Sunday, December 23, 2012

Take 17 - It happened just the other evening ......

It happened just the other night ......

I was just about to start preparing dinner when I heard on the news that a gunman had been spotted on the San Jose City College campus and that the school was now in 'lockdown'. This, only four days after the horrific event in Connecticut ! Someone had called the police to say a man carrying a gun had been seen on campus. The previous day, another call had come in with the caller claiming a person on campus was brandishing a knife. SJCC is a 5-minute walk from where we live. It's located on a very large landscaped and treed lot which includes many buildings, a football field, a fastball field, indoor and outdoor parking lots, and loads of other installations. I often go walking there with our Golden Retriever. Everyone is always very cool about him, stopping to pet him and ask questions about him and on weekends, I often leave him off leash to run on the grassy areas. In a few minutes, I started hearing helicopters hovering nearby. I could see through my kitchen window that the spotlights were on at the school's football field. David, who usually walks home from his shuttle stop and passes right in front of SJCC every night, was going to get a lift home that evening. I would pick him up. I also have to drive by the school to go get him so soon observed that  part of the street was blocked with police cars and several members of a SWAT team could be seen searching around. It was a scary scene, even if I just saw it for a few seconds from my car window. Then, after a few hours and to make a long story short, it was reported that the whole thing had been a hoax. However, SJPD and the SWAT team did not treat it as a hoax and proved they could be there in a hurry, if need be. A reporter on tv made a connection with the fact that it was also exam time. Could someone actually be so STUPID to commit such an act as stage a hoax to avoid taking his or her final exam ??? I suppose, in this day and age, the answer would be yes.  Such an operation deploying personnel and equipment is not only extremely costly but nerve wracking for personnel and students at the school. Some students and teachers stayed locked many hours in several classes until they received the all clear from authorities. Not to speak of people living in the neighborhood who were very disturbed by the event. The news report also mentioned there would be a follow-up to trace the call and text sent in to the SJPD.

The very next day, Taylor and I resumed our walk through the Campus and even sat on ''our bench'', enjoying the sunshine. Yes, we do have our bench where he drags me each time either to drink water to just to chill. He jumps up and sits close beside me. Such a smart dog. Thank God it was only a hoax !

 I have been meaning to talk about La Gruellense, which is a Drive-Thru taco place located on San Carlos, in downtown San Jose. The tacos there literally melt in your mouth. There are several tables outside but the best part is the drive-thru where you speak face-to-face with a smiling employee to place your order wait a few minutes and are on your way home or office or park to enjoy your delicious tacos. So far, we have enjoyed the chicken and carnitas ones. There are a few other items on the menu but so far, we have only been drooling over those two. Here is the address: 400 West San Carlos Street. Oh, and did I mention they are dirt cheap ?  It's really a win/win !

And, while we are on the subject of food, here is another wonderful and easy recipe.

California Guacamole
2 avocados
1 small white onion chopped
1 garlic clove minced
1 ripe tomato chopped
1 lime juiced
Salt + Pepper to taste

Peel avocados and put them in a medium bowl, mashing them with a fork against the bowl. Stir in onion, garlic, tomato and lime juice + salt and pepper. Chill 30 minutes to blend flavors.

Bon appétit !

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Take 16 - One-Year Anniversary

A year ago today, I was arriving in California on Air Canada and saying "hello" to my adoptive Country and coveted State. So far and for the most part, life has been great here. So now I have put together a list of  a few things I've learned, in no particular order and bearing no degree of importance.

A) don't hand over your credit/debit card at the store when it's time to pay....... .no one will take it anyway. You slide it into the slot yourself and enter your info.

B) if you see something you like in a store, buy it!  It will not be there when you decide to return for it and you will hate yourself. Besides, stores here have unbelievable return policies and you will be refunded almost everywhere. So go ahead and shop ! Also, there are tons of coupons for all stores in newspapers, in the mail and online. Competition is fierce here and every store works hard to get your money and they will do what it takes to get you to come back.

C) you can grow fruit bearing trees in containers on your balcony in San Jose. Lemons, oranges, figs and olives.  I even cured my own olives. Yes, it is probably the smallest production in the world but right now they are curing and resting. We will taste the fruit of my labor at the end of January. As for the lemons and oranges ? It will be a while but still, it's terribly exciting !

D) in a medical emergency, you call your physician who meets you at the hospital. Here, differently than in Canada, you get your physician's phone number. The relationship is a more personal one.

E) in the US, there are only two days in the year when everything comes to a grinding halt and those days are Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Make sure you have everything you need or go without until the next day, when things return to normal. However, this year, some stores are talking about tagging on Thursday evening to Black Friday. Who will win this one, the employees who would rather have the complete day off or the big chain stores who want to up their Holiday Season sales ?

F) here in the USA, there is mail delivery 6 days a week .... a little luxury we have quickly taken for granted. Yes it's a costly luxury for the country to maintain this extra day of mail service and one day it will end but meanwhile we are enjoying it immensely.

G) in Vancouver, we hardly used our car. I had to go down in the underground parking, start our car and drive around the block  2 or 3 times to make sure it would start when needed. Here, no need for that little exercise. There is nothing we can buy or pick up within walking distance. Our 12 year old car is growing up at warp speed. When we left Vancouver, the odometer showed the equivalent of 50,000 miles. Now, we use it every day and sometimes several times a day. In an average family where there are two or three children of driving age, you often see 3-4 cars. Life can be really nightmarish here without a car.

