Sunday, November 30, 2008

Straight roads

The drive to Bend was really nice. This was taken just north of crater lake.

Amy and Drew

My dad vandalized Drew's face pretty bad.

Getting ink

Great gramma puts some art on Drew's back.

Wild Turkeys

Here is Drew hanging out with turkeys at great gramma's place. He wanted to pet them.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Drew and the Baker girls.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A rainy trip

The trip started out wet, but things dried out quickly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chain of command

They're establishing their supervisory and laborer roles.

A bad week of camping

So, this picture was taken last night (not by me) at a So Cal Best Buy. These are Black Friday shoppers and they're already pitching their tents. They're supposed to get some pretty heavy rain on Wednesday. Somehow, their suffering should make my Thanksgiving that much better, as I overeat and fall asleep at 3pm.

The real sad part is that there's not really anything at Best Buy worth waiting for.


Drew and Van enjoy their toad in a hole and their pig on a stump.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Building Legos

He's been waiting over a month to play with this. He was building it by himself, until i decided he was too slow and took over.

Speedy Beef Stew

Tonight for dinner I made a lovely beef stew. In record time. Instead of stewing for hours, I used a high heat technique involving cooking the veggies separately. Aside from my mistake of steaming the veggies all together (the potatoes were slightly al dente), it worked out remarkably well. Next time I'll start the potatoes first, then add the rest. In fact, I don't know why I didn't just microwave the veggies to steam them instead of using a steam insert and the stove. It would have been faster and more even.

Anyhow, it turned out nicely. The meat was almost roasted tasting instead of stewed, which was nice. It was still moist and tender, too. I was surprised, since most of my other beef stew recipes have involved hours of simmering. This is definitely a new favorite for its speediness.

Yet again, I did not take a picture. Beef stew isn't the prettiest, although I suppose I could have taken a picture of the bowl I gave Rich to eat. It was nice and colorful. I will work on this food photo phobia. If I put even a little bit of effort into it, I can do it. I just have had a policy for a while, so I'll get over it.

So, this is a master recipe set which starts out with the basics: meat, basic aromatics, and then gives sets of herbs/spices and liquids you can use to achieve the 3 cups necessary to braise the meat. It also provides sets of suggested vegetable combinations to make the stew more southwest feeling or more Italian. I went with the classic flavor set here, with bay leaves and thyme as my herbs and a combination of red wine, water, and chicken broth for my liquids. My veggies were carrots, turnips, potatoes (Rich insisted), and peas. Other suggested options are below.

Speedy Beef Stew
adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, Feb/Mar 2004

Serves 4-6
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: ~2 hours


3 pounds boneless beef chuck (I used less, closer to 2 pounds)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, more as needed
3 cups diced yellow onion (~2 medium)
6 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups stewing liquid (I used 1 cup red wine, 1 cup chicken broth, 1 cup water)
4 cups prepared vegetables (I used 2 carrots, 2 medium yukon gold potatoes, 2 medium turnips, and a handful of frozen peas from our garden last year)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Place a rack in the oven towards the lower half of the oven to accommodate a dutch oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degress

Pat the beef dry and cut into 1" cubes. Season generously with the kosher salt and pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-based Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When it just starts to smoke, put in about half the meat. Do not touch!!! Leave it there to sputter and brown for at least three to four minutes. It will not burn! It just needs to get really well caramelized. Turn once and brown another side. Remove to a bowl and repeat with the remaining beef, adding oil if necessary. Turn the heat down if the pan appears to really be burning. Browning is the goal and the pot will be pretty browned by the time the meat is all seared.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic. Add oil if the pot looks dry. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the seasonings and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the flour and then add all the liquid. Return the meat and any juices to the pot.

Get a square of heavy-duty aluminum. (If you don't have heavy-duty aluminum, which comes in extra-wide rolls, use double sheets of regular aluminum foil. You'll probably have to use them double-wide, too, to get enough width.) Using a potholder or a heavy towel, push the center of the foil down the pot and then press against the sides. You're essentially trying to push the foil down so that there is very little air above the surface of the liquid. Crimp the foil around the edge of the put and place the lid on the pot.

Turn the heat to medium-high. When you hear the pot bubbling, place the whole pot in the oven. Leave it alone for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, take your vegetables and either steam or saute them until just tender. If using vegetables of different densities, saute/steam separately or add the lighter ones after the denser ones have gotten started. (The microwave may well be your friends for this part.)

