Saturday, December 31, 2011

A (White) Christmas in Tahoe

Several months ago I suggested to my family the idea of renting a cabin in Tahoe over Christmas.  We could have a White Christmas!  We could go skiing!  We could create fun holiday memories in a new place!  They were on board, and we found a perfect cabin that comfortably fit all 7 of us, including my grandmother, who got her own separate suite (which got coined "the man cave" for some odd reason!).

The only part of the plan that didn't go as planned was the snow.  There was none of it at lake level, which is rather unusual for this time of year.

Northstar Ski Resort was making some snow, and enough of the runs were open, since the temperatures were cold enough so the snow that had fallen hadn't melted.  So we enjoyed a day of skiing before Christmas.  The last time I had skied or snowboarded was 10 years ago, indicated by the lift ticket from March 2002 still attached to my (sweet 90s) snowboarding pants!

We did puzzles, hiked, and even kayaked on Lake Tahoe on our last day, since we had such pretty weather.

Sunrise on Christmas Eve
Views of Lake Tahoe from our hikes

The hiking trails still had a fair amount of snow covering them.

I greatly enjoyed cooking in the large kitchen in our cabin, and I have a recipe to post from Christmas Eve breakfast that was incredibly tasty.

Hopefully we can head back up to snowboard again later this winter after the mountains get a bit more snow.  It was a great change from our normal Christmas routine, and the whole family agreed we'd like to return!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Golden Gate Bridge Bike Riding Adventure

We've been lucky to enjoy pretty nice weather throughout most of December.  Earlier this month we took a bike ride over the Golden Gate bridge and into Sausalito and Tiburon.  It was a beautiful day, we enjoyed spending time with our friend who was visiting from Southern California, and we got to explore two really cute towns on the bay.  

View of Fort Point and Crissy Field from the base of the Golden Gate bridge

Looking down from the bridge was really cool!  But I was too nervous I'd drop my phone, so there are no photos looking over the edge :)

View of the bridge from Sausalito
Both Sausalito and Tiburon are very cute beach towns.  I definitely want to go back for more thorough exploring another time.

After covering about 20 miles, our bike ride ended in Tiburon, at Sam's Anchor Cafe.  We enjoyed some beers and seafood appetizers out on the water deck while watching the sun set, after which it got a bit too chilly.

After moving inside for dinner, we enjoyed more great seafood and fun company.

The part that made this an "adventure" is that the ferry schedule was incorrectly printed, and we had already missed the final ferry back to the city.  Four people and four bikes definitely made us a wide load, complicating the situation.  After serious brainstorming, we were very fortunate that some friends were willing to come pick us up (in 2 SUVs) and bring us back home.  So our adventure ended around 9pm once we crammed our bikes into the cars and finally made it back home.  I slept well that night!

We'd like to do that same ride again, only next time we will come prepared with the correct ferry schedule.  Fun adventure, nevertheless.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Hike to Lands End

We've been trying to do an activity each weekend that helps us get to know our new city and avoid watching football all weekend keep us active.  Last weekend we opted for a hike down to the Cliff House and to Lands End.  I can't help but be surprised each time I find places like Lands End within the city limits.  If you didn't know better, you'd think you were in a remote area of the California coast, far from any city lights.

We started at the Cliff House, which has a very cool history.  Originally built in 1863, it traded hands a few times until Adolph Sutro, a self-made millionaire and SF mayor, purchased the Cliff House in 1886.  He also funded a streetcar line to transport visitors to the coast for 5 cents per ride.  He believed the alternative--a 10-cent train fare--was too steep.

The Cliff House burned to the ground at two different times, and this is the third version of the restaurant.

Sutro also constructed baths down near the water.  There were seven tanks of salt-water, heated to different temperatures, and the baths could all be filled during high-tide.  There were diving boards, trapezes, and slides, and there they hosted parties, competitions, and shows.

The Sutro baths closed in 1966 and were destroyed in a fire later that year, but the remains still exist.

