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Monday, March 31, 2008

More Rudi

Rudi's parents will come fetch him tonight after they fly back to California from the wedding. It is a sad night for Dave and me...we're going to miss having Rudi in our home. As is usual on weekends at our house, the humans and dogs alike spent both days outside (the former working and the latter playing). Because Rudi is so small and closer to the ground, he got pretty dirty. I'm going to give him a bath in a few minutes so he will be "all clean and sweet-smelling," as my daddy would say. He and I are going to deliver some dinner to Davie at his office after that. (Dave has to work until ELEVEN tonight (!!) and he can't waste time taking a dinner break (!!!) so we'll take him some food and let him snuggle with Rudi one last time before Rudi goes back to his own house. Dave's job will be the subject of a different...less fun...blog entry.)

Here are a few more pictures of the little guy for your viewing pleasure. =o)

We just got back from Dave's office, just down the street from the Capitol building. It took Rudi and I a while to get to his building from where we parked because the little guy had to pee on every bush along the way. Dave wasn't sure if I was allowed to be in his office while people are still working (at 9pm...) so we had to eat our spicy Cafe Bernardo stir fry noodles in the reception area. Rudi was a good boy; he didn't pee inside and he only barked when he needed to remind us that he wasn't getting enough attention.


Look at all these tired boys (Rudi, Davie, and Potatoes):


Ruby, my "director of homeland security" is quite bark-happy, in fact she is also "president of mass-communications" here. She's taught little Rudi to patrol the house through the big front window, which is her watch-tower. In this picture, Potatoes is looking at me like, "Mama! Now we have TWO barkers in the house?! I can't handle all the noise!" (Me either, Taters.)


Potatoes definitely likes hanging out with Rudi...here, they are snoozing in the sun together in Potatoes' favorite sunny spot in the dining room (wow...I REALLY need to wash that sliding glass door...it looks nasty.):

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy wedding day, John and Jessica!

*John and Jessica SCHWIND: this blog is for you! Here are some pictures of your baby boy. He's doing great and keeping us all thoroughly entertained. We hope the ceremony and festivities went well today!*

Our friends, John and Jessica, were married today down in Savannah, Georgia. While they are gone we are taking care of their fur-child, Rudi, short for "rudabega." Like our Ruby, he is a border collie-terrier mix. Notice how similar their names/breeds are to each other? I have a hunch that they liked Ruby so much that they subconsciously chose a pooch similar to her for themselves (or so we like to think!).
Rudi is still a puppy and is such a darling. I've never had a puppy (our dogs were full grown when we got them from the rescue foundation) but Dave keeps telling me that all the weird things Rudi does is because he's still a baby. They estimate that he's only 8 months old...but Dave thinks that he could be younger. Like any young dog he just wants to play all the time--with us, the pillows, dirty laundry on the floor, and our dogs. Potatoes plays with him, which gets Ruby gets all upset thinking that Rudi is fighting with Potatoes and then jumps in to "save" Potatoes. Rudi doesn't understand that Ruby is trying to fight him off so he just tries to play with her. It is absolute madness around here at times.

Here, he's trying to help Dave install the baseboard in the office (we're finally done with the flooring in there--yippee!):
Rudi has this habit of trying to "bury" his bone and raw hide chewies. He scratches at the carpet or couch to make a "hole", lays the toy down, and then uses his head to cover it up with imaginary dirt. It is just hilarious...you just have to check it out. Lucky for us he hasn't ruined our couch doing this, but we'll have to watch him. (If Kaitlin is reading this I'm sure she's saying to herself "scratching up the furniture, there's another reason us Hunts will never have a dog!")

video

Mangia Pasta!

After my final last Saturday I baby sat for one of the professors in my graduate group. He and his wife just had their first baby back in November. His name is Teo (as in “tay-o”) and is very cute. They walk past our house a lot with Teo in the stroller and sometimes stop to chat. A few weeks ago while Dave and my dad were busy with the stump removal, they walked past and we all stopped working to admire the darling baby. I told them that I’d love to watch him sometime if they ever wanted to have some couple-time together. They admitted that they hadn’t left him with a sitter yet because they weren’t “emotionally ready.” My dad commented that they’d better get on it and get the baby used to be watched by someone other than his immediate family, otherwise they’ll risk freaking him out the first time he’s alone with a new person. My dad said that they don’t want to make the mistake of waiting until the HAVE to leave him with a sitter when he’s older because he won’t be used to it. Funny enough, I got an email from Teo’s mom only a few days later asking if I could watch him while they went out for their wedding anniversary celebration.

Watching Teo went great; he slept heavily after I walked him around the house and talked to him about all the stuff he was seeing. When his parents returned they took him out of my arms instantly—they were so relieved to be back home with him! It was cute and I’m sure they’ll laugh about their anxiety at being away from him in a few months when he’s crawling all over the place, getting into everything, making messes, and still learning to use his “inside voice.”

By the time I walked home from their house Dave was starving. I had intended to make a lasagna but didn’t have the ricotta thawed and I’d run out of noodles. I improvised and made spaghetti and meatballs instead. How fun! I hadn’t had this dish since I was a child. Be honest, when you think of “spaghetti and meatballs” don’t you immediately think of 1980’s children’s menus at restaurants? I know I do.

