Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day 7: Kadomatsu, shopping, jogging

I spent the morning and early afternoon with Robin, who taught me how to make kadomatsu(sp?).  This is a traditional Japanese token to give friends and family on the new year.  Made of bamboo, pine boughs, rope, and (in the modern age) tape and hot glue, the quest to make kadomatsu began with step 0: chop down a 10+-foot bamboo stalk.  So manly.  We ended up with a total of seven kadomatsu of various sizes, which we would deliver to various family members and friends in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the ladies were shopping.

After everyone had reconvened in the early afternoon, Lauren and I set off on a mission.  Lauren wanted to repeat our accidentally long run from a few days before, but this time she wanted to:
  •  Run 4.1 miles on purpose instead of 3.5 miles accidentally.
  • Start and end the run at Island Snow Shave Ice, vendor of her favorite frozen treat
So, run we did!  We both agreed that 4 miles wasn’t all that much worse than our usual 2, especially when most of the run is alongside the beautiful shore at Lanikai.

Incidentally, Island Snow also received a visit from Obama back in August, and they let their current customers KNOW IT.  The pictures and newspaper clippings posted everywhere allowed us to ORDER what Barack ordered, even to SIT where Barack sat.  Wish I could say we were above such touristy behavior.  Turns out it was pretty fun.

In the evening, Lauren and I went on a nice date, which she planned as a surprise.  We ate in a restaurant perched upstairs in the Ala Moana mall’s Niemen Marcus.  Really delicious bread to start, and my lamb shank was top-notch.  Lauren gave them an A for effort and adventurousness, but said that the flavors in her dish (pork belly with mushrooms and some other goodies) just didn’t quite mesh together correctly.  Oh well!

After dinner, we stopped by the Formaggio restaurant and wine bar for a glass of wine and a bit of live local music.  We closed the place down (at 11 or so, but still), then headed home.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 5: North Shore and Turtle Beach

On Sunday, Ashley and Scott were scheduled to leave.  Will and I went for a quick, short run in the morning, which was abbreviated by 1. our concern that we might miss Ash and Scottie's departures, and 2. the impending rain, and 3. our sore, sore legs following the previous day's really long run.

Back in plenty of time, we said goodbye to my sister and headed out to meet my friend Linda at Bubbies, the local ice cream store that I worked at as a high schooler.

Will and I shared a huge slice of ice cream cake with chocolate, coffee, and Oreo ice cream, topped with fudge, sitting on an oreo cookie crust:

Really delicious.  Then off to the North Shore, where Linda recommended that we go to Turtle Beach.  Here's me with a picture with Brutus, the Hawaiian Sea Turtle:

Unfortunately I'm blinking.  Will and I took a dip in Brutus' bay, listened to the local volunteer tell us about the Hawaiian Sea Turtles' lifespans and habits (Brutus here is not dead, as I initially feared, but is sunning himself on the beach -- the warmth helps him digest his food, and the UV rays kill the algae growing on his back).  Brutus is more than 25 years old, and lives at Turtle Beach with 13 other fully mature adults, and over 100 juvenile turtles.  Amazing.

From Turtle Beach we went to Haleiwa Town in search of some food:

And found Kua Aina Burger, who served us 1/3 lb hamburgers with a half of an avocado sitting on top.  Delicious!

Finally, we went to the beach and took a couple of very romantic pictures:

And we headed for home.  But our day was not done yet.  As we were leaving, we noticed that there was a screw stuck in one of our tires.  The one mechanic's shop in Haleiwa was closed, so my wonderful enterprising boyfriend set out to change our tire.  A good Samaritan also stopped by to help us, and in a surprisingly small amount of time, we were off!  Here's a successful Will celebrating his victory:

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 4: Golfing!

Following our day of shopping, we decided to have a day of exercise.  Will and I awoke wanting to take a run, so Mom and I plotted a pretty route: start near the soccer field by Times supermarket in Kailua town, where Mom was going to run, go to Lanikai, run around the Lanikai Loop, and then return home.  Here's our route:

View Larger Map

As you can see, the route we planned was not our usual 2 miles, but instead a whopping 4.6 miles.  We got most of the way through it before Mom, concerned by our long absence, got in the car and picked us up.  Thank goodness.

Then home for lunch, and we were off for our first golf lesson at the Olomana Golf Links.

The whole group joined us for a round of 3:00 twilight golfing:

Clearly some people just rode in the golf carts.

Golfing took us late into the evening, and we were all pretty tired and hungry.  We headed home where Ashley and Scott cooked us all up a dinner of delicious whole wheat crusted pizza, which was especially good with a healthy serving of Tabasco sauce.

Then, our bellies full and our bodies thoroughly tired, we went to sleep.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Day 3: Ala Moana Shopping and Black Out

On the day after Christmas, we awoke early to catch the sales at Ala Moana.  The plan was to hit Macy's early so that Mom and Dad could get Aloha shirts for the two guys.  Scottie found a nice light blue shirt immediately, but Will and I contemplated for a while; we could not seem to agree on a shirt.  Then we narrowed it down to five choices, and Ashley and Scott helped us pick the perfect one.

