Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween, here's a really tasty dessert. If you've never made homemade pudding you should really try - its very easy and very, very good. I really loved the kick from the Mexican chili powder in this. I substituted cornstarch for the arrowroot powder, and in the future I would you just a touch of the pumpkin mixture in the whipped cream, because what is in the recipe is way too much to keep the whipped cream actually whipped. You can use the remainder of the pumpkin mixture for muffins or cookies.

Mexican Mocha Pudding with Pumpkin Cream
From Vegetarian Times

Mexican Mocha Pudding

½ cup sugar, preferably natural brown sugar such as Sucanat or maple
3 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa powder
2½ Tbs. arrowroot powder
1 Tbs. instant espresso powder
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. New Mexico chili powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
2 cups milk
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Whipped Pumpkin Cream

1 15-oz. can pumpkin

½ cup brown sugar

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ cup heavy whipping cream

1. Combine sugar, cocoa powder, arrowroot powder, espresso powder, cinnamon, chili powder, and salt in bowl. Whisk together egg and egg yolks in separate bowl. Stir egg mixture into cocoa mixture.

2. Scald milk in saucepan over medium heat until milk is steaming. Remove from heat. Whisk ı/2 cup hot milk into cocoa mixture. While whisking, pour cocoa mixture back into hot milk, and whisk until smooth. Return to medium heat, and continue whisking for 5 to 6 minutes, until pudding starts to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in chocolate and vanilla until smooth. Transfer pudding to bowl, and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto pudding; refrigerate until chilled.

3. To make Whipped Pumpkin Cream: Cook pumpkin and brown sugar with cinnamon in medium skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl, and cool to room temperature.

4. Whip cream in stand mixer or with handheld beaters on medium-high, until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Fold whipped cream into pumpkin until no streaks remain. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve pudding dolloped with pumpkin cream.

* * * * *

I tried to take the dogs out to take some Halloween pictures today with these cute pumpkin headbands that Chris' mom sent to us - in fact, my place is decorated thanks to her since she sent candy, mini pumpkins, and a wonderful-smelling sugared pumpkin candle as well, Thanks! - but the dogs were not cooperating. So, instead of pretty pictures with a nice grass and tree background, you get what I was able to manage inside the house. They're not pretty, and you get to see my dishwasher, but there you go.

Happy Halloween!

I'm off to have a slice of my first pumpkin pie of the season!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

These are a few of my favorite things...

Enough of the big smiley picture of me being the first thing you see on this blog!

Here's a few things that are making me happy at the moment:

I love these shoes so much! I can't find the style, but they are from Steve Madden and I wore them Saturday night when we went out. The heel is about 4" and I was hobbling by the end of the night, but damn they're hot!

RunKeeper - a free application for the iPhone that provides GPS-driven fitness tracking. My neighbor hooked me on this one. You can use it while running, walking, hiking, cycling, skiing, and more. It uses GPS to track where you've gone, the distance, your speed and pace, elevation, and there are more features if you purchase the Pro version. I downloaded it last week and was motivated to walk Ayla every day, and to walk as fast as I could at that! We logged almost 11 miles last week. I don't particularly enjoy running, but I can walk for ages. Then I'd come home and check out the map overview of our route, how long we walked, how fast we walked, etc. Its a great incentive! And FREE!

Image from

I finally picked up Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, the followup to the first Professor Layton game. Its a really fun puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, with an illustrated storyline, funny characters, and 150+ brainteasers to work through in order to solve the mystery of the diabolical box. I absolutely loved the first game and have been looking forward to playing the sequel, which released in August.

E-books on my iPhone - I'm more likely to read when its so easy. My work bag usually has a paper book in it anyway (Something Missing by Matthew Dicks right now, which I'm really enjoying), but if I'm waiting in line somewhere, or don't want to carry a book or what have you, I love having something easy to access and carry. I've used Kindle for iPhone, LexCycle's Stanza, and Iceberg. I think Iceberg has been the most difficult to use because the page turn feature is the touchiest, while Kindle has been the easiest to purchase for since its right out of the Amazon store, and I often have gift certificates there.

Not my house, but I love this caged bird graphic!

Wall decals from Leen the Graphics Queen. Her designs have simple, modern lines and bold colors, and she is one talented lady. I would love to put this bird graphic next the the giant cat post in my living room, as a little friend for Gretel to hang out with. Leen has many more awesome decals as well. And the best thing? You can win one! Go visit Its the Little Things... to enter the contest and perhaps this little birdie, or another decal of your choosing, will decorate your walls.

