Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Pride Mountain Vineyard picnic area

Last Saturday I went wine-tasting with Stef, Philip, and Phil's friend Richard. Richard has the connections - his uncle is a wine maker at Pride Mountain Vineyards in St. Helena. We started off in the tasting room with a Chardonnay, Viognier, and a red (I don't remember the varietal). Then we went on a tour of the wine caves.


I don't remember how many wines we tried inside. I do remember that the Reserve Claret was amazing, and has a ten-year waiting list for purchasing. Oh, it was good though! The caves were like a labyrinth and very cool. The wines were very good too, though a bit dry for my tastes. After the cave tour we went back to the tasting room where I nursed my glass of the Claret. Then they brought out a dessert wine that was very tasty. I'd be a happy girl if I had a bottle of the Chardonnay, Claret, and dessert wine. I just don't know when I'd drink them, since Chris isn't a wine fan.

We headed back down to Napa and had lunch at the Rutherford Grill (menu here). I had the best veggie burger - they make their own with grains, veggies (including beets!), and a soy glaze. Their slaw was really good too. Rich had brought a bottle of wine from Pride with us for lunch as well, and Stef and I drank most of it since the guys were drivers.

I wish I had more pictures from Napa, but I was too... drunk... to be taking many pictures. Phil took quite a few good ones and I begged for a few from him, but I don't think that's happening. We had such a good time, and I can't thank everyone enough for the invitation and generosity!

* * *

Tonight's dinner was a Barefoot Bloggers entry, Mexican Chicken Soup chosen by Judy of Judy's Gross Eats. My changes were halving the recipe, using baked tofu in place of chicken, and omitting the cumin since Chris doesn't care for it.

The lineup

Mirepoix, the aromatics onion, celery, and carrot sautéed in butter or oil, is a common base for many soups and stocks and is often referred to as the Holy Trinity of French cooking. Also on the cutting board is minced garlic and minced green and red jalapeños. Those brown blocks are baked tofu from Trader Joe's, in savory flavor. I love this stuff so much and kept snacking on it while cooking.

Always a good start

Once the mirepoix is ready you add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for a while.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble

Then top with grated Cheddar, sour cream, and avocado (mine aren't ripe yet) and enjoy. This is a really tasty and easy soup. I made a quick batch of cornbread muffins to serve along side the soup. I'll definitely make this again!

Dinner is served

* * *

In other news, Mac is a very, very bad boy.

*Le sigh*

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Up the Hill

Spiky purple pine cone flower-thingy

Does anyone know what this is? The leaves on the plant are very spiky and the purple is actually quite vibrant. Since it is darker earlier in the day I didn't have very good lighting when I was taking pictures the other evening while I took the dogs up the hill behind our place.

Autumn in the Bay Area is nice: everything greens up once we have some rain and respite from the hot summer. The hill is sprouting tons of new grass, which Mac and Ayla love to eat.

Bits of green

The weather is a little cooler, which means the dogs run around like wild banshees when they are outside now. Mac is a fast little bugger and chases Ayla all over. He's probably faster than she is, but she has more staying power. Mac's more of a sprinter.

And they're off!

Ayla always looks so happy when she's running around. And she's got such a pretty white smile too. Even though I've managed to put a few pounds on her, you can see she's still skinny. Yes, those are her ribs. I'll feed her treats all day in addition to her kibble, and she gets our food mixed into that kibble, and she's still a slim little lady. Must be nice to have such a metabolism.

Hamming it up

I finished up my Voodoo Wristwarmers (size M) over the weekend. These were an easy and fast knit. I used about two-thirds of a skein of Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Fuchsia (I think; I've lost the band). I learned how to knit small-diameter in the round on two circulars with this project, which was much easier than it seemed at first. I made the thumb holes with an 8-stitch button hole instead of the recommended 6-stitch... I must have freakishly large thumbs? This first picture is fairly true to the actual color - they're hot pink.

Wristwarmers with bonus possessed dog in the background

This shot isn't as fuzzy, but the color is off. (See my favorite Fat Bastard Wine shirt?!) These should keep me a little warmer walking the dogs in the cooler weather, and at an upcoming outdoor concert I'll be playing in.

Wristwarmers with bonus dog torso

Music is keeping me quite busy lately. This past Sunday I had a concert with Pleasanton Community Concert Band. We played music geared toward children, accompanied by narrators and picture slides: Carnival of the Animals, Pictures at an Exhibition, Peter and the Wolf, and Star Wars. It was an eclectic combination, but I think it went over well and I had a good time.