It sure was yummy! I used my Daddy’s marinara sauce, augmented with sautéed onions, a can of mushrooms, a healthy glug of red wine, and a pint of home-canned tomatoes. The ground beef was mixed with minced beaten egg, red onion, garlic powder, and a heaping ½ cup of grated pecorino romano cheese. I fried the balls in oil just until the brown on two sides then let them simmer in the sauce for 20 minutes to cook through. They're like little floating meatloaves!

On Saturday afternoon I made another pasta dish (in your face Mr. Atkins!) for lunch: beet greens wilted in the fat rendered from browned slices of kielbasa sausage, tomatoes, all tossed with a 1/2 pound of pasta. The flavor of the beet greens went perfectly with the sausage. This dish was great because the pasta wasn't the star of the show--the greens were. Dave and I decided that next time I ought to double the amount of greens. I used about a pound but they cook down so much that we really needed more. We ate it outside n the "BBQ" yard where we will (someday) have a proper patio so we don't have to place our table on hard dirt.

As we soaked up the sunshine Dave snuggled with the dogs, one at a time, right there in his lawn chair. (For the record, my Davie is going to be the BEST daddy ever when we actually have human-children. He's such a nurturing guy.) You can tell from Ruby’s expression that she’d prefer to get down and snuggle on the floor (first picture). Potatoes, on the other hand, was completely okay being in his daddy’s lap (second picture); he actually dozed off for a bit!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Easter?

Someone forgot to remind me that this past Sunday was Easter. On Saturday night my mom asked what I was making for Easter dinner. "What? I have no idea...I haven't thought about it yet," I replied. She sounded surprised since I usually plan my life at least two weeks in advance, meals included. Since my dad decided at the last minute that he was going to come up to stay with us for the holiday weekend, I had to run out to the store on Sunday morning to buy a ham and some black eyed peas. (Us Levies don't eat ham without black eyed peas...and greens.) So we dined on roasted ham with pineapple sauce, simmered peas-n-bacon, collard and turnip greens straight from the garden, and lemon meringue pie made with fresh lemons from my in-laws' tree. The only thing missing was a batch of hot crossed buns, like I made last year.

Until I lived down in Cape Town, "hot crossed buns" was just a childrens' song to me; I'd never actually seen or eaten one until I went to a friend's house just after Easter in a Cape Town suburb. Seeing my fascination at this bread, my friend's mom explained to me that raisin buns like these only bear the cross on or after Easter, to signify Christ's rising. Huh...who knew? They are traditionally made with currents or raisins and crossed with a white dough on top. For extra sweetness the cross can be made of frosting, instead, which I how I made them last year. They were really good...I might have to make some this weekend to make up for their absence on Easter.

Here's my first-ever lemon meringue pie. I didn't let it cool enough before we cut into it, as you'll notice the lemony goodness is oozing out onto the plate:
The reason I forgot about Easter this year was because of my physical chemistry final, which was on Saturday morning at EIGHT AM! I loathe having finals on the very last day of finals week. Everyone else is done with exams, gone home to be with family. All in all the exam went fine; we only had to answer 9 out of 10 problems and I even finished early. After checking about 12094894854309 times for the rest of the weekend, my grade of a B+ was finally posted online. Whew! Because this class is a "deficiency" for my graduate group I'm required to get at least a B. There are bumper stickers that say "Honk if you passed pchem." Seriously, this class is tough...you'll notice that the sticker doesn't say "Honk if you got an A in pchem."

While my dad was here we did some gardening; like his spontaneous suggestion last time that he and Dave remove that huge stump, this time he suggested that we start my front yard redesign. So we spent the better part of Monday removing turf with pick-matics and then rototilling about 18 horse feed bags of compost into the soil. (My dad has a mess-free system where he fills used 50-pound horse feed bags with black gold--his amazing compost--and then sews it up with his professional bag sewer, just like dog food bags. This way the compost can be hauled in a truck bed or the trunk of your car without making a mess.) Since we're going to replace the fence in a few weeks we didn't extend the garden bed along the front fence that runs between us and the neighbor yet so we can ensure that we will have enough room to work. Eventually I'd like to have only a small "puddle" of grass in the front yard surrounded by bermed garden beds. Right now all we have is very boring, very flat grass-and-weed turf, plus a flower bed under the front window that Dave made for me last fall. By creating berms with the soil the yard will look bigger than it is since the mounds won't let your eyes see the whole yard at once. Even an elevation change of 12 inches can make a big difference, visually.

See how the stump is still there on the street in front of the house? It's been there ever since they took it out of the ground; the city wouldn't take it since it is so large. Our chain saw was being cranky so we couldn't cut it up to the city's required size. Instead, my dad and I rolled it up a plywood ramp into Cliff the Big Red Truck to haul it back to Livermore. Daddy has a collection of old stumps and tree debris that will eventually go into a gully at the Far Side Ranch (our cabin south of Livermore).

