Blog Archive

Monday, January 26, 2009

Operation: Clean Paws (Part One)

I've decided that I'm absolutely not going to deal with muddy paws coming into my house next rainy season. Muddy paws after a jaunt at the dog park is one thing, but it is quite another to deal with mud being tracked into and all over the house every time the dogs come back inside from going potty in the yard.

When we bought the house the sellers put sod all over the yards to make the place look neat and tiddy. There weren't (and still aren't) any automatic sprinklers so watering was a pain. We didn't see the point in watering and mowing all the yards so we let the grass die after the first summer. Did you know that something like 30% of ALL residential water in the USA goes to watering lawns ALONE? That is just insane and irresponsible considering our farmers struggle to get enough water to grow our food crops. Huge lawns are okay if you live in a rains-throughout-the-year part of the country, but not in a temperate or desert climate.

This is what our side yard looked like before we bought the house (this is the yard that now has the shed in it):
So over the holiday weekend Dave and I decided (actually, I decided and Dave went along with it...) to rent a skidsteer so we could remove a bunch of soil from our side "utility yard." The goal is to install gravel paths to/from the BBQ yard, the clothesline, the shed, the garage, and the gate and then to make a gravel driveway for our boat. Over the last 2 years of using the side yard, it is pretty clear where we walk regularly.

First we used spray paint to delineate where we would remove the soil and where we would keep the soil. It was reassuring to see the pooches run around in the yard in the exact places we were planning on having the gravel paths!

Here you can see our spray paint lines:
On Saturday morning we went over to All Star Rents to pick up the skidsteer. Since the rental place isn't open on Sunday, we got to return it on Monday morning and were only charged for 1 day of rental but got to use it for 2 whole days (and we didn't come even close to the 8 hours of running time = 1 day of use).

Dave ran the equipment and I was in charge of directing him and cleaning up the edges with the shovel. Whoa, there was so much shoveling! My arms were sore for days afterward.
My dad has a skidsteer, which turns out to be MUCH smaller than this Bobcat we rented. The bucket on my dad's is so tiny but our rental had a 5 foot wide bucket on it. This isn't bad except that our paths expanded in width--when we finally get around to installing the wood edging we'll just narrow the pathways and fill in the extra space outside the paths with soil. The wider bucket also meant that we removed a lot more soil than we expected. Dave estimated that we'd remove about 5 cubic turned out to be around 8.

Having no where else to put the soil, we decided to just pile it up in the front yard on top of our pathetic lawn. Once we realized just how much there was, we made a snap decision to spread it out all over the front yard so we could basically raise the level of the entire yard. We also made a snap decision to just do away with all our lawn and just landscape the front around the eventual pathways we'll have there. (Installing new flagstone walkways and underground irrigation in the front yard will be our next outdoor project after Operation: Clean Paws is complete.)

Our front yard before the earth moving festivities began:
Our yard after we removed all the soil. I took this picture at night so it is hard to see, but you'll notice that there isn't much grass showing any more and the garden bed under the tree is much higher now:

Here's another view of the pile o' dirt before we spread it out. And look at our driveway--all that mud the skidsteer tracked all over! After it rained a few days later I nearly fell on my face walking on the slick mud. A few minutes with a square-point shovel made it much safer:
I'll write more later about the rest of the project.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why not...

This is one of those silly questionnaire things people post on their blogs as a way to publicize embarrassing things about themselves (or in this case, their husbands). I'm sitting in front of the computer eating my lunch so I figured I'd entertain myself by filling it out.

1. Where did you meet your husband? In the dorms at Saint Mary's College. He lived down the hall from me freshmen year and was basically just one of the 3 guys I hung out with all the time.

2.How long did you date? I can never remember; officially it was like 6 months but we'd been best buddies for like 3-4 years before that.

3.How long have you been married? 2.5 years

4. What does he do that surprises you? Does little romantic things like bringing me small presents (like a can of root beer) when he gets back from Gualala each week.

