Monday, December 16, 2013

Take 31 - San Jose - Blossom Valley - Getting to know my neighbourhood

Before getting to know my neighbourhood, I had to get to know my house. In the rental home where we lived previously, the appliances were run-of-the-mill machines in-so-far as being very basic appliances without bells and whistles. Nothing beeped nor dinged nor chimed. Where we are now, it is very different. Each appliance has its own sound and musical note, to let you know it requires your attention. For example, the dishwasher has the beep (6 times) at the end of its cycle and it repeats the same 6 beeps a total of three times until you give up and stop whatever you are doing and open the door of the appliance to shut it up. Our fridge has this very practical beep so that if you do not shut either door properly, after a few minutes it will let you know by beeping continually until you realize your mistake. The microwave also has its beep, which is a single long sorrowful one. As though it's sorry to see you take out the food you have placed in there to heat.
Not wanting to be left out, the oven also does its part by beeping and dinging depending on what you require of it. And then there are the washer and dryer. Since 2009, Samsung has been my choice for washer and dryer and I have had that brand in three out of four of my past homes including this one.  I believe someone at Samsung must have a real sense of humour. At the end of its cycle it has this little instrumental number about 15 seconds long that is endearing and child-like. Both the dryer and the washer have this piece so if both machines happen to end their cycle almost at the same time, they both give you their performance almost simultaneously which can be an incredible source of cacophony. However, this synchronization of time is rare and yes, I could make it play at a lower volume but I really don't mind it. I also had had to change the ringer on my phone because it shared the same notes as our front door bell. One day I ran downstairs thinking there was someone at the door when actually my phone was ringing. It's enough to drive you bonkers ! :--))

Needless to say we also have a list of little projects that require regular visits to Lowe's or Orchard's. During one of those visits, I noticed a sign on the road that showed you the way to Hayes Mansion. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation. I soon found out that Hayes Mansion is a Mediterranean Villa designed by architect George Page that used to be the home of the Hayes family until they sold it in the 1950s. The villa remained empty and fell into disrepair until 1994 when it was successfully renovated and it is now a conference center. Do go have a look at their website It is simply a magnificent building. You can go there for brunch too. Although quite pricey, I hear it is one of the best and David and I plan on going there one day for a special occasion.

Across the street from Hayes Mansion is a park who also used to have a different vocation. It used to be Frontier Village Amusement Park, a western style theme park which opened in 1961 and closed in 1980. Nothing remains of that theme park except the trees on 49 acres of beautiful grounds. The paths meander through the park and at its edge there are tennis courts and a children play area.  There seems to be an unofficial rule with dogs running freely off-leash and enjoying the open area. As well, there is a beautiful tree shaded picnic area with tables and bbq pits, which can be reserved for special occasions by calling 408-794-PARK a division of the City of San Jose.

Here is a quick recipe for a spice mix to enhance your popcorn:

Southwest Spice Mix
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chile
Toss ingredients together. Use 1 tablespoon of the mix for every quart of fresh popcorn and toss together. Store the leftover mix in an airtight jar.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Take 30 - House Hunting in San Jose - Part 2 Dream Home

Take 30 - House Hunting in San Jose - Part 2 Dream Home

In my last installment, I explained how our hearts had been broken by being outbid on an Eichler house. We were totally heartbroken but as the fog of heartache lifted,we looked at our wish list. We had this wish list we had put together. A column of "must have", a column of "would be nice" and finally a column of "icing on the cake".

 Well after going down the list, it turns out the Eichler had very few of the items on that list. First, it was in the wrong neighbourhood.  It's located in our present neighbourhood which we do not like. It had very little storage space. It would have meant a lot of compromise. We would have had to change our furniture too. Living in an Eichler means embracing the lifestyle and our furniture would have been all wrong. There was no garage. There was no pool.  The kitchen was small. The noise would have been the same as what we are presently complaining about. There was no space for a microwave. The washer/dryer were mini stacked appliances. And a few more items that were not on our wish list. That would have been settling and we had promised ourselves that we would not settle at any cost and this, just to get out of our present dwelling to buy a house. 

Another thing we didn't want was having to compete to buy a house. Price wars are commonplace here in Silicon Valley and it will only get worse due to tech companies that are hiring by the thousands. So, we went back to our list and moved our search a few miles away from the heart of Silicon Valley. Only 6 miles made the difference. Still in San Jose but in Blossom Valley instead of Rose Garden or Willow Glen. We gave up on living in a cool neighbourhood and high walkability for a dormitory area but within a very short drive from many shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas. What we also got in return is everything on our wish list and more, including a pool. Even things we had not thought of. In other words, more bang for our buck. Much more. The house we found is move-in ready and we did not have to promise our first born in order to afford it either. The neighbourhood is also very nice with mature trees and houses about 40-50 years old.

So the lesson we learned here is, know your priorities and try to stick to them. What really matters in your search. The cool area, we can drive to. A house with all we ever want is more important. Now, on to packing and moving. :--)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Take 29 House hunting in San Jose - Part One

Take 29
House hunting in San Jose - Part One

And so we begin the thrilling, exciting, and sometimes disappointing and frustrating task of finding and buying our next home. When we first moved here, houses were at an all time low and deals were everywhere to be had. It was a buyer's market. But, unfortunately,  we weren't ready financially. We still had a property in Canada and many months would have to go by before we could start looking at the possibility of owning a house.  Ironically, now that we are free and able to do so, the market has changed and it is now a seller's market. Prices are higher and competition is fierce. Price wars are commonplace and some sellers are more than happy to take advantage of the situation because they have the upper hand. Regardless of all this, we are pushing forward.