Daddy brought me a "Julie Sized" tiller a few weeks ago. The big red one we brought back from Georgia is too big for me to handle, at least when I have to turn it. It is a bit much for Dave to handle, too, since the drive shaft arm was so long and flexible that you couldn't take it out of "go super fast" to put it into "go nice and slow" or even to put it into reverse. So it would drive forward like mad and there wasn't much you could do about it unless you had muscles like the Incredible Hulk--or the Incredible Dave--to man-handle it wherever you wanted it to go. This little Snapper is great because it is small and it can be maneuvered around tight bends and up close to fences.


Daddy and I have decided that we must do something "plant related" together every Easter weekend; a few years back (2003 I think) we were up at the cabin ("Far Side Ranch") identifying native flowers using the Jepson manual for my botany class. Last year we carved the garden beds out of the rear-most yard here at the new house for our first summer garden. This year it was making the first flower bed for new redesigned front yard.

On Tuesday morning Daddy was slated to depart for Livermore so he and I went to IHOP for breakfast (its our heading-back-to-Livermore tradition). While there, Vic, my PI (Principal Investigator, basically my research professor except that he's not a "professor" he's just a researcher), called to see if I could come in to lab to show him how to use a particular program. My dad and I went back to the house, hopped on bikes and rode to campus. It was great to have my dad finally meet Vic. They keep trying to meet up but it had never worked out before. They totally hit it off! They talked all about my dad's work history, stuff Vic has done as a farmer, and all sorts of stuff. After that we walked across campus to drop some books off at the engineering library. We stopped by Bainer Hall to see if my dad's research associate was in his office so we could drop off some samples to him. He wasn't there, but now I at least know where his office is since my dad left the samples with me to drop off later. It is cool that my dad has a work-related reason to come to Davis these days...hopefully he'll be able to come up here more often.

I'll post more later...I have some other pictures and recipes to share from this past weekend as well. But right now I need to go to bed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Older and Wiser

Well, I'm another year older as of yesterday. I've realized that being on the quarter system here in grad school really stinks because my birthday always ends up during finals week. Last year I had my soil organic matter final on my big day; it was a take-home exam so I took myself to IHOP for pancakes while I worked on it. Lucky for me my only final this quarter isn't until Saturday morning. I might throw a party after it's done, just to celebrate the END OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY! I had dreaded this class ever since college and for good reason: it is hard and horrible. Useful, I'm sure, but that excuse doesn't make it any more fun when I have to spend hours slogging through calculus derivations of the Maxwell distribution.

This year, like last, Dave was working until really late so we didn't really do anything. My realization that birthday celebrations mean less and less as you get older is more apparent than ever. Boo. Although, come to think of it, my parents raised me believing that birthdays weren't all that special anyway so I don't know what I'm complaining about. Most years our birthdays were/are celebrated MONTHS after the real date due to financial or scheduling issues.

Dave got home so late last night that by the time we arrived at the sushi restaurant I wanted to eat at, they weren't serving anything except the remainders of their "all you can eat" buffet for $17/person. Ha! Yeah right, like I was going to eat left over raw fish for that much money. We had to settle for mediocre Mediterranean food instead. Hopefully when my parents come in a few weeks we can celebrate my and Dave's birthday's (he'll be 26 on April 8) properly--with good food and some cake!

Allison and Edward were very sweet to me at 9pm on March 18--as soon as it turned 12am in their time zone (eastern standard time) they both messaged me in Gmail chat to wish me a happy birthday. It was funny how clever they thought they were. =o) Allison also posed Emmy for a darn cute birthday picture, which really made my day.

Dave and I were 22 when we became engaged, 24 when we were married, and 25 when we bought our first house...I wonder what exciting thing will happen during our 26th year? I can't wait to find out!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We Have a Cavoli Fiori

This morning I went out into the garden to pick some more broccoli. If you continue to harvest the broccoli before it flowers (at which point it is considered inedible...I'm not convinced that is true but have yet to taste the yellow flowers) the plant will keep producing the broccoli heads until the weather gets too hot. About every 4 days I'm able to gather enough for Dave and I to justify eating. The florets on our plants are very small; likely because I planted them too late in the year so the plants did most of their growing after the coldest part of winter, rather than before. Ideally they'll do most of their growing (at least above ground) in the fall while it is still warm, then they'll just "limp" along through winter, finally producing their bounty as the weather warms up. Mine didn't get this advantage because I was so busy canning all those tomatoes back in September rather than planting my winter garden. Better luck next time!

I showed the broccoli bouquet to the pooches, who immediately wanted to eat it. You can see Ruby's nose is checking out the cut stems where all the sugary juices are. They know what's good for them...veggies included.
I noticed that we have our first cauliflower!!! This is so exciting, but I'm not sure why. I guess I just didn't expect the cauliflower to work out, but it did! This is a fun crop to grow because you wait, and you wait, and nothing seems to be happening except for healthy leaves...and then suddenly, there it is! This flower head is very small, but pretty perfect looking. I looked up the etymology of "cauliflower" and discovered that it is either a "Latinization" of cavoli fiori in Italian, translated directly as "flowered cabbage" or the "cauli" comes from the Latin word for "stem". Wherever the name comes from doesn't matter, I suppose, as much as how it tastes. I haven't picked it yet because I want to show it off to Davie first.


