Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Take 3

Most Silicon Valley companies are known for their excellent benefits and work conditions and some would even qualify as truly generous towards their employees. Wel,l the Big Cahuna has got to be at the top of that list. This became more evident when the Big Cahuna sprung a surprise on its employees. A very pleasant surprise ...... I might add. It scored 13,000 tickets to a private showing of Cirque du Soleil's tribute to Michael Jackson - The Immortal World Tour. The tickets were available on a first come, first serve basis, two tickets for any employee  (one for the employee and one for a guest) ,totally free of charge and including transportation from the Big Cahuna campus (all large companies in Silicon Valley use the term campus to describe the space they occupy which can sometimes be a few dozen buildings in one area) to the venue in Oakland. Thankfully, my husband was one of the lucky ones who responded early to the invitation and got two great tickets. Unfortunately, hundreds of employees were disappointed when tickets ran out and let's just say they missed a fantastic show. Imagine 13,000 people all converging to one venue and most of them from the same site. Huge luxury coaches were hired for the event and everything was so well organized that transportation went very smoothly. The show is what you can usually expect from Cirque du Soleil, namely unmatched quality and great talents but this time with the added bonus of Michael Jackson's songs  and the scenarios created around those wonderful hits.  I have had the pleasure to see several Cirque du Soleil shows including some at their very beginning in Montreal, where you sat on benches to watch and under a big top. Back breaking for sure, but in line with tradition of the circuses of the world. This time it was quite comfortable and our seats were very good at Oracle Arena in Oakland. Many thanks to the Big Cahuna for a wonderful time.

Bay Area Air Quality Management District has an environmental program here called Spare The Air and this program is set up to determine whether people should be burning materials such as wood logs, Duraflame or pellets in their fireplaces or wood burning stoves. Each time there is a ban, it is announced on the newscast on tv or the radio and if you miss those, you can go check the status of the air online at sparetheair.org/. The only people allowed to burn something on those days are the people who's sole source of heat is through burning wood, etc.. Should you miss the warning and burn despite the ban and someone complains, you will first get a warning in the mail. Should you sin again, it'll cost you upwards of $400.00. So, each time we plan to light a fire in our chimney, we go online and check. Recently on tv, there was a piece about that group often getting it wrong by banning when they shouldn't and not banning when they should be doing it.  One group against another. Who is right? Who knows! At least, it appears someone is on the lookout for clean air. 

I must mention a wonderful place we have discovered in San José and that is Bijan. This is a pastry shop + cafe, etc. (two locations in San José) we came across it on our first visit here before moving to the USA. If you want to eat the best croissants available without shelling out a large amount of money for a ticket to Paris, this is the place and at a very low cost. They have the best croissants we have eaten outside of France and also the best pains au chocolat (chocolate croissants). Although we are not big fancy cake eaters, we have also indulged, each to celebrate our birthday, in one of their single portion confections. OMG. Well worth the visit to Bijan, either downtown ( next to the Fairmont Hotel) or their  Saratoga + Kiely location and at both locations, the personnel is extremely nice and helpful.

Here is another wonderful recipe borrowed from one of my favorite food bloggers if not my top favorite. His name is David Lebovitz and you can find his website and blog at www.davidlebovitz.com  Mr. Lebovitz is an American who lives in Paris. He worked for 13 years as a dessert maker and professional baker at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. He is also the author or several books of fantastic desserts. I own two of his books and although they both contain great recipes and tips, the one entitled  The sweet life in Paris is hilarious. Mr. Lebovitz captures brilliantly the oddities and quirks of living in the city of lights and of its native and adopted sons and daughters.  

