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September 2010
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November 2010

Giants Cocktail

During the second game of the World Series, my significant other concocted an easy and delicious cocktail that I've christened the Giants Cocktail in light of its orange hue and its inspiration. Taste-wise, if you loved Orange Julius as a kid, you'll love this cocktail.

  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
  • 3 ounces vodka
  • 1 tsp vanilla syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces Grand Marnier
  • 7 ice cubes

Combine the ingredients in a blender and blend for 20-30 seconds until frothy. Serve in the chilled cocktail glass of your choice. Makes 2 drinks.


What's for Lunch? Beyond the Turkey Sandwich

turkey with swissI'm the first to admit I resort to the old turkey and cheese sandwich standby a little too often for lunch. Especially when it's one of those days when I only have time to run downstairs to the cafe and slap together a sandwich then run back to my desk, scarfing it down between conference calls.

But every time I visit the UK, and marvel in the amazing selection of sandwiches available from Marks & Spencer, I always vow to do better.

Here are some of the inspiring sandwiches they have ready to grab and go:

  • Wensleydale cheese and caramelised carrot chutney
  • Cheese and onion
  • Free-range egg and watercress
  • British roast chicken and stuffing
  • Lochmuir™ poached salmon and cucumber
  • British smoked ham salad
  • British roast chicken and bacon

With these ideas fresh in my mind, I'm committing to shaking things up in my lunch sack once I head back to work next week. The first step? Making a list of all the possible building blocks I like on sandwiches and can use to go beyond the boring.

Breads

  • Pumpernickel
  • Multigrain
  • Sourdough
  • Lavash
  • Pita pockets
  • Flour tortilla
  • Baguette
  • English Muffin

Spreads

  • Mayo
  • Mustard
  • Hummus
  • Ranch dressing
  • Butter
  • Peanut butter
  • Apple butter
  • Plum jam
  • Fig jam
  • Strawberry jam
  • Honey

Meats

  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Bacon
  • Roast Beef
  • Salami

Cheese

  • Swiss
  • Cheddar
  • Havarti
  • Goat cheese
  • Feta
  • Blue cheese
  • Provolone
  • Mozzarella
  • Brie

Produce

  • Lettuce
  • Watercress
  • Sprouts
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Bell peppers
  • Green beans
  • Tomato
  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Banana

In order to not avoid not following through due to being overly ambitious, I'll just aim to try to have at least one creative sandwich per week, targeting Mondays so I can make it ahead on Sunday night. I'll share some of my more inspired results here.


Time for Tea!

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It has recently come to my attention that I have too much tea. Personally, I didn't think this was possible. But L assures me that I have, in fact, crossed the too much tea threshold. This is why I only brought home 1 tin of tea -- the Fortnum and Mason Royal Blend tin you see here. Of course as luck would have it, I already had an unopened tin of that tea, courtesy of L's mom's last trip to London. Oopsie.

I have a hanging fruit basket in the kitchen, crammed full of tea. And a few tins hiding on the back of the stove. And a couple in the pantry. It's been worse than this, mind you. So I suppose I could concede that I do have enough tea to last me for a good while.

It's a cold and rainy Sunday, that came in on the heels on a cold and rainy Saturday. So my pot of Dean and Deluca Earl Gray Extra is keeping me cheery and warm as I continue through organizing my many clipped recipes into a nice spiral bound book.

I can't imagine limiting myself to just one or two tins of tea. Because day-to-day, what I am craving to sip in a hot mug changes. Some afternoons I want the Mariage Frères Bouddha Bleu green tea. Other days, it's the Mélange Hediard that grabs my attention.

I make a point of bringing home tea whenever I travel. Thus sipping a cup of it once I return home brings back memories of my travels. Overall, it's a minor vice to have as far as vices go.

Note: To the horror of tea enthusiast purists, I prefer to grab bagged tea for drinking at work, to avoid the hassles of dealing with tea strainers (and inevitable tea stains) on my desk. With traditional tea purveyors like Mariage Frères making new strides in creating tea bags that don't leave your tea tasting papery, I think that prejudice should slowly shift over time. At home, I use a basket insert for my tea pot, or individual spoon strainers with a hinge.

