Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Get to Work!

I had to go in to work this past Saturday to provide meeting support. This means I had to make coffee and fetch lunch for about 50 people. Fun times. But the overtime is nice. I figured I could amuse myself by taking Ayla to work with me. Here she is in my office:

We went to The Stuffed Inn in Berkeley to pick up sandwiches for the hungry researchers. They make really tasty sandwiches and soups there. Ayla hung out in the good ol' company car and people-watched while we waited:

In the afternoon we took a field trip down the hill to stretch our legs a bit:

Poor Ayla didn't really settle down the entire day in my office. She only barked a few times and she got to meet a few of my coworkers (and did well, too!) but she was in a new place and there were lots of strange sights, sounds, and smells to contend with. We finally got home after 5 that evening and she went straight to bed for the rest of the night! She sure made the day pass faster for me though.

Sunday Chris and I watched movies. We watched the third disk of the last season of The Sopranos (they were really good episodes this time, especially the first on the disk). I don't know how they can tie up all the story lines in the next few episodes, but we've really enjoyed the series and I'm looking forward to the ending. I've been able to shield myself from spoilers thus far, so I don't know what happens. We also watched The Bourne Ultimatum and it was great, as were the first two.

We made pizza at home, though my dough recipe needs some tweaking so I'll have to post it another time. Half of it we topped with bechamel sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and basil. The other half we used a tomato sauce in place of the bechamel. If you've never made bechamel you really should try it. Its easy, decadent, and probably terrible for your waistline:

Bechamel Sauce

- 6 cups milk
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup white flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Heat the milk until very warm but not boiling.
In another pan melt the butter on medium heat; do not let it brown.
Whisk in the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Gradually add the hot milk and continue whisking until the sauce thickens.
Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

I made a half batch and we used it on the pizza, on pasta later, with artichokes tonight, and there's still more left. It is really good in a lasagna instead of tomato sauce. It would be good over steamed vegetables too I'm sure. I hope you try it and enjoy!

Here's a picture of Chris and Gretel catching some afternoon sun.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My Wisp is finally finished! This took me a while, probably 30-45 minutes for each section repeat and there's 17 of them. But I really enjoyed knitting this scarf and am pretty happy with how it turned out since it is my first go at lace. Its made with one skein of Paton's Lacette on size 7 circular needles.

Here's a picture of how it's intended recipient will probably wear it (I hope she likes it!). By the by, its rather difficult to take a picture of yourself!

Here's Miss Ayla modeling it as a shawl, being demure:

And Ayla again, tied scarf-style, begging for a treat:

I loved this project - watching it grow as I knit, seeing it open up when I blocked it. I'll have to make one for myself someday, but I've promised Christopher a blanket and I have so many other things to try, I don't know if I can bring myself to do the same thing twice right now. When I'm faster, perhaps...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Says Holiday Cheer Like Tequila?

Last weekend was rather quiet. Ayla and I did our hike Saturday morning. My neighbor Dawn couldn't go, but we took her dog, Ayla's best bud Christie, along with us. The girls had a blast running in the mud, checking out the cow pies (don't accept kisses from Ayla), and hanging out with the other dogs.

Then on Sunday I decorated the condo for Christmas. We don't have much: a 2' fiber optic tree, stockings, a few ornaments here and there. I do have my lights on the patio though, a string of icicle lights, a string of gold on the top of the railing, and a string of white bulbs on the lower part of the railing. Its bright out there! I love Christmas lights though; Ayla and I take walks at night to look at the neighborhood houses and I'm hoping this weekend we'll drive around with cups of cocoa to enjoy the sights.

Tomorrow at work we're having a farewell party/potluck for a coworker who is leaving us for greener pastures. In her honor I made a Margarita Cheesecake (this, of course, is where the tequila comes in).

The picture isn't great and the top browned much more than I'd like, but I've made this recipe before and know it will turn out tasty. The recipe is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food:

For the Crust:
4 ounces salted pretzels
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Filling:
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or Triple Sec (I used Triple Sec)
1 tablespoon tequila
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
4 large eggs

1. Make crust: Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in center. Butter a 9 1/2 inch springform pan; set aside. In a food processor, pulse pretzels to fine crumbs. Add sugar and butter; process until combined.

2. Press evenly into bottom and slightly up sides (about 1 inch) of pan. Place on baking sheet. Bake until light golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Prepare filling: With an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until light and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, about 1 minute (use a really big bowl or you'll get cream cheese everywhere, like I did). Mix in sour cream, sugar, Grand Marnier/Triple Sec, tequila, and lime zest; beat until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to combine after each addition.

