A Perfect San Francisco Weekend

image from farm2.staticflickr.com
It's one of those rare incredibly sunny and warm weekends we never expct in San Francisco, and I've been taking advantage of it.

Last night, L's mom and stepdad came into the city and we enjoyed a leisurely walk down Geary and a tasty family style dinner at Ton Kiang. My favorite entree was the sweet and sour pork, hands down. It was brought to us sizzly from the frying pan. Almost too hot to eat, even. Which made it that much more delicious. The Kung Pao chicken and the basil beef were also very good, but I was a little less impresssed with the Mongolian Beef. It didn't have quite the kick I was expecting. But it was a good dinner overall anyhow.

Because we are spoiled, L's mom brought us a huge bag of the bounty from their garden. Tons of fresh herbs, butter lettuce, baby red onions, and leeks. There is going to be an amazing salad in our future tonight I assure you. Given that it is 90 degrees in our 4th floor apartment, however, it may have to accompany something we order in. Even the convection oven feels like too much additional heat to add to the house tonight…

Brunch was someplace new for J, L and I, Cafe Bunn Mi on Clement. The place was packed with a line out the door, but luckily for us, it was mostly take-out orders so we were able to quickly claim a table and sit down to enjoy some graet viatnamese sandwiches, thai iced tea, and assorted tasty fried foods. An excellent way to start a Saturday. And will definitely be going back there. This reminds me to note: our nieghborhood needs more sandwich places!

I was able to cool off for a bit and catch up w/an old friend, Beth, who was in town today taking her daughter to a swim meet. I met up with them for ice cream at Joe's up the street, then introduced them to our kitties. Even our bravest kitty, Bolvar, was a little taken aback by the fast moving spirited children. I'd forgotten that this was their first time meeting non-adult people.

It does make me feel a little old to be meeting children of friends who are older than the age at which I met those friends. 

🙂

I envision an evening of playing on Pinterest and in SWTOR. Until next time…

xo me

 

March Mendocino Mini Vacation

 

Harbor House Inn, Oceansong Cottage, Highway 1, Elk

view from Harbor House Inn, Oceansong Cottage, Elk, March 27, 2012

Living in the City, you easily forget how dark night can be. Driving South on Highway 1, at 10 p.m., blasting the Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album and singing along…and realizing there are no lights other than those from your headlights. Back at the cottage, even standing out on the deck, the ocean is lost in the darkness. But the roar of the waves breaking against the rocks in the cove reminds you it’s there. Temporarily out of sight but still within reach, should you be so foolish as to try and brave the treacherous path down to the black sand beach in the pitch black dark.

The picture window that so perfectly framed the ocean view and the keyhole rock it crashes through is now a mirror. The reflected light from the glowing apple on my laptop illuminates my face as I type type type away.

waterfall next to our cabin in ElkThis is the escape from the every day I needed. No Internet. No television. And not too many people.

Our little cottage at Harbor House Inn, with the amazing view, was $100/night cheaper than its neighbor thanks to a slope to the floor. The ocean is trying to reclaim this patch of land or so it seems. But the pitch isn’t so steep that it’s a bother, so yeah us for getting a good deal. And in case you are wondering, the bed has been adjusted for the slope, so there won’t be any accidental rolling out of bed.

Since we were staying at the Inn during the off season, dinner was not included, thus our first night’s meal was at Ledford House, up Highway one just past the 128 junction. A pleasant ocean-facing dining room, with a piano player. The duck pate starter was very good, as was L’s leg of lamb. And I have no complaints about my steak au poivre with asparagus. About midway through dinner, I thought I heard a familiar pitiful wail. After hearing it a few more times, and determining that yes I was hearing a sorrowful cat lamenting how very hungry it was, I spotted the calico kitty at the door of our dining room. “She thinks she’s an indoor cat,” our waitress remarked after seeing we’d spotted the little beggar, then shooing her out the door. “And she’s not starving, either!” Clearly this was not the first time for these antics.

