Loving: spring edition

First it rained, and I thought the way the clouds were resting on the El Cerrito hills was especially pretty.

Me and Reggie just hung out and knit for a while.

I whipped through the second Hunger Games book. I actually thought it was pretty good.

Mike and I enjoyed spring rolls at our favorite Vietnamese place, Nong Thon.

I also finally broke down and bought some dried billy buttons to put around the house. They just belong in that little vase.

When the sun finally came out, my outdoor flowers were so happy. The gerbera daisy fully opened, revealing a bright orange flower.

The rest of the daisies in the ammo box and pretty irises opened, too.

Sadly, something ate my mint. But I did decide to move both the tomato plant and the orange tree into the sunniest spot in our front yard garden. They both really seem to like the extra light.

Sadie has been doing this thing where she plops down in a sunny spot next to the house and refuses to come inside. Such a diva.

The best thing that happened this week, though, was an impromptu barbecue we had in our tiny backyard. We invited our next door neighbors, so I thought it would just be four of us. But it ended up being nine people and three dogs!

Party people. 🙂

This is Monkey. He lives next door.

Mike made lamb burgers with caramelized onions and feta cheese.

I mixed up a little vinaigrette for heirloom cherry tomatoes.

I also made strawberry shortcake for dessert. I’m still using the same perfect recipe.

We strung up the lights from our wedding throughout the yard, and that really transformed the space into a great spot for entertaining. Now we definitely want to get more furniture and a firepit so we can do this again.

Fun times!

Old Oakland

We made a fun little discovery last weekend. We decided to try a gastropub in Oakland that specializes in our favorite, Belgian beers. It’s called The Trappist, and if you are a beer snob, a foodie, or both, you will love it.

I had a Rodenbach grand cru, which I can never remember the name of, and a tasty pastrami sandwich. Mike tried the sausages with potato salad and red cabbage. My favorite part, though, was the sampling of pickled green beans. Usually when people make their own pickles I find them kind of meh, but these were phenomenal.

Actually, the best part of going there was discovering the neighborhood of Old Oakland.

It is just the cutest shopping and restaurant district. I can’t believe we didn’t even know it was there. And I can’t wait to go back and try some of the other restaurants there.

56 Up

Have you guys seen the Up series? I’ve confessed my love for documentaries before, but the Up series is kind of the ultimate. It’s been following a bunch of British people (of various socio-economic backgrounds) since they were 7 years old. Every 7 years another film is released, and usually most of them participate. It is fascinating! You get really caught up in their lives, rooting for some of them to be successful in their careers or get married, etc.

So I was excited to hear that the next film, 56 Up, is coming out in May. At the time I watched them, only some of the DVDs were available on Neflix instant, but now it looks like they all are. So you should definitely watch them if you haven’t. You will be hooked!

A day that was just meant to be

Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like the universe was just pulling for you to have a certain experience? That was our Saturday. We had a plan for a fun day — go to the Ferry Building market and check out goat fest, eat our favorite pizza at Tony’s, finally visit Alamo Square Park. And I thought if we had time we could check off another wishlist item: ice cream from Humphrey Slocombe.

First off, it was an absolutely gorgeous day. It felt just like summer, and I guess since summers are cool and cloudy here, spring really is our summer. I mean, I wore a tank top and flip flops all day. Unheard of!

So we headed to the market, but we just could not find a place to park. The place was teeming with tourists out enjoying the beautiful day, and we were getting so frustrated trying to find a metered spot that we just gave up and parked in a garage. Which turned out to be the totally right thing to do because it actually costs $4.50 an hour to park on the street and $7 to park in the garage all day.

Then we went to the market. But instead of waiting in the long line for Blue Bottle, we changed plans and decided to get breakfast at Il Cane Rosso (another wishlist item). Which was win #2 because there was almost no line, and the breakfast was amazing! The fried egg sandwich looks humble but it tastes so good.

And my soft scramble on Acme Bread was simple and perfect.

The goat fest was pretty pathetic, just a couple of booths, but right next to that was a stand with Humphrey Slocombe ice cream! Of course we had to try it, so we got the secret breakfast flavor, which has bourbon and Cornflakes. It doesn’t sound like it would work, but it does work. It’s not Bi-Rite good, but it’s pretty tasty.

After that we walked around north beach and checked out some of the adorable shops. I had to use a lot of restraint not to buy a bunch of stuff at Therapy. Once we’d worked up enough of an appetite we headed to Tony’s.

Incredibly, there was no line, and the hostess said what they had available was two seats at the pizza counter. We were like sure, why not?

Not Tony, but this guy was nice, too. 

Turns out the pizza counter is right in front of the wood-fired oven, where Tony himself is making pizzas and answering any questions you might have. It was too cool. Mike loves making pizza, so he got to ask about various things. I wanted to know where the honey they use comes from. The bee hives on the roof, of course!

