Sunday, May 1, 2016

May at Urban Home Blog

Here are our plans for the blooming month of May at Urban Home Blog:
  • Attend May Day celebration at Plummer Park. Musts: children's art show, Russian Bear photo ops, caviar tasting.
  • Celebrate Beltane by serving late lunch outdoors. Leave offerings of fresh fruit and vegetables on the ground, and share the first pour of wine with the roots of the California laurel tree.
  • Take visiting father-in-law out for a night on the town in Hollywood.
  • Attend SHARKS! exhibit at Taschen Gallery on Beverly Boulevard.
  • Attend Reigning Men exhibit at LACMA.
  • Celebrate Rudolph Valentino's birthday by attending ceremony at Hollywood Forever. Place roses at his grave as well as Lady in Black's.
  • Have annual Valentino Wake/Dumb Supper after cemetery visit. Serve Blood and Sands, Pasta Puttanesca, and Caesar Salad. Screen Son of the Sheik and Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
  • Visit Larry Edmunds Bookshop to see if they have any Valentino titles or collectibles that I don't already have. 
  • Can strawberry-balsamic jam and Habanero Gold.
  • Brush up on palm tree gardening as baby palms exhibit annual new growth.
  • Rotate and flip mattress.
  • Clean and condition leather furniture.
  • Set up new printer stand in home office.
  • Bundle up the last of the winter/summer magazines and take to local elder care facility.
  • Teach mobile-making class at local Michael's.
  • Finalize Pride Month plans in order to get best travel deals. Secure tickets to LA Pride, decide whether returning to New York for NYC Pride.
  • Drive to Ventura to spend the last quiet day before Memorial Day at the beach

Reading List: Valentino Forever, Tracy Ryan Terhune; Lost Recipes of Prohibition, Matthew Rowley; Earth Power, Scott Cunningham

May, 2015: steak sauce
May, 2012: decorating, Weeknight Dinner, salad, dessert
May, 2011: Wines for Steak, baking, sewing, canning and preserving, Weeknight Dinner

May, 2010: From the Vault, cooking, Urban Bar, Weeknight Dinner

Friday, April 22, 2016

Dragonfly Mobile

If there is any certain sign of springtime, it is the emergence of insects as they crawl, skitter, hover, buzz, zoom, slink and otherwise propel themselves into delicate new light. Many insects hibernate. As earth turns towards sky in days of increasing warmth, insects awaken in response to the quickening of nature. Once able, they emerge to seek air, light, warmth and most importantly, food. Like any hibernating animal, insects are somewhat fragile upon first flight after torpor, and if they don't feed within the advanced schedule dictated within their tiny metabolisms, they will not survive.

Curiously if understandably, humans have a love-hate relationship with bugs that most entomologists will tell you is not reciprocal in that, overall, insects intend no harm to our species. That said, it is admitted that some bugs such as termites, mosquitoes, bedbugs, and ticks, can do harm to humans or to our habitats. Still, that is nothing compared to the harm we do to the most plentiful species on earth - the tragic, if somewhat improving, fact of colony collapse disorder alone proves that. So while no one could in good conscience advise not to protect your family and home from harm, please think twice before swatting that housefly or squashing that centipede.

Due primarily to their physiology, and the fact that by definition they sneak up on us, insects touch off something primal in humans. For many, that expresses itself as fear, revulsion, the instinctive reaction to pull away in response to being startled. For many more, that expresses itself as fascination, study, respect, protection, and the other elements that equal advocacy. It is important that we not let our instinctive reaction to bugs -- or any other species -- mutate into an indifference to the importance of their  lives. Resources from programs at schools and museums to local garden clubs educate about bugs, and many titles are in print to learn about this incredibly diverse and mostly benevolent class. Some of the favorite books on the conservation shelves in our homekeeper's library are Maria Sibylla Merian's Insects of Surinam, The DK Bee Book, and a vintage treasure unearthed in a favorite used bookstore in Solvang, Cynthia Westcott's The Gardener's Bug Book.