When you take the pot out of the oven, add the cooked vegetables. Cover again with the foil and let it stand for fifteen minutes to let everything get happy and the meat to rest.

Take the foil off and check everything out. I like my stew a little soupy, so I added a little water to the pan to deglaze some of the pan drippings and reincorporate everything. Okay, okay, I confess. I actually put the stew in a separate pot and THEN deglazed the pot I used in the oven to make sure I was getting all the good stuff. I let it cook down a little and then added that liquid to the (new) stew pot.

Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. If you used bay leaves, remove them.

Add the freshly chopped parsley and serve.

If I had been slightly more motivated, I would have whipped up some polenta or grilled some bread to serve with the stew.

*There are some seasoning options. The options I'm likely to try in the near future are:
1. Southwestern: 1/4 cup chili powder, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon dried oregano with a can of diced tomatoes (use the liquid from the can) and add a cup of wine and then water to bring it up to 3 cups of liquid) and swash and bell peppers as the vegetables. Pinto beans are also recommended.
2. Hungarian: 1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika and 1.5 teaspoons crushed caraway seeds with red wine as the liquid (1 cup red wine, 2 cups water), with red bell peppers, mushrooms, and pearl onions
3. Italian: 2 bay leaves, 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, with tomatoes and wine (see southwestern option above), and zucchini, eggplant, and white beans as the vegetables.

Pea plant?

Who plants anything in a urinal?

Tofu soup

At the korean restaurant, it was very good if you didn't look too closely at it.

Hey microsoft!

Sony could teach your xbox guys a thing or two. I upgraded my ps3 to 320gb for $50.

Pete and Emma

We all met up at the Olgilvie ranch for a very pleasant get-together. Not pictured: Dan, Drew, Amy, Aaron, Julie, Evan, Christy, Bear, and Baccio. Oh, and me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


It's feeling extra Berkeley-like today.

Better elsewhere

Drew and Van had this exact train set at home, but they prefered the ones at Ikea.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Playing in the park

Drew and Van tire themselves out at 'wino park', also known as Caesar Chavez Park.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smoky skies

I don't know where it's from, but the air went from nice this morning to horrible tonight.

Me, too! Me, too!

Gmail has themes!

Oh, Google, what can't you do?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


He's flying very close to someone's feet.


The net

A week ago, I noticed this net show up stretched over I-5.  I've decided it's to catch all the birds that fly too close to the powerlines above, touch two lines, and get shocked and fall onto people's cars. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tamale Pie

So I had never heard of such a thing. Tamale pie. That's an oxymoron. Tamales don't come in pie. Pie is not corny and spicy. But there it was in the CI 30 minute recipe book. I mentioned it to Rich who responded positively. It is essentially cooked taco filling with cornbread baked on top. Sounded interesting. I decided I'd make it on a Monday night, on a day I work from home so I could take the time to do it properly the first time.

Yesterday, I made my first tamale pie. It turned out surprisingly tasty. I, of course, adapted the recipe immediately to suit our tastes and made a little personal-sized tamale pie for Drew before spicing up the fillings. As a result, the whole thing took WAY longer than half an hour. Maybe double, in the end? But man, was it tasty! I served it with some leftover Mexican rice from the prior evening and some lettuce meant to be turned into a salad which was somehow forgotten despite the fact that it was sitting right there, in the middle of the table.

I promise I'll get better at taking pictures of things for dramatic effect. In the meantime, you can take my word for it. It was delicious. Surprisingly good. And Rich and Drew both really liked it. And Rich and I both loved it for lunch today. I even had a little piece with dinner tonight. (This is astounding as I am not a repeat-eater. In general, I dislike eating the same thing for multiple meals in a row.)

So here is my adapted recipe for tamale pie a la Amy. :) I found the recipe made more than a pie pan's worth, so I ended up making two small casseroles in addition to the pie pan. I don't know that it's enough for a 13x9, maybe an 8x8? In theory, CI says this is should be baked in the 12" skillet in which it was prepared. Since I use nonstick to cut down on the oil used in the recipe, I couldn't put it in the oven (hot teflon = fumes = bad for everyone), so I used other things.

Also, mine took over half a hour to bake, in the end, because it just wouldn't bake. I took it out to test when the cornbread was browned, but just under the beautifully browned crust, the cornbread batter was still totally raw, so back into the oven it went. Just make sure it is fully baked before removing.

