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.