Monday, June 29, 2009

High Sierra Love

My family and I just returned from a wonderful, week-long vacation in California's High Sierra. One of my very favorite things to do when I'm in those mountains is to strap on a little backpack, grab some friends, and go for a day-long hike. It's guaranteed to clean out your mental smog and cobwebs.

The High Sierra contains some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth, like this vivid blue sky and gorgeous, alpine meadow. That's Triangle Peak, center, on the horizon:

Here's a closer view of Triangle Peak and, in the foreground, one of the region's many crystal-blue lakes:

I've hiked to that lake several times. Usually, I go with wonderful fellow hikers like these characters:

That's my buddy, J., in the foreground. He's a grandpa, a daily distance biker, and an intrepid hiker. In the back, wearing the red cap, is D., who is roughly half the size he used to be about five years ago. Diet and exercise will do that to you!

When we get where we're going (usually an alpine lake or a mountaintop), we sit down and enjoy sweeping vistas like this:

That's my hubby, drinking in the view of Lake Tahoe. Sometimes, we enjoy a fun surprise, courtesy of a young'un in the group. G., our student guide, treated us to fresh strawberries and melted chocolate, at the top Mt. Tallac:

Chocolate-dipped strawberries with a killer view, anyone?
Just watch out for the occasional bug!:

Death by chocolate, indeed!

Chocolate-coated bugs notwithstanding, I love the High Sierra because you can see wild critters in their natural habitat. In the last week, I saw lake trout, a marmot, Canada geese, loons, a mama grouse and her five, fuzzy little chicks, tons of robins and jays and butterflies, and a friendly ladybug who landed on my leg a mile and a half above sea level:

Some of the animals in the High Sierra aren't wild, of course. I couldn't move fast enough to get a photo for you of an adorable red mutt I met. She was wearing the cutest little protective bootees (rocky mountain paths are tough on dog feet). But I did catch this pup who decided, at the end of her trip, that she needed a cooling dip in the lake:

It's for breathtaking moments--and silly scenes like these--that I keep returning to the place that photographer Ansel Adams called "The Range of Light."

"Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever."

--John Muir, 1838 - 1914, founder of the Sierra Club

I Love This Lake

It's just a little lake in the High Sierra, totally overshadowed by the much bigger, more dramatic Lake Tahoe nearby.

But it's the lake my family has been going to, every summer, for 10 years.

Sunsets and rainclouds, ripples and silhouettes--everything is more beautiful near the lake.

When I stop and realize this goes on almost every single evening, it's humbling. It's amazing. It makes my heart almost ache, from the sheer beauty of it all.

Goodnight, lake. See you next summer. Bless you. And thank you.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Uniform Project

I stumbled across a really cool website/project called The Uniform Project the other day. It is the brainchild of Sheena Matheiken, an NY woman who has pledged to wear one dress for one year in order to promote 'sustainable fashion' and raise money for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots non-profit that is devoted to bringing education to poor children living in India.
The blog is part exercise in fashion and part charitable organization, in a combination that I find really endearing. Matheiken snaps pictures of her outfit each day to post them on the blog, and damn, that girl has got style. 
She takes the basic charcoal grey dress that she and her friend designed (there are actually 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week, which are reversible and have pockets, making me really want one) and dresses it up with vintage or handmade jewelry, jackets, belts, underskirts, and the damn cutest tights/socks/leggings you have ever seen.
Granted, she is a bit 'out there' some days, but in general I think she is absolutely adorable, and I am kind of envious of her ability to wear some crazy/costume-y things and make them look great.
Because, yeah, I don't think I could ever rock the French/Catholic Schoolgirl look quite like she does....

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Just a little update for all of you out there--Teapots and Polkadots is on a little week-long break while all three of our bloggers are up in the beautiful mountains around Fallen Leaf Lake, just south of Lake Tahoe. We're so excited to be here and to get a little break from the city life. We'll have plenty of pictures for when we get back. Take care!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How Did I Do That?

I must have had some oddball setting on my camera when I snapped this photo of Mu Shu. His feet are so tiny in this shot, they look like large whiskers hanging from his chin. His tush and curly tail look like a beanie on top of his head.

Overall, he looks like a cartoon character. An adorable one. Or do I mean ridiculous? Hard to tell, in a pug; the line between the two is very thin.

By the way, a family friend was trying to remember Mu Shu's name and came up with..."Puka Shell." Mu, you've got a new nickname now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

June Gloom

Here in Los Angeles, there's a phenomenon called "June gloom." The skies stay overcast for days on end, and the weathercaster's prediction of "late night and early-morning low clouds" becomes a daily mantra.
But the dull, grey skies are a fantastic backdrop for some of the city's most beautiful blooms, starting with the gorgeous Jacaranda trees. They explode all over the city in bluish-purple profusion, and boy, do they put on a show:

This is my neighbor's tree. I don't have one; wish I did. I'm nuts about the periwinkle-colored blooms that cover their branches...
...even though they also soon cover the ground. But the mess they make is sort of pretty.

When their blossoms start to fall, they fall on everything!

June is also peak viewing time for another bluish-purple beauty, the Agapanthus, or Lily of the Nile: These guys are in my front yard. The flower heads remind me of exploding fireworks:

Another plant that loves the filtered light of June gloom is the hydrangea:

Oh, how I love these big-headed beauties! My Grandmother Bliss used to grow these in front of her home, and now I do, too.

