Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Great Wall of Soledad: Progress Update

It's slow, but it's coming along. Several weekends ago, we got the second footing for the back wall poured and right after Thanksgiving, Brian and I started putting in the first row of rocks. We made a lot of progress in just a few hours! Brian borrowed a concrete mixer from Dave's brother (thank you!) - just to help speed up the progress and it has made a HUGE difference. Dad also gave us the great suggestion of adding lime and clay to the mix - we're very happy with that addition - it does seem a lot stronger and easier to work with (thanks Dad!). Hoping to have this done soon, though we joke that it will be done in 2012. Why or how 2012 started coming up, I have no idea, but it stuck and we laugh about it all the time!

Here are some pics:

In the beginning:

Front wall:

Digging second trench:

Pouring footing for second wall:

The second wall that Brian and I are building one Saturday, Sunday and rock at a time...

And finally a "stitched" panorama of four pictures of the wall:

Pictures taken December 7, 2008.

Back soon with more cookies and knitting projects for Christmas.... the two things consuming my time today! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday Cookies: Round One!

So yesterday, I finally stopped drooling over my favorite cookie recipes, magazines + cookbooks and started baking cookies! I decided to start out by making one new recipe and one favorite recipe yesterday.

First up was the new recipe, which I must say we loved and will definitely be using again: Chocolate Pistachio Biscotti! yum! The recipe comes from this cookbook:

Martha Stewart's Cookies

But you can also find it here on her website.

A little difficult to work with when cutting because you don't quite cook it as long as you would normally bake biscotti before cutting and finishing the baking, but it's worth the effort because it's a great blend of sweet + salty. I love to make biscotti, so this recipe is a definite keeper! Definitely have to eat with a big glass of milk or even a cup of coffee. Here's how mine turned out:

The second recipe is a family favorite, one that you can really only make this time of year when the fruit comes into season and shows up in the produce section: Persimmon Cookies. A form of spice cookie, almost like carrot cake, that is totally worth the effort in buying the persimmons and giving them lots of time to ripen on the counter! The recipe comes from my Mom's grandmother, "Nana Olson", and I love these cookies. Now I have to admit, I have altered the recipe slightly by adding the vanilla, mixing in stages (originally it was mixed all at once), using a cookie scoop and the step of flattening the cookies mid-baking, but either way they are really yummy!

Persimmon Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 and mix the wet ingredients:
1 cup persimmon pulp
1/3 cup butter (you can use shortening if you are out of butter)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Add sugar and mix:
1 cup brown sugar, packed tightly

Add dry ingredients and mix:
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves

Dough will be thick, stir in (optional):
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts (you can use any type of nut)

Scoop out with cookie scoop (about a tablespoon) onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes at 350. Pull the cookies out of the oven and flatten using the bottom of a flat glass. Bake for another 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for at least five minutes before moving to cooling racks or serving plate. Makes several dozen cookies.

Some pictures of the process and finished product:

I haven't tried, but I am tempted to whip up a little something to top them with - maybe a brown butter icing or a cream cheese frosting. mmmmmm.... maybe next year!

In an attempt to provide some persimmon knowledge (by no means am I an expert), here is some extra info, tips and a step-by-step of preparing the persimmons for the cookies. When buying the persimmons, there are two types of persimmons: the hichaya and the fuyu. The hichaya is more bitter than the fuyu, but both need to be really, really ripe before using. The more ripe the persimmon, the less bitterness you will taste. This year, I used hichaya persimmons, which look more like an acorn. The fuyu have a tomato shape. When you buy your persimmons, keep in mind that each persimmon will give you 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pulp. I bought ours about 3-4 weeks ago, so it can take a while depending on how ripe they are when you purchase them.

Here's how I prepare the persimmons and fyi... they are super sticky, so be prepared for really sticky hands!

First, I cut off the top and slice the persimmon in half.

Next, you scoop out all the pulp with a spoon.
Basically, you just want to get rid of all the skin.

Next, I dice the persimmon into small chunks. Consistency is kind of like chunky applesauce.

