Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa's Wishes

This year, instead of giving Santa Claus milk and sugar cookies, like everyone else (we figure that he's pretty sick of all those sweet treats), we're going to give him whiskey and carrots (We are also probably going to include a carrot for each reindeer, just to be fair). Last year we also gave him carrots; though not the whiskey. Let's wish a merry, merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


The Bobber (aka Pretzel, the fluffier/more OCD of our two cats) likes anything even slightly buttery... such as this morning's toast.

Is that TOAST I spy? With BUTTER!
Lucky for Nimue, I rescued it just before the cat actually got in a lick... but only just!


Santa's Helper

Nimue says Anna's new bike jersey makes her look like Santa... well, maybe a slightly demented, capon-weilding Santa's helper? You be the judge! And yes, that is really a capon. I always thought "capon" was just a renaissance term for chicken, but apparently capons are a bit bigger. Now we're thinking about recipes for a whole renaissance meal (but not for *this* Christmas; maybe next...)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Business Day Chaos

Today was Business Day for the first trimester at our school, and I was selling Sweeping the Skies Kittens, their best friends (caterpillars), and broomsticks. I sold out (yay!), and I hope next Business Day will turn out as good as this one did.

The object of Business Day is to make a wonderful product (You need 20), make up a price under $2000 Charger Cash (The fake money the school uses for Business Day), make a poster, fill out the forms, and sell your product on the assigned day. Only the fourth-graders do it, and on Business Day, the fourth-grade rooms are chaos. It makes me tired just thinking about it!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Trials and Joys of Ma

Decide for yourself which are trials and which are joys:

Still choosing a New Year's card picture, given Nimue's apparent desire to be Calvin. (Yes, ours are officially designated as New Year's cards rather than Christmas...)

Old commute bike suffered one too many broken parts.

New commute/adventure bike: the Salsa Vaya. The shop (Roaring Mouse) was nice enough to build up an orange frame with a triple for me, even though the orange one doesn't usually come with this gearing. This thing is awesome -- fun to ride on the road, while still quite capable on dirt singletrack. She likes climbing dirt roads best. And she is definitely a she, as well as being a big happy orange bunny rabbit of a bike.

Cherry Chase Band concert. Nim got to do a duet. (Concert recordings coming in a later post, so you too can enjoy.)

Malfunctioning flute discovered the afternoon of said concert.

Lots of singing, for both Ma and Nim. Nimue's group (Cantabile Youth Singers) is quite good, given the ages of the singers; mine (Stanford Early Music Singers) is the same as it has always been.

Invasion of the Grammas: Both Linda and my mom visited at the same time last week to see Nim's and my concerts.

Discovered a brand-new section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, sort of by accident. Chad and I rode up Sierra Road in San Jose, with the notion of exploring side bits off of it, and found a beautiful new trail that wound its way back down to Alum Rock Park. Leaving your exact route open to serendipity has its rewards.

Mountain biking in the frost with my Frost.

Full moon hike up at Montebello Open Space Preserve last night. It was docent-led, but truly excellent to be allowed to hike to the top of Black Mountain in the dark, with views of the twinkling Bay Area lights spread out in front of us in one direction and moonlit hills rolling off toward the ocean in the other.

10-foot Christmas tree (labelled as a 7- to 8-footer) that had to be trimmed to fit in the living room. I put it up myself, with only minor help from Nimue. Now I'm in denial about her need to put up ornaments today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

We ate the photographic evidence

2011 Thanksgiving menu:

Caramelized onion tart
Goat cheese on crackers with pickled bay capers
Bacon, avocado, and cucumber sushi (Nimue's contribution)

Main Course of excess:
Rosemary-Juniper dry-rubbbed turkey with celery acorn stuffing
Roasted potatoes with bacon cream (adapted from Sunset)
Homemade dinner rolls (with recipe from my college friend Di)
Roasted cauliflower and kale with cilantro, cumin, and sesame (adapted from Sunset0
Roasted mixed veggies with balsamic glaze
Green beans and asparagus in tarragon white sauce
Cranberry-gin sauce (Sunset recipe)

I forgot to make the gravy. Ooops.

Dessert (all baked by Sarah)
Apple pie
Pumpkin pie
Chocolate pecan pie

Lots of good wine.