H) in California, hair stylists are graduates of a trade school, differently from in British Columbia where the stylists are taught and expected to practice for a number of hours and then they are done.  The difference is quite apparent. The ones I have met are  highly experienced, creative and extremely responsible. I love the results.

I) Need to go to the DMV, make an appointment. You will save yourself half a day. Those people mean well but they are short staffed and often have to deal with people of all kinds, which can take a long time per individual.

I could go on, but I won't. Vacationing in a place and living in it permanently are two completely different things. On vacation, we tend to see life through rose colored glasses and why not ? Vacation is a time to indulge in fantasies. Every day life can be seen through clear lenses and as most of it is great a small part of it can be downright daunting. All this being said, California is a great place to live and after one year, I am still thrilled to be here.

Here is comfort food at its best.

Gingerbread Cake

1/2 cup of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 egg
2-1/2 cup of flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup molasses
1 cup hot water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in egg.
2. Stir together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt.
3. Combine molasses and water and add to butter mixture alternately with flour mixture. Beat until creamy.
4. Grease or line 8 inch square pan with wax paper. Pour in batter and bake 50-60 minutes. Serve plain or with toppings like whipped cream or applesauce. I serve it with applesauce because I love the contrast of the two flavors.

Enjoy !


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Take 15 - The Election

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was an H4 and my husband an H1B. That is our status here in the USA. My husband's H1B is a work visa, renewable once after three years. With this visa, you may apply for a social security number, a very important item needed for a number of things including opening a bank account, establishing an account with the utility companies, getting cable applying for a credit card, getting car insurance and in loads of other situations.. With an H4, you are not entitled to apply for a Social Security Number. Instead you get a Tax Identification Number which is also difficult to obtain and which can be used in some instances when asked for a Social Security Number. Also, with his H1B visa, my husband may start procedures for a Green Card (which is actually not green) and, at the same time, request one for me. My H4 is the visa granted to a dependent (spouse/children) with no work privileges. Also, renewable after three years. All this being said, we watch the election procedures but are not eligible to vote. However, we are allowed to make donations to the party of our choice, should we decide to do so. We have watched the debates and have commented privately about each candidate but one thing we are fascinated with is the electoral process. It is a very complicated process. An archaical procedure that was put together when there was no mean of rapid communication and travel of any kind. Mo Rocca is a CBS journalist who has a very simple explanation to this complex process. Here is a link to that video which is extremely interesting and a simple explanation to a crazy complicated process:

After watching this video is it any clearer now ? If you are anything like me, probably not! If I met someone who was well versed on the subject, I would certainly have a couple of questions ! Despite not being an active participant in this election, I did, however, volunteer my time to a Democratic Grassroots Campaign group here in California. Because California is historically known as a Blue State, we were trained in calling voters in Ohio, an important swing State. I loved the experience. I got to speak to several Ohioans to find out if they would give their support to President Obama in the upcoming election. Although most people I spoke to were super nice and polite, even if a few of them were supporting and voting for Governor Romney, some of them simply hung up and one lady even asked me if I was kidding, before hanging up the phone. We are warned that this job is not always easy but that they supply snacks and drinks (non-alcoholic, of course) to cheer us up. So cute ! I had never taken part in election action in Canada and wanted to see how it was done here and be part of the action. I would gladly do it again for a particular topic of interest. It's fun to get involved ! Now all we can do is watch and see who wins tonight.
Right now I am crushing on an album....... John Mayer's latest - Born and Raised. I just love those songs. I am listening to it backwards and forwards and love songs that may never be singles such as track number 4 (Speak for me), track number 5 (Something like Olivia) track number 7 (If I ever get around to living). John Mayer may be kind of an ass when it comes to his lack of filter and tact discussing his relationship with women, but when it comes to writing songs, he is no less than brilliant !!!
I have also been crushing on a candy snack called Toffee Talk. It is a piece of toffee topped with a coffee/chocolate mixture which is topped with chopped almonds. Imagine my surprise when while browsing Deb Perelman's brand new cookbook, the Smitten Kitchen (which I urge you to go buy for its myriad of fantastic recipes) I saw and tried a recipe for something that sounded similar. Well, if this recipe were any closer, it would have to be called Toffee Talk. The process may seem daunting, but it is really easy. Here is my version of it.

Toffee Delight

8 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons molasses
1/4 teaspoon regular salt or sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso coffee
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or semi-sweet chopped chocolate
1/2 cup chopped almonds (toasted, skin removed and chopped)
Line a small baking sheet about 9X13 inches with parchment paper.

Attach a candy thermometer to a medium saucepan and melt butter, both sugars, molasses, salt and espresso powder over medium high heat. Cook while whisking occasionally until temp is close to 250 degrees. From then on, whisk constantly until the temp reaches 300 degrees.

Pour the mixture immediately on the prepared baking sheet, spreading it evenly with an offset spatula.
Sprinkle the chocolate over the toffee and let sit until it melts. Spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee.

Sprinkle the chopped almonds over the chocolate. Put baking sheet in freezer until toffee and chocolate are set. Break the toffee into pieces and store in an airtight container.



Friday, September 28, 2012

Take 14 - An eventful month of August

An eventful month of August

For us, the month of August is traditionally known as one where we indulge in some vacation days, celebrate David's birthday and generally chill. However this year, it was nothing close to that, although attempts were made to go on with the usual customs and traditions. Reservations were made at a dog friendly hotel in Carmel-by-the-sea, doubts about leaving for Carmel grew larger after a certain medical mishap hit me like a Mack truck, ignorance of the American way of doing things during a medical emergency set us back and a series of tos-and-fros had us in limbo for many days and in awe of the human body's resilience.

