manchego’s new kitchen: construction update

so much has happened at the new house. the walls came down!  you can get a much better sense of how big the kitchen is going to be, although the photos don’t really capture that.

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this used to be the bathroom! this photo is actually old – the room has been framed in.  every time i stop by the house, there is something new!

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this was the doorway down into the basement . . . soon to be my pantry!

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i didn’t get my hgtv moment with a sledgehammer, sadly. the contractor is trying to save as much of the original materials as possible. but there is plenty of new lumber going in . . . many many beams. the backyard looked like a lumberyard for a few weeks.

2013-11-28 16.03.36and a new ceiling for the addition.

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we found some fun stuff when we opened the walls. here you can see the back of the old plaster and lathe wall, and the back of the curve of the beautiful coved ceiling in the family room.

2013-11-24 13.07.44and these look like stickers or maybe some old wallpaper. the new venting and pipes are going to go in this nook, replacing the old brick chimney that served as an exhaust vent from the furnace in the basement. the chimney that likely was leaking CO2 and all sorts of terrible fumes into the house. the chimney that was about falling down, a complete hazard. the chimney whose bricks will someday form a raised bed for my tomatoes in the backyard. so many problems solved in one swoop.

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this is the old sash weight for the window – we think it is original to the house given its condition. most of the windows in the house are double sashed, and the weights help move the big heavy windows up and down.

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some of the things we found in the walls were of slightly more recent provenance. such as the many beer bottles and cans from the downstairs bathroom addition! the contractor seems to think they explain quite a lot about the quality of the construction, which was probably in March 1950 according to the newspaper clippings we found.

we’re going to have them wall up a nice empty wine bottle as our own little time capsule for whoever comes next and decides my white subway tile just must go!

the back of the house is another transformation. the deck came down – slightly dramatically with one of the construction workers standing on it! luckily, he is doing just fine, only a little banged up. certainly sped up the demo process, even if it was unintentional.

2013-12-23 11.12.16so, that’s it for now!


manchego’s new kitchen: that has got to go

ah, home renovations. everything takes longer than you think, right? we’ve spent the last few months doing our due diligence working through the city of sacramento’s permitting process. and now? now, there are honest to god contractors climbing all over my house. carefully taking off the 95 year old molding and woodwork, inspecting the electrical wires and pipes, looking super official with very large tool belts.

it’s awesome.

the house has really amazing bones. big closets. all that lovely built in wood. lots of natural light. but it needs a little help to be more of a modern house. the current kitchen? it’s two rooms. beyond retro. and completely closed off from the rest of the house. the second bathroom upstairs has a great cast iron tub . . . and the shower is in the second floor screened in porch. the back deck is an abomination. take a look.


i mean, i guess it could be worse. but it is just such a waste of a view from the back yard. we’re going to get rid of all the busy stairs. instead, there will be two stacked decks. the lower deck will be a bit bigger and hopefully feel like part of the new kitchen. plus, the new deck will be made of real wood, not sad and crumbling fake wood. winning.

speaking of the kitchen, it’s behind this wall. which is on the demo list. in its place, picture a lovely peninsula and an open view through the kitchen to the back yard.  yes.


can you see that second doorway? that leads to the old oven closet. or scullery? old houses had kitchens and sculleries, right? who knows. in any event, no one puts baby in the corner and no one should hide the cook in the scullery. 


yeah, we are going to demo that wall too. and that charming sliding door will get relocated, maybe to the new pantry around the corner. the pantry that will be approximately 500 times larger than my current food storage space. and which will hold so, so many rolls of paper towels. and probably oversized buckets of pretzels (i am kevin’s daughter, after all). jars upon jars of pb&j for the somm. it’ll be like i’m a prepper, but just this side of crazy.

to the right of this photo is the kitchen.

nice light. terrible floors. and don’t get me wrong. yellow is a great color for a kitchen. but that tile is intense.


dark red accents? why not. it’s clearly a timeless combination. plus it has this raised border on the edge of the counter . . . i’m guessing it is super easy to keep clean and germ-free. ahem.

those are pretty major projects. there are some smaller, more cosmetic ones that i’m trying to tackle without the contractors.

here is the purple carpet on the back stairs. in all its glory. i’m really hoping it was crazy on sale.