5. What is your favorite feature of his? The shape of his face--I could stare at it all day and I love the way he looks in a beard. I freaked out a few weeks ago when he told me that he was considering shaving his beard off. I think he looks so handsome with it.

6. What is his best quality? Nothing seems to bother him EVER. He's never raised his voice in an angry way around me in all the years I've known him (or perhaps ever). He has this amazing ability to just "go with the flow" but is always willing to put in the effort to change a situation if he doesn't like it (he just doesn't get all flustered and complain about it the way most people me).

7. Does he have a nick name for you? My gosh there are so many: Baby, Lover, Jewwies, Jewissa, Mrs., Missy, Bucket (don't ask), Mama (when he's talking to the dogs about me)

8. What is his favorite food? Fruit of any kind (apples, apricots, plums, peaches) and most other foods if they are mushy

9. What is his favorite sport? Soccer and volleyball

10.When and where was your first kiss? I used to know the date of that kiss...but it escapes me right now. We first smooched at his apartment in Moraga at a party.

11. What is your favorite thing to do as a couple? Work on things around our house and build stuff together...and of course snuggle our dogs and talk about how utterly perfect they are. (I know, we're so cheesy it is disgusting. Don't worry, we're well aware!)

12. Do you have children? No human children but we do have fur-children (Ruby who is ~4 and Potatoes who is ~3).

14. How old is he? 26

15. Who said I love you first? Dave...

16. His favorite music? Stupid Russian techno music that gives me a headache. Now I've also got him hooked on country western. Haha.

17. What do you admire most about him? His ability to be presented with a problem and then come up with a way to fix it all by himself--he'll research various options/materials and then just fix it. I also admire him for being able to just "go with the flow" and being so darn patient. I have a lot to learn from him.

18. What is his favorite color? He'll tell you that it is red. But he also really likes pink and purple. He used to take notes in those girly glitter pink/purple gel pens in college. Sometimes I just don't know about him...

19. Will he read this? Yes. And he'll laugh out loud and probably contest some of my answers. But trust me, I was totally honest. =)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

This weekend I made a batch of my daddy's beef stew. I'm sure by now you've noticed that many of my recipes are "Daddy's such-and-such;" that's because he was the family chef when I was a kid and because he makes really good food. "Really good food" for him usually means that it is delicious, nutritious, and relatively cheap. "Relatively cheap" usually means high in veggies and low in meat (which also means healthy). This dish is nice for meat-loving folks because it tastes super meaty.

Of course, I have somewhat higher expectations for what my food should do for me--I not only want nutrition and calories to calm my ravenous tummy, but I also want to enjoy my food. You might even say that I want my food to be an "experience." Perhaps it is a difference in gender or generation, but I'm always willing to spend a little more money on my ingredients than he is (assuming I have the money). So I've posted both the Daddy version and the Julie version. His is the one to start with if you've never made a slow-cooker beef stew before and then make your own modifications (as I did) once you taste his. His is really, really good.

In this case, the recipe is budget friendly because of proportion. It is a 3-2-1 recipe: three pounds of the cheapest ingredient (starchy potatoes), two pounds of the next most expensive ingredient (carrots), and only one pound of the most expensive ingredient (beef). This is definitely a way to stretch a dollar for a meat lover. When I became a graduate student (read: poor), I stopped buying meat on a regular basis. I realized how much money we spent at Costco and regular markets buying things like steak, fish, and chicken (even in bulk) compared to the nutrition that you get from it. Despite what you might think, regular people who are not professional weight-lifters don't nutritionally need to eat a chunk (or even a sliver) of meat at every meal: there is a surprising amount of protein in rice, bread, cheese, and milk. Of course, if you avoid eating beans then you'll want to eat some meat to make sure you get all your essential amino acids. But that doesn't mean you need meat all the time. It took a little getting use-to for Dave, who was a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. The accountant in him made him a big fan of this change-- realizing we could save money (and spend some of it on yummier ingredients like fancy cheeses, exotic herbs, and more expensive produce) made it quite desirable. Now we hardly ever eat meat, except in dishes like this where it isn't the star but more of a supporting role.

