Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Adam and Christmas Cookie Insanity!

December 4th marked Adam's 27th birthday. We had a very low-key celebration this year which was and delicious goodies-themed. This means that for about a month, we are the same age and I can't use my "I'm a year older/wiser" line to win arguments. Anyway, a very Happy Birthday to Adam, who is pretty much the best husband a gal could ever ask for. I didn't snap any birthday pictures this year, so I reached into our archives and found this one - an oldie but a goodie. It was taken by a friend in an elevator back in 2005, and showcases one of his best features - his eyebrows.

We are getting ready for Christmas this year which I can hardly believe is next week. Adam's parents are visiting us from Oregon and are due to arrive on Christmas Eve. I will actually be working but am grateful we can share the holidays together. Of course I'm also grateful for my job, and working at the hospital is a constant reminder of how lucky I am for my health and that of my loved ones. I work some late nights and really enjoy the beautiful nighttime view from our parking garage when I leave. Unfortunately my camera can't capture the full 360-degree view of San Francisco, but here is a look towards the skyscrapers downtown:

Isn't it magical? I think it's one of the lesser-known romantic spots in the city. The red-colored dome building in the second picture is City Hall, festive and lit up for Christmas. Ever since visiting here as a young girl, I've always loved San Francisco. It's strange to think that now at this time in my life I actually work here. On good days, the city can be quite picturesque, exciting and seems full of possibility.

We finally set up our Christmas tree, which we chose at the FoodMaxx lot for the second year in a row. It's nothing like tromping through the woods in the snow for the perfect tree, but it can't be beat for quality and value. We chose a nice Noble Fir, and right after we decorated half of the tree lights went out. (Doesn't that always happen?!)

This is one of my favorite oranaments, a beautiful ceramic dove made by Adam's mom.

We are baking cookies as gifts this year and have made quite a few so far. Below are the classic Jif Peanut Butter Blossoms, a favorite of Adam's. He has a special place in his heart for peanut butter and milk chocolate.

Whether or not you're a fan of Rachael Ray's 30-minute cooking style, she's got a lot of great cookie recipes I've made over the years including these Peppermint Chocolate Cookies. You basically make a simple cocoa cookie dough, and shape into a large log like this:
After chilling, it's sliced in enough chocolate disks to make about 24 cookies, and after baking, topped with melted good-quality dark chocolate and peppermint candy cane pieces:

The cookies that I most enjoy baking are these Pecan Carmel Surprises. A cup of pecans is ground to a fine consistency in a food processor, then added to a light vanilla cookie dough and shaped around chewy carmel candies which end up baking in the center. The entire cookie is then rolled in powdered sugar. The pecans give them great flavor and the carmel in the center is the best part.
To round off the bunch, we couldn't resist making a batch of rice krispy treats.

Wishing you all a festive Christmas season and lots of love.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Giving thanks

We had a great trip up North for Thanksgiving. The highlights were mainly time with family and great food. (For the record, I gained three whole pounds in one week back home. I'm blaming the usual suspects: leftover stuffing, pie, copious amounts of carby, gravy-goodness, as well as a few casual meals out at our favorite Hawaiian cafe. Needless to say, the stuffing has stopped, literally.)

We encountered some actual winter weather, and I was grateful that my trusty Jetta carried us safely over two different mountain passes and another thousand or so miles overall. On our drive North, the interstate was actually closed going over the mountain pass due a bad accident and weather. This rarely happens and resulted in hours of extra traffic, sitting in the snow in freezing weather. We decided to stop for the night in Ashland, Oregon and stayed at a cheap, dog-friendly motel which was nicely situated next to an excellent pizza restaurant. When I woke in the morning, fresh, beautiful snow had fallen everywhere and Lily had a wonderful time frolicking around. Despite the stress of the trip, it was a fun detour. Last year, we unexpectedly spent a snowy Christmas Eve/Christmas morning at a dog-friendly motel in Redding, California en route to Oregon as well. We checked in at about 1 a.m. and I remember feeling as though we were in a ghost town. I'll never forget walking around in the snow on Christmas Eve, in a strange town where we knew no one, laughing, throwing snowballs and having fun together on our first Christmas as husband and wife. I'm thankful Adam has a good "sense of adventure" and can usually make the best of any situation. Of course Lily, being a dog, has her sense of adventure built-in. She's also a fantastic traveler and once we set up a little spot for her in the motel room, she curls right up in and settles in.

On Thanksgiving Day, Adam, Wes & I set out for Bend.