My greens are officially out of control; it is definitely time to harvest them and throw what we can't eat into the deep freeze for summer consumption.

Greens gone wild (sorry boys, this is not a picture of 'girls gone wild'):
My head cabbages are coming along, although I'm not sure the weather will stay cool enough for them to grow large enough to be harvested. It got too warm for the Chinese cabbage that I planted next to them, apparently, because they all bolted weeks ago. The flowers sure are pretty, though! I've been bringing some of the flowers inside these last few weeks to put in vases. They don't smell good or bad, but they do hold their petals for a good long time.

Cabbage patch:
Bolted Chinese cabbage:
Another piece of very exciting news (if you're easily excitable, like me) is that my tomato seeds have germinated! It took about 9 days for them to germinate. I kept checking them several times a day, and I was getting worried that they'd all rotted. They say that a watched pot never boils, and sure enough, the seeds all germinated while we were gone for the weekend when I wasn't around to stare at them every few hours. Yippee! I'm hoping that enough of them will survive to ground-planting size so that I can plant at least 2 of each in our yard and be able to give some to my daddy (and perhaps a few can go on the airplane with me when I go back to NY to see Edward and Allison in May).

For those of you who follow Allison's blog (see "My Friends" at the upper left of the blog for the link; she's my brother's girlfriend, also from California), she's starting a container garden of herbs and flowers. Last summer my mom and I drove all the way to NY from Davis (!!) to take a load of furniture to them. Among the furniture and mini-deep freeze we were able to stuff in two 40 pound bags of my daddy's wonderful compost. If I can manage to bring Allison a tomato plant I'm sure we can use that compost to grow a mighty healthy tomato tree. No kidding about having a tomato tree--every time I've grown tomatoes with my dad's compost I've ended up with plants that are more than 6 feet tall. It is a little shocking for people to see who are used to dinky 2 foot plants adequately supported by those aluminum tomato cages they sell at garden centers. To support our tomato trees my dad had to construct 5 foot tall, 2 foot wide cages of heavy gauge mesh (more like jail cells for rowdy tomatoes). Using those smaller cages is just not an option. That being said, tomatoes can grow nicely in containers; like a gold fish they'll grow as big as their environment (and nutrients) allow them to. I'll just have to find a large (but not too expensive) container for Allison's deck-dwelling tomato.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Beef Barbacoa: the Results

Last week I posted some recipes that I'd found online for the beef barbacoa and seasoned rice that you can get at Chipotle restaurants. I haven't made the rice yet but I did make the beef dish. I couldn't find a local or cheap source for the avocado leaves but found a suggestion online that you could substitute bay leaves and a dash of anise. It didn't indicate how much to use, so I just guessed at about 4 bay leaves and 1/8 teaspoon of ground anise.

Like most other recipes I use, I made a bunch of adjustments based on my laziness and pantry supplies. I couldn't find those guillano peppers so I subsituted 6 chipotle peppers. The only beef roast left at the store was 4.5 pounds (a little under the recommended size for the amount of marinade paste) and I left it to marinate in the fridge overnight instead of only 4 hours.

I put all the ingredients into my Magic Bullet (thanks Allison!) to make the thick paste. The directions state that you need to pass the paste through a sieve, which I also didn't do. (I didn't have the recipe printed out, only a list of the ingredients, and I didn't have internet access since we'd just cleared out the office and unplugged the modem--so I just tried to remember what to do and forgot that sieve part). Now that I've tasted the cooked meat I think I know what that sieve is supposed to do: remove the hot pepper seeds! Chipotle peppers are simply smoked jalapeño peppers, i.e., quite spicy.

The raw chunk of dead cow covered in the aromatic paste (you can actually see those pepper seeds):
A phone call to Edward gave the internetless me the cooking time/temperature the following night. I put the chunk of meat into my dutch oven and put that into my handy roaster oven. These ovens are great because they keep the moisture inside, unlike a range oven, so your food doesn't dry out. In fact, roasting a turkey in one doesn't even require basting and it cooks much faster. I set mine to only 300F and went to bed. It roasted for about 9 hours.

All night long I dreamed about eating that delicious meat because the smell permeated the house. It was heavenly. In the morning I tested the meat with a thermometer and it was definitely done. Just to make sure I poked it with tongs to see how tender it was. It just fell apart! With very little effort I was able to mix it all up to the consistency of Chipotle's meat.

The meat tastes fantastic but is a little dry. I mixed in about 4 tablespoons of canola oil and that helped a lot. I think the extra cooking time (despite the lower temperature) may have dried it out. Next time I think I will treat it like a pot roast and pour beef stock around it in the bottom of the dutch oven. Despite the slight dryness all the flavors really meld together nicely. The spicy with the thyme sounded strange to me, but it really works well.
Dave brought home some Chipotle burritos for dinner the other night and I did a taste comparison. Mine definitely tastes like the commercial barbacoa so I'm calling it a major success. I froze it in quart bags so we can make our own burritos later. We didn't eat it yet because Dave has been bringing dinner home every night. His firm lets its overworked employees have a $16 dinner reimbursement if they work for more than 10 in a day (so for him, that's been every day lately). Given the food options in a college town we're both able to eat on that. Two Chipotle burritos, guacamole, and chips comes in at $15.50 or something. Perfect for us!

