Sunday, December 28, 2008

Berkeley Day Trip

While Rich's parents were visiting between Christmas and New Year's, we headed down to Berkeley for a day trip to see my parents. We managed to pick a rare sunny and not windy day in the Bay, so we went over to the Berkeley Marina and walked around.









Rich was unable to resist the squirrels (otherwise known as mice with big tails) which live amongst the rocks at the marina. He did some squirrel taming and fed them. Ugh.

















Friday, December 26, 2008

Cheesecake thoughts

Last night I made a cheesecake for no particular reason. I've been doing a lot of cooking and baking and for some reason last night, I just started baking. The kitchen was all clean. Dishes were put away, stove and sink clear...and I just had to bake. So I started making cheesecake. It helped that I had some cream cheese that I had accidentally left out for a few hours, so I used it.

The cheesecake recipe is from Christy's mother-in-law. She reappropriated and retitled it (Doyle's Secret Cheesecake) from another source. Christy's brother-in-law made it for her baby shower and it was delicious. So I asked for the recipe and last night, I made it for the first time. I'll include it below unless Christy objects, in which case I will reappropriate it from her, retitle it and post it with a slight modification. :D

Anyhow, this is the first cheesecake I've made that did not involve a bain marie. Interestingly, it is baked directly in a springform without the bain marie. Texturally, it worked pretty well, but the sour cream thing. Sigh. That didn't work so well.

The sour cream topping is an important part of cheesecake for me. It is a contrast to the sweetness of the cream cheese part, which is the majority of the cheesecake. Unfortunately, during baking the cheesecake itself is still quite delicate. And...the sour cream is rather dense...and well, it sank. The whole center two inches of my cheesecake is sour cream. In an...unpleasant way. At least for me. Eating a whole bite of sour cream is not exactly my idea of dessert. At least the rest of the cheesecake turned out well. The texture was a little softer than I wanted. I think I will try baking it in a bain marie, more so that it solidifies a little more but doesn't brown quite so much. Plus, it will keep the sides down a little and keep the whole thing a little more uniform in texture.

Anyhow, it at least looks nice. Not too much cracking. Note that after taking the cheesecake out, I ran a knife around the edge of the cheesecake immediately so that as it cooled, the whole cheesecake would contract and not crack. It was a little cracked prior to the application of the sour cream, and there were three tiny little cracks in the center after it cooled for 24 hours in the fridge. But given what I've seen in the past, this was fantastic!



But here, after I unmolded and sliced it, where you can see how far down the sour cream went. It certainly explained a lot about why the top layer felt thin and I could see the darkness of the toasted cream cheese part. It almost looks like I was making a two-flavor cheesecake or something.





All in all, I think this is a good base recipe. I had to fight my tendencies to mess with the recipe. I wanted to add Meyer lemon zest and juice to make it nice and lemony, but I figured I should get the base model down first.

So here is the recipe, exactly as provided to me by Christy. And my notes about it follow.

Doyle's Secret Cheesecake

Ingredients:
1 pkg Graham crackers
1 cube butter
1 Tablespoon sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3 x 8 oz. cream cheese
2 Teaspoons vanilla
1 pint sour cream

Take cream cheese from frig 30 min. prior.

Mix:
1 pkg. Graham crackers, crumbed or smashed
1 cube butter, melted
1 Tablespoon sugar
Press into bottom of a 9" spring form pan.
Bake 375 degrees for 8 min.

Filling:
Beat eggs and 1 cup sugar.
Add one at a time, 3 x 8oz. pkgs. cream cheese.
Beat well after each addition and add 2 tsp. vanilla and beat again until smooth.
Pour into crust and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and top with 1 pt. sour cream to which you have added 2 Tblsp. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla and mix well.
Bake whole cheesecake for 5 more minutes at 475.
Cool and store overnight in refrigerator.

Amy's notes:

I used a 1/2 cup of butter (one stick) for the crust. I think it could be done with less as the crust was a little butterier than I would like for this type of dessert.

I also ran the crust about a half inch up the side of the springform. I actually like crusts and would have preferred even more, maybe even an inch up since the finished cheesecake was almost two inches high.

The cream cheese I used had been left out for almost four hours. It was *ahem* very soft. It made beating very easy. But as a result, I think I over whipped the cheesecake. It was very soft and I think it contributed to the ease with which the sour cream sank into the middle.

Also, the eggs were at room temperature. One of the keys to getting cheesecake very smooth and creamy is to have everything at room temperature so it blends together nicely. Eggs are no exception. Having used cold eggs once, I learned that they will sieze the cream cheese, making all that time spent bringing the cream cheese up to room temperature a complete loss. So don't use cold eggs!