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know what is under that? perfectly lovely real wood stairs. i’m going to paint them and cover them with carpeting that doesn’t hurt my soul. i’m excited.

here’s the other project.


the last owner was meaning well, i am sure. the faux tiffany fixtures are remotely historically accurate. but they are also plastic. and also give off barely any light. also, i may have done some serious damage at the lumen’s sidewalk sale last week.

so fun. i can’t wait to go take pictures of giant holes in those walls. with that, i will leave you with a photo of our friendliest new neighbor.

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(PS: that screen door. totally needs a paint job. i may never go back to work!)

baking without butter and wheat


i've been trying something a little new . . . gluten-free and/or vegan baking. this is partly because, well, i moved back to california. but also because my main baked goods audience has shrunk to the very lovely people who work for the somm.

and they HAVE to like my baking! it's a win win win.

just kidding. 

i'd already gone down the gluten-free road for the yogi. and after having read about how terrible wheat is for you.

plus there are so many fun types of flour out there! i now own about 10 varieties taking up precious freezer space. right next to my highly glutenized leftover bagel dough. whee!

i do not yet have an opinion on what type of flours i like best. luckily, there are many wonderful bloggers who regularly share their wisdom. i've been spending time with gluten-free girl who has many great recipes and some really lovely writing on her blog. she has a great post on how to put together your own gluten-free flour blend. it doesn't require you to buy anything that sounds too crazy (xanthan gum? seriously? isn't avoiding words like that WHY we bake at home?). 

almond and coconut were my gateway flours. who doesn't like almonds and coconut?

also, chocolate?


i pulled this recipe from the new york times, which also likes them some gluten-free girl. i skimped on the bananas – don't do that! add plenty of chocolate chips. almond, buckwheat and rice flour are the stars here, but next time i'd cut back on the buckwheat. you want something lighter to really let the chocolate and banana sing.

served warm out of the oven, these didn't immediately seem gluten-free.  want a close up of that tender crumb?


pretty normal, right? 

but do NOT give them to your vegan friends. there are eggs and buttermilk in there, the sneakers. plus, we've got something else for them.


there are a number of vegan alternatives for eggs. so much good learning, and i would especially like to thank the kind woman who saved me from myself in the tofu aisle at the food co-op.

yeah, i'll pause to let that sink in. caleeefornia!

the tofu you want, that tofu is not in the refrigerator section of the market. it's the shelf-stable stuff. but i went for the flax seed slurry substitution. 

slurry! almost as good as shelf-stable tofu. 

just mix one teaspoon ground flax or chia seeds with three tablespoons hot water for every egg you're replacing. let the slurry sit, then add to the batter.

ground flax seeds can be found in the oatmeal and hot cereals section, NOT with the various gluten-free flours and starches in the baking section.

are you writing this down?

also, skip the honey and use agave. skip the buttermilk or yogurt and use unsweetened vanilla almond milk. 

double the blueberries. whip yourself up some blackberry jam.

have yourself a muffin fest.


Vegan & Gluten-Free Buckwheat Blueberry Poppyseed Muffins

Adapted to be vegan from the New York Times

  • 180 grams (1 1/4 cups, approximately) buckwheat flour
  • 100 grams (3/4 cup, approximately) gluten-free all-purpose flour mix or whole grain gluten-free mix*
  • 10 grams (2 teaspoons) baking powder
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) baking soda
  • 3.5 grams (1/2 rounded teaspoon) salt
  • 2 eggs or 2 teaspoon ground flax seeds mixed with 6 tablespoons hot water
  • 125 grams (1/3 cup) agave syrup
  • 360 grams (1 1/2 cups) unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 75 grams (1/3 cup) canola or grape seed oil
  • 5 grams (1 teaspoon) vanilla extract
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 10 grams (1 tablespoon) poppy seeds (more to taste)

*For the gluten-free flour mix I used about 70 grams of a mix of teff, almond and rice flour and 30 grams of arrowroot starch.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with the rack adjusted to the middle. Oil muffin tins. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Add any grainy bits remaining in the sifter to the bowl.

