Onward from a Dance with Dragons to NaNoWriMo

I've been devouring George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series for the past couple of months. I can't recall the last time a series of books has so captivated me that I've purchased the following books well before finishing the first tome. But that's how it has been with this series.

Yesterday, after a brunch of Spaten Optimator and Schnitzel at Steins on Clement (they opened on Monday in the old Pagan space), I popped in to Green Apple books with the hope that I would be able to pick up the 5th and latest book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, from their recently released used hardcover shelves. Luck was on my side -- they had one copy!

I was hit with the realisation, however, that after I zip through this book in a week or so, as I've done with the others, I don't have a next book to drop myself into. I do hope Martin doesn't take another 6 years to finish the 6th book int he series. I can't wait that long!

Timing wise, it will be good to finish up the series mid month, so I can start prepping for NaNoWriMo. I was considering skipping it this year, due to the incredibly hectic pace at work, but, frankly, you need to have some creative brain time and this is such a good, disciplined way of working that in. I have a couple of ideas to choose from, and am not yet quite sure which one is going to win out.

I think to get into the daily writing groove I'm also going to start following some of the daily writing prmpts, such as the Daily Post blog. If you have other favorite sources of writing prompts let me know.

A Flurry of Home Improvements

mad as a hatter's tea party!

When I moved into this apartment, for whatever reason, I never fully settled in. It always seemed as though it would be a temporary landing space, even though I positively loved the neighborhood from the get go. It's possible I was just acting out in response to how seriously ugly the brass with fluted glass chandelier is that dominates our dining room.

15 years later, despite our recent efforts to look for a slightly roomier place to call home, we are still here in our wee rent controlled apartment in the fog belt.

Around my birthday, we made the decision to truly commit to living in this apartment and figuring out how to make the most of its limited space and cramped kitchen quarters. And thus, we have spent about one day per week since my birthday weekend refining the apartment.

The first order of business was going through all my books and CDs, paring things down, and reorganizing them on some new bookcases from IKEA. This prompted me to put some books up on Good Reads' bookswap, and to donate a bag full of books to the Friends of the San Francisco library.

I also took the opportunity to rearrange my pseudo pantry shelves, and take stock of all my excess canned goods (I probably had a dozen cans of enchilada sauce lurking in one cupboard...) With the living room and dining area under control (and sporting a stylish new rug), the last target for sprucing up was our bedroom.

We had an issue with water damage in one corner that we'd been putting off asking the property management to fix. When we did tee it up, one forgotten appointment (by them) and some 3 weeks later, we finally got the water damaged wall (the roof leaks in the corner) repaired and repainted. And while we had them here, we had them rehang the bathroom door so it will properly close (it's been stubborn and unwilling to close as long as I've lived here, thanks to an improper rehang after it was last painted.) And to top it off, we had them install the hardware for a curtain rod we picked up during our mega-IKEA shopping trip.

This afternoon, after a nice local and organic crispy chicken sandwich for lunch at Eats up the street, we came home and hung up the chocolate brown curtains, hung up the nicely framed rock and roll prints that had been sitting in a corner waiting for some attention, and can now say: this place looks like a home. Finally.

And it only took well over a decade to get everything in order...

Following a Weekly Meal Plan

A Farmers Market haul

The past month has been terrible from a "you are what you eat" standpoint. Being incredibly busy at work, vacation, then coming back to even longer hours at work has meant we've been doing a ton of eating out. And not a ton of healthy seasonal cooking at home.

This is why yesterday I pulled out all the items in my pantry cupboard to take stock of what we had on hand, and then made a week's meal plan that made good use of what we had on hand. I should note that I had no idea I had 8 cans of enchilada sauce in that cupboard. This is one of the primary drawbacks to using a deep, tall shelf next to the stove as a pantry, but when you're a renter in a high price city, you make do.

Here's what I came up with to help thin out the cupboard, and stop eating out so much:

  • Sat: mus sa mun curry with beef over rice
  • Sun: bean and beef enchiladas
  • Mon: chicken stir fry
  • Tues: Bean and cheese quesadillas
  • Wed: lasagna (make sauce ahead on Sunday)
  • Thur: pork chops
  • Fri: eat out for dinner

I also made sure we had a ton of yogurt and healthy cereal for breakfast, and plenty of tasty yet healthy snacks to keep me away from the cheese. This reminds me I really need to figure out how to make my ideal spicy trail mix. I love that stuff.

Today, I'm doing some prep work (making pasta sauce and a chicken+bean soup), making some sides (bean salad, potato salad, corn muffins) and mixing up chocolate chocolate chip cookie dough for the freezer. That sounds like a fine way to spend a Sunday don't you think?

