Blog Archive for 2009

new home


I know it’s been reeeaaal quiet here at the monaluna blog lately. Here’s why: after much looking, Dave and I finally bought our first house! I’ve been complaining bitterly for months about how much time it takes to look for houses and go to open houses, but that was nothing compared to actually buying one. I’ve signed so many papers I developed a whole new signature, my usual semi-precise letters now a bumpy line with some loops and a squiggle. It’s going to be a huge change for us, and we’re both excited and a little freaked out. I’ve already been to 3 pet adoption events, even though I know we can’t really take any of them home until we actually move in this weekend.

Anyway, not much should change here at Monaluna, though it may be quieter for a bit while we get moved and situated, and then I’ll have a lot more room for photography and projects. There will also probably be a slightly more varied offering of DIY projects – I see lots of house and garden jobs in my near future… Speaking of, here’s a photo of what we were up to last weekend. I also learned to use a ginormous miter saw. Does anyone need a tutorial on putting up chair rail? That’s next up on my schedule.

I finally got samples of my new fabric collection for Robert Kaufman – Urban Blooms! It’s always exciting to get boxes in the mail with the new prints, and to see what they end up looking like – especially the color, which generally changes from the original colorways. This group was printed on cotton flannel… I think I’m going to make myself some pjs! If some of the prints look familiar, I blogged about a stationery group I was working on using some of the prints here. Here is a sampling of the new collection:

I’ve been lazy about making my bath scrubs lately, but I ran out of moisturizer this morning and I desperately needed something to counter the effects of all that Mexican sunshine. I mixed up what I think might be the yummiest yet: an orange brown sugar scrub. You can get all the ingredients at the grocery store (except maybe the orange essential oil, but that’s easy to find at coops, Whole Foods or natural food stores). It smells divine, and leaves your skin SO soft. Here’s the recipe:

Orange Brown Sugar Scrub
1 cup coarse brown sugar (I used a combination of brown and turbinado cane sugar from Trader Joes)
2 Tbsp. cocoa butter (warmed to liquid in a saucepan of water)
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1-2 Tbsp. apricot oil
2 tsp. honey
10 drops orange essential oil

fresh baked


all this chilly weather is making me want to bake bread… I only wish I had more time! I took this photo at our local farmer’s market – aren’t they pretty?

It’s definitely fall. October is usually pretty warm in Oakland, but the air has gotten really crisp, and the light is all golden. I love this time of year. One of the things I miss about the Midwest is that distinct change of season, but we do get it here – it’s just a bit quieter.

One of my favorite things about fall is the canning and preparing of the harvest. Since our garden is miniscule, we don’t really have much of a harvest, but some years we’ll end up with bags of pears or the last of the plums from the farmers’ market and make jam. Not this year. This October there’s way too much going on to take on extra canning projects, but we DID have a huge tomato harvest (as I’ve documented here), and all those lovely tomatoes have been hanging out on the counter, taunting me as I try to keep up with all the other things I’m supposed to be doing. Dave finally took matters into his own hands last night and made Nonni’s Sauce, the tomato sauce recipe that I learned from my mom, and she learned from my adopted Italian grandmother (actually a neighbor, but a very special person in our family), Nonni DiFlorentis. It was so nice to work into the night with the smell of cooking tomatoes and garlic and olive oil wafting in from the kitchen. The result is simple – it’s just three ingredients – but it is the most pure, sweet sauce I’ve had. We usually end up eating most of it spread on crusty bread with a sprinkling of sea salt. Here are the instructions, in case any of you have an abundance of tomatoes to use. I didn’t catch Dave in the act of making it this year, but I’ll include some photos of us making the sauce with my mom last year.

Nonni’s Sauce

tomatoes (at least a colander-full, as they will cook down a lot)
olive oil

To prepare tomatoes: boil a pot of water and drop tomatoes in carefully, leaving for a couple of seconds and removing with a slotted spoon. This part is a bit tricky, because you want to leave the tomatoes in just long enough for the skin to become easy to peel, but not so long as to make them mushy. The timing depends on the type and ripeness of the fruit, so start one at a time and test to see what your timing should be. Once all tomatoes have been dunked, peel and split in half, squeezing out any excess water and seeds into the sink.

