Monday, October 16, 2006

House Renovations on Steroids

Today is a big day. We are demolishing all of the walkways in the front of the house as well as the very long brick wall that ran along the front of the property. Tapia's Construction is here in full force. James and I bet on how long it would take: I said 1 day, he said 3. I believe I'm going to win (as the guys have confirmed) because they brought a Bobcat! The little devil is using all its hydraulic power to 'git it done' as they say. It's kinda neat, although the floor of the house is vibrating like an earthquake. The cat and dog are sequestered in the bedroom while the work is done. (more photos to be added later - Blogger not cooperating)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sunporch Redeaux

We just started our first major structural renovation -- the sunporch. (Inside is almost completely remodeled.) The second pic shows it in its original glory, slanted steps and all. You can also see the many trees that we have since yanked out -- too tropical, we like mediterranean and native plants. So...the little room that could is to be reborn, bigger and better than before. We'll have a proper dining room soon enough! As you can see in pic#1, the walls are gone and the workers are hard at it (posing for their picture). What? Didn't you hire Jerry Garcia to do your room remodel? At first he reminded me a little of Santa, but now I think it's definitely Jerry G. back from the last great trip in the sky. We love both these guys. They work hard, fast, and at a reasonable price. I hear them during the day from my home office out there sawing and talking and laughing. They're having far too much fun. All of this remodeling is sooooo exciting. Our house is going to be such a little jewelbox once it's finished.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cat Grass, Lounging Labrador, Red Velvet Cake

It's been quite a while since the last post. Summer can make one lazy. Oreo is on the mend, although there are still gimpy days (poor arthritic boy). He's eating his cat grass here, undoubtedly thinking, "where's the beef?" You can see a bit of his new cat smile sans the canines. I find it adorable.
Saylor is enjoying the new deck, here in a moment of quiet repose contemplating the other side of the canyon (where we used to live). Sometimes (a lot of times!) she goes outside and barks across to the other dogs, or so I think this is what she is doing. What could she be saying?
And finally, Red Velvet cake. It is James' favourite, and I made him two this year for his birthday. One for each party. It is a Martha Stewart recipe that is fool-proof. Given my baking skills, this is a testament to her impeccable recipe writing skills. I think the secret is the white vinegar and baking soda that you mix up and add at the end. Perhaps? And of course my new springform pans are the shiz.
Baking truly is an art. My Grandmother was an amazing baker, so I have the genes. I think it's something you work on. I whipped up a few blueberry muffins this morning. Yummy. Arrowhead Mills bake mix makes it nice and easy. Has all the basics in it already. And the muffin recipe was on the back of the box. I left out the condensed evaporated milk and just sprinkled a little turbinado sugar on top for some sweetness. Other than that no sugar except for the blueberries. Tasty!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Deck Lives!

At last, we are happy to report that the deck has been completed. To the left is a picture of the guys working in the extreme heat getting the job done. And then, the next day, James and Saylor are relaxing on the finished product. The room behind where James is sitting we call the "sun porch" and it is going to be leveled (it tilts a little now) and fitted with a new sliding door and windows. Little by little things are getting spruced up. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money! But we'll get there eventually.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Candlelight is Better

The other day, for no reason, my friend Sheri gave me the neatest gift: a frosted "jigger" glass with gold writing on it. Being from Florida, it was super special because as you can see, it says "Florida" on the glass. On the side it has postcard-like pictures that say Hialeah (I was born in Hialeah hospital) and Orange Bowl, and 'Wish you were here.' She suggested I put a tea light in it, and so I tried it and it looks really pretty. The next picture was taken in the entry area of a restaurant in Phoenix called Lon's. Really beautiful spot for dinner. As you walk up you can smell wood and sage burning in the chimineas. And speaking of chimineas, I like the one called Garden. Kinda looks like a witch's hat.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hey Baby, it's the 4th of July