Exploring Mendocino County

Our first full day in Mendocino County started with complimentary breakfast at the inn (omelet with mushrooms, asparagus, and caramelized onions and a side of bacon), where to our dismay we started seeing raindrops spatter the picture windows. Undeterred by the light rain, however, we headed out to Ross Ranch where we’d reserved a couple of hours of horseback riding through the redwoods. This turn of weather reinforced my purchase of a new rainproof jacket and then some.

I should point out that the horseback riding was L’s idea. Those of you who know me personally IRL know that despite the many years I spent tearing around on my bicycle, I have had horrible balance for the past few years. So the idea of mounting a huge horse and tooling around steep backwoods inclines would not have been the first leisure activity that I would have suggested. Thus I bucked up, signed the waiver that pointed out all the ways in which horseback riding could be very dangerous and possibly maim me, and off we went.

My horse was a pro. What I mean by this is he figured out pretty quickly that he had a first time city slicker rider on his back. And thus, every time he saw some nommable greens—or some branches that were just above his head—he headed for them. After a while, I got the hang of reigning him in and reminding him that I was the dominant one in charge, thank you very much. I was faking it, mind you, but he seemed to buy it and was mostly well behaved. Other than trying to eat my shoe when we stopped for a break at the midway mark.

That’s when the rain started to get a little more aggressive, even within the protective redwood canopy, prompting me to pull up my hood, and we ended up getting back to the ranch a littler earlier than scheduled. Since my jeans were soaked, and I was pushing my luck as far as my ability to stay upright and in charge on this horse, that was OK by me. I should have taken a photo of our horses once we dismounted, but the moment escaped me. And clearly, there wasn’t any opportunity for me to take photos while we were riding.

After changing into dry clothes, we ventured back onto Highway 1, this time headed to Fort Bragg. More specifically, headed to North Coast Brewing Company. Because I definitely deserved some strong beer as a reward for my equestrian efforts. It had been more than a decade since I visited the tasting room, but the food was as tasty as I remembered, though the portions were even more hearty than I remembered. I should have done a tasting set like L (he did 4 tasters), but I wanted an entire goblet of the Brother Thelonious dark Belgian style ale all to myself. I have a real weakness for dark Belgian style beer (hello Maredsous!)

Finally giving in and accepting the fact that the rains were not going to abate, we headed back to the Inn, where we spent the evening drinking wine (picked up from wine tasting on Highway 128 on the way up on Wednesday) and playing Scrabble and Monopoly.

A Trip to Mendocino Proper

image from www.flickr.comFriday’s plan was to finally make it into the village of Mendocino. But first, we stopped at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens and spent a few hours walking through the gardens and out to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Thanks to the persistent light rain, there was only one other couple out on the paths with us, so it felt as though we had the place to ourselves.  One item to note: we never did figure out why there were numbered metal quail all over the property. They weren’t map points or anything obvious. I imagined a secret, members-only audio tour might make use of them.

After the gardens, we drove in to Mendocino, parking in front of Café Beajoulais where we had a leisurely lunch. L had a lovely spring greens salad with a perfect mound of baked Laura Chenel goat cheese, and a burger with white cheddar and avocado. I started off with a duck leg confit, and had a baguette sandwich of brie, bacon, and chicken. Very tasty food, though everything from getting seated to having our orders taken seemed to take much longer than you would expect. Only later in the day did I realize that the somewhat harried state of our waitress was likely due to her acting as hostess, waitress, busperson and cashier for the entire restaurant, which had 8-9 tables active while we were there. Yikes!

Our walk through the tourist shops of Mendocino was over fairly quickly – it’s actually a pretty small area. I was tempted, very tempted, to purchase the Jedi’s Path at the bookstore (to better know the enemy since my allegiance goes to the Sith, in SWTOR at least.) But I remembered my vow to stop buying books, so I didn’t pick it up. I’ll wait until I sell a few books back to my local used bookstore and make room on the shelves.

Our final night’s dinner was at the Bridget Dolan's Public House in Elk, just up Highway 1 from the Inn, which was suggested to us by a tasting room person at Navarro. In addition to great service and a nice selection of local brews on tap, they had mini chimichangas on the appetizer menu. Can you imagine? Of course we had to have them and they were delish.