As I've written before, as unpopular as insects can be, they are awfully popular as design inspiration. In a practice that goes as far back as the ancient Egyptian scarab, jewelers bejewel dragonflies and butterflies for brooches and enamel grasshoppers and beetles for trinket boxes. Home designers decorate the kitchen with ladybugs or bees. Even the Mason jars of twinkling lights that dot patios and nestle upon dining tables recall childhood summer evenings of catching fireflies.

In our urban home, dragonflies are welcome visitors to our patch of yard as they dart among the grass in stained glass shades of orange and red or blue and green. Dragonflies are fleeting visitors for they mind excessive heat and can never stray too far from a healthy water source, but their visiting season is all the more beautiful for its brevity. Every time one stops by, it is beatifying us with its friendly hello of cellophane wings and vibrant color. They buzz around for a few moments of friendliness, curiosity, even kinship -- and then they buzz away, their visit as poetic, breathtaking, and short-lived as these days of early spring.

To celebrate Earth Day, and insects and our conservation of them, here is a springtime craft project: a dragonfly mobile made of pretty paper, cellophane, and wire. Scrapbook paper works well for this craft; it is a good weight and you can use multiple patterns. This project incorporates many crafting skills including decoupage, wirework, even sewing. Don't be put off by the number of steps or the supplies list: this is a simple craft and all of these supplies are available at a crafts store such as Michael's. The staff at the crafts store can teach you how to use any of the tools or techniques you're not comfortable with, such as bending or stringing monfilament or safely using (and overseeing the usage of ) a craft knife.

Click here for a free printable download of the craft instructions and templates.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Honey Cake

Photo: Eric Diesel
The rites of spring range from spring cleaning to the urge to bake that is surpassed, seasonally, only by autumn; from spring planting to getting our homestead ready for outdoor living during the light half of the year. Conservation is a core value of homekeeping. Groundhog Day signaled the shift from gruff old winter to tentative early spring. As we move outdoors during this magical time, we take time to care for our reawakened and returning neighbors. In our urban garden, we refresh the topsoil, clear old growth from the bromeliads, palms, gardenias, and tangerine trees, have a gardener trim and feed the California laurel. We check on our bat houses, fill feeders with nectar for hummingbirds, set out offerings of food for returning ravens and Jethro the opossum. And we make certain there is access to plenty of budding blooms for buzzing bees.

A common concern for conservation homekeepers is whether buying a jar of honey equates to harming bees. As long as it is pure honey, harvested by qualified beekeepers such as those contracted to provide honey for human consumption, buying and eating honey do not harm bees. Colony Collapse Disorder, which is at the root of the question, isn't about honey production; it's about bee mortality. A healthy hive, not to mention the dozens of them that professional beekeepers maintain, will produce the same overflow of honey that drew humans to start collecting it to begin with. A responsible beekeeper will not collect honey from a hive that doesn't have excess. Buying responsibly sourced and harvested pure honey helps bees by helping beekeeping.

To save bees, turn to advocacy. Support such organizations as Greenpeace or the Bumblebee Conservation Trust with resources of time, funds and learning and teaching. Stay informed of the politics of buzzing, and hold elected officials responsible for safeguarding not only the safety and health of bees and bee colonies but all of the species we share the planet with. Vote officials with good conservation records into office and then keep them accountable for that good record while they are serving, and vote officials with bad conservation records out of office -- and be sure that they, your community, and the media know that it was negative impact on conservation that got them fired. If you find a hive in your yard and you can't leave it there, don't call the exterminator -- call the county extension office. They can deploy a beekeeper to safely remove the hive and guide it, and its inhabitants, to a safe new address. Often that is a community garden, where the benefit is to all concerned, not least of all the bees.

