Monday, April 27, 2009

Food & Fun

Its been a while since I posted about what I've been up to in the kitchen. Saturday I had a concert with the Pleasanton Community Concert Band at the local farmers market. Between sets I wandered around and picked up a big handful of fava beans:

Known in the UK as broadbeans, these puppies are huge! Each bean is as long as or longer than my hand.

Aren't they cute? Kind of like little caterpillars.

Fave beans are more labor intensive than other types of beans, but their buttery, slightly nutty, just a tad bitter taste is worth the effort. Plus the repetitive work of shucking them is relaxing.
The first shucking reveals the woody, cottony inside of the pod within which each bean in nestled.
The beans need to be blanched in very salty boiling water for about a minute, then put in ice water to stop the cooking (no mushy beans). When they are cool enough to handle you peel off the outer shells, leaving you with tender, bright green beans to eat alone or in another dish.

I recently came across this recipe for Red Beet Risotto over at Not Without Salt and have been thinking about it since. I just can't get over the color, so I also picked up these two homely beets and set forth. The recipe was actually quite easy to boot.

When slicing beets keep in mind the the color can stain. My cutting board looked like a massacre had taken place on it, and my hands were red. I washed up right away and had no problems.

I topped the finished risotto with a yogurt-dill sauce I had prepared a day or two prior, quickly sauteed the fava beans with butter and plenty of garlic, and baked a chicken breast with a lemon herb crust for Chris. This was a fresh and very delicious meal.

* * * * *

After all of the work over the weekend we were able to really enjoy our patio last Wednesday, my birthday. We grilled veggie/hot dogs, had baked beans and macaroni salad - its a bit of a tradition for my birthday. It was gorgeous weather and very enjoyable. A few weeks prior I had picked up a dog/kiddie pool at the pet store since the dogs like water and I figured it would be a good way to cool Mac down in the warm weather. We filled it up and Mac had a blast playing in it, trying to get the giant tennis ball out (too big for his mouth), splashing around and making us laugh. Even Ayla put her front feet in the pool and daintily plucked the toys out.

Its gearing up to be a nice summer!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ready for Summer

Poppies in the sun

Remember that little grape vine starter I got at Picnic Day last Saturday? We got home mid-afternoon and were motivated to overhaul the patio, all because I wanted a pot for my vine with a trellis and a grape design around the rim. We checked in on the dogs, then headed up to our second home Home Depot.

We have a very nice patio at the back of our condo - in fact, its one of the major reasons we bought the place. And you'll find us out there grilling and covered up in blankets even in the winter just to enjoy it, we love it so much. For the past few years we've had self-watering planters and big plastic racks to hold them, plastic Adirondack chairs, a deck box, and such out there. It was still very enjoyable, but we were ready to make it nicer. So we left Home Depot with a bunch of planters and ideas, got home, and got to work.

We busted our butts Saturday replanting most of our plants into their new homes. All the while Gretel hung out on her post on the patio while Mac followed us around, eating bites of soil while we weren't watching, napping and snoring. Ayla would come out to check on us, but big changes make her nervous so she hung out inside most of the time.

On Sunday we went to Lowes to look at more planters and ended up falling in love with a pair of deck chairs, an outdoor rug, a nesting table set, and a small bench as well. It must have looked hilarious, us unpacking boxes to get everything in the Jetta since we had the new furniture as well as a giant redwood planter box and who knows what else. That little car has been nearly as good as a truck for us! Once we were home again we spent the rest of the day working on the patio more, and cleaning up a few things inside. We spent so much time in the sun and either walking around at Picnic Day or working hard that getting into bed Sunday night felt like heaven!

So, on to the pictures of the refreshed patio, ready for a summer full of lounging, grilling, and fun...

Gretel on her post (she loves the patio), our avocado tree grown from just a pit from a grocery store avocado, and a little jade plant.

The Bar-B-Que, and clockwise from the bottom left a fern, tomato, mint from Mammoth, Princess lilies, hanging spider plant (great for oxygenation!), and a Maranta (Prayer Plant) we've had for years.

A shot of the blooms on my Princess lilies. So pretty!

In the redwood planter are petunias from last year, and California poppies (Chris has wanted to grow those for ages!), and a few solar lights; in the green pot is the tomato again.

My little green bench that I'm smitten with (with basil waiting to be planted), and on the rack are herbs, pet grass in the gray planter at the bottom, daisies in the red pot, my grape vine to the left, and a little cactus we've had for quite a while at the very top. This corner gets great sun exposure.

