Life. 365-Style. (7/2-7/29)

Man, ya’ll. We had a *heat wave* this month! And in SF, that means it hits 80 a few times. It was magnificent, and so odd for summertime.

Oh, and since it’s well into the second half of 2013, I thought I’d take this chance to update my progress in my “goals” from the first post of 2013:

  1. Run 500 miles this year. That’s roughly 10/week, so as of today I should be at 300 miles. Here’s reality: 309.33. BOOM.
  2. Finish the Stairway Walks: we’ve walked 20/29. I’m betting it won’t be a problem to get those last 9 finished this year. BOOM again.
  3. Take a picture every day: this is the hardest of them all, honestly. I won’t be doing this in 2014, but so far, I’ve managed to pull something out every day. BOOM BOOM BOOM.
  4. Go somewhere awesome: this was the easiest. Peru was awesome. Other small trips were awesome. And in late August, we’re heading to Chicago, which is awesome again. Quadruple BOOM.

And now, the pictures:

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183 – one of our commuter systems, BART, went on strike recently. the gates were shut to get through to the BART side and a whole bunch of folk were p-o’d.

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184 – gotta love an impromptu happy hour with coworkers! it was much more fun than running ;).

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185 – we found a perfect spot to watch SF’s fireworks from Bernal Heights. it was so clear that night it was insane. the fog has usually taken over that part of town by then!

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186 – Chris made me watch Sinister. it was uber creepy. and Ethan Hawke looked funny in a man-sweater.

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187 – Chris, Judy, Jared and I headed out really early to Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport. we rummaged through the strawberry fields. well, some of us stared off into the open air…

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188 – my loot! i ended up making jam (strawberry-lime and strawberry-balsamic), strawberry-buttermilk sherbet, and then we ate a lot of them too.

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189 – I hope he wore these kicks last week! he was in the front car of the Caltrain watching the track. super cute.

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190 – afternoon sun.

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191 – i want to make this dish. it’s called a “veggie ceviche”.

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192 – Frannie’s delicious cocktail stories made me wanna try a recipe i found. this is st. germain, tequila, lemon, and thyme simple syrup. it wasn’t bad. not at all.

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193 – I had a Friday off (crazy!) and went back for my favorite breakfast at Craftman & Wolves (the toasted chocolate bread). then i went and sweated it off at yoga.

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194 – this cat gets herself into the damndest places. she keeps thinking she’s gonna jump on top of the hutch. i don’t think she knows my wrath yet.

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195 – we did a stairway walk out in St Francis Wood, a ritsy neighborhood. that house is for 1 family! in our neighborhood, that would be 12 units. ha!

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196 – i looked outside this morning and this bird was staring in. totes eerie.

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197 – Chris was in Austin for a few days, so I wandered down to Philz after work for some qualitee people-watching. never disappointed.

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198 – pineapple close-up!

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199 – blue house, blue sky. but much chillier than it looks!

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200 – grilled chicken on a Friday night indoors. i think i fell asleep at 10 PM. i know how to live!

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201 – we actually went out to Speakeasy Brewery this afternoon, but happened upon a wine tasting when we decided to stop by Mr & Mrs Miscellaneous for ice cream. talk about a perfect day!

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202 – We spent the day being So. Classy. by first going to a free concert from the SF Symphony in Dolores Park, then dinner at my chef crush, Michael Chiarello’s, new restuarant, Coqueta. We ate a bunch of small plates and, while we didn’t plan to on a “school night”, we ended up with a couple of cocktails apiece. This is the “Revolution”, my favorite drink of the night. Food-wise, I could eat a whole plate of the “tattas bravas”, and the duck meatballs weren’t bad at all. Chris could have easily filled up on the cheese plates, his favorite food group.

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203 – Steven’s Creek Trail in Mountain View. a nice break from my typical Mission or Stanford campus runs.

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204 – I had leftover frozen “mornay” (cheese sauce) from a mac n’ cheese dish I made a while back. I wasn’t sure how the frozen cheese sauce would be once thawed, but as it turns out, it’s just dandy. I also mixed in a couple of frozen cubes of pesto sauce. Not bad for a last-minute dinner ;).

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205 – another day of construction in the building of a new hospital.

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206 – An impromptu dinner/beer night at Pi Bar just *had* to end with a stop across the street for a cookie. Right?

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207 – Where’s Sasha? And how did she get there?

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208 – A night out in Berkeley at the Greek Theatre to see The Postal Service. The show itself wasn’t that great, really, but we still had a great time!

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209 – The weather was a little foggy this weekend (a true “summer” in SF, not this heat wave stuff!) and it was the perfect setting for a nice big bowl o’ ramen. One of our favorites, Halu, is closed on Sunday, so we went to an easy standby, Tanpopo, in Japantown. it hit the spot.