Care and Storing of Your Tea

If you are going to hoard tea as I do, there are a few things to know to avoid ending up with tea that's lost its freshness:

  1. Store your loose tea in airtight containers. I try to buy it in tins whenever possible.
  2. If you bought your tea leaves in a plastic bag, transfer it to a glass jar with an airtight lid, or to a clean, previously used tea tin.
  3. If you buy teabags, make an effort to use them within 6 months of purchase.
  4. Tea bags will stay fresh longer if you store them in an air-tight tin (I reused a Fauchon Madeleines tin for my tea bag storage.)
  5. Don't open all your tins at once. I allow myself 3 open tins of tea at a time when I am drinking tea with any frequency.
  6. Try to find a cold dark (but not damp) place to store your tea. I live in San Francisco's Richmond District so that means pretty much any place in my apartment fits this bill for most of the year.

Cheers!


Scotland Trip Part 2: Edinburgh

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It was hard to pack up and leave Glasgow after having such a fabulous time there, but with our limited amount of time for this journey, and our desire to see Edinburgh as well, that's what we had to do.

We hopped on a train which got us to Edinburgh in about an hour or so. I can not express strongly enough how much more pleasant it is to travel by train from place-to-place, versus air travel these days. And the sightseeing from the windows is always interesting,e specially when you aren't able to do day trips, as was the case on this trip.

We stayed at another Radisson Blu, located a short walk from the train station, and in the midst of the Royal Mile. This made for an easy point of reference as first-time visitors to Edinburgh, but if I returned I'd probably pick a place not situated in the midst of the tourist area to have some more peace and quiet.

We unpacked and caught our breath, then headed out for a walk through New Town, on the way to dinner at Dusit. Located down a windy alley between Hanover Street and Frederick Street in New Town, Dusit was more upscale than SF's typical thai restaurant. Have I mentioned that one of my cardinal rules is I must live no farther than 2 blocks from good thai food? If I was moving to Edinburgh, this would be my thai food beacon, based on its rendering of my standard order: Satay Gai and Gaeng Massaman (beef). The Pad Kraprao with duck and the flatbread for soaking up the leftover massaman curry were also excellent. A very good start to this part of the journey.

As we meandered back to the hotel, I saw the perfect pair of ultra girlie fingerless gloves in the window at White Stuff, and made a mental note to stop back there to look at them first hand.

Day 1 of Sightseeing

We dutifully headed up the Royal Mile on our first day of sightseeing, stopping in at the Cathedral of St. Giles en route to Edinburgh Castle. I don't have any photos from that church as they required a 3.50 photography fee, and frankly, the interior was nowhere near as amazing as St. Mungo's.

They were setting up some sort of scaffolding for erecting bleachers in front of Edinburgh Castle, causing me to remark it was starting to remind me of our trip to Venice -- scaffolding and cranes everywhere! This made photo taking more difficult here than in Glasgow, and is reflected in the smaller number of photos in my Edinburgh flickr gallery.

I was somewhat expecting the exhibits at the Castle to be on par with the Tower of London, and thus was a little disappointed. There were very nice expansive views of the city at least, which partially made up for that. We did more walking around in Old Town, and then headed to the National Gallery of Scotland.We skipped the Impressionist Gardens special exhibit since we'd just seen an expansive Impressionist exhibit at the DeYoung and had plans to see its sequel upon our return.

We made it back to White Stuff where I snapped up the adorable fingerless gloves I'd seen in the window (they will be perfect for keeping my hands warm while typing at work.) Unfortunately they didn't have any of the too cool owl tea cozies from their window display for sale -- I definitely would have brought some back for Christmas gifts. Oh well.