In Canada, when you decide to buy a house, you go to your bank or the bank that offers the best conditions. Here, to get the best conditions and rates you go to a Broker. He or she will gather your information and negotiate the best rate with a bank, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or a private lender. He will speak on your behalf to secure that needed mortgage at the best rate. Unless, happily, you are financially loaded and don't need the help of a bank or a broker. If so, good for you ! As for us, we need a lending hand.  The broker we chose was extremely competent at explaining the American Mortgage system to us and informing us of our financial possibilities and realities. We were thankful that he turned out to be a conservative person and not a salesman out to entice us into taking a bigger loan than planned. We had our goal and he agreed with our numbers. So, after his confirmation that all of our information checked out, off we went with our agents, a real estate couple whom we met a few months prior at a garage sale (go figure!) to visit houses through private showings and open houses. When you look in popular and cool neighborhoods open house events can be circus-like. Here in Silicon Valley the demand for houses is greater than great, the inventory is minimal and its about to get worse since several large tech companies are hiring by the thousands. So back to open houses where there are people everywhere, taking measures, opening doors and windows, etc. A time consuming and tiring activity where you see houses in all shapes of disrepair at ridiculously high prices. A daunting task to see the jewel in each of them. 

And then a ray of hope. There was an Eichler, in our price range. When we first moved to California, we became aware of Eichler homes. They are mid-century modern houses built between 1956-1970, mostly in California with a few in New York State, by Joseph Eichler. A man with a wonderful philosophy of life which included wanting to design homes for people regardless of religion, race or creed. The houses are generally flat roofed with radiant floor heating and walls of windows looking towards the backyard with minimal windows in front, allowing total privacy while exuding wonderful avant-garde design. If you are curious, Google Eichler homes and you will see the reason for our passion. There is even an association for Eichler homeowners mainly for guidance on resources to renovate the mid-century homes and to inform as to new listings of Eichlers. This particular one had been perfectly renovated respecting each little details of the design right down to the colors of the exterior and even to the civic numbers on the house. Those owners got it perfectly. Every little detail. We were in love! Totally smitten. We could imagine our lives there,Taylor frolicking in the yard, Constance the cat bumping into windows at first. We could see ourselves there. So, we put in our best and largest offer as well as a note (some sellers encourage that to know who they are selling to) explaining in a few words who we were and why we wanted their house. And then we waited. We were on pins and needles. When the answer came, we were devastated. The house had gone to another buyer offering more, but not much more. At least the sellers didn't force a bidding war, like it happens in the more desirable areas;  they just considered all the offers they got (and there were a lot) and picked their favorite.  After the disappointment, we figured we had learned a valuable lesson and had to regroup. We had to return to the drawing board, to our list of wants in a house, and strive not to compromise. In my next post, you will find out what we did and what we found. Don't miss it !

Here is a wonderful recipe I found in the paper the other day. Add a glass of Chardonnay (or not) and you will have a great meal and maybe leftovers for a sandwich if you double or triple the recipe.

Pancetta Wrapped Pork Tenderloin

1 trimmed pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon white wine
3-4 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Season tenderloin on all sides with salt and pepper.
2. In a small bowl, mix the mustard and wine. Using a pastry brush or your hands, cover the tenderloin liberally with the mixture. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over tenderloin.
3. Lay a 10-inch square of parchment or wax paper with pancetta, overlapping slices by about 1/2 inch. Lay the tenderloin 1 inch in from the edge closest to you, parallel to the edge. Fold the bottom inch over the tenderloin, then roll the paper around the tenderloin. The pancetta should be tightly wrapped around the roast. Remove the paper.
4.Place the tenderloin on a rack in the roasting pan. Roast about 20 minutes or until the the pancetta is golden and crisp and a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes, then slice into rounds 1-inch thick.

Enjoy !

Friday, August 16, 2013

Interlude - Silicon Valley through my brown eyes

Interlude - Silicon Valley through my brown eyes

In my last post, I promised a Guest Blogger and here he is. It is my husband David, proud Google employee.  Hope you enjoy his Interlude. Do not forget to leave your comments, suggestions or questions when you visit. Thank you.

As a guest and first time blogger I decided to talk about my least favorite subject. Me. Ok, not about me per se, but how a small town french Canadian bumpkin, as Lorraine likes to refer to me, came to work for the best company in Silicon Valley.

My IT trip began in 1978, when I was 8 and my father bought his first computer, a Tandy TRS 80, 4k. Although quite limited, I still wonder to this day how someone was able to write a Chess program in 4k that would beat the 8 year old me every time. (Turns out I stink at chess and any program can beat the 43 year old me).

The passion really started 5 years later when we upgraded to a Commodore 64. The deal was sealed. I then became addicted to those wonderful Compute! And Compute!'s gazette magazines, which is where I first read about a mythical place called Silicon Valley. It's also where I learned English. That and by watching the A-team, but I digress.  Silicon Valley?! in a place called California, half a world away and probably in another, parallel universe. Some would argue that the Valley actually is a parallel universe.

Growing up in rural Quebec, even in the 70's, you could feel the remnant of the Catholic Church oppressiveness, where everybody is raised to believe they are born for small bread (a bad translation on 'né pour un petit pain', which means no great expectations in your future). This would be the total opposite of the American Dream, where you are told that working hard can give you 'the life'. When you are told either too many times you may start to believe it.

The next 10 years were easy, high school, college, university for a BSC, then to push the real world away for a few more years, a Master. In the end, in 1994, I temporarily gave up on my Master to go see the real world, finishing it in my spare time, between two games of Sherlock.