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210 – Even though I’ve lived in CA for 2 1/2 years now, the palm trees still make me smile :).

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yay, America

Maybe you’ve already moved on from the festivities of last week. Me? I had LOADS of fun (probably too much, since I fell at some point and have a ginormous bruise on both my leg and hip), and when Thursday rolled around, going back to work for 2 more days seemed a little unfair.

Of course, I’d take a mid-week day off any time over none at all. So I’ll stop complaining.

We got a pretty big group together (friends, friend of friends, and so forth) and had a most-amazing picnic in Golden Gate Park. Our area was right in front of Stow Lake, where folks rent paddleboats and such. That meant lots of people-watching, and also lots of gorgeous scenery – a Chinese-style sitting area, waterfalls, and great views of Sutro Tower until the afternoon fog rolled in.

Food-wise? We all just brought whatever we felt like bringing, and it came together just fine. Chris manned the grill and we had burgers, brats, polenta, and whatever else could be thrown atop the grates. We had plenty of snacks, salads, and treats and as if you really had to ask – plenty of beverages.

I hadn’t baked a cake in a little bit, so when I was trying to decide what to bring alongside our burgers (with house-made balsamic ketchup!), I found an awesome recipe for a festive cake, and I just happened to have some food coloring gel in the pantry.

This probably goes without saying, but this isn’t some “everyday” cake. First, it’s clearly a bit of effort (but well worth it, for the fun it was to cut into it!). Second, it is packed with calories – in butter form, in sugar form, and totally in cream cheese form. It’s not something you want sitting around the house, or as Chris would attest to, something you want to hold on the way home, when getting a slight case of the munchies (I had a ton of crumbs in the passenger seat as proof).

But for America’s birthday? The perfect cake, indeed.

Oh, and here’s a less time-intensive, but equally tasty, red velvet cake. Yeah!

Red, White, & Blue Velvet Cake
Adapted, barely, from Epicurious; serves 12

Sure, this is way too late for July 4th THIS YEAR, but you can make this cake for any occasion. It would make an awesome Halloween cake using black/orange food coloring (and black icing!) or a festive Christmas cake too. Shoot, you could make the layers any color you want for any day that you want. No big deal.

time commitment: 4 hours, according to Epicurious. I did the cake in steps, making the white layer first and refrigerating it, then making the other two layers later on that night, so it seemed less time-intensive that way. I made the icing and cut the fruit while the cakes were baking. You could easily bake off the layers of the cake well in advance and freeze them. Let them thaw in the fridge a few hours before you need to ice the cake.

printable version

ingredients
red/blue velvet cake layers
2 1/2 c sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/4 c unsweetened natural cocoa (such as Hershey’s; not Dutch process)
1 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c granulated sugar
1 c vegetable oil
2 large eggs
food coloring of your choice (I use Wilton food gel, about 1/2 of the 1/2 oz jars for each layer)
1 1/2 t white or cider vinegar
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
3/4 c sour cream mixed with 1/4 c water

white cake layer
1 1/3 c sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
3 large egg whites
1/4 c sour cream mixed with 2 tablespoons water
5 T unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 T grated lemon zest
1 t vanilla extract

cream cheese frosting
2 1/2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese (20 ounces total), softened
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 t salt
3 1/4 c confectioners’ sugar

fruit topping
1 pint (8 ounces) strawberries, preferably small; halve or quarter if large
1 pint (12 ounces) blueberries

instructions
Make red/blue velvet cake layers
(NOTE: If you’re using two different colors for the top and bottom layer, divide the batter into two bowls and mix in the food coloring after the flour/sour cream is blended (see below). If you’re using one color, just add the food coloring when you add in the vinegar and vanilla. Also, if you’re using two different colors, it might be helpful to weigh the bowl before you add in ANY ingredients so that you can weigh again before you divide the batter, subtracting out the weight of the mixing bowl to know how much to put into each bowl.)

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, then line bottoms with rounds of wax paper. Butter paper and dust pans with some additional flour, knocking out excess. (Alternatively, you can spray with cooking spray instead of buttering.)

Resift cake flour together with cocoa, baking soda, and salt into a bowl (true confession: I skipped this part – I just whisked it together).

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using stand mixer) at medium-high speed until combined well, then add oil and beat until very pale and creamy, about 3 minutes.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and beat in vinegar and vanilla extract (read the first step about food coloring!).

Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and sour cream mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing until batter is smooth.

Divide batter between pans (about 3 cups in each, or weigh to be exact) and smooth tops. Rap pans on counter a couple of times to expel any air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from sides of pans, 25 to 30 minutes. Keep oven on.

Cool layers in pans on racks 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pans. Invert layers onto racks and peel off wax paper. Cool layers completely.

Make white cake layer while red velvet layers cool
Butter one 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with wax paper. Butter paper and dust pan with some additional flour, knocking out excess.