Close-up of my grape vine. I love the pot and the cute trellis, and the solar light makes it look very pretty at night. I hope to have grapes one day!

And a close-up of the purple daisies, as well as my tulips I replanted from last year reaching for the sun.

The gorgeous new eucalyptus chairs (a sustainable wood, treated with teak oil), with big comfy cushions; the nesting glass-topped tables; all sitting on the outdoor rug (cream colored, with a green palm tree border). Outdoor living!

So that's the new patio. Come visit us and we'll sit in the sun, enjoy the view, and sip margaritas while grilling steaks and veggies. Its our own little oasis!

Where's that margarita you were talking about?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Picnic Day '09

Saturday was the annual Picnic Day at Chris' alma mater, UC Davis. Its like a college open-house on steroids, with activities put on by all of the different departments, live music, shows, food, animal activities (including the Doxie Derby - weiner dog races), and a Battle of the Bands with school bands from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Humbolt, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and maybe one or two more I missed. Chris went to Picnic Day from '96 through '02, and I've been once or twice with him as well.

We debating taking Mac with us all the previous night. One on hand, he'd absolutely love it. On the other hand, it would be hot and a lot of walking, and he's a bulldog. Maybe next year we'll take him and not walk around a great deal.

The first place we went was the Mondavi Institute. If I had the space, I'd love to have a garden like this.

I convinced Chris to stand near the artichoke. I realized I didn't really know what an artichoke looked like on the plant.

Here's a close-up of one of our favorite dinners.

And the Mondavi Institute was giving away grape vines to take home and plant. You could choose between several wine varietals, but I went with table grapes. The tag on mine said it was a Princess type. Its now planted (more on that in my next post), so hopefully some future day I'll have grapes from my Centennial Picnic Day vine.

We walking along the Putah Creek pathways, where Chris and his friends used to ride the bikes back in the day.

Chris told me to go stand by the pink flowers. It was getting warm by now (next time leave the sweater in the car).

More campus wanderings: I think this is the financial aid department. I like the rays of the sun falling over Chris, imparting wisdom...

We stopped off in a few buildings. Chris says Social Sciences 1100 smells exactly the same as it did thirteen years ago, though it looks a bit smaller now. Then we walked over to where the parade was beginning, with the UC Davis band playing the introductory song. Instead of waiting for the parade to start moving, we walked along its route and saw all of the participants (floats, bands, etc.). I saw this fire truck and thought of Dad - can you see the brass fire extinguisher on toward the back?

We headed to the animal area where they would be holding a K9 demonstration, flyball, agility, terrier trials, the Doxie Derby (inside The Pavilion), and more. We've seen them all before and were more interested in checking out the campus, so we moved on. The next stop was Chris' freshman dorm complex.

He said it was weird seeing all of these places and thinking of how long ago it all actually was.

By this time we were hungry, and all of the food booths we selling burgers, hot dogs, and such, so we headed to The Silo. The little crepe stand was still doing business, as was the Taco Bell where Chris had so many meals. We went to the Gunrock Pub since they'd probably have more veggie-friendly meals. We sat with our soda and beer for about half an hour, while the large table behind us, seated 10-15 minutes after us, got their appetizers. I've written before about how often we are forgotten when we go out, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that this was no exception. We couldn't even flag down the waitress, so we left a $5 on the table and walked out. At least some things are consistent...

We looped back around the campus and checked out the new performing arts center. Its a beautiful building, and very nice inside. As we were walking out the door we heard a docent tell another couple that they'd have to wait for a tour and weren't allowed to wander around. Umm... no one stopped us! Being so forgettable has its benefits after all.

In front of the Alumni Center there's a waterfall that was cool, and beckoning! I'm sure it would have felt nice to stand under the falling water in the heat.

It was great reminiscing on the UC Davis campus, listening to Chris' stories and enjoying ourselves. It was interesting to us how much smaller things seemed, compared to when we were just college kids experiencing (almost) adult life for the first time. Its a trick of perspective now; we've grown since those times and have had wider experiences in life. I wonder what comes next...

Pit Stop

Just a quick note - we've been busy and I have some fun (to me, at least) things to write about, which I will once I process the pictures. In the meantime, enjoy this interesting history of the fork over at Leite's Culinaria:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

You are my sunshine...

... my only sunshine.

You make me happy...

... when skies are gray.

You'll never know, dear... how much I love you.

Please don't take... my sunshine away.