Sep 14 2013

Test Kitchen: Perfect Pancakes

Not gonna lie. I have been a pancake mix girl my whole life. Why wouldn’t I be? It’s so dang easy. I’ve upgraded over the years and now eschew Bisquick for some fancier brand from Whole Foods.

When we were in California, I wanted to make pancakes but didn’t want to buy mix we’d use once and then leave behind.

Homemade? I assumed it was, you know, a thing.

It’s not. I feel a fool.

I read a few recipes and their reviews and settled on this one the sharer said came from her grandma. I trust grandmas.

They were silly easy and silly good. Brett pronounced them “the best pancakes ever.” I felt domestic and goddess-y.

Once back in Oak Park I tried them again. Disaster. I used baking soda instead of baking powder. I don’t know why. I then spent 30 minutes trying to figure out if I had accidentally poisoned everyone with baking soda. I didn’t.

Last night I tried again. Getting the pan the right heat is always a mess unless you use Brett’s “sacrificial minicake” method. This time I decided to thoughtfully do it rather than heat it up too quickly, burn a few, then turn it down and curse. On our stove, between the 3 & 4 but a dash closer to the 3 seems to be the right heat using a non-stick. Yes, we have a huge cast iron griddle thing. No I didn’t use it. That shit is heavy.

That 3 not quite 3.5? That was perfect.

They were perfect.

Perfect pancakes.

Loie ate 5. FIVE.

Perfect Pancakes
from the mysterious dakota kelly

  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Make a well in the center (this really does help!) and pour in the milk, egg and melted butter; mix until smooth. (Seriously, mix that stuff for real.)

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat (we use a non-stick pan, no butter, and not medium high heat). Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides (do that thing where you wait for legit bubbles) and serve hot.

Two notes:
1. I double sift. Sift the flour first before measuring and then sift again
2. Many reviewers suggest adding a dash of vanilla and I think that’s a grand idea.
You’re welcome. Go make them. Then ponder opening a B&B.

Sep 9 2013

Not-A-Princess Halloween: Amelia Earhart Edition

It’s mid-September. And I’m kind of stressing the kid’s Halloween costume.

Obnoxious, right? It’s only because I nailed it last year.

I have no idea if Lo will skew princess and poofy in her grade school days. I don’t totally mind if she likes pink and purple and glitter. I know she’s strong and fast and learned how to do a somersault all on her own. She jumps and digs in dirt. So girl having some girlie girl in her doesn’t get me down. We’re not likely to support any clothing that implies she’s shitty at math or “boy crazy” at 4 so a little unicorn or rainbow action here and there is tolerable.

Still, until she can articulate a reason for a specific costume, mama’s gonna run the show. Her first year (2011) she was a big plush mess of an 7 month old owl from a Pottery Barn Kids costume. It was SO CUTE. (Here’s a tiny pic so you aren’t so distracted). See those wiggly feet?


Last year, though, I wanted to not spend a ton of money AND exert more creative control. Yup, I can own that.

She’s an adventurous spirit and I’m a former history teacher and a feminist.

Adventure + history + feminism = Amelia Earhart


Here’s how I put it together.

That amazing hat? It’s from my friend Sarah’s friend’s talented hand. Blaze ‘n’ Crochet helped this sister out. I wrote her after seeing a girlie aviator’s cap and said I wanted something a dash more Amelia. Blaze doesn’t even begin to describe it. That lady got that hat done in about 11 minutes. I have proof. She uploaded this picture so quickly I’m not sure I had even hit send on the order! It.was.perfect. And the hat was a staple in our fall accessories.

Blaze 'n' Crochet web

The scarf was purchased here, the one sell out to the Halloween consumer machine (and ours was only $6). The khakis are ten buck uniform pants from Old Navy and the brown corduroy jacket (sorry, no leather aviator jacket this year kid) is too, but I found it on eBay. It had a hood by we tucked it in for authenticity’s sake (Cheerio cup is super authentic, I know). Both of those were reused, though we’re not really a khaki family.

It felt smart because a last-evening-in-October in Oak Park can be chilly. She was already in a hat and jacket! At playdates and parties indoors, we removed the jacket and had her wear a plain old onesie, which gave her a devil-may-care casualness I think Amelia would’ve approved of.