Now you are ready to use your persimmon pulp! Measure the pulp and you will have to either (a) toss the excess or (b) adjust the recipe. Now my four persimmons this year gave me a cup and a half of pulp. I chose to adjust the recipe by multiplying the ingredients by 1.5. For the egg and the butter, I increased the proportions of those ingredients by using an egg plus one egg white, discarding the second egg yolk and a whole stick of butter. Turned out fabulous! I love the taste of persimmons, so I think maybe next year I will branch out and try one of the persimmon pudding recipes out there. Anyone got a good persimmon recipe??

Today, I will be making dough to freeze and planning out the rest of the cookies between now and Christmas. I know what I want to make, it's just the when to make it so that we don't overdose on sugar and have plenty to give away on Christmas. I love baking cookies at Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanksgiving + Christmas Decorations

Well, the house has been quiet this week, which is a little bit of a bummer! Katie, Kile and Creighton were here last week from Sunday through Wednesday and my parents arrived on Wednesday and left on Saturday. Got lots of pictures of my nephew, but took no pictures of Thanksgiving! All those photo opportunties I had and I must admit, the food and company distracted me from taking pictures. Oh well! So this year was a good Thanksgiving. We were happy to have a great meal, a quiet day and time with each other. Turned out to be Brian's first entire day off since the beginning of September when he started working the second job. Hope you all had a great one!

And, of course, here's one of many pictures of Creighton taken while visiting his Auntie Amanda and Uncle Brian. How seriously cute is my nephew?!

Picture taken while roaming the streets of Pacific Grove with Katie, Kile and Creighton.

This week has been filled with Christmas decorations, knitting stocking stuffers, shopping for presents and planning the cookie baking. For the last several years between working long hours this time of the year and the fact that we were typically gone on the weekends, we didn't go to the trouble of decorating the house. So because I am home 24/7 right now, the tree is up, the lights are twinkling and we are enjoying watching Nala break ornaments... silly cat thinks a tree is for climbing! :)

Nala is a little sleepy after playing with ornaments all day!

Getting ready to bake some cookies tomorrow... persimmon cookies (after 3 weeks, they're finally ripe!) and chocolate pistachio biscotti. yum!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Christmas Mosaic of Me

Baking cookies tonight.... looking forward to the holidays.... ran across this quiz and thought it would be fun to make another Mosaic! Are you looking forward to the holidays?!

1. French Hot Chocolate, 2. Mini Color Lights, 3. If This Dog Doesn't Love Me, Then There's No Such Thing As Love, 4. ThanksGiving.Shopping.5, 5. Scottish shortbread, 6. another perfect Christmas Tree, 7. Christmas Cat, 8. Mary Poppins Felt Ornaments, 9. You Can't Catch Me......, 10. Merry Christmas!!! ~ Take one each Please~~~, 11. O Holy Night, 12. the love of christmas

Created with fd's Flickr Toys.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate!

2. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Colored lights

3. Mistletoe or no mistletoe? No mistletoe

4. When do you put your decorations up? Day after Thanksgiving

5. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Making shortbread

6. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Finding, cutting down and decorating the perfect Christmas Tree!

7. Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve? Just those at my grandparent's house

8. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Colored lights + collectible ornaments

9. What is your favorite holiday cookie? gingerbread cookies

10. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? giving gifts

11. What is your favorite Christmas Song? O Holy Night

12. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? Yum!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Apple Hill + Yummy Apple Recipes

A few weeks ago, when I was up visiting El Dorado County for Michelle + Chris's wedding in Coloma, Katie and I decided to go to Apple Hill on Sunday morning. We didn't have much time to hit all the different ranches for fresh fruit, yummy desserts and crafts, so we just went to one of our favorites that has all three of those things, High Hill Ranch. We tried the cider (and I bought some!), checked out all the craft booths, visited the Fudge Farm next door and, of course, I bought a box apples and some pears. We had a great time and I think Creighton enjoyed himself too. :) Here are a few pictures:

As for the box of apples, I used about half of it to make some applesauce the next week of course!