The first job was fun, I got to learn GIS (geographical information systems) which I ended doing for the next 17 years both in Montreal and in Vancouver (job tip: don't paint yourself in a corner by doing the same thing for too long). Along the way I got to solve some amazing problems, like gps-less submarine navigation. But when you grow up, you end up forgetting about your childhood dreams and Silicon Valley went the way of Teddy bear, Miami Vice and Disco. We even came to San Francisco a few times and I never realized how close I was to this place. Just a few more miles south...

Then 6 years ago, the company I worked for at the time, got some sub-contracting from the big G. in Mountain View. I got to travel to the Campus and see a bit of San Jose and all in-between. Every second building posted the name of an IT giant. The other buildings were of giants to be (or not be). That was real?! Those companies did exist somewhere, they were not just logos and names on software and hardware boxes. There were all in that place, that Silicon Valley?!

I dedicated the next few years to build a good resume, with less GIS, and applied to many Silicon Valley's company, even though my heart was beating for G. It's even a verb now?! In the end between Amazon and G, the choice was easy.

So remember your forgotten dreams and investigate those mythical places. Sometimes they exists and dreams do come true.

Now instead of a recipe, let me tell you G. biggest secrets. Here we go... Wait, I am being called to the Teleporter's room; the Unicorn has escaped again...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Take 27 - Rocky Horror Show - The Musical in San Jose

Take 27 - Rocky Horror Show - The Musical in San Jose

Last Friday we attended a showing of The Rocky Horror Show (The Musical) at City Lights Theater in downtown San Jose. I have written about this venue before and will surely write about it again in the future because it an ideal place to see a play or a musical. The space is small, intimate, cozy and comfy. The acoustic is amazingly good for such a small space and yet despite its size you do not feel cramped or suffocated. Its half moon and auditorium shape is wonderful. Ok, so enough on the space let's talk about the show.

In Rocky Horror Show speak, we were virgins. Neither of us had ever seen the movie and its many cult responses or reactions to the dialogue and what is going on on stage. To say this Musical is the utmost in ridicule would an understatement, naturally, but the actors are so good and the voices so great, you tend to forget the silly dialogue. I once heard someone say it is much harder to play stupid than serious so it has to be much harder for good singers/actors/performers to sing in an off key way, at times, and act the fool.

For those who have never seen nor heard of Rocky Horror Show, here is a quick recap of the story and if you want the whole history behind this phenomenon, you will have to do your own research. The story begins on a country road where a couple becomes stranded in their car during a rain storm and decide to go ask for help at a castle nearby. The couple is met by a wacky group of individuals living at the castle who will lead them into an even wackier adventure, changing their lives forever.

Of course, the best known song is the Time Warp tune which almost everyone knew, including yours truly and her hubby. We just did not know the moves that went with it. Now, imagine our surprise, when at the end of the show, actors come out into the audience and take you by the hand to bring you on stage, the whole audience that is, to reprise the Time Warp song, this time with moves and all. I was standing next to Dr. Scott (the character) and when the music started again and they said you take two step to the left, I took two steps to the right and ended up bumping into Dr. Scott. How did I forget where was my left was? David and I both looked like deer in a headlight. Kind of a stage fright ? I am sure, looking back, we were not alone up there on that stage.

 I would also like to mention how good the live band was and how I enjoyed the voices of the character called Riff Raff played by Matty Gregg and Rocky, played by Michael Welland. Both quite accomplished singers in their own right.

So, in closing, despite or because all of the above, we had a great time and I urge you, if you have not seen this show, and there are still dates left in San Jose or it comes to your town one day, go see it and leave your attitude and stiffness at home.

On a different matter, my next post will be by a guest blogger. I will reveal his or her identity then, when I turn over the controls to that person.

In the meantime, I invite your comments, questions or suggestions about this post or any other past posts.

Thanks for reading !

Friday, August 2, 2013

Take 25 - The Hotel - Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas

Take 25 - The Hotel - Riu Palace Cabo San Lucas

There is a gazillion and one hotels in the world, some of them 'run of the mill" and some of them that really stand out and cause you to talk about them for a long time, even  after you have checked out and returned home.

I mentioned in my previous post that I would tell you about the hotel we stayed at in Cabo San Lucas. Before I say anything about it, please understand that I was not paid nor offered any incentives to say what I am about to say about this hotel. I am simply sharing because my husband and I were  very impressed by the location, the service, the decor, the food, etc.

The first thing I must say is that the Riu Palace in Cabo San Lucas is part of a chain of hotels that originated in Spain in the 1950s and still, to this day, is a family owned company, with its headquarters in Majorca.  Of all the places where they have resorts,  here are a few locations I remember reading about : Varadero, Cuba, 5 locations + in Dominican Republic, Palm Beach, Florida, ........ and so many more.

At the Riu Palace, Cabo San Lucas, rooms are large, comfortable and well appointed with a sunken mini living room and a large balcony. The bathrooms are large with a double sink vanity. The water is plentiful, very hot and with great pressure. The floors are tiled and the air conditioning is very efficient. There is a small fridge filled with drinks (alcoholic and non) and something I had never seen before in a hotel, a contraption with  four bottles of hard liquor installed upside down above the mini-fridge (for those who wish to enjoy them) where you simply press your glass upward and your liquid of choice is dispensed (we tried the gadget for fun).

There are several beautiful swimming pools, large and small, all with plenty of seating possibilities and at certain times of day, activities for everyone. There is a grill and chef poolside at lunchtime for those who wish to tan and eat uninterrupted. 