Last time we were there I wanted to try the fries, which someone down the bar had ordered. So we got those, and they were some of the best I’ve ever had. They toss the hot fries in honey and pancetta, then sprinkle parmesan cheese on top. You wouldn’t dream of putting ketchup on these.

We also went for a classic margherita pizza out of the wood-fired oven. It was just like the one I had in Naples.

For comparison’s sake, this is the pizza Erin and I had in Naples.

I also liked the way they presented the bread at the beginning of the meal. You get three dipping options and three little pots of toppings to go with slices of focaccia that come in a San Marzano tomato can. Pretty clever packaging.

After that lunch we were pretty much floating on a cloud. We headed over to Alamo Square Park and just laid out on a blanket. About 4,000 other people had the same idea.

This couple was too cute.

It was great, though, and it just felt like the whole day was meant to be.

Sauteed corn and poblanos

I actually made three dishes from Real Simple’s Mexican Dinner Party Menu, and they were all really good. But I think my favorite was actually this humble corn and poblano pepper salad. I followed the recipe, except that I had a 16-ounce package of frozen corn instead of two 10-ounce packages.

I had half a tub of cream cheese in the fridge, and I thought it might taste good to add a dab of that to the corn salad. I was right! But it certainly doesn’t need anything extra. If you saute the corn, red onions, and peppers long enough to get them a little caramelized, they are really flavorful.

Love those colors!

The full menu. 

Poblanos can be a little bitter, so I think the salad would also be really good with red bell peppers (or really any color pepper) instead. It’s perfect for summer, so I can see us making it as a side with something on the grill. We bought a smoker, so there’s another foodie challenge for us to take on.

What we’ve been up to

It’s beautiful out today, but the last couple weeks have been very rainy. It’s like our winter waited until Spring to arrive.

I just finished reading the Hunger Games. I thought it was a little kooky, but good in terms of suspense. I think we’ll probably go see the movie — I love Jennifer Lawrence.

Is anyone reading the 50 Shades trilogy? Why is everything a trilogy?

The dogs used the crappy weather as an excuse to cuddle. This lasted about 5 minutes.

I used some downtime to makes lots of little crocheted bowls. I just think they’re so cute!

We tried a couple of new restaurants. After our discovery that currywurst is becoming a thing, we went to the Rosamunde Sausage Grill in San Francisco. It’s not currywurst, but it does have a really nice selection of sausages and toppings.

The Haight St. location is absolutely tiny and people were crammed into every available inch of space. But the woman manning the grill managed every order without getting overwhelmed.

We tried the beer sausage, the merguez (spicy lamb and beef), and the wild boar. If I’m remembering correctly, the wild boar was actually my favorite. Who knew?

Then another night we had a groupon for Home of Chicken and Waffles in Oakland. The place is a little shabby inside, but the food was a-maze-ing.

It really felt like a grandmother’s recipe for classic soul food. We tried the mac ‘n cheese and some greens, too. Everything was delish. Then afterward we walked around Jack London Square a little bit, which we really haven’t done before. I’d like to check out their farmers market some weekend.

This weekend we heard there was going to be a Goat Fest at the Ferry Building. Goat cheese samples and tiny goats to pet? Yes, please!

The garden grows

Our little front porch garden was looking pretty dead up until recently. First, I noticed some tiny mint leaves poking up through the soil.

Then I got really excited when I noticed a little gerbera daisy starting to open.

I have planted them numerous times, but they never seem to grow back. Finally!

I also love the little flowers that are coming out of the succulents.

We went to the garden store to get some replacements for last year’s annuals. This year I got daisies to plant in the ammo box. It’s just funny to me to put such happy flowers in there.

We got a cherry tomato plant, too. I just moved it to a different spot that gets more sun, so maybe it will produce more this year.

I planted impatiens in various colors in the rest of the pots.

I’d really like to get a strawberry pot, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with how the garden grows. It’s nothing compared to what our garden used to be, but it’s also incredibly low-maintenance. Since we’re blessed with such an abundance of local produce I don’t feel as much pressure to grow it myself.

I’m back!

So, as you may have guessed, my web site went down and we had some trouble fixing it. The host changed servers and then provided pretty much no help when our sites went down. So we are changing hosts and trying to put all the pieces back together.

I have a bunch of recipes and random posts to put up, but I’m bogged down with orders right now, so I will get them up as soon as I can!

San Diego

For the last part of our trip we headed down to San Diego. Though it was pretty chilly, we went to the beach (Mission Beach) so Mike could get a surf lesson.

The other guys in his group were actually traveling members of the Rock of Ages cast. I can’t imagine how you could spend much time in that freezing cold water, even with a wet suit, but Mike said it wasn’t bad.

