Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Decorating: Tricker Treat!!

First of all, yes, Mom. I know it's spelled "trick or treat". I just think it's funny to spell it phonetically. And by phonetically, I mean how I say it.

Well, I put off decorating to the very last minute, but I managed to dig out a box of Halloween goodness to throw all over my porch. Above is this year's Jack-o-Lantern, Ned. Please ignore Ned's pen ink moustache. He's sensitive about it.

Some more scenes from my porch (with really weird lighting - very Halloweeny, no?) below:

Giant candy bowl is outside, so that if I want Hershey's bars and Twizzlers, I have to go out on the porch for them. Since I'm currently munching on a Twizzler, I'm not sure how effective this plan is.

I found Mrs. Pumpkin-Head just languishing in my garage, so I hung her by the door. She's not as blue and washed-out as my bad photography makes her seem.

I've had this sign for years, though the best place for it means that "Witch Way" points away from my house, which is probably inaccurate.

Glamour shot of Ned, Mrs. Pumpkinhead and little Mexican paper mache pumpkin (Jose, I guess?). I line the steps with Mason jars filled with candles and candy corn. You can see three of them in this shot. That is, you can see them if you squint.

These pictures suck. Sorry. It looks nice, trust me.

Here's a shot of the Mason jar. The candies and candle wax fuse together to make a pile of mess that you'll never get out, so you might as well set them aside for next Halloween. Which is precisely what I did last Halloween.

Hopefully these decorations will lure the tricker treaters out of the woodwork, because I love them.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Decorating: Tabletop Graveyard

Meet my new favorite Halloween decoration: the Instant Cemetery!

I got this on Etsy, and if you don't already know Etsy, I'm really, really sorry for introducing you to your new addiction. It's this awesome site where people sell things they made by hand - anything from clothes to paintings to makeup to Instant Cemeteries!

This was made by Crafterella, and came packed in an adorable paint can. (It even had one of those paint can openers!) Each of the tombstones is drawn by her and then printed on heavy cardstock with a built-in stand thing on the back.

I like the fact that there are so many of them, because I love the look of things (books, candles, what have you) massed on a table. I have these on my dining room buffet, which has a mirrored back. Thus, you could probably blow these pictures up and see who I was murdering in my dining room.

Not that I'm murdering anyone in my dining room. Just saying.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What I'm Reading: Prodigal Son

Yes, yes, I owe you a Gary Danko review post. It's coming soon, I swear. DO NOT DESPAIR.

In the meantime, let's play What's Foo Reading!

My mom recommended this book to me (which the librarian found funny for some reason), and of course, mom is usually right.

Prodigal Son is actually a novel by Dean Koontz, but he's teamed with a comic book artist to turn the story into a series of graphic novels. I usually don't consider myself cool enough for graphic novels, but picked this up at the Library by mistake.

The story is a modern-day "retelling" of the Victor Frankenstein story. It's interesting how Koontz sees Shelley's Frankenstein as essentially a utopian - someone who believes he can make a better world by cheating death. Koontz' Victor has survived to our time, and he still believes in a utopia - but the idea has gotten very twisted. I won't go into too much detail, but let's just say that Victor's gotten much better at his work since his original Monster.

Anyway, the art work is great, with buxom blonde ladies and strapping young men. Honestly, the whole thing is pretty bloody - I haven't decided if that's better in a graphic novel or not. Maybe it's worse when all the blood is in your head.

Anyway, my mom says the novel itself is worth reading, but I'm kind of hooked on the graphic novels now. If you read either, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TWD: Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte

I like the concept of Tuesdays with Dorie. I really do. But the practical aspects of baking a delicious new dessert every week - on top of trying to shed excess weight - is what gives me pause.

That's where I was when this week's choice came up: the Cherry-Fudge Brownie Torte. It sounded scrumptious, but what was I going to do with a huge brownie torte in the house? I came this close to passing when I realized that this recipe fell on the same week as my birthday.