Daddy's Beef Stew
  • 3 lbs russet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 2 lbs carrots, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 lb cheap beef, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (remove fat/cartilage first)
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 1-2 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp summer savory (if you have it...I usually don't so I skip it)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup cheap red wine (optional)
  • water
Put flour in a bowl along with salt/pepper, mix. Dredge beef pieces in flour mixture. Fry floured beef pieces in hot pan with a few tablespoons of oil, cook until very brown (this caramelizes the flour/sugars on the beef, making it taste fantastic). Dump chopped veggies (potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic) into crock pot, add browned meat pieces. Dump remaining flour on top. Add thyme, (savory), and bay leaves on top. Pour red wine over to wash flour and seasonings down into the pot. Then add as much water as you need until the liquid just shows between the vegetables. Stir if you can (my pot is usually mighty full at this point so I just wait to stir it until it gets mushier...about 2 hours). Turn crock pot on to HIGH. Once it's bubbling, you can turn it down to LOW. (Or, if you are lucky enough to have an "auto shift" function on your pot, use that because it will automatically reduce the heat from high to low once it simmers. Very handy technology for those of us who literally want to set it and forget it.) Let it cook for about 24 hours (cut stuff into smaller pieces if you want it to be done sooner). Stir it on occasion (every few hours) if you remember.

Julie's Beef Stew
(Daddy says this version is "too rich for his blood"...but he's just crazy.) =)
  • 3 lbs waxy potatoes (I use purple or red or those darling finger potatoes that are small enough I don't have to both cutting them), unpeeled, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 3 lbs carrots, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
  • 1 lb cheap beef, cut into 3/4 inch pieces (remove fat/cartilage first)
  • 1 medium chopped onion
  • 2-3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp summer savory
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 750mL bottle of cheap red wine (not optional)
Prepare meat and veggies as above. Dump everything in the pot, as above. This time, pour in the whole bottle of red wine to wash flour and seasonings down into the pot. Then add as much water as you need until the liquid just shows between the vegetables (not much). Cook the same was as Daddy's version.

My favorite part of the beef stew is the carrots (especially when you increase the wine content) so you'll notice that I use equal parts of potatoes and carrots. I've also added quartered mushrooms, which is good but you want to make sure that you use strong flavored mushrooms, otherwise their flavor is lost (I don't know how much I used...I guess as many as I could afford and/or fit into the pot).

Of course you can add whatever other veggies to the stew that you want. I know Cracker Barrel restaurants use peas and stewed tomatoes in theirs and it is really good. I might try the tomato addition to this recipe sometime. My tomato-disliking husband wouldn't approve (although I guarantee he'd still devour it), but we all know my opinion about tomatoes: pretty much any savory dish is better when you add tomatoes.

The Julie version of this stew is freaking delicious (I swear I'm not biased...), especially when you have extra sour sourdough bread to dunk into the saucy goodness.

For those of you who don't cook with wine (for whatever reason), I recommend that you use it anyway, just for this dish. Because really, this stew is THAT much better with wine. Perhaps you could use a non-alcoholic cooking wine (which has seasonings added to it so just omit the garlic, salt, and pepper in the recipe) or a non-alcoholic wine like ARIEL (in which case you would still want to use the seasonings). In reality, all the alcohol will be cooked off by the time you're ready to eat the stew but I know some people simply won't purchase (let alone consume) wine at all.

Ok, just writing this has made my mouth water so I'm going to go warm up a big bowl of stew right now. I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

Happy Obama Day!

Saying "happy inauguration day" sounds too dull and normal for a day like today. Today is definitely "Obama Day."