The rain showers started after our shopping excursion, but we could see Harvey Nichols across the square so we made a break for it. As we sat and had a cocktail and a snack for a late lunch, the sun came out and gave us a great view from the Forth Floor restaurant. It eventually got to be so hot and sunny, in fact, that I had to have the shades pulled down. I think I may be the first visitor to Scotland to get some freckles from the sunshine! Haha. Somehow I managed to avoid the many temptations in the pantry displays, and headed back to the hotel empty handed.

Since L's birthday coincided with our journey back to London in the midst of this trip, I'd done some homework to find a great restaurant to celebrate in early. I decided upon The Grain Store since they were known for their use of local game and produce. Up a flight of stairs in a windy alley, the Grain Store was candle-lit with dark wood and heavy chairs giving a definitely romantic, old world feel. We shared a pork terrine starter, and I had a perfect venison main course, served with a fruity wine sauce that had a medley of berries and some thin apple slices. L's lamb was also impeccable. But I think the true star was L's dessert -- a peach tart composed of one perfectly ripe small peach half wrapped in a pastry shell. Simple and yet so tasty. Not that my cheese plate with homemade oat cakes wasn't good mind you, but his dessert was perfect.

Day 2 Sightseeing

Before heading out to Holyrood House, we stopped for breakfast at larder, around the corner from our hotel, on Blackfriars Street. Having slept in some, we were there in that strange time between and early lunch and a late breakfast, so I decided upon the special lamb burger. In addition to the cafe offerings, they also had a small deli and bakery selection to go. If our customs rules had allowed for it, I would have brought home some of the venison sausage and some cheese. Sigh. I forgot to write down the name of the producer of the phenomenal unfiltered pink lady apple juice I had with my meal. I wish we had more artisanal juice makers making unconventional apple choices here in Northern California. But at least we have Gravensteins.

On the way up the street to Holyrood House, L caught me gazing at a pretty blue kilt, and we agreed to check it out on the way back (On the way back past it I tried it on and L bought it for me as a present. This means I have to replace my black knee high leather boots sooner rather than later.) Given the shopkeepers on the street's distinctions about these things, I should note that this was an officially sanctioned tartan kilt by Locharron, not one of those silkscreen tourist kilts all kitted up with corset strings that we kept seeing everywhere.

I made an executive decision to *not* stop in at Unknown Pleasures. I was afraid of several things. Firstly, I am not sure I could have spent less than an hour there obsessively looking through all that vinyl, which can be very boring for the not-obsessed-with-records person with whom you are traveling. Secondly, I was worried I would find some must have records that I would then tote around for the rest of the day and then have to fret over through security and the overcrowded overhead bins. I'd done that my first trip to England and believe me it got to be tiresome for all involved parties to have me hissing "be careful! I have records up there!" every time they slung around their bags. I knew the chance of finding too much to carry home was high having ordered vinyl from them via mail order back in the day.

We arrived at the Palace of Holyroodhouse with muted expectations based upon our previous day's experience at Edinburgh Castle. We were very pleasantly surprised, however. Despite this palace being the Queen's official residence when she is in Scotland, there were quite a few public rooms you were able to tour. It was especially interesting to linger in the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots, and look at all the ephemera therein. But the real highlight for me was the ruined Abby, which comprises most of my Holyrood House flickr gallery.

Tired from all the walking around the Palace's grounds, we stopped at Clarinda's Tearoom for a pot of Lady Grey tea and a big fluffy slice of cake with whipped cream filling. The sideboard here was crowded with some amazing looking cakes, but I am sure we made the right choice.

We'd intended to see the surrealist exhibit in the late afternoon, but after walking over to the main galleries, we learned that the free shuttle to the modern art gallery from the primary National Gallery location had been suspended, and the city bus to and from was only running once per hour and decided to forgo it. Thus, we hailed a cab and headed to the Royal Edinburgh Botanical Gardens.