Voila! Instant birthday cake.

Note the mad birthday around the cake, in the form of copious beer bottles/wine glasses.

And thank goodness, too, because this thing was spectacular. For serious. One of the best things I've ever baked (and that's kinda saying something.)

The bottom layer is a dense, rich brownie, laced with dried cherries plumped in kirsch and glazed in cherry preserves. It's also dotted throughout the batter with chunks of bittersweet chocolate. The top layer is a mascarpone/cream cheese mousse. The creamy, barely-sweetened mousse is the perfect counterpoint to the sweet, heavy brownie.

In a word: Awesome.

It comes together fairly easily, but you have to plan ahead. I made the brownie in the morning, and the mousse about 5pm, and then stuck it in the fridge until my midnight serving time. Both the brownie and mousse are easy to make, but you have to give plenty of cooling off and resting time, and quite frankly, even after seven hours in the fridge the mousse was rather soft. The next morning for breakfast, though, the mousse was perfectly set. If When I try this again, I will plan to let it chill overnight.

I didn't make many substitutions, using the cherries and cherry preserves, along with the kirsch, but I could see using other dried fruits. I messed up shopping, though, and only got 8 oz. of mascarpone instead of the 12 the recipe called for; I made up the difference in cream cheese with no noticeable negative effect.

I used melted semi-sweet chocolate for the brownie (7 oz.) and a bittersweet bar to cut into chunks. I made big chunks, which surprised people when they bit into the cake. Most people liked the chocolate, but at least one thought it disrupted the texture. I might cut it a little smaller in the future.

All in all, everyone who tasted this raved about it. Considering how relatively easy it is and how special it feels, I'll definitely put this in my "make again" file.

This week's TWD was April of Short + Rose. You can find the step-by-step and recipe on her site.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Birthday Finale

So, I partied hard both Thursday and Friday. By the time my actual birthday rolled around, I was almost birthdayed out. But I managed to find the strength to go on...

Saturday, Day - Despite being up til nearly four, I rolled groggily out of bed at 9am. I was immediately greeted by a ton of text messages (thank God people have figured me out and no one actually called - I'm a text message kind of girl). There was a really sweet one from my Mom:

"I still remember the morning you were born..." followed shortly by: "Granted, it was a LOOONG time ago..."

Thanks, Mom.

Of all the Galacticans (our name for our gang of gaming geeks), David was the one with the longest drive home, so he'd just gotten a little motel down the street from the house. He and I met for breakfast. I took him to my favorite little Pacifica cafe - Nona's Kitchen - which is in a little shopping mall on the surfer's beach. They serve great homestyle food but with a gourmet twist.

I met David through our mutual friend Davy, at an all-day board game day, and he was one of those people I knew instantly would be my friend. Mostly though, our interactions were around gaming. It was unbelievably nice to spend two hours lingering over our coffee and just talking - about life, things he's done and seen, spirituality, and of course, gaming. It was kind of one of the highlights of my weekend.

After breakfast, I went back to bed. Ha!

Saturday, Evening - The finale: Restaurant Gary Danko. I got dressed up (sort of business casual, actually; GD is remarkably laid back to be so nice), and took the train into the city, then hopped into a cab to go across town to the restaurant.

(My cab driver, Josef, was from Ethiopia and hilarious. He would go from joking with and teasing me to screaming out the window at the next car. I gave him a big tip.)

There was no room at the bar when I arrived, so Marise, her boyfriend Jason and I stood in a corner drinking cocktails while we waited for Shawn. They seated us right at six.

I will do a full Gary Danko review soon (maybe later today). Fortunately, Jason's an awesome photographer so he took tons and tons of pictures. Not a single one has people in it, because none of us could focus on anything but the food.