Without going into too many details, let's just say that after 9 units of American blood over a 10 day-period, I am now feeling much much better. Does that now mean I am half American :-) ?  I will have to look into that!!! But seriously, an event such as the one we(and I say we, because it affected David probably more than it did me) went through leaves you wondering how people fend for themselves facing such issues and at times with very little resources.I was actually very lucky that it happened when it did and that I was in such capable hands as my husband David's and the wonderful professionals I encountered.

At this point, I must speak of the medical facilities I visited during my ordeal. The first one, a Government subsidized establishment, where we unknowingly went because it was the closest to our home and secondly the private one where I was twice admitted as a patient. Here, in the USA, in case of an emergency and if you have medical insurance coverage, you call your physician or Health Care Provider who will meet at the hospital where he or she is practicing. Unlike in Canada where you go to the closest Emergency facility and wait your turn, just as we did here at the public place. At about 6:45 pm,when we arrived at the public hospital, the place was already crowded, sadly, probably mostly with uninsured people and we now had to wait our turn, just as everyone else, to even speak to the first triage nurse. I suppose if you can walk in, as I did, you can sit and wait. Finally it was my turn and after a quick evaluation and to avoid the prospect of  being slapped with a lawsuit should one have a heart attack while in their <care>,  I was taken to a small room for an EKG just to rule out any surprises. After that we waited, and waited and waited some more. After more than 5 hours without seeing a doctor, I decided we should go back home since, coincidentally, I had an appointment scheduled with my physician for a routine visit the following morning.

The next day, we learned of how different things can be when you have insurance coverage and know how to use it. My physician made a few calls and we drove out to Mountain View to the private facility where I was quickly seen and admitted for a procedure and the first overnight stay. This private place is El Camino Hospital (This one I am willing to name) which David and I have since nicknamed THE SPA, although I also heard it being called THE FOUR SEASONS, by someone in the know. First at the ER, you are processed at lightning speed and when taken to a cubicle, a whole team is immediately upon you taking your vitals, installing all manners of monitoring devices on you, making you comfortable and prepping you for hydration, etc. Just like in movies or tv shows, they work quickly and efficiently and look like a well coordinated ballet.  This hospital has to be the best place to land when something major happens to you. It is, after all, The Official Hospital of Silicon Valley. I was even told by several member of medical personnel that of all the hospitals in the region (and there are many) this one is where all serious and dedicated staff want to work and where people want to go for the best care.  It is the most advanced facility around. The wing I was in is about two years old with state of the art equipment including robots that look like small filing cabinets roaming the halls on certain floors to deliver or pick up all kinds of things including lab samples, documents, meals, etc. On the patient floors, the rooms are spacious, super modern and comfortable. Almost like a hotel room, but not quite due to all the tubes delivering goodies into your body :-) The personnel is outstanding and a full team is assigned to you per work shift. You have a personal and direct contact with the people taking care of you and should you request something, it is delivered to you very quickly. There is a glass board on the wall underneath a flat screen television and for each work shift the name of the RN, PN and of several other individuals in charge of your care are listed along with the date, your weight and your height and special notes relative to your case and well being. They truly go above and beyond the call to make you better and it really works.  Oh, and let's not forget the totally Wi-Fi service, a definite plus when you are trapped in bed. :-) .However, I did not have much of an opportunity to sample their cuisine since I was mostly on a liquid to soft diet and anything they allowed me to have I gobbled up indiscriminately. 

 A million thanks to ECH medical and miscellaneous personnel and to the wonderful team of professionals at El Camino GI Medical Associates. By the way, during procedure number 3, the anesthesiologist gave me a drug made famous by none other than Mr. Michael Jackson. Propofol also known as Diprivan. Thankfully for me it worked beautifully and given under close professional supervision,  it is a wonderful drug when you need to be rendered unconscious. Finally, let me add that the body is a wonderous machine and that I am thankful for how well mine performed in those trying times.

I may still not be allowed to have a glass of wine or a spicy meal of any kind  but I certainly can have a wonderful salad so enjoy the following recipe.

Apple and Celery Salad

Serves 4-6

2 large Granny Smith apples
4 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 large bunch of celery
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup of raisins
1-2 tsp cumin seeds
4-6 Tbs finely chopped parsley
1 cup toasted peanuts, almonds or cashews
salt and black pepper to taste
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

Rinse the apples,dry and cut into quarters, core and chop into bite size pieces. Place in a salad bowl. Drizzle with half the lemon juice. Rinse celery, dry and remove all outer filaments. Chop into bite size pieces and add to bowl. Add garlic, raisins, cumin, parsley and nuts. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining lemon juice and the oil. Toss well and serve.

Bon appetit !

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Take 13 - Trifecta

What can you say when you have three activities on your calendar and all three leave you enchanted and in awe.