In a separate bowl combine ground flax seed and hot water. Stir and let sit for a minute. Beat in agave, almond milk, oil and vanilla extract. Whisk in the dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Do not beat for too long; a few lumps are fine but make sure there is no flour sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Fold in the blueberries and poppy seeds.

Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, fill muffin cups to the top. Place in the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned and well risen. Remove from the heat and if the muffins come out of the tins easily, remove from the tins and allow to cool on a rack. If they don’t release easily, allow to cool and then remove from the tins.

Best served with some sort of butter product (that means Earth Balance for you vegans) and jam.  

Yield: 12 muffins (1/3 cup muffin tins)

Advance preparation: These keep for a couple of days out of the refrigerator, for a few more days in the refrigerator, and for a few months in the freezer.

manchego’s new kitchen: built-in wood edition

guys. GUYS. we bought a house. not just any house. a 1918 craftsman.

it's beyond adorable. and the kitchen? beyond in need of updating. and by updating, i mean we are going to gut it, tear down an interior wall, and push out the back of the house. oh, and add a deck. and another upstairs. and redo three bathrooms.

no bigs, right? 

the somm is now accepting bets on if we move in by christmas or valentine's. HA.

anyway, since cooking and photography in our current little apartment (for which i am grateful, as it has running water and technically functional kitchen appliances) makes me very very sad, i'm going to try to use this space to document some of the befores and afters. and the excruciating process as i try to make decisions. and be patient. 

two of my very best qualities.

as the yogi would agree, life is not subtle when it hands you a learning opportunity.


the house has amazing light, but i'm still figuring out how to photograph it. particularly the gorgeous dark wood built-ins. this is the front staircase. 

there are TWO staircases. i mean, for real.

how do you like the purple carpet? you can barely make out it's plummy plumness, but it is there. and on the back staircase, which we will leave for another day. along with my crazy plan to rip it out and redo the stairs myself!

here's a close-up of the wood. 


it's carved. i mean. seriously.

and here is the reason why i'm going to be investing in linseed oil futures:


yes, that is a window seat!! with a lid and storage.

i may do a whole post exploring the many, MANY walk-in closets. it is possible that my storage in this house is larger than my entire first apartment. 

so, also purchasing some stock in california closets. i've learned that lesson.

any way, this is where the dining room table will be going. where i'm standing to take the photo is in the "formal" living room area, which is to the left when you come in the front door. and those stairs from the top are to the right of the front door.

i used the flash here to show more detail in the little wood cabinets in the dining area.


pretty sweet. some of the glass needs to be repaired, which is on my mounting to-do list. 

when you continue through the house, the wood has been painted white. which i am secretly grateful for. i would never want to be the one to cover the wood up, but my heart was pretty set on a white kitchen and main living space.


the wall on the left is going to be taken down, and this room will open up into the kitchen. there'll be a big peninsula in it's place with lots of counter space for the chef and for eating. 

the wood floors are also really beautiful. and probably original. you can see the nails, which is charming, and the downstairs rooms have this inlaid mahogany trim. and you see the coved ceiling? check out those darling little windows! i die.

this white built-in unit will get a new fresh coat of paint – i'm accepting color nominations! leave it white? go with a pop of color? and the mirror needs to go – maybe replaced with tile or even a pretty wallpaper that could also go on the back of the cabinets. which maybe need doors?

you see what i'm saying about decisions, yes?

here's another beautiful detail left in the house . . . so many original door knobs!