There's a diabolical box calling my name. Gotta go!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Busy Bee

I've had an eventful couple of weekends lately. Last Sunday I played with the USS Hornet Big Band aboard the USS Hornet. That is a huge ship, but I'm told that today's carriers are much larger. I had the benefit of having friends come to watch, and they spent a lot of the time taking pictures, which they shared and for which I'm very grateful. After the show I took a tour of the flight deck and island. Never having been on a ship before, I did not wear the most sensible of shoes, but me and my patent purple 3-inch pumps with silver buckles did just fine on the ladder-stairs, thank-you-very-much. We also really threw the docent off, which was funny.

* * * * *

This past Saturday night Stef and I headed up to Walnut Creek to find some trouble. :)

We started at Pyramid Alehouse for dinner and beer tasting...

Smiley beer; Stef has a waiter in her drink; five beers tasted; salut!

Then we meandered over to Va de Vi for wine and dessert.

I had the Sparkling Wine flight, and Stef had the Master Blender. My flight included a Domaine Carneros Brut, which we tried up in Napa, and which made me a very happy girl. Stef's 2007 Odisea "Veritable Quandry" was very, very good too. We also had the dessert tasting for two, and the whole experience was decadent and fun. Stef and I do this type of thing well. :)

Seated on the patio; sparkling wine flight; along with Stef and the Master
Blender; me smiling because of all the wine in front of me; cheers!; the Domaine

Then we went to the theater to sober up and saw Paranormal Activity, which I had heard was terrifying. It was mildly frightening, but even better was the audience's reactions to the movie. Put a bunch of scared people together and they tend to be vocal as a means of assuaging that fear, which turned this movie into a very entertaining communal experience. People were commenting quite loudly throughout, and it was really funny. Although going back to our car in the empty parking structure was a bit frightening - as soon as we got in and turned it on, the lights in the structure went out. Where are those door locks?

* * * * *

Today was another music day for me: I played with the What's Up Big Band in Hayward. This and the previous time I played with them, they have me play a solo of "Misty", and they seem to get a kick out of announcing that the person playing "Misty" is actually Misty. :) They're a fun band to play with, and I'll have more opportunities in the future. Unfortunately, their rehearsals are the same night as my concert band rehearsals, so I won't be a full-time fixture with them. No pictures this time! :)

I have more recipes to post, for dessert this time! Check back later this week...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bring on the Fall Foods!

Fall seems to be officially here - last week we had the largest rain storm out here apparently since the '60s, with winds gusting to 60mph. I think I hydroplaned most of my way home from work that evening. Then it got hot and muggy, and then it rained some more. Gotta love that weather!

Now that it is autumn I find myself spending more time in the kitchen (its warm!), cooking warm appetizers, winter squashes, baked goods, and hearty tasting foods. I went to a party Friday night with lots of wine, chocolate martinis, and tasty food, and might have woken up still drunk the next morning. A delicious dinner Saturday night sounded like a wonderful way to rest.

First up... Stuffed Mushrooms

I saw this recipe for mushrooms stuffed with mini-meatloaves, and with my love of miniature foods, I made it my own. The stuffing is based on the bean burgers from Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian."


1 can (14 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup oat (not quick-cooking)
Fresh rosemary and sage
Salt and pepper
1 egg

Combined all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until chunky but not pureed. Let mixture rest in the fridge for a while (I left mine for about thirty minutes).


Preheat over to 375°F and line a baking sheet with foil. Clean and remove the stems from however many mushrooms you want to make. I used baby portabellos, but I've seen mushrooms labelled "stuffing mushrooms" in the store. Put a cube of cheese (I used marinated mozzarella balls) in the mushroom cup. Wet hands, since the bean mixture is very sticky, and top the mushroom with a patty. Bake for 20 minutes.

* * * * *

Main course... Tri-Tip with Rosemary Red Wine Reduction (from the Raley's "Something Extra" magazine, but I can't find it on their website)


1 tri-tip, prepared according to your favorite recipe
2 cups red wine
1/2 pan drippings or stock (I used no-chicken stock)
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 cup butter, cut into pieces
Salt and pepper

Bring wine, pan drippings/stock, shallots, and rosemary to a boil in a saucepan. Cook for 20 minutes or until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove rosemary and whisk in butter until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over prepared tri-tip, which in this case I marinated in a garlic herb mixture all day long and then barbecued. I used a Naked Chick'n cutlet for me to make it vegetarian.

