Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Every Thanksgiving, I bake pumpkin cheesecake. I've been doing so since I was in grad school (How did I have the time back then?! How has it been so long that it now qualifies as "back then"?!).

pumpkin cheesecake

I use this recipe for the most part, but I use ginger snaps for the crust (about two cups of finely ground ginger snap cookies and half a stick of butter), I don't use brandy, and I don't measure the spices (cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg)--I just put however much looks right.

The recipe says to use a 9-inch springform pan, but the pieces are just too big. Instead, I like to use two 6-inch springform pans and one mini springform pan (it's the perfect size for tasting, and it's cute). This recipe makes a lot of batter (not every cheesecake recipe that calls for a 9-inch pan will yield the same amount of batter as this one).

pumpkin cheesecake

We took some over to Michigan this Thanksgiving. Of course, the problem was that by the time dessert rolled around, everyone was too full, so not much of it was eaten. But at least a couple of people thought it was good. Oh well. I'll be making more for Christmas, since our moms haven't had it yet this year and they requested it. And I don't plan on bringing any back!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Banana Bread

I've been baking lots of quick breads recently. I use three mini loaf pans (each is 5.75" x 3") instead of one large (regular-sized) loaf pan, and I've been freezing at least one from each batch, so we can enjoy some now and some later. We haven't noticed any significant difference in taste with the ones we've frozen and eaten later, so they seem to freeze well.

Banana Quick Bread

Banana Quick Bread
(adapted from Joy of Cooking's "Banana Bread Cockaigne" recipe)
Makes one 8.5" x 4.5" loaf or three 5.75" x 3" mini loaves

1.5 cups all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar
6 Tbsp butter (3/4 stick), softened (I just microwave it)
2 eggs
3 bananas
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Grease pan(s).
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small mixing bowl. (Sometimes, I put some cinnamon in there, too.)
  3. Beat sugar and butter together in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add bananas in pieces, mash with fork, and beat in.
  4. Add the dry ingredient mixture in about 3 parts to the wet ingredent mixture, beating in until smooth after each addition.
  5. Scrape batter into pan(s) and bake about 50-60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Beauty of Decay

We went for a walk around the neighborhood on a nice, sunny day a few weeks ago and took some photos of the leaves as they were first beginning to change color.

We also happened to encounter some creatures along the way, and they were nice enough to pose for us.

And speaking of creatures, we seem to get a lot of visitors in our back yard. All on the same day one day, we saw a hawk, some squirrels, and somehow even a cat managed to get through our fence. The hawks around here seem to like perching on our fence.

The leaves are in the orange/red/falling phase right now. They're beautiful, but it's been cooler and rainy, so we haven't gotten any photos recently.

Isn't it kind of interesting that most things that are decaying lose their appeal, but it's almost the opposite with autumn leaves?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Jennifer's West Coast Trip: San Francisco

Sorry for the long pause. I know the suspense was killing you! I was battling a weird cold that kept sort of going away and coming back every couple of days. So, back to my trip....

The last place on our itinerary was San Francisco, California. We went there to attend a Tears for Fears (TFF) concert, which has sort of become an annual event for us since 2010. We flew from Seattle in the morning on the day before the concert so we could do a little sightseeing.

But first, let's talk about the weather. It was pretty cloudy, cool (cold, compared to Seattle and Vancouver), and foggy most of the time we were there, but I guess that's why they call it "Fog City" (among many other nicknames). Good thing we brought jackets! They must make a killing selling unsuspecting tourists San Francisco jackets and sweatshirts, so if you plan to go, even in the summer, take a jacket. Oh, and thanks a lot, fog, for ruining every chance we had to get decent photos of the Golden Gate Bridge (and by decent I mean you can tell that it's the Golden Gate Bridge without squinting or being told that's what you're looking at).

The best photo I got of the Golden Gate Bridge (taken from the Alcatraz ferry). Seriously.
Anyway. Maybe next time I can get closer to the bridge for some better shots. We wanted to go over that way, but we didn't have time.

We already had tickets for Alcatraz, because they can sell out weeks in advance, so that was first on our to-do list. Once we checked into our hotel, which was on the south side of town, we headed to Fisherman's Wharf and got on the ferry to travel about 1.25 miles across San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island. The island is now a national park site featuring what remains of the abandoned prison, early military fortifications, and the oldest operating lighthouse on the U.S. west coast.