I applied the sour cream in a practical way without thinking. Next time, I will probably put it into a plastic zip top bag, snip a corner and apply carefully to the edges and let it sink into the center on its own. I also might not use quite so much. The outer third of the cheesecake was actually above the top of the springform when I applied the cream cheese (probably due to over whipping the filling), so the sour cream just fell right down into the middle. I think in a bain marie, that it would not rise quite so much because the water would equalize the cooking from center to edge and that the sour cream would not fall quite so far down into the cheesecake.

The whole thing was softer than expected. I think the cheesecake part could stand another ten minutes of baking prior to applying the sour cream.

After baking, do run a nice thin, sharp knife around the edge, making sure to go all the way down to the bottom (which for me involves a little bit of crust that I run up the sides because I like crusts) so that as it contracts, it will not form Grand Canyon sized cracks.

I sliced the cheesecake using Bon Appetit's recommended method - I ran hot water in the sink and heated the knife before each slice, wiping it with a cloth to dry it and then slicing. The slices were perfectly smooth and there was no tearing or leaking of the layers. It was really nice and clean looking, despite the softness of the cheesecake.

I also served the cheesecake with a blueberry compote. I heated two cups of frozen blueberries with a 1/2 cup of sugar and the juice of half a lemon. After it was nice a syrupy and most of the blueberries popped, about 15 minutes, I took it off the heat and then added two more cups of frozen blueberries to it and put it aside to cool down. It was a nice combination of texture and not too sweet, which worked really well with the cheesecake. I like fruit with cheesecake, but not on top of it.

And that's it. I think I'll be obsessing with cheesecake for a while. If anyone else has any recommendations as to cheesecake recipes, send them on over. I'll be baking a few in the next few weeks. I suspect some people at work will not be happy with me for messing with their new year's resolutions.

Moon sand


This has to be one of the messiest gifts a boy can recieve.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas dinner


Braised short ribs, buttermilk garlic mashed potatoes, swiss chard, glazed carrots, and asparagus. I'm stuffed.

Drew's haul


Drew had a pretty heavy haul of toys this xmas. About 10 transformers with no duplicates. Kudos to the gift givers. Also, great Lego sets he didn't already own, books, games, puzzles and more. Wow!

Christmas...delayed due to weather

There's a serious storm in the pacific northwest and while I can't really see any evidence of that here in Sacramento, we have felt it in the impact on our Christmas.

Merry Christmas! It's almost 10:30 on Christmas morning and we are...hanging out. We just had a lovely breakfast and Drew and I are sitting on the sofa, watching a movie while Rich clears the dishes from breakfast.

Starting early this morning, we have been getting updates from Oregon, where Rich's parents were planning on heading out to see us. Yesterday would have been an ideal day - it was quite clear in the morning and the roads were clear. Last night and this morning, it has been snowing. There are white out conditions over the pass and chains are required. They planned to bring the truck with four wheel drive, but it is slow. So we got an update about an hour later that they were not coming, but that they'd keep looking at the weather to see if they were going to try later.

Meanwhile, my parents called to let us know that it was pouring rain and that they were going to wait it out a little bit. Then they called after nine to let us know that they weren't feeling well and that they were a little grumpy. Sigh. And my brother decided not to come.

The Christmas spirit has lost its sparkle.

So, I have a resolution. Next year. We are doing our thing. And anyone who wants to come can come, but we're doing our thing. We love our families, but this day has kind of...disintegrated around us due to the weather and delays and we still haven't opened presents. I feel bad for Drew. And our mellow fun morning has been a bit disappointing. And Drew's tummy is hurting, which isn't fun either.

It's still going to be a great day. I made some yummy stuff. The braised short ribs has been in progress for three days. We're going to have braised short ribs, mashed potatoes, and then a bunch of veggies - broiled lemony asparagus, sauteed swiss chard, glazed carrots, and then steamed lemon puddings and chocolate cream pie for dessert.

Somehow, this year, Christmas has been lackluster. Whether it's the economy or the loss of a weekend between Christmas & Thanksgiving, or the weather, who knows? It hasn't really felt all that Christmasy. Maybe I'll get into the New Year's spirit?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rarrrr!



Rudolph

video
Drew and friends singing another Christmas classic.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Annoying camera

So, the video quality is not to my liking. Mostly because my camera somehow switched over to a lesser quality while I wasn't watching. Rich has to re-encode the longest and best video which I will upload when he's done. The other two (Jingle Bells & Drew's rendition of Frosty) are just so disappointingly bad. Sigh. At least the audio is still good. If only someone had dug out our video camera. Hm?

Jingle Bells...with lots of bells

video

Drew was very confused because I told him I'd come to his Christmas party with bells on...and then asked me where my bells where when I arrived. Luckily, he had his own as did all his classmates, which came in handy for this song.

Drew's singing premiere

video

Drew had his solo premiere during his school Christmas party. He was the only one with a solo performance and everyone was amazed that he remembered all the words!