The food! Our server, Michael, was fantastic, and they even had a special vegetarian menu that I could order from. I got a full five-course meal, although I ended up leaving some on my plate from each course. I had a fig salad with fennel and red cabbage; a crispy egg on a bed of polenta, chanterelles and deliciousness; perfectly-cooked risotto with butternut squash and peas; their cheese course (I got five choices because it was my birthday!); and dessert. For dessert, I had the chocolate souffle with two sauces, plus they brought out a little lemon dessert for my birthday. PLUS, I had two bellinis.

The conversation around the table was fun and warm and my friends (I think I may have mentioned this) are bloody awesome. It took three hours for us all to finish our meal, and then we all waddled home. (I got another great cab driver - this one a cranky old man from Russia.)

All in all, I'm going to call it:

This was the best. Birthday.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Birthdaying

The celebrations started on Thursday, and continued on...

Friday, Day - I took Friday off, which is a treat unto itself. It was mostly quiet: shopping, straightening the house and cooking. I prepped my infamous Grape Jelly Meatballs, some olive cheese bread and brown sugar-macadamia-brandy-glazed brie (and of course, completely forgot pictures of all of them - sorry). I also made this week's Tuesdays with Dorie dessert as my birthday cake - a cherry-fudge brownie torte with mascarpone mousse topping. (I'm currently still in bed, trying hard to convince myself not to go down and cut a piece for breakfast, but that's a story for another day.)

Plus, I sent my mom flowers. Sending your mom flowers on your birthday is good karma.

Friday, Evening - This was what I'd been waiting for. You see, for several months now, a group of us has played the Battlestar Galactica Board Game together. We're kind of obsessed. It's one of those groups where we play the game to have fun, and not necessarily to decimate our opponents, so I love playing with them. However, there are seven of us and till now, we haven't all been able to play at once. The new expansion allows for seven players, though, and we'd waited months for the stars to align so we could all get in the room together. It just so happened to be on the night before my birthday.

So, everyone arrived with lots and lots of booze and lots and lots of food. My friend Risey brought fixings for bruschetta with carmelized onions, port and blue cheese which were out of this world, and my friend David picked up my favorite red velvet cupcakes. (And yes, our gaming group does eat better than most...) There was so much food that we didn't even bother ordering dinner.

Me and David (or "DJ David K"), whom I love even though he's always the Cylon/Bad Guy

Now, some of what happened during the evening won't make sense without some knowledge of the game, so bear with me. First, it's based on the new Battlestar Galactica show, so all the pictures on the cards are of the new actors. Basically, there are four types of characters you can play (pilot, military leader, etc.) and each type contains three different characters - each with their own abilities and drawbacks. At the beginning of the game, you choose who you want to be that game. Everyone usually chooses someone different each time we play.

The gang, arguing some obscure point that is crucial to the humans' survival...

Except me.

I always play Apollo. Always. It's because of his abilities and how I like to play, but the guys insist it's because he's cute. (Which, okay, fine...he is. But, still...) It's become a running joke now, to the point where I'm referred to as Jenna/Apollo - or "Slash" for short.

On a side note: choosing our characters was hilarious. What we do is lay out all the character cards and everyone decides their first choice. You put a token on your first choice; if two people want the same character, we roll for it - high roll gets to play the character. No one usually puts in against me for Apollo because a.) most people don't like playing pilots and b.) I'm Apollo, dammit.

So, I put down my token on Apollo, walked into the kitchen, and came back to find everyone else's token on Apollo, too. Bitches.

"Oh, hell no. Ya'll need to get your tokens off my boy!"

(And yes, of course, they let me play Apollo. It was my birthday, after all.)

Anyway, I won't bore you with the details of the game, but we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves. And then the clock struck midnight. Yay! It was my birthday! Everyone immediately starting singing Happy Birthday, which was adorable.

Out came the torte (delicious) and a bottle of champagne, so we stopped for a "birthday break". At this point, I'm thinking the night is pretty much perfect and can't get any better. I'm totally unprepared for another surprise.