Hope you all enjoyed your dinner as much as we enjoyed ours. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One of my pictures

The local open space district used one of my photographs in their winter newsletter. It's the one of Ravenswood Open Space Preserve on page 6 at this link. Yay. Micro-fame.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bay Nut Pinwheel Cookies

I took a couple of native edibles workshops given by Jolie Egert of Go Wild Consulting in the last few months, and one of the more interesting things she had for us to sample was a surprising chocolate-like substance that was made from the seed of the fruit off of California Bay trees. There are LOTS of these trees around, so I devoted a mellow bike ride a couple of weeks ago to pick up roadside bay fruits for experimentation.

The fruit itself is pretty nasty (I tasted), but the nuts inside were what I was really after. After removing all the squishy bits, I tossed the nuts into the oven on a cookie sheet and started to roast them. After a few minutes, there was a bizarre noise -- the shells had started to crack and as a result, nuts were bouncing everywhere in the oven. I had to put a piece of foil on top to restrain the little buggers.

Fun toasty smells ensued. After about 30 minutes, I pulled them out and shelled them, as they had started to brown and I didn't want to overdo it. At this point, I sampled one of the darker ones. Mmmm. Interesting toasty, slightly bitter, nutty flavor with underlying complexity reminiscent of chocolate. Chopped up, these would make a nice garnish on a number of things.

Unfortunately, not all of them were quite as brown. I think on average they were under-roasted, but didn't realize this until after grinding them all up in the food processor into a paste and adding some powdered sugar and dry milk. The paste looked promising, but had a vile sort of sour, leafy aftertaste. What am I doing eating weird plants anyway????

What to do, what to do? Clearly there were some flavor components that should have been roasted all the way out, but weren't. I didn't want to toss the sludge into the oven at high temperature, lest I end up with a horrible burnt sugar mess, so I put in a pot on the stove on low heat, hoping that the weird flavor components would be volatile enough to come out with gentle heating. After half an hour, it was clear that this was improving things, but slowly.

I left the goo on low heat on the stove all day, occasionally stirring and tasting it, until the acidic aftertaste was gone. Yay. Another miraculous recovery. (So many things in our kitchen need magic recovery treatments...)

The resulting substance is interesting. Sort of nutty, sort of chocolatey, with a lot of underlying flavor complexity. It's gooey at just over room temperature, but completely solid at refrigerator temperature.

I took part of it and made pinwheel cookies, which all three of us like. Even the kid deems them yummy!

Bay Nut Pinwheel Cookies (base dough recipe from my friend Sarah)

whisk together
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda

beat on medium until fluffy and well blended
11 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg

gradually beat in until well combined
3 oz cream cheese softened and cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp lemon zest

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until smooth. Divide dough in half.
Mix 4-6 oz sweetened bay nut goo into half of the dough (pick the amount that tastes good to you)

Refrigerate until slightly firm (1 hour). Roll out each half of the dough into a rectangle (very sticky, so do this between sheets of wax paper with a liberal dusting of flour), stack the rectangles, and roll them into a log. Roll the log up in wax paper twisting the ends.
Freeze for at least 3 hours (or up to a month)

To bake, place 1/8 inch thick slices on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 7-11 minutes until tinged with brown at the edges.

11/21/2011: a better roast on the next batch


We just got our first Christmas card in the mail today. It's not even Thanksgiving! Of course, stores have had Christmas displays up for a month already, so no wonder people are confused.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another fine mountain bike ride with Nim at Coe

The excellent kid had a nice ride at Hunting Hollow again.

We liked the moss,

the water-droplet-covered tarantula,

and the fall colors!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yosemite in pictures

We took a quick trip up to Yosemite to make good use of the three-day weekend.

A bit of rain on Friday didn't stop the fun. It didn't help Nim keep her tongue in her mouth, either.

The rain in the valley did lead to a nice dusting of snow on Half Dome Saturday morning. We spent a cozy night in our tent cabin.

Nim thinks the shuttle bus is fun, despite the wait and the teeming hordes of others getting on at the same time.

Spectacular conditions for the hike up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Don't we look angelic?

Ice on the John Muir Trail, coming back down from Nevada Falls. At one point, a big bit of ice and snow slid shooting over the trail from above, down into the abyss below. Staying close to the rock face was definitely the best strategy.

Mist in the valley during our pre-brunch hike on Sunday.

Time to run back to the Ahwahnee for brunch. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Do I Have in My Pocketses

When you're Ma, you end up with a lot of weird stuff crammed into pockets, bags, and otherwise affixed to the bicycle.