I'm eating my breakfast and watching the CBS coverage of the inauguration. I'm so excited for today and for the changes our new president will (hopefully) bring to the world. I pray that the Obama family will be kept safe throughout the presidency--there are so many crazy people out there and I hope hope hope that no one does anything stupid like pull out a gun.

I hope all of you are able to watch the live coverage this morning--it is too special to miss, even if you are a staunch Republican.

Happy Obama Day everyone!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Kale Deliciousness

For a while I subscribed to a produce delivery service that sent me a box full of seasonal fruits and veggies all grown locally. (I recently canceled the service because we decided to use the money towards something else.) My last box included yet another bunch of green kale. Everyone knows what kale is: it is that grayish leafy green thing that cheap restaurants tuck into the side of your entree to make it look gourmet. And then there's the green/white/purple kale that landscapers use in fall/winter gardens. Most people probably think kale is gross. I'm not one of those people, but I do admit that it can get a little boring after a while during the winter months. Often it is the primary winter produce available week after week (if you're like me and you try to limit yourself to cooking with what's in-season).

Back in March I made a bean soup with greens in which you can use whatever greens you like (collards, spinach, kale, etc.). As you will recall, I raved about this soup--it was sooooooooooo good. I was thinking of other ways to use up my kale instead of making soup (I have 2 bunches of other greens in the fridge the might turn into bean soup this weekend).

So tonight I made up a batch of calzones and some twice-baked potatoes, both of which feature (or mask) the kale. Both of these items I'm planning on freezing for a quick lunch or dinner. Admittedly, I haven't tasted either dish yet but they both smelled wonderful.

For the calzones I made a batch of pizza dough in the food processor:
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 T olive oil
Pulse dry ingredients until mixed, then slowly add oil and then water through the opening in the processor lid while running. Mix until it forms a ball. Knead on the counter for a few minutes. Put in a bowl covered with a plate or plastic wrap for ~1 hour or as long as it takes you to get everything else ready. Divide into 6 or 8 pieces and roll into circles.

I used 2 pints of my Daddy's Marinara Sauce that I had canned back in the fall. Because this sauce has non-acidic ingredients in it, I make sure to boil it uncovered for 20 minutes to kill off any potential botulism. While it was boiling away I added 2 teaspoons of dry oregano and thyme, 1 teaspoon of dry basil, and packet of chili flakes from the pizza place (so maybe a teaspoon). Because I canned this sauce and didn't freeze it I didn't use any oil in the recipe. So the only fat in these calzones came from the small amounts of pepperoni or olives, the cheese, and the dough. Also, these ended up with absolutely no refined sugar in them at all (some people get cranky about using refined sugar; I don't, but it is reassuring to know that good food does exist without it).

For the kale, I just rinsed it, cut out the stems and ribs and then chopped it finely.

Then I assembeled the calzones by spreading 1/2 cup of sauce on one half, then topping it with either olives or pepperoni chunks, a wad of kale, about 1/4 cup of cheese (not seen in this picture), wiping the edges with water and sealing them with a fork.
When they came out of the oven they looked and smelled very good.
Twice baked potatoes are fabulous: you can throw whatever left over veggies or tid bits of meat into the mix that you want to use up (because anything tastes good with cheese...I added kale).

To make these potatoes, just bake the washed, pricked potatoes in a 400F oven for about an hour. Let cool for about 15 minutes so you can cut them lengthwise and scoop out most of the insides (make sure to leave just enough on the skin so the skin will hold its shape like a small boat).
Mix the scooped-out potato with a bunch of cheese, a little salt and pepper, your left over veggies and/or meat, and however much milk, cream, or half-and-half to get a creamy mixture. (Or you can skip the milk like I did since I didn't have enough on hand. They will still be good, just a little drier. I'll make sure to eat mine with a hefty dalop of plain yogurt to mitigate that.) Then load up the potato skins and bake for about 20 minutes until the are nice and browned. Let them cook, wrap in plastic or place in a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer. They only take about 3 minutes on high to reheat in the microwave. Quick and yummy!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Text Message

Dave took the doggies with him up to Gualala this week so I can keep our dog-niece, Emmy, here with me in Davis. Emmy is so super cute, cuddly, and sweet...except when you get her around any other dog that is the least bit dominant. She can be around Potatoes with no problem because he's just about as submissive as dogs come (in fact they are best friends!). But with Emmy and Ruby swirling around each other it can be chaotic--with each one trying to maintain dominance over the other. The thought of having to watch all 3 doggies this week alone was daunting.

