Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy winter

I have been lazing through the winter break...reading, drinking tea and eating holiday treats, watching movies, catching up with friends and family, and sleeping...but how did the time go by so quickly?

Dan and I went up to Rocklin see his family on Christmas Eve, then returned to Chez Maman on Christmas Day. My sister made an origami dog for me...crafty, eh? The quilted espresso is from Dan's mother.

Christmas samolian dog
Cute samolian pooch on pink and green

My brother picked pomegranates from the tree in the backyard, decked out in a bicycle helmet and hospital scrubs...

Picking pomegranates
Beware falling fruit

I was so lazy I did not even send out holiday cards this year...the hovel is my excuse. In my one bit of craftyness, I knit a chocolate brown Puff Daddy neck warmer for Joanne, with one skein of Biggy Print. I thought it turned out pretty well...hopefully the puff holds up...

Chocolate brown puff daddy
Puff chocolate

And I got to catch up with some friends' babies and toddlers, who are growing up so fast! Dan and I met baby Georgia, daughter of Cheya and Rick...

Baby Georgia
Holding lil' baby Georgia

We also visited with Darcy Rose, who we had not seen since her 2nd birthday! Her family moved to new digs, and we walked to the park near their new abode, where Dan pushed her on the swings...

Darcy swing closeup
Higher! Faster!

After the walk, we shared some cookies Dan's sister had made for Christmas. Look at that smile!

Darcy smile
Such a cutie

After Darcy finished her cooky, she was interested in the last one, which was for daddy. "Not yours," she told her mother. Also, "not Oliver's" (the dog). Ownership seems to be quite the thing...

Darcy eating cooky
Cooky time

She is talking a lot more now, toddling all about, and so, so fun to be around!

Darcy putting up magnets
Putting magnets up on the fridge

My college friend Portia and her family visited from Texas, and we celebrated her son DJ's 3rd birthday with them! DJ is dairy-free, so for my first foray into dairy-free cupcakery I made dairy-free vanilla cupcakes with dairy-free chocolate ganache.

DJ blowing out candles
Blowing out the candles

DJ and his sister Veronica seemed to enjoy the birthday cupcakes...

DJ and Veronica eating cupcakes
DJ and Veronica, with birthday cuppies

After cake, there were presents to open, of course. DJ loves trucks, and received an impressive collection of toy trucks and cars. Dan and I gave him a vehicle-themed floor puzzle. But nothing could top the final gift, big boy underwear!

Big boy underwear!
Big boy underwear, wow!

After presents, Dan had fun playing with the energetic birthday boy, although I am not sure the restaurant staff enjoyed it as much...

Dan & DJ
Gotcha!

Twas a relaxing break, with just a few more days of lazing for me...also, I finally took my mother's old Singer sewing machine to the shop for a long-overdue tune-up, so mayhaps there will be more crafting in 2009?

Happy new year!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday cheer

Tis the season for gingerbread cupcakes and peppermint bark! Joanne hosted a holiday open house last weekend, kicking off the holiday baking...I made gingerbread cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting, which may be my new favorite frosting. I mixed chopped candied ginger into the batter, and the cupcakes were filled with cranberry apple butter and topped with a pomegranate seed (from the tree in the backyard at Chez Maman)...twas a nice combination of flavors.

Gingerbread cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting
Holiday cuppies

And of course, peppermint bark, an annual tradition...

Peppermint bark
Bark bark

The highlight of the party was holding baby Ryan. He really is adorable!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

October fly-by

Where does the time go? All of a sudden mid-November is upon us, and it is dark by 5 pm. Grr. But the solstice is next month, and the daylight hours will get longer again. Dan and I have been busy with the hovel, as usual. And I caught another bug, second time in less than a month, boo. But it has not been all bad, thankfully.

During Fleet Week, Dan had a work function at the Carnelian Room, and we saw the Blue Angels from the 52nd floor, a rare treat.

Blue Angels
Red, white and blue

We saw the planes fly by the Transameria Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge, quite a sight. Dan and I also visited the newly-opened California Academy of Sciences, which we had been looking forward to for quite some time. The place was packed, so we just checked out the aquarium. We will return to see the rainforest, the planetarium, the living roof, so many things to see. The albino alligator seemed very much at home in the new digs...