On July 20th, we attended a show of Cavalia. Banners and posters all around San Jose showed a wonderful picture of a horse and at the bottom, a quote from Jay Leno that said it was the greatest show he had ever seen. Well, I totally agree with Mr. Leno. It is THE GREATEST SHOW I have ever seen ! Cavalia is the baby of one of the co-creators of Cirque du Soleil, also from Montreal and if you have enjoyed any show of Cirque du Soleil, chances are you will love Cavalia. Now, neither my husband nor I are horse people. I may have ridden a total of 3 times in my life and I don't even know whether David has ever even been on a horse. However, we were mesmerized by this show. Who knew horses had a sense of humor, reverence, respect and could be totally playful ? Every one of them is male and after a little reflection and imagination, you will figure out why. The performers on stage with them are totally awesome with their incredible skills and talents but the star focus is always on the horses. After the show we had tons of questions that will probably never be answered. Questions like what kind of training they received, where they lived, how they traveled from one show to the next, etc. The sets were beautiful and the music soothing. You often forgot you were sitting under a huge tent and really felt part of the show. A wonderful evening from which we still remain totally mesmerized and in awe as well as with an new found respect for these wonderful creatures and their trainers.

The next activity was Chicago, the Musical. A San José local production, presented in a tiny theater (City Lights Theater on 2nd Avenue in downtown San José ) with 6 musicians and about 20 actors/singers/dancers. It was totally delightful. All actors were Bay Area performers and were all very talented. The whole thing was very cosy. 120 seats at the most with seats set in a half circle. We were seated in the center of the third row.  Perfect seats. You even get to pick your own seat. How perfect is that ? As long as you get there early, that is ! I had seen several musicals in the past but it was a first for David. What a great experience for a newbie to be sitting in such an intimate setting. As we left, we picked up the program of this theater's future productions and as we read through it, we promised ourselves to return. They only produce one musical a year and it seems to be only in the summertime. Can't wait for the next show which is a regular play to be presented this Fall.

Finally, the third activity is just for me, well kinda..... What I mean is that I take the class but David will reap the benefits. I have signed up for a Cheesemaking class at Sur la table. Now I must talk about Sur la table. The name is kind of self explanatory, from the French, on the table.  I have been fascinated by that store for years and there are none in Canada (that is there were none when I left Vancouver almost 9 months ago). David was certain I would start over indulging the minute we got here but, I have been most reasonable.  One good reason is I have the tiniest kitchen with the tiniest cupboards and a total lack of counter space. When we move from here, that will become a totally different situation. But seriously now, Sur la table is to anyone who likes preparing and eating food, the equivalent of a child at TOYSrUS or better still FAO Schwarz. There is every imaginable pot, pan, mold, tool, coffeemaker, utensil, gadget,etc. Furthermore, people there are very very knowledgeable and friendly. When I found out they also had classes, I was overjoyed and signed up for the cheesemaking one which has taught me how to make Ricotta and Mozzarella. What a great class ! The Chef was super friendly and a great teacher. Ricotta is so easy to make, it's almost child's play. Mozzarella is more complicated and demands a few more steps. We also got to make gnocchi and ice cream with the ricotta. Just so good. The group of students was made up of 8 ladies (including myself) and three of them had Italian roots. Everyone was down to earth but fanatical and very knowlegeable about food. A wonderful group. I will certainly go for other classes at Sur la table. For $69 you get a 2-hour class of very high quality in a small group and get to eat everything you make. You also get a coupon to purchase equipment or supplies at the store.

Now, I don't know about you but all of this talk of food, food prep and food equipment is making me hungry, so here is a fantastic recipe I borrowed from David Lebovitz's website. I tweaked it a bit and made it my own. You can make it your own as well.  Enjoy !

Israeli Salad
Serves 1 to 2
1 ripe tomato1 medium cucumber, or 3 small ones ( I love the tasty Persian cucumbers)1 medium carrot, peeled2-3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion5 red globe radisheshalf a small beet, peeled (I love yellow beets, if you can find them)half a small Jicama, peeled and dicedlarge handful of arugula, lettuce or baby spinach1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro2/3 cup mixed nuts and seeds (such as walnuts, sliced almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds – coarsely chopped)1/3 cup crumbled Feta or firm goat cheese2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or lime juice  (more if preferred)2-3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil (or more)sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Chop all of the vegetables into the tiniest cubes you can manage. Preferably 1/4 inch thick (or Brunoise, as the French call it). Gather the arugula or other greenery into a tight bunch and slice into thin shards. This makes the salad fluffier and easier to chew.
2. Toast the nuts in an empty skillet (no oil required) over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan frequently, taking care not to burn them (watch out for pumpkin seeds, as they tend to ‘pop’ while toasting). Toast until the aroma is released and the nuts take on the slightest bit of color. Remove from heat and let cool. Again, watch carefully as you get busy with another task and your nuts or grain burn in a flash.
3. In a medium bowl, mix all of the chopped vegetables with sliced arugula, toasted nuts, and dress with the lemon juice, olive oil, adding salt and pepper to taste (don’t forget that the cheese is salty).
Check for seasoning and add more lemon juice and olive oil to your liking. Top with the crumbled cheese and serve immediately.
Bon appetit !

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Take 12 - Day trips around the Bay Area

Day Trips around the Bay Area

In order to get to know our adoptive State and take advantage of everything California has to offer, we take Day Trips. Usually Saturdays or Sundays, with or without the pooch. San Jose is a great location to start from since it is situated about 1 hour, more or less (depending on traffic) from places like San Francisco, Berkeley, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz and lots more. Now, David is not a natural born driver and neither am I a very comfortable rider. He drives very well but is not one of those rugged drivers who dive into traffic without a care in the world. So that makes him a careful driver (Thank Goodness !) while I sit nervously by his side. Terrified, not of his driving, but of the multitude of cars (and there are so many in California) and I do not often relax on a freeway. Nothing new, I have always been this way. I just breathe deeply and try to think of the place we are going to visit....... So let's get started.