Like many dishes with lots of different seasonings, the flavor improves with age. I let this sit in the fridge for two days before tasting it again--the spicyness was less intense but the other flavors came through more strongly than before. If you're going to make this, I recommend letting it "rest" like this for a day or so before using it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Winter Garden...The End is Nigh

The end of winter is upon us (technically, the last day of winter is my birthday) and with that comes the end of care-free gardening. I have decided that I really like winter gardens because they require basically NO work whatsoever, beyond the initial planting and harvesting when it is done. You don't have to worry about irrigating because of the rain and there are few/no pests to worry about since it is so cold. If you plant from seed directly outside you will need to thin your crop once a few weeks after germination (which I neglected to do until too late) but that's really it.
Our goal is to harvest all of the winter crops (or relinquish them to the compost pile) the weekend of March 22 so that we can prepare the ground for our summer garden. Even then will be pushing the limit to get things in the ground in time. This time last year we were busy moving into this house and didn't get the garden planted (mostly from nursery starts, not seeds) until after Easter (Dave's birthday). That would have been okay, except that I made the mistake of hitting all the plants with two rounds of fish emulsion fertilizer too late in the game so all the plants grew HUGE and didn't produce fruit until sometime into the fall. Yikes, it was crazy to have 8' tall tomato vines and bell pepper "trees" that we giving us delicious red bells even after Thanksgiving. The tomatoes didn't really produce all that much; I think we were only able to can 4 or 5 quarts and freeze a half gallon Ziploc bag of whole tomatoes.

Glancing at my gardening journal back in September reminds me that we DID get about 250 POUNDS (that's right) of free Roma tomatoes from the UC Davis student farm. A plant science lab upstairs from my lab had grown 8 varietals of Romas that have been used at some point in the last 50 by major producers for condensed soup, tomato paste, and canned tomatoes. They tested various irrigation techniques for each to see which produced the most and best flavored/textured fruit. Very interesting. The lab sent out an email asking for help with the final harvest in exchange for all the free tomatoes you could ever want. Well, I wasn't about to pass-up free tomatoes and hanging out with folks in my department. I arrived in the fields that morning with two HUGE laundry baskets and 3 apple boxes (crates). I came home with all those filled, plus some Hefty garbage bags full, too. There was also a watermelon patch that was a free-for-all, grown by another lab just so students could pick them. I grabbed half a dozen of those for us and to use for some of my graduate group socials.

For the whole next week Dave and I spent our evenings after work washing, chopping, canning, peeling, and drying tomatoes. The skin on my finger tips started peeling from all the water and acidity. I think we ended up canning about 40 quarts of quartered or pureed tomatoes and 4 quarts of sundried tomatoes (well, dehydrator-dried). Dave was totally "over" all this preservation work by the end, but I'm glad we did it. (Don't tell Dave, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can get more free produce this summer, too!)

Anyway, tonight I pickled the few beets that were large enough to harvest from our winter garden, along with 4 bunches that I bought at the Farmer's Market on the way home from school today. I only ended up with 3 pints, but it's a start. Hopefully the recently-thinned-and-not-large beets still in the ground will get big enough to eat in the next two weeks so I can pickle them, too. Dave doesn't like pickled beets--more for me! Like my dad, he does like pickled cucumbers ("pickles") and I promised my dad that I would make him a few jars of bread-and-butter pickles the next time the Farmer's Market has pickling cukes.

Tonight I totally splurged on a half-flat of huge, heavenly-smelling strawberries at the Farmer's Market, too. They are from San Diego, which has apparently had enough heat/sun already for strawberries. Or perhaps they were grown in greenhouses down there, I don't know. I made a strawberry cream tart with a melted milk chocolate layer. YUM. We're so full from dinner that we haven't tried it yet but it looks/smells good! I tasted the cream filling (it's really a custard, I guess) and it reminded me of the milk tarts we used to eat on Sundays when I lived in Cape Town. Those didn't have any fruit but were a sweet and delicious treat after a long morning of grocery shopping with my roommate, Amanda. Ah...memories!

Here's our first broccoli harvest. It is remarkable to me that we grew this all the way from seed! We ate it as part of a veggie platter with ranch dip. It was super yummy, and so much more tender than store-bought stuff.

On the plant:
First harvest:
Just look at these garden gnomes I found out there...aren't they SO cute? Normally the "garden yard" (we have three "back" yards plus the front yard because our lot is a triangle) is off limits to the dogs since they don't understand the difference between Mama's beloved rows of veggies and the walking paths. However, they were very good while I was out there taking pictures and picking the broccoli and they made sure to jump over the veggies rather than plow straight through them.