Just relaxin'
Just relaxing

And earlier this month Dan and I went to our friends' impromptu wedding, just a handful of friends with colorful umbrellas, on a gray rainy afternoon at Baker Beach, witnessing two people's love and commitment for each other. I was so grateful and happy to witness such a beautiful celebration. I am hopeful that someday the people of this state will think so too. And I hope it will be soon!

Monday, October 06, 2008

C is for cooky

Autumn is here! It even rained in the Bay Area over the weekend. Sadly, no creative output to speak of here at Chez Maman...too busy commuting, worrying (about the hovel and everything in general), and feeling tired of being tired...but trying to remember that I am an optimist!

And I find a home-baked cooky sometimes can lift one's spirits...so I made flourless almond chocolate chip cookies for book club this past weekend. I think this is the perfect cooky recipe that is both gluten-free and dairy-free...celiac and lactose intolerant book club members should be able to enjoy a sweet treat too! I usually use peanut butter, but have tried almond butter the past couple times, which also makes a tasty cooky. Dan made the almond butter this time with unsalted dry-roasted almonds in the food processor...fresh almond butter!

Flourless almond chocolate chip cooky
Almond chocolate chip cooky

The cookies have a nice chewy texture, chewier than the peanut butter version. Both are delicious. We discussed A Thousand Splendid Suns...reading the book made me so grateful for being a woman in America...despite all the things I worry about and disagree with...I am thankful.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pink cupcake gig

I had a cupcake gig over the weekend, almost a year to the day of my first one. Dan's coworker Josh requested pink cupcakes for a baby shower for his wife Marlena (my birthday twin!). I got organic strawberries at the farmer's market and tried two strawberry cupcake recipes. The first recipe used strawberry chunks, but I thought it tasted a bit muffin-y, so I tried a second recipe with strawberry puree. (I used twice the amount of puree.)

Strawberry cupcakes
Strawberry cupcakes

The cupcakes were a slightly pink color with a faint berry flavor. The cake was dense, but not too dry. (When I sampled the chunk recipe cupcake the next day, it didn't seem so muffin-y...and the strawberry chunks were rather nice...will need to conduct more strawberry cupcake taste testing!) I also made two dozen vanilla cupcakes, also topped with pink strawberry frosting. The frosting was very sweet, but had a nice strawberry flavor.

Vanilla cupcakes with strawberry frosting
Vanilla cupcakes with pink dots

I need a Cupcake Courier, but it is always out of stock. What's the story? These disposable trays will have to do for now...and the cupcakes made it to the shower safely.

Pink cupcakes ready to go
Strawberry-to-go

We were greeted with mimosas on arrival...what a treat...Dan and I also were charmed by Victoria, big sister to the new baby, who arrived (early) during the week! Congratulations!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Tahoe birthday weekend

Dan and I took Arrow to Lake Tahoe last weekend to celebrate Joanne's birthday and Sally's one year anniversary with the Lo family, and what a weekend it was! There were 13 humans and five dogs at the festivities...lots of fun! Joanne's husband Newt and dear friend Steven also rode the Tour de Tahoe, 72 miles around the lake...congratulations, boys!

And of course there were birthday cupcakes! Joanne likes mango, so I made this recipe using mango puree instead of papaya (yuck). The cupcakes were filled with mango buttercream filling, topped with cream cheese frosting and a dried mango circle (cut out with my trusty apple corer, which was used to make the holes for the filling too).

Mango cupcakes
Can you see the birthday girl?

There were red beets in the weekly CSA box, so I decided to try a chocolate beet cupcake recipe also. The batter was a pretty deep red, but the baked cupcakes just looked like chocolate. They were topped with white chocolate buttercream and a chocolate disc.

Chocolate beet cupcakes
Dimly lit cupcakes, with presents!

I think I overbaked both kinds of cupcakes, but they still were pretty tasty. (Frosting always helps.) It was a great weekend. We went to the lake, where the beagles stayed far away from the water. (Except for the ones who got thrown in.)