Half Moon Bay

This is a small town located on the Coast, 25 miles south of San Francisco. There are lots of beaches along the Coast but not all of them are dog friendly. After trying several and being told dogs were not welcome, we finally found one where dogs could run free and swim too. This beach is called Poplar Beach and it is really fantastic. Heck, even horses are welcome there. Our dog Taylor had a great time and also feasted on the little gifts the horses left behind. But seriously...... back to the beach. Some of you might say.... A beach, is a beach, is a beach, well I beg to differ. To me a real beach is not the ubiquitous place where towels are lined up and oiled bodies of every size and shape are playing the toast game trying to get that perfect glow with a few sun burns in between. No. To me a real beach is a large expanse of sand where you can walk, barefoot (weather permitting) letting the foamy water caress your feet, wind in your hair and on your face a smile of contentment. Walking on a beach, I feel free, relaxed and totally grateful for the opportunity. That probably comes from having lived in Montreal for so long where most people have, pinned on the wall of their work cubicle, at least one postcard of a beach where they would rather be than in Montreal in the dead of Winter or the heat and humidity of Summer. So dreams do come true.......if you wish hard and long enough. We chose to have our picnic lunch on one of the cliffs overlooking the beach and with the magnificent view. Even a simple sandwich tastes much better in such a setting.

After our lunch, we drove on to Bean Hollow, another beach 17 miles South of Poplar. The South end is a typical beach but the Northern end is the interesting part and again dogs are welcome but this time on a leash. This is a different kind of beach made of pebbles. No towels here and no walk along the shore. Instead, a collection of Tide Pools and old rock formations creating small islands populated by seals. This place is unique and makes for an unusual panorama. Well worth the visit. Then it was time to get back on the road towards Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Another 30 miles South on a beautiful scenic Coast road and we arrive in Santa Cruz. Just the name brings to mind images of hippies and Love and Peace era and some areas of the town still have that feel. Santa Cruz also has a section of beach reserved for dog frolicking. However, by the time we got there (about 3:00 in the afternoon) the temperature had dipped down and the wind was so fierce, we decided to let other people brave the sand storms and the waves and headed back to San Jose to warm up. On a warmer day, Santa Cruz is great to visit, go to the beach and work on your tan (if that is your thing), take a stroll on the Boardwalk and perhaps have a bite to eat. There are lots of great small restaurants and cafés to cater to every taste and budget. As we were making our way out of town, we stumbled upon a little hidden loft mall, made of mom and pop shops, at the corner of Swift and Ingalls, a stone`s throw from the freeway, where you can enjoy some bread, pastries and coffee at Kelly's Bakery and find some more gifts to send the family back East in other quaint shops, including a French importer.

San Francisco

This was our first time ever in SF with our dog. There again we headed for a beach (are we ever good parents,or what?), Ocean Beach - La Playa, and we let him run after a ball to his heart's content or rather until we could no longer feel our fingers from cold (yes, on the 5th of July) because here again, we had over estimated the temperature due to the sweltering heat of San Jose. San Francisco can be quite tricky in the summertime and have beach weather days in the wintertime so you have to be prepared for everything. Next we found Point Lobos, half a mile North, where we stopped at the Cliff House ( and found more nifty little gifts (for the family again) from a California State Park Gift Shop and walked up a hill to Sutro Heights Park where you have the highest point around overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Coast. Quite a lovely spot, again to picnic, if one chooses or simply to walk around and admire the view. Taylor on a leash was also welcome.

Next we drove to the SF pier and after ditching our car in an indoor garage (needless to try and park on the streets of San Francisco when for a few dollars you can park your car indoors, secure and without all of the frustration of parking in a big town) we walked along with the thousands of tourists in town for the July 4th weekend. We had been to SF several times in the past but this was different. This was new. No need to rush or to go buy a thing or two to keep the memory alive. We were not tourists, we were not staying in a hotel that night. SF was our neighbour. Our dog Taylor took to walking the sidewalks with huge crowds quite naturally and we even found a place to have lunch in the sun where he could sit under our table. Lots of dog lovers in San Francisco. This was a perfect day, strolling the streets, in the warm sunshine (Thank you very much) and later taking the long way home to check off our list a few of the smaller towns.


This time, on our own, thanks to our friends Jill and Steve who took on Taylor for the day. We had been to Berkeley in 2005 and had loved it. People here in the Bay Area call it Bezerkeley ! No one has a real explanation for the nickname except that, as one guy told David, ..... there are lots of crazies there. Heck, has anyone ever been on Main Street and Pender in Vancouver, British Columbia or on Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Quebec ? :-) Nowadays, there are crazies everywhere. Berkeley is a university town so there are lots of little shops, great inexpensive restaurants and several book stores worth visiting. The architecture is wonderful, with many streets that are hilly and winding with huge trees creating canopies of shade. Lovely ! We parked our car asap and walked all over, including the Berkeley Campus. For lunch, we went to our old favorite La Burrita, 1832 Euclid Ave ( for some great burritos as we had done 7 years ago. They are still wonderful and although more expensive than in 2005 but still a great bargain.

We have more town in mind for day-trips, so more of this in another post. Now, on to food.

Do you happen to love bananas ? Well,here is the easiest dessert you will ever make and requiring only one ingredient: bananas.