Easy Pasta Sauce

  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/2 a red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 a white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 15 baby carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 15oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 TBSP garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add the olive oil to a stockpot and heat on medium. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become partially translucent. Add in the carrots and cook for another 5 minutes. Add in tomato sauce, reduce heat, and simmer on low for 1 hour.

I'll be using this for my lasagna this week.

Chicken and Black Bean Soup

  • 1 32 oz container Imagine organic chicken broth
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/2 a red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 a white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 15 baby carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast fillet (i.e. half a chicken breast)
  • 1 TBSP garlic, minced
  • 1 Tsp poultry seasoning blend of your choice

Pour chicken broth into stockpot and heat on medium high and bring to a boil. Sprinkle chicken breast with your favorite poultry seasoning and salt and pepper then add to the hot broth and poach, removing once meat is white all the way through. Cool chicken until it is at room temperature, then shred into bit size pieces. While your chicken is cooling, reduce heat to low and add in your separately olive oil sauteed onions, garlic and carrots (I did mine at the same time for the pasta sauce then split the total cooked mixture in half). Add back in your shredded chicken and simmer for an hour.

Makes 4 servings. 5 points plus per serving.

Just What *are* those "Period Details"?

I recently saw a listing for an apartment out here in the Fog Belt that has a curious selling point "period details."

Now, if you've never been to San Francisco's Richmond District, perhaps you think of our quaint and often photographed Painted ladies-- the gorgeous Victorian and Edwardian buildings on all our postcards and tourist literature.

But as a long-time neighborhood denizen, living in a 1965 building, I started to think, what exactly would I consider to be a 1965 period detail? Original powder blue and baby pink kitchens? (NOTE: that is what my place had before I signed the lease and they ripped it out.) A lack of windowsills or mouldings? The introduction of the open floor living plan?

I'm not sure that any of those details would entice your average renter, but I could be wrong about that...

TGIF and a Happy Long Weekend to you!

I Have the Post-Vacation Crazy Busy's

image from farm7.static.flickr.com

Which is clearly why I've been baking cookies all afternoon, after a nice walk up the street to get my nails done. A week away, followed by the first week back from work being significantly more challenging than these things usually are, meant that by the time the weekend rolled around, I was pooped.

And this is why although my photos from Disneyland and Los Angeles are up on flickr, as are the ones from the California Academy of Sciences yesterday, I still haven't written anything about our travels. Honestly, I haven't written anything at all outside of emails at work.

It's been THAT busy.

So consider this my poking my head up and saying "hello! I'm still here!" And as I have no hope of catching up with my blog roll, ping me if I've missed anything I should know about...

xo erika

You Say it's Your Birthday...

one of my favorite photos, taken by L on our first trip together, of one of my absolutely most favorite places, Venezia, Italia.

I always like to do two things for my birthday: something sentimental and go out for a fabulous dinner.

This year, the fabulous dinner portion of my day consists of Jardiniere. It's a repeat of last year because I absolutely adore dressing up and dining on the balcony, basking in all of its streamline moderne glamour. And on my birthday, I don't necessarily want to take a chance on a new place. I want to be guaranteed a fabulous time. No surprises.

So the other birthday tradition is some sort of wallowing in sentimentality. This can take the for of playing old records, or looking through my plentiful scrapbooks. But this year it was manifest in my going through all my CDs, my remaining stash of tapes, and my DVDs.

Yes, I still had a significant stash of tapes, despite not having played one in at least a decade. You see, many of them held a sentimental place in my heart. For years, in high school, I had pen pals all across the US and even one in Australia. And in addition to sending me all manner of interesting paper ephemera that was indicative of the time and place wherein they lived, people also always sent me mix tapes.

You see, in addition to being a serious music junkie, I had my own radio show in high schol. I started at the small high school a.m. radio station and by senior year had secured a slot at my local college radio station, with an early morning Saturday slot, as art of the alternative rock programming. Thus, my penpals always endeavored to send me unique bootlegs and import records, via tape, for me to weave into my shows.

In those pre-Internet days, your awareness of interesting music was truly only as good as your personal network -- or your budget when traveling in from the valley to San Francisco-- allowed it to be. And I had an exceedingly good network, as these relics of those days gone by reminded me.

Now, I have much of the music fro those mixtapes on vinyl or CD, so in the end, I decided to get rid of most of them. But I did hang on to a few, especially those made by dear friends, and at least one tape of my college radio show, taped for me by my mom.