I had my usual Wednesday afternoon performance with the USS Hornet Band today at the senior center. On our break I chatted with a 90-year-old man who told me about his days in the Navy during WWII, his experience being the only Mexican on a cruiser of all white men, and boxing. Fascinating! Tomorrow night is PCCB practice (our holiday concert is Dec. 14). Friday night I've got a gig with the Hornet Band playing at a Lion's Club dinner. The following Friday we're playing at a city tree-lighting ceremony. I was given some flute music to play too, and since I haven't played flute since college I'll need to practice a bit so I don't pass out trying to play the thing. It takes a lot more air than other instruments it seems. Busy busy!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Risotto Cakes and Roasted Onions

I made two Barefoot Bloggers recipes this week. Let's start with the Chive Risotto Cakes, chosen by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen. Here's the ingredients:

The line-up

The chives are from my garden, and I had to go out and grab another handful when I decided to make the whole recipe, not halve it. While the risotto is cooking you whisk together the other ingredients minus the panko flakes. After the risotto is cooked and cooled you incorporate it into the wet mixture. Then you chill it. I put mine together Tuesday evening and finished cooking them Wednesday evening.


After the mixture is thoroughly cooled you form patties. I used an ice cream scoop as suggested in the recipe to get the right amount, then flattened the patties in my hands. Here's where I had problems though. The patties weren't staying together very well at all. The first few were okay, but after that they really wanted to fall apart. Maybe I should have put the mixture back in the fridge between batches? Anyway, you coat the patties in panko flakes...

Patties on a bed of panko

... and fry them in oil. Mine took longer than the given three minutes per side to become golden.

In the oil

And here they are after frying:

Golden, like hush puppies

I wasn't terribly impressed by this recipe. The cakes are fine, but to me they just taste fried. I think adding more chives and a stronger cheese might help. I do really like using panko for breading since its makes a very crispy crust. Overall, I don't think I'll be making these again. I still have about half the mixture in the fridge. I think I'll make bite-size patties and freeze them before the frying to have appetizers at the ready for the future. I think they'd benefit from a dipping sauce, but I'm not sure what...

I also made the Herb Roasted Onions, chosen by Kelly from Baking with the Boys. I can forsee using this recipe with other roasted vegetables as well. You whip together a quick dressing of Dijon, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Then you toss the onions in it and roast them in the oven. The onions are served with leftover dressing poured on top. Holy moly, these were good! We had these along with the risotto cakes:
Dinner's served!

Together they were a tasty meal. But I think I went to my band rehearsal that night smelling of onions and fried food!

Friday, November 7, 2008


I think I've always been an avid reader. Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is probably what really kicked off this hobby for me, somewhere back around the fourth grade. Ever since then I've very often had a book in my hand. In fact, my freshman year in college I remember sitting on campus and reading a 700-page book in two days during finals... I just couldn't study any more and sought refuge in my roommate's copy of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. A consequence of reading something so heavy so quickly seems to be that I can't remember the story any longer, but it definitely served a purpose for me at the time.

I just finished reading Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago's Blindness (1997). This is the best novel I've read in quite a while. That said, it is most certainly not an easy read. It is graphic and raw, and written in an almost stream-of-consciousness style with page-long "sentences", little punctuation and no quotation marks, just capitalization to indicate a new speaker. The style is mostly dialog interspersed with thoughts and philosophy, both of the characters - who are never given names - and of the author, in the form of clauses joined by commas. And its all translated from the original Portuguese. If you can get through the difficulty of the actual reading, the story is disturbing and incredibly rewarding. For a synopsis Wiki it here.

A film adaptation came out this year starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore. Unfortunately, Metacritic gives it rather lukewarm reviews. I can understand though, if its true to the book at all it would have to be quite an ugly film. I'll definitely rent it when it comes out on DVD, if only to be disappointed. Saramago wrote a sequel in 2004 entitled Seeing, and I've written about my love for series-books, so I'll be picking up at my favorite used book store on my next trip. This was an incredible book.

So, what do I read next? I have a stack waiting to be read: a lot of sci-fi, some David Sedaris, Gregory Maguire, the newest Phillipa Gregory is out now... but Liz has me thinking of revisiting Beckett. What are you reading?

I've been busy with music lately, which I'm still ecstatic about. This past Thursday I played with the Hornet Band at another senior center, this time in Fremont. There was a larger crowd and we had a singer with us (I wasn't the only girl!). And I got paid again... I've made $9 as a professional musician so far! Getting closer to that new sax by the week, only 18 years and 11 months to go at this rate. That same evening I had rehearsal with the PCCB again. Our next performance is in two weeks and we're nearly ready for it. The lead alto from the band invited me to sit in with his jazz band next week while one of their altos is on vacation. I know that when I play with musicians a lot better than myself, I get a lot better, so I'm very excited about this chance. That said, I was practicing early one morning at work and didn't hear someone come in. He asked me later that day if that was my "musical stylings." I'm not that bad, am I? I've since redoubled my practice efforts. Funny how much of a hit my self-confidence took from one comment by someone who admitted to knowing nothing about music.

I'm still chugging away on the Cable-Down Raglan, working on the left sleeve now. I'm more and more convinced that it isn't long enough, so once I finish the sleeves I think I'll go back and lengthen the body by another inch or two. Still happy with it!

And the close-up:
I might put this project on the back burner for the weekend though. The Hornet Band has a gig after Thanksgiving for a city tree-lighting ceremony, and I'm told its always cold since its outdoors at night. I want to knit a pair of wristwarmers to keep my hands a bit warmer that night since gloves would be too bulky for playing music. I've seen quite a few really nice patterns, but I think I'll go with Knitty's Voodoo Wristwarmers since they are basic and I should be able to finish them in plenty of time.