Arrange the tomatoes in a frying or saucepan in one layer. Add fresh, peeled garlic. The specific quantity of garlic, as told to my mom by Nonni, is “one piece the size of your leetle finger tip” every inch. This is a bit loose, but I’d say adjust according to your taste. Then pour a healthy drizzling of olive oil over the tomatoes.

Cook, uncovered, over high heat until boiling, then lower heat and cook until all water evaporates and the tomatoes glisten with the olive oil. This can take a couple of hours (it took about 5 last night, but that was over low heat the whole time). Be very careful towards the end not to scorch the sauce.

Once the tomatoes have been cooked down, transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. At this point, you can add salt and pepper if you like, or just leave it as a sweet paste.

I just realized that I haven’t yet posted my new Circa 50 collection for Birch Fabrics! It’s high time. My friend Cynthia recently started her own fabric company, producing 100% organic cotton fabric printed with GOTS-approved dyes (yay, Cynthia!), and I was lucky enough to design her debut collection. It was a fun collection to work on, and I’m so excited to see the fabric, due out in March!

costa maya


A lot has happened in the week I was gone! My marriage turned 2, I got a year older, summer turned to fall, and about 200 of our tomatoes ripened. Also, I think I finally unwound and relaxed to a level not achieved in years! Dave and I spent our anniversary and my birthday, plus a few days before and after, on a nearly deserted beach in Tulum, Mexico. This was my first trip south of the border, and I was totally enchanted by this little village and the people we met there. We stayed at a place called Posada Lamar, in a sweet cabana on the beach. The hotel is very eco-friendly, using mainly solar energy, limited electricity and very environmentally responsible practices. There were 8 cabanas built by the owner, each pretty rustic but gorgeously designed, and each unique in its details. Ours was absolutely beautiful, and I won’t forget the feeling of falling asleep to the crashing surf and ocean breezes.

Our first day there, we were looking for a good place to find a late lunch, and stumbled into El Tabano cafe, which quickly became one of our favorite restaurants of all time. The owners, Paf and Laura, welcomed us in and helped us with the menu, which turned out to be an incredible selection of inventive and delicious Mayan food with-a-twist. Over the week we were in Tulum we ate there several times, and tried the cold tomato and papaya soup, poblano peppers stuffed with nuts, grains and fruits, the best fish tacos I’ve ever had, Mayan meatballs, drunken grouper and tortilla lasagna. Oh, not to mention a towering appetizer created from layers of sliced pears, brie cheese, local honey and walnuts.

It was the low season in Mexico, due to the less predicable weather, but the shortage of U.S. travellers and fear of swine flu left Tulum even more deserted than usual this time of year. This was nice for us – we got the beach pretty much to ourselves – but I’m worried for some of the businesses there, which seemed to be suffering. On the flip side, we heard that the jungle just inland from the beach has been purchased by one of the huge resort chains, so the whole face of the area may change very soon. If you are looking for an incredible and pretty reasonable getaway, this is the place, but go soon!

What’s that they say about good intentions? I had lots of them this week. All kinds of ideas for projects and blog posts, but then the week turned into, well, one of those weeks. Lots of good stuff going on, but not a lot of project time. And now I’m off again on another break, but hopefully I’ll come back with tons of inspiration (and more photos!). In the meantime, I’ll share a photo of our most recent tomato harvest:

It’s that point in the season where our garden has turned into a giant mass of tomato plants, and they’re fruiting like crazy. Luckily, we have a couple of basil plants eeking out some sun from under the vines, and a couple of peppers too, so we’ve been living on caprese salads and homemade tomato sauce – not a bad way to live, I must say.