Here's what they looked like while still standing:

After passing the baths ruins, the hike to Lands End takes you through cypress trees.  Reminds me of Big Sur: rugged and wind-swept.

Trail sign posts point out the location of numerous shipwrecks.  The entrance to San Francisco Bay is narrow, and the currents make it difficult to navigate.

After a couple miles, you round the tip of the coast and reach Lands End.  The bit of land there juts out, and provides pretty views.

A quiet little beach, too.

The trail loops back, and we ended the hike with a view of Ocean Beach (5 miles long!).

There were a bunch of surfers out that day, too.  

 That reminds me we have to add breaking out our wetsuits to the weekend to-do list.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Spicy Sesame Noodles

I like cooking Asian food, because when you make the recipe at home, it is often much more healthy than if you were to get the same dish as take-out.  And Asian food is easy to make spicy, which I like to prepare when it's colder outside.

I spent a few days visiting my parents this week, and we made Spicy Sesame Noodles.  I used soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour, which are often gluten free if that's a concern to any of your eaters (check the label).

I often make this recipe with chicken, but this time I just pumped up the vegetables to make it equally filling.


3 Tbsp rice vinegar
3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp chili sauce, with garlic
2 tsp honey
1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped or 1 frozen cube of cilantro from Trader Joe's
2-3 cloves garlic, grated into the sauce
1 tsp grated ginger

1/2 cup snow peas
2 shredded carrots
1 sliced bell pepper
broccoli or broccoli rabe

1 box whole-wheat spaghetti, whole-wheat udon noodles, or soba noodles
2 cooked boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips (optional)
garlic powder, onion powder, pepper
2 tsp sesame seeds for garnish

1) In a bowl, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, chili sauce, honey, cilantro cube, ginger, garlic.
2) Brown the chicken strips in a skillet with a bit of vegetable oil; season them with garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper.
3) Cook noodles slightly less than the package says (since they'll cook a bit more later) then drain, reserving 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water.
4) While noodles are cooking, add remaining veggies to the skillet with the chicken. Pour the sauce over them, heating the veggies through. When noodles are almost done, add them to the skillet and cook for another couple of minutes, tossing everything together. You can add some of the reserved pasta water if it's too thick.
5) Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

I don't know if my Dad was the biggest fan, but he went back for thirds, so take that as you will!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pretzel Bites

Did I mention our oven broke?  That happened right after I was saying how great it is that we don't have to repair anything since we're only renting....
Well both the oven and stove went out before I had made my recipe of the week.  And as it always happens, all the recipes I wanted to try required either the stove or oven (or both).

This week my sister is here visiting, which makes cooking way more fun.  Being the resourceful girls we are, we put the toaster oven to good use since the oven is out of commission.  On the menu: pretzel bites.

Mini Pretzel Bites
Adapted from here

3/4 cups warm water
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2-2.5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil
1.5 quarts water for boiling
1/4 cup baking soda
butter for brushing on top
Coarse sea salt


Combine the warm water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with the dough hook until combined. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Add the salt and 2 cups of flour, and mix on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl, about 3 to 4 minutes. If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a flat surface and roll into a ball with your hands.

Oil the mixing bowl with a little bit of vegetable oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Boil 1.5 quarts of water and add the baking soda.

While the water boils, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope, about a foot long. Cut the dough into one inch pieces to make the pretzel bites.  Keep in mind they will plump up upon boiling.

Boil the pretzel bites in the water solution in batches for about 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon. Place pretzel bites on a baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Make sure they are not touching. Brush the tops with the melted butter and season liberally with the salt.

Bake for 7.5 minutes, or until golden.  (At least this is how long it took in the toaster oven.  The original recipe said 15-18 min!)
Serve with an assortment of mustards.

These would be great finger food for a party!

Update: two workers are currently here installing a new oven/stove unit.  It looks like this is the only make-shift recipe we will have to make in the toaster-oven :)

And for an update on my resolution, I have made 60 new recipes this year.  The only missing weeks were during our Italy trip and cross-country move, which isn't too bad.  Only two more weeks in 2011, and I have two really tasty recipes to try.  I'll write a more lengthy review of the recipes I tried, and especially the ones that were big hits, in the new year!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ceiling Leak

Now that we are no longer owning, but rather renting our home, I appreciate the fact that if something goes wrong, you just call the landlord and it gets taken care of.