We continued shopping for the next few hours at Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's, and then Ward Center.  Will and Dad got tired and went home; Mom, Ashley, Scott, and I continued to shop at Nordstrom Rack, where I finally got tired and retired to a cafe, where I read a book about Maui and ate a paper package of roasted chestnuts.  Finally our day of shopping was done.  Ashley had picked up a couple of shirts, and Mom found an unprecedented 3 shirts and 3 dresses (she usually buys little to nothing).

When we came home, Mom noticed the lights were flickering, and started heating up dinner as quickly as possible.  Sure enough, at about 8 in the evening, the electricity went out.  We huddled around camp lanterns and flashlights and listened for information on the radio:

Then we started a light in the fireplace and spent the rest of the evening roasting marshmallows.  I love marshmallows, so that was just fine with me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Day 2: Christmas Day

After waking late on Christmas day, the first thing I did was video-chat with all the family back home in Tampa.  This was actually my first time seeing Anna since she's been expecting, which was really special.  The internet is amazing.  After hanging up the video-"phone," it was time to start the day in earnest.

Having turned each island "snack" into a meal -- and each family "meal" into a feast -- Lauren and I were happy to start Christmas Day with a short jog at the Kailua High School track.  I've seen people marketing lots of exercise programs on TV, but in my mind there's nothing quite so motivating as a 75-degree Hawaii morning, with a spritz of cool rain every now and then.  There's no way to stay cooped up with weather like that calling through the window!  And it sure beats the icy rain we'd been trudging through in Mountain View recently.

After the jog, we had breakfast, napped, and opened presents:

Then (erm) napped, had a brief food-tasting of the dinner trays we'd brought from the local Chinese restaurant (had to be sure there was no poison), CAT-napped, and then it was time for dinner itself.  Another dozen or so extended family members showed up, from Lauren's mom's side this time.  We had just the right amount of Chinese food to leave everyone pleasantly stuffed.  I especially liked the eggplant with noodles and pork.  Maybe the sweetest and juiciest eggplant I've ever had.

After dinner, it was time for another tradition: the gift grab-bag.  The rules as explained by Uncle Baron were simple, with rules #1 and #2 designed to avoid another ... incident:

  2. Don't get too attached to your gift.
  3. A gift can only be stolen once per round.
And with that, we were off.  Plotting, collusion, cutthroat maneuvering, and frequent shouts of "Don't get too attached!"  All in good fun, of course.

I ended up with a gift certificate to a local shopping center where Lauren and I were planning to eat dinner anyway, and Lauren got a Dark Knight DVD.  Along the way, other things passed through our hands, like $20 in Hawaii quarters and assorted dollar coins, and a large Ken Follet book with $10 tucked inside.  (I suspect the $10 was the primary motivation for the 9-year-old who swiped that book from me.  She gave the book back (minus cash) after all was said and done).

A fun tradition that brings folks together and keeps the gift-buying overhead reasonable in a large extended family.  I also found it to be a great meditation on the fickleness of fortune and the futility of attachment to physical things.  The 9-year-olds in the game weren't quite so philosophical as the gifts left their hands.  But to be fair, my allowance is bigger than theirs.

All in all, it was a lovely and warm Christmas with a whole bunch of lovely people.  Lauren is blessed to have such a close and friendly family, and I'm honored to share Christmas with them again this year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 1: Christmas Eve in Kailua, Hawaii

We flew to Hawaii to spend Christmas with Lauren's family once again this year.  Lauren took a very early flight on Monday morning, with me (Will) following along on Christmas Eve.  The Exit Row Gods (great band name, that) smiled upon me, and I got to stretch my legs out as I flew from cold(ish) California to heavenly Hawaii.

Lauren's family greeted me in early-afternoon Kailua with smiles, hugs, and a heap of very welcome leftovers to snack on.  Then, we jumped in the car to deliver presents and Christmas cheer to a few great-aunts and -uncles.

After delivering presents, we went back home for some pre-dinner napping (Will) and jogging (Super-Lauren).  Then, a dozen or so members of Lauren's extended family showed up for the annual tradition of Christmas Eve dinner and carol-singing.  There are so many talented musicians in Lauren's family!  We had multiple guitars going, a ukulele, and carefully copied sheet music for everyone.  Once again, I found myself wishing I'd practiced some of these songs beforehand.  Just a great time and a warm and wonderful tradition.

