Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

There weren't a lot of people out tonight for the downtown fireworks, probably because it was only about 15 degrees out. I was there for the early show (at 9) and am now snug at home. Maybe I'll have a drink! Glamorous-life-leader that I am! Hey, Sophie, let me shave your feet!
Anyhoo, Happy New Year to all of you out in blogland. It's been a pretty good year. And 629 posts means I must have been accomplishing something with my life. That's right ... I'm an accomplished blogger. W00t!

Hope your year to come is great!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

New eatery: The Crushery

Old South Pearl Street continues to add attractive destinations. The latest was rather stealthy; I hadn't heard any buzz about it or seen mentions in the neighborhood newspaper (which is usually on top of these things). One day, the space formerly owned by the dry cleaners next door had a banner up, and a very short time later, it seemed, The Crushery opened its doors.

Their thing is pressed sandwiches, whether panini or bagels. Everything goes into the crusher, so you have a gooey inside and a crispy outside. You can choose from a list of named sandwiches or create your own from a long list of ingredients. They also make salads.

Note the menu on the wall: It's projected, and they can use a remote control to switch it around. Clever!

I ordered bacon, egg and cheese on a jalapeño cheddar bagel. Here's how it looked, post-crushing:
Tasted good! I kind of like the squashedness of it, because that made it easier to get it into my mouth. I have a small mouth. (Shut up.)

The prices seemed reasonable, too, and the atmosphere pleasant. They even have a little gas stove with some comfy chairs next to it.

Glad to have another place in the neighborhood where I can grab something on the way to work, or go for lunch with friends.

P.S. Looks like they finally got their website up: www.crushery.com. Right now all the links there point to one PDF of the menu, but maybe they'll HTML-ize it someday so you don't have to open a new application to see it.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cut down in the prime of life

It's a sad sight, the lonely trees left unsold that gave their lives for nothing but the mulch pile.

Snoring in a sunbeam

All the kin departed this morning on a 7 o'clock flight. Which meant we were all on the road at 5. Sophie didn't go anywhere, but she's exhausted just thinking about it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Skiing at Breckenridge

For some reason YouTube isn't taking uploads from my phone, so this is a couple of days late.

I'll be back up there tomorrow for more!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lazy blogger

It's just easier sometimes to send a crappy pic from the cellphone. I shaved the dog's face today.

I lead such an exciting – dare I say glamorous? – life!

(And yes, that's a sneak preview of the finished bookcases in the background. The last painting was done today, so once all the tools and stuff are gone, I'll take pictures. I'm going to wait a couple of weeks for the paint to dry thoroughly before loading them up.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Black and white Christmas

It started snowing in the wee hours and didn't let up all day. I shoveled once before work and once after. Sophie was delighted to go for a winter romp. I am grateful for good boots.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jam-packed

Been busy the last few days getting my ass kicked at work and trying to get ready for a full house tomorrow night. And I mean full. My aunt, uncle, two cousins and their spouses, and one toddler. They're spending the night with me and then we're driving up to Breckenridge, where they'll spend the week skiing.

We'll spend Saturday grocery shopping and hanging out, and drive up in two cars Saturday. I'll come back Sunday morning, go to work, then go back up Monday to ski, then come back down, go to my other aunt and uncle's place for Christmas Eve, work the next three days, then go back up and ski a half-day Friday, then drive back down with everyone, and they'll spend the night again before flying back home. Whew.

There are a lot of logistics involved in hosting six adults and a baby, not the least of which is beds and bedding. And food, which has to be dairy-free and also contain no pork or beef. Tricky!

I'm not complaining; it's going to be a lot of fun. But a challenge, for sure.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sophie's chicken

A package arrived yesterday with some goodies for Sophie, including, yes, a rubber chicken. A rubber chicken in a festive skirt, bra, hat and boots.

I decided to hang the chicken on the tree, and planned to take it down Christmas Day and give it to Sophie.