In our urban home, honey is one of the favorite flavors. Yes, we drizzle it on our toast, but one of our favorite recipes to use -- and celebrate -- liquid gold is honey cake. Honey cake is a sweet snack cake that's somewhere between a tea cake and a quick bread. It's akin to another bugged-out house favorite: Nana's Bug Cake. We frost our honey cake with the same honeyed cream cheese we spread on date nut bread. And just as we remember, thank and advocate for the bees when we drizzle our honey, we do the same for the palm trees that give us dates. For, like bees, bats, dragonflies, and all living creatures, palm trees merit, need and deserve our care and conservancy.

Honey Cake
When making a cake, especially one with a heavy batter such as this, one key element is to avoid overmixing. Unless specifically directed by a recipe, the rule of practice is to add dry ingredients in three batches with wet ingredients in two batches, beginning and ending with the dry. After the third addition of dry ingredients, fold the cake batter just until it comes together, and gently fold that into the cake pan/s.

For the cake
2 half-cup sticks unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for pan
1/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 cup pure honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the frosting
1 8-ounce bar cream cheese
¼ cup honey
Ground nutmeg

Make the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Butter an 8 x 8 baking pan and lightly dust with flour. Shake to distribute the flour on all sides and the floor of the pan; shake excess out of the pan.
  3. Unwrap 2 sticks unsalted butter and place them into a large mixing bowl. Gently place the butter wrappers over the butter and set the bowl aside while the butter softens, approximately 20 minutes.
  4. Sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and a pinch of salt together into a small bowl.
  5. Break the eggs into a small mixing bowl. Use a wire whisk to break up the eggs until thick and golden, as if for an omelet. Add the vanilla extract to the eggs  and whisk to incorporate.
  6. Once the butter is soft enough to work with, attach the beaters to an electric mixer. Set the mixer to medium-high and beat the butter until it is creamy and workable, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and honey to the butter, and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
  7. Working in alternate batches of three-dry and two-wet, use the mixer set on low to beat the flour mixture into the creamed butter and sugar mixture alternately with the egg-vanilla mixture. Start and end with the flour mixture.
  8. Once all of the ingredients are incorporated , use a silicon spatula to gently transfer the batter to the buttered and floured baking pan. Use the spatula to get all of the batter into the pan, and to smooth the top of the batter.
  9. Bake until set and golden, approximately 45 - 50 minutes.
  10. Cool on a wire rack.
  11. Once cake is cooled, frost cake with honeyed cream cheese.
  12. Cut cake into squares and serve.
Make the frosting
  1. While the cake is baking, unwrap the cream cheese and place it into a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Add a pinch of dried nutmeg to the bowl.
  3. Measure the honey into the bowl.
  4. Lightly cover the bowl. Allow the cream cheese to soften while the cake bakes.
  5. When ready to serve, use a wire whisk or stick blender fitted with the whisk attachment to whip the cream cheese and honey together. 
Resources and equipment

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Marinated Olives

In the previous column, I wrote about the two lodestars of living in our former hometown of Astoria, New York: Greek culture and the Neptune Diner. These forces meet on the laminated pages of the Neptune's menu - as they should, for one of a diner's responsibilities is showcasing the food of the local populace. Aside from its signature chicken gyro, the Neptune serves a towering omelet of feta and tomatoes, a sizzling skewer of grilled swordfish, a honeyed slab of baklava. And, of course, neither a booth at the 'tune nor any Greek table is complete with a dish of briny olives.

Something Astoria and California share is the importance of olives to local culture, cooking, and commerce. California orchards produce as much as ninety-five percent of the olives that make their way to the American Table. California's fabled microclimate equals the Mediterranean sun and season that are ideal for this crop. In this way, the success of California olive farming parallels the success of that other famous California crop: wine grapes.