After wintering in New England last year, Wes has become a pro with the snow chains. I was pretty impressed.

View from the front:

And view from the back:

Here I am doing my part to be cheer on the snow chain efforts. Mostly I just admired the view and tried to seem useful, or at least ready to assist. Thankfully the boys handled the situation just fine and my skills were not needed.

These photos are a little blurry, but you can see our lovely Thanksgiving table and Dad pointing out that we somehow ended up with not one, but two kinds of stuffing and two kinds of sweet potatoes.
Dad's roast turkey was fantastic and everyone brought a little something special to the meal.

Adam, Wes & I at Smith Rock

Not surprisingly, this was our first stop once we crossed back into California. A nice ending to a great week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hello Out There!!

Dearest, beloved readers:

I have to apologize for our neglected, boring blog as of late. The last few weeks have flown by and I've been too busy keeping up with life as usual to blog about it. It's rainy and cold in San Jose (yes, this does happen here), and my commute up to the city is considerably more of a headache than usual. The first year we lived in L.A., I couldn't believe what a big deal the rain was. People call in sick to work, forget how to drive safely or simply stop driving altogether. As a native Oregonian, I found this to be quite funny. After three years living in California, however, I can empathize with these folks. Most of the roads (even major highways) are not "crowned," and heavy rains create huge pools of water causing sprays which block visibility. Speeding is more or less the normal pace for drivers here, and result in accidents when the first rains create slick roads and drivers leave no stopping distance. In short, California and its inhabitants just not set up for rain. Neither is our poor dog Lily, who shakes and hyperventilates every time she hears the rain loudly falling on our flat roof. To her credit, it actually does sound like the world is falling on our apartment. (As a side note, you will never, ever find a flat roof in Oregon. They don't exist - for this very reason.)

We did enjoy a beautiful sunny day last week on an official husband/wife date out on the town in San Jose. For all the usual and predictable reasons, Adam & I don't get out on dates as often as we'd like. We get busy, money is tight, and we get sort of comfortable in our normal routine at home. We decided to spend the entire day doing fun, cheap/free things together with no other agendas. This past year, Adam has been particularly interested in astronomy and so we planned a science/cosmos-themed date:
  • Visit to the NASA Ames Research Center, home to moon rocks, spacecraft, and, at one time, the Hubble Space telescope.
  • Viewing of the IMAX movie "Hubble" downtown
  • Exploring the San Jose Tech Museum (everything you'd expect of a museum in the middle of Silicon Valley dedicated to all things "tech")
  • Happy Hour at McCormick & Schmick's downtown, to include drinks and $3 cheeseburgers
  • And on an unrelated note, we took a stroll around our local mall for some preliminary Christmas shopping (window shopping, actually) followed by a trip at Yogurtland, one of a hundred different "froyo" shops here in the South Bay.
I have to say, watching deep space fly by on an IMAX screen as you explore other galaxies and beautiful sights is an hour well spent. I find contemplating the vastness of space to be both terrifying and peaceful. And awesome.

I regret not getting out more to do of these types of things when we lived in L.A. At the time, we were so busy just getting by that it often didn't happen. We worked at various jobs, and I was going to school, spending my weekends at the library and waitressing at night after my long internship days. When I complain about being exhausted at my job now, I think back to all those early mornings watching the sunrise after studying all night and it gives me some perspective. After two years of never really having any true guiltless free time (in grad school, you are never truly "done" with the work you should be doing) I'm remembering how important it is to live in the moment, take those chances you are offered to see the world and enjoy life while it's happening.

Next week we're planning to drive up to Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with my dad and see our other family there for the holidays. We're hoping for a safe, uneventful drive though I am expecting to see some snow. I'm looking forward to the trip and will try to put some pictures up soon.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bend: The land of brews and heavenly vistas

Last weekend I flew up to Bend, Oregon to visit family and enjoy a three day weekend. It actually snowed the week before I arrived, but the weather during my trip was perfect. My dad recently relocated there, and I also got to stay with my grandma and grandpa who live nearby. Halloween was spent handing out candy to the throngs of trick or treaters that trek up to my grandma's neighborhood. There were lots of great costumes and festive houses, like this one.