They'd been planning it secretly for a while, apparently. First, there was an adorable card filled with inside jokes about Apollo and gaming. I loved it. Inside the card was a gift certificate to a game store, because what else do you get a gamer for her birthday? Since I have a whole list of games I want, this is awesome.

But there was one more gift.

Remember, these guys are all about inside jokes, and they insist I'm all about Apollo. So, I unwrapped a framed picture of the guy who plays Apollo in a scene from the show, wearing nothing but a towel - and barely at that. They'd even added a cheeky "note" from "Apollo" - written to "Slash".

No caption necessary.

It was completely silly and completely perfect.

I can't tell you what a fun evening I had, and what a great start to the year this has been.

Risey, David, Davy, Shawn, Bryce and Sam - thank you. You guys are the very best.

Birthday Update, Part Two

I've been 40 for just over 3 hours, and am so excited I can't sleep. Not because I'm excited about being 40, but because I feel great and loved and everything else you can think of that's good.

I'm too worn out to fiddle with the camera, but I do have some pictures I can post later. Still, I wanted to share what's been going on on my "birthday weekend extravaganza".

Thursday Day - We celebrated my birthday at work on Thursday, since I took Friday off. First, I was totally surprised when one of my friends, C, dropped by and handed me a wrapped package. Turns out, it was a book - an encyclopedia of mythical creatures from all over the world. I was spellbound by it all day. She said she actually saw it and thought of me, so she picked it up - not even knowing my birthday was near.

My friend M baked a cake for me, and we all shared it in the kitchen. It was my favorite - chocolate cake with white icing - and absolutely scrumptious. Plus, I have a soft spot for homemade cakes. When someone makes me a birthday cake - or I make one for someone - I think it feels really special. I felt special, at least.

Thursday Evening - At the end of the day, several of us walked over to Norton's Vault, a cool pub down the street from my office. I think this may be my go-to pub now. It has a great atmosphere - open and free-flowing, yet cozy at the same time. We started drinking Guinness, progressed to Irish whiskey, and then more and more and more people showed up. Altogether, there were almost 20 people who came to wish me "happy birthday", including several who don't normally do happy hour-type things. Everyone was super nice, and kept telling me how great I looked and I didn't look 40, etc. Not sure if they were stretching the truth or not (don't people always have to say that?), but it felt good nonetheless.

(Also, one friend from another department hadn't seen me in a couple of months, and she was so tickled over my weight loss that I got tickled, too.)

I mingled around the table, I drank whiskey, and I shined my light, which I haven't necessarily in a while.

To say I felt great is a mild understatement.

I even made a new friend - a woman invited by one of the guys whom I instantly connected with. We rode the train home together, and she gave me the warmest hug before her stop.

Yes, definitely a good day.

I'm getting sleepy now (finally), so I'll pick up tomorrow with the story of the even MORE awesome day I had on Friday...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Birthday Update

So, I finally made a decision on my birthday plans for this Saturday. In fact, the celebrations begin today:

Thursday - I'm going out for drinks after work at Norton's Vault with a bunch of co-workers. There's also a rumor that there may be cake at work.

Friday - Taking the day off to do some napping and cooking. My "boys" (the guys - and one girl - I game with) are coming over after work. We'll order a feast of pizza and/or chinese, break out the bubbly and the Red Bull, and play Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game all night long. Yes, I am that geeky.

Saturday: I'll go from immature to very mature, by ending the celebrations with a fancy meal at Restaurant Gary Danko, along with three close friends.

Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD: Sweet Potato Biscuits

This week was my first week baking for Tuesdays with Dorie, and this week's recipe was...
Sweet Potatah Biskits
(That's the proper, phonetic Southern spelling, of course. Dorie spells them "right".)

Funnily enough, I recently tested a recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits for a well-known cooking mag, and as yummy as they were, I threatened to never make them again. Between all the steaming and mashing of sweet potatoes, and the sticky, sticky dough, they were a fracking pain in the butt.

