Tuesday, December 29, 2009

post-travel settling-in

I'm back on the West Coast after a lovely and fairly uneventful trip to Rhode Island for Christmas! The biggest excitement was when my dad turned too widely into the snow-choked driveway and got stuck, hanging out into the neighborhood street. Fortunately it's always a quiet street, and there was no one out at 8pm on that Sunday night, so we went inside for dinner and called AAA (after some futile pushing and heaving, involving me, my dad, my mom, and my sister!).

Now I've got a day to settle back in before I resume my working life. It's tempting to try to run around to a bunch of stores and hit any holiday sales that may be on, but I'm also enjoying being in my own little slice of the Bay Area and not mixing with civilization as a whole.

an aside: I'm mulling over adding a bit of (ha! I should say: still more!) storage for kitchen stuff, but this time it's going to have to spill over into my living room. I think I want a cabinet with solid doors to store things like my liquor, wine, wine glasses, crock pot, Dutch oven, cookie sheets, Bundt pans.. I even have a place to put this storage - I just don't know what I want. And I don't think I can bring myself to hit IKEA today, so it will wait.

a second aside: Every time I add to my now-copious stores of Stuff, I realize I'm less and less likely to chuck it all and travel the world. Truthfully, I think I'm a bit too much of a homebody to EVER do that, but it is something I think about whenever I acquire yet another thing. Of course stumbling onto my Most Excellent Apartment when I moved here has already dictated that I won't stick my stuff in storage and go on a long trip in-between jobs. Traveling without paying rent/mortgage back home seems ideal, but at present, I don't see that happening.

back to the main post: I've so far accomplished two of my time-honored post-travel rituals: first, I've exploded my bags into my living space. The second ritual is to go out for breakfast for one last hurrah before I resume cooking for myself. I did it when I got back from my three-week trip to Ireland & Scotland this spring, too: even though I was SO happy to be in my space, and was looking forward to cooking, I had nothing on hand and wanted breakfast. I remember knowing I was really ending my vacation, and I almost went for Fancy Breakfast at the Spanish restaurant, but at the last minute didn't want anything complicated. I also really wanted an American Breakfast after three glorious weeks of non-standard breakfast fare. So today, I did what I did that day in May - walked around the corner to the neighborhood cafe, and ordered the Pancake Special: 2 pancakes, 2 eggs (fried, over hard), and 2 strips of bacon - with coffee, and water. Bliss.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Calendar: Two Thousand Ten - cover

This is the third year in which I've created a calendar of my photos to share with family and a couple of friends. I also keep a couple of copies for myself, to use at home and work. It's a challenge to go through a year's worth of pictures to choose my twelve favorites!

This year I failed, actually - I whittled the list to thirteen and stopped there. So my calendar has a cover photo that doesn't appear elsewhere in the calendar - unusual, but couldn't be helped. Also, I wasn't sure how well this photo would translate to print: would it be good enough to look at daily? Turns out the answer to that is "probably" - I think it's fine. Ah well.

So I decided to use the calendar as blog-fodder. Once a month I'll be able to write about the calendar picture! Here's the cover photo:

The above is one of the departure bays in Glasgow's Central Station , one of two main train stations in the city (and the busiest train station in the UK, outside London). My mom and I traveled through Central Station twice in one day (May 10, 2009), when we took the train to Gourock to see the season's first Highland Games. As we could testify, it had been a VERY rainy week, and we arrived in Gourock only to find that the games were canceled due to squashy fields. Ah well, it was a lovely day (ironically enough) and we wandered around town for an hour until the next train arrived to take us back to Glasgow.

See how pretty it was? Shame about the games and the squashy fields.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter warmth - on ice!

Wow did I have a great meal and a lovely time at Toro Bravo in Portland. One of the very best bits of the meal was the cocktail I had for dessert: rum and a spiced simple syrup, on ice, with a cinnamon stick garnish.

My friend Rachel recognized the rum, so I asked her later what its name was: Flor de Cana. She then went a step further and called the restaurant to find out WHICH of the many types of that label is on their menu. They were delighted the drink made such an impression, and told her it was the 7-year-old Flor de Cana, which is probably the Grand Reserve. I tried to buy some, but it was sold out, so I contented myself with the 5-year-old version instead.

Then I made simple syrup:
In a small pan, combine 1 c water, 1 c sugar, 1 cinnamon stick (in pieces) and 1 T whole cloves
Bring to a boil, then cook over low heat for 10 minutes.
Remove the miscellaneous bits, and let the syrup cool.