One bush's flowers can run the gamut from blue to purple to lavender to pink, and everything in between...

...but periwinkle is my favorite shade. I loooooove periwinkle...can ya tell?

I love the leaves on a hydrangea bush, too, with their fancy, pinking-shears edges.

Here's a shot of some pink blooms, just to be fair to you folks who prefer this end of the spectrum.

My "Iceberg" roses aren't so happy with the June gloom. The lack of strong sunshine has given them a nasty case of powdery mildew. It's a particularly bad year for this blight for some reason.

But because I like to go easy on using chemicals in my garden (and so does my wonderful gardener dude), we're just going to wait a few weeks. The summer heat will blast away the mildew when the sunshine comes out again. It always does.

In the meantime, I'll try to admire how mildew makes the leaves and rosebuds look like they've been coated in frost.

Iceberg roses are as common as dirt around where I live, but I do love 'em. They're worth enduring a bit of mildew for.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Can You Curl Your Tongue?

I can; my spouse can't. Only two of our three children can. We always thought it was genetic--you either could or you couldn't, depending on your DNA. Turns out, it's not that simple.

Mu Shu, here, clearly can curl his tongue. And he enjoys asking the question of his friends at the dog park.

Sometimes they're not sure.

Sometimes they're looking at the wrong end to find out.

This guy above, in the light-green halter, was eager to show off his ear-flipping skills.

But on the topic of tongue-curling, he stayed mute. Spoilsport!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cupcake Enhancement

Friday was Daughter Number Two's birthday! For her special day, she asked me to make chocolate cupcakes with a raspberry jelly filling and those hard, sugary flowers that you peel off the paper from the grocery store. First I made the cupcakes:

Our go-to chocolate cake recipe is always Mrs. Abernathy's Chocolate Cake. The above picture doesn't do it justice; it's really a lovely dark cake. But do you see another problem? The cupcakes aren't nicely domed. They're FLAT! Not good!

Luckily, there's an easy, yummy trick for making your A-cup cakes look more like "C cups."

First, cut a little well out of the middle of each cupcake. I like my smallest Ateco circle cutter for the job:
If you use a similar cutter, drill it about 2/3 of the way in, then give a gentle twist to pull out a little "plug" of cake:

Set the plugs aside; you'll be using them in a second.

Next, pour into the holes your favorite filling. I used raspberry jam, which in our house is always Wilkin & Sons Tiptree 'Sweet Tip' Raspberry ("Tiptree" for short):

But you can use many different things as filling: try a blob of frosting, or peanut butter mixed with a little softened cream cheese, or chopped-up candy bars. You want a filling that will complement the cake/frosting combo and be a little surprise in the middle.

So, with a small spoon, fill the holes until the cakes are full but not overflowing:

Then gently tap the plugs back on. (No need to try to match up which plug went with which cupcake.) The jelly will cause the plugs to stand up higher than the surrounding surface:

See? They look a little like "outie" bellybuttons:

Next comes the frosting. I used our favorite Cream-Cheese Frosting (recipe is at the bottom of this post).

For this frosting, throw into a small-to-medium mixing bowl some softened butter and cream cheese with the best-quality vanilla extract you can find:

Buzz 'em up with an electric mixer until all is smooth and incorporated. Then add powdered sugar, a bit at a time:

I have a big, honkin' Kitchen Aid stand mixer, which I adore. But for little jobs, like this frosting, there's nothing like my sweet old Sunbeam mixer--29 years old and still going strong!

When all the powdered sugar is incorporated, add your food coloring of choice. I like this set by Wilton because the pots of color are small and won't last until the last millenium, getting all grody in the process (which is what my last set of gel colors did):

Dip a toothpick into the gel and add it to the frosting, a little bit at a time, mixing well to see if you have the tint you want. Use a new toothpick each time you dip into the pot so you don't contaminate the gel with food particles:

A little bit goes a long way with these very concentrated colors:

There! A very girly, light pink tint:

Next, stand a pastry bag fitted with an open tip into a tall glass for support:

Add some frosting to the pastry bag. If you don't have a bag-and-tip set, you can fill a plastic zip-type bag with frosting and then snip a tiny bit off one corner:

Roll up the pastry bag's open end to prevent frosting from squeezing out backward when you frost the cakes:

Wow. Remind me not to be a hand model in this lifetime. Squeeze a little frosting out the tip of your pastry or plastic bag to eliminate any air pockets:

And frost the cupcakes, from the outward edge in, building up to a "peaked" profile:

The "plug" of cake adds some altitude to the frosting, which in turn covers up the plug:

Add some sugar sprinkles and sugar flowers:

And there you have it: Formerly flat, now happily enhanced cupcakes! Happy birthday, lovely daughter!

Cream-Cheese Frosting

1/4 lb. butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. good-quality vanilla extract
1 lb. powdered sugar
Beat the first three items together in a medium mixing bowl. Add powdered sugar gradually until smooth. If frosting is too thick, add a few drops of milk to thin it. Add food color, if desired, and blend until color is even throughout the frosting.

Makes enough to fill and frost a three-layer, 9-inch cake, or three dozen cupcakes.


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