Overall, the rainy weather did but a damper on some of the hiking and exploring we had planned, but we did make the best of it. And I returned home relaxed and recharged and that was definitely the larger point of it all.

Mendocino County Resources

Lodging:

Harbor House Inn
5600 S. Highway One
Elk, CA
(800) 720 7474 

Food & Drink

Bridget Dolan's Pub
5910 S Highway 1
Elk, CA 95432
(707) 877-1820

Cafe Beajoulais
961 Ukiah St
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 937-5614

The Ledford House
3000 N. Highway One
Albion, CA 95410
(707) 937.0282

North Coast Brewing Company
55 North Main Street
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964-BREW (2739)

Activities

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
18220 North Highway One
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
(707) 964.4352

Ross Ranch Horseback Riding
(707) 877-1834

What I’m Doing During my SF Holiday Staycation

burger and shoestring fries at Zuni Cafe in SF

It's hard to believe I am only halfway through  my holiday staycation! Needless to say, I'm definitely finally feeling relaxed, as one should on a vacation. Even the kitties are cooperating by being good.

So far, this staycation has been a busy one. I kicked off the week with getting all my holiday cards completed, and shipping out a few packages. But Tuesday is what felt like the real kickoff.  I treated myself to a long leisurely lunch at Zuni Cafe, long one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. I even splurged on a great glass of pinot noir and saved room for dessert — the always delicious espresso granita. Despite being a one-top in a sea of larger parties, I was well taken care of, and had a prime seat in the sunny main room, with plenty of people watching.

After lunch, I hopped on the F Market Streetcar and made my way to Macy's Union Square, for my two-hour shift volunteering for the SFSPCA and their holiday windows fundraiser and adoption event. If you're not familiar with the SFSPCA holiday windows, check out the window cams of adorable adoptable kitties and puppies now. Be warned that you may be overloaded with cuteness.

I've volunteered for this annual fundraiser at least a half dozen times over the past 12 years. This year, as with most years, I was on duty to answer questions about the adoptable pets in the windows and the SFSPCA. There was not too much foot traffic, which is not surprising given we were on the O'Farell side of the building, post-lunch and pre-evening crowds. But I still had the opportunity to talk to a number of animal lovers about their pets, which is always one of the nice side effects of this volunteering.

I gathered about $100 in my collection box, and spread the word to dozens of folks. And I think a 4-year-old poodle may have found himself a forever home as a result of our shift too. A rather enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. I highly encourage SF peeps to sign up for a shift. But don't blame me if you end up coming home with a new furry family member…

The rest of this week has been consumed with plowing through the Hunger Games book series (I am 75% of the way through the third book now), and getting started with playing the new Star Wars MMORPG. If you're interested in learning more about that part of my week, peek at the blog I've started that focuses on my SWTOR adventures.

Next week, I am most looking forward to my significant other finally being able to eat solid, chewy food again after 3 weeks of post-surgery recovery, and making a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at home, then heading up to Sonoma for Christmas Day. So nice to have a relaxing holiday season for once, instead of trying to cram in all the to-do's after work in the weeks leading up to the holiday. I hope to have the opportunity to take this time frame off again.

A Cookie Baking Weekend

image from farm8.staticflickr.com

I spent all of this weekend baking cookies. Chocolate shortbread. Honey Merry Christmas rolled out cookies. Peppermint surprise chocolate cookies. Then I spent the better part of today decorating them. Milk chocolate used as glue for getting smashed candy cane bits to stick to the peppermint surprise or the chocolate shortbread (which also had a set with pistachios on top.)

But the big push was icing and sugaring all the honey cookies. I try to do a wide variation in decorating these cookies– some with only a little sugar and icing, others with sprinkles, and only a few that go full out with the icing and sugar. For some reason, folks can be a little timid about biting the top off a big sugar coated tree. Which is why I always make so many of those wee stars. I consider them to be the gateway cookies. People take one to be polite and bite in, expecting a dry, flavorless vanilla sugar cookie, and instead are hit with the aromatics and taste of the honey. And *then* the go for the tree.