Banana Ice Cream

Plan for one banana per person
Peel and cut bananas in two inch pieces. Put in plastic bag and into the freezer for at least 3 hours.
Put frozen bananas in food processor and process for about five minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula. At first the mixture appears grainy but suddenly turns into the creamiest dessert you will ever taste. Your guests will go Bananas and won't believe it's just Bananas. Trust me on that one. You could sprinkle it with nuts or chocolate bits, if you so desire but it is perfect on its own.

Enjoy !

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Take 11 - Alzheimer's Residence

A while back, my friend and walking buddy, Jill, told me about volunteering at an Alzheimer private Residence here in San Jose. I listened as she started telling me about it but my interest reached its peak when she said she went there with her dog. You see, she is also the parent of a Golden Retriever and her Maggie and my Taylor are best buds. She asked if I would be interested in volunteering there and told me that if I were, she would get in touch with the administrator. I jumped at this opportunity and when after a few days she confirmed I could go, I was elated. I had no doubt Taylor would fit in beautifully because one of his qualities is his leaning habit. For the non dog owners among you, a leaner is a dog who will snuggle up to a stranger and lean into that person to be petted. Golden Retrievers are legendary leaners, love seeking dogs and caress opportunists. A good trait to have for this kind of activity especially when lots of people are wheelchair bound and the main goal is to make them feel somewhat better and sometimes, if you are lucky, make them smile. In order to protect every one's privacy I will not identify the residence nor any of the patients. For our intro visit, Jill was there with Maggie. She introduced us to everyone ...... too many names and faces to  remember all at once, too much to take in, the emotion of it all,  but certain traits and personalities stayed with me. In order to be admitted at that facility, a patient must have been diagnosed with Alzheimer, be it at its early stage or later. You notice right away that you and your dog are tools, instruments in a world that is beyond every day routine. You also leave your ego at the door. No one tells you those things, you figure them out for yourself. The first time I was there, one of the ladies hit me hard on the arm and told me to shut up. One of the nurses, knowing I was new at this, immediately made eye contact with me to gauge my reaction and noticing I wasn't thrown nor shocked, smiled and looked away. Taylor performed beautifully, going to each person and patiently letting each individual touch him and pet him. He also did a few tricks he knows to do when offered a treat. Things went so well, we were invited to return as often as we wanted. I was hooked ! Now, after having been there several times, mostly on my own with Taylor since my friend's and my schedule don't always match, there are things I have noticed, namely, expect the unexpected and leave yourself out of the equation. Some individuals can have perfectly normal conversations some day and the next time you visit not be interested in the same things, repeat some things none stop, temporarily forget your name or be in a foul mood. Another time, it hit be smack in the face ..... all of these people sitting in this dining room had all had a full life, were individuals filled with different interests, held jobs in different fields. I met some who rode horses, some who served in the service and were stationed in Europe, some who painted and drew and still do, some who taught school, some who spoke various languages and still do, some who had had dogs,lots of them did, etc. And now, this disease has reduced them to a fraction of their former self. Going there and volunteering weekly opens my eyes, makes me pay closer attention to people and hopefully makes me a better human being. Those people teach me something each time I go there with Taylor. This disease does not discriminate and it could very well be one of us in there.

Ironically, each time I wrap-up things to leave the residence, pick up Taylor's toys and water bowl and say my goodbyes to everyone promising to return the following week, a lovely lady, the same one each week, always says: Please don't forget us ! 

Summertime is almost here so please find a very refreshing recipe. Don't forget to read the notes.

Watermelon, tomato and cucumber salad 

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cups watermelon chunks
3 cups coarsely chopped heirloom tomatoes
3 cups coarsely chopped cucumbers
1 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped red onion
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Notes: If you can find seedless watermelon, you will save some time and avoid frustration. Also, if you cut    the melon the day before and refrigerate it before making the salad, it will add to that refreshing feeling. Use regular tomatoes if you can't find heirloom and if you are watching calories, use low Feta cheese.

Combine vinegar, salt, pepper and oil; whisk well. Gently toss remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour vinaigrette over salad and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Enjoy !

Monday, May 7, 2012

Take 10 - Odds and ends

Take 10

Odds and ends

With the price of gas so high, ($4.29/gallon in San José) I make a point of seeking the cheapest place to fill up, which just happens to be Costco, and the closest one to me is in Santa Clara. As you enter the parking lot, you can line up to access the pump of your choice. Sometimes there are about 5-6 cars in your queue, so as you wait your turn to fill up and after you have checked your messages on your device, you have time to look around. The other day, as I was waiting and looking around, I noticed something I had never seen. A man exited his car with a plastic shopping bag. He put his hand into the bag  and pressed the buttons on the pad through the plastic bag. He continued this way to remove the cap to his gas tank and then to lift the nozzle and insert into the tank hole. He kept his bag on until he was completely done and then removed the bag, threw it in the trash bin, got into his car and drove away. Was he a germophobe or just someone who hates the smell of gas on his hands ? I'll never know ! Looking to the right, still waiting for my turn and with still nothing better to do,(we do have lots of waiting time here in California, but people do it quietly and patiently, it seems) I noticed another man filling up looking very comfortable in his pajamas bottoms. Only, his pajamas bottoms. I am not making this up, I promise. This guy was shirtless, barefoot and with pajamas bottoms. How much more comfortable can gas buying get ? Other people would have taken a photo of both incidents with their phones but I couldn't. I am Canadian, after all. We are known to be the a polite bunch.