* * * * *

Side dish... Butternut Squash with Wilted Spinach and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette (from Whole Foods "The Whole Deal" magazine)


1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 5-oz package baby spinach
4 cups roasted 1" cubes butternut squash

To roast butternut squash, peel and chop into 1" cubes. Toss on a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 400° until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Use a fork to mash together blue cheese and lemon juice in a large bowl to make a thick, smooth dressing. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and cook, tossing often, until slightly wilted and warm, 1 to 2 minutes more. Transfer to the bowl with the dressing, add the warm squash, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine.

* * * * *

The squash was great, the red wine reduction was great (it reminded Chris of pot roast though, he likes a sharper red wine). And more importantly, it was hearty and gourmet-y and warming on a chilly fall evening. Even better was topping it off with my favorite chocolate cookies and coffee!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Mammoth Trip

We went to Mammoth... again. As usual, it was great. Bullet points of what we did:
  • BBQ steak night on Friday
  • Mochas at The Looney Bean
  • Relaxed at Greg's place
  • Took the inflatable raft up to Horseshoe and floated around
  • Personal Oktoberfest with grilled brats, potato salad, and beer
  • Rooftop archery
  • Monopoly (Chris won)
  • Fresh blueberry muffins and Cuppy's Coffee
  • Went to Mammoth Creek
  • Met up with the boys' dad at the Bishop Country Club and hit some balls
  • Pizza lunch
  • Bowling (Greg won, twice... but my last two tries down the lane were strikes!)
  • Grumpy's for fried food and pool
  • Chocolate bars from Schat's Bakery
We came home just before the weather turned, and now its snowed about 4" in town from the pictures I've seen!

Here's the pictures...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Food Rules

Michael Pollan has a recent bit in The New York Times food issue where he has his twenty favorite responses to his question to readers about their rules for eating well:

I cannot embed it, so the link is here.

My favorite is #15, but I'm also really digging the look and layout of the entire series. Check it out!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Knitting Disaster!

What is missing in this picture? How about a big gold size 6 knitting needle on that raw edge!

I was working into my third pattern repeat when I noticed a small knot in the yarn, shortly after joining my second ball. I thought nothing of it and kept moving. A few rows later and it turns out that the knot was not just a tangle in the yarn, but actually keeping to yarn ends together. And it had COME UNDONE! First I freaked out a little, then spent about twenty minutes trying to tie the two tiny ends together, even tried spit-joining, and failed. Then I figured I'd unknit back to where the yarn broke, trying to keep the broken stitch from dropping using a paperclip. This was actually working, but I had difficulty unknitting the lace pattern and ended up dropping stitches anyway. It turned into one big clusterf*$&, and I had to just call it all a loss.

Months of work, a third of the way through the stole... kaput. I might have thrown it across the room, banged some drawers, and said some unladylike things. Just saying.

There's the offending break. Excuse me while a shed a tear...

So, this isn't a complete loss. I have learned two lessons from this: A) Don't just knit past a knot - undo it, and join the yarn properly. B) When knitting lace, a lifeline just might be your... lifeline.

* le sigh...*

Ayla and I went on a walk when I got home from work today, down to the local park, which is absolutely beautiful. Once we got down to the grass and I let her off leash, Ayla ran around like crazy - zigging and zagging, speeding this way and that, and generally acting like a pent-up dog that never gets outside.

We've been playing a lot of fetch lately and taking fewer walks, so it seems she was happy to really get out. I love this crazy dog, and the heart-shaped drool foam on her tongue.

We admired the sidewalk art of a kid on the walkway on the way home. There was quite a bit, mostly smiley-faced suns and strings of ABCs. And then there was this gem, from a child that apparently has quite a bit in common with my husband:

* I like pie / from kyle*

So do I, Kyle. So do I.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ch, Ch, Ch, Changes

No longer brownish-blonde, I'm not black(ish)-haired. Its a nice way to welcome fall and give myself a change. And I love how soft and shiny my hair is after I color it. This is a just a semi-permanent from a box supposed to wash out in about a month, though my hair usually holds color longer than that. By the way, I feel incredibly vain right now. I took about two dozen self-portraits on a hill while walking Ayla, and now have a file labeled "Self" on my computer, with nothing but pictures of me. Some have goofy grins and others are too posed, but I'm sure it will be interesting looking back them years from now, and I rarely ever delete a photo anyway, especially once its loaded on my computer.

