Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Disneyland Trip

I wish I could say that Disneyland was a blast, but it wasn't as great as I was hoping it to be.  It was soooo windy.  The first couple of days were pretty good though.  Our trip started with me taking Christopher and Briana down to the school at 3am.  I usually stay up really late anyway, but knowing that I had to actually stay up this time made me tired.  After the kids were on the road, we all got up at 6:30 to leave at 7am.  The Ryan's are usually a little on the late side so we had our coffee and waited for them to come.  By the time they got to our house it was 7:30am and Mrs. Ryan had forgotten her Disneyland tickets.  We didn't get on the road until almost 8:30.  I could have slept so much longer.
After hitting tons of horrid LA traffic we made it to our hotel around 4:30pm.  Since it was a little late we decided to stroll around Downtown Disney and then go to a sushi dinner at Kagura in Anaheim.  Oh my gosh.  It was so delicious.  I had found this place on Yelp! and the reviews didn't lie.  The place is Japanese owned and the service was excellent.  The food was fantastic and we were all very satisfied by the end of the night.  Wow, what a find.  Hopefully when we go down to LA for our cruise we can go back.  It's a rather small place, but maybe my family can steal away for a sushi dinner before we board...that is if we go down the night before.  It was a little on the expensive side for our family, not something we'd do every day, but it was well worth it especially because the next day we ate at an Ihop that totaled to almost the same price.  At least we were getting superb quality and service at Kagura.  I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

The next day we went to California Adventures before we headed over to Disneyland to watch Christopher's parade.  I like CA Adventures, but it's not as great as Disneyland.  There is a big circular room where they have huge TVs showing clips of Disney movies.  I think that is my favorite place.  It reminds me of the big tank in the Monterey Bay Aquarium where everyone stares with mouths open at the huge circular glass wall of fish.   During the summer the TV room is air conditioned and it has really neat exhibits inside.  When I went last time, there was an exhibit that showed the different concepts of villains.  Ursala was originally a lion fish before she became an octopus.  This time we got to learn how to draw some of the Disney characters and saw a sneak peak of Toy Story 3, which I'm excited about. We learned how to draw Daisy Duck and Tigger.  I think my parent's Tigger's came out much better than mine, but I did enjoy my Daisy Duck.  Afterwards we rode some of the rides and watched the Aladdin show.  In the evening we met up with Uncle David and his family to watch the Christopher's marching band performance.  It was good as usual, but the kids were practically running so we barely got to see them.

The next day was when the kids did all their stage performances.  This was the windiest day.  Their music was flying and dust was being blown everywhere.  I literally had to sit with my eyes closed.  I should have been like Uncle David and worn my glasses.  So on top of being super tired because our dumb alarm clock went off at 6 15am, my allergies were horrible.  I think my parents thought I was going to kill the alarm clock.  I was trying to yank the cord out of the back of the alarm clock while also whacking it to find the snooze button.  By midday I was not feeling well at all--itchy eyes and throat, runny nose, hopped up on caffeine but no energy, the works.  Uncle David and his family decided to go swimming and take naps after lunch.  I was just about ready to do the same thing.  I think a mixture of allergies, tiredness, and tons of caffeine had me sick.  Plus, I think I was dehydrated.  Usually I sit at my desk with my 40 oz Klean Kanteen and drink water all day.  (I average about 120 oz a day.) While we were in Disney I refused to pay $3 for a bottle of water and chose coffee and soda instead, which my body didn't like probably because the only liquid impurity it's used to is alcohol.  Hehe.  Anyway, all that made me not feel well so my parents and I went back to the hotel for a rest.  I'm an adult and they still wanted to go back with me.  Aiya.  Around 7pm we got up and headed back to Disneyland for the fireworks.  On the walk back I had managed to lose my ticket and find it again on the ground.  Then when we got in the park, the fireworks were canceled because the winds were so high.  Booo!  We had good seats too!  Oh well. 

The trip was a nice break from work, but I'm glad to be back.  All that walking and wind was really getting to me.  So now we're back to normal life.  Whew!