You can take a road ride with a stapler in your jersey pocket (needed for before-school garden club registration, on the way to to the ride)

Loose change found on the road: a no-brainer.

The occasional hammer, scissors, screwdriver, etc. that fall off of contractor trucks. I can't seem to pass these things up.

A gigantic Bowie knife (found on the edge of a very obscure road up on the ridge), complete with case (found 10 feet down same road) in your jersey pocket makes it feel distinctly like you're riding with a sword strapped to your back for the 35 miles it takes to get back home. Take that, vile automobiles! I don't even want to know what the other cyclist who passed me from behind just before I got home thought. (Note the ballpoint pen, for scale)

Many and varied groceries, musical instruments, sporting equipment, and other detritus of family life in the suburbs.

A 10 lb box of satsumas (on SALE!) balanced across the handlebars.

This morning was one of the weirder ones, though. Yesterday, when I was out on a road ride, I noticed a huge drop of good-sized acorns along side the road, and decided to return later to retrieve them. Necessary for Thanksgiving, don't you know? The experimental acorn bread made earlier in the year was good enough to warrant further experimentation, especially as those were the few puny acorns from the initial drop and not the bigger, less buggy, more numerous ones from the main October drop. I had spotted two corners that looked to be good collection sites, with lots of acorns, and some modicum of a safe place off the edge of the road for me to collect.

It was the mountain bike and a backpack for me this morning, as I thought it would be fun to ride the dirt along the train tracks on the way over to the collection site (and maybe there would be more acorns or other local feral delicacies to be had), instead of the commute bike with the large pannier bags.

Ooop. Always take the Big Bag.

I collected quite a few acorns from a spot along the railroad track dirt and put them in a plastic bag in the backpack, and then rode up the hill to the planned collection spot. I did stop at one additional unplanned spot and picked up some more, giving a total in the backpack of about 5 lb at this point. After a couple more corners, there was planned spot #1, aka the Mother Lode.

I nestled my bike in a pile of leaves on the side of the road where it was out of any possible traffic and yet wouldn't fall down into the creek, set the backpack down next to it, and pulled out a plastic Target bag to put the new acorns in, figuring I'd probably double what I already had, and bent over to start collecting. Then I just sat -- the acorns were so thick on the ground that all the bending over was clearly not the way to go. Cars whizzed by, bikes climbed slowly by, their riders giving me quizzical looks. I just kept picking up the nuts, which had pretty much paved the shoulder in a uniform, densely-packed layer of vegetable protein. Pick up acorns, scoot bottom over six inches, pick up more acorns, scoot again...

After a mere 10 minutes, I sat up to stretch, and the Target bag, now overfull, spilled a little. Hmmm. Said Target bag is actually bigger than the backpack, and the plastic is beginning to stretch, making the self-rending of said bag into a spiderweb of holes imminent. Uh Oh.

Acorns WON'T FIT into backpack.

But I'm not even done with this patch.

Plastic bag will BREAK if picked up off the ground.


I filled up all my pockets in my clothing with as many as I could, but the remainder still would not fit into the backpack. But -- O Glorious Moment -- my emergency fabric bag that rolls up into its own pocket was in my vest pocket. I poured as many acorns into the backpack as I could, and the rest into the fabric bag, thinking that I could ride gently home with the bag hanging off my handlebars.

Now the bag-off-the-handlebar maneuver takes some skill, lest the bag start wobbling and run into the wheels. I'm reasonably well-practiced at this, due to the occasional optimistic miscalculation of volume of groceries purchased. In my less-practiced student days I accidentally sliced up a bag of peaches in my front spokes turning into the apartment driveway, but this never happens any more.

This time, however, it wasn't going to work. Too much weight in the bag and a curvy descent home. Plus there was so much weight in the backpack that my balance was all funny anyway.

Next thought: Balance bag on top of the handlebars.

No dice. Too floppy. I could, however, run the waist and sternum straps from the backpack through the bag's handles and sort of balance the bag on the top tube. Hard to pedal due to the fat bag of loot balanced at knee level, but the weight was at least centered on the bike and couldn't get stuck in the wheels.

I rode this way about halfway home (mostly downhill, aside from a minor climb that just seemed egregious), until I couldn't stand the awkward pedaling any more. Didn't want to damage a knee or a foot by pedaling with my knees pointed out at some goofy angle.