Perhaps because they represent abundance, olives are best when shared. A jumble of marinated olives is as much a standard of welcoming guests at a party, on the patio or in the vineyard as is a hot, gooey artichoke dip. Because they respond so well to preservation, olives are not only one of the earliest snack foods but one of the earliest pantry staples. Marinated olives are a staple in our urban pantry, not only for sharing with guests but for nibbling with lunch or during Happy Hour. We have access to splendid olives year-round in California, so a marinate a batch a few times a year and keep them always accessible in a large jar in the refrigerator. Martini olives are integral to the wet bar. Place them in your bar refrigerator if you're that swank, or keep them in the fridge with the mixers and the preserved cherries.

There are hundreds of varieties of olives. Commonly available kitchen varieties include, but are not limited to:
  • Gaeta (Italian), small black, chewy  and intense
  • Kalamata (Greek), medium black, meaty and salty
  • Nicoise, Picholine (French), tiny black, fruity and delicate
  • Liguria (Italian), small black, firm and briny
  • Manzanillo (Spanish) large green, rich and assertive.
While imported olives do exist, they are subject to tax and tariff and other forms of governance including FDA clearance. As a result, like many imported food and drink, imported olives travel through brokers, and their retail cost may reflect this. You will have a better chance of getting imported olives at a Mediterranean or gourmet grocery than at the supermarket. But that's okay, because supermarket olives are great, and there is every likelihood that they were grown and harvested in California.

Marinated Olives
Olives are sold brined in a solution of vinegar, water and salt. In supermarkets, they are sold either from an olive bar as part of the salad bar or from the deli case. Mediterranean markets may  also have fresh olives, which will likely be sold by the branch and have a bright, tart flavor unlike what we're used to from brined olives, or oil-cured olives, which are black olives cured in olive oil rather than brined. Brined, fresh or oil-cured olives will work for these recipes, but the best will be a jumble of mixed olives. 

Most green olives sold in glass jars in the antipasti aisle of the supermarket are acceptable. Avoid all jarred black olives and all canned olives. Canned olives are often tinny and mealy, and often cans and jars labeled as "black" olives are unripe olives that have been treated with lye.

Marinated Olives
1 pound mixed olives
1 strip orange zest
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
Extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Transfer the olives into a colander and quickly rinse them under cool water.
  2. Measure the coriander seeds, fennel seeds, hot red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt into a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Pour a two-count of olive oil into the jar; swirl the jar to coat the spices with oil.
  3. Add the thyme, rosemary and oregano to the olives in the colander. Use your hands to gently mix the olives and herbs together.
  4. Spoon the herbed olive mixture into the jar, stopping when the jar is half full.
  5. Drizzle the herbed olive mixture in the jar with olive oil just until coated, typically a five-count.
  6. Nestle the strip of orange zest on the oiled herbed olives in the jar.
  7. Spoon the rest of the herbed olive mixture from the colander into the jar. Don't be afraid to pack the jar as the olives will settle.
  8. Drizzle the herbed olive mixture in the jar with olive oil just until coated, typically a five-count.
  9. Place the lid on the jar and gently shake the jar so that the ingredients settle.
  10. Refrigerate, checking the jar occasionally to add more oil, herbs or olives as warranted.
Note: Before serving, add a sliced sun-dried tomato, smoked pimiento, or clove of roasted garlic to the serving bowl.

Martini Olives
8 ounces pimento-stuffed green olives
1 strip lemon zest
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 dried bay leaf
Dry vermouth
  1. Transfer the olives into a colander and quickly rinse them under cool water.
  2. Hold the bay leaf over a half-pint canning jar and break it into pieces over the jar. Add the strip of lemon zest and a pinch of salt to the jar.
  3. Gently transfer the rinsed olives to the jar. Don't be afraid to pack the jar as the olives will settle.
  4. Gently push the rosemary sprig into the jar.
  5. Pour 1 tablespoon cold water into the jar.
  6. Gently fill the jar just to the top of the olive mixture with dry vermouth.
  7. Place the lid and ring on the jar just until tight.
  8. Gently shake the jar to distribute the ingredients.
  9. Refrigerate the olives to use as needed.
Equipment and Resources