There are several restaurants on the premises, some requiring reservations and some that don't. The food is mostly outstanding and more than plentiful. Several bars are also there, each with a different look and every one of them with excellent service. There is even a stage at one of them and at night there are shows with a different theme each evening.

One restaurant charmed us beyond all others; so much so that we frequented it three times during our 5-day stay. I am talking about the Japanese one. Having lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, David and I have a certain knowledge of Japanese food. The food at the Misaki was truly outstanding. I will include photos of several dishes.  The desserts were out of this world. The decor of the restaurant was truly authentic including a pond with a gurgling fountain. Even some shamisen music was softly piped in through the hidden speakers. The only thing missing ? A few koi to complete the Japanese illusion. You could have easily sworn you were in Japan. (Photos to come in a couple of days)

Another wonderful place to eat breakfast and dinner was ............ This was a huge room decorated in the style of an elegant French dining room with chandeliers, high ceilings, tall windows dressed with beautiful plein jour curtains and lovely drapes. The food there was also delicious and the choices were endless. The desserts were also quite impressive including a chocolate fountain, a huge selection of ice cream and all of the ingredients to make a fine sundae creation, if that is your thing. There were also lots of petits fours to make your mouth drool as well as flan, panna cotta and chocolate truffles.

There are too many amenities at that resort to list them all here and I apologize for the one I may have omitted, but suffice it to say that it is the perfect place to relax and enjoy life with an incredible view of the Sea of Cortes to boot.  However,  one thing I must tell you about is the quality of the service. Anytime you ask a staff member a question, you are given a quick, polite and efficient response. Your requests for a product or service are met quickly and efficiently and personnel will go beyond the call to satisfy you. We even experienced a totally awesome event. We had gone to one of the bars to get a pre-dinner drink. When our waiter approached us to take our order, I asked if he had something bubbly and explained we were celebrating some news we had just received via email. He seemed genuinely delighted for us and told us he had champagne if we wanted it. We immediately agreed to one glass each. He then asked us if we would like to have a bottle sent to our room ? We were stunned by his offer and immediately agreed. Then, when we offered him a tip, he politely declined and said it was a pleasure for him to do his job and make us happy. How cool is that ? Ok, so the champagne turned out to be Portuguese bubbly wine but it was a very good bubbly. Also, everything is included at that resort, even a bottle sent to your room, but the mere fact that he suggested having a bottle sent to our room was of the utmost kindness to us.

This resort does not quality as cheap tourism and is worth every dollar you will spend there. Personally, we  can only say good things about this place and we will most certainly try and experience another of their resorts in another part of the world, some day soon.

Thank you for visiting my blog. I invite you to post comments, suggestions and questions.

Take 26 - A quick shout-out to Alaska Airlines

Take 26 - A quick shout-out to Alaska Airlines

Usually, we tend to want to talk about bad experiences we encounter during air travel. Bad service, rude employees, lousy airline food, dirty washrooms, etc. In this post, I will make a point of telling you about the positive side of an airline.

On our trip  from California to Cabo San Lucas and back, we flew with Alaska Airlines. Full disclosure, Alaska is not always the first airline that comes to  my mind when thinking of traveling somewhere along the coast but I promise you, this experience will change my way of doing things in the future.

We had such great service and pleasant flight going and returning that I just had to say BRAVO. Alaska has a policy that if their First Class is not full, they offer the available seats at $50 extra, each way. Way to go Alaska ! The food was amazing each way, including on the way back a Moroccan Chicken I would be proud to serve to any guest who came to my house.

One special note to an outstanding flight attendant. Her name is Michele Balthazar and she made our flight back the best I have ever experienced. Thank you Michele ! Thanks also to Alaska for having the foresight of hiring great employees.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Take 24 - A Little Trip Down South - Cabo San Lucas way

Take 24 - A little trip down South - Cabo San Lucas way

I might have mentioned this before, but my husband David works for Google and at that company, when employees meet deadlines, reach milestones or do something extraordinary the company generously rewards them, usually per department, because of the size of the company. The rewards can be different things or events and this time, it was a three-day trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Yeah, airfare, hotel and all the bells and whistles ! And not just any hotel, an all exclusive top of the line vacation resort.

Each employee could invite a Plus One as long as this Plus One paid for her or his flight.  Well, naturally, I tagged along (who wouldn't?)  and we were given the option to add a couple of days' stay before or after the three-day event, which we did. We opted to add two days at the end of the week. Additionally, we were provided will all shuttle services. Living here in San Jose, California  and visiting Mexico is not such a  big stretch since we are surrounded by people of Mexican descent in all spheres of life. We hear people speaking Spanish every day here. Who knew there were still so many Mexicans in Mexico. We thought they all had moved to California, particularly to San Jose. :-)))

 Our hotel was the Rui Palace, an All Inclusive -24 hour type of resort. Man have all-inclusives ever changed since the last time I stayed at one ! Mine had been the cheap tourism type. Not in this case. How do I put this? So many things are  included in the package, you forget to use them all. An orgy of food and alcoholic beverages as well as all types of bottled water. What ???  Let's just say that us Paleo (ers)  had plenty of things to chose from and did not have to worry about our next meal.  Cabo, means Cape and there are two of them. Namely, Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. This area of Mexico is high end tourism. Nothing cheap here. 

We had a main event on the night of our arrival with all employees (about 100) and their Plus One invited to dinner on the beach as well as a karaoke where several employees showed off their pipes.After watching and listening in pain to a few employees, we walked away and sat on the side of the pool, dangling our feet in the water and chatted while listening to the waves crashing nearby. Ahhhhh, so romantic and relaxing too.