The Gardens were an excellent place to spend the afternoon. We saw many fat little squirrels (and a number of people feeding the little guys which explained their roundness). And we also came to see that this was kitty paradise. While making our way through the greenhouses, we came across an adorable black and white cat, who had apparently strolled in after some other patrons. "Hello there kitty!" I said to him, and he walked up and nuzzled my arm, with a big kitty smile, letting me know he was very pleased with his maneuvering inside. After some persuading, the couple who let him in were able to get him to go back outside. Personally, I thought to myself that this was a very clever cat, heading inside to the balmy 80-degree greenhouse to bird watch.

For our last dinner in Scotland, I decided I wanted some good old pub food. And thus we ended up parking ourselves at the Bank Bar pub next door to the hotel. I had a pint of Caledonian and some crispy and satisfying fish and chips, while L had a burger. Nice to have some comfort food after a day with so much walking.

Two days never seems like enough to explore a new city, but I do feel as though we got a definite taste of the flavor of Edinburgh regardless.


Scotland Trip Part 1: Glasgow

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Typically, when I'm headed to a city I've never previously visited, I arm myself with travel books, and google searches for slow food suggested places to visit in that city. But for this part of our Scotland trip, I additionally had a secret weapon: I've been reading about things to do and see in Glasgow -- courtesy of friends who live there -- for a solid decade. Thus, our two full days of exploring Glasgow were a little off the beaten path. Thank you to Lis, Dave and Karina for having shared so many slivers of your city with me over the years.

 Day 1 of SIghtseeing

We hopped on the underground after a 5-minute walk from our hotel, Radisson Blu Glasgow, headed to the West End. We'd chosen the hotel based on its proximity to the Central train station, the underground, and the train station we'd be using to travel on to Edinburgh, and our having had a great stay at the Radisson SAS Blu in Rome a few years ago.

We exited the underground loop at Hillhead station where we met up with our friends Karina and Dave who proceeded to be our most outstanding tour guides for the day. Our first stop was one of my most anticipated sites to see in Glasgow, thanks to its frequent mentions on Facebook: Auntie M's Cake Lounge. Decked out with retro furnishings, Auntie M's is an ideal place to start a Sunday morning with some tea or coffee and a slice of some of the most decadent, delicious cake you can imagine. Both the chocolate orange and the brown sugar cake were excellent. As we prepared to leave, the proprietress asked where we lived, and turns out she's also from San Francisco! Which brings me back to the question I posed on Sunday: Why don't we have a cake lounge like Auntie M's in SF?

We poked our heads into some of the other shops in De Courcey's Arcade, then started our wander through the city. As per usual, I took many many photos of interesting architectural details as we walked around the university and over to the Kelvingrove museum. You can view those in my Glasgow album on flickr.

  Glasgow

We spent several hours strolling through the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum's eclectic collections. And lucky for us we happened to be there during a choral and organ program, so we were able to see its impressive organ in the main hall in action.

After the museum, our walk took us up to a primary shopping street where I got to explore a Waitrose supermarket. Yes, I travelled for hours via airplane to Scotland and am publicly admitting to having been excited about having visited a supermarket. The foodie in me can't help it!

I'd read a few issues of their magazine thanks to Fog City News' amazing selection of imported cooking magazines, and had hoped to be able to take a look at one of their markets. It turns out they're sort of a combination of whole foods' gourmet and organic food and selection with a trader joes like emphasis on prepared and packaged foods for convenient meals. If I lived in the UK I can tell you I'd definitely be having them home delivered. No pix from the market, I'm afraid, as I can never tell where I can or can't take photos and have been previously chewed out for taking photos in shops in England.

We stopped to rest our weary feet at the Botanical Gardens, making sure to stop and see the remains of the overgrown undergrown rail line that ran through the area. We also poked our noses into quite possibly the most packed junk shop I've ever seen. I was glad I didn't have a large handbag with me, as I would have been afraid of braking something or starting an avalanche. We just don't have that sort of old school shopkeeping in the States.

This wander through a day in the life of Glasgow's West Ender made me feel a kinship with this city. I'd srt of expected it to remind me of San Francisco as far as being an active, vibrant city full of people going about their business, and that is pretty much how I felt by the time I got back to the hotel to call it a night.