Fooling around in a princess chair in CA adventures.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

 I've been reading a lot lately probably because I was tired of reading HP fanfiction. I go in and out with that stuff.  Sometimes I can handle the poor grammar and fluffy story lines just so that I can read some new HP, but after a while I just can't take it anymore.  Like a normal person, I've gone back to reading novels.  As you know, I've been reading for book club, but I've also been reading in between those books.  The weekend before last I plowed through Push by Sapphire.  You've probably heard about this book because of the award winning movie Precious.  What I find odd is that they've re-released Push as Precious in bookstores.  I'm pretty sure it's the exact same thing, but with a different cover and title.  Personally, I like the title Push better as it pertains to the actual content of the novel.  Even though the movie won a ton of awards, I will not be viewing it.  It would be way too difficult for me to watch.  The whole story revolves around how Precious is repeatedly molested by both her father and mother, how under educated she is, and her desire to become something more than her dilapidated parents.  It seems that these topics are common themes in Women's African American literature.  It's very much like Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which is actually referenced more than a few times in Sapphire's novel.  At 190 pages this book was nothing short of shocking with a very artistic flare to it.  Sapphire's poetic quality brings real spunk to the novel.  I would consider it a very modern work as it is a hybrid of the classic novel and poetry.  If you have the will to stomach the very serious plot I would highly suggest this book.  I can see why the movie won so many awards, I just don't think that I can handle watching it.  The mental pictures are enough for me.

The next book I read was much lighter, though had be crying like a baby.  The Art of Racing in the Rain (Racing) by Garth Stein was light hearted in a go-through-the-lifespan-of-a-dog way.  It's what I imagine the book Marley and Me by John Grogan to be like.  I haven't read that one because I know that it's really sad, which is why I refuse to watch it even though my mom bought the movie.  Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I dove head first into Stein's book.  I thought it was really cute in the beginning and was even reading it aloud to Emmy.  (Yes, I read to Emmy.  She is a very well read dog.  She's probably "read" more classic plays than any other.)  A few pages in it started getting a little sad.  By the end of the first chapter I had stopped reading to Emmy completely and was balling.  Racing is one of those books that starts the beginning with the ending, where you know what will inevitably happen but you read through his life as if you don't know what will happen to him anyway.  Besides the parts that made me sad, the rest of the story was very well done.  Stein cleverly paralleled race car driving with the ups and downs of life.  Since the whole work was written in Enzo The Dog's point of view you get to see people for what they are.  Stein's work is perceptive and smart.

I've come to realize that I don't retain information like I used to when I was a kid.  After analyzing why this is I discovered that it's because I tend to interrupt people while they're telling a story with a similar, but usually not related, story of my own.  I had vowed to myself a couple of months ago to try to stop this, but with little success.  Then I read Racing.  Stein addressed this very matter as a fault in humans.  Dogs are much better listeners.  Let me preface this excerpt with the fact that Enzo wants to become a human in a next life.

Here’s why I will be a good person.  Because I listen.  I cannot speak, so I listen very well.  I never interrupt, I never deflect the course of the conversation with a comment of my own.  People, if you pay attention to them, change the direction of one’s conversations constantly.  It’s like having a passenger in your car who suddenly grabs the steering wheel and turns you down a side street.  For instance, if we met at a party and I wanted to tell you a story about the time I needed to get a soccer ball in my neighbor’s yard but his dog chased me and I had to jump into a swimming pool to escape, and I began telling the story, you, hearing the words “soccer” and “neighbor” in the same sentence, might interrupt and mention that your childhood neighbor was Pelé, the famous soccer player, and I might be courteous and say, Didn’t he play for the Cosmos in New York?  Did you grow up in New York?  And you might reply that, no, you grew up in Brazil on the streets of Três Corações with Pelé, and I might say, I thought you were from Tennessee, and you might say not originally, and then go on to outline your genealogy at length.  So my initial conversational gambit—that I had a funny story about being chased by my neighbor’s dog—would be lost, and only because you had to tell me about Pelé.  Learn to listen!  I beg of you.  Pretend you are a dog like me and listen to other people rather than steal their stories.  (101-102)

When I read this I couldn't help but think, Yes!  This is exactly my problem!  Leave it to a dog, albeit fictional, to point this out to the world.  And so it was done.  I am now trying to listen better because it's not just an idea in my head anymore, it's written down in published print.

Stein made a lot of very perceptive observations in this novel that had me surprised.  However, though there was plenty about human nature, social etiquette, and car racing, there were some dog-inspired passages that were nothing short of delightful. For instance, Enzo's owner, Denny, just found out something that would change his life and he can't take Enzo with him so a coworker/friend offered to watch him for a few days.

Mike took me to our house to get my things.  I was humiliated when he said, "Where's your dog?"  I didn't want to admit that I still slept with a stuffed animal.  But I did.  I loved that dog, and Denny was right, I did hide it during the day because I didn't want Zoe to assimilate it into her collection and also because when people saw it they wanted to play tug and I didn't like tugging with my dog...
Mike's wife picked up my dog that I had dropped on the floor.

