Wednesday, October 27


This is a disgrace. Squirrels should be chased off the property. Even 3-legged cats know that. Pathetic. It is cute when it purrs, though. Hmmph—thunder-stealing rodent.

Friday, October 22

lunchtime "errands"

Earlier this month, I got a tweet from Drake's Brewing in San Leandro. I've been a fan of Drake's since I started working at my current job in Oakland's Embarcadero Cove and first tried a Drake's Amber at Quinn's Lighthouse, a kooky, piratey dive across the street from my office. Drakes' e-newsletter enticed Liz and I and a couple of work pals to their First Friday event (which deserves a post of its own at some point), but also offhandedly mentioned that they're now selling/filling growlers on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Since then, I've had the Drake's growler on my mind.

Today was/is a slow day at the office, so I decided to make the quick jaunt down 880 to satisfy my craving.  I knew I made the right decision when I pulled up to the brewery and there was Cheesus' (my Kia Soul's) stripeless, orange twin. I'm starting to see more Souls around the bay area, but had yet to see one of the same obnoxious orange color as mine (go Giants!).

Baby Cheesus (L), naked orange Kia Soul (R)

Anyway, I popped into the brewery and was treated to tastes of both Drake's Red Eye and their Hefe. I had hoped to get to taste the Kewl Hand Luke, a recent experimental wheaty IPA, but one of the brewers said they'd already pushed out all they had to local pubs. I went for the Red Eye which is my favorite of their regularly available beers: it's a hoppy copper ale that's got a nice balance of bitterness and sweetness that I tend to go for.

Round trip, including a stop at Costco (I play this mental game with myself where I say I'll drive through the parking lot, and if the fates let me find a space within 2 minutes, I'll stop for a hot dog—today they wanted me to have a hot dog) was only 45 minutes, so I can see this becoming at least a semi-monthly outing. Cheers.

safety first, please

Tuesday, October 19

When even a rosé is not enough...

Following up on the recent Lodi wine-tasting adventure, here's a shot of the Rosé that Josh "accidentally" bought for us when picking up some wines for Tracy. To be sure, it is tasty. It also features an awesome label with a disgruntled looking cat. Here's a glimpse of it with another, somewhat disgruntled, cat. That's what happens when he gets left at home while everyone else is gadding about...and even his own bottle isn't enough to smooth things over.

Sunday, October 17

Lodi with the Ladies

Yesterday we made a trip to Lodi, one of our favorite wine-tasting regions, to help Marcy and Kathy do some research about which wine to serve at their upcoming wedding in June 2011. Liz and I started going to Lodi a few years ago when we began our wine-tasting habit... er, hobby... and kept finding out that many of the Zins we liked were made with grapes from Lodi. It turns out that Lodi produces a majority of the wine grapes grown in California, and has for over a century, but kind of flew under the tourism radar as they sold most of their product to winemakers in other regions, and didn't do a whole lot of the tasting room thing in Lodi proper.

Anyway, we immediately liked tasting in Lodi. In contrast to better-known regions, we found the Lodi tasting rooms to be super laid back, often with the winemaker present to chat about their wine, and the wines to be reasonable and delicious (many, many old vine Zins with tons of farmy character). One of the highlights of our first trip to Lodi was Borra Vineyards where we were charmed by their wacky pourer, Barb, who showed us pictures of her cat on her phone and treated us like old friends. Borra makes an amazing Barbera, awesome Syrah and Rosé, and one of my probably top 3 wines, a Field Blend. We joined the club.

Another Lodi fave is Heritage Oak. They had just opened their tasting room the first time we visited, and we were impressed by their variety of Zins from different parts of the vineyard. Their tasting room is homey, and Tom the winemaker, is friendly and full of great information.

So, we hit these two yesterday along with St. Amant, one of our friend Tracy's favorites. (We like their Tempranillo and Rosé, but their tasting room is a warehouse, so not our favorite stop.) Marcy and Kathy found a couple wines at Borra, and a couple at Heritage Oak that are good possibilities for the wedding. It was great to spend the day on a little road trip with the girls and, of course, Odetta. We had a great picnic courtesy of Marcy at Borra with a bottle of their new Chardonnay, which is surprisingly (I am loathe to say this about a Chardonnay) delicious.