Trader Joe's


They have 2 people directing parking here. It's the only store in Sac to rival costco with horrible parking.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Overdoing christmas


This is a yard in san ramon by Aaron and Julie's place. Drowning in xmas spirit.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bath time


It's Evan's bath time, and Drew just can't resist getting in on the action. He was in charge of getting Aaron and Julie wet.

Flipped car


A completely upside down car in san jose.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

1.20 gas!


Amy would like it noted that her dedicated grocery shopping contributed to the significant discount.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Drew's idol


He loves it when Dan is over, so Amy and I are temporarily replaced as his favorite people.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Extra postage


I mailed off a few christmas letters this morning. We put stamps on the letters, but suspected we might need more because of weight and thickness. Good thing i checked. The receipt for additional postage was huge.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The tree


Drew marvels at its grandeur.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Xbox customer service


This didn't happen to me, it happened to our good friend Dan. He doesn't have a blog, but the story's still worth sharing.
Dan picked up an xbox 360 a while back, and for a while, things were good. A little guitar hero here, some shooting game there, and things were behaving like they should. Until the inevitable happened, his console succumbed to the red ring of death, something that happens to most xboxes.
Dan wasn't happy, but he was well aware that this happens to most xbox owners, so eventually, he calls the tech support line to get the machine serviced. On the first call, he wades through a menu of options, at which point, he is instructed to wait for a customer service representative to talk to him. He waits 10 - 12 minutes, and is eventually transferred to someone with a heavy foreign accent, and begins to give his personal information, when the call is cut off.
He calls back again, and has to start from the top of the service menu. After navigating through the menu again, which takes a significant amount of time, he's on hold for another customer service rep, when the system resets the call and he's taken to the top menu again. Frustrated, Dan loudly swears at the phone. F&*%@#!!!
Within seconds, an American customer service representative is on the phone, taking his information, and his xbox will be back from repairs in 2-3 weeks. To anyone who believes loudly swearing never solves any problems, I present this counter argument.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Too late, toyota


The yikes ad isn't as effective with 1.60 gas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Quickly built bridge


This is a temporary bridge built to get across a small creek, which can't have equipment running in it.  It was designed and built in 2 weeks, at a cost of $750,000 (I think).  It's built from steel H-beams and what looked to be 12-by-12's.  It's 40 feet wide and can accomodate the weight of a scraper, the biggest piece of equipment working on this fill.  The metal in the front of the pictures are sheet piles, pieces of metal hammered into the ground which create a barrier that makes sure no groundwater seeps into an excavation.

Big iron


From left to right:  The truck on the left is the front of the concrete pump truck.  Cement trucks pull up behind it and dump their load of readymix concrete into this truck, which pumps concrete up and over to the abutment they're pouring, right in front of the truck's bumper.  The yellow tracked piece of equipment is a pile driver, used to pound big things deep into the ground.  The red crane is used to pick up and set anything that needs to be picked up.  While I was watching it, it was picking up the deadman blocks shown in the post below.  This bridge is being built in Lincon, CA as part of the bypass project.

Building another bridge


These guys are building the middle support columns for a bridge that will span from where I'm standing to the abutment on the other side of the street, across from the equipment.  The guys working below are building a CIDH (cast in drilled hole) column.  A hole is drilled in the ground (this one looks about 6 feet in diameter and goes down quite a ways), and a pre-tied steel cage is then lowered into the hole by the crane, which is probably 6" smaller than the hole in diameter.  The hole is then filled in with concrete, the green steel arm you can see is the concrete pump.  The huge concrete blocks you see are deadmen (weights) which are used to support guy wires that keep the steel cages in place while the hole is being filled with concrete.

The foundation


If you click on the picture, you can see a bunch of little H's in the dirt.  Those are steel beams (piles) driven 25 feet deep in the dirt.  This will eventually hold up a concrete footing that will hold one side of a bridge span.  The piles make sure that the bridge footing won't sink into the ground, which is kind of bad for bridges.

Steel workers


This is one of the early parts of building a bridge.  These guys are standing on plywood covered in "bond oil" (diesel), and are forming the steel cage that will be covered in concrete.  We were all about 30 feet off the ground here, the wind was blowing, and it was freezing cold.  Just being up here taking pictures was hard, these guys have a tough job.

Formwork


This is underneath a new bridge. This is all the temporary stuff that will be pulled out when the bridge is done.

New bridge


This is what a bridge deck looks like while it's being built. This is by Bear River by Plumas Lake.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Precious


Drew's teacher just got new puppy. This is her being bad and jumping up on Drew.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This weekend's project


It's a white room. Maybe it will be more interesting when it's full of clothes.

Spaceman Drew


At southside park

The apprentice


Drew learns the culinary arts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Stealing from Selma


Drew takes a treat from his favorite cubicle in my office.

Grow, Drew, grow!