"We have to take this, too?" he asked.
"Listen," Mike sighed, "everyone needs a security blanket.  What's wrong with that?"
"It stinks," Mike's wife said.  "I'll wash it."
And he put it in the washing machine!  My dog!  He took the first toy that Denny ever gave me and stuck it in to the washing machine...with soap!  I couldn't believe it.  I was stunned.  No one had ever handled my dog in such a way!...

When Tony handed me my dog, I took it in my mouth out of respect.  I took it to my bed because that's what Denny would have wanted me to do.  And I curled up with it.
And the irony?  I liked it. (104-106)

Oh how I was grinning while reading this. Stein also makes great use of phrases and images that he constantly brings up with out them getting tiresome, some of which are in this passage.  The technique can get really boring and overdone, but he managed to get them in the right places.  I wonder how many places editors made him cut?  Although I do have to admit that sometimes the racing stuff made my eyes glaze over, the connections that Stein made with life, something that I could understand, held me in there.  All in all I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. 

Works Cited
Stein, Garth.  The Art of Racing in the Rain. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008

Monday, March 15, 2010

This week's meals

Last week was a big cooking week for me.  I just got myself a Costco membership so I was really excited about all their awesome meats.

Let me start with a fantastic date night scallop dinner that I concocted while scouring my Joy of Cooking, Good House Keeping, and Rachael Ray cookbooks. I saw that Rachael had made a dish with muscles steamed in dark beer and a little light popped into my head.  Scallops with portobellos, bell pepper and garlic over spicy garlic noodles!  I know that has nothing to do with muscles in dark beer, but for some reason something just clicked in my head.  After gathering all the stuff together, I headed to Nick's house and we cooked up a storm.  I would suggest getting your scallops from Costco, they're much cheaper.  I got mine at Ranch 99 and they were $9.99/lb, which I thought was expensive.  The scallops were HUGE though so we cut a few of them to match the others for balanced cooking.  This may seem like a pricey dish, but it did feed the two of us in huge portions and his sister in a more moderately sized plate.  We also had pasta left over for lunch the next day.

Seared Scallops with Sauteed Portobellos, Shallots, and Red Bell Peppers over Garlic Noodles

1 lb spaghetti noodles
1/2 c EVOO
2 tbsp red pepper flakes
6 cloves garlic, minced

20 sea scallops (about 10/person if you're greedy like me)
2 tbsp butter
2-3 portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
4 tbsp EVOO or as needed for sautéing
1/4-1/2 dry white wine (you can also use clam juice or chicken stock)
Salt and Pepper to flavor

Start cooking noodles.  Heat 1/2c EVOO, red peppers and minced garlic at a simmer.  Let simmer until ready to serve.

Season scallops lightly with pepper.  Oil and butter pan.  Sear scallops for 3-4 min on each side.  Set aside cooked scallops. They should be slightly tender on the inside and no longer translucent.   Add more oil for sautéing.  When oil is hot add shallots and garlic.  Cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.  Add mushrooms and bell peppers.  Continue stirring until mushrooms become soft.  Deglaze with white wine.  Let wine cook off and then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the simmering garlic and red pepper oil with noodles.  Serve small portion of noodles on a plate.  Pile sauteed mixture on the pasta and arrange scallops on top. Note:  do not put your scallops in the oven to warm.  They will over cook and become rubbery.

 These pictures were taken by Nick, hence the awesome quality.  The rest of the pictures are either with my snapshot or camera phone.

Up next I wanted to make a big piece of lamb from Costco. My mom is not a huge fan of lamb, but she seemed to enjoy it.  I got the recipe for Braised Lamb out of my Joy of Cooking book.  I was hoping for it to be more rare, but I guess when you're braising then you really can't do much about it.  There was a mishap along the way.  After prepping the meat and doing the last and easiest step, putting it in the oven, I had put the oven on Time Bake instead of Bake.  Oh my God.  I was furious when I figured out what was happening.  I was faithfully turning the meat on the hour noticing that the oven wasn't very hot at all.  I attributed that to the fact that the oven was only set on 325 degrees.  By the last half hour I said "How can this possibly be cooking?"  My mom then looked at the settings and saw that it was on Time Bake, which turns off the oven until you set a time for it to turn on. Bah!  Nick tried to make me feel better even though he had his foot propped up on the sofa.  It was his first really gouty day.  I gave him the evil eye and he went back to watching the tv. (Poor guy)  We set the oven to cook at 350 degrees in stead of the specified 325 so that it would be done on time.  I was so angry.  There were more than a few profane words being mumbled.  Why would the dial have Time Bake come before Bake?  It makes no sense to me.  Why put Time Bake before Bake when one would use Bake more often than Time Bake?  In my opinion, Time Bake should be the last on the dial since it is seemingly used less frequently than the all encompassing Bake.  Regardless, we just need to update our kitchen so that I don't make dumb mistakes with dials anymore.  I've messed up on that oven so many times (usually I forget and leave it in Prebake so that my stuff comes out extra crispy).  I never had problems with our digital oven in NY.  I'm just used to the oven doing it's own thing and switching from Prebake to Bake by itself and having a whole separate button for Time Bake, which I never touch, mind you.   Anyway, the lamb turned out just so-so.  It was tasty, but I prefer to have my lamb rare.  I think next time I will have to roast it instead of braising if I want rareness.  It wasn't all for naught though.  The meat was tender and tasted very good despite its doneness.  