I also found a stash of CDs from the incredibly fun (tho short-lived) SF Indie Mixtape club circa 2004. I have fond memories of spending hours constructing just the right playlist. Then playing around with my stash of collage supplies to create an appropriate cover image. Good times.

This past year has been a pretty tough one for me. Busier than I would have liked. And with less time spent with beloved friends than is strictly optimal. But on the flipside of that, I also got to travel to Scotland and meet in person some of my favorite folks on the Interwebs. Of course that trip made me wish there wasn't an ocean between us and the UK.


In summary, another year past, and another year ahead. I hope to keep myself mindful that we only live this life once, and thus it is imperative to make the most of each day.

xoxo e

Saying Goodbye to Severus Snape

Severus Snape...erm, make that Grape, in my Restaurant City restaurant

Sometimes you need to have a less ambitious weekend. That's how this one has turned out, after the landlady for the place we had an appointment to go see (a landlady who talked L's ear off for 15min about the place I might add) called to tell us it had been leased. Thus we ate the extra city car share hours, and spent some time cruising around the neighborhood looking for For Rent signs, then ran a ton of necessary but completely uninteresting errands.

My greatest accomplishment thus far this weekend? Helping L with his Restaurant City tasks, resulting in him attaining -- and gifting to me-- the adorable little Snape, erm, Grape, statue you see here in my restaurant.

I absolutely had to have him after seeing the final installment of the Harry Potter movies last weekend. I was misty-eyed for about the entire last half of that movie, as Severus Snape has pretty much been my favorite character in those films since I first laid eyes on him. Alan Rickman, with his Trent Reznor hairdo and terse comments, can you even imagine anyone else in the role but him?

Snape appealed to me as a character because, frankly, he reminded me of my teenage years. Snape was the sort of kid who would have hung out with my friends in the quad. He would have been in the front row of the Sisters of Mercy show with us. When he was having a tough day, he would have gotten a hug, not shoved into a locker. I recognize his dry sarcasm as a defense mechanism. And as the story plays out over the movies, I love how we get to see more and more what a truly amazing and caring person he is.

I'll stop now, before I say anything that may spoil something for someone whom has not yet seen the film. This is when I should mention that, unlike pretty much everyone I know, have not read any of the Harry Potter films. L has read them all, usually as soon as they were released. But I have experience Hogwart's only through the movies.

This has meant extreme vigilance in curbing (or completely turning off) my social media usage around release time of the movies, lest I be spoiled thoroughly before making it to the theater. I am happy to report that I made it to see this edition of the franchise without any spoilers reaching my eyes-- tho just barely.

It continues to amaze me just how insensitive people are to others, and how eager they are to casually toss out spoilers in public media as soon as they themselves have seen something. There appears to be very little recognition or understanding as to how incredibly insensitive that is to other people. And then there are the people who *cackle* and rush to share spoilers with you. Luckily, it is incredibly easy to swiftly unfollow such folks.

If you love Snape as I do, here is some additional clicking for you:

City Living: A Crafty Sunday in SF

Green Apple BooksLast weekend, I had a quintessential city living day.

I hopped on the 28 bus and rode to Fort Mason Center to check out the Renegade Craft Fair. If you've never been to one of these, let me assure you it is not your grandmother's lace doily fest. Rather, it's a collection of all sorts of 20- and 30-something folks who make a wide range of things by hand.

Some of my favorites were:

Walking through and soaking up so much handmade creativity inspired me to head back to my neighborhood in search of some crafty projects of my own.

After enjoying Huevos Rancheros for lunch at Eats, I headed to Green Apple Books, where I picked up two books and a magazine for inspiration:

Inspirational materials in hand, I headed back towards home, stopping at Miracle Spa for a mani pedi, and relaxed while I flipped through my reading materials. Once my toes were dry, I stopped in at the hobby shop for some felt and some embroidery floss, then finally headed home.

There are days -- especially those sopping wet riding home on MUNI days-- where I ask myself: is it worth it to live in the City? Is it worth the high rent? Is it worth being dependent upon the somewhat unreliable transit? Days like this one remind me exactly why that answer is YES!

When I am an Old Lady, I will...



  • Live within walking distance of Erika S.'s front porch
  • Finally make a living baking cookies
  • Have as many cats as my backyard can accommodate and my neighbors can tolerate
  • Make sure to still travel some place fabulous every year
  • Finally dye my hair blue
  • Have a large enough place that I can invite as many friends from far flung places as possible to come stay with us
  • Never get up earlier than 7 a.m. again
  • Eat dessert first
  • Have a kitchen garden

When you are a little old person, what will YOU do?