Mix it with rum for maximum deliciousness.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Recipe Review: Tomato Relish

Words can't express how I love the Mediterranean Tosti at Portland's Grand Central Bakery. I am mostly the type of person who likes to try new things - new restaurants, or at least new things if I go back to a known entity. The Mediterranean Tosti not only made me a repeat orderer, it is something I seek out every single time I'm in Portland.

So you can perhaps imagine my delight when my friend AnotherYarn alerted me to the fact that the recipe for the key component to the sandwich of my dreams is available online! It is, as they say, to squee. So last weekend I made tomato relish. It's good, if not quite perfect, but I can at least start tweaking it now that I have a good base recipe! I think I'll be eating this for a little while though. (happily!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recipe review: Pioneer Woman's Truffles

The Pioneer Woman's truffles is a very straightforward recipe. Combine chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and melt. Add some vanilla.

Cool the mixture so it's mostly-solid,

and roll into truffles. She provides a recipe for making a coating, but I just rolled them in cocoa powder, then crunched a bit of salt on top.

I dunno, I didn't love them. First of all they were a pain in the ass to roll. That's probably because when it was in the pre-rolled phase, the lump of chocolate was WAY TOO COLD and my apartment was so chilly the lump was impossible to soften. It took me well over an hour to produce the results above.

Secondly, I got crazy and purchased vanilla paste, and used that instead of vanilla extract. I think it was just too much flavor.

If I ever do these again, I will use better chocolate, will skip the extract or will use plain ol' vanilla extract - not paste - and I will do it when the chocolate mass is merely cool, not solid as a fricking rock.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recipe review: Cheese thins

Apparently I'm not the only blogger taken with Smitten Kitchen's Cheese Straws. I liked that another blogger changed them into Cheese Thins, so I made them to bring to a party.

I probably put in too much cheese, as I didn't measure the shredded results, and don't yet have a digital scale.

But it's pretty easy to make - mix up a few dry ingredients, then add enough liquid to make it cohere into a dough-lump.

Then you shape it into logs, and chill.

The next day, I sliced the logs from the end to make thin discs of dough, and baked them. I did not take pictures though, but suffice to say they were yummy! They'd be best to make and serve still-warm, with your home smelling of warm cheesy goodness. I brought them to someone's house, so some of the yumminess was lost, but they got entirely consumed, so I must have done something right!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Boozy goodness

I'm part of a wine group, which I'll explain at length some other day. Suffice for now to say that they've introduced me to some really yummy liqueurs. I've tried nocino, made from green walnuts;  chartreuse, which really is as green as its name implies; and was lately introduced to Genepi - a specialty of the French Alps, and not available in this country. It's probably a cousin to chartreuse, since they're both made with a wide array of herbs.

I recently purchased a liqueur called Zwack in an attempt to replicate the Genepi experience - it., too, is made from lots of herbs. It's probably similar - I'd have to do some side-by-side comparison to have a better feel for the nuances.

Anyway, I was in Portland this last weekend and was delighted to see a big bottle of Genepi on my hosts' kitchen counter, a gift from a coworker visiting from Switzerland! I nobly helped them sample it. I also learned that I like Aperol (similar to Campari, but about half the alcohol - no wonder I like it!) and St. Germain (made from elderflowers, and in some really lovely packaging). No, getting up the next morning wasn't painful at all.. why do you ask? (Actually, the alcohol wasn't a problem. Staying up past midnight playing Rock Band? That was a problem.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A drink for a chilly evening

I went to Ireland & Scotland this spring, and among about a billion other great things, I spent a very amazing evening with my two friends Sue and Deirdre, in a small pub called Egan's, in a teeny town called Liscannor in County Clare. We made some friends, who introduced me to the wonders of a hot whiskey. Here's Donal bringing me my first (but oh, no, not my last!):

Look at that gorgeous thing! They weren't using fancy whiskey, or complicated ingredients. You only need a few things:
 - whiskey (whisky-no-e if you're in Scotland.. or in Canada, according to wikipedia) (I only had the nerve to try to order a hot whisky once when I was in Scotland, and the waiter had no idea what I was talking about. So maybe this is an Irish drink?)
 - hot water
 - lemon slice
 - cloves

You stud the lemon with the cloves and combine all the ingredients in a lovely glass.. or in a mug if you're me.


So very lovely! 

Happy December!