The three beagles
Sally, Arrow & Bonnie pose for Andy

Brody (golden retriever) and Dodger (lab/border collie) played in the water with the sporty humans while the beagles and the lazy humans lounged on the beach. (Yes, that would be me.)

Bonnie and Arrow
Arrow cuddles with Bonnie

We also were introduced to a fun and addicting new game that Steven brought, Wits and Wagers. And the beagles napped in the sun every chance they got.

Lazing in the sun
Napping on the deck

Thanks for such a fun weekend, everyone! Happy birthday Joanne!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Back to school

The kiddos returned to school this week, and I am exhausted! The long commute from Chez Maman is tiring, but hopefully I will adjust in time. Slow progress continues on the hovel. Dan and I spent the last several weekends on house stuff...researching kitchen cabinets and appliances...making multiple visits to the plumbing fixture showroom....it has been frustrating, exciting, exhausting...and it continues...

We did squeeze in some fun with the house craziness earlier this month. We attended my old friend Max's wedding...he and his longtime sweetie Nancy had a picnic potluck wedding at Tilden Park on a gorgeous summer day. I made mojito cupcakes for the occasion.

Mojito cupcakes closeup
Wedding cupcakery

It was a festive wedding....cheery yellow parasols protected from the sun, and the guests worked together to find the missing rings....with clues from our wedding invitations. Well, many of the guests did. I mostly ate pie and forgot to take pictures. Dan was fascinated by one of the locks, which was like a puzzle, involving many keys (that had to be found) and some trick locks. In the end the rings were unlocked and the bride and groom exchanged vows. Hooray!

After the wedding , we went down the road to celebrate Darcy Rose's second birthday, riding the steam trains!

Dan, Darcy & Carol
Riding the train with Darcy Rose

Darcy loves riding the train, especially going through the tunnel. There were also presents to open, of course.

Opening presents
Opening presents with grandma

All in all, a nice respite from the house craziness, and a great day at Tilden Park!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Berry day

I celebrated another year with a belated berry picking day at Phipps Farm in Pescadero. Unfortunately, it was a bit late in the season and very few ollalieberries remained. But it was a beautiful day, and lovely to see everyone...especially the kiddos!

Diana and Darcy
Darcy eats a berry from Diana

Darcy Rose loves berries and toddled through the fields picking and eating with enthusiasm. Unlike me she was deterred neither by tartness nor thorns, and I was told she even consumed a leaf still attached to one berry. Watching her made me very, very happy. I also got to meet Zoe for the first time...she reminds me of a muppet, so so cute!

Vivian with Zoe
Vivian and Zoe

Her big sister Chloe is pretty cute too.

Chloe
Matching pink hat and hoodie

After searching for berries, we had pie. I made strawberry pie with gluten-free animal cracker crust. And my first double-crust pie, blueberry pie from Cooks Illustrated, with my favorite vodka pie crust. I forgot to photograph the pies. They were quite yummy though.

Darcy eats pie
Darcy samples the blueberry pie

And birthday loot! Joanne and Newt got me a cupcake jersey. Cupcakes! Maybe I'll actually get on my bike with such cute, inspiring attire.

Carol, Joanne, Bonnie & Newt
Posing with cupcakes and Bonnie beagle

Thank you everyone for such a fun day!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cancro cupcakes

Fellow crab Diana celebrated her birthday this week, so it was cupcake time! Peach season calls for peach cupcakes...plus, the birthday girl loves cheese cream frosting.

Peach cupcakes
Cream cheesy peachiness

I had a bit of difficulty with the baking...I tested for doneness with a toothpick and all seemed well, so I let them cool. But when I cut into a cupcake after cooling, the batter inside was raw...ewww! Oops. I suspect the peaches I used were too big...it is peach season, after all...and maybe the pieces I cut were too big as well. So the batter around the peaches was not baked through. I put the cupcakes back in the oven, which resulted in overly brown tops. Luckily the cupcakes still tasted pretty good...cream cheese frosting always helps!

Since the celiac attendees of the birthday festivities cannot partake in gluten, I made flourless chocolate cupcakes as well. One of my (many) favorite ice cream flavors at the neighborhood ice cream spot is Mexican chocolate, which has a delicious hint of cinnamon...mmm! So I used cinnamon in the cupcakes (replacing the ancho chili powder), and the result was quite nice.