Ranch Chicken Marinade

This recipe was inspired by my colleague sharing this recipe for Rosemary Ranch Chicken Kebabs. My version is pared back to a quantity suitable for dinner for two, and to reflect that rosemary is not a favorite herb in this household.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Hidden Valley Ranch dressing
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp salt
splash of lemon juice
splash of red wine zinfandel vinegar
two twists of pepper from the pepper mill
1/2 tsp sugar
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast (a little over 1 lb) chopped into small chunks

Combine all but the chicken in a small bowl and whisk together until combined. Let stand 5 min while you chop up the chicken. Place chopped chicken in a ziploc bag, and pour marinade over the top. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour prior to cooking chicken by your preferred method.


A Nice Surprise at Work

my soon to be former view from my cube at work
I spent all day Friday packing up my cube at work.You see, I'm moving into an office on Thursday afternoon, thanks to being promoted.

That's right-- I've finally reached my career goal at work. I'm still managing my same team, but I'll be focusing on some digital marketing projects, including our social media efforts. And I'll finally have a door, which will make it significantly easier to concentrate on all the writing and power point projects in my near future.

Next up on the goals list:

  • find a bigger apartment in our same awesome neighborhood
  • make our plans for our trip to Los Angeles this Summer
  • and decide on something to bake for the team next weekend, to break-in the new office space.

Looking for a New Place to Call Home in SF


No, I'm not looking to leave my beloved Inner Richmond neighborhood. but we have been talking a lot more frequently abuot wanting a bigger place. One with a second bedroom to lock away the computers and their yummy cords from Bolvar. And with a kitchem large enough to accommodate my baking and cooking without it spilling over into the living room.

We've started keeping an eye out for For Rent signs in the neighborhood, and I've started looking at craigslist more regularly. And the more I search craigslist the more I miss MetroRents, which is how I found the place I've called home for over a decade.

MetroRent only sent me listings that met my requirements -- things like it being OK for having a cat, laundry in the building, top floor apartment. Searching through craigslist's rental ads, I find listings that say no pets but were tagged as pets allowed to turn up in my searches. I find rentals that seem to be someone's unfinished basement, not a habitable apartment. And I find scams.

The last time we entertained moving, we got discouraged pretty quicky due to two really bad experiences with these online lsitings. The first one was a scam. After I emailed the "owner", I got back an email about how she was called out of the country unexpectedly on business, but if I would give her a good faith deposit, I would be overnighted the keys. Yup, I actually got hit up with one of the classic Internet rental fraud scams. That incident alone made me start questioning some of the ads that ask you to show up with a ton of your personal financial information in hand. How can you identify that the person with whom you are corresponding, or heck, even the person showing the apartment, is authorized to rent it to you?

The second incident was a total bummer. We were strung along by a landlady who had a place a couple of blocks from here that sounded perfect. We had a showing scheduled, and were crossing our fingers that we'd lucked into a flat that met all our requirements and in an even better location than our current place. And that's when the nosy questions started, about whom would be inhabiting the apartment exactly. After learning it would be me and my boyfriend, she left a message saying our time wasn't good for her after all. When I called to reschedule, she didn't pick up.

After a week or so, she finally got back to me to tell me she rented the place -- to "a married couple with children, family." At that point we lost our mojo, and stopped looking.

But the nagging thought that we could find a place that better suits us has again entered our every day conversations, so I know it's time to start looking again. Wish us luck! And if you see any For Rent signs out here in the avenues-- send me an SMS with the # to call...

Our Easter Eats: Spicy Lamb Roast and Strawberry Gooey Bars

Sonoma County vineyards
As planned, I made Jam Hands' gooey bars for easter dessert. I couldn't find lemon cake mix though, so they became strawberry gooey bars, since that was the one fun flavor I could find at Target. They looked incredibly festive. No photos of them, unfortunately, as I never did figure out a good way to capture their yumminess in a photo without making a mess.

And yes, I made dessert first. Because it was a lot less daunting than making a lamb roast for the first time.

I used Charles Phan of the Slanted Door's lamb marinade, at my colleague Melita's suggestion. I love spicy sweet combinations, and knew from the get-go that I was going to love this marinade.

I modified mine slightly to be as follows:

2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1 small jalapeño, stemmed and chopped (left the seeds in)
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce

I combined all the ingredients in a bowl then used my pestle to smash them all together nicely. I placed my Boneless lamb leg roast into a ziploc plastic bag, poured the marinade over it, then sealed the bag up and left it in the refrigerator to soak it up for about 2 hours.

I preheated the oven to 375, and baked the lamb, having poured the marinade over the top of it in the baking dish, until it was no longer pink in the center, which was about an hour and a half. I served with a tamrind chutney, some sour-cream laden mashed red potatoes, and some Roederer sparkling wine.

