November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving recipes

Here are the two recipes I added to this year's Thanksgiving dinner.

Creamed Corn

2 (10 ounce) packages frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

In a skillet over medium heat, combine the corn, cream, salt, sugar, pepper and butter. Whisk together the milk and flour, and stir into the corn mixture. Cook stirring over medium heat until the mixture is thickened, and corn is cooked through. Remove from heat, serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

Roasted Balsamic Pearl Onions

2 quarts water
4 pounds pearl onions
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, crushed - I used dried
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup good-quality aged Balsamic Vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 475°F.

In a large stockpot, bring water to a boil; add onions. Stir for 30 seconds then remove with a slotted spoon. Peel onions then arrange on a jellyroll pan. Sprinkle onions evenly with rosemary.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together wine, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and honey; drizzle over onions.

Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once after first 15 minutes. Remove from oven and remove onions with a slotted spoon; set aside in a bowl.

Pour remaining balsamic sauce from pan into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes until slightly syrupy. Pour balsamic sauce over onions then toss to coat. Makes 8 servings.

Has it really come and gone?

Thanksgiving is over. It's hard to believe. It's even harder to believe I had four days off. I kept so busy it didn't even feel like a single day off.

This year is going so quickly, it's almost over. Yet, in my mind, I'm thinking it's October. But, nope, tomorrow is December 1st.

Thursday was filled with cooking and cleaning. We took time out to enjoy a great meal. I'm so pleased everything turned out this year. I was nervous trying two new recipes, but both were a success. My sausage stuffing was delicious. Such a relief, since last year's was a disaster (when I gave the crockpot a go, since oven space was limited). I was thrilled I nailed it. It's my favorite part of Thanksgiving, for many years it was the only thing I ate. The turkey roasted beautifully, Frank said it was one of the tastiest he's had in years. Mom thought it was a delicious meal, too.

Friday was filled with shopping and baking. Mom and I were up at 3:30 to hit the stores. We picked up lots of good stuff at great prices. We shopped at Sears, Walmart, Target, Bass Pro Shops, and Lowes. We made it back home by 7:30. After a nap, we headed out again and hit Big Lots and Bath and Body Works. Once, we got back home I baked diabetic friendly chocolate chip cookies. They were a bit dry and cakey, if I'm being nitpicky, but mom loved them. Frank and I found they were a great cookie for milk dunking. They were especially great the second day.

During the Black Friday sales I bought a 6.5 foot Christmas Tree. We've never had a full size tree. This meant, I had to shop for decorations. That took up much of my day on Saturday, I got some Christmas shopping done, too. And, I cleaned house and did laundry.

Sunday, I decorated the tree, and returned all the ornaments I bought on Saturday that I decided not to use. I also decorated the house. It's looking a lot like Christmas...

I've been meaning to make a dropoff to Goodwill for a few weeks now. Finally, yesterday afternoon I did it. It freed up quite a bit of space in the garage. Nice to be rid of that clutter. Hope it will do someone else well. We haven't been able to use the hot tub because the pool needs to be drained. Frank will take care of that tomorrow. Yesterday, I resorted to a soak in the masterbath tub because my body was so tired and achy from so many days of go-go-go. It was the first time I've used the tub. I prefer a soak in the hot tub, but it was quite nice to relax with a magazine.

This morning I had a check up with the ENT doctor. After another scope, it appears my sinuses have improved, the tissue is healing. The allergy shots are working. There was some swelling, but I expected that since I've been suffering from allergies since we got back from San Francisco. I'll continue with my shots and see how I am in four months. It felt good to know this has all been worthwhile. Sometimes, I wonder, especially when I'm feeling miserable fighting off symptoms, but I have not had a sinus infection since spring. That's quite a feat for me. Usually in September, fall takes me down.

After the appointment it was back to work. It's only Monday. But, I'm already asking is it Friday, yet?

November 25, 2009

Holiday heartache

I hoped to be headed to Chicago today, but that trip never panned out. I will miss seeing family back home - especially, my favorite boy, Nicolas.

The last couple months he hasn’t been into chatting on the telephone. Most conversations consist of a quick “I love you” and then “bye, talk to you soon” or “call you back later”. However, this weekend he was chatty. I talked with him a bunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Sunday, he was particularly precious. Here’s a snippet of our chat…

Nicky: Can you come over?

Me: I’d love to honey, but remember, we need to fly on the airplane to visit each other?

Nicky: Yeah.

Me: And sadly, we don’t have money.

Nicky: I have dollars. You want my dollars, auntie Kellee?

Break my heart. I love that boy so much!

My sister is having a tough time, I hope things get easier. That way she can focus on joyful times with him, instead of stress, and more stress.

Mike is anxious to come back here. He hopes to be back before the New Year. We’ll see how that develops. I hope it can happen.

Amy and Jeff’s stepmom will be hosting Thanksgiving, Mike and my dad will join them.

Meanwhile, I’ll be cooking tomorrow. My mom will stay with us tonight, and likely tomorrow night.