Resift cake flour together with baking soda and salt into a bowl (yup, skipped this, too and just whisked…). Whisk egg whites in another bowl with sour cream mixture until combined.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer (fitted with paddle attachment if using stand mixer) at medium-high speed until combined well, then add oil and beat until very pale and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in zest and vanilla extract (add food coloring here if you’re making a non-white layer for the middle.).

Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture and sour cream mixture in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until batter is smooth. Transfer batter to pan and spread evenly. Rap pan on counter a couple of times to expel any air bubbles.

Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick comes out clean and cake begins to pull away from side of pan, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan. Invert layer onto rack and peel off wax paper. Cool layer completely.

Make cream cheese frosting
Beat together cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixture until creamy and smooth. Beat in lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt.

Sift confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and add to cream cheese mixture. Mix on low speed until incorporated, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until smooth.

Frost cake
Brush loose crumbs from cake layers with a pastry brush. Carefully slice some of the top of the cake to make flat, if you want. Use a long, serrated knife for this or skip this step.

Put a red velvet layer, bottom side up, on a cake plate or stand. Spread 1 cup of frosting over layer. Cover with white layer, bottom side up, and spread with another cup of frosting. Top with second red velvet layer, bottom side up.

Spread a thin layer of frosting around sides and over top of cake. Chill or briefly freeze cake just until frosting is firm.

Spread sides and top of cake with remaining frosting. Chill or briefly freeze cake just until frosting is firm.

Make fruit topping
Toss together fruits in a bowl. Let cake come to room temperature before serving and top with about 1 1/2 cups fruit. Serve remaining fruit on the side.

grillin’ the most

I can’t tell you people how often I’ve gone into a grocery store with a list, only to leave without at least one item on said list. And not on purpose.

And I should add here, that I am quite the strategic little planner when it comes to grocery shopping. I don’t always shop at the same neighborhood Whole Foods, but in general the layout of most grocery stores is the same. So I write my list according to what I’ll walk through first. I load up on produce and stuff from the dairy/meat section (the outer parts of the store), then my list thins out once I hit the inside of the store to the processed/canned goods. Word on the street is that’s a big deal in eating right.

So with my planning, not only am I increasing the likelihood of “eating right”, but also I’m increasing the likelihood that all the things on my list will be found – especially important for the many times I leave my pen in the car and can’t cross things off.

And yes, I do try to make a list on my iPhone, but I find it hard to walk through the store holding my phone up. It’s almost as bad as texting and walking (I suppose it’s the same as texting and walking, but also pushing a cart, so actually worse). Those are the folks I want to punch in the face, so I figure I should try to stick to the pen and paper.

Anyway, I’d decided to join the hoards of 6:00 shoppers in the downtown area Trader Joe’s last week for a change of scenery, and also because I knew for once I could get everything on my list there without having to go to another grocery store. It was, needless to say, mass chaos. People pushing through to grab the $1.99 arugula and the free samples of artichoke dip, and meanwhile the stockers were pushing their carts through the store with a “kill or be killed” sorta mentality. But no bigs – I went into it knowing it would be crazy, and crazy was what I got. I also ran into Judy! That never happens.

I’d found all of my produce, and then lo and behold, I found totally fresh corn on the cob (meaning, not already shucked and put into plastic containers for a higher price), so I went to put back the other one, and somewhere in the mix I absolutely forgot to grab the fresh corn. So when I got home to make this GRILLED CORN and bean salad, I just had a bunch o’ beans.

Solution? I texted my dear husband and asked for a last minute stop for some corn which, he obliged to, knowing his dinner depended on it. I grilled fresh corn, onions, and jalapeños and tossed them all with beans and tomatoes, and a perfect summer salad (4th of July party, anyone?) was made.

The End.

p.s. Last Friday I posted some 4th of July recipe suggestions. Click here and scroll to the bottom! Happy 4th :).

Grilled Corn & 3 Bean Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2012; serves ~12

printable version

time commitment: 30 minutes

ingredients
1 c halved heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 t salt, divided
3 ears shucked corn
1 medium white onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 jalapeño peppers
1 T olive oil
Cooking spray
1/3 c chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 c fresh lime juice
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 diced peeled avocados
1/2 c queso fresco

instructions
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let stand 10 minutes.

Brush corn, onion, and jalapeños evenly with oil. Place vegetables on grill rack coated with cooking spray. Grill corn for 12 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 6 minutes. Grill onion slices and jalapeños 8 minutes or until lightly charred, turning after 4 minutes. Let vegetables stand 5 minutes. Cut kernels from cobs (if you’re smart, you’d do this over a bundt pan so corn doesn’t fly everywhere). Coarsely chop onion. Finely chop jalapeño; discard stem. Add corn, onion, and jalapeño to tomato mixture; toss well. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, cilantro, and next 4 ingredients (through kidney beans) to corn mixture; toss well. Top with avocado and queso fresco.