Day 2 of Sightseeing

The other primary spot I wanted to visit, again based upon having heard so much about it and seen photos of it, was the Glasgow Necroplis and St. Mungo's cathedral. I took so many photos between the two places I created a separate flickr gallery for them.

  Necropolis

We spent hours exploring the cathedral and the necropolis. I was struck by how much plant life perservered to grow in unlikely ledges in the Necropolis. Several photos show flowery weeds sprouted from the tiniest speck of dirt in a granite groove. As per usual, my favorite monuments were those with weather beaten statuary of some sort. But my favorite photo from the necropolis was of crosses against the bold cloudy sky.

I was truly impressed with St. Mungo's stained glass. On a whole it was some of the most visually interesting and modern feeling stained glass I've seen in a church. And some of it, such as the depictions of various family crests, unckuding a ship's mast on top of a knight's helm, were even quite humorous.

We wiled away the afternoon walking around the city center, stopping in at some vintage stores (L found a cool short sleeved shirt he bought). Our one record store excursion did yield some Jesus and Mary Chain records, but not ones I needed to complete my collection. Which is not surprising given that all I need to complete it at this point are a few limited edition 7" gatefold sleeve editions.

We headed back to the West End for dinner, stopping in at a bookshop with literally 2-deep stacks of books in front of each shelf. Not a place to go if you were looking for a specific book, but the kind of place you could easily spend several hours browsing through and coming home with things you'd never even thought about previously. I resisted the urge to buy some books on Roman architecture, reminding myself how heavy my bags were without lugging home picture books.

Our dinner destination was Stravaigin, a restaurant specializing in using Scottish produce and game, proponents of the "eat local" premise that makes me happy, but with a "think global" spin. I had an excellent mushroom and goat cheese ravioli starter and a main course of morroccan chicken. Unfortunately, I had to forego a cheese plate for dessert as I needed to save room for whiskey at Òran Mór, a bar and restaurant nearby that was housed in a former church. (We drank Isle of Jura if you are wondering.)

After two full days of walking the city, I felt as though I had seen everything on my must-visit list, and would efinitely need to plan another longer trip to spend some more time in the Glasgow, and to use it as a home base to explore the countryside.

Next up: Edinburgh.


Questions I Have Thanks to Recent Travel

  pond at the Edinburgh botanical gardens' greenhouse (but no frogs)

Whenever I travel, I come home with many many photos, tons of interesting experiences, and inevitably, all sorts of questions that occur to me. These are a few that got stuck in my brain during our trip to Scotland...