Dorie gets around all that by using canned ... yes, canned ... sweet potatoes. Not only did I appreciate the workaround, but my mom uses canned sweet potatoes in her casserole at Thanksgiving, so there was a bit of nostalgia going on, too. And nostalgia in the kitchen is always a good thing, far as I'm concerned.

These came together quickly, partly because of this shortcut, and I got them in the oven without too much trouble. (The dough is still sticky, but that's somewhat to be expected with biskits.) After I cut out my first biscuits and patted it back into a rectangle a second and third time, I did end up with a tad of leftover dough, but I also ended up with the recipe-specified 18 biscuits, so that's good.

As you can see above, these are not tall biscuits and they're not flaky-style ones, either. Mine baked up fairly flat, though they were moist and tender. Some of the other TWD bakers were offended by this, but I thought they were a good country-style biscuit.

The taste is ... okay. Lots of sweet potato taste, and I actually did taste a lot of butter. (Though that could be because I eat a lot less fat now and my tastes have changed.) I added both cinnamon and nutmeg, but couldn't really taste them and thought that overall the biscuits tasted a little flat. I might up the spices if I made these again.

Finally, I froze half of them (Dorie says you can freeze them for up to 2 months), since I couldn't eat them all myself and they don't keep that well. I'll let you know how the frozen ones do once I bake them up...whenever that is.

Overall, a good recipe, especially because it can be made quickly and with pantry ingredients. I loved it as an accompaniment to fall soups. I would definitely make this again.

This week's recipe was chosen by Erin of Prudence Pennywise. You can get the recipe there, along with her own recipe for sweet potato rolls. Otherwise, it's on page 26 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What I'm Reading: Baking from my Home to Yours

Okay, so I've been wanting to do a regular "What I'm Reading" feature, and this is as good a place to start as any.

And while we're starting stuff, let's start with a confession: I read cookbooks in bed. Yes. Cookbooks. It helps me fall asleep. There's a stack of 5 cookbooks on one side of my bed as we speak.

Anyhoo, I added this book to the stack mostly because I decided to start doing Tuesdays with Dorie. This is essentially a group of bloggers who are baking their way through this very book. They choose a new recipe to make every week, and then you bake it, take photos and post your experience with it on your blog. They've already gone through a lot of the book, but I figured starting late was better than starting never, right?

My first recipe was this past week, the sweet potato biscuits; I'll post those tomorrow. This week's recipe, which I hope to make for my birthday party, is a chocolate cherry brownie torte with a mascarpone mousse top layer. (Umm...hello?? Yum!)

Overall, I'm quite enamored with the book. It's one of those few cookbooks where nearly every recipe is something I'd actually want to eat. She doesn't go for a lot of the fancy pants desserts - there are a lot of chunky cookies, mile-high layer cakes and the like. They don't all have pictures, but the ones that do are usually big and bold and delicious-looking. There's a photo of a chocolate brownie cake with a carmel and salted peanut topping that I can't get out of my mind...

I'm not as impressed with her writing in the introductions to the recipes. She doesn't have the graceful pen of a Nigella Lawson or the honest voice of an Ina Garten. But she does seem to write solid recipes and again, the kinds of recipes a home cook could really make.

I'll have to make a few more of the recipes to tell if they're as foolproof as some of my favorite cookbook authors (like Ina Garten), but so far, I'm a fan of Dorie.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

As I mentioned in this post, I'm on the hunt for orange Fall soups, and apparently, they're hard to come by. Even though it's Fall. Go figure. So, I spent some time this Sunday afternoon and made a big pot for the coming week.

It was simple enough to make, and pretty healthy, especially since I used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. There was a bit of cream (as you can see from the pretty splashies above), but only 1/4 cup for a huge pot of soup, and it really needed it.

Basically you take 3 pounds of butternut squash...