During a trip to Target, I purchased wine. Here in California, there is wine for sale everywhere, even in pharmacies so it is no longer a surprise to find cheap wine $3 a bottle as well as $20+ wines available for every taste, at various shops. No surprise there. The surprise however, came at the till. In Canada, to the eyes of the cashier, if a person could be under age, she will be asked for i.d. Here if you buy it, you have to show i.d., even if you should look to be 99 years old. No discrimination.So you do, no questions asked and no complaints.  Now again at Target, as I was purchasing cold medicine (dayquil/nyquil type) for David last week (my kind and generous husband has now passed on his disease to me, but I digress) I was asked for my i.d. Having nothing to hide, I handed over my brand new California Driver's License, which the cashier quickly proceeded to swipe like a credit card. Seems like it's standard procedure at Target. Needless to say I didn't even bother asking the Target employee, the reason for this and why she didn`t just glance at my birth date. They usually do it because it's company policy and no other reason is given. David thinks it's probably because it takes the reponsibility off the cashier and furthermore, it probably helps build Target's data base. There was a recent article in New York Times Magazine that explained how Target accumulated data on its customers to better target (pardon the pun) coupons and discounts sent to them. Elsewhere, at CVS pharmacy, when you buy such a cold remedy, there is a little tab attached to your receipt and here is what it says: Preventing Teen Cough Medicine Abuse. You must be 18 years of age or older to purchase medicine containing destromethorphan
and no questions or id required. I suppose the CVS employees are better judges of age or work under a different set of rules ! Hum ......

Have I mentioned, traffic lights in Silicon Valley are forever long. Probably due to the gazillion cars going through intersections, all day long, no matter what time of day. Where are all of these cars coming from and where are they all going, I sometimes ask myself as I wait, and wait having nothing better to do.... How long are these traffic lights, you ask ? Well... At major intersections a man could shave (electrical shavers please, guys), girls could apply mascara (two coats easily, ladies), one could eat a medium sized apple or a large banana,and this being California, it does happen !. I could go on and on but..... I still have to tell you about a yummy recipe.

Here is a great finger food recipe you could easily turn into dinner. We did and it was great. I will leave the choice of accompanying drink up to you.

Crab Salad in Crisp Wonton Cups

-For the wonton cups

18 wonton wrappers (thawed, if frozen)
2 tsps canola oil
1/4 tsp. salt

-For the dressing

2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. olive oil

-For the salad

1/2 pound lump crabmeat (I used canned)
1 stalk celery finely diced (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup peeled and finely diced ripe mango
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion (white and green parts)
2 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To make the wonton cups, brush both sides of the wonton wrappers with the canola oil and gently press wrapper into a mini muffin tin so it forms a cup shape. Sprinkle with salt and bake until brown and crisp 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cups and remove from the tin. To make the dressing, whisk together the lime juice and zest, the salt, the black pepper and red pepper. Add the olive oil and whisk until well combined. To make the salad, in a medium bowl, gently toss together the crab meat, celery, mango, scallion and cilantro. Add the dressing and combine. Fill each cup with the crab salad and serve immediately.
P.S. We are planning on trying this same recipe with a different filling like salmon, shrimp or chicken next time for a more potent flavor. I will keep you posted.

Enjoy !


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take 9 - Blame it on the papers, magazines and DVDs

Take 9

Blame it on the papers, the magazines and the DVDs !

When I lived in Canada, I often fumed at how expensive it was for us Canadians to purchase  or subscribe to American newspaper and magazines or to simply buy a copy of said newspaper or magazine. In Vancouver and way back in Montreal, I would occasionally splurge and buy the Sunday edition of the New York Times. The cost ? $9.50 Can $. Yes, for one paper. The San Francisco Chronicle was approximately the same price. A subscription to a magazine often meant a huge difference between the cost to U.S. residents and Canadian residents.  Ah, the cost of culture ! Well now that problem is no longer. We now have the opposite one. Here papers and magazines are just too cheap. Almost dirt cheap. So inexpensive that I have gone nuts. Really ....  We now have a 7-day subscription to the San Jose Mercury News, as well as the Sunday edition of the New York Times. This also gives  us full access to the electronic edition but there is nothing like holding the paper. Hearing its rustling.... Smelling the ink..... But, I digress. Additionally,  I have subscriptions to The New Yorker (published weekly), O magazine, Real Simple, Architectural Digest, Saveur, and surely I am forgetting some others. I also have a few Canadian magazines subscriptions. Oh and David has a few of his own too. When all is said and done and read, that is a whole lot of reading, I agree..... but after exercising and walking the pooch,doing housework and cooking what else is there to do? The holder of an H4 visa cannot be gainfully employed so this is my fun way of keeping busy and informed until I have Taylor trained as a Therapy Dog.  I have also recently been tempted to look look into volunteering for a Cityof San Jose  Rose Garden in great need of some tlc. I do have some experience with roses but that story is for another day. Stay tuned ....
On a totally different topic and shade of ink you will notice, and to give you a microscopic look into our lives, my husband and I love tv. However, many years ago we gave up on trying to watch series week after week,  religiously, because something always happened to prevent us from keeping up and then we would have a ton of them waiting on our pvr or tapes and the pressure got to be too much and unhealthy. Heck, this is supposed to be a lesurely activity meant to be relaxing. Now we tend to watch the trends and then decide to delve heart and soul into one series or another,catching up with the seasons through Verizon (video-on-demand) or buying the incredibly inexpensive dvds at Target or elsewhere. We are doing basically the same thing as previously but without the pressure and the worry of losing one episode or more.  All this to say that right now, we are into Mad Men, deep into Season 3.With Season 5 now airing, we started with the Pilot and made our way through the first 3 Seasons, at our pace.  Wow ! Very interesting but what a bunch of unhappy and dissatisfied individuals. Despite that, we just can't get enough of Don, Roger, Joan, Peggy, and the rest of the gang. We have to restrain ourselves from watching more than two episodes per night. Another series we just can't get enough of also available in reruns and on Verizon on demand but which is totally different from the first one is, The Big Bang Theory. By the same creators asTtwo and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) is lol funny, super clever and has an immense rerun power. Although very nerdy, it is also very now and can become anyone's favorite after just watching a couple of episodes.  Everyone sees a little bit of one's self in Sheldon, my favorite character. Not every tv  series is worth investing so much time in, but some truly qualify as time well wasted. Now if you decide to relax and watch the tube, you may want to indulge in a wonderful piece of cake. The recipe follows ......