there are some soul-suckingly horrible replacement doors here and there. also on the list.  

so, there is the tour of what is STAYING in the downstairs. next time, i'll show you all the stuff we are taking out. cheap home depot brass knobs and plastic "tiffany" light fixtures, you are on notice.

rustic potato loaves


would you like some carbs with your carbs? if so, i have the bread for you. not messing around here . . . mashed potatoes, skins and all, are the basis of these hearty and crusty loaves.

good crusty bread is such a weakness of mine. i'm sure i've said it before . . . if it wouldn't put me in a chubby diabetic coma, i'd eat bread for every meal. with honey for breakfast, with cheese for lunch, wrapped around a chunk of dark chocolate with a sprinkle of salt for dessert. 

homemade bread, as i have waxed poetic here before, is both easy and so worth it. 


this bread turned out a bit denser than i like. it's possible i did not bake it long enough. i get so used to underbaking brownies and cookies, it can be a struggle to let baked goods stay in the oven long enough when you actually want them to bake all the way through.

but no, it did not stop either myself or the somm from enjoying a whole loaf. in less time than i'm willing to disclose.

i think the tuesday's with dorie host for this recipe had the right idea, and swirled baked potato toppings in her bread . . . chedder, bacon and chopped green onions. this bread needs a bit of salt and fat to give it a real oomph.


For links to the recipe and more, go to Tuesday's with Dorie Baking with Julia.


friday night pizza with onion confit


growing up, fridays were always take-out pizza night. a night to relax the rules, rent a movie, and laze about on the sofa. no vegetables required. the whole of the weekend just stretching out ahead of you, full of promise.

this is a slightly more grown-up pie than the little cesar's extra pepperoni. but it hits all the right notes, salty and sweet toppings, chewy and crispy crust.


making the pizza yourself is just as easy as ordering take-out – i promise. especially if you ditch the overly complicated dough recipe in the baking with julia cookbook. i tried it – and i tried to be fair.

but, ugh. kneading. rising. if i was faced with that everytime i wanted homemade pizza, i'd just buy the very very good dough from trader joe's.

people. it is so simple. flour. salt. yeast. this recipe uses sugar, but there's really no need. mix in the morning while your coffee is brewing. cover, and it'll be perfect and ready for you when you get home.

add toppings. bake. enjoy. capiche? 


i won't pretend that onion confit is a friday night activity. it's time intense, but worth it to get the onions simmered down to a jam-like consistency. sweet with a hint of acid from a splash of red wine. a perfect complement to a scattering of blue cheese crumbles.

try that on a sunday, recapture a bit of the beginning of the weekend indulgence. i won't tell.


Tuesdays with Dorie: Baking with Julia's Pizza with Onion Confit

Like I said, there are easy pizza dough recipes that do just as well – or better – than the one in the book and don't require multiple steps. So, I'm just going to link to my favorite. Jim Leahy. The man knows his dough. To read more, go to Tuesdays with Dorie or Boy Can Bake.

Pizza Dough

Notes for the linked recipe – you can use less yeast if you give the dough all day to rise. You don't need to bother with the sugar.

 Onion Confit

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 medium onions (about 2 1/2 pounds total), peeled, halved, and sliced 1/8to 1/4 inch thick
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Fresh thyme sprigs or leaves to taste
  • 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet and stir in the onions.  Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover the pan, and cook the onions over low heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle the sugar over the onions, stir, cover, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the thyme, 1 1/4 cups red wine, the vinegar, and a tablespoon or two of the creme de cassis, if you want to use it.  Stir well and cook the mixture over the lowest possible heat, stirring from time to time, for about 1 hour, until just about all the liquid has evaporated.  If the liquid has cooked off in half an hour or less, add a bit more wine.  Turn the onions out onto a flat plate and let them cool to room temperature.

The onions can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.  They should be brought to room temperature before they’re spread on the pizza.