Knowing that I was missing him last night, Potatoes had his daddy help him send me a picture and text message telling me about his day. It totally made my heart melt (thanks Davie!):

Mama, I was such a good boy today. I slept in with Daddy in the morning, and got to go out and prune trees in the afternoon. I got bored after about five minutes of this thing Daddy was doing, so I looked for a way out. Luckily the silly people who made the fence left an eight inch space at the bottom that was not strengthened with a log. Needless to say, I dug my way out. Unfortunately for me, I think Daddy saw me during part of the digging because as soon as I got out I heard Daddy calling. I'm pretty tired now, so I think I'll take a nap. Missing you as always, Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnooooooooooses.

In case you're wondering (and even if you're not) one of Potatoes' nicknames is "Noses" because he noses things when he wants to check them out. Some dogs just sniff something or maybe lick it, but he just jams his nose into it. He does this with food, your face, random things placed around the house, etc. So cute. And he signed his name "Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnooooooooooses" because that's how we often say his name--in a sing-song way--like in the commercial for Cookie Crisp cereal. For most of you that was probably too much information about how crazy Dave and I are about our dogs. Don't judge me, you know you do dorky things like this, too. =)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Christmas Cruise

A few years ago Edward and his Riverside friends went on a short cruise to Mexico on Royal Caribbean. They found a really good deal and had a great time. All they could talk about was the delicious, fancy food. So when Edward found a similarly good deal on a Carnival cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada, Mexico we decided to try it. So Dave, Edward, I shelled-out about $350 each for a three day trip--not bad, right?

I was too busy before we left to pre-register us so we were pretty unsure of where to board the ship (we just knew it was next to the Queen Mary) or even how long before departure we should arrive. I did know, however, that boarding opened at 1:30pm. I tried to call to find all this out the day before the cruise departed--Christmas day--but the Carnival hotline was unmanned that day (which is weird since there are cruises that depart on Christmas). Normally I'm totally on top of things like this, printing out all the necessary paperwork, getting directions, etc. But not this time. Fall quarter was totally crazy this year and I just didn't have the wherewithal to get it done. Luckily for us we got there in time (we left Livermore at 6am to drive south) and had no problem boarding.

First things first--when I think of going on a cruise (not that I'd ever been on one before) I think FOOD. All-you-can-eat, available anytime, scrumptious food that you can't stop thinking about. As Edward put it, you think about what will be offered for dinner the whole day. So the first thing we did was eat lunch at the buffet while all the rest of the people boarded. Then we checked out our tiny room (but it had a large window), which had the most comfortable beds in the world--trust me when I say this: we slept a lot on this cruise. Why did we sleep so much? Because we had food coma and there wasn't all that much to do. We went to everything on the ship that had free cocktails since we were too cheap to buy any ourselves. And we went to the cabaret and comedy shows of course.

There was a mini-golf course on the upper deck that we messed around on a bit--it was so cold and windy that it was hard to play (the ball kept blowing around).
I guess most cruises have lots of classes, shows, and other fun things to do all the time. This one was a small ship and was only 3 days long so it was a little boring. And the food was only okay. Nothing to look forward to at all.

When we got to Ensenada we just walked off the ship and wandered around the town for a couple of hours. Dave bought me a pretty ring since my engagement/wedding set is damaged right now. (The jeweler who designed it for us is in Concord so it'll take a while for me to drive back and forth to get it repaired.) Then we got some drinks and enjoyed the sunshine until it was time for free sushi on the ship (we were very food motivated on this trip...).