I just hung around the beach and tried to soak up the sun.

For lunch that day we took a recommendation from one of Mike’s coworkers and went to South Beach Bar & Grill for fish tacos.

Though I don’t think they needed the cream sauce on top, I really liked the teriyaki marinade on my mahi and the salsa fresca. I’ll have to remember that when we make fish tacos at home.

For dinner we went to Toronado, which is known for its beer selection. I don’t have any photos of the food, which was really good comfort food type of stuff, but Mike did snap a photo of their huge list of Belgians. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I do really like Belgians.

We felt like Toronado was the kind of place where we’d be regulars if we lived there. Overall, though, I didn’t connect with San Diego the way I did with LA. People always say such great things about SD, so I expected to love it. I think maybe we just need to spend more time there (when it’s warmer!).

Anyway, some other sights we explored while we were there:

The border fence. Unfortunately the park right near there was closed.

We did go across the bridge to Coronado and walked along the beach for a while. Part of the beach is on the naval base and there’s an airport landing strip so close that planes just zoom overhead.

We got some history lessons in Old Town San Diego.

For lunch that day we had the most amazing tacos from Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista. I can’t even explain what was so good about them, they just were.

My favorite were the spicy pork tacos (far left in the photo above). They’re made from meat that’s shaved off a big rotisserie, kind of like a gyro.

I’ve never had so much love for a man in a hairnet.

Our hotel was pretty close to the Torrey Pines State Reserve, so we explored that a bit.

The geology along the beach was some of the most incredible I’ve ever seen. The beach was just covered with all sorts of interesting looking rocks, some with shells stuck inside, some lava rocks, some petrified wood and sandstone.

Not that we needed to do anything to appear nerdier, but we had a really good time just picking up all the rocks and trying to figure out what they were.

Curlews looking for goodies.

Our last adventure was to the Green Flash Brewery, which was recommended by a lot of friends. We thought we were just going for a tasting where maybe a few other people would be there, but it turned out to be like a huge happy hour party.

I was feeling a little sheepish, as I was wearing slightly ripped cargo pants and a fleece jacket amongst people still in their work clothes, but I think it’s the kind of place where everyone fits in. And, as a bonus, they had food trucks outside. Score!

We tried a couple different types of pierogies with a garlic dipping sauce that were really good.

The perfect end to a foodie-centric vacation, I’d say!

The OC and Catalina Island

For part 2 of our trip, we went to Irvine to visit my sister and her boyfriend. And of course Vladmir.

He has decided to take up crafting.

And the elusive Jezebel.

Some of Mike’s coworkers, who have an office at the Orange County Register, took us out to lunch at a Venezuelan restaurant. I’d never had arepas before. They’re basically sandwiches with slow-cooked meat inside.

We also had plantains on the side, which came with sour cream and crumbled cheese for dipping. I don’t have a photo, but we all ordered frothy juice drinks that were really yummy.

Oh and I can’t forget that we went back to Sam Woo’s for Chinese food. This time they brought us a 5.5 pound lobster (!!) and four of us managed to eat the whole thing.

Mmm, pot stickers.

But what we really wanted to do while we were in the area was visit Catalina Island. You have to take a ferry there, which takes about an hour. We got lucky and found a groupon for half-price tickets.

It leaves from Newport Beach. Arrested Development fans may remember this area from the frozen banana stand stuff. I was totally going to get one for that reason, but then I realized I did not actually want to eat a frozen banana.

There’s always money in the frozen banana stand!

Though it was pretty cool that day, we at least had sunny weather.

We were thinking of going parasailing when we got there, but then we noticed this.

Yes, that’s a submarine that you can actually ride in. Well, it’s a semi-sub that only goes down 100 inches. But we had to do it!

So we took the 45-minute underwater tour. You basically buy shots of fish food that you shoot into the water and swarms of fish come up to the windows.

At one point we saw this mass of glowing jellyfish that was pretty cool.

Catalina’s pretty overrun with tourists (and surprisingly, spring breakers), but it’s also really beautiful.

After lunch we went on a little hike up to the nature center.

On the way we saw a woodpecker on this tree that was absolutely stuffed with acorns.

Then we came upon this little rock maze.

At the nature center we learned that someone brought bison to the island a long time ago for a movie and they have been there breeding ever since. Weird!

It was great to just relax in the woods up there. And Mike had a good time bird-watching.

One funny thing about Catalina — everyone who lives there drives a golf cart. Or some kind of miniature vehicle. We saw two vintage mini Land Rovers that were so cute.

At 4:30 it was time to get back on the ferry and head back.

After that we did some damage at the mall in Costa Mesa. We have really tried to be thrifty about clothes the past couple years, but after a while you have to restock. Right, mom?

More coming about San Diego…