Glad that I finally tried my hand at lamb. It wasn't any trickier than any other meat I've roasted thus far. Too bad I can't make gyros at home...

To Make: Lemon Gooey Bars, Cheddar Biscuits and a Pinterest Account

It's been another week full of good stuff to read, coming to me via folks on twitter and my blog reader. Here are a few things that have recently caught my eye:

  • Lemon Gooey Bars at Jamhands.
    Don't these look yummy? I would have made these already if any of my local grocers had lemon cake mix. 
  • Spaetzle at Smitten Kitchen.
    Whenever I make it to Suppenkuche in Hayes Valley, my entree choices are limited by what they have that comes with spaetzle, because it's ne of those things I can't pass up. It looks to be pretty simple, so why haven't I made this yet?
  • Pinterest
    I've been wanting to make an account and start my own pinboard here. Unfortunately it looks like they've been having server troubles, so I haven't yet. I wonder if any of you are using it?
  • Cheddar and Scallion Biscuits from Serious Eats
    These look a lot like the amazing cheddar biscuits from Fog City Diner. And I need to work on my biscuit technique-- I've gotten rusty! Also want to make their Jam Muffins with something lovely from June Taylor.
  • Pop Tarts and Other Junk Food, Homemade
    I keep forgetting that I have a half dozen pop tart recipes stashed away here and there. I really should make some one of these days, given our easy access here to amazing jams from the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market.

Still needing to do a big old blog list overhaul-- not nearly enough to read currently.

Hello Kitty Ruled the NorCal Cherry Blossom Festival

hello kitty bouncy castle

Hello Kitty was everywhere at this year's Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco's Japantown. On the official t-shirt, towering over the car show, and all over the place indoors too. I'm a big fan of hers, so this was a good thing.

The festival was, as always, a good excuse to wander around the Japantown shops. And thanks to the festivities, there were more goth lolitas than usual in New People and its vicinity, which made for fun people watching.

I always love seeing all the handmade items at the festival. This year was heavy on the kawaii t-shirts, which is no surprise given the saturation of silkscreen apparel in general right now. I loved the soap booth with sumo wrestlers, sushi, and even a soap taco. Totally fun and creative. I did come home with some pretty earrings (teeny blue rice paper circles covered in resin.)

Tokidoki Hello Kitty bag
...and I couldn't resist this awesome, over-the-top, Tokidoki Hello Kitty bag. I tried. I really did. OK, maybe not *too* hard. I'm actually starting to get a nice little Tokidoki collection going.

 I suppose it is a little bit much for every day use. But sometimes, isn't it nice to be just a little too much?

I also picked up some gorgeous letterpress cards at Kinokinoya stationary shop, plus some supplies for future crafty projects. And at the bookstore, looking at all the kooky cat picture books, I plotted some craft projects to keep my furry little monsters occupied with some handmade kitty toys.

Just another fabulous weekend day in San Francisco.


Red Velvet Cookies

sort of more auburn velvet cookies

I finally got around to making those red velvet cookies I saw over on Fake Ginger's blog.

After making them today, I would call these more like devilishly chocolate chip cookies more than red velvet, truth be told, but I did really like them. I'm less excited about having ruined my manicure with the red food coloring.

I made a couple of tiny tweaks to the recipe, trying to get more of a red velvety taste, and to account for the original recipe's comments regarding amount of wet ingredients.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg

In a liquid measuring cup, add together:
1 teaspoon red food coloring
1 tsp lemon juice
fill up to 1/4 cup line with heavy cream

In a large bowl, sift or stir together:
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 375. Cream the butter and sugars in an electric mixer. Mix in the egg. Pour in the cream mixture, scraping down the sides to get as much of the red coloring into your bowl as possible. After this is just mixed in, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. You will have a fairly thick dough.

Use a cookie scoop to form your cookies. Bake 8-10 minutes or until cookies start to firm up.

Yields 38 cookies.

Uncorking the Urban Wine Scene at the Commonwealth Club

I attended a great program at the Commonwealth Club last night -- Uncorking the Urban Wine Scene, a conversation with folks making wine in the East Bay. As a wine lover who only seems to ever trek up to Napa or Sonoma once or twice per year, I was excited to learn more about my hyper local tasting opportunities, and to live vicariously through some everyday wine lovers like me who'd actually found a way to make the leap to winemaker without having a couple million dollars to invest in wine country.