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Chicken Gyro Platter

It is not incidental that our spirits stir in springtime; it is intrinsic. The Earth is awakening, and we as children of the earth feel this rumbling ancient rhythm. Buds appear on branches dormant just weeks ago, while creatures from migrating birds and insects to the family pet exhibit an uptake in mischievous energy. We are creatures of sky as well as earth, and for every day of sunshine and breezes there is a day of shadows and storms. In Southern California, we are experiencing our usual spring of warm days and chill nights, of lemon blossoms and the return of the ravens. The outdoor furniture is coming out of the dry dock of garages, carports, storage units in anticipation of patio lunches and twilight cocktails, and gardeners professional to avocational are refreshing top soil, reseeding carpets of green lawn, digging holes for spring bulbs.

I cannot help but think of my family of friends in the northeast. It seems as if every day on social media, posts appear about the bone-weariness of  a winter that lingers a bit too long, of snow drifts and sludge, of the thwarted desire for springtime frolic. I think of my old neighborhood of Astoria where, as I lived it for twelve years and as I've written about so often, spring is such an important season, April is such an important month, Easter is such an important holiday. One of my first assignments as a lifestyle writer was discussing the tradition of Greek Easter Bread. Since then, April often has found me writing about Greek cooking, which I believe one really cannot do absent the context of springtime. As reflected in its signature ingredients -- lamb, lemons, garlic, honey, dairy, herbs --springtime provides not just the perspective for Greek cooking but its essence. Accordingly, I've published stories about and recipes for sticky-sweet baklava, smooth-tart avgolemono, more obscure but phenomenal dishes of Greek green beans and potatoes with sumac, even a hearty Greek salad.

Any Astorian will tell you that just as spring is the firmament of seasonal living in Astoria, the Neptune Diner is the locus of daily living. For years, the 'tune was our ground zero -- literally, as we lived three blocks from it. It is right off of the train platform, as easy to stop by on the way home as walking down a couple of flights of stairs. The Neptune anchored our lives for over a decade. For years, it was a Friday night ritual for our family of friends to "meet at the 'tune" for family dinner, a tradition that anchored us at the end of hectic weeks and revived us in preparation for the hustle of weekends. The Neptune ritually fed John and I our first breakfast on New Year's Day, and we and our guests usually managed at least one brunch there during Pride Weekend. John and I had our first dinner as Astorians at the Neptune, the day we signed our lease, and when I packed up our apartment for the move out west, on the evening that the moving van rolled away I ate dinner alone at the Neptune. I was served by Frankie, the world's most attentive, least sober, courtliest and wisest waiter and a true treasure of a human being. He comped my last meal as a New Yorker and I overtipped him for the last time as one. Everything after that is a sleepless blur until I found myself settling into my seat on a westbound jet and snapping one last picture of the tarmac at JFK. It was one of the most profound departures of my life.

Like a good diner's should, the Neptune's menu unfolds in page after laminated page. All of the classics are there, all of them rendered well: breakfast all day, cheeseburgers with fries, hot plates of meat loaf or roast turkey, cups of soup with grilled cheese or a BLT, rice pudding, coffee, pie. Like most diners, the menu also showcases regional specialties such as egg creams along with house specialties that reflect the Greek culture of Astoria. There is pastitsio and skordalia and fried smelts and birds nests and briny black olives and a bottle of ouzo behind the register for a farewell opa!