Note: I think this would work GREAT as a vegetarian meal. Obviously, no beef or chicken stock, but I was thinking that I'd add some frozen corn and maybe some kind of squash, chopped up, for the volume. I think it would be really good. I even think I could get Rich to take it seriously as a meal. (He currently requires animal protein to consider a meal a meal.)

I served this with our favorite Mexican rice and the salad that was not consumed. I'll blog the rice recipe soon. It is seriously the best Mexican rice ever! (And I made like a dozen different recipes before finding this one!)

Tamale Pie
adapted from Cooks Illustrated, The Best 30-Minute Recipes

some vegetable oil
1 large or 1.5 small onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder (yes, 2, and no, I did not add any extra for this one)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (as lean as you want, I think ground chicken or turkey would work well in this recipe)
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14.5 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chicken stock or water
1 jalapeno, chopped finely, omit ribs and seeds if desired (we have particularly spicy ones right now, otherwise, I would have used two. And yes, we used the seeds and ribs.)
1-1.5 cups chopped cilantro (I just take half of a bunch from the store and chop the heck out of it, stems and all)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 recipe cornbread of your choice (CI actually recommends Jiffy. We happened to have a bag of Marie Callendar's from Costco, acquired after a particularly satisfying jaunt to a MC's in Oregon.)


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prep an 8x8 square or deep dish pie pan by spraying some nonstick spray onto it. If making two, use standard pie plates - the filling will fill two regular pie pans pretty easily.

Cook the ground beef in a skillet until browned. Using a spoon, separate any large lumps. When cooked, drain thoroughly.

Prepare whatever cornbread recipe you have decided to use. Set aside the batter.

In a large nonstick pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium/medium-high heat and saute the onion until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Then add the chili powder and stir frequently. (Watch out for the 'fumes' which can cause coughing!) After another 2-3 minutes, add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Don't let it burn! (If you want the jalapeno, but don't want all the heat, you can add it now to cook it a bit and mellow it out.)

Now add the tomatoes and the black beans and incorporate thoroughly. Add the ground beef. If the mixture dries up, add the chicken broth. There should be some liquid to keep the meat moist in the oven. Once everything is simmering nicely, take it off the heat and stir in the cilantro, and cheese.

At this point, if you are cooking for kids or those who don't handle spicy, portion out enough for a separate prepared pan or casserole (maybe half). And into the rest, mix in the jalapeno (if you didn't already add it earlier).

Carefully put the mixture into the prepared pan. Ideally, you want a fairly thick layer of filling on the bottom of the pan (like 3/4"-1").

Pour cornbread batter over the top of the filling. I found that 1/2" to 3/4" of cornbread batter worked well. Any more and the baked cornbread never seems to finish cooking.

Bake the completed "pie" in the oven until the cornbread is baked. This can vary, depending on how thick you poured your cornbread layer.

To serve, cut portion lines along the cornbread and let some of the steam escape. Then scoop the cornbread and filling out.

This reheats beautifully in the microwave. Perfect hearty lunch to take to work!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

A late squirrel entry

This cracks me up for some reason. He hangs from his toenails while having a snack.

Long-eared culprit

I walked out of the house this morning and was startled by a noise in the bushes less than three feet from the door. I cautiously looked and didn't see anything, but then heard the noise again. At this point, I'm thinking worst case scenario - snake.

I then stepped out of the covered porch area and was shocked to see a jackrabbit loping across our lawn. It then entered the street and went down to my neighbor's house. It was HUGE, easily 18-inches, not including the ears. It's clearly had a good summer & fall.

Amused with myself, I got in the car and started driving, only to see the jackrabbit racing me down the street along the neighbors' yards. I was totally stunned. I then fumbled to get a picture, but that didn't work very well. It was crossing the street before I realized how neat this was. But it was pretty fast. There's a little blurry dot in the left quarter of the screen. But not very visible.

Then it just kept going and settled in a little depression in the not-yet-park by the house, where I saw two other pairs of ears! I think I know where their hidey-hole is! Maybe I can figure out how to set up a little webcam there or something.

Anyway, I then stopped in the middle of the road, turned my hazards on and proceeded to take out my real camera and take a picture. I cropped and zoomed the picture and there is a jackrabbit!