Panelists were Jim Mirowski, Co-founder and Owner, Treasure Island Wines; Derek Rohlffs, Proprietor and Winemaker, Bravium Wines; Sasha Verhage, Winemaker and Proprietor, Eno Wines; and Kathryn Cohen, Proprietor, Eno Wines. Jim and Derek both make wines as part of the Treasure Island wine collective.

Sasha, a founder of the East Bay Vintners Alliance noted that there is strong community support for urban winemakers, with local restaurants and wine shops actively seeking out local winemakers, which makes sense given the Bay Area's locavore focus.

Something I had not thought about that Kathryn brought up during the conversation is local tasting rooms can be a ot more approachable for those new to wine appreciation. I do remember that on my first trip to Napa, when I was barely over legal drinking age, it did feel a little intimidating to go into a well-established winery's tasting room, vying for attention with those older, more well-versed, and certainly more well-heeled than myself. She said that she felt that the casual, inclusive nature of the East Bay's wine scene attracts a lot more diversity in its patrons.

WHile tasting up in Sonoma last week, I'd noticed a couple of wineries had growlers avialable for taking away wine, which had initially surprised me. I'm quite used to seeing them at brewpubs, but think this was the first year they were around enough to notice them, and the proliferation of wine on tap. The panelists touched on these new packaging options, with the consensus being that both options are nice due to less waste and lowering the costs involved.

Now before you start making boxed wine jokes here, think about it for a moment: how many bottles of wine per night does a busy restaurant go through to service its wine by the glass program? Now imgaine istead their having that wine on tap, where it's never stale, and they're not wasting all those bottles. I call that a worthwhile innovation. Sasha, however did say that although he supports packaging innovations, he's "not ready for a capri sun" wine distribution package, which got a good laugh out of the crowd (and especially from the two grandmotherly ladies in front of me who said more than once how adorable they thought Sasha was.)

By the time the conversation ended a little after 7:30, I was too tired to stay for the wine tasting (I know, I can hardly believe it either), but they did have a nice tasting setup that included R&B Cellars, Carica Wines, Dashe Cellars, Urban Legend Cellars, Tayerle Wines, Rock Wall Wine, Treasure Island Wines, Bravium Wines, Eno Wines, Stomping Girl WinesAndrew Lane Wines. The way I'm looking at it is I now have an excuse to set up an East Bay wine tasting day.

My, What a Huge Bee Hive You Have

bee house, Sonoma, California

It's interesting what catches our eye from the street. I didn't notice this house when we passed on the opposite side of the street; I was too intent on trying to guess which tiny street we should go down on our way to the Bartholomew Park tasting room at the end of a maze of narrow roads in Sonoma.

On the way back past, we drove past initially as well, but I had L stop the car and back up. You see, the motion had caught my eye. What was the cloud in front of the house? As I was peering out the window, trying to decide if this was a plague of locusts or a swarm of bees, a local stopped to chat us up.

"$1.2 mil…" was how he started the conversation. After we'd all stopped laughing, I asked if the flying insects were bees, which he confirmed. "They live in the walls," he said. "This is the first warm day we've had so they've gotten all riled up."

The man went on to tells the place had been vacant since the 50's or 60's. It's always surprising to see that in wine country -- it feels like every piece of vacant land get planted with grapevines. But can you imagine what purchasing this house -- now a giant beehive -- would entail exactly? You'd need a bee expert to supervise the removal of the bees, and then would have to get permission to demolish the house (because you wouldn't want to inhabit a giant beehive and you can't exactly show the bees your deed of sale and ask them to please not come back into the walls/house.

And thus, this beautiful piece of property sits vacant, occasionally flaring up into a David Lynch-worthy piece of wonder like this, to enchant passers-by.

P.S. more pictures of the house in my Sonoma set on flickr.

An Ode to my Neighborhood: the Richmond District

Dragon Fruit for sale on Clement Street

About 15 years ago, I moved out to the Richmond District, a part of San Francisco my friends referred to as "the fogbelt" or "the 'burbs." At the time, I thought it would be a short stay, until I found a place I liked in a hipper neighborhood with more to do.

Instead, this neighborhood really grew on me. It's one of the most neighborhoody feeling San Francisco neighborhoods, to me. There's a nice mix of younger couples and older Russians who've lived in the Avenues for decades. That's why we have an Asian produce market next door to a Russian deli, with a good sushi place across the street.

It's truly a foodie (and cook's) paradise.

I am able to walk up the street to do my grocery shopping on the weekend. I start at the natural foods store 10 blocks away, stop in at the great little wine shop, and almost always stop for fresh hummus at my favorite European market. The City's best bagel place is out here, as well as the best margaritas. And all this is a big part of why I've never left.