 The rest of the week had several activities and lots of free time. We had booked an excursion called A taste of Cabo which turned out to be, an excursion on a glass bottomed boat that enabled us to observe angel fish and clown fish as well as granite rocks while seriously rocking on waves on the Sea of Cortes. During this activity we also had a visit to a Tequila factory with tasting, a visit to a Glass blowing studio, lunch in the  beautiful courtyard of a San Jose de Cabo restaurant, a visit of a Mission and a short shopping session,  all of this on  a very very hot day. In conclusion, those five days were filled with walks, great meals, restorative naps and even a visit from a beautiful cat, which had probably escaped from a nearby villa to come and beg a few morsels of fish from resort guests enjoying dinner outside. A smart cat indeed !

No recipe in this post.  In my next blog, I will tell you about the Riu Palace in greater detail.

Hasta Luego !

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Take 23 - Bunless Hamburgers .... what's not to love !

Take 23 - Bunless Hamburgers .... what's not to love !

Who does not love a hamburger ? Here in California, three providers come to mind, namely:

In n Out
Carl's Jr.
Five Guys

Although my husband and I are on a Paleo (ish) diet, we eat hamburgers with a small tweak every week or a couple of times a week. I can almost hear you gasp, OMG ..... well we have not gained any weight and are feeling great.

In-N-Out Burger is a regional chain of restaurants founded in 1948 with locations in five Western states, the first one in Baldwin Park, California. The regular menu at In-n-Out is very short. Nothing fancy. You either get a single burger or a double burger, with or without cheese. However, there is a secret and a super secret menu which is no where to be seen in the restaurants. If you are curious about those you can Google them. In this blog, I will not go down the many variations of the secret and super secret menu but will tell you about the variation we have tried. If you want to keep it Paleo, ask for Protein Style. The burger of your choice, Protein Style. If you choose to get fries, ask for well done fries. Their regular fries tend to be pale and under-cooked. Ok, if you prefer it that way.

Carl's Jr. is a chain predominantly operated in Southern and Western states. In the Eastern states, they are called Hardee's. Their menu features most hamburger variations, in large or small format and with the garnishes of your choice. Here, if you want to go Paleo, ask for Low Carb. The burger of your choice with your chosen fixings will arrive wrapped in lettuce.

 Five Guys
The Five Guys' menu is mainly composed of hamburgers available with American cheese and/or bacon, kosher style hot dogs, grilled cheese and vegetable sandwiches. All garnishes including (onions, sauteed onions, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) are free and you can pick your favorites to be added to your burger. Their fries are also very good and too generous to get one per person. Believe me ! To get a Paleo acceptable burger at Five Guys you either ask for a no bun burger which will come wrapped in lettuce or burger  in a bowl which will be your chosen burger and your fixings in a bowl. They also provide a fork and a knife. So your choice of burger, large or small and either in a sandwich style (the lettuce playing the role of the bun) or in the bowl. Both options are delicious !

My point here is not to tell you which one is the best burger as we think they are all great and different at the same time. The important thing for us is that they are all available in Paleo style and allow us to enjoy a quick and nourishing meal. In case you are curious about the Paleo diet, there is a gazillion number of recipe books available on Amazon or at the bookstore of your choice. If you Google the words "Paleo Diet", you will also find a number of websites providing information on the subject. I particularly recommend the following: where you will get the basic information on the Paleo Diet.

One more thing, all three chains we have visited in California have outdoor terraces where you can eat with your dog. 

Here is a Paleo recipe you can try. Switch your mashed potatoes for mashed cauliflower. See what you think. This recipe was inspired from one in the Paleo Comfort Foods book written by Julie and Charles Mayfield. A wonderful book.
Enjoy !

Mashed Cauliflower

1 head fresh cauliflower
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Cut the cauliflower into small pieces. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cover. Cook for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is very tender and easy to mash. Add a little more stock is too dry or drain some liquid into a bowl if the mix is too wet. Pour mixture into the bowl of a food processor or use a hand blender to obtain the desired texture, either very smooth or slightly chunky.

Bon appetit !

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Take 22 - A trip Up-North (kind of !)

A few weeks ago, David took a day off. We left San Jose late on that sunny Friday morning and headed North. A short drive later and minutes after checking into our hotel, we were enjoying lunch in Japantown (but more on that later). Yes, I am talking about San Francisco again, located North of San Jose and a mere 45 minute drive, traffic cooperating. Very accessible either by car or by train (see a previous post). The trick is to rid yourself of your car as soon as possible to enjoy the city on foot. The reason for this comment is that parking in San Francisco can be a nightmare and spaces are at a premium. So if you decide to visit, plan your day or days carefully.

For us, this time, things were truly different. We felt like two teenagers out on the town with some money in our pockets. The difference ? No pooch. We had not spent a night away from Taylor since ..... 18 months. Last time we were away from him overnight was when he flew from Vancouver to San Francisco via Toronto. (See the details of that trip in Take 2 of my blog.) We have hired a trainer for our Goldie and this wonderful person also does occasional dog boarding for her clients, freeing us and enabling us to take trips sans chien.

Japantown is a neighbourhood which is amazing to visit. The architecture is authentic and surprising and looking upwards can often make you discover little gems like shops or simply a beautiful building. Speaking of shops, they are numerous and can be terribly inexpensive such as (Daiso) where almost all items cost $1.50 or very expensive if you go to antique shops or jewelry stores. In the main mall, not to be missed because of its Japanese decor, Japanese lunch can be had for a few dollars and everything is fresh and tasty. Of course, having lived in Vancouver for more than a decade makes me a fussy customer when it comes to Japanese food but the food is worth the detour.