Wow, it's December. I wonder if there will EVER be a year that feels like it's twelve months long (umm.. for good reasons - no need to tempt fate)?

So, we're sliding to the end. I've got most of my Christmas shopping done. I decided at the nearly-last-minute to bust out some craftiness as well, so I'm working on that in my spare time. (Fortunately "working" on it means I can watch dvds and hang out on my couch, so it's not that onerous.)

I've got my travel plans made - Portland this weekend, Rhode Island at the end of the year.

It's also nearly the end of my fiscal year! I know I'm incredibly blessed in so many ways, and for the last few years I've been tracking my finances. Each year I've tried to give a little more than the year before, and I decided that this year I'd donate 1% of my take-home income to charity - an embarrassing pittance to be sure, but on the other hand, setting a conscious goal like that makes sure I meet it! And I can go for 2% next year, if I want to.

Last year I donated to National Public Radio, the Alameda County Food Bank, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity, This American Life, and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center

I already participated in my local NPR station's annual fund drive, leaving those five groups up for consideration. I'll probably donate $20 to This American Life for its sheer entertainment value. I think of the other organizations, the food bank is in the direst need. I'll probably give them the largest donation, and divide the rest of the money equally among the remaining three.

And next year I'm going to donate 2% of my take-home.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I'm thankful for my sane and loving family.

I'm thankful that my brother's tour in Afghanistan has been busy but largely boring.

I'm thankful for good friends and annual traditions, in my no-longer-so-new California home, and in Oregon as well.


I'm thankful that I am employed and get to see people who are friends on a daily basis.

I'm thankful I am healthy. I'm thankful I am emotionally, financially, and physically fit. I'm thankful for beauty and fresh air and the ability to enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cookie madness!

My friend Astra comes from Wisconsin, with a large extended family. One of their traditions is to gather after Thanksgiving and cook a massive amount of cookies, to then swap with each other. Last year she participated from afar, mailing at least nine dozen cookies, and receiving nine different types of cookies, a dozen of each. It was a lot of work!

This year she asked if I'd like to bake with her, and split the booty. I jumped at the chance!

Our submission was Nutella ravioli cookies. We made three batches of sugar cookie dough, and spent a long time rolling, cutting circles, blopping Nutella into the discs of dough, then folding & pinching the edges before baking.

Then we spread out the cookies, and melted some chocolate to decorate them. (In the process of doing that, I found out what chocolate looks like when it seizes... very very ugly & inedible. Thank goodness I bought two bags of chocolate chips.)

(Note how dark it's gotten outside!)

Then, for fun, we made some other cookies: Munchable Mice. They were cute, but a fair amount of work!

You make sugar cookie dough using 2 1/2 cups flour. Then you split the dough into two heaps. Into one, mix a half-cup of cocoa; into the other heap, mix a half-cup of flour. Then make little (3-inch?) logs:

Use currants to make eyes, and sunflower seeds to make ears (the recipe calls for peanuts, which would be bigger ears - but I had sunflower seeds on hand so we punted):


Yes, it's a pain, but they come out SO CUTE:

That's licorice as tails - the recipe calls for licorice whips, but all we had was licorice pieces, so tried cutting them into tails. It worked okay, but longer would've been cuter. I'm SO glad we didn't do a triple-batch of these little guys!

Mushroom-barley soup

Today's lunch group offering is something I made on Friday when I got home from work. I was hungry, so I nuked some leftover roasted veggies to hold me until the soup was ready. Then I opened a bottle of wine, and got to chopping.

Mushroom-barley soup

In a stock pot, heat some oil, then add:
1/2 onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, diced small

After about five minutes, add 1 or 2 pounds of sliced brown mushrooms. Stir occasionally as they release their liquids. Don't let it cook totally dry. When there's still some liquid left, add:

3 carrots, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
pinches of salt, pepper, sage, and oregano

pour in approximately 4 cups of water, and a cup of barley. Bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour or so. Enjoy!

I'm going to serve it to lunch group with some Parmesan to sprinkle on top, and with a side of salad greens and a batch of tahini goddess dressing from the excellent "Jam it, pickle it, cure it : and other cooking projects."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Recipe review: Savory Pumpkin Pie

For this week's lunch group, I made savory pumpkin pie. Okay, so the blogger who posted the recipe is Canadian. Therefore the recipe is actually Savoury Pumpkin Pie, or Kolokithopita. (Aside: I notice he also has a recipe for zucchini pie, and it's also called Kolokithopita, so I assume Kolokithopita = squash pie in Greek).