I used the applesauce recipe from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics, which I modified slightly:

Makes 7 cups

Everything after the cinnamon is optional. Homemade applesauce doesn't need any sugar, especially if you use apple cider or juice when cooking. It can be frozen, in airtight containers, up to 2 months.

18 apples (about 6 pounds), peeled, cored and quartered
1 cup apple cider
1 large cinnamon stick (substitute 1 tbsp cinnamon)
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped (substitute 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Combine apples, apple cider, cinnamon, vanilla bean and seed scrapings, the ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, sugar and lemon juice in a large, heavy-bottomed wide saucepan.

2. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent scortching, until the apples are broken down and saucy, 50 to 60 minutes. Mash any large pieces of apple with the wooden spoon to help break them down. Season with more sugar and spices if desired. Remove apple mixture from heat and let stand to cool completely before serving, discarding the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod. The applesauce can also be stored in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Hint for prepping the apples: Get a huge bowl, fill half way with water and dump a bunch of lemon juice in the water. As you are done with each piece of apple, just toss it into the bowl until you are ready to cook them. It will keep them from browning too terribly bad. You'll just need to drain them before putting them in the pot -- I drained them using a strainer like you would pasta.

I am actually going to use more of the apples to make some additional applesauce because we ate the stuff so fast the first time! Brian even suggested adding frozen strawberries, which I am definitely going to do. Also planning on making our usual apple pie with crumble topping.
I also want to try and make some Iced Oatmeal Applesauce Cookies or maybe some Rustic Apple Tarts. Don't they look yummy?!

Off to bake some stuff!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mosaic of Me

Fun little game I ran across and HAD to do tonight.... check it out here.

1. A Golden Haze, 2. Strawberry, 3. spring reflections, 4. water droplets in the shower - o.k. bokeh, 5. Patrick Dempsey, 6. Grenadine Lemonade - 2, 7. valentine pebble, 8. fondue, 9. Rialto Beach Rocks, 10. From A Biblical Standpoint..., 11. he loves me/he loves me not., 12. I wish this wasn't so grainy looking...

1. What is your first name? Amanda
2. What is your favorite food? strawberries
3. What high school did you attend? Ponderosa
4. What is your favorite color? blue
5. Who is your celebrity crush? Patrick Dempsey (duh!)
6. Favorite drink? pomegranate lemonade
7. Dream vacation? Australia
8. Favorite dessert? chocolate fondue
9. What do you want to be when you grow up? undecided... :)
10. What do you love most in life? giving my love to others
11. One word to describe you? creative
12. Your Flickr name? amandasevall

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

San Francisco Breast Cancer 3-Day

It is hard for me to put into words how absolutely amazing the 3-Day Breast Cancer experience was for me, but I will try. And, before I start, I must say that I cannot imagine not participating in this event next year. This is not something you do once and forget. I have a new perspective on everything in my life and it was worth every single step.

Early on Friday morning, we set off for the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Nancy's husband Phil made us some awesome bacon egg bagel sandwiches (thanks again Phil!). Ainsley, their cute 7 year old even set her alarm to wake up at 4 am -- unbenownst to them of course! We arrived to lines of cars, swarms of people and rows of trucks ready to haul off our gear bags. We dropped everything off and found Mary Ann pretty soon after that. While waiting for the opening ceremony, we posed for our pre-walk picture, set our goals and got our six motivational stickers.

My goal was to walk every single mile and to finish with a smile on my face. I am proud to say that I did just that. The six motivational phrases of the weekend were: Grow Community. Kindness Rocks. Cheer a Lot. Strut your Stuff. Stay Positive. Take your Time. So cool to be there and a part of this. :)

"Kindness Rocks" picture from here.

The opening ceremony was powerful and motivating. Words cannot describe. I cannot do it justice. The power of 2,000 people walking for the same purpose, for something more than themselves, makes you believe that there is so much more good in this world than you ever hear of or see in the news. Rather than pictures, I have video - I'm no filmographer, but I figured what better way to tell about this experience than sharing the opening and closing events with everyone. If you would like to watch, please e-mail me. Apparently, the videos are too long to upload on youtube (ten minute limit?? really???) and I'm not so technologically saavy that I actually know of any other video hosting sites!