Possibly the best part of the trip was our stroll along the trail at Heritage Oak at the end of the day. They hand you a map in the tasting room and send you off to explore the vineyards and the Mokelumne River that runs through the grapes. They also loaned us their chocolate Lab, Hershey, to show us the way and keep Odetta company. We ended up at this totally idyllic beach (which was actually mostly underwater since the river was high) watching the dogs swim and planning our next trip to come picnic and watch Marcy swim. Two other folks showed up with 2 more Labs, and it turned into this hilarious, chaotic, splashy doggie paradise. We strolled back to the tasting room just in time to catch a great Lodi big-sky sunset before our drive home.

Friday, October 15


Have we mentioned the lovely produce box we get every other week from Dan's Fresh Produce? We found about about their box program a couple years ago and have been getting one ever since. We're now spoiled by having a bunch of fresh vegetables and fruit routinely show up on our very doorstep (it's only $3 more for home-delivery!).

We wind up cooking with ingredients we'd be unlikely to have on hand otherwise and have been introduced to some entirely new specimens. However, no matter how diligent we try to be, we also wind up stockpiling veggies. As a result, one or the other of us periodically has to find a way to use up a random assortment of veg. Therein was my inspiration for combing through soup recipes and combining several to create what I'm currently calling Gumbostrone, for lack of a better name.

It borrows from a couple Minestrone recipes, several Gumbo recipes, and has a dash of Green Chile Stew for good measure. Happily, it used up a good portion of our vegetable crisper that day.


-2 tablespoons olive oil
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 cup chopped onion
-1 cup chopped celery
-1 cup chopped bell pepper
-1.5 teaspoons chili powder
-3 cups canned tomatoes (with their juice)
-2 cups chicken broth
-1/2 cup water
-1 cup dark beer (I used a porter)
-3 bay leaves
-1. 5 teaspoons dried oregano
-1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, though I may have used a bit more
-1 teaspoon dried basil
-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
-3 tablespoons white rice
-1 andouille sausage
-1.5 cups zucchini
-1 cup corn
-1/3 cup New Mexican green chile
-1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
-salt and pepper to taste

I followed a basic (albeit vegetarian) Gumbo recipe, while consulting several more traditional meat-based Gumbo recipes online. Since we did not have okra on had but did have zukes that needed using up, my attention wandered over to the nearby Minestrone recipe; this upped the amount of tomatoes and rice I used and brought parsley into the mix. We also had a stray bit of green chile on hand, so I tossed that and some corn into the soup-pot on a whim.

In a saucepan, heat the oil and add onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook, stirring regularly, until softened. Add garlic, chili powder, and sausage; stir until chili powder is absorbed. Add tomatoes and cook (stirring) for about 3 minutes. Add broth, water, beer, bay leaves, oregano, Tabasco, basil, and thyme; bring to a boil. Add rice. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes. Add zucchini, green chile, and salt. Reduce heat and simmer another 10 minutes. Add corn and simmer another 10 minutes or longer, until veggies are done to your liking. Discard bay leaves. Add parsley.

I liked how this turned out, but I already want to play with it more. I'd up just about all the spices, and I do want to toss in some okra next time. More green chile would do nicely. I'd also like to start with a more traditional roux, although I liked how easily this recipe started off. More rice would be good, too. It made a tasty dinner and sets a good base for further experimentation.

Thursday, October 7

Qiiii (ice cream)

In a recent experiment I attempted to reproduce the flavor of Qi Black Tea Liqueur in a delicious ice cream form. The exciting part is that (for the most part) it worked!

To quote from the label on the bottle, Qi Black is "handcrafted from cedar-smoked Lapsang Souchong tea, rare fruits, and invigorating herbs." When I first tasted this spirit, I did not like it at all. The second time I was less against it, and with my third taste I found myself intrigued. Clearly it won my love, as this is now one of my favorite spirits anywhere. It's delicious on its own, mixed into a slew of cocktails, and I've used it to make truffles and other desserts. Once we got the ice cream maker I knew it was only a matter of time.

For my first batch of Qi Black ice cream, I chose a night we were having distillery friends (and distillery wives) over for dinner. This seemed like the easiest way to test the success of the maiden QB batch. I then spent a portion of the day playing with the following ingredients:

3 iterations of Qi Black/Lapsang Souchong
-1 tea-ball full of Lapsang Souchong tea (steeped for about 15 minutes in 3/4 cup milk)
-1/4 cup Qi Black reduction
-1/4 cup Qi Black liqueur

All of that added up to about 2/3 cup Qi Black Base. I rounded that out with 1/3 cup of milk (and one more tiny splash of Qi Black) so that I had a full cup of "milky Qi Black mix."