Sophie did not see it arrive, nor did she see me put it on the tree. And yet, last night, while I was chatting on the phone with a friend, she suddenly started sniffing the air, lifted her nose high and made a beeline for the tree.
She started jumping up and down, and talking: Mine! mine! mine! Gimme!

(I had to use a flash because she was jumping up and down too much to shoot without.)
I relented, and took this video after she'd played with it for a bit:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Menu for Hope

If you ever buy a lottery ticket or sign up for a sweepstakes, you know that little shiver of pleasure that comes from thinking, "Ooooh, what if I win?" You know that the odds probably aren't in your favor, but you still get a little lift, which is what makes it fun. (But preferably not addictive.)

However, here's a raffle you can get in on that does have good odds, with a really cause behind it that adds goodness to your self-indulgence.

I donated to Menu for Hope last year, and while I didn't win anything, it added some very pleasant anticipation to the holidays. And the campaign raised more than $60,000!

Menu for Hope was started at Chez Pim after the Asian tsunami in 2002 and each year has gotten bigger and bigger. This year, donations go the UN World Food Programme's Lesotho project, which provides lunches to schoolchildren. The prizes consist of donations from food bloggers all over the world, and range from foods and wines to restaurant visits, vineyard tours, kitchen gear, cookbooks, weekend getaways ... you name it. For every $10 you donate, you get a raffle ticket for the prize of your choice.

Menu for Hope ends on Dec. 21, and winners are announced in January. Go ahead and give a little. You'll be doing good, you'll feel good, and you might even win something!

Click here for an explanation of Menu for Hope.

Click here for a list of all the fabulous prizes.

(P.S. Click on the prize links to make sure what you're bidding on is something you can collect. Some of the liquor, for example – including the 18-year-old Chivas, darn! – can only be delivered in Bangkok. And of course, dinner in, say, London, doesn't include airfare and accommodations.)

Season's singing

This is just too cute.

Monday, December 17, 2007

DIY: Warped door fix

Here's a little household annoyance I finally got around to dealing with: a warped broom closet door that refuses to stay shut. It hasn't been a big problem, because it only swings open about an inch and a half, but it has bugged me. Mom mentioned it, too.

So when I was at the hardware store yesterday getting paint for the bookcases (you'll see them soon!), I took a look around for a solution.
With all the varities of magnets available, you'd think they would have something just made for this, but no. And I didn't want velcro, another suggested option. So I picked out a package of tiny magnets and some tiny washers. The clerk who was helping me said, "Hey, that's smart!" Which is something, since he was of the big, burly he-man "How can I help you, little lady?" type.
A little crazy glue and clamping later, voilĂ !

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Prime of life

1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29 ...

Well, you can do the math, but I'm not giving the answer!

Nothing special planned for today, since I have to go to work. But I've received some goodies throughout the week, and had fun times with friends, so I'm feeling generally happy. And healthy, too! PT has gotten my shoulder working again, much faster than expected. I should have full range of motion again within a month. Yay!

... and I just did an easy good deed for the day. Saw a couple dogs go tearing past my house and over to the schoolyard, with no human in tow. Threw my boots on and went out with a leash and managed to catch the Weimeraner ("Oh hi! Friendly human! Skritches, please!"), and while his little shephard-mix buddy ran off, I figured he wouldn't go far without his friend.

No answer at the phone number on the tag, but the address was a neighbor on the next block. Sure enough, I got over there and discovered the little guy already back in the yard; they're having some construction done, and the workers hadn't secured the temporary fence properly. So the dogs are back home, the fencing is in place and I am feeling virtuous without much effort.

Guess I'd better go walk Sophie and gather some more good doggy karma!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Green light for a green pot,
and a pre-special-day lunch

When this pot arrived the other day, I thought the seller might have screwed up. The box was so light I was sure the pot was aluminum, not cast iron. But the pot is indeed cast iron – very very thin cast iron.. Definitely not anywhere close to Le Creuset or Descoware heftiness.

