My Boy’s Birthday…from Baklava to BBQ

My son’s birthday was mid-week in summer.  This means something small and intimate – which is great by me.  He chose to go to La Mediterranee in San Francisco for his birthday dinner.  He had his favorite food – Chicken Celicia, followed by a new favorite dessert – baklava.  He was quite happy.


a smiling hummus face

I don’t do kids’ birthday parties every year.  In fact there have only been 1 or 2 parties in my children’s lives so far.  Last year my son wanted a party with lots of his friends.  We invited and send out the invites, however only one could come (that summer thing) – so we had to postpone until September.  It was fun but not as festive.  This year my son wanted to have a few friends for a few sleepovers.  This is fine.  That’s what happens at age 9 in the summer anyway.


ready for the grill


ready for sleep...not

We had two boys over for a cookout and backyard campout.  My son wanted cheeseburgers (however there was also tofu for my daughter and portobellos for my husband), homemade chips and homemade vanilla and chocolate ice cream sandwiches.  The boys went to town on the cheeseburgers.  I of course love when kids eat their food and one even asked for a second burger.  The friends were disappointed there was not going to be cake…until they tasted the ice cream sandwiches and loved them.  We have an ice cream sandwich mold which makes these treats easy to assemble.  I made the vanilla ice cream (same as my daughter’s b-day) a few days prior, and the chocolate cookies the night before.  So assembling the morning of the party was simple.


cut cookies...
scooping and molding

The camping part was tricky as we just put in artificial turf.  Thus we realized we couldn’t steak the tent into the ground.  We didn’t worry too much as the boys played with flashlights, told jokes and giggled for about an hour and one half inside the tent.  However a gust of wind came through the yard about 10:45 pm and my husband and I heard “Help! We can’t get out!”  I went out to find the tent and boys tipped up on the back wall of the tent and the boys couldn’t reach the zipper (now on the roof).  Laughing and tired, I got them out and they came inside to “camp” in the living room.

Breakfast of course was my husband’s famous pancakes.  Studded with chocolate chips for the occasion.


Stay tuned to read what’s in store for the final July birthday of the year….mine.


Melon Madness!

Everyone loves and appreciates all variety and flavors of fruits in the summer months.  What’s not to like?  Plums, cherries, peaches, plots, nectarines, and on and on.  But what about melons?  My kids and I have been discovering all the various melons.  Each week we pick a new one to try. Noting the exterior texture and color and shape overall.  Before we cut each one we each take a guess at what color the flesh will be inside.  The best part is they’ve all been delicious.  To really make it interesting we could do a blind taste test to see if we can differentiate them.  Maybe I’ll save that as our fun and exciting days of summer turn more dull (we have a full 12 weeks this year)   Here’s what we’ve discovered and enjoyed so far.  Get your melon ballers ready!


Sherlynne Melon

Santa Claus Melon


Canary Melon

Funny thing is when we said what the melons tasted like it was mostly cantaloupes and cucumbers.  Cucumbers?  Well I explained to my kids that melons squashes and cucumbers are part of a larger family of gourds and referred to as “cucurbits”.  Melons are an excellent source of vitamin C.  Choose melons that are heavy for their size and grooves that have white or cream colored  grooves instead of green.



The Scoop on Scoops

Since it’s July that means summer and birthdays around my house.  I always look forward to some warm days when I can get out the ice cream maker to make our own homemade ice cream.  In the past all my kids wanted to make is mint chip. (see past recipe).  I can’t blame them.  There is nothing like real mint ice cream.  However we need to venture out and for my daughter’s birthday we made a classic vanilla bean.  This was super easy and a bit hit.  My son liked it so much I’m making it again this week to put between homemade chocolate cookies for ice cream sandwiches.  Stay tuned for his birthday post coming next.


Anyways…summer is also a time my kids and I like to explore new ice cream flavors around town.  We have our local favorites, but it’s fun to venture out and discover new ones too.  This past weekend we were fishing (nope didn’t catch a thing) in Faixfax’s Bon Tempe Lake.  The thing that got us through the fishing and hiking was knowing we were going to Scoop in Fairfax on the way home.  This place is the real deal.  It’s located downtown at 63 Broadway (no website) About one dozen flavors hand made with local ingredients with classic (chocolate, strawberry) and unique flavors (mexican chocolate and vanilla honey lavender).  Plus homemade waffle cones and bowls.  They think of everyone too.  Fruit sorbets and soy ice cream for vegans and lactose intolerant.  Gluten free cone options.  This place is the best and least expensive scoop around.  They could charge  twice the amount, but they don’t.  They want to keep people coming and they’ve built a real community of suppliers and customers since it’s opening 10 years ago.  My son and I tried the control burn.  Wow!  Vanilla with cinnamon and chilies.  This was certainly a burn on the aftertaste.  We left that to the real men in the line and he went for the milder mexican chocolate (also with chilies, but not as hot) and soy mint for me.


So we haven’t gotten as adventurous at home.  However we’ve been making this wonderful and simple vanilla bean ice cream recipe for the birthdays.  I found it on the Joy of Baking site.  It’s easy and only has 5 ingredients!  I’ll be using this as a base for some more creative flavors of our own.  Enjoy!

Vanilla Ice Cream: In a small saucepan, over medium-high heat, bring the half-and-half and the vanilla bean (if using) to the scalding point (the milk begins to foam up). Remove from heat, take out the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds from the bean with the back of a knife, and mix the seeds back into the half-and-half.

Meanwhile in a stainless steel bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy (about two minutes). You can do this with a wire whisk or I like to use a hand mixer. Gradually pour the scalding half-and-half into the whipped egg yolk mixture, making sure you keep whisking constantly so the eggs don’t curdle. If any lumps do form, strain the mixture first before heating.

Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the custard thickens enough that it coats the back of a spoon (170 degrees F) (77 degrees C). The term ‘coat a spoon’ is a technique used mainly as a way to test when an egg-based custard or sauce is done. A spoon, usually wooden, is placed in the custard and, when the spoon is raised, the film of custard on the back of the spoon will stay in place even when you draw a line with your finger through the middle of the custard. 

Immediately remove the custard from the heat and continue to stir the custard for a few minutes so it does not overcook. At this point stir in thevanilla extract, if using. Cover and let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate the custard until it is completely cold (several hours but preferably overnight). 

Transfer the cold custard to the chilled container of your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once made, transfer the ice cream to a chilled container and store in the freezer. If the ice cream becomes too hard place in the refrigerator until softened.

Makes about 3 cups. Preparation time 40 minutes.

Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe:

2 cups (480 ml) half-and-half

5 large (90 grams) egg yolks

2/3 cup (130 grams) granulated white sugar

1/2 vanilla bean or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Note:  Half and Half cream is a mixture of cream and whole milk and contains 10 – 12% butterfat.






Gazpacho! – God Bless You

My kids never remember the word gazpacho, but think it’s funny when I say it and  and remind them it’s cold veggie soup.  While it isn’t their favorite, it is mine.  Making it for me means summer.  I’ll make a batch and serve it for dinner with salad and/or sandwiches and then enjoy the left-overs for lunch during the week.  It’s great to make in summer too because of the delicious tomatoes in season.  You can really add just about any veggie here.  You just throw it all in the blender with some beans (good protein) and spices and you’re done in 5 minutes from start to finish.  This also makes a nice appetizer to put in small teacups or shot glasses to have ready for summer outdoor gatherings.


Gabby’s Gazpacho, from The Petit Appetit Cookbook

Three year old Gabby called this soup “punch”, because it couldn’t be soup, since soup was hot”.  I think it’s a good way to give your family a powerful “punch” of vegetables full of folic acid and fiber.  It’s a refreshing meal on a hot summer day.

5 medium vine-ripened organic tomatoes, quartered (about 4 ½ cups)

½ medium organic cucumber, peeled and sliced (about 1 cup)

½ cup cooked or canned garbanzo beans

1/8 cup chopped organic red onion

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable broth

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


Garnish (optional)

½ cup chopped avocado, tomato and/or peeled cucumber


Blend all ingredients except optional garnish in a food processor or blender until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer to a container and chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.  Ladle into soup bowls and top with garnish, if desired.








Happy 6th Birthday – with Mac and Cheese Recipe

My daughter turned 6 over the weekend.  She celebrated by having two friends over for dinner and a sleep-over.  My daughter, being my daughter, had lots of opinions regarding her menu.  She wanted to serve “macaroni with cheese”, veggies with dips, lemonade, peace sign pretzels (found at Whole Foods) and a double layer lemon cake.  I say macaroni and cheese in quotes because sometimes it’s penne with gruyere or shells with white cheddar or a mix of left-over pasta and what I have on hand cheeses.  However I’ve made “macaroni and cheese” for some kid guests, who will not touch it if it doesn’t look like “the box” version.  So I consulted recipes for one that seemed the most orange and box looking.  I decided on one from my Real Simple Cooking app with a few changes and omissions (no jalapeno peppers, thanks).  Funny my daughter said it was the best recipe yet.  I think the secret ingredient is the mustard.  I wonder if mixed with the dried fake cheese is mustard powder?  See recipe below…

mac and cheese - the real deal

1 lb elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard

1/2 pound extra sharp cheese, grated, 2 cups

1/4 cup parmesan, grated

Cook pasta according to manufacturer’s instructions. Drain well, return to pot and set aside.

In a medium sausepan melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour to make a paste.

Whisk in milk and heat to boiling.(careful not to over boil)

Add the mustard and cheeses and whisk until smooth.

Pour cheese sauce over macaroni and toss. Heat to warn through if necessary.


(Much to my daughter’s chagrin there was a roast chicken at her birthday dinner as my husband is not eating cheese and one of her guest’s doesn’t like mac and cheese either.  She got over it and no one starved.)


I have no idea where the lemon cake idea came to her.  If I made a lemon cake it’s been pound cake or lemon bread, but not double layer, that I can remember.  I cruised my cookbooks and the internet and found a few options.  I combined a few ideas and I must say it was quite yummy.  The cake had one half cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice which gave it a nice lemon flavor.  The frosting was a simple whipped cream and confectioner’s sugar mixture.  Then the filling between the layers was two parts cream frosting mixed with one part lemon curd.  The lemon curd was not homemade but a favorite from Trader Joe’s.  The girls had a lovely time decorating it.  I took a few photos of before the decor.  It could’ve been decorated with fresh or sugar flowers, but that’s not what makes a six year old smile.  My daughter chose a beach and peace sign theme, so there was beach sand of colored sugar, ocean of clue colored pearls, plastic retro surfers, sugar peace signs and the most ridiculous candle you’ve ever seen.  She was so excited to find the candle at our favorite cake decorating store (Cake Art in San Rafael), after seeing it at a friend’s party (who bought it on eBay!)  It shoots a flame (I blinked and missed a photo op) then spins around lighting candles and playing Happy Birthday.  The music is like a baby toy – high pitched and annoying.   When it wouldn’t stop, my husband had to cut a wire inside.

My husband is usually in charge of breakfast on the weekends, so my daughter put her birthday order in with him too – waffles with berries and whipped cream.  The girls were happy and I got to use some of the extra cream I’d whipped the night before.  However one girl said how she liked to spray “the can” in her mouth.  My daughter tried to explain there was no can.  Not sure her friend believed her.