My favorite part of the cruise was the delight of finding towel animals in our room every day. Seriously, they were so cute!

So overall it wasn't a bad cruise--it just wasn't a spectacular cruise like we were expecting. It was pretty clear by the end of the trip that Carnival cruise line is a budget cruise line. For the same price you can find a Royal Caribbean cruise and you'd get a lot more out of it.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Christmas 2008

Here we are before us kids went to an ugly sweater party. Before we left, Edward jokingly asked my dad if he wanted to come along...then he realized my dad was wearing an ugly sweater (his everyday sweater). But he hadn't asked my dad because of his sweater. It was pretty funny!
Us kids raided my parents' closet for ugly sweaters. The one I'm wearing is my dad's and I used to wear it in high school. It isn't ugly but is very Chandler Bing. Dave's sweater isn't ugly either but was the only one in the house that fit him. Edward looks like he plays for the "other" team in that turtleneck zipper sweater--it was my grandmas! The party was a few days before Christmas at our middle/high school friends' house. Dave and I was definitely the oldest people there (by age, maturity, and preferred bedtime). We felt very out of place when people offered us paper cups of jello shots and cans of Bud Light. Gross. It was weird to see all the people at the party who I hadn't seen in about 10 years--to them I am still "Ed's sister."

Our family Christmas celebration this year was pretty mellow. Most years I insist on decorating the whole house for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. Given all the craziness over the past few months I had to let this go for lack of energy. In fact, our only Davis decorations were the lights remaining on the roof line from last year.

We didn't decorate in Livermore either (Dave and I spent our holidays with my family)--we didn't even get a tree! We meant to, but with all the shopping and other errands we just ran out of time. It turned out to be okay since we spent Christmas night at the Chin's house in Concord (Edward's girlfriend's parents' house). They had a lovely tree and the house looked beautiful. Her mom's side of the family was there and Allison was Head Chef that night. She made all sorts of delicious food, including cioppino soup, prime rib, Brussels sprouts, fried rice, mushrooms, a sherbet jello ring, mashed potatoes, and gravy. My contribution was a double loaf of olive bread, per Christoper's request (Allison's little brother). She even made two pineapple upside down cakes for dessert just because it is my dad's favorite!

Mr. Chin carving the meat:
Mommy and Davie (notice the slippers):
We exchanged gifts with the Chins and our immediate family while all her aunts/uncles/cousins went through a flurry of gift-giving of their own. Allison was so thoughtful this year--she knew my mom wouldn't be up to getting us all stocking presents like she usually does so Allison did it for us! Check out our "stockings," haha:
We left their house to go back to Livermore around 9pm since Edward, Dave and I were getting up at 5:30am the next day to drive down south for our cruise. More on that later...

I was so thankful that Allison's family invited us to their house. It was fun, the food was great, and it was easy on my mom. My only complaint is that my darling husband didn't even get me a present! Knowing he would be in Gualala most of the time right before the holidays and therefore unable to shop, I told him that a Twix candy bar (my favorite) would suffice for me to open during the gift exchange. And he didn't even do that (I mean come ON...even gas stations sell candy bars!!!). I'm giving him a hard time only because this is a recurring theme over the last few years. I love opening presents and I am annoyed that he didn't even humor me with something lame wrapped in paper that I could open. But I guess I still love him anyway. =)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the lacking of posts, but we've been super busy. I just thought I'd post to say that we're still alive, happy, and around. We had a great Christmas, went on a cruise, acquired yet another Volvo, and had a relaxing New Year's Eve party of board games.

We just arrived back in Davis after many nights in Livermore. The heater was off while we were gone and it was 42F inside when we got here! Yikes! My feet are still freezing. I think I'll take a bath to warm up before crawling into bed with a good book.

I promise to post pictures of all our holiday adventures soon!

Happy new year everyone!