The seller also had said, "This pot is quite heavy!" Apparently she's used to cooking in tinfoil.

The test for me, of course, is in the baking. And you know what? It did just fine. Another pretty, round (and tasty) loaf came out of the oven today.

As pretty as the pot is, I'm thinking I don't really need it. (Thanks, eBay.) But if it's wrapped up with bread ingredients inside, I believe it will make a fine Christmas gift for a friend who complains she hasn't got the right pot for no-knead bread.

No-knead bread recipe here.
After the bread came out of the oven, I toddled off for lunch with an old friend who is not Santa Claus and had some very tasty lasagna at the Washington Park Grille (stupid all-Flash website, grrr). The lasagna had both veal and pork in it, which is key to good meat sauce, and a lot of cheese.

The service was attentive, if weirdly snarky. You know, the kind of wisecracking that you can do with your friends because they know you're joking, or that you get from wait staff at, say, Flo's Diner. I didn't really know what to make of it in this context.

But anyway, the lasagna was good. Was tempted by the tiramisu, but I didn't want to take a three-hour nap.

In hindsight, maybe I should have eaten the tiramisu and taken the nap. That's not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Ran into an old friend today

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bone tired

It took me a while to bag up 60 pounds! Sophie offered to help.

First vanilla recipe: tapioca

Despite all my paging through the vanilla cookbook, what I really have had a hankering to make since I saw the recipe was Heidi's tapioca recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Tapioca is comfort food for me. I usually make it from instant (which still requires cooking), but picked up some whole tapioca to do right by my first vanilla bean.

Unfortunately, my unfamiliarity with whole tapioca messed up my sense of when it was done. I kept stirring and stirring, waiting for it to reach the consistency I am used to. As Heidi mentioned in her notes, instant tapioca produces a more gelatinous pudding. I didn't really consider that as I was stirring away, waiting for mine to thicken up. And stirring, and stirring. I kept tasting it, too, and it tasted pretty good. But I thought the pearls were not translucent enough and the custard too soupy.

Well, it did finally thicken, but well past the point where I thought it had a nice taste. The consistency looked right according to my experience, but tasted overcooked, and when it had cooled a bit and I spooned it out it was like library paste, and very yellow. I'd cooked it far too long.

The taste was very vanilla-y, but the custard was definitely too done. And the volume was substantially reduced. Not a success.

I will have to try this again, soaking the pearls longer beforehand (half an hour was not enough, I think) and stop cooking it when it tastes good, instead of gauging it by density.

(Edit: Tried it again, and it came out much better.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Dinner at Lalime's, Berkeley

Last Sunday we enjoyed a very fine dinner at Lalime's in Berkeley, which I found thanks to the Internet. If you're ever at a loss for a place to try, Google, say, "Berkeley restaurants," and check out assorted listings. Then pick a few places that look interesting and Google their names specifically, using the Blog Search function. Lalime's had quite a few raves, and conveniently had a table for available at a good time, which I was able to discern and book via OpenTable.
We started with drinks (a mojito for me, natch!) and some lovely lemon and herb olives (nice and meaty), as well as some garlicky braised kale (forgot to shoot it) and hearty bread which one of my companions recognized came from Acme Bread Company (now that's a sign of a foodie!).
I opted for rack of lamb with a lemony gremolata, braised chard and polenta. I was not familiar with the term gremolata, which is a mixture of minced parsley, garlic and lemon peel. It's wonderfully tangy and really livened up the tender lamb (which was a perfectly done medium rare). I had no compunction about gnawing those bones clean! The chard was also very nice, but the polenta was disappointing. It was very greasy on the outside, and overcooked, so it failed to provide the right mild, smooth counterpoint to the rest of the dish. But the bread was a fine alternative.
Two of my companions opted for the petrale sole with brussels sprouts and buerre rouge. They said they liked the way it was prepared.
The fourth chose the pork chop with spaetzle and chard.
Dessert was a banana crepe with vanilla ice cream and pralines ...
... and an artfully presented fruit panna cotta with a chocolate macaroon and nougat.