By the way, as I write this blog our entire family (us and two dogs) plus two laptops and Dave's work papers are ALL on the same couch. These animals totally make me laugh--when they are determined to snuggle with their Mama and Daddy, by golly, they will squeeze their way onto the couch with us no matter how little room there is. Potatoes' pre-furred sleeping position is halfway between being on his back and on his side, in this half-twist. Dave just plopped his pile of work papers right on top of his belly since there's no other room on the sofa. Every once in a while this long torso-ed dog stretches and the papers fall on the floor. Dave patiently picks them up, waits until Potatoes has collapsed back down, and then he puts the stack back down on top of the dog. Occasionally Ruby has to reposition her rump so it doesn't slide of the cushion. She also lets out these loud moans of satisfaction and soft snoring sounds of contentment whenever one of our arms nudges her. You know how newborn babies make those darling noises when they're sleeping? Ruby sounds just like that when she snuggles between us and we just love it! It is really hard to get any work done when you literally surrounded by such loving (and weird) babies like ours. =o) Here's the best picture I could get of all of us right now:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Multi-Task Weekend

Whew...the weather this weekend was amazing! It was at least 70F each day with only a slight breeze. Davis can be very breezy a lot of the time (the "Delta Breeze") and horrendously windy at times but this weekend was pretty perfect. It was the kind of weather that is just perfect for hanging the laundry out on the clothesline....except that I didn't even GET to the laundry at all this weekend (which is my usual Sunday habit). We did so much this weekend and spent most of the time outdoors. I have a sunburned face, forearms, and neck to prove it.

On Friday evening before Dave arrived home from work I cleared all the small stuff out of the office so we could install the laminate in there and I made dinner. We had grilled orange roughy fillets drizzled with a spicy tomato sauce, quinoa and scallion pilaf, and sautéed swiss chard. I picked the scallions and the chard from the crops planted outside my lab building on campus earlier. Yum, dinner was so good and we were so hungry that we didn't take the time to admire our food let alone take a picture. But trust me, it was yummy and pretty.

Knowing that we had plans with friends on Saturday afternoon (and therefore limited time to work on the office flooring) we went to Home Depot after dinner to pick up a load of baseboard and door casing. We noticed that all the 6-panel slab doors were on sale for only $19! That's at least 30% off the larger and more expensive doors. Unfortunately we didn't have room in the trailer for doors and the trim so we didn't get any. Because the trailer we've borrowed (permanently?) from my dad is only a 10-footer and the propacks of trim are between 10 and 12 feet long, we always end up buying some 16 or 12 foot 2x4s to support the trim as it hangs out the back of the trailer. We always end up crawling way up onto the stacks of lumber in HD to find boards that aren't knotty or bent. When we finally got home Dave helped me move the large furniture (desk and bookcase) out of the office and into the living room (aka the staging area for all our flooring projects). Then I pulled up the carpet, saving most of it into a roll to keep, and tossing the rest into the garbage can. Dave helped me bust up all the tiles and chisel out the termite poison holes (only 21 in this room). Whew, by this time we were pooped and it was nearly midnight. It was a very long day for both of us since he'd worked his tail off at work to be able to get home by 6pm and I'd had a physical chemistry exam that morning.

Saturday morning the termite poison holes were filled and we spent most of the day painting crown moulding and doors, installing the crown moulding, and stocking up on our vitamin D out in the sunshine. The dogs wore themselves out playing together in the yard all day while we worked. A few weeks back we bought new doors for the dining room to replace the icky ones that the electrician had accidentally drilled holes into--those were (finally) painted and installed.

Saturday afternoon we rode our bikes over to our friends' (John and Jessica) apartment for drinks and dinner. They have a new boy puppy who is a black, white, and brown border collie/terrier mix...just like our Ruby! His name is...wait for it...Rudi! As in Rutabega. Haha. They said that they just fell in love with Ruby and subconsciously chose a dog (and a name) just like her for themselves. We're very flattered. John and Jessica will be getting married down in Georgia in a few weeks so Dave and I will keep little Rudi at our house. Dinner at their place was super fun, with lots of talk about dogs, weddings, school (she just finished her masters last year and is now a professor at Touro University and he is in my program at Davis), gardening, and building our dream houses someday on our parents' land.

Sunday morning was a lazy one for us; according to day light savings, our clock said that we'd slept in but we sure were tired. Being out in the sun all day seems to wear me out! Once we got moving we were on a roll: Dave drove out the north Sacramento to meet with a recruiter who will help him find a new job that allows for more work-life balance and/or is in Davis so he can ride his bike to work like I do. I stayed home to paint the remaining crown moulding (enough for the office, hallway, AND master bedroom--that's a LOT of moulding to paint!) and to make my soil blocks. Dave was able to get the crown moulding up in the guest room and in the master bedroom. Because I decided that the decorative trim we'd gotten for the guest room was too small, Dave used installed it right underneath the crown moulding in the master bedroom. It looks very nice and adds that little something extra to make our room look fancy. I really like it. (We're going to use that the picture-hanger trim I mentioned last week in the guest room after all.)
A soil blocker is this little contraption that forms cubes of soil mix for sewing seeds indoors or in a greenhouse. The idea is that when the outsides of the blocks dry the hold together without the need for a container. It is a cheap way to start a lot of seeds in a small amount of space. The soil mix consists of peat moss, soil, compost, sand, and lime (to neutralize the acidity of the peat moss). Because the mixture contains 40 parts of the very hydrophobic peat my dad suggested that I moisten it with boiling water to speed up the soaking-up process. It took 2 of my huge spaghetti pots of boiling water to moisten the entire wheel barrow of the soil mix. Trying to carry boiling water all the way out to the yard with two curious dogs underfoot is NOT recommended. Making the soil blocks was a little tricky at first because the tops were getting stuck up inside the form when I pushed them out. I finally got the hang of it. My dad loaned me the sugar-cube sized one for starting seeds and the 2x2" one into which I will put the successfully germinated sugar-cube sized ones. Dave said it looked like I was making mud pies because I kept smelling the soil mix (I absolutely LOVE the smell of wet soil) and I used Dollar Store cookie sheets to hold them.