The next night I made us a beef brisket with veggies.  The potatoes that I put in the pot to cook with the brisket were awful and the veggies were a little bland but the meat was good!  You win some, you lose some.  The veggies were okay if you put them with the meat into a sandwich, but otherwise there just was not enough flavor.  I added lots of pepper and some salt, but I guess not enough.  The brisket itself was pretty tasty though.  I used a rub that I thought up while doing my lamb.  I just rubbed this stuff all over the meat and let it hang out overnight. 
Brisket rub 3/9/10

8 tbsp mustard
8 garlic cloves, pasted
3 shallots, minced
1 tbsp red pepper flake
2 tsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Also, since Nick's foot was really bothering him and he couldn't come for dinner I made him a gout friendly lasagna.  Two dinners in one night!  Go me!  Fortunately, the lasagna turned out better than my brisket veggies.  This is just my take on a vegetable lasagna using veggies that are gout friendly.  I was originally going to use spinach and mushrooms, but it turns out that those are both bad for gout.  I substituted the spinach with kale and it turned out just fine. 

Vegetable lasagna (gout friendly)

3 tbsp EVOO
2 red onions, diced
1 head garlic, minced
3 bunches kale, deveined
3 zucchini, diced
3 tomatoes, diced
2 28 oz cans tomato puree
1 tbps dry basil
1tbps dry thyme
1 tbsp dry oregano
1 tbsp dry marjoram
1 pack no boil lasagna noodles
1 bag mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Sauté onions and garlic until tender.  Add kale and zucchini, stir until tender.  Add tomatoes, cook for 3-5 minutes until tomato skins become slightly shriveled. Add tomato puree, basil, thyme, oregano,  and marjoram.  Bring to a boil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

In a 9x13 dish spread tomato mixture on the bottom.  Layer with cheese and then no boil noodles.  Continue layering until dish is full.  Top with cheese.  Sprinkle with basil and red pepper flakes if desired.  Cover with foil and bake for 50-60 minutes.  If you want the cheese on top to brown, take foil off and put back in the oven for 10 minutes.  Let stand
for 15-20 minutes before cutting.

On Friday I went over to Nick's to help him out while I worked.  I guess that's the beauty of working from home.  In the morning I made egg wraps using egg substitute, bell pepper, mozzarella I had left from the lasagna, and garlic.   I wrapped this up in wheat tortillas and they were delicious.  You couldn't even tell it wasn't real egg!  It was a busy day at work, but in the evening I went out to stock Nick up on cherry supplements, juice, and preserves.  Apparently cherry is good for gout.  Between the medicine he's taking and the cherry supplements his foot seems to be doing a lot better.

Saturday night I whipped up a gout friendly chicken casserole.  I found King Ranch Chicken Casserole on All Recipes and altered it to fit our needs.  I also added garlic, orange, red, and green bell pepper, and yellow squash.  Like one of the comments suggested, I used corn tortillas cut in quarters instead of tortilla chips.   I also omitted the cream of mushroom and doubled the cream of chicken.  First I sauteed all of my veggies then added low fat cream of chicken soup.  It was quite easy and very delicious. 

Last night was the last meal that I made as Nurse Allison (I'm back to being a normal girlfriend again).  We grilled up some chicken and sauteed some veggies together to go on top of of garlic noodles.  It was just a variation on the scallop noodles dish that we made at the beginning of the week, but just as yummy.
After reading tons of websites on gout, we've come to the conclusion that to stay gout free Nick needs to eat well balanced meals.  That sounds good to me!  It'll be good for the both of us.  All this eating out is making me gain weight and my back hurt.  So it's back to healthy cooking for me.  I like the challenge of making bland things taste good without pack on the calories with butter or cream. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We all know that I'm an unfaithful blogger.  Let me do a quick summary of the last two weeks.