The weather up there was typical for San Fran. Every morning was gray with a marine layer (looks like thick clouds), then the sun broke through for a few hours warming our bones as we walked beneath wall-to-wall blue skies. By late afternoon, the fog would dramatically rolled in with a fierce cool wind blowing and marking the end of the clement weather for that day. The expression used for this weather phenomenon is May Grays and later in the season, June Gloom.

When we go to San Francisco, we generally do not like to make plans. We like to meander. Going up one street and down another. This is how we discover little shops and restaurants. One of these shops is Utsuwa on Polk Street at Bush Street. It is a magical tiny store specializing in bonsais and terrariums. There are large ones but there are lots of small and very affordable specimens beautifully displayed in a space full of light. the owner is friendly and helpful and, should you decide to adopt a bonsai or terrarium, he will patiently explain the ins and outs of taking care of it. He will even evaluate online or in person, your adoptee's health. I urge you to go visit, even if you are not planning on purchasing. We fell for the charm of the place and their plants and brought home a bonsai and a terrarium. One sits in my kitchen window, the other outdoor on our upstairs deck. Here are photos of my newly adopted specimens.

During that weekend, we had lunch in North Beach (where there is no beach and which is also known as Little Italy) at Trattoria Pinocchio. The Fettucine Puttanesca were outstanding. David raved about the Calzone too. We sat outside at a sidewalk table. Very casual but also very romantic. The service was friendly, relaxed and efficient. We would go back there in a heartbeat. The restaurant is located on Columbus Street At Vallejo Street. Prices are also quite reasonable for San Francisco and for such good quality food.

On another day we took a cable car (my first time, despite all of my previous visits to San Francisco) on California street and headed downtown. We walked to the wharf, which is usually rather crowded but on that Sunday, Mother's Day, the streets were less busy and we took our time to enjoy the walk. We decided to go visit Tcho chocolate. Tcho is an American high end chocolate company based in San Francisco. Their headquarters, shop and factory are at Pier 17 on the Embarcadero. You can purchase chocolate there and you can even tour their factory. Their products come in white, milk and dark and are amazing and original. Not your usual flavors. Go try a sample !

Going to San Francisco is a constant surprise because the city keeps evolving and changing. It is a city, very much like Paris, that you discover bit by bit while walking its streets and people watching. When we go there, we leave the rushing around to others and savor all that is San Francisco. Here are a few photos including a couple of Chinatown streets, the inside of the a Cable Car and a few buildings.

Here is a refreshing salad:

Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
2 large cucumbers
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups Greek Yogurt
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped mint

Peel the cucumbers. Cut them in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Slice very thinly. (I use a vegetable peeler). Place the cucumber slices in a colander. Sprinkle with salt (a pinch or two) and let drain 15-20 minutes. Mix the garlic, lemon juice, yogurt and dill in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in the cucumber slices. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the mint. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving and enjoy.

Bon Appétit !


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Take 21 - Day Trip to Livermore

Day Trip to Livermore

Livermore is a wonderful little town part of the California Tri-Valley area. The Tri-Valley area includes the cities of Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton and San Ramon and is located 33 miles east of San Francisco and 27 miles north of San Jose. For the purpose of this post, we will concentrate on Livermore. The route to Livermore from San Jose via  highway 680 is truly a visual pleasure. It's the type of scenery where you wish you had someone to chauffeur you around so everyone could enjoy the beauty.The rollings hills are greener than green and look like large balls under a blanket of Kelly green velvet. They give a brand new meaning to the topographical term "rolling hills". We arrived in Livermore and parked downtown. This area was renovated 7 years ago and although we never saw the old downtown, I think we can safely say that they did a wonderful job. It has received the National American Main Street Award. It is truly beautiful with public places, sidewalk dining and lots of interesting stores. It also has one of the best comic book store, my husband has ever seen! :-) As well, Livermore has a Premium Outlet Mall with over 120 stores for us ladies to enjoy.

After visiting downtown and having lunch at a cute Japanese sidewalk terrace, we headed out to wine country, about a 10 minute drive. Livermore has over 50 wineries where you can visit, taste and purchase the local wines. We were looking to send a case of California wine to a well deserving Real Estate agent in Vancouver, British Columbia so I picked two wineries at random. One large and one small. After visiting both I can now safely say small is not always better. At the small one,  which shall remain nameless, the wine tasting was rushed, the price of the tasting was not deductible from your purchase and the personnel was unsure when questioned about their wines and the region. At the larger winery (Wente) ,the experience was much better. Of course, you will assume that after tasting 6 different wines at the first one, any other visit would be great, right ? Well you could but despite what you may think, I was not drunk, nor impaired and not driving. At Wente the personnel was knowledgeable, attentive and interested in my comments on their products. The tastings were generous and the wines were outstanding. I could go on and on about the wineries but I would rather inform you of shipping wine to Canada. Shipping wine to Canada or even to another U.S. state from Livermore or from anywhere in California appears to be a very tedious operation. Now if you are a Canadian visiting California and wishing to ship wine from California to Canada, be informed that the only province you cannot ship to is British Columbia. A competition clause due to the important wine industry in that province prevents you from shipping to BC. That news forced us to make alternate plans for our favorite real estate agent.  To ship wine anywhere else in Canada, you buy the wine and call Fedex who will ship it for you and provide you with all of the customs fees and details. The wineries will not handle that transaction for you. Of course you can drive it back to Canada, if you are so inclined but that would be a long ride and I don`t know what the  added cost per bottle would be at Border. It's better to find out before and avoid the surprise of the surcharge.