Ok, now what? I threaded the bag through the waist strap of the backpack so that it was hanging behind me instead of in front of me and cinched up the strap as tight as I could so that the bag wouldn't droop onto the back wheel. How much air do I have in the back shock anyway? Lots of weight pulling the strap back. Acorns trying to cut me in half with the strap. Ow Ow ow. But I could pedal.

Ow ow ow a few more miles home.

Tried to take backpack+bag off, got tangled, and fell over. How much does this thing weigh, anyway?

Answer: almost 50 lb. Which really isn't that much weight, had it been well distributed instead of dangling off at odd angles. If I had, say, taken the bike with the rack and big pannier bags. Hmpf.

Keep in mind that 45 lb of this was picked up in one spot in about 10 minutes. No wonder acorns were such a staple in the local diet for so long. Tasty, easy to gather, and plentiful.

Now all that remains (besides processing the acorns) is to decide whether to repeat the process tomorrow to harvest from the other site I had been aiming for, or whether perhaps we have enough...

Trust me, it's heavier than it looks.

Halloween in Pictures

Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween Preview

Question: Why is Ma beheading a rubber chicken after dinner, even though she's tired from a ride with 7500 feet of climbing, including a substantial dirt section, earlier in the day?

Answer: Nimue is going to be a prairie girl who is making chicken for dinner for Halloween. Costume required for school parade and Fall Festival today. The cardboard cleaver, still to be made, is not needed for school event, since fake weapons are banned. We're sort of skimming the edge of the "No blood" rule (with her teacher's blessing).

Note: The decapitated chicken has been carefully engineered with magnets so the head can be detached and reattached.

There's an excellent demented juxtaposition of the cute and the macabre that seems to come in at this age.

Friday, October 14, 2011

My mom has peeps

A quote in a email from my mother this week "Of course I'll have to run it by the appropriate peeps at work."

Not being of the young social-networking-addicted set myself, what I envision when I see "peeps" are these:

My mom had a great fondness for them, so Peeps always appeared in our Easter baskets as kids, regardless of how well we liked them or not in any given year.

Now she has a fondness for Facebook, and it appears to be affecting her slang vocabulary. One sort of expects this to happen with one's children, but clearly my mom is a special case :)

I've been chuckling all week.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Levi's Gran Fondo, Willow Creek dirt

Just another little weekend ride -- this time Levi's Gran Fondo, up by Santa Rosa.

I could write about the crazy zoo on the road that comes from having a mass start of 7500 cyclists all at the same time.

Or the climb up King Ridge.

Or the cloud/rain we rode into, despite a clear forecast and balmy conditions at the start.

Or the treacherous steep slippery descent down to Hauser Bridge, only to find a bad crash at the bottom, and the subsequent subdued climb back into the fog.

Or the freezy windy lunch stop with supposed coastal views, or for that matter any views at all, entirely obscured by fog.

Or the glorious moment near Meyers Grade where the strip of bright light under the fog bank resolved itself into a view of the sea stacks in the ocean near Jenner.

But what I really enjoyed, and what set this ride apart from others this year, was Willow Creek Road. At about 70 miles in, we had the choice of continuing along Highway 1 into the headwind and coping with the still-teeming hordes of cyclists and the inevitable boneheaded jockeying for position that always occurs when there are that many people on the road, or turning inland onto Willow Creek Road for an advertised dirt road climb option. Needless to say, when everyone around us zoomed straight on up 1, we turned left.

Ah, bliss. It was quiet. It was protected from the wind. It was pretty. No one followed us. An oasis of calm in the middle of the crowded circus that is this type of ride. We rode along for a couple of miles on a flattish section for a few miles, watching the pavement degrade into dirt and dodging the occasional pit of deep gravel. Quiet. Warm. How could it be that we were riding in chilly windy fog surrounded by other riders with worrisome habits just half an hour ago?

Then things really got good. We went around a gate (meaning no cars for a few miles!) and started to climb. The road surface was fine for skinny tires, being well-packed gravel/dirt mixture, and the road climbed steadily, but not too steeply up. One could worry that we were on the wrong route, but for the bicycle tracks striping their way up ahead of us. Said bike tracks were quite handy at the one ambiguous unmarked intersection.

The road climbed quite predictably and steadily; I think it averaged somewhere between 5 and 6% overall, with only two short bits that were steep enough that one had to pay attention to traction. The road surface and gradient reminded me a lot of the Butano Fire Road down in our neck of the woods.

