Saturday, December 31, 2011

End-of-year roundup

2011 has definitely been a year of adventure and surprises. The hands-down coolest and most unexpected thing was learning to scuba dive, and deploying my new skills in the waters of Honduras. The most shocking/saddest thing is a tie in three parts, is all about death, and that's enough said about that for this post.

 Slot canyon hike in New Mexico
I traveled a lot - to New Mexico with friends, Los Angeles, Florida, Honduras, Greece (yes, on miles), Portland, Ashland, and Yosemite (my sixth visit in five years - go me!).
 Yosemite - August 2011
I didn't hike too much this year: once in New Mexico, once in wine country, and a couple of hikes while at Yosemite (I'm detecting a high altitude trend!). I sort-of camped (as in, slept in a tent on the ground, but didn't hike or have a fire) at a bluegrass weekend event. The garden is limping along still.

Regular events:
- Lunch group wrapped up this year, after a four-year run (April 2007 til about June 2011). It was nice, and taught me a lot about cooking, but I don't know if I want to resume or not. I'm leaning toward not.
- My wine group is going semi-strong. I think it started in June 2008 and I can't honestly say I've absorbed much wine knowledge, but I've gotten to make some super fun desserts and other food offerings, and have had the experience of hosting a couple of times, so that's lovely.
- I still greatly enjoy participating in pub hunts and longer-form treasure hunts on a regular basis!
- This summer's Ashland trip was the fifth and continues to be a pleasure; my December Portland visit marked the 16th version of a cookie party there!

It's easy to forget I ever learned to scuba dive, and already my fledgling skills have shriveled to the point I'd probably want to take a refresher before diving much - but whenever I really think about it and recall the experience, I SO want another tropical diving vacation!
See? I look good in tropical splendor
I also went to cheese school a few times, learned how to process and filter beeswax, joined SFMOMA and got some culture, and got in another round of sea chanties. I almost-completely gutted and re-populated my bedroom. I infused some booze. I started to really get into bluegrass and am looking forward to volunteering at 2012's SFBOT for the fourth year.

And oh yeah, I turned 40. Honestly, with everything else going on it didn't seem like that big a deal! I was so grateful my Toronto friend made the trip to celebrate, and a local friend hosted a barbecue (featuring my favorite dish that she makes, and some killer sliders her hubby made!) (also featuring a hi-LAR-ious hot flash fan and other Turning Forty decorations!).

What's missing?
So, what didn't I do this year? I didn't volunteer too much - aside from a few gigs at February's SFBOT I don't think I did any. My friend/neighbor and I didn't do a BBQ series this year and I got asked about it a few times. I didn't host people at my place very often - I hosted a dinner in February, and a pre-concert get-together in December, and had guests stay a few nights, but that's really it.

So for 2012 I shall: volunteer more (already set to volunteer at The Crucible in January, and plan to do SFBOT in February); host people at my place more; have a few more BBQs in the warm weather months.

Monday, December 12, 2011


One of my favorite December traditions is an annual party I attend in Portland. It started as a cookie decorating party in 1996, and we've held some version of it every year since, making 2011's the 16th! That's mind boggling.

Counting me, seven of the adults in the picture have been there since the beginning. I've been to six weddings of people in this picture, helped name one of the kids, and got to meet one of the babies on the day of her birth! I feel super lucky to have this richness in my life. Hurrah for holiday traditions!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


December, at last and so soon. It's been quite a year, but I won't get too cocky just yet - there are still 24 days left!
I always have a little trouble with photos for my winter month selections - I'm a traditionalist and think the pictures should at least be winterish even if I don't see that kind of weather much. Add in a desire for a Christmaslike December shot and it's tricky!