To that menu and to the countless nights with family, I herewith raise a bottomless cup of diner coffee to Carrie, Paul, Marin, Blake, Kat, Douglas, Alma, Dave, Lissa, William, Jeff, Gail, Jacob, Madelyn, Katie, Earl, Sue, The Three Johns, Ali, Karen, Ben, Peter, Ann, Bridget, Jenn, and most of all to Frankie, to Greg, and to the owners and staff of the Neptune. In honor of those people, those days, that menu, that place, here is one of our favorite dinners in our urban home, inspired by the keynote experience of eating dinner at the Neptune: a chicken gyro platter all the way with tzatziki, grilled pita, olives and feta. The chicken is pan-grilled in deference to ease of home cooking. While this Sunday Supper is a hearty meal in and of itself, is wonderful accompanied, Neptunelike, by bowls of avgolemono and finished with a big piece of baklava. Opa!

Chicken Gyro Platter
The best Greek groceries will be available in a Mediterranean or gourmet market, but supermarket ingredients should be fine for this recipe. Olives, whether from a cold case or a food bar, should smell fresh and briny and evidence no white or gray bloom. Feta should be sold in chunks and packaged in salt water. If you cannot easily locate fenugreek, order it from an online spice supplier such as Penzeys.

For the chicken
Two large boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 medium cloves garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons fenugreek
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the tzatziki
3 medium cucumbers
1 bunch fresh dill
1 lemon
1 small white onion
3 medium cloves garlic
8 ounces plain yogurt, preferably Greek, 0-2% fat
Sour cream
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

For the table
4 - 6 pockets pita bread
1 strip fresh rosemary
1/3 - 1/2 pound mixed olives
1 1/2 pound block Feta
Extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Drain the cucumbers
  1. Position an in-sink colander into place.
  2. Peel the cucumbers so that no green remains. Remove the stem and blossom ends from the cucumbers.
  3. Cut each cucumber in half lengthways. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds and pith.
  4. Put on a cut-resistant mesh glove. Working carefully, hold each cucumber half at an angle, cut side down, against the large holes of a box grater. Grate all of the cucumber halves over the in-sink colander. The cucumber will get slick as you grate, so work carefully.
  5. Sprinkle the grated cucumber generously with salt. Gently shake the colander to mix the salt and cucumber together. Leave the colander in place a minimum of  four hours to drain the cucumbers, shaking the colander a couple of times during to be sure to express as much moisture as possible.
Marinate the chicken
  1. Position a large zippered plastic food bag in a medium bowl and open the bag. Carefully measure the olive oil and lemon juice into the bag. Peel and press the garlic cloves into the oil-lemon mixture. Add the dried oregano, salt, several grindings of fresh black pepper, and a shake of red pepper flakes to the mixture in the bag.
  2. Working one chicken breast at a time, carefully use a sharp knife to remove any filmy white membranes or red splotches from the chicken. Carefully cut the chicken breast lengthways into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Carefully cut across the strips to form chunked about 1/2 inch wide.
  3. Gently transfer the chunked chicken to the bag containing the marinade. Press the bag tightly together and zip it closed, holding the least amount of air possible inside the bag.
  4. Massage all of the ingredients in the bag together so that all of the chicken is coated in the marinade.
  5. Place the marinating chicken in the refrigerator overnight, or for a minimum of four hours.
Make the tzatziki
  1. Transfer the yogurt to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Peel the garlic cloves and press them into the yogurt. Use a silicon spatula to stir the mixture so that it is smooth and fragrant.
  3. Cut the lemon in half crossways. Use a lemon press or a glass juicer to strain the juice from the lemon halves through a small mesh sieve into the yogurt-garlic mixture. Use the silicon spatula to stir the mixture until it is smooth, shiny and very fragrant.
  4. Peel, cut and dice half of the onion. Measure 2/3 cup diced onion into the yogurt mixture.
  5. Working a couple of handfuls at a time, add the shredded, drained cucumber to the yogurt mixture. Stir after each addition just to incorporate. Keep going until you have added all of the shredded, drained cucumber - it is okay if the mixture is somewhat thick.
  6. Lay the dill onto a cutting board. Remove and discard any thick stems while reserving the fronds. Carefully use a knife or an herb chopper to cut the dill into tiny pieces. Transfer the dill to the yogurt-cucumber mixture.
  7. Measure the olive oil into the bowl containing the cucumber-yogurt-dill mixture.
  8. Use the silicon spatula to gently incorporate the mixture. It should be thick and very fragrant.
  9. Add enough sour cream (typically about 3 tablespoons) to the mixture to achieve a spreadable, though still somewhat thick, consistency.
  10. Cover the bowl containing the tzatziki with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Prepare the chicken
  1. Position a wire mesh strainer over a large bowl. Empty the contents of the marinating bag through the sieve so that the marinating liquid drains into the bowl.
  2. Place a two count of olive oil into a grill pan or ceramic-coated skillet. Swirl the pan to coat it with olive oil.  Turn the burner to medium-high.
  3. Separate the pita into halves by cutting across the circle to form a half moon. Grill the pita in the hot pan for a couple of seconds on each side. Place the grilled pita in a pie tin or on a cookie sheet and keep the pita warm in an oven set to 200 degrees F.
  4. Reduce the burner heat to medium. Carefully add the marinated chicken to the pan. Shake the pan gently to distribute the chicken and to keep it from sticking.
  5. Sprinkle the fenugreek on the chicken.
  6. Cook the chicken, stirring as needed,  until nicely grilled, approximately 6 minutes. If the pan runs dry, add a bit of the marinating liquid to the pan.
Serve the meal
  1. While the chicken is cooking, remove the feta from its container and place the feta on a rimmed plate or in a shallow bowl. Drizzle the feta with a two count of olive oil. Strip the rosemary leaves onto the oiled feta, and sprinkle the oiled feta with a few grinds of fresh black pepper.
  2. Place the oiled feta, marinated olives, warmed pita, tzatziki, and grilled chicken on the table for everyone to build their gyro however they want. Opa!