We really enjoyed our time there and it is at the top of our list of contenders as a place to buy a house.  People there are nice and friendly and love their town. Finally, Livermore is also a great place to spend the day. Bring a picnic, bring your bicycle but beware, the Summer days can be quite hot in that area so bring lots of water and sunscreen. And don't forget your camera !

P.S. I will add photos when I figure out how to transfer my photos from my new camera to my computer. Stay tuned !

Here's a quick and easy meatball and tomato sauce recipe you can freeze and use on a night when extra time is a luxury.

Meatballs with tomato sauce
(Serve it over rice, pasta, quinoa, couscous or just as is)

32oz/ 1kg canned tomatoes
4 Tb extra virgin olive oil
7 oz/200 g crusty white bread
1 lb/500 g ground lean beef
1 cup/125 g grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
to taste

Cook the tomatoes with the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat for 15 minutes stirring often. Grate the bread into a large bowl. Mix in the beef, parmesan and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in 4 Tb of the tomatoes. Shape the mixture into balls about the size of large plums. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce. Cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through, shaking the pan very gently from time ti time. Serve the meatballs hot with the sauce.

Enjoy !


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Take 20 - Tax Time or On my way to San Francisco

On Caltrain, leaving San Jose Diridon Station

1st stop Santa Clara

It's tax time and my husband David does our taxes. He has always done them but now it has become more complicated since we are filing two reports for the US and one for Canada, so double the trouble or pleasure, depending on your point of view. Where am I going with all of this talk about tax returns? Well, this is when David turns into a person I hardly know.

Next stop, Lawrence

The mood has to be just right, the papers put a certain way and particularly I, have to be out of the way. Reminds me of someone in a very distant past life who would become a very emotional man when painting a room. So emotional that staying there would have qualified me for instant excommunication from the Catholic church by osmosis. So, of course, I would choose not to be there to watch the blasphemous process but rather back later to admire da Vinci's masterpiece. But, I digress ....

Next stop, Sunnyvale.

In this case, I was dispatched to San Francisco for a ME Day. Financial concerns thrown to the wind, as everyone knows how San Fran can be mighty tempting and at times, quite expensive.

Next stop, Mountain View.

I love travelling by train. It's calming and while you can do so many things, I choose to just stare out the window as the scenery and the stations go by. So, for now, if you will leave me with my thoughts on this 88 minute train ride. Aaaaah !

All of the other stops: San Antonio, California Avenue, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont, Hillsdale, Hayward Park, San Mateo, Burlingame,
Millbrae, San Bruno, So. San Francisco, Bayshore, 22nd Street.

So, once off the train at 22nd Street, a station I had never exited from, I was at a loss to find the bus stop for Bus 48. The map on my phone said it was located at 22nd and Iowa. However, I searched,I looked, I walked back and forth a couple of time and just couldn't find it when all of a sudden, there it was !  Printed on a post, as this photo will attest. 

Also, while on a Muni bus in San Fran, I first saw a group boarding the bus with a dog. Okey, I mused. Then, a few stops later another lady boards with a dog. Curiouser and Curiouser ! Upon exiting I asked the driver what was up with the dogs on the bus and here is the thing: dogs are allowed on San Francisco buses outside rush hour. Whot?!  If your dog is a service dog, he rides for free. If he is not a service dog, you pay regular adult fare for your dog. Yes, a bus fare for your pooch ! I was flabbergasted ! Wow. Has anyone ever seen such a service. Don't get me wrong, I am overjoyed. One day I will ride a Muni bus with my Taylor, just for the experience of it all and I will take and post photos of it too.

Once off the bus, my destination was Omnivore.

A cookbook aficionado's dream, Omnivore is a book store totally dedicated to cookbooks, new, older, antiques and collectors' treasures including signed copies of various cookbooks. It also has books on food history and food related subjects. The large single room is airy and filled with light. At my request, the owner enthusiastically walked me through the sections. She also explained how the store holds events such as signings. On the afternoon of the day I visited, the store was holding a pudding contest where entrants dispensed their puddings to anyone who paid the $5.00 fee to try all puddings and finally crown a winner. While there I bought three wonderful books and discussed authors with the owner. This lady knows her stuff and her cookbooks. She also regaled me with anecdotes about authors and past book signing events. I will return to buy more books and surely to enjoy another chat about cookbooks and their authors. So if cookbooks are your thing, I urge you to visit. Here is the info,
Omnivore Books, 3885 Cesar Chavez Street, San Francisco. 
And if you cannot make your way to San Francisco, visit the store's website at:

I spent the rest of my day walking, shopping and simply enjoying the city and its throngs of people. I know I have said this or something similar in a past post but how strange this is to be walking the streets of San Francisco as a California resident and not as a tourist. It's a strange but also great feeling.

Finally, how educational to take day trips to the City, as San Francisco is called here. Does that imply that everywhere else (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Mountain View,etc., etc.,) are all towns?  Hummm. Anyway, as I was saying it's an education to go to the City. Did you know you could drink alcohol on Cal trains? BYOB if you will ! I was on the train going back to San Jose and from my vantage point on the upper deck, I thought I spotted a girl on the lower deck drinking from a bottle that looked suspiciously like a beer bottle. I was afraid for her as I thought she would get caught when a few minutes later there was an announcement saying that because of a hockey game that evening (the Sharks were playing in San Jose) there would be no alcohol consumption allowed on the train after 9:00 pm. Huh ? Ok, so party on train riders ?!?