This month's picture is the very last of my New Zealand shots. I took it in a cemetery in Rotorua, in the tiny village of Ohinemutu.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Catch-up time

It's been a busy couple of weeks off the ol' blog:
  • I'm wrapping up my beeswax project - and have managed to get wax and/or oil on every item of clothing I own, I swear! I even went the extra mile and found someone on Etsy to make labels for me. I'll link to her shop when I have pictures of the assembled project.
  • I created and ordered the calendars for 2012. I think the layout will be better this year, though not every page will have a caption. The interface I use was eating up too much photo space with the text block, even though I wanted unobtrusive lettering. Fine, be that way. 
  • Cleaned, made delicious apps, and had a few people over before going to see Pink Martini in concert. I wasn't going to go see them since I've gone to at least 8 shows by them, but Groupon posted a deal for $22 tickets! It was worth way more than twenty-two bucks, too - every time I see them I remember how very happy they make me feel. Their live performance energy is just so very positive!
  • I made a SUPER yummy side dish for Thanksgiving: Butternut squash, kale, and cheddar bread pudding
  • Checked in on my various boozy projects. The nocino is incredibly bitter and undrinkable, which I think is normal for its youth. This summer I wound up making two kinds of cherry bounce; the bourbon/sweet cherry is okay, but the vodka/sour cherry is outstanding, if sweet (you add sugar).
  • Knitting is also proceeding apace, but those will be held in reserve for post-Christmas posting, if ever.
Stay tuned for the wrap-up on the various projects! I might even write up the end of the beeswax story even though a couple of the recipients may then have their Christmas surprise blown. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

International bundt day!!!

Mary the food librarian is at it again: It's International Bundt Day and yes, she likes big bundts! As it happens, so do I!

This is my third year participating; in 2009 I invented ginger-pear bundt. In 2010 I made Mexican hot chocolate bundt.

This year I played it simple: Spice cake with brown butter/vanilla glaze and yes, that frosting really did make the cake. It was greeted with much admiration and delight!
Do all bakers criticize their products? I thought the flavor was great but the crumb was too dense. I think I overmixed it. Still, it was delicious and I had no leftovers, so I couldn't critique it very carefully!

You'll find the recipe here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wax: woot!

Success, dear readers. I filtered the beeswax and am left with something really beautiful:

How'd I do it, you ask? Well, I re-melted the wax that I'd melted into cans:
 Then poured it VERY carefully through cheesecloth I'd rubber-banded to the top of two milk cartons:
and beamed approvingly at the clean results:
I wasn't totally confident the milk cartons could withstand the heat, but they held up just fine. Once the wax solidified I peeled off the carton and weighed the wax blocks: 24 ounces! It's so lovely and I can't wait for the final steps in my project.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dia de los muertes/day of the dead

The Bay Area has a huge Latino community and I finally got to attend the Dia de los Muertos street festival that's held here annually. It was actually a couple of days early, as the traditional days of celebration are November 1st and 2nd. I've done just a little reading, and it seems like the 1st is all souls day and/or the day to remember dead infants and children; the 2nd is to remember adults who have died.
Families and loved ones make memorial altars and artwork. Much of what we saw were elaborate works made from seeds, flowers, candles, and chalk.
I thought it was super cool that a Girl Scout troop did a memorial for the founder of the Girl Scouts - someone even demonstrated how to cut the Girl Scout logo into the decorative tissue paper!
Even though it's a day of remembrance, if there's an element of sadness it must be saved for when the tourists go home - I saw tons of families, and people dancing and eating and socializing. I had some pretty awesome food, too! The most interesting thing was the pan de muertos helados: ice cream made with some of the bread of the dead, which looked like an eggy sweet loaf kind of like Jewish challah and Portuguese massa. My ice cream was mostly vanilla, perhaps a bit custardy, with bread crumbs in it. Kind of weird, but definitely delicious!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Play with your food: funky soup!

I don't even know what to call this one.. suggestions?

Over the last few years I've been exposed to the idea of sticking spaghetti through uncooked hotdogs or sausages, as a way to amuse kids (or the adults who are feeding them). Well we don't need no kids to play with food!