These honey cookies are pretty much the only holiday tradition I have carried with me from childhood onward. I remember making these cookies with my mother and grandmother as early as 7 years of age. And using some of the same HRM cookie cutters I used today. (As an aside, that snowman is my most favorite cookie cutter ever. I use it sparingly however as it is cracked. I keep hoping to find a set of them in a junk shop.) And just as I did as a child, I make my own colored sugar, using regular old table sugar and food coloring. I've never developed a taste for those bigger pre-colored sugar crystals. For me, the hand colored sugar is what these cookies need to be complete.

The next step of course will be to package up all these treats, then give them away to the folks who have made my life a better, happier place in the past year. I'm planning to put a number of them in the mail and hope they won't be too battered when they arrive. And hope that the folks who open up their mailbox to find a small package of the cookies know that even if I don't always say it, they are most appreciated and greatly missed.

The only fly in the ointment in this cookie euphoria is my SO had oral surgery last week and is on a strict no chew diet. I reserved a couple of the cookies for him, however, to be crunched up into a milkshake. It's not as fabulous as the finished cookies mind you, but it will do in a pinch.

I would have waited until he is back on solid foods, but since I am taking vacation time for the two weeks prior to Christmas, this was my only chance to bake cookies to bring in to work.

I haven't had the weeks prior to Christmas off in at least 5 years, probably longer. But this year, since I hadn't taken a 2-week break, and my SO has the time off from his Master's in Library Science studies, I am thrilled to be able to get the time off. I plan to go do some volunteering at the SPCA holiday windows, have a lunch or three with friends I don't get to see often enough, and to trek out to the Valley to see the other Erika.

I'm totally looking forward to my leisurely long holiday break.

How Did My Holiday Wish List Get Overrun with Cookbooks Again?

stack of presents from Christmas 2010

I hadn't done a holiday wish list in years, before starting up again a few years ago at the request of my significant other's mom. Despite our sharing a common interest (loving to cook), since she rarely comes to see us in the City, she thus doesn't know what books and tools I have or do not. I get the impression it allows her to make some more informed gift choices.

I keep the Amazon wish list widget on my bookmarks bar so I can add things from anywhere I am on the web. That way I can tag adorable patterns on etsy or a Malificent pop vinyl doll on a geek news site. But somehow, every year, I end up with a stack of cookbooks in my list. Even though I have long been out of room for even 1 cookbook more on my shelves.

Here are the cookbooks that made my list this year:

  • Everyday Food made the list because of how often I make recipes from the magazine's pages.I love that on a whole, their recipes are always relatively quick and easy, yet do not rely on canned or processed food shortcuts to achieve the speed-to-table.
  • Both Bi-Rite and Cooking My Way Back Home are San Franciscan-authored, and focus on taking advantage of all the amazing seasonal produce and handcrafted food stuffs available to us in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a feeling these two would give me a ton of new ideas for using up my Farmers' Market bounty.
  • And finally, Mozza. This one made the list due to my admiration of La Brea Bakery founder Nancy Silverton, and the fact that other than my well-worn Marcella Hazan paperbacks, I actually don't have a real Italian cookbook.

What's on your wish list this year?

WTB More Hours in the Day! (a minor lament)

stained glass detail from Glasgow

I am having a slight case of melancholy.

It's probably not fatal, mind you, but it is there all the same.

The days are getting short and colder.

My to do list is never ending — so many letters I mean to write, friends I would like to catch up with, craft projects to start, books to finish reading, recipes to try.

So many things I want to do and so little time!

Somehow, my workday now stretches from 7:30 until 5:30 or 6:00 each day.

By the time I reach home, it is often a struggle to tackle that ever growing list. I wind down from the day playing an MMORPG, chatting with the folks who are still hanging out on twitter, and then suddenly it's time to make dinner and then POOF! another day has vanished.

How did I used to have the energy to be out at concerts until 2 a.m. on a work night? Or time to even keep up on all the amazing events that were going on (let alone to write about them!)

This is a lament, but only a small one. These are 1st world problems, to be sure.

xo e

 

almost aioli

I am not one to make mayonnaise from scratch. Thus I give you: an almost aioli that will be close enough for most folks…

In a small ramekin or glass bowl, mix together the following:

  • 2 heaping soup spoons of mayo
  • a splash (1 tsp?) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated w/a small hand grater
  • juice of half a lemon
  • two twists of pepper from a pepper grinder

Use a fork to blend the ingredients together. Cover w/plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Very tasty on baguettes, as a sandwich spread or for dipping your artichokes leaves in.