So back to the walk.... after the ceremony we were off to walk our miles for the day. Nancy, Mary Ann and I figured out rather quickly how to make sure we were near the front of the pack, as we wanted to hold a good pace so that we could finish our first day strong. We had 21 miles to walk on Friday and we think we started walking around 7:30 am that day. We went from the Cow Palace across Daly City toward the ocean, along Bayshore, by Merced Lake, the San Francisco Zoo, across the Sunset District, through Golden Gate Park, across the Pacific Heights District, finally finishing at our home for the weekend, Chrissy Field at the Presidio by the Golden Gate Bridge. Memorable moments from Friday included leaving Mary Ann due to the heat at the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park (we felt so bad and we were so worried), finding a street vendor that sold Diet Coke (for Nancy) and Izze soda (YUM - for me!), walking by Kara's Cupcakes and stopping to buy some... so TASTY! My poor callused feet held up great until we got to Pacific Heights. The steep downhills finally got to me and by the time we got within sight of Chrissy Field, I was limping and a lot slower. Nancy waited for me and we finished strong. We later found out that we were within a half an hour of the fastest walker when we finished at 3:30 pm that day. Eight hours for 21 miles... Still cannot believe that we did that!

We set up our hot pink tent, fighting the wind the entire time. We tried and failed to get our fabulous cots to fit -- we later discovered it was the wind making our tent smaller and got them to fit later in the evening (thanks to Mary Ann's brilliant observation that our tent was tiny compared to hers!!!). We hiked what seemed like a mile across camp to get our towels and hit to mobile showers. Sue, one of Nancy's best friends, was working as a volunteer RN in the Medical tent in the camp, so we finally got to meet and hang out while we checked out our feet. So I have to give kudos to Allen the EMT who fixed my callus problem enough for me to get through the three days with moleskin pads for them. Going into the walk, I have had difficulties with calluses on the balls of my feet. Even the podiatrist said there was nothing I could do about them. Lovely. I actually ended up cutting so much moleskin in three days for the calluses and the blisters, I got a blister on my thumb from using the scissors! :)

Our pasta dinner was good the first night and by 8 pm we were ready to crash for the night. We celebrated Mary Ann's birthday in our tent with a cupcake we bought earlier and went to sleep pretty early. About 21 miles down, about 39 to go.... we really were nuts to do this! :)

Saturday began with waking up at 5 am to see absolutely no fog around the bay or even the Golden Gate Bridge. That meant it was going to be really HOT where we were walking! We got off to a little bit of a late start, leaving an hour behind the opening of the course. That just meant long lines at the rest stops and lots more people along the course than we had experienced on the first day. Nancy and I both were a little nervous to walk over the Golden Gate Bridge -- it sways in the wind... the whole heights thing.... it was all about conquering our fears! Our goal for the 24 miles that day was 10 hours. We left at 8 am and I am happy to report that we made it back by 6 pm! :) Our course went from Chrissy Field, up and over the Golden Gate Bridge, along the coast through Sausolito, up to Mill Valley and back. It was scortching hot, but absolutely beautiful.

I think the lowest point for both of us was on Saturday in the last couple of miles to lunch. We were both having issues with our feet and spent at least a mile debating whether or not to flag down one of the "sweeper" vans patrolling the course all day long. We talked ourselves out of it and it was really the only time during the whole walk that I seriously debated catching the sweeper! Even despite feeling much, much more pain on Sunday and limping the entire day. :) We were certainly lagging today and Mary Ann succombed to the heat after lunch. So proud of her for making more than half of the 60 miles!