I cut up some nice-ish sausages and jabbed spaghetti through them:
then I dropped them into soup I made up (canned tomatoes, chopped-up onion, carrot and celery, some spices):
And as expected, they cooked into noodle-sausage goodness!
It reheated just fine and made for amusing lunches that week. (well, I was privately amused; I'm not claiming there was general hilarity.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy Oakland

It's been five years since I moved to Oakland from Portland. When I handed in my driver's license, the woman at the DMV joked, "You're going the wrong way!" I smiled, but my heart wasn't in it - I had by no means come to terms with my geographical change. 

These five years have taught me a lot: primarily, the truth to the saying "wherever you go, there you are" - I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to adapt to my new life. I've also learned that of all the places I could have settled in the Bay Area, Oakland is definitely the best fit for me. It's walkable, has friendly residents, and is full of interesting shops, great food, and wonderful old buildings. My neighborhood is probably the best I'll ever live in, and I appreciate my short commute daily. 

But that's not the message the world hears about Oakland. Instead, we're famous for our crime, our riots, and now our activist movement. 

I won't be at tomorrow's general strike, partly because I've got a ticket to an event, and partly because I'm a coward - I almost expect things to go poorly after dark. Yet if people like me don't go stand up for Oakland, who will? 

I've lived in three cities and Oakland occupies its share of my heart. I hope the demonstrators can keep the peace tomorrow and in the days going forward. Perhaps I'll even make it out to the next demonstration! 

2011:10 + 11

Oops, I missed last month's calendar post. I hope that doesn't mean my brother is still looking at the September image!

October's and November's calendar pages feature pictures taken six months and a quarter of the world away from each other - yet they are certainly autumnal!
Albert Park in Auckland was a great place for people-watching and fresh air after spending the night on a plane. It was very weird to go from spring in the Bay Area to fall in New Zealand, but the temperature was similar, and even though I knew the sun was low in the northern sky, I couldn't get my body to believe it.
Grape vines in real autumn: this was at a winery in Sonoma Valley last November - a bit gray and rainy, just like I like it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Play with your food: Egg-waffles!

I'm inspired by a couple of recent kitchen sessions to do a new series (by which I mean two posts.. maybe more): Play with your food!

One of my coworkers forwarded me a blog post about cooking eggs on a waffle iron and I was totally thrilled by the idea. It's just silly enough to make for a fun weekend breakfast. Fortunately I had an amenable houseguest this weekend so guess what we did? Science breakfast!
Mix 3 eggs + 2 egg whites in a bowl (because that's what I had handy). Set the waffle iron on lowish - mine has 5 settings and I had it around 1.5. Pour in some egg and cook it! Since we were doing scrambled eggs I first tried cooking with it open, but decided it was better (and more waffle-y) to close the iron as they cooked. I didn't time it, just gave it a few minutes. I thought I might need chopsticks to pull the egg off the iron, but a fork did the trick.
Easy, yummy, and fun!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waxy progression

Okay! We left off with a pot full of sludge and me full of skepticism. I somehow imagined that the wax would solidify in a tidy ball suspended in the water. I was wrong, but it DID come together:
I took this picture after I'd dislodged the disk and drained the honey-infused water underneath, but you get the idea. It was about an inch thick or so; its bottom was covered with hardened ... stuff. I scraped it off as best I could:
Then I hacked the disk of wax into bits, which took some serious brute strength:
I put the bits in some cans and set the cans in a pot partially full of water.

I also put some water in the cans to help encourage the wax to melt. I'm not sure that was strictly necessary, but it worked!
I added the contents of the smaller can to one of the bigger ones, just for the sake of tidiness.

So now what? The bottom of each can will have an inch of water or so. Then there will be some miscellaneous crap adhering to the bottom of the wax, and then a column of wax. It could probably stand yet another round of filtering before it gets used, but we'll see. I feel like it's definitely come a long way in a couple of days.