Friday, April 1, 2016

April at Urban Home Blog

Here are our plans for the awakening month of April at Urban Home Blog:
  • Meet up with colleagues and friends attending the IACP 2016 Conference in Los Angeles. Share favorite Los Angeles discoveries with them, including The Pikey and The Delancey. Set aside special time for Kat.
  • Attend The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC.
  • Decide if schedule will allow travel to attend James Beard Journalism Awards in New York City and book flights and lodging if so.
  • Finalize and submit 2015 taxes.
  • Install spot lighting in display units for John's transportation toy collection.
  • Retrieve outdoor living furniture from storage unit. Inspect unit and contents; replace moisture control from last visit over the winter holidays if warranted.
  • Spend quiet week in Solvang burnishing book proposal.
  • Once ruby grapefruit and Meyer lemons start coming in, make and can marmalade.
  • Transfer house palm to outdoor space for spring and summer growth. Place in refreshed soil, and nourish as new growth appears.
  • Watch over potato, pepper and tomato plants.
  • Have gardener tend laurel tree, including trimming and feeding.
  • Wash patio and outdoor furniture.
  • Visit longtime stylist Nikki at her new salon. Treat self to cut and style, color swatch and manicure.
  • Make cucumber vodka in anticipation of spring and summer entertaining.
  • Order The Balvenie Scotch; Hitorimusume "Sayaka" Sak√©, Junmai; and Vya Vermouth in anticipation of spring and summer entertaining.
  • Bake a honey cake.
  • Fully enjoy Judy Garland month on TCM.
  • Return to the tennis court after healing an injury. Goal: two games a week.
  • Celebrate April Fool's Day by posting this column a week from now.