Orange Pound Cake

15 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. milk
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/3 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. grated orange zest
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 6-cup loaf pan with 1 Tbsp. of butter and set aside. Pour milk,eggs,and vanilla in a bowl and beat until well combined; set aside.

Sift together flour, sugar and baking powder into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk. Add zest, beating on medium speed, then add remaining 13 Tbsp. of softened butter, 1 Tbsp. at a time, waiting until each is completely incorporated before adding more.

Slowly add milk-egg mixture, beating constantly, until batter is just mixed together. Pour into prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 55-65 minutes or more, depending on your oven. (Lightly cover cake with a piece of foil during baking if the cake begins to get too brown.) Allow cake to cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then un-mold. Using a skewer, poke holes all over the top of the cake.

Make glaze by combining sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Reduce glaze by half. Brush some of the warm glaze over the top of the cake, reapplying until cake is saturated.

Yields 8 servings
Bon Appetit !

Monday, March 19, 2012

Take 8 - Taylor's Story

Taylor's story

Looking back a few years and many miles, David and I were sitting in our family room one evening discussing the pros and cons of adopting a puppy. Mostly pros, I must admit. We had the perfect location and the almost perfect situation. We were living in a large house on a half acre lot of rural bliss on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. David worked mostly from home as did I and there were plenty of good doggie daycare in the area if we ever needed to use one.  What kept coming up during our discussion were the facts that a) we didn't know which breed we wanted and b) neither of us had any experience raising a puppy of any breed. We knew we wanted what would become a large dog and wanted it from puppyhood. After doing a bit of research and regretfully rejecting Bernese Mountain and Newfoundland dogs because of their short life expectancy, our choice went to the Golden Retriever. The Golden's life expectancy is generally about 14 years (although we once met one who was almost 19 and still going strong) and is one of the easiest dogs to raise, perfect for us doggie neophytes. The next step was finding a serious and reliable breeder. I went online and visited the Golden Retriever Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club websites. I gathered lots of information about what to look for in a breeder and what to ask as well as what to expect. When I finally found a great breeder, we went to visit and met with the future Mom, Aimy. When the time came, she would be artificially inseminated (apparently lots of serious breeders now do it this way) with the sperm of a beautiful Golden Retriever named Fisher, who lived in Florida. Yes, when all the stars aligned, the sperm was actually flown from Florida to British Columbia, Canada and Aimy was inseminated . The end result was a gorgeous litter of 8 (6 males and 2 females).  After about 18 months of waiting, filling out forms, visiting, etc., we finally got to take  our baby home with the car radio blasting rock&roll music to sooth him from the shock of being away from his brood, as he cried himself to sleep. It was quite the experience having him in our lives but after little trials and tribulations, our baby is now a great cuddly pet. Let's just say raising a puppy is comparable to the labor pains of a pregnancy..... soon you forget the pain and discomfort and before you know it, you are making plans to do it again. With Taylor at almost 4 years old, we are thinking of getting him a little sister or brother.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I hope you will enjoy looking at these photographs almost as much as we enjoyed taking them. A note on a couple of them. In one photo, Taylor was on our front lawn napping away while several deer stood behind him. (Quite the guard dog !)  Also, on another, he is photographed at 2 years old with his Mom Aimy and his Grand-Mother Scramble. This is probably my favorite photo of all.
Aimy, after giving birth

He's one of them...

Or them...

Definitively one of them!

On the beach, at 5 months.

Before the water...

14 weeks - what can you say!

8 weeks

10 weeks - if you only knew, parents!

The Guard Dog


I'm two, I'm too tired.

Taylor, mom Aimy, grand-ma Scramble.

Ah! Vancouver.  I'm 3.

Hello California!

Enjoy also the easy chicken recipe.

Barcelona Chicken Skillet

2 teaspoon Paprika
2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves minced
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into small pieces
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large sweet pepper (green, red, orange or yellow) cut into thin strips
1 large onion quartered then the pieces halved
1 can 14 1/2 oz diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 cup chicken broth or dry Sherry
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)

Mix flour, salt and all spices except peppers in a small bowl. Sprinkle chicken with 2 tablespoons of the seasoned flour. Cook chicken in hot oil in large skillet on medium high heat 3-4 minutes until browned. Remove from skillet. Add bell pepper and onion to the skillet and cook and stir for five minutes or until tender. Stir in tomatoes, broth or Sherry and remaining flour. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Stir in red pepper (if using). Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes or more until chicken is cooked through.

Enjoy !