Please note, there were no moving vehicles anywhere near me, so no, I did not stop traffic so I could take a picture. And I would have pulled over if there had been anything resembling a shoulder instead of a drainage ditch.

Of course, I was half-way to work before I thought about what the jackrabbit was doing in my front yard, and whether, if I plant stuff, the varmints would get into my garden. I'd feel like Mr. McGregor, only these varmints wouldn't be of the cottontail variety, and not as cute. I'm sure Drew would flip out in excitement if there were jackrabbits hanging out in our garden. Until he realized they were eating his peas, that is.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A stern warning

That will stop those naughty scavengers.

Venus Deathtrap

The heads keep dying on me. Amy says it's normal, but it doesn't look very healthy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A stolen bear

Amy has learned that none of her things are safe with Drewzel in the house.  He saw this christmas bear as I was going through some boxes last night, and decided that he loved it and had to have it.  After a small struggle, Amy gave in and let him sleep with it, provided he acknowledge that it was still Amy's property, and Drew was only borrowing it.  

Unpictured on the bed are two microfoam-filled pillows which have been acquired under a similar arrangement.  Despite Amy's attempts at lawyering Drew, I fear that she may not be able to reclaim what was originally hers.

Oh, and Drew is squinting because I took this picture in the dark after getting him up for his midnight pee.  My camera shoots a bright red light to aid in focusing before the flash goes off.  (photo was shot in pure darkness)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shedding physical possessions

As part of our move, Rich and I have been working on lightening our overall volume of physical possessions. As part of this, Rich has been gently working on getting rid of some stuff that I had in the garage. Among this stuff has been a countertop convection oven and rotisserie. Why do I have a countertop convection oven and rotisserie?

A few years One of the then-significant online kitchen sites went bust and liquidated their inventory on Amazon. I was working and making some inappropriate amount of money for my age, so I bought some stuff. My current cookware set was part of that order. They've been great, but I am definitely not a fan of hard anodized aluminum cookware. If you're thinking of buying some, send me an email and I'll tell you why I'm jonesing for a stainless steel set.

Anyway, I've got some stuff, and we just got a call from a woman who is interested in buying the convection oven. And I'm kind of sad.

A little context for you. I am the kind of person who picks up things that are cute without necessarily having someone in mind to whom to gift it. In general this works out for me because I tend to get things which are cute and thoughtful and are appropriate gifts. Not ridiculously expensive items, but I am the chick who buys a few choice items at the post-Christmas sale and actually manages to gift those items several months later.

That being said, when I buy stuff, I do tend to get oddly emotionally attached to certain types of things. I had some kind of an idea for this convection oven. A long time ago, I'm sure I thought it was the kind of thing I'd have in my kitchen as a second oven, an optional one since it's about as portable as ovens get without being toaster ovens. That was way back before I conceived of buying and living in a home with a really nice oven set and possibly (in the future) a double oven.

And so, after much thought and internal debate, I am shedding a selection of physical possessions. I'm a bit of a pack rat. Yes, yes, I know those of you who know me are laughing. I know I am. But I have good stuff. Stuff I spent time, energy, and emotional effort into purchasing with my hard-earned money. And now, I find myself looking at my DVD's and wondering why I felt the need to actually buy them. I should have gone to NetFlix a long time ago. I haven't purchased a DVD for me in...almost a year. We get stuff for Drew, but I haven't really bought movies for myself.

We're selling off DVD's. We sold my fireplace set that I purchased for my house that is now also for sale. My house that was my solace and such a good place for me, but not such a good place for us as a family. My lamps are almost all gone. (This new house sure does have a lot of built in lighting.) And then there was the old manual typewriter, my printer which had some kind of an issue, my old cell phone, my microwave, and my network storage device.

Every item has a little story behind it. Why I bought it. Why I bought that one. What happened when I bought it. How I got it home and assembled it. A little Amy history.

This new house has been very interesting that way. I know we're writing new history. Joint history. Family history. But it's more difficult than I thought, giving up a little independence that way.

Jotham and Dana gave me a book called What Nobody Tells the Bride, in which there is a discussion of what women lose when they get married. It's not stuff that's really ever discussed, but there is an interesting loss of independence and self-identity when women get married that I find myself experiencing a lot of right now. I realized that I need a little more independent time. So I'm going to work on getting back into glass blowing. And really look into some classes taught at the club house, like yoga. I think non work time for myself will help.