I've also done a lot of cooking in the two evenings in the kitchen: mesquite chocolate chip cookies, curried pumpkin coconut soup, muhammara, and a ravioli-broccoli-tomato-cheese bake (because I needed the can the tomatoes were occupying!). I'm a little sick of kitchen projects for the moment, but look for more wax updates in a week or so.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Waxing skepticism

Well, I got my hands on the beeswax today. I don't know if it can even be called beeswax yet - it's the cappings (ends cut off the honeycomb cells) and other messy bits.
One online source suggested putting the cappings in water on low heat. So, fingers crossed, I gave it a shot. At first it didn't seem like anything was happening.
But after a while the big ol' clump seemed to break down.
And then I could see golden liquid starting to take over.

And even more liquid:
Until finally it all seemed melted:
Now I'm supposed to let it cool down. The wax will allegedly form a block, with the cruddy bee bits and other detritus stuck to the bottom of the block, where I can cut it off. I dunno though: 
I find it hard to believe this is going to work. Time will tell!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wax on

One if my friends is a beekeeper, among other identities. I've visited the hives once and loved getting to see a queen, and a new bee emerging from its growth chamber, and being surrounded by bees just going about their work. I didn't love getting stung twice! I've heard that bee keepers who get stung regularly become immune to the sting but I find it hard to believe, and would not want to get the regular sting exposure that lends immunity.

Alas, I didn't have my camera when I visited the hives but hope to return some time. For now though I'm interested in the bees for their wax. One of the hives is the most well-established and has already produced a bunch of gorgeous honey. With honey comes beeswax, and I will soon be in receipt of a bunch of it.

I've never worked with beeswax before but have another friend who has, and I've been reading up on it. Apparently it's going to be full of miscellaneous bee bits and other detritus, so you have to carefully melt and filter it before you can do anything with it. So that should be my project this week. If I don't burn down my apartment, I will document and write about it!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Get a swim suit. Use it!

For years and years I had a bathing suit that I didn't love, but I had it in case of emergency swimming need. As an adult I haven't lived in hot places where swimming happens much, so I rarely if ever used it.

Finally in the fall of 2009, for no reason I can recall, I decided it was Time for a New Swim Suit. I figured this would be rather painful (in that whole moment of truth sort of way) but I learned that Lands End offers lots of sizes and combinations, and you can return their products to Sears. I must have ordered ten billion different bits and pieces, but I found a suit that works for me!

And since then I've gone to hot springs with a friend in New Zealand,
went to an amazing spa in the high desert of New Mexico,

learned to scuba dive in preparation for a week of sun and sand and scuba and snorkeling in Honduras,
swam and waded and swam again in Greece,
and just came back from a weekend in a cottage with a hot tub, where I could hang out with friends in steamy bubbly bliss. Get a swim suit! Make a point of using it!

Monday, October 3, 2011


Well, the weekend went better than I thought it would. It even went better than I dared hope! My sick friend didn't die, and my widowed friend was moved out of her house in an incredibly efficient manner.

It was really an impressive amount of work but it was well organized. We arrived at the house to see a big dumpster, a storage pod, and a moving truck. Everything in the house was NOT packed but was labeled according to its ultimate destination (new apartment, storage, trash, donation) so the helpers could work independently. There was also a stack of index cards with various tasks on it (gather chemicals in laundry room and put on Haz Mat pile; remove pictures from walls; etc.) so we could tackle those jobs as well.

My friend held up in what must have been an unthinkably hard day. In some ways I'm sure it was a relief, to be out of the house, into an apartment, and DONE with all that stuff in all one day. In other ways it's a very definite end to a part of her life that was very happy and all too short.

Happy October!

Friday, September 30, 2011


It's been a rough year, and one of my friends is hanging by a thread today.
So I'm focusing on appreciating the world around me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

WIP: alllllmost there

I probably won't get a picture in time for this post, but remember that sweater that I ripped out in March?  Yep, it's almost done. yes, this time I think it fits (though I will stretch it a leetle bit when I block it). yes, I am very excited!!!!! Then maybe I can finish the pair of socks for a friend that I started in May. And maybe do something about Halloween/Christmas...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Recipe Review, or: That's right, I'm a genius

In August I made Tartelette's Chocolate Hazelnut Meringue cake.