Roasted Chicken and Veggie Soup

My significant other is down for the count battling some sort of yucky illness. This clearly calls for my making a gallon or so of my roasted vegetables and chicken soup for dinner. Roasting the veggies is an extra step that adds to the preparation time, but it also adds to the depth of taste, making it well worth it in my opinion.

For Roasting
1 Napa cabbage, cut into wedges
2 cups plum tomatoes chopped or a can of San Marzano tomatoes
15 smallish russian banana fingerling potatoes, chopped
3 small eggplants, chopped into small chunks
1 large red onion, diced
6 medium size red carrots, chopped
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts. seasoned with salt and pepper

For the Soup
1 head of garlic
1 TBSP olive oil
1 can canellini beans
1 64 oz carton vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine

Arrange the veggies and the chicken into as many baking/roasting pans as required to hold them in a single layer (you can roast in batches.) Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and add some optional chopped up fresh dill (to taste) then pop into 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes (pull out vegetables when they start to brown, cook chicken until cooked through and skin is golden.)

Brown 5 chopped cloves of garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add all roasted vegetables plus 2 cans of canellini beans, 64 ounces of veggie stock, and one cup of white wine. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Freezes well.

Potato+Leek+Artichoke Casserole

image from farm7.static.flickr.com

We had a nice bit of Fall weather in September, before the Indian Summer fell upon us and made the apartment unfit for cooking. While it was still cold enough to use the oven, I did some side dish experimentation, and made this truly delicious casserole to accompany pork chops.

Potato, Leek and Artichoke Bake

  • 1 TBSP olive oil, plus 2 TSP or a mister
  • 3 Leeks (white and light green portion only), thinly sliced into half moons and rinsed of all dirt.
  • 1 14oz can of atichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3.5-4 oz cream cheese
  • 2 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, thinly sliced (via mandolin)
  • salt and pepper to taste

I adapted this from a recipe in Everyday Food. I omitted the celery and changed up the cheese including decreasing its amount, and bumped up the amount of leeks.

Preheat oven to 425. Brush 1 1/2 quart baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat; add leeks. Cook 8-10 minutes until softened. Add artichokes, broth and cheese, and stir until combined. Remove skillet form heat, add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Arrange half the potato slices in overlapping rows to act as the base for your casserole. Season with salt and pepper. Top with the artichoke mixture, making sure to evenly spread it out across the potato slices. Layer with remaining potatoes. Mist with olive oil and salt and pepper. Bake 40-45 minutes until mixture is bubbly and edges of potatoes are crispy and golden in color. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

The leftovers from this made a great addition to my lunch as well. Reheated for 2 minutes in the microwave at work.

Onward from a Dance with Dragons to NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo
I've been devouring George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series for the past couple of months. I can't recall the last time a series of books has so captivated me that I've purchased the following books well before finishing the first tome. But that's how it has been with this series.

Yesterday, after a brunch of Spaten Optimator and Schnitzel at Steins on Clement (they opened on Monday in the old Pagan space), I popped in to Green Apple books with the hope that I would be able to pick up the 5th and latest book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, from their recently released used hardcover shelves. Luck was on my side — they had one copy!

I was hit with the realisation, however, that after I zip through this book in a week or so, as I've done with the others, I don't have a next book to drop myself into. I do hope Martin doesn't take another 6 years to finish the 6th book int he series. I can't wait that long!

Timing wise, it will be good to finish up the series mid month, so I can start prepping for NaNoWriMo. I was considering skipping it this year, due to the incredibly hectic pace at work, but, frankly, you need to have some creative brain time and this is such a good, disciplined way of working that in. I have a couple of ideas to choose from, and am not yet quite sure which one is going to win out.

I think to get into the daily writing groove I'm also going to start following some of the daily writing prmpts, such as the Daily Post blog. If you have other favorite sources of writing prompts let me know.