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.