Then, we added a bit of sepia goodness and BOOOM had a picture ready for the history books. (Yes we have old suitcases. Yes we have a typewriter. Yes I’ve seen this. AND yes, I should’ve moved the shoes.)


The only challenge now is that I’ve set a high bar for myself. I realize this is a purely ridiculous thing to obsess about. But I am. And there aren’t a ton of toddler friendly obvious feminine icon costumes, you know what I mean?

I’ve been scouring The Reconstructionists (an amazing project by Lisa Congdon and Maria Popova). So many rad women, if not done soo soo carefully, could just look like “standard prairie girl” or “old timey costume.” Sigh. Oh! They featured Diana Nyad?! Kind of goes against my chilly weather plan.

Onward. Or upward? Maybe it’s Sally Ride time.

Jul 8 2013

Have you? Did you? Nope. Not yet.

Have you been biked across the Golden Gate Bridge?

Are you going to do the Exploratorium?

Did you eat at that restaurant I sent?

My answer is typically: Not yet. But maybe.

We get a pretty non-stop list of suggestions and must-dos and gotta-sees leading up to trips. I’m always happy to take suggestions and hear ideas, especially on traveling with a tot. And, I do heaps of research and make a Google map and doc before we go of stuff (places, tastes, things, kid friendly and not) nearby and far by (these are great to share with friends traveling, too). For San Francisco, I read up on everything and anything Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day shared, especially this post on urban hikes and this guest post for Alphamom. I googled and queried and dug around Yelp.

Over the course of a month, we’ll likely do some of the things shared and things I found. Maybe most. Maybe.


But today, so far, the place we’ve been the most is the Cow Hollow Playground.


It’s a small neighborhood playground tucked into a half-street a few blocks from our house in the Marina. It’s nothing fancy. Sun bleached communal toys, some much loved equipment. Lots of sand. But it’s exactly what we like to discover when we’re away. The things that make us feel connected to a new place, even if we know it’s (and plan for it to be) fleeting. In Iceland (pre-Lo) it was C is for Cookie. In Paris, it was the toddler playground at the Jardin de Luxembourg (man, I did a crappy job blogging in Paris.) And here, it’s a place like the Cow Hollow Playground.

It’s not all that different, in fact it’s a bit older and rougher, than our playground in Skunk Hollow (and no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here). And that’s why it’s both familiar and magical (because, no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here).


Part of the challenge of explaining the whats (and whys) when we’re away involves sharing a philosophy that sounds overwrought and high handed and, ugh, pretentious or obnoxious. In fact, if one of you were to talk to me about something similar I just might (no, I would) make fun of you for being too earnest. But with reflection and hindsight on past trips and planning for this and future trips, one does, if one’s looking for it, start to coalesce ideas and approaches. And the neighborhood playground embodies much of our approach. It’s an immersion and a surrounding and an appreciation for being somewhere, not just visiting somewhere.

To do that sometimes means we de-prioritize all the places on the lists and recs and must-sees. It’s not a wholesale rejection, because I am wired to want to do it all. A focus on finding what we can do, honoring our work we both love, and the realities of the limits of CopperTop both limit and free us from accomplishing it all.

It’s trying to find the balance of the native New Yorker whose never been to the Statue of Liberty and the run-ragged tourist who’s been everywhere for the sake of checking it off a list. I want to be neither.

The thrill for us yesterday was discovering the path of least resistance. In San Francisco, that means the least hilly route from the playground home. It’s about as mundane a thrill as you can have. It’s just the thrill we are looking for on trips like this.

There will be moments like the Pride Parade.


There will be trips to someplace exciting worthy of a skipped nap and a crappy night, I know and hope.

But for the most part, the most parts of the trip are simple pleasures. And those have changed, and stayed the same, since I first wrote about it in 2010 (oh, to spend a day reading!). Now, it’s Lo’s first swim class last week (at the wonderful JCC here) and seeing how songs like “Open, Shut Them” sound sung by a different librarian at story time. It’s tasting fresh strawberries and seeing what hills look like to a toddler from flatter lands.

It’s trying a puff pastry from the joint down the street.

Or even just chasing the rainbows on the staircase at the house. Because there aren’t rainbows on our staircase in Oak Park.


It isn’t necessarily anything that would appeal to everyone. But we know we’re creating time and space with travel like this to let the mundane magic happen. It’s why we do what we do.