Around 3pm we got cleaned up, loaded the dogs into the car, and headed over to Toad Hallow dog park to meet up with John, Jessica, and Rudi (plus their two friends, Jared and Bronwyn, from church and their dog, Dodger). None of them had been to a dog park before and they wanted us to show them how it all works. We had so much fun! Little Rudi just wanted to wrestle with Dodger, their friends' dog, and he totally doesn't understand the point of playing fetch. Our dogs chased the ball a little too much after a full day of running around the yard; they were panting so much that they could hardly drink any water. It was a little scary because I was afraid that they'd over done it and would have heat stroke or something.

Ruby and Potatoes:

Rudi trying to figure out the big deal with the ball:

Our whole gang at the park:
After the dog park Dave and I got hamburgers from In-N-Out (and more water for the dogs) before heading down the highway for Home Depot...again. I swear, the only thing we spend money on these days is groceries, mortgage, and stuff at Home Depot for the house. We rarely go out to eat, hardly go to or rent movies, and never go clothes shopping. Anyway, we bought 6 of those 6-panel doors plus a kit for making the knob holes and hinge depressions. I checked the nursery area for blue plumbago for my dad; they didn't have any but I did find both pink and white bower vines. Haha! I will definitely have to plant some of those in our BBQ yard, just for name sake. =o)

I took some pictures of the garden but will post a garden update later. I really should get to school now to start my next compost incubation. Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Chipotle!

I am very excited to announce that I've found supposedly-authentic Chipotle restaurant recipes online. In all likelyhood, these are NOT really from the restaurant but who cares if it tastes close enough?

If any of you really know Dave or me that well, then you know how much we love this place. My brother loves it a lot, too, so much so that I actually bought 4 servings of the barbacoa beef and flavored rice, froze them in Tupperware containers, and had my mom take them on the plane all the way to New York to surprise my brother. I should clarify that she didn't fly all the way there JUST to deliver the Chipotle (she was going there anyway) but I can tell you that a $300 plane ticket could be justified just to have a barbacoa Chipotle burrito with extra cheese and hot salsa. I often fantasize about eating one of their burritos. Last night I got lucky because Davie brought home burritos for our dinner. I'm telling you, Chipotle makes really great food (even if it used to be owned by the golden arches...).

Barbacoa Beef

  • 4 guijillo chiles
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 1/3 cup Mexican oregano
  • 12 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 Spanish onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 (6 to 8-pound) beef roast
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 (2-pound) package dried avocado leaves
  • Large tortilla for wrap, beans, rice and vegetables of your choice.
**You can use bay leaves but they bear no resemblance to the anise-flavored avocado leaves. A combination of bay leaves and cracked anise seed would probably work as a substitute for avocado leaves.**

Instructions:
Toast chiles in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant, cover with boiling water in a deep bowl and set aside for 20 minutes. Grind cumin, cloves, allspice, and oregano in coffee grinder. Drain soaked chiles, puree in blender the chiles, ground spices, thyme, garlic, onion, vinegar, and 1/2 cup of water. Process until smooth. Push mixture through a sieve, season beef with salt and pepper. Rub paste all over the meat. Arrange in a bowl and allow to marinate for 4 hours, refrigerated. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a deep roaster pan, scatter half of the avocado leaves on the bottom, place meat on top of the avocado leaves and scatter the remaining leaves over the meat. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Cook the beef 6 to 7 hours until meat is falling off the bone. If using lamb shoulder cook for 4 hours. Note: Fresh avocado leaves are toxic - they must be dried to be used for cooking.

Basmati Rice
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil or butter
  • 2 tsp. fresh cilantro
  • 2/3 cup white basmati rice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Lime
Instructions:
In a 2-quart heavy saucepan, heat oil or butter over low heat, stirring occasionally until melted. Add rice and lime juice, stir for 1 minute. Add water and salt, bring to a full rolling boil. At boiling, cover, turn down to simmer over low heat until rice is tender and the water is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork.

I haven't yet tried these recipes but I will as soon as I secure some avocado leaves. A quick online search shows that they are available for purchase but can be expensive. I'll check the Davis Food Co-Op to see if they stock them. If all else fails, I'll just buy myself an avocado tree just for the leaves. I bought a lemon grass plant recently to use for Thai recipes and I want to get a Turkish Bay tree and a Kaffir Lime tree (also for Thai stuff).

