Monday, August 31, 2009

Socks in a box

My dad's cat Socks has been pretty lonely lately since my dad went into an Assisted Living facility a few weeks ago. She's been by herself since then except for a few short visits from my brother each week. She was my shadow during my visit and always wanted to be involved in what I was working on. If she wasn't laying on top of the paper piles I was sorting, she was laying inside the box I was using to store things.

If Brett didn't have allergies, I would have taken her back to California with me. Hopefully my dad will move into a seniors community in a few weeks so he can take her with him - but for now, she's holding down the fort solo.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's not a pound cake, but you'll feel like you gained one after you have a slice

My grandmother on my dad's side made a cake we knew growing up as "Dobos Torte." It's an old Hungarian recipe that became popular in the late 1800s. It was one of the first cakes to use buttercream frosting, as most cakes back then relied on pastry cream. The cake is 14 layers tall (7 layers of vanilla sponge cake and 7 of chocolate frosting)

Growing up, we always had this cake to celebrate my dad's birthday. It's a time intensive cake to make, and your arteries really can't take more than a sliver every 365 days. Luckily this year, I had helpers, in the form of my niece and nephew.

First, you mix up flour, sugar, salt, vanilla and 12 egg yolks. At the end, you whip up 12 egg whites, and fold them into the batter. Divide the batter into 7 - 8" round pans and bake.

Next, you make chocolate buttercream frosting. Note the emphasis on butter. The ingredients here are chocolate chips, egg yolks, butter and powdered sugar. Yum.

Next you frost and assemble the cake.

When you're done, it looks something like this. I've never been able to get my layers perfectly even, but then again, neither did grandma - so I guess that makes it pretty darn authentic - :-)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rental car ignorance will get you every time

National Rental Car lady: I have a Chevy HHR available. Is that ok?

Me: Umm. I don't know what that is, but OK.

I got to spot 27 and saw this. GROAN. Flashbacks of the purple PT cruiser rental car I was given in Vegas ran through my mind. Definitely not my favorite. I considered walking back to exchange it but was too tired. At least my niece and nephew thought it was cool, even if they kept saying it smelled like ketchup.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Name that fruit: part 2

My second purchase was a Manila mango. Although it looks like a new potato, it's really just a small mango. Despite it's Filipino name, it's actually grown in Mexico. This fact is apparently a topic of debate however, as both Mexico and the Philippines want to sell them worldwide.

The Filipino government is upset that the Mexican government might profit from THEIR Manila mangoes, so they're thinking of trying to patent the fruit.

The article I read was dated 2005, so I don't know what the update is, but I guess even a seeming harmless fruit can be political.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Name that fruit

I mentioned last week that I love the Berkeley Bowl's produce selection. I decided I'd try a few new things each week to learn more about them.

My first selection was the Indian bitter melon. Apparently it's often used in varios Asian cuisines, and one Punjabi recipe serves it stuffed with spices and fried in oil - proof that anything fried is tasty. It also is purported to have medicinal qualities for digestion.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Car wash ineptitude

My car was filthy, so yesterday I decided to get it washed at the gas station. Getting a car washed is not a monumental task unless you're inept like me.

Whenever I go to the automated car washes, the staffers are always waving wildly to get me to turn my wheel in order to line up with the track. For whatever reason, I'm terrible at guessing where my wheel is, but at least there I have help.

At gas station car washes, you're on your own. The last time I tried an unattended gas station car wash it had a little ramp that you had to drive up on with just your left front wheel. Needless to say, I sucked at that kind too. The multiple attempts and cars stacking up behind me scared me off of gas station car washes for 10 years.

On Sunday, I got brave. I tried a gas station car wash again, but this time you just had to drive in between two "speed bumps." Seems easy enough, but I messed that up too and had to drive out without the wash since the car behind me wouldn't let me back up so I could try again.