May 30 2013

Bake Forth: chocolate chip meringues

Tonight is the first Forth, a salon-inspired gathering I’m staring with Lisa Guillot of Step Brightly and Kelly Allison of Kelly Allison Photography. We’ve got a crew of insanely amazing women coming together at Design Cloud to talk about the power of starting. Each woman attending is a specialist in starting, having recently ventured into new waters or for their power to inspire others to start. What better group to start something new with?

We hope to have four events a year around seasonal themes. We hope to maybe help other women launch similar events in other cities. We hope it’s awesome.

I’m in that place where I’m so ramped up I want to keep creating. I was up late. I was up early. Lots of bags and piles. Brett’s been very patient.

So, I’m writing about baking because I just kind of need to put one more thing out there.

A long-serving go to recipe for me has been these chocolate chip meringue drops. I can get behind a one-bowl, five-ingredient recipe that takes about 10 minutes to prep and then sits in the oven for hours. I can proudly say I’ve never burned this one.

It’s easy, easily scalable and the drops have that satisfying crunch that means you can either enjoy one and be done or keep on crunching and feel like you are accomplishing something. No picture because, honestly, they look a bit too turdish. But trust me, they’re anything but.

  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil or parchment paper. *I’ve used both foil and parchment.
  2. In large metal or glass bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar while continuing to beat until they hold stiff peaks. Mix in the vanilla and cocoa on low speed, then fold in chocolate chips by hand. Drop small mounds of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. *I’ve done bigger and smaller versions.
  3. Bake for 1 hour. Turn off oven, and leave the cookies in the oven for 2 more hours, or until centers are dry. Remove from pan and store in an airtight container. *You can leave them in longer if you are a Nervous Nelly. Our oven’s been cranky lately so leaving in an extra 15-20 minutes ensures they’re dried. 

Now, more piles! Lists!

Mar 1 2013

Something I Love

Oh, Neskat hair clippies, I love you!

At about 8 or 9 months, Lo’s hair had grown long enough in the front that she was looking a bit too Eddie Furlong for my taste. Girl needed some help. But how to help? Hair accessories seem safe, right? Not always.

There began a dull ache of a struggle in the back of my parenting brain that I know is just the first of many. It’s been articulated by many before me, and probably better. In short, raising a girl is awesome. I know it is going to be awesome. I am ready to both model (when I can) and talk about (when I can) how to embrace being a girl, and then a woman, while not kowtowing to being precious. I struggle with that teeter totter between a level of girly that feels empowered and the level of girlie that feels overly twee.

I’m not a clothing fascist. I can get behind pink, my heistation is more that I don’t think her little coppertop looks great in pale pinks. I love me some owls. And something scroll-y in French? Sold.

I certainly don’t want -Juicy- on her butt, at least until she can clearly articulate to me an argument that makes it make sense. For now, I don’t love -princess- or -diva- or other sassified crap on her clothing. It’s just not me. And with our lack of royal blood and my inability to carry a tune both in her DNA, it’s probably not her either. I felt pretty good about the clothing choices I was making and now…now I needed to figure out hair.

Enter Neskat, an etsy store that I lurve.

These delicious clippies are just the right twee, and two we own at Chez Argyle. Contrast stitching, felt, wool, delightfully intricate for being so tiny. Autumnal leaves, charming birds, and embroidered lovelies abound.

Easy to put on, not easy to fall off during roly poly play, the San Francisco-based etsy shop is doing it right.

And the best part? Apparently when I put the clips in Loie’s hair from the first time on, I said “BOOP!” right as it clipped it in. And now, my precocious little parrot doesn’t know the word barrette. She only knows that every morning she gets a boop in her hair. Yup, a boop. Just the right amount of twee for me.

May 12 2012

Something I Love

Oh, Authentic Models, I love you.

We were wondering just what to do with a girl’s room that we didn’t want to scream GIRL’S ROOM Y’ALL!

At Bellini Baby we saw these beautiful vintage-looking balloon models floating high above us. I went home and began to Google like a madwoman.

The Red/Tan quickly became the design inspiration for Loie’s nursery.

Over her head float five hot air balloons in primary colors.

Their globe mobile was a changing table coup d’etat.

Her nursery quickly came together. A vintage-Paris-not too Frenchy-nursery.

More, another time perhaps, on this room I love.