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn and roasted balsamic pearl onions, and parmesan salad are on the menu. I think it’ll be pumpkin pie and an apple tart for dessert.

Even if my family can’t all be together under one roof or in one city, we will be together in spirit.

It’s been a tough year, but I have plenty to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving! Hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

November 24, 2009

Pacific Coast - Day Six

Saturday, we got a slow start to the day. I packed everything up; amazingly I was able to get it all back into our two small carryon suitcases. I even had room leftover to bring home breads, cheese, and sausage.

We went back to the Ferry Building for one last stop for yummy treats, plus I wanted to see the Farmer’s Market.

I would love it if Vegas offered something similar. Maybe one day our small farmer's markets will grow, and offer something special?

We popped inside for final stops at Acme and Boccalone. We went back to the room and indulged in one last snack fest.

Noon rolled around, it was time to check out. We waited for my friend Mary (she's lived in the bay area her whole life) outside once she called to say she was a few minutes away. After a quick greeting we were on our way.

First stop was the Haight. We took a quick cruise through the neighborhood. A few sights along the way…

Then, Mary took us to see the Pacific Coast. We stopped to see the Sutro Bath Ruins. The complex originally opened in 1896, it was built by former San Francisco mayor Adolph Sutro. In 1966, a fire destroyed the facility while it was in the process of being demolished. It was then abandoned and only the ruins remained. It is now part of the Golden Gate Recreation Area.

Ruins and Seal Rock

The cypress trees were beautiful

We walked a short distance on Lands End Trail to enjoy the spectacular view.

Then, we hopped back in the car and Mary showed us more of the coast.

After what seemed like miles of beach, we headed into Pacifica. A beautiful coastal city!

We crossed Devils Slide safely and then continued on our way to Pescadero; we passed a number of beaches, as well as, artichoke and other farms.

Soon, we arrived at Duarte’s Tavern. It’s history dates back to 1894, but the family has been serving up local specialties since the 1950’s. They’re famous for their fresh catches of the day, pies and artichoke soup. Veterans know the half and half soup – cream of artichoke and green chili - is the way to go. The soup was something special, absolutely delicious!

After an order of soup, all around, we each ordered dover sole. Frank and Mary had the sandwich and I had the entrée.

A meal at Duarte’s Tavern can’t be complete without pie. Frank had the pumpkin and I had to try Olallieberry since I had never before heard of such a thing. If it’s a new one for you, too, let me explain. Olallieberry is a cross between a loganberry and the young berry. Still confused? Yeah, I was too. I then learned that it is a blackberry, and another berry, such as a raspberry or dewberry.

The pies were great! The waitress offered to serve the Olallieberry pie ala mode, but I declined, I was much too full. However, I think ice cream would’ve been a perfect accompaniment.

Next, we walked down to Norm’s Market for fresh baked bread. They’re known for Artichoke bread. I felt a fresh loaf, it was warm, soft, yet crusty. I had to bring some home. We already had loaves from Boudin and Acme, so I opted for half-baked varieties. I figured they’d last longer that way, and they did. We brought home Artichoke Herb and Jalapeno Cheddar.

Then, it was back to the car. It was time to head to San Jose via La Honda. Mary took us on fun windy roads through the mountains which were covered in beautiful forests.. We truly enjoyed the scenery. The fall leaves and redwoods were just lovely.

Before I knew it, our visit had come to an end, we were at San Jose airport. We thanked Mary for showing us the sights. It was truly wonderful spending the afternoon with her. Plus, we wouldn’t have seen the coast otherwise. And it’d be a shame to miss it.

San Jose airport is small, it was a breeze – we were boarded and on our way back home in no time.

It was a wonderful vacation.

The Castro & more eats - Day Five

After the bike ride we were famished. Another trip to Petite Deli was in order.

Seemed many others had the same idea. There was a line out the door when we arrived. This time, we tried the beef sandwich, as well as the Italian Hero. Also, Young got us started with scoops of her special (mustard) pasta and potato salads.

Both were wonderful. This was the first potato salad I enjoyed. Normally, it’s laced with mayo – I’ve never been a fan.

It took a bit for her to make our sandwiches because she was behind from the heavy lunch crowd. But, it was worth the wait.

We shared both sandwiches. The beef was really good, but the Italian Hero was my favorite. So, so, so delicious!

After lunch, we walked North Beach. I was in search of another bakery for dessert. First, we came upon Z Cioccolato, we weren’t able to resist the “sweetest spot in North Beach”. We bought chocolate pretzels and macadamia nut clusters that were just made the day before. We saved them for later – fantastic!

We continued on and stopped in Stella Pastry, for coffee and dessert. We had tiramisu and triple chocolate cake. Both were tasty and hit the spot, but I enjoyed Victoria Pastry Co. a bit more.

Bellies full, sweet tooth satisfied, it was time for a nap. Hours later, we were back on the streets ready for our next adventure. We took the F Streetcar to the Castro. I enjoyed seeing the city pass by on our way. We saw a few areas we hadn’t seen before.