I'm pretty sure he's 4...so i'm not sure why he's still at 3T.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stocking up


It won't get any cheaper than this ever again.

Caddie


:)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bumblebee!



Have a beany Christmas


There was a big pyramid of food at the mall. Half was black beans and half was pork and beans. Yum!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Road Trip around Oregon

Thanksgiving this year was a surprisingly long weekend. It started reasonably well with a drive up to Oregon, our last of the year and our third in three months. I think I've figured it out, now.

Anyhow, we drove up and had a lovely Thanksgiving up at Rich's grandparents place. I helped Rich's mom make the yams and managed to top them with...well, a lot of marshmallows. Since it was a deep pot, we figured we should make sure there were enough to go around.



Strategically, however, the marshmallows failed to melt and get gooey, so it was kind of a bust. It's always kind of disappointing when there are a lot of leftovers of what you take to a potluck.

Anyhow, it turned out that after a last minute and very spontaneous conversation with Jotham, that we decided to go up to Bend, after Thanksgiving. This decision was met with surprisingly little resistance from Rich's parents who took the opportunity to go to the coast...where they had the weather they had promised we'd have when we went camping in October.

So off we went. The drive along the north side of Crater Lake was remarkably straight. So straight that I felt compelled to take a picture.





I think this is Crater Lake, as viewed from the long straightaway.



We arrived in Bend in time to catch Jotham, Dana, Cassie, Jotham's parents, Joanna and Craig, and Jotham's brother and his family, Damon, Jillaire, Adah, Maggie, and Gunner. The kids had a blast, running around. Drew had Adah and Maggie to play with, who were older and around his age, respectively.

Shortly after arriving, we hijacked Jotham, Dana, and Cassie for a walk down to downtown Bend for some catching up, taking in of the air, and a libation break at the Deschutes Brewery. We hadn't had lunch, so Drew and Rich were in desperate need of food by this time. I think it was around 2 or 3. I followed Jotham and Dana's recommendation and ordered the beer sampler and some kind of tasty artichoke and spinach dip. We shared a couple of appetizers and I ended up needing help with the beer. I had 4 ounce samplers. But there were like eleven beers. It ended up being WAY more than I expected, although Dana did point out what a deal it was for only $10 or something.

Having not had lunch, going for the sampler was perhaps not the best way to go. I had a lovely time. The beer was excellent. The walk back was pretty good, too. Right up until we decided to take the steeper and shorter way back. I even almost made it up that, too. I was holding Drew's hand and Jotham and Rich were hauling Cassie in the stoller up the steep switchback-y trail. And well, I almost passed out when I made it to the top. Literally two houses from their house, I had to stop and try to keep the blood in my head. I think Rich realized how close I was for a while there.

When we made it back to the house, I spent most of the next hour on my back with my legs up on a chair listening to Jillaire and Dana chatting. I tried to go talk to Joanna while she was making dinner, but that didn't last long. The blood flowed straight to my feet and I had to go back to the floor.

In my defense, Bend is high desert. The altitude gain in addition to the alcohol was a little much. And besides, I didn't lose my lunch or anything.

Rich's friends, Matt and Aria live in Bend, so we arranged to go see them later that afternoon as Jotham's brother and his family were staying only the one more night. Joanna planned to feed us, though, and made an amazing pumpkin soup for everyone which was beautifully presented with a piece of toasted brioche and some carmelized onions. It tasted wonderfully velvety. The kids were not as appreciative. Joanna told me that all the prep for that soup took a cumulative forty hours to do. We then discussed whether it was worth forty hours.

We excused ourselves and then went to see Matt and Aria and their girls, Kiley and Jaya. Drew took to them fast, even with all of Matt and Aria's family around. We arrived towards the end of an evening of post-Thanksgiving family dining. The family left after a while and we were able to hang out with Matt and Aria and talk. It was nice for Rich to hang out with his friends from college. He always has to put up with me and my friends and while we've gotten much better about not getting too clique-y when we're all together.

Matt and Aria were lovely. And their girls had fun playing with Drew, who had as much with their toys as he did with them. Trains are a surefire Drew-occupier.

The rest of our stay in Bend was pretty mellow. Rich and Drew went to a movie on Saturday with Craig, Joanna, Damon, and the girls, while Jillaire went shopping with Gunner. I ended up staying at the house with Jotham, Dana, and Cassie, which was nice. I spent some time talking with Jotham while Cassie napped and Dana decompressed from all the people. It was fascinating to see what he was up to with his business and what he had done to the house. That evening, I ended up staying up late to watchi Across the Universe, a musical with lyrics from the Beatles. I was a hard sell, but ended up really liking it.

Our drive home on Sunday was nothing less than brutal. Somehow an eight hour drive from Bend seems infinitely longer than the six hour drive from Grants Pass. And Rich drove most of it.

We are homebound for a WHILE. No more road trips.