  • Why would a group of Brits, with all the beer options available to them, bring a six pack of Budweiser on a train? Really, why? Fullers makes so much better beer. I will never understand this one. Note that of course they'd brought 2 other 6-packs of beer with them as well. But still.
  • Why does a self-proclaimed 4-star hotel tell you in its room guide to order off the room service menu, then not provide a menu in the room, then not answer the room service phone #? Right, because they are updating the room service menu but don't have new ones printed yet. Note that we also then played round robin phone tag until we finally got ahold of someone in the restaurant who brought us up... the old room service menu.
  • Why is it that I can't ever take a walk while traveling to any city type place without being stopped and asked for directions? I think it must be the international city dweller uniform of mostly black clothing. I'm usually able to do OK at providing the requested directions, but this time around I was not able to provide walking directions to the British Museum from Euston station, having only just arrived in that neighborhood for my first time a short time earlier.
  • Why are all the lifts perpetually unavailable, or non-existant? I take for granted that the ADA makes the US a very traveler-friendly place. But after a week of schlepping around via trains and having to haul my bags up and down countless flights of stairs, I shall never take a well-placed ramp or elevator for granted again.
  • Why do all the eggs have such rich orange yolks in the UK? And why do only our occasional farmers' market eggs in the States match them?
  • Why do countries issue blanket "terrorism alert" statements like this one? Can it help do anything other than give anxiety to those travelers already abroad?
  • Why is it that only in the UK do restaurants serve a reasonable amount of milk with my coffee and tea? I swear in the U.S. it's always thimbles full of milk, or those play tea set sized cream cups at best.
  • Why don't we have a cake lounge like Auntie M's in SF? You'd think we would by now. Loved its completely inviting, homey, laid-back 50s vibe. And the cake! The cake! Delish. I had a chocolate orange cake that was truly fabulous.
  • Why is it that in the U.S. we think the transportation solution for a greener environment is hybrid cars rather than green/extensive public transportation networks? You can easily live in a European city without a car, getting around from place to place via transit or longer haul trains. Ever time I try to fathom how to get from San Francisco to a conference in San Jose I wonder why we haven't invested in a comprehensive rail network that can get us around the Bay Area more easily. And please don't mention BART -- if you live in the Richmond or Sunset districts, you're looking at taking a half hour bus ride to get on BART, and still having to change to CalTrain and walk a mile to get somewhere. Blergh.
  • Who thought it was a good idea to place a noisy water heater in the wall next to the bed's headboard at the Radisson in Edinburgh? Ah the joy of staying in an old building. I think the solution to this, however, would have been to drink more whiskey, yes?
  • Where are all the cats? Italy has them everywhere. And I saw them in Paris too. But there were too few cats this trip. One in Glasgow at the junkshop door, a ginger, who was muddy and couldn't be bothered with us; the black kitty who got himself let into the greenhouse in Edinburgh; and the white and black tomcat stalking the squirrels at the Edinburgh botanical gardens. I bet it is some sort of conspiracy led by all the birders, nod.

What to Do With Spoiled Kitties When You Go on Vacation?

image from farm5.static.flickr.com

Marcello and Bolvar are a year-and-a-half now, and thus old enough for us to not feel terribly bad about leaving them to go on vacation. Yes, a prime reason we didn't do any overnight travel for the past year was we simply didn't know what to do about the kitties.

That's a pretty unique POV for us to have, mind you. Mister Bill was a very well-behaved old man kitty, able to make do with a one per day visit from a favorite cat sitter, grazing at his dry food feeder, and only mildly annoyed that his kitty water fountain was not up to his usual standards of pristine cleanliness.

These two are a whole different story. In large part due to their age, but also their distinct personalities. Bolvar, in addition to waking me up at precisely 6:30 a.m. every morning (the time at which my alarm typically goes off for work) whines about wanting new dry food at precisely 9 :00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. And he and Marcello's play can get out of hand enough to warrant time outs in separate rooms. thus, leaving them at home largely unsupervised just doesn't seem to be a good fit.

 After asking around, I settled on Feline Wishes on the recommendation of my friend Sharon who had entrusted them with the care of her kitties on multiple occasions. Unlike some of the other places I looked into, Feline Wishes is cats-only, which is key to giving kitties not used to being around dogs a less stressful stay in my opinion. Their reviews on yelp were excellent, save for a few negative reviews that are hard to judge from a validity/truth standpoint (which is a frequently recurring issue I have with yelp reviews, since they don't give any way to vote down an invalid/incorrect/spurious review, unlike ePinions and other such review sites.) 

I took a look around the facilities and was impressed with the setup. Kitties have a good sized space (think a slightly deeper bedroom closet) with a climbing rack with multiple perches, and a top of the enclosure bump out that allows them to spy on the hallway (and any person or feline out and about). And contrary to one yelp review which posited that the purveyors lied about letting the kitties have free roam every day to get some exercise and explore, when we arrived there was a kitty on walkabout.

I was impressed by the depth of their pre-stay intake paperwork. It was on par with registering a child for camp -- asking about the pet's personality, favorite activities, quirks, etc., and allowing you to specify any special dietary needs. They even encourage you to bring in your cat's favorite toys and bedding to help them acclimate more quickly.

It remains to be seen how they actually *do* there on their first stay. But I'm hopeful that they'll have fun exploring, and that they'll play fetch with Marcello and give Bo many belly rubs, and become a place we can leave the kitty babies without worry.