Approaching Alcatraz Island
We spent a few hours on the island, touring the former penitentiary grounds. In the first photo below, you can see (from the top left to the bottom right) the lighthouse, the warden's house, the cellhouse (peeking out from behind the warden's house), the barracks/apartment building, the guard house (behind and to the right of the barracks/apartment building), the guard tower, and the dock.

Alcatraz Island
View approaching the dock

Alcatraz Island

Military chapel and guardhouse
Alcatraz Island
Gardens, power house, and view facing northwest
The 84-foot-tall lighthouse which replaced the original in 1909
Cell block
Inside a cell
Solitary confinement cells

There are many ornamental plant species on the island--remnants of gardens planted by inmates and correctional staff and families--which are now tended by volunteers.

Alcatraz Island plant
Alcatraz Island plant

Alcatraz Island plant

View of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island
After our tour of Alcatraz, we sailed back to Fisherman's Wharf and walked around and shopped since we were already there.

Fisherman's Wharf sign

Marina at Fisherman's Wharf, SF
Seals sunning themselves at Fisherman's Wharf
We ate dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., since we seem to have also made a tradition out of that since we went to Chicago last year. And I had to have some of their bread pudding again.

We took a cable car ride from Ghirardelli Square to the transit station on our way back to our hotel. We actually took a few cable car rides, but they were all at night, so they weren't the best times for good photos. And they were super-crowded.

The next day (our final day together), we ate lunch at the Fog City Diner, which was more upscale than we expected it to be. Both the food and service were good.

Fog City Diner San Francisco

Then we took a streetcar (we did manage to get a shot of one of those) to Chinatown.

Streetcar in San Francisco
Somehow, we managed to completely miss the front entrance gate and area, which is probably where all of the photo opps are (we came through the opposite end of Chinatown...the part where Asian people are shopping). Oh well.

Somewhere in Chinatown, San Francisco
Chinatown San Francisco
Chinatown, SF
From there we scaled a few small mountains to get to the concert venue, Nob Hill Masonic Center. The TFF show was great, as usual. We love that they sound just as good live as they do on a recording. We also really enjoyed their opening act, Carina Round, who also sang backup vocals for them and signed a copy of her CD for Alexis after the show. I took some photos, but they all came out really blurry. I guess I was a little excited.

The next morning, we parted ways at the airport and both flew to our respective cities. There are tons of things we didn't have time to do in San Francisco (and Seattle and Vancouver), but we did what we could and had a great time. Well, that concludes this whirlwind West Coast trip series!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jennifer's West Coast Trip: Seattle, Part 2

We drove back from Vancouver to Seattle the next morning. We got some shots of the border crossing, since we had to wait for a while.

When we got back to Seattle, we did some more sightseeing to get as much value out of our CityPasses as possible. But first, we had to visit a couple of unique landmarks that weren't in downtown Seattle. We found the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot tall concrete sculpture of a troll crushing a VW beetle. It was created in 1990 and situated under a bridge.

Fremont Troll Seattle
The Fremont Troll
Then we walked not too far from there to the Fremont Rocket, a Fairchild C-119 tail boom modified to resemble a rocket.
Fremont Rocket Seattle
The Fremont Rocket
We then headed over to the Seattle Aquarium. We touched some sea stars, sea anemones, and sea urchins; saw the feeding of two giant Pacific octopuses (we got photos, but they came out really dark); and saw lots of fish, coral, and other sea creatures, as well as some birds.

Seattle Aquarium
Sea urchin
Seattle Aquarium giant clam
Giant clam
Seattle Aquarium lionfish
Seattle Aquarium coral
I think this is a Caulastrea species, a large polyp stony coral (whatever it is, it's photogenic!)
Sea otter--so cute!
Harbor seals sunning themselves
We actually walked through Pike Place Market both times we went into town. We saw lots of flowers, seafood, produce, and other items. We bought a couple of huge, very juicy peaches.

My mom would love the huge scallops!
Just across from the market is the original Starbucks store. We happened to be there when the line wasn't super long, so we got a couple of drinks there. Alexis was excited about it!

The original Starbucks store
Alexis happily holding her drink from the original Starbucks
Up next: San Francisco.