Brian decided to come up and cheer us on. I was so grateful to see him at our second pit stop after lunch. He got us some Starbucks and cheered us on the rest of the day. It was funny to have our usual roles of participant/cheerleader reversed! :) By the afternoon, the heat had caused several more blisters and a weird sun rash on my legs from the combination of sunblock/sweat/sun that hurt only if I touched it. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and tired, but proud of ourselves for making it so far. By the time we got to the end of the 24 miles, I definitely knew that there was NO WAY I wasn't finishing all the miles tomorrow! I was not sure how I would get that far, but I had Nancy there to set a pace for me, so I was able to get through it. I figured that the faster we walked it, the sooner we were done!

Highlights for day two included the beautiful scenery, making it through the lowest point of the walk for us both, not having some of the unbelievable blisters we saw in pit stop medical tents (yuck!), walking in ten hours and conquering my fear of heights + bridges long enough to walk across the Golden Gate twice!

The last day was not easy. I knew when I woke up that my feet were okay, but I was unsure how well they would really do over the course of the day. We were so grateful to have Brian there to help us by taking our bags, breaking down our cots and tents. (Thank you sweetie!!! :) After a quick breakfast, we got out on the course as soon as possible. We met a lot of really nice walkers on the course on Sunday. Our walk was 18 miles long and Nancy's goal was 7 hours. I was just hoping to keep up! :) The course was a large loop that took us past every major landmark in San Francisco and through almost all of the neighborhoods.... we walked up some of the steepest streets in the city, through Haight-Ashbury, Golden Gate park (again!), Alamo Square, Washington Square, the Tenderloin, City Hall, downtown, Union Square, Chinatown, little Italy, North Beach and back to the Marina. Thankfully, the weather was finally a little cooler! Brian chased us around to the pit stops and sat with us at lunch. Nancy's husband and kids came out to cheer us on at lunchtime and made Nancy signs, so cute! :)

I spent most of Sunday limping at a rather fast pace for the first half. At lunch, I was so grateful for one of the medics wrapping my right ankle for me. By the time we got to the next pit stop, I had to wrap the other ankle. When we got to the last pit stop, it was a bathroom only stop. Neither one of us wanted to stop any longer. Brian met up with us at the last mile and half and walked it with me. Scarlet walked it too -- the whole way with her tennis ball in her mouth! So funny!

When we got to the last mile, I was having a tough time. I just needed to take my own pace and Nancy needed to keep hers. It would be almost impossible to find someone whose pace is exactly the same as yours for so many miles. She set a great pace for us and I worked hard to keep up with her! :) When I finally got to Marina Green, I could not believe we had to walk down an impossible flight of stairs. The pain from my feet brought tears to my eyes, I couldn't believe it! I was so thrilled to finish. It was truly amazing to walk all sixty miles and accomplish something so big. I always accomplish my goals, but this is a whole new thing to me!

Note the stairs going up the hill behind me to the right... yikes!

We cheered on everyone finishing behind us and celebrated the accomplishment of our goals. The closing ceremony was composed of a victory walk where all the participants linked arms in rows of eight and walked from the hall we finished in to the stage for the closing event. It was another amazing, emotional ceremony and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this event. One way or another I will be out there next year walking or volunteering.

All the walkers in front of us...
....and all the walkers behind us in the victory walk!
My poor swollen feet right after I got in the car on Sunday.... 8 blisters, one burst on the top of my left foot. After the pain of the blisters and calluses wore off a few days later, I realized I had actually aggrevated an old injury in my right foot and I had strained tendons/ligaments in the arch of my foot! OUCH!! Finally getting back to normal now.... :)

And finally, my favorite sign from the whole weekend -- a quote. It reminds me of the two people I walked for, my grandma and my cousin Sue -- both of whom definitely continue to go on in a big way!

Thank you to everyone who made a donation, who walked with me as a trained, who supported me with their words of encouragement. As of today, I have raised over $1,800! :) It's still not too late... if you would like to make a donation, please click here! Thank you to Mary Ann for joining us and embracing this experience with almost no training (awesome!).
Thank you and big hugs to Nancy for doing this with me -- I definitely could not have done any of this without you!! You rock and you know I love ya girl!! :)

And most importantly to Brian.... for all those early morning walks you didn't really want to do, for all the support, for everything that you do for me and for us. Happy Anniversary, I love you!! :)


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