We had a really nice 4th. A lazy day that began with coffee and bagels at Cafe Italia. The neighborhood (Little Italy) was full of the usual Italians talking with their hands. They reminded me of my father. This is a picture of him about a year before he passed away; he was enjoying a Sicilian cigar on the porch. So, in Little Italy, everyone had on World Cup shirts for Italy or Germany. They were all gathered at the Princess Pub to watch the game which later earned the headline, "An Italian Job on Germany." I loved that headline, but of course it's not over yet! (**Update: Italy Won!!!**) As you can see in the picture with James at the Great wall, our yard is still a wasteland. But, the beautiful wall has everything secured land-wise, so we're thrilled about that. A good solid start. The picture of Oreo shows the other side of the wall. The poor boy has been sick literally since June 12th when he had a routine teeth cleaning that resulted in the removal of his top two canine teeth! It's been a slow recovery with occassional spats of feeling good. I think he's turned the corner though and should be back to his old self soon! In this picture he's giving his *new* cute smile. And how can you miss the hugest plate of pork ribs. A vegetarian's nightmare, but quite delicious if you like ribs. To divert us from the meat-fest, I made potato salad and baked beans. We, uh, made a few too many ribs. James got them at this great shop but you had to buy 3 racks. I ate 6 and James ate 10. We are gym-bound indefinitely. I'm not sure we're eating for the remainder of the week. And as if that were not enough to feed a WWF wrestler's appetite, the meal ended with Julian Apple pie a la whipped cream.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Saturday Full of Cement

Phase two of the yard project occurred this weekend. The day really got started when the huge red and yellow cement truck pulled up and started mixing cement. The guys got busy preparing to pour the cement in the latest portions of the retaining wall forms. It was actually kind of exciting! A long hose goes from the truck to the "form." The hose is extremely heavy. Scotty, our good friend, is the guy in the white hat in picture #2. At one point, he was standing there with this small box hanging around his neck on a lanyard. The box had two buttons - start and stop - and enabled him to control what came through the hose. He pretty much just stood there continuously asking whoever was holding the cement hose, "enough? enough? enough?" I think the thing that makes it exciting is that there's an element of mystery surrounding the whole process. As James described it (quite perfectly I might add), "it 's an educated crap-shoot." Yikes. And also, you just don't want cement to go anyplace it's not supposed to go. The stuff dries faster than you'd think, and well, it dries as hard as cement.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Oreo Explores

What this blog seriously lacks is more about my cat, Oreo -- my pride and joy, okay, my feline son. This picture was taken a couple weeks ago. In the midst of our yard excavation, he ducked out the back door and perched on this stump at the edge of our hillside. Here he's jumping down. Though this may not look significant, it is. For him to JUMP up onto anything other than our low, platform bed is something. He's 16 and a half, so jumping is not really on his agenda these days. But it was this day! I love it when he gets a little surge of energy.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Moni Comes to Visit

After 9 years of not seeing each other, Moni made the trek out west and, among her travels, stayed 3 nights with James and I. We went to the Indian grocery store one afternoon and picked up the ingredients to make authentic chicken curry, lentils, raita, and basmati rice with saffron and almonds. We got whole cumin seed which Moni ground into powder. Freshly ground cumin is nothing like the pre-ground stuff you normally get. It's about 100x more fragrant and flavorful. Very delicious. I also learned that the holy trinity of Indian cooking is onion, garlic, and ginger. Very healthy. And we started the meal with bitter gourd which is a traditional meal-opener that aids in digestion. There were fresh curry leaves for the top of the lentils; something I'd never tried. The meal was fantastic. Moni started cooking at 3:00 and we sat down to eat just after 8:00. After dinner, Moni shared her photographs from Iraq and we got a view of the area most people never see.
One of the nights, we went to a favorite restaurant, Cafe Chloe. And we also had a little shopping spree at Shwoomp!. I wished she could have stayed longer, but we might have spent every dime we had shopping. :) We ended up buying two pairs of the same pants, the same sandals, and the same products at Shwoomp. Sisters from another lifetime. For the next visit, James and I will go to Atlanta.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa

Last week I met my niece and sister-in-law in Arizona to celebrate my niece's college graduation from FSU. We stayed at Sanctuary spa and resort. It was really nice -- oodles of relaxation, great food, and beautiful southwestern vistas. Our room was exactly like the one pictured here; modern interior, Fresh bodycare products which smell so good, and incredibly comfortable beds. The restaurant was great, overlooking the mountains. For my spa treat, I had the tangerine oil and sugar body scrub followed by a massage with more tangerine oil. Pure, citrusy heaven. For a food indulgence, we shared a dessert called Chocolate Peanut Butter Decadence. This triangle of cold, creamy, whipped peanut buttery mousse was encased in a thin layer of chocolate and topped with a little scoop of very creamy dark chocolate ice cream. If that wasn't enough, there were thin drizzles of chocolate and caramel. We seriously considered licking the plate. Confession: it was so good that the next night I had to have one all to myself. I rationalized it by considering the additional calorie burning properties of the 100-degree Arizona weather. Merely staying alive at that temperature took more effort. Each bite convinced me more that I had made the right decision.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cuban Picadillo

To me, Monday nights can require a little festivity to get the week jump-started. I had some ground beef (vegetarians stop reading) and wanted to do something different with it, so I thought of Picadillo. I'm a native Floridian, born in Miami. Throughout my childhood, Cuban and Puerto Rican food has always been something I crave. You can get the recipe from Saveur magazine here. The recipe is part of a story called Mariana's Havana which says "in the kitchens of Cuba's venerable revolutionaries, the flame of traditional cooking still burns bright with lots of authentic Havana recipes." I loved the ingredients: green olives, capers, raisins, sherry, and scallions. First step requires mixing it all together and refrigerating it for 30 minutes. While that was cooling, I made rice the cuban way, starting with olive oil in a cast iron pan and frying the rice until it turns white. Then I added the water and half an onion cut into quarters. I used basmati, so the flavor was really nutty and really tasty. Dessert, you ask? A quick, easy Meyer Lemon cake mix from Trader Joe's. Mix it up, into the 9" square pan it went, and in 25 minutes a nice little cake. TJ's makes really good quality mixes; minimal ingredients and no preservatives. Yum!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sunday in East Village

James and I went to the East Village for a little breakfast. The Mission, a great restaurant in Mission Beach and Normal Heights, opened a new "branch." The buildings in this area are a mix of new, modern; old warehouses converted into lofts/living spaces; and high-rise condos. Some of the older ones are quite industrial. The building pictured here - called "Art & Industry" - had an exterior wall of vintage signs. And of course the bougainvilla was beautiful. The little sparrow was perched on a piece of metal holding a bug for everyone to see. He was very proud of it. He held a couple positions as if to say, "here, take it now, this is my best side. No, wait, let me turn a little to the left." I think these two pictures are a testament to the fact that I need a digital camera with more than 2.0 megapixels.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Update: the Yard Project

The front yard is alive with purple. The lavender is growing nicely, next to the Cleveland sage and Mexican marigold (a little yellow for good measure). There had been a curse, which has since lifted, against me growing Cleveland sage. But now it's blooming and really pretty. We also have jasmine growing up the wall. Very fragrant as you walk to the front door. Spring's cold air has made things bloom but it's warming up! Is summer officially here? We're also in the process of a backyard renovation. Pictures to follow. That will make living outside a regular thing. Can't wait to have a backyard that doesn't look like it's been invaded by huge gophers. Gabriel, the fellow working on the yard, said he felt like a gopher - he's been doing all the digging of trenches by hand. Hard work. But it will all be great when it's finished.

Here's a picture of James (back to the camera) talking to Gabriel about the retaining wall progress. Saylor is overseeing the whole discussion to make sure they're on the right track.
After a day of mostly housework, I went down to the cliffs with my friend John to check out the gorgeous view. The sun was streaming through the clouds as if an angel was going to step right out and say, "hey!" We also saw this great cat. He's kind of the opposite of Oreo; more white on his body than black. But their faces are similar.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Starting my Blog

After our workout, James and I went to Saffron to have dinner. I had Eslam noodles - tried something new. It was tasty and not too much. James had his usual huge bowl of TomYam soup. I wanted to name this blog Various & Sundry, but someone has it! This will do just fine. And to get things going visually, this picture of my kitty, Oreo and our lab, Saylor.