With that being said, the timing wasn't working in my favor, because at 4:50pm on a Friday several weeks back, I noticed water dripping from the ceiling right near the dining room table.  It was raining, so I attributed it to that, but I knew my chances of getting it fixed a few minutes before "closing time" were slim.
The hole in the ceiling was made after they came to investigate.
The dripping stopped when the rain did too, but it picked back up a few days later when it was sunny outside.  I made another call to the landlord to politely remind him of our leak, though this time I had a feeling we were getting some sewage leaking into the apartment rather than rain.  Sharing with him that lovely detail seemed to get the handyman moving, and the next day 3 gallons of roof cement were applied and this pipe was removed and replaced with one a bit more...solid.  Ahh, old houses.

We still had this pretty wall adornment though:

Well, you know how the saying goes: if you want something done, you'd better do it yourself.  Two weeks later, everything seemed properly repaired and dry.  After a bit more urging, they finally patched the drywall in the ceiling.  But by 3pm on Friday (the day before our housewarming party) with only primer covering the patch-job, I had a feeling our repairman was not going to come back to complete any touch-up painting before our guests arrived.

So I grabbed my paint-brush and left-over paint and put my old home-owning skills to work.  Much better now.

I guess it's nice that I don't have to do home repairs, but my absent-minded landlords don't seem to mind, either, when I take things into my own hands.

Edited to add: our oven and stove just died.  Ironic.  Time for a phone call.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Decorations

In October I documented the impressive and elaborate Halloween decorations around my neighborhood in San Francisco, and I mentioned I was excited to see what the Christmas decorations would be like.  Well, I don't know if I've been jogging on the wrong streets or if the professional light-hanging truck is just so back-logged with work, but the Christmas decorations have been a bit underwhelming so far.  There are certainly some pretty lights around town, but I think I am going to give those light-hanging cranes a few more days to work their magic (and make their big bucks) before I take any photos.

Instead, I have uploaded photos of our own Christmas decorations, specifically our tree this year.  I'm partial to live trees, due in part to my family's tradition growing up of buying a real tree (and bringing our cat, who helped us select the tree), but also a tradition I began after leaving the house, when my college roommate and I bought a live 5-foot tree for our dorm room freshman year.  I don't think it had many decorations aside from lights and candy-cane reindeer*, but I assure you, we were the talk of the dorm, and we had lots of visitors around Christmas to admire the tree.  After our hand-strung garland of real leaves at the onset of Fall the month before, I admit some of our visitors were probably there more to roll their eyes and see what Martha Stewart Olivia and I had gotten ourselves into this time.

Anyway, with only one or two exceptions, I have coerced my roommates over the years, and now my husband, that we need a live tree, and that the sooner after Thanksgiving we select it, the better.
This year we drove outside the city for a bit better selection, and we came home with a 7 foot Douglass fir tree.  I'm not necessarily into changing up the decorations to abide by a theme, so our ornaments are the same as last year's and the year's before, with a few additions.  It makes it fun to decorate each year, when you pull out ornaments and say, "Oh I forgot about this one--it's so cute/pretty/reminds me of ____!"  So we turned on some Christmas music last weekend and oo'ed and ah'ed over ornaments from our first Christmases (our parents have now handed them down to us), from our wedding, from trips we have taken, and crocheted and tatted ornaments from Grandma.  We have a San Francisco street car with 2011 to commemorate our move this year.  There's even a pickle ornament.

In our relatively small apartment, the tree and the two garlands on the back doors really light up the room and give off a pretty glow.  And the reflection of the tree in both windows is so pretty!

So no professionals with their lights-hanging crane for us this year, but I will let you know if those professionally-decorated houses live up to my expectations.

*Another kinda-dorky craft (at least to still be making past the age of 12), but tradition nonetheless!