The thing I love about baking is this: if you follow the directions carefully, usually it comes out okay. In this case it came out MORE than okay: I made it for my wine group and received several raves a week later.

The recipe has you make a chocolate cake, bake it for 20 minutes, add meringue, and bake for about 20 minutes more. My only fault is that I didn't realize how sturdy the meringue is - when I pulled the cake out, it was puffed up nearly to the top of the pan, and I thought I had to contain the meringue within the walls of the pan, so I purposely thumped the pan a few times to deflate the baking cake. It tasted fine, but it looked a bit slumpy on the sides:

So next time I'll have greater faith in the power of meringue to stand up without the help of the pan walls. Either that or I'll make all individuals next time - this sample came out great!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

WIP Wednesdsay: Coloriffic

It's not really a WIP since I finished it in the course of a weekend, but this is so pretty I am dying to brag.
All it needs is buttons - and then to be wrapped around a baby!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Garden update

Now that summer is ending in the rest of the world, it's really kicking in here in the Bay Area. Sunshine! 70 degrees! Who cares if I'm in the mood for fall? Not my garden!

I harvested a bunch of cherry tomatoes last weekend. I was home sick but managed (barely!) to summon the energy to halve and slow-roast these. Now I have a jar of slow-roasted tomato goodness in my fridge - great for pasta!
Those tomatoes were from a hybrid plant I bought at the nursery, so I can't harvest the seeds and use them next year (that only works reliably with heirlooms). So I bought some heirloom tomatoes at the market and am saving their seeds so I can grow these next year:
I'm also saving the seeds from some of the massively prolific green beans we grew. I think they're blue lake green beans, but I'm not positive. I just pulled some of the shriveled pods off the vine and pulled out the hardened beans. I don't know if it'll work but it's worth a try!

Monday, September 5, 2011

recipes: birthday cake

Belated, I know, but wow did I make a great cake for my birthday party! Look at it in all its lopsided beauty!
I was inspired by a post on Sprouted Kitchen; when a friend offered to host a birthday BBQ I told her I really did want to bring myself a cake since it's fun for me to bake it.

The top and bottom layers are from David Lebovitz' excellent cookbook Ready for Dessert - except he said it didn't matter if you used Dutch process cocoa or not, and I swear mine didn't rise AT ALL. In the photo above, you can see that the top layer (which is upside down) did rise some in the middle, but was pretty skinny on the edges. Here are the cakes before and after baking:

See? Can't see any rising action. Drat. So I decided rather than have a short (but flavorful!) cake, I'd make a third layer. I opted to make a flourless cake for the middle, and baked some of the batter in a ramekin for a friend who can't eat gluten - double win! I used a flourless chocolate cake recipe found in some cookbook or other (sheesh, I swear I thought I was paying better attention) and was ready to go:

On the left, the (slightly charred...but delicious!) flourless cake; middle and right are the regular-flour cakes. The one on the blue plate shows just how woefully short they were. The jar is full of pastry cream, which is basically thick vanilla pudding, adapted from this recipe - I opted to use the lesser amount of sugar and greater amount of flour, as I wanted it quite thick but not very sweet.

Okay so we have cake, cake, cake, and pastry cream - all that was left was frosting. Shockingly, I used the frosting that came from the original blog post that was my inspiration - the mascarpone/whipping cream frosting sounded too decadent to miss! Plus it gave me an excuse to use my beloved KitchenAid mixer.
An added bonus was that the frosting didn't have any flour or other gluten-giving ingredients in it, so I was able to frost the flourless cake in the ramekin for my friend. Maybe dessert isn't as important to her as it is to me, but I would really be grumpy if I went to a party and couldn't eat any of the desserts on offer!

All in all the cake came out great. There was lots of focused silence while people consumed it - and there was a goodly amount leftover for me to share at work the next day. If I can figure out the leavening issue (and I really do know I should have paid closer attention) this combination is a keeper!

*** Edited to add links to the cake recipes:
The two layers of chocolate cake came from David Lebovitz' devil's food cake recipe
The flourless chocolate cake came from Ezra Poundcake