Chocolate Cake

9oz (250g) bittersweet chocolate chopped
8 tablespoons (120g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (65g) sugar
4 large eggs at room temperature, separated
2 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

-Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9 inch loaf pan and line bottom with parchment.
-In a large bowl set over simmering water, heat chocolate and butter until smooth.
-Remove from heat, stir in half the sugar, egg yolks and flour.
-Beat egg whites and salt until they form soft peaks. Gradually add remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
-Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of egg whites into chocolate mixture, then fold in remaining egg whItes. Scrape into pan and smooth top.
-Bake 35 minutes until center feels almost firm. Cool in pan.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Take 2

Take 2

Are we still in Vancouver, British Columbia and someone forgot to tell me ??? This morning, going out with Taylor at 6:00, my phone indicated the temperature in San José, California was 30 degrees Farenheit (-1 Celcius) on January 15th.  Brrrrrrrrrr ! However, it tends to warm up very quickly around here. In the past few weeks, it would start out very cold and by noon, it was warm enough to walk around wearing a light long sleeved top. Temperature Records of Highs and Lows were broken many times and all of this, during a super drought. Now they are announcing rain coming in the next few days. I hope it rains a lot, because this area really needs it. However, how much we will get, remains to be seen. One person's downpour is another person's spritz.

In my last post, I started mentioning our Golden Retriever, Taylor, who traveled from Vancouver in his doggie condo. That thing is so BIG that I even tried lying in it, with my legs bent, and was almost comfortable at 5'7". Anyway, space was not going to be the issue here but rather the distance he would have to travel and the length of time involved. None of the carriers between Vancouver and San Francisco could accommodate a crate of that size and my boy would to travel from Vancouver to Toronto and then from Toronto to San Francisco on Air Canada. Quite the trip ! However, to make a long story short, the folks at Air Canada Cargo were wonderful and went above and beyond the call to make Taylor's trip comfortable. Of course a small dose of Melatonine helped to take the edge off (Taylor's, not mine). He arrived in San francisco after his 14 hour adventure,  healthy and thoroughly happy to finally see his Daddy and his first patch of California grass.  Thanks again to the Air Canada guys for being so caring despite all of the rules and regulations and for finding clever ways to work around them.

As for myself, I finally made it here in Silicon Valley after leaving Vancouver on the 17th of November and feeling totally insecure at the Airport Homeland Security office. Those guys have a way of intimidating people, even the ones who have no reason to feel intimidated. It is certainly part of their training but maybe where they lack is in deciding in which situation to apply this kind of pressure. My anxieties came from the fact that a week prior to my departure, David had left and when arriving at the Homeland Security checkpoint, he enquired about my future departure and what I could expect to be facing because the person with the work visa gets a document with his or her name but the dependent gets nothing, and can only use a copy of her spouse's document with her marriage certificate to prove you are the spouse. So when questioned, the officer had flatly said that had I been with David that day, he would not have let me through. After finishing with this officer, David emailed the Immigration Lawyer to make her aware of that problem. She, in turn, responded that the Officer was wrong and that dependents did not get documents with their names on them and that they should use a copy of the document issued to the person who would actually work in the USA. End of story.... imagine my panicked state.  He had to go and I was on my own with this situation. The day before, I had left our home in Vancouver and handed over the keys to our Renters, said goodbye to the movers and made my way to the hotel, generously provided by the big cheese.  Once there I took a moment to summarize: I no longer had a home, I had the clothes on my back and the ones in my bags, and the ton of papers and documents as a backup, trying to foresee all possible requests by the Homeland Security and Immigration. My husband was on his fourth day at work for the Big Cahuna and more than likely, difficult to reach in case of a problem. I also had the phone numbers of a few trusted friends in Vancouver and of the Immigration Lawyer in California. It should be ok, right?  I just had to push that thought out of my mind or else I would not sleep all night. How to waste a great hotel room !  The next morning it was time to face the music at the airport and the border officers. At Immigration, more forms to fill. How many times did I have to write down my passport number? Finally, I am told by the Immigration Officer to go through a door marked Homeland Security. By that time, my heart was racing I'm afraid I'm going to faint and the Officer standing behind a desk did nothing to ease my nerves. How many times is it said you have to read the same form with less than 10 lines on it ? And he reads on....., and he goes back and forth to different documents he has asked of me. What is he trying to do, wear me down?  After all of this time of standing on one foot and then the other, I am told to take a seat at the other end of the room. There I wait, and wait and wait some more, to the point where I am thinking they have forgotten about me. Finally....... The same Officer calls my name, he asks more questions, requests one or two more documents, gives them back and then asks me to follow him. Where to ? I am never told, until he opens a side doors, holds it for me and says, ok,you are free to go now Mam. Welcome to America! I was on American soil.  I walked out, located the first available seat and let myself fall into it to catch my breath and gather my thoughts and papers. I was in the International terminal at YVR, past security, past Immigration and Homeland Security and was on my way to California. For a moment, right then and there, I could have either burst into tears or giggled like a school girl on a sugar high. Finally, I did neither, I simply SMILED,  and went to find my departure gate.