Yes, other neighborhoods have cooler restaurants and tons of hip little stores. But I like my neighborhood's inexpensive but good eats, and its relative safety. I can't really imagine moving to a neighborhood that doesn't have a couple dozen great restaurants, a half dozen markets, a wine shop, an amazing new and used bookstore, a movie theater, and several ice cream shops all within a nice walking distance. Having a wealth of resources right outside your doorstep is the whole point of City living, isn't it?

Yesterday, I took a walk down Clement Street, in search of lunch, and took a good number of photos. My intent is to do some posts here soon to give a local's view on what makes this neighborhood such a great place to live. Stay tuned.

Letting Go: Peter Murphy at Mezzanine, San Francisco

Petermurphy_tour2011This week, I had the pleasure of seeing Peter Murphy play at the tiniest of San Francisco venues, Mezzanine.

As I stood on the floor listening to the pre-show DJ set, I had the realization that I first saw Peter play for his Holy Smoke tour, way back in 1992.


18 years ago.

That hardly seems possible!


I've seen him play a number of times now, including on both Bauhaus tours. And this week's show was likely the best of the shows I've seen thus far (I am removing the first Bauhaus tour from the mix mind you because that was more like musical theater than a concert and would stomp all over just about everything else.)

Peter was relaxed, and happy, and clearly having a good time. It was a show full of old timers (even older timers than myself) and new fans alike, the latter wearing a fabulous array of leather and latex and more eyeliner than the man himself.

Throughout the show, Peter was talking to the crowd. Telling us stories about what he's been up to. Teasing us with the idea that he might move to the States. And introducing a number of new songs. One of my favorites was a song he introduced with these words "This is a song about letting go. Of drama. Of unhappiness. Not bearing it -- letting it go."

I think we all have things we can--and should--let go. And it was lovely to dance and let the music and that feeling sweep over me.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the new material, in advance of the show. Much of the recent albums have had a significant world music influence, so I was probably expecting more along those lines. But instead, he hit us with some incredibly danceable and rocking tunes, similar in flavor to "Go Away White" from the Bauhaus reunion CD release.

That of course led me to the "what ifs." What if the band had managed to stay together after putting together such a lovely reunion album, and had toured? That state of mind was encouraged by Peter playing so many of his favorite Bauhaus songs, including one of my favorites, "Silent Hedges." that he also played my personal solo favorites "Subway" and "Disappearing" completely made my evening.

You know those shows where you can tell the performers don't want to leave the stage? That's the sort of experience Peter and his band gave us. He took a request from the crowd to play his cover of "Hurt. They came back for 3 encores. And they finally left the stage at 12:30 a.m. (on a weeknight! oy!) after an energetic rendition of the Stooges' "Raw Power." We love you too, Peter. Exactly what I needed.

I highly recommend you check him out if his tour is winding its way near you.

And P.S. Yes, those YouTube links are from the show I was at; I'd seen peeps recording in the audience so was not surprised to see them on there.



Tea and Sympathy

SconesOver the past few days, the news has alternately made me angry and disappointed. Disappointed overall in the lack of empathy I'm seeing folks have for others who lack their privilege. And angry to see those smugly assured they will never be poor, or female and pregnant raising a child alone, and thus can not imagine why we should provide social support for those who need it.

When I've seen folks in my twitter feeds being hateful, I've unfollowed. When I've seen thoughtful posts such as the one I linked to above, I have shared them. I am only one person, but I try to do what I can.

Most of what I can truly impact is, of course, my own immediate surroundings. How I behave, my empathy for others. And of course, my baked treats. For as long as I can remember, I've used baking as a way to show those close to me that they have my love and support. (And I've contributed a fair number of treats to charity bake sales.)

This is why today I am finally getting off my butt and making my blueberry scones. I'd wanted to bake them for my team for Christmas, but I battled a nasty cold for most of Christmas, and colds and baking do not mix. So there you have it -- Christmas in February: Frog Hollow jam and scones from me. It's a small gesture, but one from the heart.

Recipe adapted from the Ritz Carlton Book of Afternoon Tea, a gift many years ago from the fabulous Miss Mitzi.

  • 3 cups flour, self-rising
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp Baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter (8 TBSP)
  • 1 1/3 cups 2% milk
  • 1 cup dried blueberries (Substitute a cup of Guittard milk chocolate chips if you are not a blueberry fan)

Butter 2 cookie sheets or spray with cooking spray; set aside. Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F (220 c.) Sift dry ingredients together. Add butter, cutting in or thumbing in, until butter is integrated throughout, as tiny flakey crumbs. Slowly pour in milk, stirring in with a knife until just combined. Add blueberries, and stir in. You will have a very sticky dough. You may roll out the dough on a floured board to a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thickness and cut with a 2" pastry cutter into rounds, or use a floured ice cream scoop to make the balls of dough equal sizes and drop onto your cookie sheets. Personally, I prefer the drop scones, as you get some crunchy bits on top.