Once at the Castro we walked up and down the street. The neighborhood is charming. I loved the homes, and that a number of the stores, restaurants and bars were named with double entendres. Such clever business owners!

We found this awesome Italian Cheese and wine shop, A.G. Ferrari Foods. Once again, I was in heaven. And, again, overwhelmed by all the choices. Frank asked for an aged Gouda. They carry one, it happens to be the only cheese they have that is not from Italy. They offer it, because it is that good. It is aged 18 months – during those 18 months, magic happens. This was the most wonderful Gouda that ever passed my lips. We bought a brick to snack on and take home.

We were beginning to get hungry so it was time to head back to the hotel to prepare for dinner at Scoma’s. I checked for reservations, but no luck. When we arrived at the restaurant it was pretty clear reservations would’ve been a good idea. We were told the wait was likely 45 minutes. It was after 8 o’clock so I figured it’d go faster since many would be wrapping up their meals. We grabbed a drink at the bar, the cheapest drafts around, much to our surprise. Then, sure enough, a table opened sooner than anticipated.

There were so many delicious options it was difficult to choose what to order. Eventually, Frank settled on selections from the prix-fixe menu: crab cakes, colossal prawn linguini, and tiramisu and sourdough bread pudding. I ordered the butternut squash soup with Dungeness crab offered that day, and red snapper from the menu.

The crab cakes and soup were both excellent. I'd love to be noshing on either, right now.

No complaints over either entrées, both were great. The pesto for the linguini was bold and delicious. The prawns were tender. The snapper was flaky and moist. I ended up dressing my pasta with Frank’s leftover pesto. Yum!

We finished with dessert. The duo was also very good.

When we finished up dinner, we returned to the hotel. Another day done. Tomorrow, we head home.

Biking Golden Gate - Day Five

Friday, we got an early start. We were at the Blazing Saddles bike rental at the Wharf by 8 o’clock. Too bad they weren’t. Fortunately, they were running on Cali time and showed up about ten minutes later. We filled out the paperwork to rent two bikes, while they unloaded the trailer. We picked out our rides, adjusted the seats and took a quick spin to be sure all was in order, and then we were off.

I have never ridden with Frank. This was a first. I hadn’t even ridden a bike since I was fifteen, maybe sixteen? It’s just like they say you never forget how. However, I wasn’t at all familiar with a mountain bike. Back in the day, I had a 10-speed. And I never had to adjust the gears. I lived in suburbs of Chicago, the only hill around we used to sled, and it wasn’t open to traffic. My mind and my fingers weren’t able to get the timing down right to get up the hills. When we reached the first one, I shouted, I can’t thumb fast enough! Then, my momentum petered out and I had to walk the bike up the hill. Frank realized it, he stopped and joined me.

Near the top of the hill we came across a view finder that tells you about how the bridge adjusts based on temperature. It can move up to eleven feet, if I recall right. That’s nutty. Especially, to me since I’ve had a fear of bridges (over water) since I was young. I do okay driving over them, but walking has always freaked me out. The movement, the swaying… scary stuff. My fear is that it could tumble or I could fall and drown. Earlier this year, I got over my fear of needles – allergy testing/injections. I figured I conquered my worst fear – aside from failure – it was time to overcome another. What better way than to conquer the Golden Gate Bridge? I initially wanted to walk it. Then, Frank had the idea of renting bikes so we could see the sights a long the way. I was sold.

View across from Ghirardelli Square.

View from the peak of our first hill.

Alcatraz was lit beautifully in the early morning light.

We biked by the marina…

And the Palace of Fine Arts.

We stopped at park bench to take in the beauty…

And watched the birds frolic in the water.

I didn’t make it up the next hill, either. I found myself walking again. I just couldn’t figure out those gears. It can’t be simpler; I don’t know why I couldn't do it. Anyway, the view was lovely from the top.

Gun Battery

All along the bay we laughed at these birds that would free-fall and plummet into the water, in attempts to fish, I assume. It reminded us of Nintendo’s Duck Hunt. I didn’t catch any mid-air, but two had just splashed into the water, here.

We got on to the bridge, all pedestrian traffic was directed to stay on the right-side if headed to Sausalito. One side is always closed for repairs. We pedaled away, I was on the Golden Gate Bridge. And I was 100% fine. I loved it. I snapped all kinds of photos.

Seals swam below us

While Frank held it steady.

As Traffic whizzed by…

We posed for a photo

Nearing the other side of the bridge.

A boat zipping by.

We did it. We biked across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Looking across to where our day begun.

Next, we rode into Sausalito.

We biked around the marina to pass the time until the next ferry.

Soon, we boarded the ferry and Sausalito was left in the distance.

We arrived back at the Wharf, rode back to Blazing Saddles, by then we were happy to return the bikes. Our bodies had enough, especially our asses. Mine was sore until Sunday. It was totally worth it, though. I’m very happy Frank suggested going for a ride, it was the highlight of the trip.