This whole shedding of physical possessions thing is so much more complicated than just getting rid of stuff. I think Rich is starting to get that.

What kind of deli is this?

Maybe it's only for males. I was afraid to look at the menu.

Feeding the poor

Father Verminus Rabidus

Patron saint of squirrels.

At the capital

On the train again

Drew would probably excel as a boxcar hobo. I'll have to strongly discourage that as a career choice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Playing guitar

He stretches his legs apart and twang-twang's on the rubber band.


We had s'mores for dessert. Drew is eyeballing them.

Our dishwasher

The foam seeping out lets you know it's working!

Tit for Tat

This is the lovely new purse I purchased after Rich got a PS3. Seeing as how I'll be using the PS3 some, but he won't be using the purse at all, I got the better deal, here. Hrm. I suppose I do carry things into movie theaters, though. So maybe he'll get some use out of it, after all.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

FYI - Amy post-blogs

So, if you're not on RSS, you might miss some blogs I've inserted into the blog. I like to note the correct date (unlike some people who contribute to this blog...) and so when I blog, I will always post it on the relevant date. That means that if you actually just read this blog w/o an RSS reader, my blogs do not show up physically as new blogs. They are below. I post-blogged my trip to Chicago and Milwaukee, and a couple of weeks ago, I post-blogged our camping trip to Oregon. So if you missed, them, consider yourself notified. And get yourself an RSS reader!


Rich's friend Kim called a couple of weeks ago and asked if we wanted the persimmons off her Hachiya tree. We immediately agreed and rearranged our schedule to go to her home and pick persimmons that morning.

Kim lives on a couple of acres in Loomis, about half an hour north of us, with her husband, Rico, and her twins, Rico Jr. and Giuliana. The tree was in their orchard and it was the first time in three years (since the last time Rich picked persimmons) that the tree produced fruit. We ended up with about one box worth of fruit.

That box of fruit has been hanging out in our garage for two weeks. Today, I decided to take a look at the fruit and boy had a lot ripened. Hachiyas ripen into a soft mush, and really, you can't leave that in a box. So I sorted out the ripe ones and put the hard ones back into a box to put back in the garage. If Rich's parents are lucky, they'll hold until we go up for Thanksgiving in two weeks.

Ripe persimmons are unstorable, so I started peeling and squeezing the oozy ripe pulp into a bowl. After a while, I figured I should measure, so I bagged two cups of pulp into one ziploc bag and half an hour later, ended up with about twenty cups total. I froze most of the pulp, using one bag for some persimmon bread. I used a James Beard recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz and made a batch, using small paper molds instead of bread tins. I used half diced dried apricots, half raisins and baked them up. Six little loaves of persimmon bready goodness. If they taste half as good as they look, I'm thinking of using them for the holiday boxes this year.

The verdict? It is definitely scented with some tasty whiskey and the apricots and toasted walnuts were really nice. A little dense, and I think it could stand a little more batter, so maybe I'll aim to make five instead of six from one batch. I think it might look better a little taller. Rich seems to like it and will likely take some for breakfast tomorrow, so it's all good!

Accidents happen

Actually, I'm not really sure what he meant to say.


Amy and I accidentally caught 'second Saturday' while out to dinner this weekend. There was a glass blowing demo, and they also had some neat burner units.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Fort Natomas reconstruction

Amy spent the day volunteering and building things. Later, Drew painted a tile that will be installed in the park when it's finished. It's kind of an eyesore, but he enjoyed painting it. We'll get a picture of it with the rest of them later.

Fresh from Wisconsin

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Flying home

At the Milwaukee airport, another airplane was suspended in the air. Must be a midwest thing.

I flew Frontier Airlines home. They have a hub in Denver, and it was simply a gorgeous evening landing. I tried to capture the glowing gold bodies of water as the sun set, but the camera phone is only so good.

I love seeing the ripples and textures of the land while flying. Esp. at sunset when all the colors are so vivid.

The other thing I noticed while flying is that all of Frontier's planes seem to have an animal on the tail as well as along the tips of the wings. I tried to get a good view of the one out my window. It's kind of hard to see, but there is a fox there! Her name is Trixie.

AND, upon landing in Denver, I saw fleets of snow plows, waiting for the snow! I am so glad to have avoided it.

And with that, I got on another plane and came home. Drew couldn't WAIT to put on his cheese hat and cow tippping shirt.