I've also noticed some disturbing new developments in modern-day trick or treating. First of all, even groups of middle-aged children were accompanied by an adult right up to the doorstep. I've always felt that having to leave your parents and/or responsible adult at the sidewalk was sort of important. Yes, it can be scarier to go it alone, but it's a step every kid has to make someday. I also observed more than one parent not only walk up to the door, but actually hold out their own pillowcase as if to suggest they should also be given candy. I'm not one of those stickler types that won't give candy out to kids who don't have costumes, or who are clearly over the accepted age limit. But the line must be drawn somewhere. Needless to say, we had a steady stream of trick or treaters for over two hours and estimated we probably gave out candy to over 75 kids. It was great fun.

The next day, my dad and I spent the afternoon exploring his new home. It was wonderful to be amongst the trees and fresh air with him. My lackluster photography skills really don't do justice to the natural beauty there.

Smith Rock and the Crooked River

Rock climbers from around the world flock here to test their mountain-dangling skills. Dad and I decided that we probably weren't cut out for scaling the rock face across the river, but could possibly hike up the small hill he is pointing at below.

We enjoyed a night on the town in downtown Bend, which boasts some really awesome beer, beautiful parks and laid-back townsfolk. Bend just East of the Cascades, and the desert climate means sunny days year-round during which people can ski, snowboard, go mountain biking, rafting, hiking, fishing, get the idea. I think he's going to have a lot of fun living there.

Drake Park

Thankfully, Lily and Adam did a great job watching over the house while I was away.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tis the season for...ballots and baseball

Life is per-usual around here, which basically means there isn't a lot of blog-worthy news this week. We did our part to vote in the California 2010 Election, which at times felt a little like doing homework:

However, we did have the opportunity to weigh in on our state's next governor and some potentially landmark legislation to legalize marijuana. This year's election leaves much to complain about. One gubernatorial candidate here has spent more then $140 million dollars on her campaign - more than any other candidate for any other office, to date. The mudslinging has gotten ugly, candidates rarely seem to talk about the issues and the campaign speeches have all started to sound the same. Despite this, I feel privileged to be able to partake in our country's democratic process, flawed though it may be. All that's required is to read through some booklets, check a few boxes and stick a stamp on the envelope. The whole process can be done in your pajamas, on the couch, which is actually how I recommend doing it.

It's important to remember, though, how good we have it when it comes to voting. Did you know that the Nineteenth Amendment, which finalized women's suffrage, was passed only 90 years ago by Congress in 1920? This picture below shows South African voters in 2008 who sacrificed a day's wages to stand in line, in the hot sun, just to cast their vote. Sure gives you some perspective.

In unrelated news, the San Francisco Giants are playing in this year's World Series which is big doings 'round these parts. I met a man today in an elevator who was on his way to the first game, giddy with excitement. Not being a loyal MLB fan myself, I tend to look at the practical nature of the situation and mentioned he could probably sell his ticket for a large sum of money. He shook his head in disbelief and replied, "are you kidding? I've been waiting for this my whole life!" They say it's hard not to get swept up in sports fever, but somehow I still manage.

And last but not at all least, I'm posting a new favorite recipe of ours. It's pretty simple and definitely worthy of your next baking adventure. This recipe was given to me for our wedding by my very special Grandma Linda, who lives in Idaho. It's a favorite of her husband Jim's, who she lovingly refers to as her Peach.

Fresh Apple Cake

2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 cups coarsely grated tart apples (recommended: Granny Smith)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins or chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9X13 glass baking pan. Mix the eggs, sugar, and oil and stir in the grated apples. In a large mixing bowl, stir together remaining dry ingredients and then add the apple mixture. Add raisins and/or nuts, if using. Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. apple cake & ice cream

Speaking of amazing cakes, I'd like to give a shout out to my cousin Vanessa, who is the resident baker on my side of the family. She is talented and accomplished in the art & science of baking up delicious cakes (her specialty) and cupcakes. She is now baking cakes by order near Ontario, CA and has recently launched a new website, Nessa's Cakes. Check her out!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Time flies...

Time flies when you're having a great time. We had a fun visit with family this weekend and I only wish it could have been a little longer. To welcome my mom, we tried making Martha Stewart's Macaroni & Cheese, which is her favorite food. I almost never follow recipes exactly, and modified this one by adding a generous helping of Tillamook Cheddar and tomato slices on top. It's a great recipe if you have access to some inexpensive, good quality cheese and don't mind the extra calories. Not much was left by the end of the weekend.

We braved the first rainy day of the year and trekked down to touristy Fisherman's Wharf for a sunset dinner cruise on the bay. It was actually a clear, beautiful night and the views of the Bay Bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, and the Golden Gate bridge were fantastic.