The singing finally wound down around midnight.  Once most of the revelers had left, we opened presents for and from Lauren's grandparents, who stayed late for the occasion.  What a wonderful (and full!) Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Strongbadia Christmas Party 2008

After some time decorating we were finally ready for guests to arrive:

The house looked great.  I did food, Albert did lights, and Will hung the tall ornaments that you see on our windows.  Inspired by the Neiman Marcus butterflies, we used fish line, Walmart ornament hangers, and plastic blue and silver Christmas ornaments to create a "winter" scene (we decided NOT to go for red and green).  Here's a close-up of our window idea with Albert's candles in the foreground:

I also used Ellen's "lifts and lofts" idea -- place different shaped objects under a second table cloth -- to create a food table with some depth:

And here's Albert's birthday cake.  I was so excited about this new idea that I found on the back of a Betty Crocker cupcake box, and it turned out very cute -- colorful and easy to share.  However, right singing Happy Birthday, we had a miscommunication (read: Lauren did not communicate to others) and Albert told two of our friends to eat the top cupcake.  So this cake is perfect only in memory and in pictures:

We spent a while decorating.  Here's a picture of the mantle:

It was a crowded party, with about 40 total folks, and mixed Albert's friends from work, Will's friends from work, our friends from Strongbadia, and my friends all together.  At its height there was almost no place to sit:

Altogether a great time.  You can view Albert's complete pictures here on his Smugmug.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Lazy Chicken" and steamed kale

For dinner last night, Lauren picked a favorite Rachel Ray recipe, the "lazy chicken."  We also steamed some kale with bacon (thanks to The Joy of Cooking for that one).

Tasty.  Nothing much to say, except that I dream of someday being able to make one of "Rachel Ray's 30-Minute Meals" in under 30 minutes.  Our record at this point is somewhere around 60...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Uncle Chuck's sauce recipe

By popular request, here's the recipe for Uncle Chuck's spaghetti sauce:

  • 2.5 lbs ground chuck
  • Ragu spaghetti sauce, 1 lg (48 oz) and 1 medium (27.7 oz) jar.
  • 2 large onions
  • cooking sherry
  • 12-oz Hunts tomato paste
  • sugar
  • 1 box chopped fresh mushrooms
Brown beef and drain in colander.  Dice the onions.  Brown the onions in butter and 1/2 cup sherry in a large pot.  At the end of browning, add mushrooms.  Add the tomato paste, 8-12 tbsp sugar, 1/3 bottle of sherry and the Ragu.  (Use some of the sherry to rinse out the Ragu jars).  Add the meat.

Cook over LOW heat (be sure it does not burn) for several hours.

Serve over thin vermicelli.

Uncle Chuck's spaghetti sauce

When I was growing up, Uncle Chuck's spaghetti sauce was a go-to dish in Mom's kitchen.  We never got tired of it, and we didn't really understand why anyone ever put any other kind of sauce on their pasta, not when Uncle Chuck's was an option.

So, brimming with childhood memories after the trip to Georgia, and feeling ambitious after our recent culinary successes, I decided to try making the sauce myself.  I couldn't help hyping it up to Lauren, Bill, and Albert.  But after all these years ... could the sauce really hold up?

Could it?

The answer is a resounding YES.

An unprecedented quad thumbs-up for Uncle Chuck's spaghetti sauce.  It turns out that sherry and beef are like the cheat codes for sauce cooking, and this sauce is largely comprised of sherry and beef.

The oddest thing about the experience was that this sauce tasted like my birthday.  I don't just mean that the sauce was as delicious as birthdays are wonderful.  I mean that Mom made this sauce whenever she was hoping to pamper us kids (birthdays, exams, etc.).  I was surprised at how strong the association was; it hit me with the first bite.

So: Great sauce.  Great memories attached.  And easy to cook, too!  I'm glad I had a chance to introduce a new batch of friends to it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Pie and a Soup (Key Lime Pie and Three Bean and Pasta Soup)

Thanks to Ellen and John, we had key limes from the Will and Anna tree, brought to Georgia and then back to California:

And to the left you can see the adorable cookbook that Ellen made for Will when he left for college.  From these key limes I made a pie:

Which looks just delicious here, but BEWARE!  I did not know that key lime juice freezes well, so I tried to use all of the key limes in the pie ... which made for a very, very tangy pie.  Part of the fun was watching people's faces about five seconds after taking that first bite.  Whew!

Also for dinner, Three Bean and Pasta soup, a recipe taken from the back of a can of Anne's Organic Soup at Whole Foods (actually the canned soup is terrible, but it gave me ideas of what to include:


Cook some pasta -- not the whole bag; it expands.  Drain and rinse.

Chop and saute in olive oil:
1 small onion
Some celery
Slices of spicy sausage

Boil for a while in chicken broth.  Then add thinly sliced potatoes.  Boil some more.  Then add cans of three beans (cannellini beans, kidney beans, pinto beans), can of crushed tomatoes, chopped kale leaves.  Heat.  Right before serving, add the pasta and heat.

Woot!  Delicious!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Martha Stewart's Summer Corn Chowder

The beautiful thing about this Martha Stewart corn chowder is that everything in it is fresh:

Fresh potatoes, fresh corn off of the cob (could not find fresh yellow corn, so I used white corn), fresh celery, poblano chili, fresh thyme from my garden.  Will suggested that we add a dash of Tabasco sauce, and that made it PERFECT.