Flourless Mexican chocolate cupcakes
Gluten-free chocolate cinnamon cuppies

The cupcakes sink a bit since they are flourless. All the better to fill with chocolate sour cream frosting!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cooky time

When my friend Diana told me about the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe, of course I had to try it. It was hard waiting for the dough to rest, but 24 hours later...

New York Times chocolate chip cookies
24 hour cooky

The warm cookie was quite nice, though a wee bit too sweet. I used a combination of 60% and 72% chocolate discs...next time I will try all 72%. Also, instead of the 1 1/4 lb chocolate called for in the original recipe, I used 15 oz chocolate and 5 oz chopped pecans...I like a nutty cooky and thought the nuts would help cut the sweetness. (While the cookies were in the oven, I read about Orangette making the cookies...serendipitous, yes?)

Part of the inspiration to make this cooky was to see Darcy Rose eating one!

Darcy eating cooky
Darcy tests the cooky

I was hoping the cooky would be the size of her head, but it wasn't quite that big. It still made my day watching her bite into it...and after she put it down, she picked it back up and sneaked a few more bites. So cute! The next day I made the 36 hour cooky with the rest of the dough, which also was yummy, but sweet.

Since I was still on a chocolate fix, I made chocolate cherry granola over the weekend as well. Little bits of 72% bittersweet chocolate flecked throughout. Yum.

Chocolate cherry granola
Chocolate for breakfast

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Yucatan summer redux: Journey's end (part 4)

From the islands, to Merida and Celestun, then the Ruta Puuc, Dan and I were nearing the end of our two-week Yucatan summer adventure...but with great reluctance! On our way to Vallodolid, we stopped for a tour of the cenotes of Cuzuma...a horse-and-buggy took us along the tracks on a former henequen plantation to three picturesque underwater sinkholes, perfect for swimming.

Pony who took us to the cenotes
Hard-working pony stops for a rest

If another buggy approached from the opposite direction, we stopped and the drivers lifted the buggy off the tracks to allow the other to pass...cute the first time, but not-so-fun after it started raining. The cenotes were lovely. Lots of ceiba tree roots hang down into the cool, clear waters.

Looking down into Cenote Chansinic'che
Looking down into Cenote Chansinic'che

Also lots of stalactites...beautiful limestone formations hanging down...

Stalactites in Cenote Chansinic'che
Big stalactites above us

In Valladolid we visted the market and a few churches. A small anteroom next to the main sanctuary of San Gervasio Cathedral was filled with tombstones.

Gravestones in San Gervasio Cathedral
Tombstones inside the church

I enjoyed exploring the city, but it was very hot and humid.

Dan and Carol in Valladolid town square
Sweaty in the town square

We cooled off with a swim at Cenote Dzitnup, the biggest one I have seen so far. Its huge stalactite formations were spectacular, but unfortunately my camera could not capture the underground beauty in the darkness. Valladolid is home to many zapaterias, where you can see leather sandals being made. I had to get new shoes, of course.

Leather shoe shop
Shoemakers at work

We also had the yummiest agua frescas in a food court by our hotel in Valladolid. We had been drinking agua frescas nearly everyday during our trip, most places offered jamaica (hibiscus) and limonada (lime); I also had a tasty melon agua fresca on Holbox. But these were the best. Dan had pitaya, or dragonfruit. It is not my favorite fruit, but it was so delicious and refreshing!

Dan drinking pitaya agua fresca
Chunks of pitaya and seeds

I had pina, or pineapple. Yum!

Carol enjoying pina agua fresca
Big pina agua fresca

After lunch I managed to lose my prescription glasses at one of the shops we stopped in...we were literally about to drive out of town when I realized this. We then discovered the shops close after lunch and do not re-open until 5 pm...siesta time...so we waited...and I got to practice my Spanish as we went from shop to shop..."Estoy buscando mis lentes. Estan aqui?" But in the end we found them, hooray! Then we were off to Coba, to climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid. We went early in the morning, but the ruins were very crowded...and not so well preserved...probably my least favorite ruins in all of Yucatan. But we did see crocodiles in Laguna Coba and other wildlife.