I won't rip off his recipe, but it's basically:
layer phyllo dough in a pie pan
combine pumpkin, egg, feta, sage, and pepper; pour into the pan, and bake.

I made the recipe as written, but then I realized two things: a) the pie plate wasn't very full; b) I had about 1.5 cups of pumpkin left (stupid can sizes). So, I sort of halved the recipe and made a second batch of the pumpkin/egg/feta/sage combo, and poured it on top of the original layer. (You couldn't tell, fortunately.)

The recipe was easy, that's for sure. It tasted good, but upon discussing it with one of the Lunchers, we agreed it seemed to be missing a flavor note. I think it needed something bright/acid in it, probably some lemon juice. It was easy to make, and I might do it again, but I'll definitely tweak it a bit. You're shocked, I know!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday baking: Quadruple-ginger/pear bundt...bread pudding

I'm going to a fall party at a friend's house today, and we're to bring a favorite autumn dish. I decided to bake something, and thanks to Mary the Food Librarian, I know that TODAY is International Bundt Day (I'm not sure who says so, but it works for me). So I decided to make a bundt cake.

Her pear-ginger bundt looked good, though in her notes she said it needs more ginger. That reminded me of the ginger cake I made earlier this spring. I decided to combine the two, and the Quadruple-Ginger/Pear Bundt cake was born!

I had most of the ingredients at home, except the ginger.

It was a bit laborious to grate the 1/4 cup fresh ginger, and dice the candied ginger, AND make ginger simple syrup, but I think it'll add some amazing flavor to the cake.

Quadruple-Ginger/Pear Bundt 

Ginger simple syrup combine:
  3/4 c water
  3/4 c sugar
  2-inch slice (or so) of ginger, peeled and sliced
Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove ginger & allow to cool.

Prep work (do while the syrup is simmering & cooling):
 * peel, core and dice 2 pears (I used Anjou, I think)
 * peel and shred 1/4 c ginger
 * dice about 3 T candied ginger; add a bit of sugar to keep it from sticking together.

Dry ingredients - in a bowl, combine:
  3 c flour
  1 1/2 c sugar
  2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  1/2 tsp salt
  2 tsp ground ginger
  1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Wet ingredients - in a larger bowl, combine:
  1 c milk
  2/3 c canola oil
  3 eggs & 1 egg white
  the 1/4 c grated fresh ginger from above
  1/2 c of the ginger simple syrup from above

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones; mix gently. Add the diced pears to the batter. Pour into a greased & floured bundt pan. Sprinkle on the diced candied ginger, and use a spatula to work it into the batter.

Bake at 350 for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick or knife inserted in the cake comes out clean.


Well, it smells great. Unfortunately it broke a bit when it came out of the pan. Did I not cool it long enough? (I waited ten minutes) Did I not grease & flour the pan well enough? (or should I skip that step in my nonstick pan?

Maybe I should've whipped some cream and called it good...but I didn't think of that. Since I'm bringing this to a party, I tried slicing it and arranging it on a plate, but that didn't look any better. As a last-minute move, I've cut up about 3/4 of the cake and put it in a pan with 3 eggs and 1 3/4 cups of milk, then baked it at 350 for another 40 minutes. It's bread pudding!!!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


So, I stopped shopping in October and found that it made a BIG difference in my spending. I decided to do it this month too.

But then I went to a nursery for a class on worm composting (more on that later) (it was fascinating), and I slipped. I bought two small blueberry bushes, two pots, and dirt. For a total of 87 dollars and some change. If I guesstimate that blueberries go for 2 bucks a pound, it'll take 44 POUNDS of blueberries to get me to the break-even point.

Here's hoping! I'm kind of a fool for blueberries - and they're in a container so I can take them with me if I ever move!

They are the Sunshine Blue and Southmoon varietals.. but I can't tell them apart! 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Company-worthy muffins

I had some friends stay with me for a couple of nights this weekend. I am SO inspired by the amazing adventure they're on: they got married in Northern Ireland in May and have been traveling for the last six months, with one more month on the road before they move to Australia. WOW. There's one reason to save a lot of money (it IS very expensive to be cool like that)!

They were excellent guests, and went off entertaining themselves all day Saturday. I was thinking that the thing I would most miss if I were traveling would be home-made food. I like to bake on weekends anyway, so I decided to make some muffins to share with my guests.