Mom & Bill on the boat

Sailing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge at night

No trip to Fisherman's Wharf would be complete with stopping for a sourdough loaf

I got a chance to show everyone some of my favorite San Jose places, including, but not limited to: the city rose garden (which was in bloom), my favorite taqueria which serves up some excellent horchata, our local dog park, the live seafood and variety meats at the Asian grocery store down the street, and both the lowbrow and highbrow shopping centers. My mom won the weekend's Canasta tournament earning her a scratch-it ticket prize that could have been worth millions.

They also helped us take some family photos at the park, though Lily certainly had other plans on her agenda. Her attention span is always shortened when nut-burying squirrels are within close range. You can tell from the photo outtakes getting all three of us to look at the camera was quite a feat.

Sue & Bill

Lily and her grandma

Friday, October 15, 2010

Peace, love, and squash

Living away from our loved ones in Oregon is hard as we are always missing our family and friends. One of the best things in the whole entire world is having those people come and visit us. This was particularly difficult for us when we lived in Los Angeles for many reasons; mainly, we were quite short on money, living space, and time. Now that we're in San Jose, we are thankful to have our lovely office and Aerobed which has housed many of our favorite people: Adam's parents and brother, Adam's friends from San Francisco, Sarah's French host sister Florence, Sarah's dad Rocky and her grandfather Wesley. This weekend, we are excited host the newly wed Susan & Bill, who are driving down from Oregon. It will be great to hang out at home with them and have some fun in San Francisco. Please also consider this an open invitation to you as well; for anyone reading this - seriously, nothing would make us happier than to have you here!

I also cooked up a big, delicious butternut squash the other day which is another one my favorite fall things.

Sarah & the squash

In case you feel like turning your vegetables into a dessert, here is one of my favorite easy recipes: Toss your squash on a baking sheet with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and maple syrup and roast on high heat for 30 - 45 minutes til very tender.
I am very fortunate to possess real New Hampshire maple syrup that my brother sent last winter when he worked on a farm back East. It was fascinating to learn how they tapped the syrup in the dead of winter from the maple trees. It's always great to have a connection to where your food comes from, as well.

Here are some pictures Wesley shared last year while harvesting syrup on the farm. It's exactly how I always imaged New England looked in the winter.
Aside from being a farmer, peace activist, and lover of all living things, Wesley is also an amazing musician. Here is a photo my dad took of him performing with his band at a bar in Eugene last weekend:

Peace be with you and yours!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Fall is absolutely my favorite season of the year. I love everything about it - the chilly air, leaves everywhere, pumpkin lattes, and even school starting again. I am such a nerd and always loved the first day of school/college and all the excitement that new things bring in fall. Even though mother nature seems to view fall as an ending, I've always felt it was more of a beginning. In fact, I decided many years ago that I wanted to be married in September, my favorite month. Pretty much everything about fall makes me happy.

Halloween and Thanksgiving have all the wonderful elements of a great holiday (time off, gatherings with friends & family, delicious treats, and fun) without the stresses that Christmas sometimes brings. I still love Christmas, but have found as I've gotten older that it's not always such a happy time for everyone. We have an expectation that Christmas should be like a movie, with perfect families and perfect presents and perfect lives. Of course that's never true. In contrast, Thanksgiving and Halloween seem to put less strain and pressure on folks and still adds a great amount of joy. What could be better than dressing up in silly costumes and asking your neighbors for candy? Or eating a big turkey and pumpkin pie, and then playing games and laying around the house in a food coma? Not to mention the requisite 5:00 a.m. Black Friday festivities, which I almost always make an effort to attend! Well, it is only October yet so I'm getting ahead of myself.

For now, I've opened up my Halloween box to decorate, which sadly is only 1/10th the size of my Christmas box. To honor this occasion, here are some random, cheesy photos and a fall-themed recipe below for Red-Hot Crockpot Applesauce.

I found out last year that real jack o'lanterns don't seem to last long in warm San Jose. So we bought an electric one instead.

My not-so-spooky candleholders

A cheesy hello from yours truly

Adam cutting up a cherry cheesecake he made himself to surprise me one night.

Red-Hot Crockpot Applesauce
(Adapted from Hungry Girl's Sweet 'n Red Hot Apple Mash)

8-10 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
3 tbsp. Red Hots cinnamon-flavored candies
1 tbsp. light whipped butter
1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Place all ingredients into the crockpot and cook on low 7-8 hrs or high for 4-5 hrs.

Stir well and serve hot, cold, or anywhere in between with Cool Whip or ice cream for added goodness.