Bake 12-15 minutes until they are golden on top. makes 20 drop scones, or 24 rolled scones. 3 Weight Watchers PointsPlus points per scone.

Cheddar Apple Pork Meatballs

Meatballs1 lb. ground pork

1 cup reduced fat mexican blend cheese

1 medium onion, grated

1 medium apple, grated (I used honeycrisp)

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1 egg, whisked

salt and pepper to taste

garlic powder to taste

I adapted this recipe from a recent Everyday with Racheal Ray issue, lightening it up a bit. Pork and apple is such a classic combo, and the cheese makes the meatballs a little different (and tasty).

In a large bowl, stir together all of your ingredients, saving the egg for last to bind it all together. Spray cookie sheet with non stick spray. Form pork mixture into 16 equal sized meatballs, and place onto cookie sheet. Broil for about 10 minutes. If you are doing WeightWatchers, it's 3 PointsPlus per meatball.

I served these with egg noodles tossed with 1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream and 2 TBSP butter.

One of my favorite new recipes in some time. I froze the remaining meatballs for a future dinner.

Time and Space to Think

spa snacksWhen I don't have enough unscheduled time, I don't feel like writing. Hence the lack of regular updates to this blog over the past year. Honestly, when my schedule is packed too full, when I get home I don't even necessarily feel like vegging out in front of the tv or the computer either.

It is impossible for me to feel creative -- to BE creative -- unless I am able to give myself the headspace to sit and think. To let my mind wander.

Jumping from thought to loosley connected thought until a great idea posp up that inspires me to bust out my notebook and a pen and scribble it down.

This need for headspace is not just a leisure time need either. How can you find creative solutions to business problems at work if you are in back-to-back meetings all day, scarfing down your lunch when a conference call ends a few minutes early?

I need time to read. To read books. Magazines. Blogs. The twitter and Facebook posts my friends make. This helps me recharge, get inspired and carry on about my usual routine.

I've started scheduling monthly weekdays off. On most of them, I head to a day spa for a massage at a minimum, with a longer stay on a quarterly basis for a facial or a mani/pedi. This is significant downtime without distractions. A truly valuable commoddity in my overscheduled life. No blackberry buzzing at me. No phone ringing. No kitty clawing at my leg.

Darkess. Quiet. Soothing rituals. Plenty of space for the mind to wander. This is a gift I give myself and urge you to do for yourself as well.

Kitchen Envy

image from farm6.static.flickr.com

Walking to the spa to have a massage today, I stopped and peered in the window to gawk at this gorgeous huge designer dream kitchen at Kartell, as seen above.

It makes me frown when I see these huge display kitchens. Why? Because I already have a bad case of kitchen envy.

Our apartment is spacious by San Francisco standards, but it has a teeny galley kitchen designed for short people who don't actually cook any food from scratch. Every inch of my three countertops is covered with appliances -- toaster oven on one, kitchen aid mixer on another, coffee maker and bean grinder on the third.

The cramped quarters mean that you'd be claustrophobic while cutting up veggies if the kitties are underfoot eating their dry food.

Some day, I'll have a kitchen big enough to cook and take pictures in. With an effective hood over the stove and with a window for airflow. But until then I'll suffer silently with my kitchen envy, frowning at the model kitchens I encounter as I go about my day.

Taking Care of Yourself

stained glass detail, scotlandI don't think I am the only one who finds it hard to make time to take care of herself.

I console myself with that thought as I tally up my seemingly never-ending to do list.

I had the big reality check on this topic a few weeks ago. We were out running our Saturday errands, and the clerk at BevMo wouldn't sell me the case of assorted wine I'd picked out. Why? Someone didn't have a valid ID.


I mean, I have a passport, but didn't have it with me. But my state issued ID was well over a year expired. How'd that happen? As a non-driver, it wasn't a priority to get it renewed when it expired. My work has been crazy busy for the past two years, and when I've had a day off or a vacation week, it hasn't synched up with being able to get an appointment at the DMV.

It's one small thing but it's a symptom of a larger issue. I've been coasting on fumes on the whole. Putting off doctors appointments, putting off calling neglected friends, putting off career development, putting off anything not on fire and needing immediate attention.

When you feel stretched too thin, it's easy to keep putting things off, regardless of their importance.

But I am putting a stake in the ground. No more putting off taking care of me. All the other stuff will still be there waiting.