As usual, I flipped through some printed-out recipes, mentally rummaged in my cabinets, and looked at some cookbooks. I knew I had 2 eggs, a few apples, and the usual baking ingredients. I settled on a muffin from an old standby, The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home... but of course I modified it! I added oats to the mix, used their suggestion for grated apples, but also diced some (because I like chunks in my muffins, and because grating is a pain). Since this was for company, I splashed out with a yummy topping as well.

Here's the recipe. The result was fantastic!

Company-worthy Muffins
preheat oven to 350; line 12 muffin cups with paper inserts (or butter & flour the pan)

Topping - in a small bowl, combine:
   1/4 c flour
   1/4 c oats
   1/8 c brown sugar
   2 T butter chopped into pieces. Use your fingers to combine these into a crumbled mixture.

Wet ingredients - in a large bowl, mix together:
   2 eggs
   1/2 cup vegetable oil
   3/4 cup packed brown sugar
   1/2 tsp vanilla extract
   1/2 - 3/4 cup grated, squeezed apple (see note below)
   1 c diced apple

Dry ingredients - in a separate bowl, combine:
   1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
   1/2 cup rolled oats
   1 tsp baking powder
   1/2 tsp salt
   3/4 tsp cinnamon
   1/4 tsp ground cloves (I haven't tried this but I bet it will make the muffins even better)

Gently stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones. As soon as the baking powder gets dampened it starts its magic leavening work, so you don't want to over-mix, and you want to get it in the oven pretty promptly.

Once the batter is combined, put it into the muffin cups so they are evenly filled. Sprinkle with the topping mixture. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.

Note: grating apples was new to me. It's kind of a pain: you have to keep an eye on the core so you don't get seeds and hard bits in your muffin. It's also messy! I was using honeycrisp apples which have been delicious and extremely juicy this year: luckily I was grating onto a plate which had a raised lip. Once I'd worked through 2 small apples I gathered the shreds into my hand and squeezed out the excess juice (which I later drank.. yum). Then I packed it into a cup measure - 2 small apples worked out to a bit more than 1/2 cup. At that point I gave up and diced another apple or so. It wound up being a nice combination to have the apples in two different shapes in the muffins.

Serve with a glass of milk and good company.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jammity jam jam

In the past year I've become rather interested in the fine art of canning. I haven't done much of it yet - in fact, I've only made two half-batches of jam; each was a learning experience.

The first batch of jam I made was sour cherry. Sour cherries aren't grown locally, and I was delighted when a friend casually mentioned that the local foodie mecca had some back in August. I promptly bought six pounds! So far I've only used about two pounds which, after thawing, pitting, and chopping, worked out to about a cup of fruit. (It also yielded about 32 ounces of sour cherry juice, which I brought to a potluck to mix with sparkling lemonade: YUM.) The main lesson from this jamming experience was that I should've chopped the fruit MUCH finer. As you can see above, it's lovely in the jars, but very chunky on top and then truly jam-like on the bottom layer. I only have a crappy apartment freezer so I'd really better get onto using the rest of those cherries - they're already starting to look a bit frosty, though I've got them double-wrapped in the freezer.

The second batch of jam I made was blueberry-peach. It's.. firm. Very firm. Almost fruit-leather-in-a-jar firm. I don't know why. Well.. I have some theories.
  • Pectin Issues: When I made the sour cherry jam, it was a half-batch; the directions on the pectin said to use half the packet, 2 Tbsp. When I made the blueberry-peach jam, I didn't measure the leftover pectin - I just dumped it in. So, maybe I used too much pectin.
  • Sugar Impact: I didn't use the full amount of sugar called for. I rather expected that it might then be more runny. Was that wrong? 
  • Type of fruit: I've learned that different fruits have different amounts of pectin, I guess, so maybe need less than others to achieve firmness. I.. really don't know for sure.
  • Pureeing the fruit: I used my immersion blender to process the fruit so it wasn't chunky like the cherry jam. I don't know if or how that affected anything. Actually, that leads me to my fifth theory:
  • Pure and Total Ignorance: I just don't know much about jamming, what works, what doesn't, what affects what, etc. So I clearly did something wrong but don't really know what!
Anyway, it's all a learning curve. I don't even have a proper canning setup right now: So far I've boiled the jars in a large soup pot (sort of lined with a towel.. but that tends to float upward) and hoped for the best. They haven't cracked, chipped, or shattered yet, but one of these days I'm going to need to get a proper canning pot & rack.