Apr 22 2012

Something I Love

Oh ViaBoxes, I love you.

ViaBoxes are module storage units. They are 15x15x15x15 (or however many 15s you need to describe a box). They fit with their fellow ViaBoxes and can be customized with fun cut-out shapes in the front. You can add recessed doors and a shelf inside, which is what we did to create shoe storage.

We needed a mudroom type space since our old mudroom type space is now my much-beloved baking center and smack dab in the new kitchen. Our goal was to make it look like a custom built in without having to, ahem, pay for it. Our incredible -guy- David merged them all those Vias together and melded three different pieces of wood, staining them each slightly different shades because of their base colors for the bench, and built us some serious awesome in the bench/mantel department.

We also added mercury glass knobs from Anthropologie and reclaimed wood from Rebuilding Exchange, a cool spot on Ashland that sells just about everything ever from old buildings.

I sent the picture to their website because I like people doing good work to know their good work made me happy. I got this back: “That IS awesome! I must share this. That is a great ViaBoxes “hack”.” Well, well! A hack! How domestically subversive of us.

Apr 13 2012

Something I Love.

Oh, Vintage Industrial Furniture, I love you.

While working on our kitchen remodel, we were a bit stuck as to what to do with the space next to the pantry. It was crying out for shelves but the depth (12″) was an odd one, a few inches too shallow for a bookshelf to work.

I got to googling. The clean, modern lines of the dark cabinets were nicely balanced by the banged up hardware but we wanted some industrial elements to fit in with the lighting and our aesthetic.

In comes Greg Hankerson of Vintage Industrial. No, wait. He didn’t really come in because he’s based out of Phoenix. But he’s good with the phone, good with email, and awesome with furniture design and construction.

We got a custom 308 shelf which fits so perfectly snug in its spot that it makes my heart happy. It’s described as French industrial which, being a description snob, sat right in the Burwell sweet spot. Greg sent us bolting supplies to secure the shelf to the wall so little Loie & Co wouldn’t bring it crashing down. We also opted to not have the castor wheels, which bummed me out but the old house and the unlevel floors and, well, it just didn’t seem like the way to go (although they can be locked down). New parent anxiety wins sometimes.

Some glass jars, a wine rack, books and it was super ready to serve. We’ve since rearranged to allow for more glass jars full of dried goods. Vintage Industrial, smooches to you.

This is an insanely bad picture, I agree. Angles just weren’t playing nicely. The shelf does.

Apr 7 2012

Citrus Salt Baby Food Jars

The time had come to make 101Cookbooks’ Citrus Salts as a companion favor to the rosemary salted shortbread for Party 1: Bubble, Bagels, & a Birthday.

I initially planned to outdo myself and make tons of different options for guests to choose. Whole Foods had some crazy fruits that included some new Japanese hybrid of this and that. I was going to IMPRESS. Want nine options? Great, pick from these 12!

Instead, I opted for lemon and lime. Good standards that folks could add to fish or line a margarita glass with easily. The salts last a couple months and I just don’t think anyone would be so excited by them that they’d need seven ounces of citrusy salts! And Brett would not seethe. 

We used Earth’s Best baby food to feed Loie. Pretty little glass jars. Stage 2 jars are 4 ounces. This recipe makes sets of salts, each 3.5 ounces. Yip! Some Goo Gone and some scrubbing and several runs through the dishwasher and they were ready to go. I picked up little kraft paper labels at Paper Source to designate the flavors.

Heidi recommends using Maldon sea salts and I found bulk bins available online. Much more reasonable than buying tons of boxes. AND now we have a home for all our chalkboard chalk and I get one of my beloved mixing bowls back!

After zesting, I mixed half cups of salt with 1 tbs of zest. Smooshed it up real good.

Now, I may have done something wrong but the salts definitely didn’t retain this gorgeous coloring. They have a yellow or green hint but aren’t quite this bright.

And here’s a batch, pulsed with an immersion blender, in the jars!

All those bald fruits with a limited future made me anxious. So I juiced ‘em.

And poured the juice into ice cube trays. I read about doing this so you always have juice for cooking. We now have quite a bit of frozen lemon and lime juice. My dream plan is dropping them in pitchers of water in the summer.

I loved repurposing the jars as a way of signaling the end of her babyhood. And they were lovely little favors.