...and cut it into chunks. Not as hard as I expected, because the recipe suggested a trick: lay it on its side and lop off both ends. Then cut in it in two between the neck and the bulbous part of the squash. Then you can turn the pieces right side up, and use a vegetable peeler to peel them. Cut the pieces in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Voila! All peeled, seeded, and ready to cut into chunks and roast.

Anyway, recipe is below. And here it is in its cup, prior to being in my belly. The craggy biscuits next to it are the Sweet Potato Biscuits I made for Tuesdays with Dorie ... but I'll talk about those on Tuesday.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

1 medium butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks.
3 medium shallots, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
4 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup heavy cream

Adjust oven rack to center and heat oven to 450 degrees. Toss squash, shallots, oil, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a large roasting pan, then spread them into a single layer. Roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are golden brown and soft, around 45 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth to pan and scrape up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Return to oven and cook until liquid has reduced and vegetables are glazed, about 5 minutes.

Working in two batches, puree squash mixture with remaining broth until smooth. (You can also use an immersion blender.) Transfer puree to large saucepan and stir in syrup, vinegar, nutmeg, and cream. Bring soup to simmer over medium-low heat, adding 1/4 cup of water at a time, if necessary, to adjust consistency.

Note: I like this recipe, but it's very shalloty. I don't mind the taste of onion/shallots, but I thought the roasted shallots were TOO pronounced, so I'd actually cut back to only one or two next time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lunchtime at the Farmer's Market

Let me preface this post by explaining that I am currently obsessed - obsessed - with orange soups. To blame for my current issue is the San Francisco Soup Company, which has branches all over downtown San Francisco, including one within spitting distance of the door of my building.

They have amazing orange soups: roasted pumpkin, Caribbean sweet potato, curried butternut squash. Seriously awesome. I've been known to walk across town to get to the one store carrying roasted pumpkin when our store was out.

Yet for some reason, they won't serve them, even though it's clearly the season for them. Every day I check the specials board and every day there's chilled gazpacho, and no orange soup. Chilled gazpacho in October in San Francisco, guys? Really?

So, to hell with the San Francisco Soup Company. Stupid San Francisco Soup Company. I'll make it myself.

Fortunately, on my lunch break, I can walk straight down California street and wind up here:

The Ferry Building, which hosts a ginormous farmer's market every Saturday, and two smaller ones on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's very small on Thursdays, but I found one booth called Thomas Farm Organic that had everything I wanted. Namely...

I got butternut squash for my curried butternut squash soup, but these sweet dumpling squashes looked pretty. Must be murder to peel, though.

What in the world are jelly potatoes? I didn't know, but I needed them. Really, really needed them. I got a pound.

These Thomas guys thought of everything. I picked up some fancy dahlias to go.

There are worse ways to spend your lunch hour, especially on a day like today - that couldn't decide if it was going to be sunny or rainy, and finally, gloriously, decided on sunny.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween Decorating: Vomiting Pumpkin

Aw... Poor Mr. Pumpkin had a tad too much to drink on Halloween night.

Who could blame him really? If you had your insides scooped out and a candle stuck up your butt, you'd get a little drunk, too.

This centerpiece is beyond cute, and you can eat the vomit! Bonus!

Frat Boy Jack is SUPER simple to make. I used a mini pumpkin, which I thought worked really well on the buffet table, but I suppose you could use any sized pumpkin.

1.) Prep the pumpkin like you would any normal jack-o-lantern.

2.) With a sharp paring knife, cut two "X"s for eyes. (You will want to cut them a little wider than single lines, just so you'll be able to see them from afar.)

3.) Cut a large rectangle for the mouth.

4.) Position the pumpkin at the back of a large platter.

5.) Take a tub of hummus, and spread a little around the mouth. Then, pour the hummus onto the platter so it appears to be coming from Jack.

Note: I've seen people add a smidge of green food coloring to make the "puke" look green, but I thought it was fine as is.

