Friday, May 30, 2008

The Many Places I Take My Pets

First of all - Big congrats to Liz and Kurt and welcome to the world little Jonathan! If you can count 10lbs. 2oz. little. He looks just like his daddy... bald. :)

Last weekend we found an elementary school nearby us with a nice big field behind it. Its been a great place to take the dogs to play on the off hours. There's also a couple free-standing walls for Butts Up or whatever it is the kids are playing nowadays (get off my lawn, whippersnappers!). Chris and I can bounce the ball off the wall to each other and the dogs try to intercept it, so its pretty much another version of keep-away to play with them, but still fun. And Chris taught me how to properly throw a ball, so I can throw a lot farther now with much less effort. My aim is getting better too. Maybe some day I won't throw like a girl.

You have cookie for me?

A few days ago we noticed the city or parks department had churned up a big path on the hillside so we can go up there again. With the high plants and ticks we haven't been able to go since around the time we got Mac. The main path up the hill is very steep, but Mac trucked on up after Ayla.


Water break!

I've noticed that in pictures where we're holding Mac, he looks ginormous. I think he kinda falls back into his wrinkles and rolls, and if you can't see his legs he looks like a big pudge. He is around 35lbs. now and quite stocky, but by no means fat. You wouldn't know it looking at this though.

A man and his hippo - its a beautiful thing.

I call this one "Smile with Ball"

Following that path behind Chris above, we go over the crest of the hill. From here you can see the lake on the golf course and all the fancy houses around it.

This afternoon I took the dogs swimming again. Ayla ran ahead of us and once Mac and I made it to the usual beach she was shoulder-deep in the water smiling at us. Mac ran straight to her and it got deep quick for him. He ended up doing a lot of swimming today. Ayla "swims" too... she's... special.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jello Wrestling

Well, maybe not jello wrestling. But there is wrestling involved. And there is food too.

First up, a few pictures from our trip to Shadow Cliffs last Friday:

Mac hamming it up for the camera

"... Let me tell you 'bout my best friend..."

Mac really swam this time. I tossed a stick out a little, then a little farther, and a little more. All of a sudden he was diving under the water since the stick sank a little, did a turn, and paddled back to shore. I think he surprised even himself, and he wasn't much interested in actual swimming after that. He was very happy to wade though.

Now for the food: We had a going-away party at work today for a coworker so I made a cake. I used Orangette's Banana Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting, but doubled it to make a two-layer cake and added a chocolate ganache filling.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Ganache and Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Orangette
For the cake:
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1.5 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large egg
1.5 cup puréed very ripe bananas (I used 4 bananas)
0.5 cup sour cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Chocolate ganache:
9 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I used Ghiradelli chips)
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbs dark rum

For the frosting:
6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
6 Tbs well-stirred canned cream of coconut; not coconut milk
2 tsp dark rum
2/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut (optional, I put it on the side to add as desired)

Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter or spray a 9-inch round cake pan (I added parchment rounds, then sprayed again), and dust it with flour, shaking out any excess.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add the egg, and beat until well combined. Add the banana purée, sour cream, and vanilla, and beat to combine well. Reduce the speed to low, and add the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix. (Its best to add the flour in thirds or quarters. The batter will be very thick so you'll probably have to mix by hand toward the end.)

Divide the batter equally between the two prepared cake pans, and bake until the top is pale golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-27 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan; then invert the rack over the cake and invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooking or while it cools, make the ganache. In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream until nearly boiling (but do not allow to boil). Pour over the chocolate in a bowl and stir to melt the chocolate and combine. Allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Once cool you can whip the ganache if desired to make it fluffier.

While the cake cools, make the frosting. In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese and the butter on medium speed until smooth. Reduce the speed to low; then add the confectioners sugar, cream of coconut, and rum. Mix until combined; then increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about two minutes.

Even the cake layers by slicing off the domed tops with a large serrated knife in a gentle sawing motion (and save the scraps to snack on!). Place the bottom layer on your plate, pour some ganache in the center and spread outward, stopping about half an inch from the edge of the cake to avoid overspill. I used about half of the ganache to fill the cake (put the rest in the fridge, then use a melon baller to scoop out truffles!). Top with the second layer. Spread frosting around the sides and over the top of the thoroughly cooled cake, and sprinkle evenly with coconut if desired.