I'll definitely report back with pictures and a taste comparison just as soon as I can!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Gone with the Wind

Boy, was it windy this weekend! Saturday was nice and warm, generally, but Sunday was ridiculously windy. So windy in fact, that my clothestree (partially loaded with damp clothes) collapsed into a heap of aluminum, cord and laundry AND we had to cancel our hiking venture to Auburn.

On Saturday we went to Home Depot to buy some decorative trim to put on the guest room wall where the paint color changes. My dad suggested that we install "picture hanger" trim there, which has a notch cut along the top edge where you can put a nail, onto which you can hang a wire-suspended picture frame. HD did have that sort of trim but we decided that at over $2 a linear foot is was too expensive; plus it was too fancy for our humble little room. We finally decided on a less fancy, less expensive design for the wall and chose a narrow crown moulding for the ceiling. The crown moulding is made of foam, which is nice because it is super cheap (Dave calculated that it would cost us only $200 to crown-mould the entire house), already coated with primer (makes painting it easier), and very light (essential for installing this stuff above your head).

At the end of each visit to HD, Dave insists that he have some time to wander through the HD "tool corral" before we check out. Sometimes he finds some little tool or gadget that he ends up buying. (Lately he's had this hammer fetish that I just find so funny. He picks them all up and swings them to get a feel for how balanced they are and then carefully inspects the head design. I keep reminding him that we already have THREE hammers, plus a two rubber mallets and a sledge hammer. Not to mention that the stock of hammers at a place like HD rarely changes so he's just playing with the same hammers he played with the week before. He also has a pen fetish; when I clean out his work pants pockets I often end up with a handful of them. When we go to Costco he'll wander down the office supply aisle and fondle all the super-packs of pens before he hears me saying "Dave, honey, we ALREADY have about 8 trillion pens at home so let's not get anymore." I swear, I'm only slightly exaggerating. He's actually gotten better about the pen thing since now he can stock-up on pens at work.) My dad has taught me to be wary of impulse shopping because without "prior planning" you can get into financial trouble. But we justify Dave's tool corral habit because, as every handman knows, having a well-supplied workshop is more valuable than having enough pocket change to see a movie every weekend. That's something we've both learned from our dads: having the right tool at the right time is priceless.

This weekend Dave decided to get himself a Dremel tool kit, which we've both been wanting. It is his early birthday gift (mine will probably be an order of plants from a catalog nursery). His brother, Michael, was over for dinner last night and Dave dragged him into the garage to show him all the neat-o attachments that came with it: a planar, a router guide, a blade sharpener, plus a slew of buffing/grinding tips. Michael (who downright abhors home maintenance) came back into the house rolling his eyes and said to me "Oh. My. God. He's just like our dad with those tools!" Haha, he sure is and I love it.

At Ikea on Saturday we picked up another supply of laminate floor tiles for the office and the master bedroom. We also bought a cute little hutch thing for the kitchen to replace our beverage cart--it was too crowded with the coffee maker, electric kettle, and coffee grinder. The new hutch is taller so we actually have more storage space. The doors are especially handy so we can avoid having dog fur on our tea boxes. Since it is narrower than the cart I can finally walk through that doorway carrying a laundry basket without having to twist my body. Our laundry baskets are HUGE. We gave the cart to Michael so he and Bernie can use it to store towels and whatnot in their master bathroom.
We'd also intended to get a carpet for the kitchen-end of the dining room to reduce the grit load on the new laminate floor. That end of the dining room gets a lot of foot traffic since the dogs use the sliding glass door to go potty in the yard and we are always going in and out of the garage. We need a runner carpet that is about 9 feet long to reach from door-to-door. Of course, after perusing all the carpets at Ikea, the only one I liked was $400! It is a persian wool rug that has a little bit of the same peach color as our walls. But there was just no way we could justify that. So we ended up getting two cheap bathmats with rubber on the bottom so they won't slide around on the floor. The large loops of material are great for trapping all the paw and foot gunk. Even though they are bathmats they look okay in there.

For lunch yesterday we had blackened chicken sandwiches on homemade bread with spicy chipotle mayo, cheddar cheese, and spicy lettuce from the garden. For fun, I also made cream filled chocolate cupcakes. For a wedding present we were given a Williams-Sonoma mechanical pastry bag (it is a canister rather than a bag) with a filler tip. The cupcake directions say to use a filler tip or the smallest tip you have for your pastry bag. Well, I tried to use the filler tip but the hole is so small that the path of least resistance for the frosting is to just squeeze past the plunger inside the canister. Phooey. I ended up putting the biggest tip on and filling the cupcakes from the top almost to the point of burst each cupcake. When I frosted the tops with chocolate icing they looked flawless (except for my sloppy frosting job). These would be super cute for Easter with pink or green cake filled with yellow or purple frosting. Maybe I'll have to try that...

For the sandwiches I slathered the flavored mayo on each slice of bread, layered one with the sliced chicken, topped it with cheese and threw all of them under the broiler until the cheese was melted. When broiled, the slice with only the mayo turned a little crispy but stayed moist from the mayo--sorta like garlic bread.