I am hesitating because I don't have a lot of storage in my kitchen, so I am loathe to purchase a really big pot that can only be used for one thing. The less-expensive canning pots are very thin metal, and so I assume they aren't great for actually cooking or making things like soup (plus, I have an awesome soup pot already). I've found a much more-expensive and more-sturdy-seeming pot that works for canning, but I can't tell from the interwebs if I could also cook in it. Not that I'd NEED to cook in it, but I don't want a really big single-purpose item if I can help it. So, that's my hesitation. Well, that, and being back on a no-shopping month.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

fun doings: Alcatraz!

A few weeks ago I got what is probably the chance of a lifetime to spend the night on Alcatraz. Apparently there's some complicated lottery system; the guy who coordinated my group has been trying to get to sleep on The Rock for 9 years. It was great!

Each overnight is limited to 35 people. We met at Pier 33 in San Francisco, and at 4ish we got on an empty boat to Alcatraz - tourists were still on the island but no new day trippers were allowed. It's a 12-minute ride over, and once we arrived there was a fair amount of hurry-up-and-wait, but we eventually put our food in a storage room and our luggage in a truck, and then did a service project - we helped sweep a path clear of the fallen detritus after a big storm last week. It was fairly messy, but with 35 of us, we cleaned it up quickly, and had plenty of time to admire the incredible sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm so glad this is a national park and not some rich person's private reserve! 

After the service component, we reconvened with our ranger who had agreed to stay with  us, and he gave is a brief overview of our evening's plan: first, we'd watch a showing of a short movie about Alcatraz. Then we'd go up and put our baggage into the cells where we'd be staying. Following that we'd take the audio tour that everyone gets (it was very good, if quite realistic and creepy!). After the audio tour we were able to regroup down at the pier where we had a BBQ set up, and shared our potluck meal.

As we were eating, the final evening tourists departed on the last boat, around 9:30. We packed up our meal and went with "our" ranger for an amazing exploration. He spent at least three hours with us going over all manner of the history of the island, using the buildings to illustrate the history of the island. We also heard about some of the escape attempts and lots of details of life there. We got to go up in the guards' gun gallery (which overlooked the cell blocks), into the former chapel/movie theater, up on the roof with its amazing views of San Francisoc, down in the basement which dates to the 1840s, and was some of the first places where they put military prisoners, and even out into the prisoners' yard where they played baseball and walked around a couple of hours a week. We even got to see how the mechanism for selecting & opening some or all of the cell doors!

We finished off by being allowed up into the hospital wing which was SUPER creepy as most of it was dark. We'd signed waivers before we arrived, so were allowed to go pretty much where we wanted. we were turned loose around 12:30 or 1 am. After poking around the hospital, I made a final trek allllll the way outside to the bathrooms before going to bed in my cell. They couldn't get the lights off in the main room, unfortunately, and it was warmer than I'd expected, but I was pretty tired after walking around on concrete all evening, so I slept okay.

We regrouped at 7:45am in the spectacular morning light to pack up and start getting our luggage out, and got to have a bit more of a tour outside before gathering to wait for the boat. We planned to have breakfast on the other side, but happily scrounged the leftovers from the previous evening's potluck while we waited for the 9am boat. We got back, some of us stuck our luggage in one person's truck, and then had breakfast together before splitting up. What a set of memories!


We even got cool patches:

Friday, October 30, 2009

DIY vanilla extract!

I've been interested in making vanilla extract for a long time now. Those little bottles are expensive, the contents don't taste that good, and my sister has been making extract for ages. Therefore, I must do it!

The first hold-up was that I didn't have any vanilla beans. Well, I work about a mile from foodie Mecca in the form of the Berkeley Bowl, so I did some poking around. Not only do they have vanilla beans, they have screamingly fresh ones! First I found dried vanilla beans starting at eight bucks. That seemed steep, but I was resigned to it.. until I stumbled on a bag of FOUR beans for four bucks in the bulk section. (As a side note, they smelled a LOT like the super sweet body lotion/candles.. who knew they were so true in their scent?)

So... with four beans in hand, I started reading up on making extract. Wow, do the recipes vary. I wound up going with 1 bean (chopped & scraped) per 4 ounces vodka. I bought a bottle of 8-dollar vodka at Trader Joe's and used 12 ounces and three beans. I'm saving the final bean for.. something.

It's only been a few weeks but it already looks great. I did a taste test between MY extract and some store-bought and I think mine tastes better already. Just wait until it's properly aged! (The ubiquitous They say six months.)