One of these days I need to get a proper cake stand or plate, instead of using a dinner plate. I also need an offset spatula to make frosting easier and prettier. My dreams are rather humble. This cake is really tasty and moist, like banana bread. The only leftovers from today was one little piece I brought home for Chris, and he's going to have to share it with me!

Finally, the wrestling portion for today. Here's a video I shot of Ayla and Mac playing bitey-face. You can hear Mac grunting and breathing, but Ayla decided to stay quiet tonight. She'll growl and even bark sometimes when they wrestle, but I guess she was camera shy.

I love having two dogs to wear each other out!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Little of This, A Little of That

Here's another little slideshow I made with some pictures of the pets. The first few pictures are older, with some from a trip or two to the dog park. Mac has a great time there, and would much rather run up and say hi to the people than play with the other dogs, though he will wrestle if there's someone of a matched size to him. Ayla likes to chase a ball and try to entice us to get it from her and could really care less about the other dogs or people.

The next set of pictures is from today. Chris took a half day off from work to use up some vacation time before the new job starts since he doesn't foresee being able to take any vacation for quite a while after that, and its use it or lose it. He took the dogs to Shadow Cliffs and tells me Mac was a trooper, despite the half-mile or so hike in and back. He followed Ayla right in to the water, and he might even have swam!

Following that are a couple pictures of the two on the couch. We don't have snuggling dogs yet, but Ayla's really starting to tolerate Mac when she's lying down and feels more vulnerable. She still doesn't like him jumping into bed with her in the mornings though. (Hover your mouse over the slideshow and you can pause it to have a better look at a picture if you'd like)

Tonight we had one of our favorite dinners: Burgers and Fries. I love that Costco sells Gardenburgers by the huge boxful. I made regular and sweet potato fries, using the classic double-fry recipe (from Bittman). Basically, slice your potatoes and fry them in oil (I used vegetable oil, about 1.5" in a wide pan) for 8-10 minutes until they start getting a little golden. Remove and drain on paper towels. Heat the oil again, hotter this time, and fry the potatoes in small batches for a minute or two each batch, until golden. Then I seasoned them with a dash of sea salt and some chopped cilantro. The sweet potato fries ended up looking a bit charred, but they tasted great. This is definitely not a healthy recipe, but all things in moderation!

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Hard Day's Work

Mac came to work with me today! He promised to help with my filing:

It wasn't long before he was falling asleep on the job though:

At lunchtime we went with some of my closest coworkers for a picnic in Tilden Park. It was a belated birthday party for me. We had breads and sandwich makings, pickles (yum!) and pepperoncinis, chips and dips, strawberries, and chocolates that melted in the warm weather and became and impromptu fondue for the berries. Mac had fun running around, eating stuff on the ground, and playing with everyone. Bruce was scaring him with a tray, pretending it was a frisbee, when we were cleaning up:

But they made up:

We got back to my office and Mac was exhausted. He took a nap while I worked, waking up only to greet whoever came to see me:

After a snooze it was time for another party, with cake and ice cream and a bunch of people who couldn't make it to the picnic. Mac made the rounds, charming everyone (a few coworkers almost took him home with them) and begging for dessert:

He gave out kisses and cuddles to anyone who wanted them. He was really in his element!

He's been dubbed our work mascot; all he needs is a little spacesuit, helmet, and goggles (since our work deals with aerospace research). And he was great in my office, mostly sleeping and being polite to visitors, though he did really like a few people, if you know what I mean... that was a first for him, I swear! He's so easy to have at work, I'll probably do it more often.

I don't know why he looks so huge here, but its a funny picture:

In other news, congrats to my hubby who is now a SCIENTIST! Go get your science on! He got the news today that he has been accepted into a new position at his current company, where he's been working as a lab technician for a number of years. This is an incredible opportunity for him to expand his skills and really make a difference. I'm am so happy for him!