4. Pour into cooled crust (filling will come up higher than crust). Line outside of pan with aluminum foil (to prevent water from seeping in). Place in a roasting pan. Pour hot water to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Bake until set and slightly firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Remove from water bath, and let cool on a wire rack; refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours. Run a hot knife around edge of pan to release.

I haven't taken mine out of my springform pan yet, I'll do that right before its served tomorrow so transporting it is easier. And I wanted to pipe a ring of some type of lime jelly close to the outside of the cake, and then a ring of whipped cream outside that. I think that would be a nice presentation, but I don't have a piping bag or tips, I don't think my whipped cream would hold overnight and I don't really want to whip it at work, and I don't want to use canned whipped cream. I suppose I just didn't plan this well enough this time around - next time though!

And since its Wednesday, it must be Business Time:

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hiking and Holidays

Yipee!!! We're going hiking!!!

Ayla and I went hiking with the Saturday morning group. Here she is at the top of the Elderberry Trail in Las Trampas Regional Wilderness. This is overlooking Castro Valley and you can see the bay in the background.

Hiking is thirsty work. Here's Ayla and her buds Christie and Coby getting a drink at one of the watering troughs. There are cattle grazing through the area and the water for them makes for convenient dog watering too. Ayla didn't have to put her front paws up like these two, she could just stick her head over the side since she's so tall. Looks like she'd rather drink the mud here though.

Speaking of cattle, here's Ayla wondering what she should do here. This cow and the others on the other side of the road had calves with them, so they were a bit grumpy and mooed a lot.

Finally back in the car after four or five miles of hiking, with Christie. Look, they're holding paws! :)

It was a great hike and Ayla (who is eviscerating her stuffed goose toy as I type) was good and tired after, which was a great thing because Chris and I were going out that night - gasp! :) Chris' work sponsored a holiday party on the San Francisco Belle, so we got dressed up and hopped on the bus with many of his coworkers in Pleasanton. The ride over the Bay Bridge was neat - we were up so high in the bus and could see so much more than I'm used to when I drive over the bridge. It dropped us off at Pier 2 in SF and we boarded the boat. It was decorated for the holidays and there were appetizers and a jazz quartet.

Before the boat launched, Chris looked over at me with a gleam in his eye and said, "You know, we could get off the boat and go have a nice dinner and see a show or something instead." I took a look around and realized that while the party was nice, I only knew a few people there, and the appetizers weren't promising for a vegetarian (unless I wanted to eat just cheese cubes, carrot sticks, and goodness-knows what had been dipped in the chocolate fountain). The music was good but it was loud and enclosed in the room, and I have an awful time focusing and holding up my end of a conversation in that type of situation. So off we went! Funny, we felt at first like we were breaking the rules or getting in trouble, but then realized we're adults, we can do what we want! How silly is that?

We found a bus stop and looked at a map, wanting to get to Union Square. It looked to be about a mile away so we set off on foot. On the way we got to look at a lot of holiday decorations, and though it was cool we had coats and gloves so we were happy. We made our way to Union Square and walked around a bit looking at all the holiday cheer (kittens in the Macy's window display!), looked at a ticket office but didn't see any shows nearby that we were interested in, then happened upon the Daily Grill, a restaurant my great-uncle and -aunt Loren and Lynn took the family to for my college graduation 5 years ago. We had a wonderful dinner: I had grilled vegetables, risotto, and a glass of Shiraz. There was so much food it looked like I had hardly touched my plate, but I was stuffed! Chris couldn't pass up the 28-day aged porterhouse with fries, though he usually doesn't eat meat either, and a spiced rum and coke. He said the steak was one of the best he's ever had, and this is a man who loves steak.

Then we walked down to the big mall and rode the many curving escalators, something we did together on that National Honor Society trip 11 years ago when we first fell in love. We went to the Nordstrom's Cafe for coffee and dessert (creme brulee and a sorbet & gelato trio) and looked out over the city and its hustle and bustle. After that we caught an easy BART ride back to Pleasanton, walked a short half-mile or so back to Chris' work, got in the car and drove home.

It was such a wonderful day and we had such a good time. I'm pretty much hobbled today since I walked too many miles in the city in 3-inch heels, but it was very much worth it. I'm sure the boat would have been nice, but I'm glad we decided to do our own thing instead. Here's to my husband and his spontaneity! What a wonderful gift it was!