In a large mixing bowl, I added 3/4 cup of sugar to that "milky Qi Black mix" and stirred it 'til the sugar dissolved. Then I added 2 cups of heavy cream and again stirred until everything was combined. Worried that the Qi Black might not be coming through quite enough, I tossed in one more shot of the liqueur for good luck. Following our ice cream machine's trusty instructions, at this point I put my ice cream mixture into an ice bath to cool it down quickly. Per the instructions, I then let the ice cream mixture set in the fridge for a several hours until it was ready to come out as a finale to our mac-n-cheese-off (chronicled earlier by Josh).

To my delight, the flavor of Qi Black came through very nicely. Our esteemed friend Brad (who may be one of the world's most dedicated Qi Black fans) declared it a victory, and everyone else chimed to agree. Sadly, the ice cream was just a little bit on the soft side. I think it was that last shot of booze (for luck) that did it in. Next time, I'll go with a bit more reduced Qi Black, and a little less of the straight spirit. For now, I'm pleased to have developed at least a "working" Qi Black Ice Cream recipe. I'll update as I continue to tinker with it.

Wednesday, October 6

We've been running… yes, running

When I first moved to Alameda 5 years ago, I had this fantasy that I would become a runner. I was living alone on this lovely island that's completely flat, has a really nice running path alongside a beach with a view of the San Francisco skyline, and where cars don't generally go over the maddeningly tame speed of 25MPH. The running idea also appealed to me because, at the time, I was spending upwards of $150/mo on yoga classes in Berkeley and I liked that running is basically free and you don't have to drive anywhere. You just step out your front door, and off you go, keeping fit, enjoying the scenery, all independent-like.

So, one weekend I threw on my sneakers and shorts and off I went… fast. 2 blocks away from home, I was huffing and puffing, feeling my face turning red, and my only thought was "fuck this." I gave up on my romantic idea of island running.

Then, last summer, 2.5 years and 15 lbs into our relationship, Liz and I decided to revisit the whole running idea, inspired by our friends Britta and Emily and their talk of "wogging" around Lake Merritt. We started slowly, doing 1 min walk/jog intervals with Liz pacing me since I tend to want to run too fast (possibly to make up for my freakishly short legs)—wogging. The wogs felt pretty good even though there were some lessons learned right away such as: 1) good running shoes are important, and 2) pavement hurts 37-year-old knees not used to running.

Since then, we kept up the wogging, making tiny bits of progress (up to 2 min intervals), but only in fits and starts for a variety of reasons/excuses: swine flu, Liz being crazy jumping off the bar at work and injuring her foot, brutal bay area winter weather, Battlestar Galactica, moving, and so on.


Liz came across a training program called Couch-to-5K AND discovered that there's an app for it. Basically, it's a 9-week program of interval training that you do 3 times a week for 30 mins, and at the end of it, you've worked up to running a 5K! The iPhone strapped to your arm does all the planning and timing for you in the form of a bell and a bland, not-very-coachlike voice that tells you when to run, walk, and (our favorite part) when you've reached the halfway mark so you can turn around and head home. It's a simple pleasure, I know, but somehow, this silly bit of technology is working for both of us.

This past Saturday, we finished Week 5 with a 20-minute (2 mile!) run between 5 min warmup and cooldown walks. We even entered a smiley face in the record the app keeps of how your run feels. My goofy fantasy of being a runner on Alameda took 5 years to work itself out, but it's actually taking shape. This shape, actually:

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Tuesday, October 5

one of my favorite carbs

Croissants are delicious. Especially the ones from Feel Good Bakery in Alameda. They're incredibly buttery and flaky and perfect with a cup of coffee (café au lait, to be exact). The ham and cheese croissants are a particularly indulgent treat. Feel Good also does awesome baguettes (the seeded ones are best, but they often run out of those first); cheese sticks (basically a chewy mini-baguette sprinkled with a different cheese each day); and chocolate-rosemary scones. One other tip for you third-wave coffee hipsters with no options on the island: Feel Good also sells whole bean Blue Bottle Coffee.