The weather is much cooler now, and the dogs have let me know by becoming extremely hyper in the house. I took them to the dog park recently. Its a great place, 1.3 acres of gravel, so it doesn't get too muddy, with a shade structure and tables for the humans, as well as additional benches around the park, and a water fountain for both species. I just love the movement of Mac's ears and wrinkles when he runs.

We had the place to ourselves for a while. Ayla likes to stand in the shade with a ball in her mouth and survey the park. Until Mac swoops in and steals the ball, that is.

There has been knitting...

Despite how long it takes me, I really do enjoy lace knitting. It looks like a crumpled mess while its in progress, but blooms into something very pretty once its finished and blocked. And I can't say enough about the Frog Tree yarn. Its fluffy and soft and has a very nice halo. I'm one repeat in, five or six more to go (depending on how long it is after five and how much yarn I have). I like how the middle picture depicts the Seascape Stole; it reminds me of rolling waves.

A big thank you to Hungarican Chick for sending me this award, and brightening up a crummy day. I love her randomness (kindred spirits at times, I think), she's very funny (see the recent grammar rant, and I really feel you on this one!), and makes the sweetest drawings that remind me of Beatrix Potter and being a kid again. Go check her out and say hi!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I've been reading lately...

But those are just a teaser...

What I really want to talk about is a book I finished a few days ago, Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story by Carolyn Turgeon. Check out her blog - she's a rocking funny writer, which I totally did not expect since I read the book without researching the author at all. I will definitely be adding her to my author list.

"Godmother" is about a lonely old woman, Lil, who works in a dusty Manhattan book store. But there's more to her than what you can see. Namely, wings. Giant, white, gorgeous, feathery wings that she keeps bound on her back and hidden under her clothing during the day. She possesses this magnificent pair of wings because she's actually a fairy godmother; in fact, she's the fairy godmother, responsible for sending Cinderella to the ball and her fate. However, that's not exactly what happened, hundreds of years ago. Things didn't quite go as the fairy tales would have us believe. Something went quite wrong.

Lil succumbed to human emotions and desire, and fell in love with the prince. Due to certain circumstances, she went to the ball in Cinderella's place, and for this she was banished from her magical world. A long time later, in the little book store, Lil meets the beautiful and vibrant Veronica. She is dark and light, a girl with her own tragedy and a passion for life, and so much like the other fair beauty from so long ago. Lil suddenly understands that she has been given a second chance: if she can unite Veronica with her own Prince Charming, she will be able to return to her dearly missed fairy world and friends, and suffer no more.

"Tous mes anciens amours vont me revenir..."

* * *

This book is dark and beautiful, magical and gritty. I found myself yearning as Lil yearned, falling in love with the sweet and animated Veronica, wanting Lil to succeed and return home. Without giving too much away, I finished the book feeling both joyous and broken.

After reading this and Gregory Maguire's Wicked series, I am definitely a fan of the re-imagined fairy tale. Taking a different perspective than the usually Disney-fied, saccharin storylines we all know is very refreshing. And reading the original Grimm tales are eye-opening (I haven't read the original Wizard of Oz); they are brutal and not often ending happily. Its like looking in mirror and only noticing, when you get right up close to the glass, the tarnish and spots that aging has left behind; from a few feet away the reflection is perfect, but up close it becomes wavy and uncertain. Maguire has done a few other books in this vein, and Turgeon is working on a little mermaid story; I'm very much looking forward to reading more. According to Turgeon's website, "Godmother" has been optioned for a film... I will definitely watch it, and I will most certainly cry. I can't wait!

* * *

So, back to my teaser earlier. I've been debating whether or not to write about this, but since I have very few readers, I'll go ahead and do it.

I do not remember how, but I'm part of a program from Random House Publishers call Read it Forward. Every month or so I receive an email about new releases and reviews, with the option to request an advance copy of soon-to-be-released books. So far I've received and read Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram (wow, its incredible and heartbreaking!) and "Godmother." Last week in the mail I received Something Missing by Matthew Dicks and Where the River Ends by Charles Martin, apparently a guaranteed tear-jerker since it came with its own pack of tissues. Due to some current circumstances, I'm not really up for a sob-fest right now, so I started "Something Missing" today and already have high hopes for this novel about a "... career criminal with OCD tendencies..."

Check out Read it Forward, but don't take my books! Just kidding... kinda. :)