6.) Add plenty of crackers or pita wedges to the platter, and serve. Preferably with a beer bong.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Big Fat Four-Oh

I’m turning 40.

There, I said it. YEAH, I SAID IT!

I mean, it’s not like people don’t at least suspect, right? I do have an 18-year-old daughter. Unless I had her at twelve (and I am from the South, so you never really know), you can kinda do the math.

(Unless you’re really bad at math, and if so I completely empathize with you. You and I were busy in school learning other stuff. BETTER stuff.)

Despite the combative nature of the Post So Far, I’m feeling oddly blasé about the number itself. I mean, I think I look fairly decent for my age, with only a few wrinkles to show for it. I am pretty happy with my life as it stands, and while I haven’t accomplished world domination (sadly) or sold a novel, I do feel like I’ve done and seen a lot.

You know what’s bothering me? The birthday. The ACTUAL day. Now, I love birthdays, and I usually don’t let mine pass without marking “Jenna Day” on people’s calendars and at least making sure to gorge myself on cake. And usually, celebrating on days other than THE date is totally cool.

But this one – the day of - feels like a big deal. More importantly, it feels like I need to make a big deal out of it, or I’ll sit at home feeling sorry for myself.

The original plan was simple: spend the evening with my very closest friends at one of the best restaurants in San Francisco: Gary Danko. Got reservations two months in advance, and was all set.

Then Life happened. (Thanks, Life. You’re great.) Fully half my very best friends had to pull out - all for very good reasons. And while there will be other celebrations (had the first of them last Saturday night – til 3am! Wheee!), I have to decide what to do with that night.

Right now, I can continue out with a smaller group to Gary Danko. Which would be great to cover for this blog. However, there is another, tantalizing option: I could take the Monday after my birthday (a Saturday) off, and go up to Mendocino for two days. Just me, the dog, a cute cottage and plenty of nice restaurants and spas. Mendocino would also be great to cover for the blog. (It would also, if we're being honest, not cost much more than GD.)

Cue: decision paralysis.

It’s not that I’m that upset about turning 40.

It’s that I hate making decisions. I am the master at avoiding decisions. Stupid decisions.

Want to make my decision for me? (You won’t be able to but good on ya for giving it the old college try, to mix cultural catchphrases.) Comment below!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Annual Plum Cake

This plum cake is so delicious, I don't know why I only make it once a year. I do, actually. I'm not huge on plums. If I do buy them, I'll only buy a couple at a time. I'm not going to go out of my way to buy enough to make a cake out of them.

Except, inevitably, I do ... mostly because someone gives me a carload of plums from their backyard, and I have to figure out what in Hades I'll do with them all.

Enter the Barefoot Contessa's "Plum Cake Tatin":

I can't express how good it is. Every year, I make it and think "I should make this all the time!" That sums it up. I never do, but still...

Basically, the halved (and pitted, natch) plums are placed cut side down in the pie plate, like so:

Then a hot, sugary caramel is poured over them, and over that is a rich, citrusy cake. After it's baked, you turn it upside down, cover it in powdered sugar and chow down. The cake is light, airy and moist, and the caramel brings out the sweetness in the plums.

It's awesome with a cup of tea.

I coulda taken a rag to the edges of that platter, huh? Geez.

Anyway, you can find the Barefoot Contessa's recipe here. I'd highly recommend it, and more than once a year.

Note: If you follow the link to the Food Network site, go to the Comments & Reviews section. Several reviewers of this dish suggested using different fruits, and I have to say, the cake (which has a slight citrus flavor) is well-designed to handle different fruits. I may try it with something other than plums.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Really, Really, Really, Really Bad Day

Today was a Really Bad Day ™. No, I’m serious…


Maybe it was because I stayed up too late last night and drank for the first time in months. Maybe I stepped on a black cat’s back and hit them with a broken mirror. Under a stepladder.