Here's Mac and Ayla at one of their favorite hobbies: bone/rawhide chewing!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Veteran's Day

Yesterday was the Twelfth Annual Tri-Valley Veteran's Day Ceremony in Pleasanton, and the Pleasanton Community Concert Band provided the music for the ceremony. This was my first concert with the PCCB, and I think its very cool that it was for this occasion (though the other saxophones tell me at the last concert they played "Pirates of the Caribbean" so I'm quite jealous!). The ceremony was honoring the Air Force this year so we played many Air Force-inspired marches. Uncle Sam sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" with us.

One of the most interesting parts of the ceremony was the proclamation and award given to a local man who was a paratrooper at Utah Beach. He was not long ago contacted by a French memorial who had tracked him down through the serial number on the belt buckle on the pair of pants that had fallen out of his pack so many years ago. That prompted him to finish his service record, and he found out he had been awarded a bronze star.

Another part I quite enjoyed was when we played a medley of service songs. Each branch would stand up and cheer when we got to their song (Semper Paratus, Air Force, Anchors Away, Marine Corps Hymn, and Caisson Song). The audience was about 100 people, half of them in uniform and the other half families and friends. I couldn't see them since I was looking at my music, but hearing the cheers during the songs was very moving. .

All in all it was a wonderful performance. At the last minute it was moved into the VFW Hall instead of Veteran's Park due to rain the previous day, so we didn't get the fly-over that was scheduled. But I was sitting directly in front of the big bass drum, so I got enough loud sounds in my ears I suppose.

Walking back to my car after the performance I was quite surprised by how many people would stop to thank me for playing. I was honored to do so. Its the same when I'm playing swing and jazz at the senior centers. I feel a little bad to have other people appreciate it so much. Its almost like community service, but I'm enjoying it so much that it doesn't feel like I'm giving anything at all. If anything, I'm getting back far more. I am so very happy to have music back in my life again... it feels like coming home.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rainy Day

When can we go outside?

Its been a rainy day. Ayla spent a lot of time looking forlornly out at the patio. I took both dogs for a walk in our complex at one point and Mac kept trying to eat the rain. Picture him trotting along with his head up, biting at the rain drops. Silly boy. I let Ayla off leash since she was crazy - water gives the dogs the zoomies - and she ran around with a big goofy grin on her face. Then she slid out in the grass and ended up smeared all down her left haunch with mud. Getting her in the tub once we were back inside, I ended up with most of the mud on me. She doesn't hate baths, but she doesn't like getting in the tub (whereas Mac jumped in on me in the shower recently, he loves it). I think its going to be a long, muddy winter. I'm glad we took out the carpet in the living room, and we'll probably be removing it in the bedroom after the winter.

Tomato Swirl Bread

I've had my eye on the Tomato Swirl Bread over at Baking Delights for a while now. I think I've written about my love for grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup before, so I've been waiting for the chance to make this. Here's the recipe:

Tomato Dough:
1 c tomato sauce
2 tbs butter
2 tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
2 Tbs ketchup
1 package of dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 c warm water
4 c whole wheat flour or white flour

Soften yeast in water. Heat tomato sauce, butter, and ketchup and let cool to lukewarm. Add sugar, cloves, salt and yeast mixture to tomato mixture and mix in enough flour to make a soft but kneadable dough. Turn out and knead until smooth and elastic. Oil and set aside to rise.

Whole Wheat Dough
1 1/2 c warm water
2 Tbs butter
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 pack dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)
4 c whole wheat flour

Soften yeast in 1/4 c water with sugar. To other 1 1/4 c water add butter until butter melts (you may need to microwave it and let cool to luke warm). Add salt and yeast mixture, then add flour until you get a soft, kneadable dough and proceed as above.

Let balls of dough rise until double-about 1 1/2 hours. punch down and knead lightly…cut each ball of dough into 2 equal pieces. Let rest 10 minutes. Roll each ball out into a rectangle of equal sizes. Place a tomato dough rectangle on top of a whole wheat rectangle and roll up tightly pinching dough together at bottom to seal. Repeat with other loaf. Let rise in greased bread pans for 1 hour or until double.

Bake at 375 for30 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped. Let cool... if you can.


The bread turned out well. It has a nice crumb, soft and wheaty. It could have a stronger tomato taste, and I'm not overly fond of the cloves (they remind me of a friend in high school who smoked clove cigarettes). If I make this again I would leave out the cloves and add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste to kick up the flavor. This recipe makes two loaves, so I've put the second loaf in the freezer. I made grilled cheese for dinner tonight and the bread grilled up very nicely, though the tomato flavor was overpowered. It sure is a pretty loaf though, isn't it?

I also made mini pumpkin pies:

Aww... cute!

These are just the recipe from the back of the Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix can, put in these mini graham crusts I picked up a while back and, from the date on the package, expired yesterday. They are topped with home-whipped cream though, since I'm out of Cool Whip. :)