I love Oakland, I really do. But I’m nursing a hot little town-crush on Asheville right now. We just got back from a trip to North Carolina, where we visited my dad and his wife in Charlotte, and then, on the advice of a ton of people who have told us it’s a great town, we spent a couple of days in Asheville. We weren’t really sure what to expect – it’s a long drive through a lot of green (beautiful!) countryside, and it seemed like it would be pretty small and remote. Well. It is small, but it has enough energy and bustle and music and good restaurants to give a major city a good reputation. One walk through town on a Friday evening and this was what I saw: lots of interesting, bustling restaurants (with outdoor seating, my favorite), music on every block (many good street musicians, live bands in many restaurants and most bars, and a weekly drum circle made up of about 20 drummers and what looked like half the town out shaking their booties), a large number of great pubs with serious beer at good prices (at least by SF standards), and tons of galleries and public art. Oh, and more chocolate shops than I’ve seen in recent memory. What more could you want? It’s a beautiful town full of old brick and art deco architecture, combined with a hippy/punk vibe and an emphasis on handcrafts and organic food and clothing. Pretty much up my alley. Granted, it was Labor Day weekend, and there may have been more going on that usual, but I thought it was a gem.

We stayed at a gorgeous Bed and Breakfast (oh yeah, that’s the other thing – there are about a million of these. They seem to be the accomodations of choice and, at least on Labor Day, seemed to run about the same price as the scarcer hotels) called the Hill House, built in 1885. The porch alone totally won me over, and I tried to spend as much of the short time we had in a rocker looking out over the gorgeous gardens. It was fun to play “South” for a bit. I could definitely get used to that.

The Hill House was just a few blocks from town, so we were able to get around almost entirely by foot. This was ideal, because you really get to appreciate all the amazing murals and public art that covers Asheville – pretty much every block had some cool mural or indie art exhibit, or just beautiful graffiti art, starting with the overpass when you come into town.

Oh, and did I mention the street musicians? There were probably 3 per block on Friday night – gypsy accordion bands (my favorite), old time fiddlers, songwriters, trios, a skillet player (I kid you not – see photo)… tons!

We got to try a few great restaurants, including Tupelo Honey, which specialized in local and organic southern food with a twist and offered flights of local brews, and Zambra, which served some of the best and most interesting tapas I’ve had.

There were also a few sweet urban gardens like this one dotted around town. I loved the innovative planters.

On Saturday we drove north to Hot Springs and spent some time hiking the Appalachian Trail. My mom had told me that my ancestors trekked over the Appalachians to Kentucky after the Revolutionary War, and I was trying to imagine covered wagons traveling that terrain. Amazing that they made it, but I’m sure glad they did. The trail we took went along the French Broad River for a bit (before shooting straight up and then plunging straight down) and all I could picture was a hefty dame with marcel curls and a feathered cap drinking a pastis. I wonder why they didn’t call it the Broad French?

Sunday was an arts festival downtown, and there was yet more (great) music, art and handmade stuff.
We saw The Swayback Sisters first thing, and I was totally enchanted by their harmonies.

Blackjack. Possibly the best rock and roll cover band I’ve ever seen, and they’re only 14. My jaw dropped when I saw who it was making all that sweet noise.

Something about “handmade hot dogs” totally cracks me up.

It was all I could do not to buy the Beatles dress.

Sunday afternoon we headed back to Charlotte, but took a detour so we could drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, through lots of these:

Not bad for a weekend adventure.

We finally bottled our Vin Maison – way later than I intended to. It looks very pretty, and a sampling of the unaged product was pretty good… now we just have to wait 6 more months to try the finished wine. A word of caution to anyone out there who might have tried this project: don’t overheat the bottles! Our oven hasn’t been working right, and it kept shutting off when it got up to 250. To compensate, I turned it way up for a few minutes… and then kind of lost track of time. When I took the bottles out, half of them cracked and one basically exploded in Dave’s hand. SO, to recap, when sterilizing the bottles in the oven, place bottles in a cold oven, heat to 250 (and no hotter), and for good measure let them cool before bottling the wine.

Also, I’m going to be heading on a little break this week, off to North Carolina. I’ll be back after Labor Day, hopefully with some good pictures. Have a great Labor Day weekend!