Here is a fantastic recipe for an apple cake. It is so simple, it is almost miraculous to see how beautiful and delicious it comes out. I borrowed it from Smitten Kitchen a great food blog to visit and to subscribe to. The blog is Deb Perelman's masterpiece and not only does she share great recipes but does it all in a tiny Mahattan apartment kitchen and while being a Mother to a very young boy. Her photography is also second to none. You can find her at: smittenkitchen.com Oh  and she is in the final stages of publishing a cook book which I will buy in a heartbeat ! Hope you like the Sharlotka as much as we did. :)

 Apple Sharlotka 

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan
6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
3 large eggs
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon, to finish
Powdered sugar, also to finish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.
Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.
Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My first post !

How scary, my first post, so bear with me ! 

I live in Silicon Valley, California, and yes, I do have blue eyes.

I moved here to California almost two months ago from Vancouver British Columbia, Canada. In this country, I am what is known as an H4.  An H4 is a type of Visa where you are the spouse and/or dependent of a (H1B) which is another type of Visa that allows a non-american to work in the U.S.   My husband was hired by one of the big players here in Silicon Valley and in this blog, this big player shall not be named, for many obvious reasons, but rather surnamed The Big Cheese. In this blog I will not be giving advice on how to land a job in Silicon Valley, revealing big corporate secrets nor criticizing our American cousins, though sometimes very tempting. Rather, I will tell funny anecdotes and explain what was involved for us in moving from Canada to the USA. I will also include recipes I have sampled, tell you about little holes in the wall and inexpensive restaurants located here, in the Bay Area,  where my husband and I enjoyed the food, share some local photos, photos of our pets, tell you about dog friendly places and businesses and great places to visit. So let's get started !

After getting over the shock of actually receiving an offer from The Big Cheese, a company my husband David had been dreaming of for years,  we went out to dinner, to celebrate. We kept saying, as if to convince ourselves and make it more tangible: <we are moving to California>. Let us hope our waiter, that evening, did not think we were too weird. Being originally from Quebec, California had always had a dreamlike connotation to us and this, even after visiting this state on many occasions. However, the celebration was short lived when we started receiving all of the different forms to fill and believe me, they were numerous. A few trees' worth of paper. Of course, I exaggerate, but barely.  We kept several files with all of the documents involved and kept going back and forth to make sure we had everything needed for the move.  A paper nightmare in a computer world!

On top of a property to deal with, a home full of furniture, clothing and various objects, we had a car to move and, more importantly two 4 legged children. And all of this in a very short period of time.  After looking at and weighing different scenarios, Constance the cat would travel with David and Taylor the Golden Retriever would travel in his own condo-sized crate. To be continued in a next post ..........

For now, here is the first recipe.  It has to be one of the best and easiest salad dressing I have ever tried. It can be used as a salad dressing as well as a sauce for fish, or chicken, or pork or whatever you choose.  I found it in the owner's manual of one of my small appliances and have tweaked it a little to suit my taste.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Parmesan and Pepper Dressing

1Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 ounce Parmesan, cut into small pieces
1 shallot (1ounce), peeled and cut into small pieces
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar

Place whole peppercorns in blender and blend 10 seconds. Add Parmesan and blend 20 seconds. Scrape sides of jar. Add shallots and garlic and blend 10 seconds. Add remaining ingredients in order listed and blend 30 to 40 seconds or until all is homogenous and emulsified. Transfer to resealable container, preferably a glass jar, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow flavours to develop.

Bon appétit !