For a long time, the only people we saw were hikers -- it looked like there was a church group on an outing, and they were all quite friendly. At one point, a string of three boys about Nimue's age all held out their hands, wanting high-fives as we rode by. Of course we obliged, despite my vague wondering if I could climb on loose dirt with only one hand on the handlebars at 75 miles into the ride. (I can.)

We did, in the end, see about half a dozen other cyclists on the dirt climb, all of whom cheerily chatted for a moment as we passed. I think the cyclists prone to taking the wacky dirt option self-select to be a jolly bunch -- definitely none of the grim cyclist too busy training to acknowledge others' existence here! I talked to more people on this section than the entire rest of the ride. For that matter, in my experience, the smaller rides like the Summer Solstice ride out by Quincy or the Unknown Coast up by Eureka lead to more interactions between riders (at least more interactions than "On your left!") than some of the big mob scene rides that are more popular. Or maybe they just attract more of a touring crowd than a racing wanna-be crowd. At any rate, we liked the dirt section on this one :)

One other advantage of the dirt option was that it topped out and gave us a little descent to recover before joining back up with the main route, which at that point was in the middle of a big slog of a climb. There's definitely a psychological boost to being able to use momentum to slingshot up the top part of that hill past riders who were stuck in suffering mode. Past that point, all I had to do is follow Chad's (very fast) wheel to dinner at the end.

It had to be a record for a hilly century for me, at 7:08 moving time and 7:37 total. I've ridden a hundred miles faster, but only on pancake-flat roads. Being lazy for a couple of weeks ahead of time (I call it a recovery taper...), and having Chad's wheel to follow through the crazed beginning section was definitely helpful!

I should also mention that the support for this ride was above and beyond the norm. Big green arrows at all the intersections, so I couldn't possibly take a wrong turn, lots of good food (someone handed me a yummy roast beef sandwich as I rode up to the lunch stop, removing the need to even figure out where the food was), plenty of racks for bikes at the stops and well-organized volunteers to manage everything, giant delicious paella at the end.

The 95% of the riders who didn't do the dirt really missed out. Except perhaps Chad's buddy Randy, who didn't do the dirt, but by virtue of being long-time riding partner with the founder of Specialized, got to start up in the front with Levi and take advantage of the VIP dinner afterward. Though I guess that meant he missed out on the paella, so we still probably came out ahead on the enjoyment scale.

Scruffy us waiting for food.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

New appliance

Chad and I are happy to have a functional fridge in the kitchen again, finally. The small one is more excited about the box.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Feral Food

8:30am is clearly Turkey Time at Long Ridge this time of year -- the preserve was positively infested with them this morning when I went mountain biking. I don't know how to hunt them, and the preserves are off-limits for that sort of aggression anyway, but every time I came around a corner, there they were, gobbling away and making me hungry.

It's also acorn season. I finally got around to collecting some this year, after seeing a talk by Jolie Egert of Go Wild over at Hidden Villa. Right now, they are drying in the oven, filling the house with a sweet, nutty aroma. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of it all -- the first batch is some crummy small live oak acorns, which will probably be a pain in the butt to shell, but I have another batch of bigger ones too. I got to taste acorns in various stages of processing at the workshop, so am at least not flying totally blind on this one.

Please note that these acorns were collected along side the local roads, and not in the preserves, where collecting anything at all is forbidden. I probably looked like a complete goofball picking up orts from the side of the road in my bike helmet, with the bike leaned over against the bushes, but what else is new?

Feral Food

I ran across a package of meat at Sprouts the other day that was too interesting to pass up:
It was the "From feral swine" part that got me -- it conjured up memories of herb-scented sun-baked late afternoon hillsides at Henry Coe State Park. These inevitably are haunted by boar if one waits until sunset.

But what does one do with ground up feral pig? My solution was meatballs.

Mix the meat with a slice's worth of ground up sourdough bread, a small chopped onion, a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary, and some salt and pepper. (Garlic would've been good too, but Nim can't eat it!) Make 2" meatballs.

Brown the meatballs in some olive oil on the stove, then pop them into the oven at 350 for 10 minutes to finish cooking. Pour off the excess oil, deglaze the delicious fond with red wine sludge, add a can of pureed plum tomatoes, season with italian herb seasoning and salt/pepper, and toss the whole mess over pasta. We had some leftover green beans too.

Mmmmmm. Tasty beasties. The meatballs were noticeably more flavorful than ones made with the usual supermarket meat selection. You just gotta love the weird meats case.