The atmosphere was convivial, and we were tucked away in a corner of the upper level where we could converse without effort (though it was a titch cramped between our table and the next). The service was friendly, if a little flaky (I shouldn't have had to remind the waiter to bring more coffee at dessert time, or to use the credit card I'd handed him earlier in the evening). We didn't feel rushed though we were the last to leave.

Overall, Lalime's turned out to be a good choice for a delicious meal in pleasant surroundings with good company.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Rompin'

Despite the cold, the dogs need to get rid of their crazy energy. That requires a trip to the dog park – I'm not willing to brave icy sidewalks with a revved-up Lannie and Leo on leashes.
They're marginally calmer tonight.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

No-knead bread in a new pot

As I thought, a 3-quart pot with a domed lid is much better to make no-knead bread in than the 6- to 8-quart pot recommended in the original recipe. In the larger pot, the bread tends to spread out more, resulting in a flatter, oblong loaf.

Edit: But wait! That's not a 3-quart pot, but a 2-quart! I looked at it again when I got home and filled it with water to double-check. So. If you have a two-quart pot, as long as the lid is domed, you can make a nice loaf in it.
This bread came out nice and round, and about 4 inches high all the way around.

I topped it with the usual wheat bran and spicy sesame sprinkle, plus a pinch of Maldon sea salt (which I also used in the dough). I confess, I've already eaten two-thirds of the loaf. Oink.

No-knead bread recipe here.

Under a blanket

I sort of wish I could run a single string of lights along the peaked roofline, but that's not going to happen this year. Next summer, maybe I'll put C-hooks up so that I can string lights using a long pole, instead of getting up on a ladder.

Hard to see on the porch in this photo are a couple plywood cutouts of trees, painted red, that came from Mom's house. I need to paint them a different color (green and gold, maybe) and find some way of securing them so they don't fall over when it's windy. Maybe a wire up to the ceiling, and sandbags at the base. Right now I've just got two little porch tables in front of them to hold them up.

Photo taken late last night, after it stopped snowing and before I shoveled. Click the photo to see it larger.

Lannie's a slow eater

Photo from cellphone. Lannie's always the last to finish her dinner, so the other two stand there hoping she'll walk away before all the molecules of milk-and-egg-enhanced kibble have been polished from the bowl.

I went to a party tonight, and when I got back I decided I might as well shovel, since I was all bundled up and outside anyway. The dogs knew someone was outside, but they didn't bark until I was walking back past the side of the house. I paused, and Lannie spotted me first. She started barking, with her teeth bared. Sophie joined in, but as I moved closer to the window, she recognized me, and I could hear her barking change to just barking because Lannie was.

And what was Leo doing? He was sitting on the window seat, his back to me, deliberately not looking out. And not barking, though he clearly knew there was something Very Bad outside the window. I tapped on the glass and he leaped off the seat and ran across the room, paused, looked over, and ran up the stairs, his tail tucked.

Some watchdog!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Home for the holidays

After I picked up Lannie and Leo yesterday, I swung by Treeland to see what kind of trees they had, then decided to just go ahead and get one.
I figured I wouldn't have another quiet weekday afternoon, and as it turned out, that was a wise move. It started snowing last night and hasn't let up since.
I found a good spot to put Mom's Santas.
And put a few things on the dining room sill.
And got the tree all decorated! Still have to figure out what to do for a tree skirt, and maybe get big red bow to put near the top, but otherwise it looks pretty good, I think.

Hanging the ornaments was a trip down memory lane. Mom brought out most of hers on her last visit; many of them ones I grew up with, including some from my great-grandmother's house. Sweet and sad.