect for an evening of hot Santa Ana winds.

After picking up the fish, I declared to my partner that I hated all of humanity (it was one of those days at work), so he jokingly asked me if I was ready to brave Whole Foods for the rest of our  ingredients.  I loathe grocery shopping during the best of times, but last night’s post-work dinnertime rush wasn’t so awful, after all.  Prep work at home was quick, and soon I was sitting down to one of the tastiest dinners we’ve made in a long time.

from prep to plate

from prep to plate

Seared Tuna with Japanese Salsa

Ingredients: Continue reading

I Am a Foodie

I am one of those annoying people who proudly takes pictures of the food I’m about to consume, much to the chagrin of my dining companions.  I feel like I’ve earned the right to take obnoxious foodie pics because I spent the better part of ten years totally disconnected from the food I was eating.  During college and the ensuing years after, I subsisted on Starbuck’s caramel macchiatos with sugar-free vanilla syrup, Diet Coke, envelopes of instant oatmeal, Lean Cuisine, soy corn dogs, and Saltine crackers with American cheese and turkey.  It’s a miracle I didn’t get scurvy.

In the last five years I have made major headway in my eating and shopping habits.  I’m lucky to enjoy year-round farmers markets and a variety of community supported agriculture (CSA) opportunities in the area.  For a while my partner and I were members of Local Harvest Delivery, which delivered produce boxes to our porch every other Saturday.  It was a test of my patience to deal with things I’d never eaten, much less prepared.  During our membership I was exposed to eating leeks, fennel, pea tendrils, pepino melons, guava, and cherimoya, along with other conventional fruits and vegetables.  I had a lot of success making kale chips, salade Lyonnaise with frisée, and herbed spaghetti squash (fresh chives and lots of butter).  There were also a few flop experiments–like that time I roasted beets and my cat stole one and ate the whole thing (and left streaks of pink beet juice all over the floor and not a spot on her), or the time I nearly lost a finger to my battle with a butternut squash, and let’s not even talk about the half-eaten produce that went bad before I could figure out how it should be prepared.  After a solid run with a mixed vegetable and fruit box, we opted to go the easier route and switched to a fruit only box.  While the fruit box was much easier to consume, I found I actually missed eating vegetables, even the weird ones.  Now my partner hits up the Tuesday market after work, and I’m going to the newest one in town on Wednesdays.

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Christina takes gratuitous amounts of pictures at the Gaucho Certified Farmers Market

In 2012 we joined Community Seafood, and according to their website, they “use a CSA-based model to help promote local retention of seafood harvested in the Santa Barbara channel.”  During the course of our membership we’ve had black cod, white seabass, yellowtail, sheephead, opah, rockfish, king salmon, rock lobster, rock crab, ridgeback shrimp, and mussels.  We’ve culled the internet and discovered some amazing hits like black cod with chili oil and fried garlic, but we’ve also regretted some preparations like the citrus and olive oil anchovies from last week.   Fish nights at our house are always fun because we rarely repeat a dish (the exception being the above), so generally it’s like cooking by the seat of your pants.

I still indulge in too many coffee drinks, but I’ve curbed my processed food habit almost entirely.  I don’t live under the misguided notion that eating fresh foods make me a better person, that I’m saving the planet, or even prolonging my life (because OMG vegetables with butter taste good!)–I just really like eating, and talking about food, and photographing it.  Buying and eating local has taught me that you don’t have to do a whole lot to make things taste delicious when your product is good.  Catch up with me here as I document Community Seafood nights and my spoils from farmers market.