At the end of February I got together with the girls to discuss The Piano Teacher.  We do about 10 minutes of discussion and then talk for hours about things that are in no way related to the text.  I did actually enjoyed the book quite a bit, but the girls thought that it was rather plotless.  I think that there was a lot going on with out much really happening, which sounds crazy.  However, I do think this is the case.  The author seemed like she had started her work and then came back to it much later.  There was a huge gap where the style changed.  All in all I thought it was entertaining. She had some really awesome images, but there weren't any real passages that popped out at me. 

The next day we went down to the San Jose Tech Museum to check out the Star Trek exhibit.  It was really cool!  It brought back fond memories of sitting on the sofa with my dad.  I do remember an episode in The Next Generation where there was a long scene on the Holodeck and people were getting some weird disease. (I'm pretty sure they were on the Holodeck and not on an alien planet.)  The crew members would get these veiny things on the back of their necks and then start transforming in to alien creatures.  Oh man, that scared the living daylights out of me.  I had to sleep with my door open and hall light on for years.  Literally, can ask my parents. 

The displays were actual pieces from the set, which I thought was pretty neat.  You could see the wear on the costumes when you looked closely.  I remember growing up watching the show and seeing them strut around with their colorful uniforms and magical pins.  One of the down sides of the exhibit was that we couldn't take pictures.  I did feign ignorance though and snuck a picture of the hallway with my phone.  The reason I took a picture of this seemingly mundane hallway is because I was coming out of another room and walked right into it.  It's a picture on the wall to simulate a longer hallway!  But doesn't it look just like Enterprise?!?!

Afterwards we all went as a family to search for pho.  I had wanted to go to a burrito place that I saw on Man VS. Food from the Travel Channel, but my family didn't seem into the idea.  I had heard that SJ has really good pho since there is such a large Vietnamese population.  Wrong!  It was the worst pho ever.  It was all fancy and stuff.  Plus, all they served was chicken.  Not cool, is all I have to say.  Now, I guess you can argue that out of the hundreds of pho places that we could have randomly picked from the GPS that this is an unfair assumption about SJ's pho, however, I'm sticking to what I know until I'm proven wrong.  And for right now, I don't like SJ's pho!  Unfortunately, last weekend I was gone to a weekend long snow trip with Nick's friends so I haven't had pho since SJ!  I need to get pho, stat!

Another major bummer about the museum was that the gift shop wasn't selling the communication pins.  I really wanted one.  It's a good thing Amazon sells them for $8.00.  I might just have to get our family some. After we had gotten home I was still griping about their lack of pins and stated that I would wear it all the time.  I joked about how I would wear it and use it to summon Christopher from upstairs.  Then I proceeded to press my pinless lapel and say, "Bleueup, Christopher, come do the dishes," which caused Christopher to roll his eyes and press his lapel and say, "Bleueup, no."  We do our father proud.

As I mentioned before, the next weekend was spent up in Tahoe with Nick and his billion friends.  I was really quite dreading the trip because there would be so many people piling into one cabin, but it was actually pretty good.   I think Nick worked me up to thinking that I would get super annoyed with how loud his friends are.  It helped because they were super loud. It was a good weekend though and I got to know his friends a little better.  To get away from the mayhem, we stole away to a cute little Thai place on the last night.  I had seen it on Yelp and had been craving Thai.  It's a good thing that I made a reservation because it was packed! Nick and I also went for some snowboarding, but that was a major let down.  Since I had been running with Emmy the previous week, my knee was in pretty bad shape.  We only did about four runs and my knee was killing me.  I was so disappointed.  The next day the inner muscle of my quad was also really painful.  I'm not sure if it was because the knee brace was holding my knee in place where it was supposed to be and my muscles weren't use to it or if it was because I was trying to over compensate for the joint pain and using my muscles more.  Whatever the case, I could barely lift my leg to cross one over the other and the stairs were pretty killer. 

So all is pretty much back to normal now.  I will be posting some pictures of the awesome food that Nick and I have been making/eating this week.  I haven't made up recipes in a while, but I did the other night and it was fantastic.  The pictures are on Nick's camera so I have to get those from him before I post the recipe, but it'll be up as soon as I get them!  I also braised a giant hunk of lamb last night for my family, Nick, and Briana.  I'll post pictures and comments with the recipe post.  I also made up a wet rub for a giant piece of brisket that I got from Costco.  I'll let you know how that turns out.  (We're having that tonight.) 

Captian's log, Stardate 031010. This is the end of the Star Trek post, but fear not, we will boldly go where no man has gone before.


Nick has gout!  Well, we think it's gout anyway.  He had to cancel his trip down south for a wedding shoot because he can't walk.  He's hobbling around like an old man.  Apparently it runs in his family so they have been giving him advice, but does anyone have any suggestions to help reduce the symptoms?