Long parade of caterpillars
Caterpillar parade on a trail

After Coba we drove up the coast and stopped for a swim in Akumal Bay to look for sea turtles. We saw three! First a medium one, then a wee little one eating turtle grass, which lead us to a big sea turtle. The big one swam fast. The next day we snorkeled in the coral reef off the shore of Puerto Morelos, so beautiful. We saw so many pretty fish and corals, including a huge brain coral....also, queen conches, an eagle ray, sea cucumber, and more...but no sea turtles. So Dan and I went back to Akumal Bay, where we saw two more turtles! I love sea turtles...swimming with them and just watching them swim makes me so happy. We also saw a family of reef squid, very cute with their big eyes peering intently...and a huge long barracuda! As I remember all that we saw, I wish we had an underwater camera to capture the beauty of the sea.

Pelican preening
Pelican preening in Puerto Morelos

The Yucatan Peninsula is a wonderful and beautiful place. We enjoyed our journey...and I hope to return again someday.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Yucatan summer redux: Mostly Mayan (part 3)

After the islands and going west across the peninsula, Dan and I made our way back east along the Ruta Puuc, the hilly region of the Yucatan. I saw several roadrunners scurry across the road! We stayed at a delightful B&B in Santa Elena, a small village with a big church.

Fountain in Santa Elena town square
Fountain in the village square

From there we visited Uxmal, probably my favorite of all the Mayan ruins we have seen. The first structure upon entering the site is the Pyramid of the Magician. It is massive, and one of the few known Mayan pyramids with a rounded base.

Dan and the Magician's Pyramid
Can you see Dan?

Uxmal features impressive feats of architecture. The Governor's Palace is big and long, considered one of the greatest of Mayan buildings.

The Governor's Palace at Uxmal
The Governor's Palace

The Dovecote is another interesting structure...perhaps used as a lookout?

View of the Dovecote from the Grand Pyramid at Uxmal
View of the Dovecote from the Grand Pyramid

There are many intricate carvings on all the structures throughout the site...

Sideways bird carvings at Uxmal
Parrot carvings atop the Grand Pyramid

Turtle carvings
The House of the Turtles

Serpent carving at Uxmal
Serpent carving at the Nunnery

We also saw lots of iguanas and birds, including mot-mots! Their turquoise color and long tail are quite spectacular, and we spotted the pretty birds at all of the Ruta Puuc sites. At Kabah we saw the Codz Poop, a structure composed of hundreds upon hundreds of masks of Chac, the rain god.

So many Chac masks
Obsessed with Chac

It was amazing and also a bit frightening. The ancient Maya definitely must have been very concerned about water in this region.

Big Chac close-up on Codz Poop
A Chac close-up, with broken nose

Next stop was Sayil, where the Palace features carvings of the inverted diving god, which we also saw at Tulum and Coba.

Carol and Dan at el Palacio
Carol and Dan at el Palacio

Diving God carving at Sayil
The diving god, flanked by serpents

We also spotted pretty big-leafed plants at Sayil. They look like they've been painted pink and white.

Big painted leaves
Dan's hand for size comparison

The Arch of Labna is very beautiful, with intricate carvings on both sides.

The Arch of Labna
Traditional palapa hut carvings on one side

At Labna we also walked along the sacbe, raised white road believed to connect all the way to Uxmal at one time. And we saw the impressive el Mirador, believed to be a lookout structure. It rises out above a high hill of stones.

El Mirador at Labna
High lookout

Hundreds of butterflies fluttered on the road from Sayil to Labna, so beautiful! We also visited the Loltun caves, believed to be the largest cave system in the Yucatan. It was amazing, but alas I did not bring the camera underground.

Along the way we stopped in many small villages, visiting the church of each village square. Probably the most famous is el Convento de San Miguel Arcangel in Mani, believed to be the site where Fray Diego de Landa burned the Mayan codices, their important written works. The church has an attached capilla abierta, open chapel where the Mayan worshipped, similar to the one we saw at Dzibichaltun.

Convento de San Miguel Arcangel
The church at Mani

There was so much to see and do in the Ruta Puuc region; Dan and I really enjoyed visiting the area. Next time, the conclusion of our summer Yucatan adventure!