Pulling it all Together

  • Dough
  • Onion Confit – relatively cool
  • Blue cheese or goat cheese crumbles
  • Any other topping your little heart could desire

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, fit the rack with a baking stone or quarry tiles, leaving a border of at least 1 inch free all around and preheat the oven to 475o F.  Rub a baker’s peel with cornmeal and set aside until needed.

Shaping the Dough  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (snip off a small piece of dough to save for the Mixed-Starter Bread if you want) and divide it into two pieces.  You’ll probably have to bake the pizzas one at a time, so keep one piece covered while you work with the other.  If you do not want to make two pizzas at this time, wrap one piece of dough tightly in plastic and store it in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a day or two, or wrap it airtight and freeze for up to a month.  Thaw frozen dough, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.  Bring the chilled dough to cool room temperature before shaping.  Shape the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk.  To form the pizza, you can either turn and stretch the dough, stopping to allow the dough to rest for a few minutes if it springs back readily, or roll it out with a rolling pin.  Either way, work the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick (you can make it a little thinner if you prefer) and transfer it to the peel.

Topping and Baking  Top with half the cooled onion confit and any or all of the optional ingredients, or the topping of your choice, leaving a 1-inch border around the rim of the pizza, and slide the pizza into the oven.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the topping is bubbling and the uncovered rim is puffed and beautifully golden.  Repeat with the remaining dough and topping.

pretty darn good brownies


we're back to baking with julia this week. i have so much catching up to do.

does this blog need yet another brownie recipe? probably not. but here you go! 


julia, dorie and rich katz all seem to agree that these are the best-ever brownies. they are good. ridiculously fudgy. impossible to over-bake. 

the texture is light and creamy, in part from the technique, which has you hold back half the eggs and whip them into a fury. the bubbles help give the brownies structure without the weight of too much flour.

i threw in some walnuts at the request of a friend, and they added a nice crunch. 


we've discussed my freezer issues before. in addition to loving to freeze unbaked cookies and all manner of other things for cooking, i love a good frozen baked good. the somm was the lucky recipient of various delightful thin mint treats for christmas that went straight to the freezer when we got home. there is something about the mint and chocolate combination that tastes right cold.

i really did try not to eat them all.

love you honey!


anyway, the recipe promised that extreme fudginess would keep the brownies from fully freezing. thus making them supreme ice cream mix-ins. 

the frozen brownies lasted approximately five seconds in my house. so i pass the challenge onto michi, who has the added benefit of having her ice cream maker accessible in her home. rather than locked in storage container in the wild of the suburbs.

someday, dear ice cream maker, someday i will see you again. in the mean time, there is plenty of trouble to be had.


want more fun tips on the recipe? new york times, to the rescue. in addition, this recipe was hosted by a beautiful mess through the tuesdays with dorie: baking with julia project.

Best-Ever Brownies
from Baking with Julia

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour and salt together and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently and keeping a watchful eye on the pot to make certain the chocolate does not scorch.  Add 1 cup of the sugar to the mixture and stir for half a minute, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl. 

Put the remaining 1 cup sugar and the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and whisk by hand just to combine.  LIttle by little, pour half the sugar and eggs into the chocolate mixture, stirring gently but constantly with a rubber spatula so that the eggs don't set from the heat.  Fit the whisk attachment to the mixer and whip the remaining sugar and eggs until they are pale, thick, and doubled in volume, about 3 minutes.  Using the rubber spatula, delicately fold the whipped eggs into the chocolate mixture.  When the eggs are almost completely incorporated, gently fold in the dry ingredients. 

Pour and scrape the batter into an unbuttered 9-inch square glass or ceramic pan.  Bake the brownies for 25-28 minutes, during which time they will rise a little and the top will turn dark and dry.  Cut into the center at about the 23-minutes mark to see how they are progressing.  They will be perfect if they are just barely set and still gooey.  Cool the brownies in the pan on a rack.  Cut into bars and serve.

The brownies will keep, covered, for 2-3 days at room temperature and can be frozen for up to a month!