Because of the length of this particular post, I will skip the recipe, just this time. Promise :-)

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Take 19 - My Playlist

Having been down and out with the Mother of all colds and coughs for the past few weeks and no, it was not the flu and yes, I had my flu shot, I have done little in the way of day trips and hole in the wall discovery around the Bay Area. So, in order to redeem myself a little to all you devoted readers and followers I thought I would tell you a bit about my playlist. Everywhere you read an interview of some famous person, the ubiquitous question is: What's on your playlist ? Well, I am not famous nor important but I have a big dog who needs lots of exercise, so I walk a lot. I also go to the gym several times a week so, I listen to a lot of music. I thought I would give you a sampling of what I listen to on my IPhone or on my mp3 on an almost daily basis. You will find a link to the YouTube video for that song. I hope you enjoy this musical journey!

The newer ones :

Allen Stone - Sleep

Churchill - Change

Neon Trees - Everybody Talks

Fun - We are young

Graffiti6 - Free

Fitz and the Tantrums - Don't gotta work it out

John Mayer - If I ever get around to living

The oldies but goodies :

Level 42 - Lessons in love

The Eagles - Already gone

The Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute

Tears for fear - Everybody wants to rule the world

Earth, Wind and Fire - Got to get you into my life

Supertramp - Dreamer

Now on to the food part of this post.
Here is a sweet recipe that is nothing if not super easy and here is a little trick to make it even easier. The recipe uses a jar of Nutella (13 oz) or a similar product. A few seconds in the microwave before whisking with the eggs and water will save you some serious elbow grease. Just make sure to carefully and completely remove the metallic seal on the jar. This recipe gives you moist and flavorful brownies. Quite decadent !

Coffee-Chocolate Brownies
Makes 9 brownies


1 (13-ounce) jar (about 1¼ cups) chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella or a similar product
2 eggs
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant coffee, preferably instant espresso


Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Preheat oven to 350°. Line an 8"-square baking pan with foil.

In a large bowl, whisk together chocolate-hazelnut spread, eggs, and ¼ cup water. Stir in flour, salt and instant coffee and transfer to prepared pan. Bake until just set around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside to let cool completely. The brownies will be moist in the center.

Using foil to lift them, remove brownies from pan. Cut brownies into squares and enjoy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Take 18 - A New Year with New Toys !


Happy New Year to all of you ! And what a great year it will be if only for the fact that during the Holidays in Monterey (more on that later), I discovered the online game, Words with Friends. I knew of the game through the Alec Baldwin incident on a plane and all, but until I actually tried it, I hadn't experienced the thrill. Total disclosure ? I am lousy at it. Oh, I come up with great words but I am no strategist. David, on the other hand, is a great strategist, with simpler words.  So, most of the time I lose but still, I love the game and I am probably slightly addicted to it. Ok, totally addicted to it. I will keep at it and hopefully, I will improve and beat my husband at it.

So now on to Monterey. I know, at the risk of boring some of you to tears, we love our Golden Retriever, Taylor and we often plan our free time with him in mind. So this time we headed to Monterey (next to Carmel). While I would not recommend the hotel I chose (Mariposa Inn)  with creaky floors and a huge charge ($40 a night) to have Taylor stay with us, I highly recommend Monterey where your dog, large or small is welcome into almost all stores including Crate & Barrel, H&M, Pottery Barn and too many other stores to list here. I think it's wonderful to be able to go on short vacations and to include your dog. To walk the streets, stop for a coffee or a meal at a terrace, stroll parks and visit sites with your pooch is a great thing.

For Christmas I was given a Fitbit. Ok,  I asked for a Fitbit as a Christmas present and frankly, here is another thing that is totally addictive. Fitbit is a device that tracks all kinds of things you do from the number of steps you take, the calories you burn, the stairs you climb, etc. you clip it to your t-shirt or bra, you sync it with your laptop or pad or both and this way every day you get a full report of your physical activities. The aim is to reach or do better than 10,000 steps a day. Steps can be reached through walking, of course, but also if you are pedaling on a bike at the gym or if you are standing you can step, discreetly or not while you wait around, so why not step and be active. And while we are on the subject of fitness, I have joined a gym. A recent bone density test forced me to finally take the plunge. I had looked into joining a gym since I moved here to California but I was not satisfied with what I saw while visiting several places. I didn't want the usual muscle building factory. I wanted something better. So, one day,I came across Club One at Santana Row here in San Jose. OMG, I fell hard and with good reasons. Located on the third floor of a building in fantastic Santana Row, the elevator doors opened into a huge reception area with large windows that let the sun shine in. The place is clean and modern and looks more like a spa than a gym. The ladies' locker room is great with all you could need to get ready after your workout. Everything is supplied including cotton balls, Q-tips, mouthwash, body wash and lots more. This locker room also includes also includes a sauna and a steam room. There are loads of classes, the equipment is top of the line and at the time I go, there are no waiting lines for any machine. Anyway, what I'm getting at is, I started in mid-December and love going there. I believe the trick is, choose your gym carefully. Visit many and choose the best you can afford. This place isn't cheap, but if you love it you'll go. At least, that is my philosophy. It's simply a pleasure each time. The minute I walk in, you feel like getting on with business.  And did I mention the personnel is outstanding. Ok, enough on my wonderful gym !

To help you get through Winter, how about a warming drink ? This is Dr. Sanjay Gupta's favorite concoction and it's also good for your brain. I tried it and loved it.

Dr. Gupta's Creamy Turmeric Tea
(1 serving)

1 cup almond milk
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Ginger
1 teaspoon Honey to drizzle on top

Pour milk in a saucepan and add the spices. Over medium heat and as the milk warms, whisk it all together. When milk is warm enough to drink and before boiling, pour into a mug. Drizzle honey on top.