But my luck stinks. To wit:

BLEEDING TO DEATH - There I was, just trying to open the almond butter, which refused to budge. My hand slipped from the stubborn almond butter right into the open can of dog food I’d just fed Stella from.

At first, the cut just hurt a little, but it was bleeding, so I headed to the bathroom.

By the time I got there, the blood was gushing down my arm and dripping from my elbow. I applied pressure, but it just kept spouting with every heartbeat. But no matter how much pressure I applied, I couldn’t stop the bleeding.

After 20 minutes my bathroom looked like a murder scene and I actually began to be concerned about blood loss. It wasn’t even that big of a cut, and it was my freaking pinky finger. I was going to die of pinky finger.

So, I went to the ER. And then, of course, the bleeding stopped.

I laughed and said, haha, maybe I shouldn’t be there. The attendent looked at me, and applied pressure to the bottom of my finger (and this was over an hour after it happened), which immediately caused another geyser. Then I got to sit there, digging my nails into the chair, while he rinsed it out with a spray of hot water.

On a cool note, I didn’t need stitches and they actually crazy glued it shut! Srsly! They said it’s the exact same ingredient as Crazy Glue – and you could even use Crazy Glue itself, except that it has an acid in it that would make you scream. They take the acid out for the hospital-grade stuff.

So, it hurts, but my finger is crazy glued. Which is awesome

A few hours later…

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, PART 1 – I need some serenity, so I decide to burn some oils in a diffuser on top of my dresser, right? Top drawer is open.

So, I pull the candle out of the diffuser, light it…

And drop it right into my sock drawer.

I managed to get the smoldering socks smothered in time. (Alliteration is awesome.)


BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE, PART 2 – I decided that what I needed was some exercise! And better yet, I’d kill two birds with one stone by putting some Brussels sprouts in the oven to roast while I took a walk. Which is clearly the best idea I've ever had.

I didn’t take my keys, because I don’t need to lock the backdoor during the day.

See where this is going?

Yeah, I locked the door behind me.

Thank God I’d opened Stella’s bathroom window earlier in the day and hadn’t latched it yet. I managed to shimmy through it and catch the Brussels sprouts before they took down the house.

I’m going to bed early.

Changes at the Cinema

I love Kung Foo Cinema.

I love my nickname, Foo, even if I have no idea what it means or why it stuck to me the way it has. I mean, I learned last night that there's some coding thing that goes something like "If foo, then bar." And how perfect of a way to describe interacting with me is that?!

Plus, it's always struck me as funny as Hades that I turned "Kung Fu Cinema" into a play on said nickname. ("See what I did there?!")

I open the Post So Far this way because after a conversation with some awesome friends about blogging and why it isn't working for me the way I want it to, I have decided to make some changes here.

CHANGE THE FIRST: Up until now, I've been doing lifestyle/food blogging on one blog and doing "my life" blogging here. I don't know why, except that maybe I thought some people wouldn't be interested in my life unless I was cooking something awesome.

My friends pointed out that, hey, my life is actually kinda interesting, and that my lifestyle and my cooking and my 100-year-old farmhouse aren't separated from who I am and how I live my day to day. They suggested that creating artificial boxes around everything might hurt my desire to post, and thus to keep readers happy.

I have smartypants friends.

Which brings me to...

CHANGE THE DOS: This blog (and my other blog) are way too fracking serious. I'm not serious. I mean, I apparently have a serious face (my thinking face looks like my mad face, I'm told), but little to nothing that comes out of my mouth is serious. Unless it's about gaming. I'm serious as Ghandi about gaming.

So, from here on out, Kung Foo Cinema will be my main blog for talking about food and cooking, home and decorating, well-being, my writing and just general miscellaneous nonsense. I hope you're cool with that.

Practically, this means that over the next few days, I may be removing some of the more boring posts from here, and I will be transferring other posts from The Cottage Witch that I like and think are useful here. Plus, I've already got some seasonal and introspective posts ready.

Therefore (ergo), I'm hitting the reset button....