I Like Big Buns and I Cannot Lie

beef burgers
Yeah – I know. Just come right out and tell me how you feel. I promise I can take it. A post about a delicious, succulent burger with the best in the midwest kick-you-in-the-ass-spicy-but-also-sweet-bbq sauce – after the 4th of July? After?!! Well, yes. Yes, yes, yes. In fact, heck yes and you bet your bottom dollar, yes.

Because unlike some of you weirdos out there, I like burgers more than just on the 4th. And for those of you out there making chicken and sausage and whatnot over the weekend, what were you thinking? I mean, c’mon. Of the 365 glorious, lovely days in the year, there is one day where eating a burger must fit some sort of requirement to being an American. [I’m not sure where vegetarians fit here…. but maybe the higher powers would let you guys slide if you promise to eat something that at least looks meaty?] So again, on the most American day of the year, you’re eating something that is not the epitome of being American? Uncool, brothas & sistas. T-totally uncool. Although I’m sure they were all tasty. In fact, check out my buddy’s beer can chicken – yummers, right?! And yeah, it’s your food and you can eat what you want to. But for me, this weekend meant one thing on our menu – burgers. Damn good ones too.

bbq sauce ingredients


Once again, I was forced to surrender my apron and toque to the “grillmaster”, aka Chris. I sense that, having spent hours the night before making the grill squeaky clean, he felt entitled to re-christen it, and re-christen it he did. On the up-side, I got to prepare the sauce (and the other ten-thousand things we ate that day as well as things we didn’t eat, like gluten-free pizza which will require another go to perfect.).

bbq sauce


The burgers themselves were semi-ordinary, but thanks to Chris’ scrutiny in shaping and my recommendation to weigh each one to ensure even cooking, they looked downright perfect and could have been delicious as is. The real kicker though, was the sauce. Straight from a Bobby Flay recipe – should I just stop here?

As with all things Flay, this bbq sauce was packed with intense flavor, and a generous punch of heat. Chipotle chiles – smoke-dried jalapenos – and a load of ancho chile powder which together produce a lovely “smoky heat”. You throw in everything else in your basic bbq sauces – vinegar, ketchup, Worcestershire, honey, etc and, as if that weren’t enough, you add in one more level of flavor by finishing it off with a dollop of creamy peanut butter to round off the sauce and add that little hint of sweet.

just off the grill


My recommendation is that you make extra. I tripled the recipe below due to the number of folks at our place, but also to ensure I had plenty leftover sauce for another night of bbq. I was in love with the sauce on the burgers, no doubt, but also think it’d be absolutely mouthwatering on some grilled chicken, ribs, or pulled pork. It should keep for a couple of months in the fridge. But lock your doors – I’m not afraid to steal yours once mine is all gone 🙂

burger close-up



Beef Burgers w/ Peanut-Chipotle BBQ Sauce
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2009; serves 4

printable recipe

We served our big burgers n’ buns with a spicy jicama and Napa cabbage slaw and baked sweet potato fries sprinkled with cayenne pepper. And if you can locate heirloom tomatoes, spend the extra buck or so and slap those on your patty as well.

ingredients
1 T canola oil, + some for brushing
1 onion, diced
2 T fresh ginger, minced

1 c tomato puree
2 T ketchup
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 T Dijon mustard
2 T honey
2 T molasses
3 T ancho chile powder
1 canned chipotle in adobo, minced*
spoonful of adobo from can
1/2 c water
2 T creamy peanut butter
salt and pepper
4 hamburger buns w/ sesame seeds*
1 1/2 lbs ground beef (preferably 80/20 beef to fat)
1/2 c shredded cheddar
1 scallion, chopped
lettuce & tomato slices (I used butter lettuce & heirloom tomatoes)


instructions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 T oil. Add onion & ginger and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, ~5 min. Add garlic and cook another minute, stirring. Add tomato puree, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, molasses, ancho chile powder, chipotle, and water. Bring to simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Transfer to blender or blend with immersion blender in saucepan until smooth. Season with s&p to taste. Note: Can be made well in advance and stored for ~2 months. So make extra!
  2. Form meat into 4 inch thick patties (about 6 oz each) and brush w/ oil Season w/ s&p.
  3. Light grill. Brush buns w/ oil and grill until toasted, about 30 seconds. Spread some bbq sauce on buns.
  4. Grill patties over high heat, turning once, until nearly cooked through, about 5 minutes. Brush burgers with some of the sauce and grill until lightly glazed, about 2 minutes. Top with cheddar & onion and close grill to melt cheese, about 1 minute.


*If you need GF version, be sure to buy San Marcos or La Costena chipotles in adobo sauce. Some others have wheat flour in the ingredients list. Obviously, buns aren’t g-free but those can be purchased if needed.