My 2nd attempt was successful - though it took another 20 minutes of waiting in line. If you ever see me driving a filthy car, you'll know why. I've got no skills in the automated car wash department - and sadly, it's not a very high threshold.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Brown butter chocolate chip cookies from Cooks Illustrated

I've been finding the "baked goods bribe" an effective way to get things done at work lately, so it's been the perfect excuse for me to try out new recipes.

Since we had to set up our kitchen from scratch this time, I signed up for a Cooks Illustrated subscription. It's kind of like the "Consumer Reports" for the home cook, with product ratings and recipes. I love their scientific approach. They test multiple recipes with varying quantities and styles of ingredients to see how the results vary.

My most recent "thank you" baked good project was a request for chocolate chip cookies. I saw that the May 09 issue of Cooks Illustrated had a version with brown butter. I'd never made brown butter before, but gave it a shot. It's a little tricky making sure the "brown butter" doesn't become "burnt butter," but I lucked out the very first time.

It was a bit of extra work as there's some whisking and resting that goes on with the sugar and the butter, but the results are totally worth it. I'll never use a Toll House recipe again!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I heart the Berkeley Bowl

Living on the west coast after growing up with Wegmans had left a hole in my grocery store heart - until I discovered the Berkeley Bowl. They don't have the wide array of self-serve food like Wegman's Market Cafe - but they ROCK in the produce department.

A pint of perfect raspberries for $1.49. Beautiful heirloom tomatoes for $2.49 a pound - and enough exotic vegetables to keep me wondering what to do with them for a year. Take THAT Whole Foods! I still love my Wegmans, but in the meantime, we can enjoy a delicious meal like this on the cheap. Mmmm.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flamingo decorating contest

Our office is holding a "flamingo decorating contest" to have a little end-of-summer fun. Each self formed team is supposed to decorate a flamingo in the style of their choosing. Check out the before and the after. After photos were provided by my old team at from when they held their event. So fun! I can't wait to see what the Gallery team comes up with.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Our new place

When Brett and I moved to the Bay area in 2007, we kept our house in the DC suburbs, turned it into a rental, and put everything into storage. The first year here, we lived in a furnished home that was owned by a family who was living in Italy. Our second year away, we lived in a furnished home in Amsterdam. Upon returning to the Bay area in June, we decided to rent an unfurnished apartment.

We moved in last week. Overall it's been great. The waterfall outside our window (while cheesy) is relaxing, the dog loves the dog park out back, and my commute is 25 min. Brett likes the local brew pub across the street and being able to walk to the ferry in 5 min.

For your viewing pleasure are a few pictures of our place. It's bland. It's boring. Everything in it had to be purchased over the last few weeks, but it's done, and now the credit cards can stop smoking :-)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thai Basil Martini

Across the street from our new place is a restaurant called E&O Trading company. They sell pan Asian food, but my new favorite treat is their Thai Basil Martini. I love interesting flavors in cocktails (like cilantro in a lemon cooler, serrano in a margarita, or ginger martinis) - so this one is perfect. They muddle fresh Thai basil with lemon vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup. Delicious!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Holly goes Hawaiian

Also known as "when Brett has too much free time on his hands." She's such a good sport.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Self Portrait at Sleep Train

We stopped by Sleep Train to pick out a new mattress, but had to wait 30 minutes for the sales guy to finish with another customer first. We made ourselves comfortable on one of their beds and entertained ourselves with my digital camera :-)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A night at the Tonga Room

If you like kitsch or Tiki Bars, you'll love The Tonga Room. Brett and I met some friends there on Friday night. It's in the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, and though it was moderately busy with tourists on Friday, I'm sure it was really swinging back when it was built.

My favorite part? It's not the rainstorms inside the restaurant or the fruity drinks with paper's the boat that "sails" into the middle of the indoor pool with a live cover band on it that plays 80s tunes. When they go off on break the boat "sails" back to shore. Too cheesy - but worth a visit.....once :-)