Reading list: At Bertram's Hotel, Agatha Christie; Too Big to Fail, Andrew Ross Sorkin; Love, West Hollywood, Christ Freeman and James J. Berg, editors

April, 2012: Outfitting the Kitchen, Weeknight Dinner, Easter, Baking
April, 2011: Sewing, Baking, Weeknight Dinner, Dinner Menus
April, 2010: Spring Cleaning, Side Dish, Crafts and Projects, Baking

Friday, February 5, 2016

From the Vault: Celebrating February

February comes along just when we need a party the most. The faded sparkle of the holidays is now unavoidably, officially behind us. January was especially punishing this year, as brutal cold and heavy snow battered much of the midwest and northeast while a worrisome drought took over the west. January is the month of digging in. We start anew, settle accounts, make plans. January is a month of work and reward, of putting the old year to rest and getting set up to start the new year. If we can make it through January, February is our reward.

It is not by accident that February gets underway with Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day coincides with Imbolc and Candlemas. All three holidays center around the warming of the Earth HerSelf after winter rest. Mother Earth is not awake yet, but She is stirring. Imbolc celebrates the stirring of the earth by honoring the conception of lambs and calves, of milk starting to flow, of early flowers, of berries sending out shoots. Candlemas celebrates the gathering warmth and light of increasing daytime, which have now become noticeable since they commenced on the winter solstice and arrived on this day that is midway to the Spring Equinox. On Candlemas, we light our homes with sacred candlelight, contemplative and holy. And appropriate, as these holidays merge in Groundhog Day, when the groundhog exits its cozy home to seek light and warmth and to beseech them. When the groundhog returns to its burrow after assessing the world above ground, it is with the certainty that spring is coming. We let the candles burn out of their own accord - safely, but sacred on this transitional day.

It is already a month since New Year's Eve, and high time for a party. After the triple poing whammy of February 2, February leads us through Valentine's Day, President's Day, Fat Tuesday and Carnival. Football fans ready themselves for the Superbowl with team jerseys, ice cold beer, towering stacks of nachos, brats hot off the grill. Olympians of a different species are honored during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. As we enjoy the antics and achievements of these showstoppers, let us remember the humble, but no less important mutt, especially with donations of time, food, bedding, volunteering or best of all, forever homes, for the best breed of all: shelter dogs.

Movie buffs look forward to the Academy Awards, where home viewing parties sparkle with glam or wallow in vulgarity. Just like Pittsburgh steel or Las Vegas gambling, entertainment is the hometown business of Los Angeles. We who live in Hollywood alternately enjoy and steel ourselves against the intense atmosphere that accompanies Oscars Month. Oscar Fever is everywhere, from the red carpet displays at shopping centers to the red carpet being laid down on Hollywood Boulevard. For years, John and I hosted Academy Awards parties in New York City, but in LA, there is so much activity on Oscar Sunday that, at our urban home just blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, guests wouldn't even be able to get through the barricades or the crowds.

Let us not forget that, as does every month, February also hosts birthdays and anniversaries. Click here for the story and recipe for my favorite birthday cake: spice cake. Anniversaries began with valentines -- recognize your sweetheart with this decadent, sensual dessert of chocolate and strawberries, and click here to learn how to care for your Valentine's Day flowers. And as you enjoy your box of Valentine's Day chocolates, click here to learn about the great confectioner See's Candy, and here for the story of the New York City institution of Li-Lac Chocolates.

Some of the best celebrations are the simplest ones, such as inviting people over for drinks or dinner for no other reason than it is actually possible to leave the house! Invite friends over for a warming winter dinner party - there are plenty of recipes and ideas at Urban Home Blog. Look for tags such as Weeknight Dinner, Sunday Supper, Side Dishes and Desserts. Try a menu of Santa Maria Tri-Tip with Pinquinto Beans, artichoke dip, and California wine; or a steakhouse dinner at home with Steak Diane, potato gratin, and iceberg wedges with blue cheese dressing. Serve clean martinis, Manhattans on the rocks, or home-made Italian sodas. Set out that spice cake for dessert, or to honor spring on the ascendant, use the first of the berries to make a pie. Whatever you celebrate, Urban Home Blog has a library of content to help make your celebrations shine as you honor the settling of winter ash and the budding of spring color.