Monday, October 31, 2011

A Hyperbole and a Half Halloween Costume

Allie + Fish = Super best friends Forever!!

Woo Hoo! I made a costume for Halloween this year! I haven't made a costume (for me) in just about forever. I usually only make them for my dog. I went all creative and had to reach waaaaaaaaaaay back for some residual paper mache skills leftover from the second grade!

Every year our friends Keith, Loretta and Maureen invite hubby and I to a Halloween costume party. Each year we attend but never dress up. We're pretty lame that way. This year I was even invited to a second party the same night and had big plans to attend both since I was going to make a super cute costume.

So last year shortly after Halloween I was introduced to the Hyperbole and a Half blog by my friend Katherine. It's full of the cutest, most hilariously funny, twisted and demented cartoon stories as told by the blog's author Allie. I LOVED it.

Immediately I knew I wanted to make a Hyperbole and a Half costume of Allie. So I waited, patiently, for Halloween 2011 to arrive.

I knew making her dress would be easy. I just needed two triangles of fuchsia pink felt with holes for my head, arms and legs. Even her arms and legs would be easy. Because she is a stick figure I knew I could use black tights to create stick figure'ish legs and arms.

I was torn between creating The God of Cake or "How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood." I chose the latter and created a replica of her BFF fish to carry around as a prop. I knew the fish would also be easy to make but am planning on making the cake too just for fun.

My head came out a little glumpy but it worked!

The head was going to be another matter. How in the world would I make her head? Some digging online and I found a paper mache tutorial on the Instructables website. With it I set out to create the perfect hyperbolic Allie head!

I modified the design a bit to improve its user friendliness. For instance I only affixed the breathable mesh mouth along the top edge so I was able to eat and drink by lifting it up.

The big day for the party came but instead of being excited to attend in my new costume I was stricken with a migraine headache! It was bad. It started around 2:00 PM that afternoon. I thought to myself I should take some aspirin and a nap and see if I could make it go away. I got two Extra Strength Tylenol and went to pour a cup of water. That's when I discovered my water filter pitcher was empty. So I refilled it and waited for the water to filter.

I don't really recall what happened next but I fell asleep at some point. When I woke from my nap I still felt pretty bad but I thought walking the dog might clear my head. Big mistake. By the time I got back to the house I felt much worse. My head still hurt and I felt so nauseated I couldn't stand it.

Me at 7:00 PM on Friday night

I kept the lights off and flopped on the couch while chatting with my mom on the phone complaining that the Tylenol hadn't helped at all.

Eventually hubby came home from work and was freaked out a little because the house was pitch dark but he could hear me talking on the phone.

When he turned on the lights I noticed the two Tylenols I thought I'd taken hours earlier, still sitting next to the water pitcher. DOH! I'd forgotten to take them! LOL

A few hours later, loaded with Extra Strength Tylenol, I felt well enough to drag my sorry self into my costume and over to Keith, Loretta and Maureen's party. I would be two hours late and wouldn't get there until 10:30 PM  but there was simply no way I was going to sit at home all alone with my new costume while everyone else was out partying and having fun!

I spent a lot of time sitting.

I had as great of a time as you can have with a post-migraine hangover. As it turned out my mask was the perfect solution to hold my migraine at bay. The small eye holes above the mouth shielded my eyes from light and having my head completely encased in paper mache dulled the noise from the music.

I'm still bummed that of the three parties I'd planned to attend over two days I only made it to one and for less than a couple of hours. But I guess I should be grateful I made it to any at all. Sometimes I feel sick for days after having a bad migraine :(

I love my costume so much I may wear it from time to time just for fun. You know, like how sometimes you'll see a kid dressed as Batman at the grocery store in June. Yeah, if you see cartoon Allie grocery shopping or walking a dog that might just be me.

Thanks to Laura and Hubby for the party pictures. Since I didn't have fingers I wasn't able to take any :P

Where to Eat: A Willow Glen Food Tour

If you live in the South Bay chances are you have at least one favorite restaurant in Willow Glen. So, my foodie friend Carl and I decided to check out both some of the more established eateries and two that are fairly new. We started our day on LIncoln Avenue at the Hay Market, moved next door to Top Nosh Cafe, down the street to Taiwan Restaurant, then back again towards Willow Street to the Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt and Ice Cream Co and finishing at La Villa Deli.

I first read about the Hay Market in Willow Glen online. Owner Jim Cerone had a vision to create the kind of restaurant he'd want to eat at himself. We were able to chat with him that day and he let us know that his menu embraces tradition, creativity, local produce, there is no gas in the kitchen and more surprisingly no freezer. How do you cook with no gas? For starters Cirone implements both sous vide and making his own charcuterie.

The seating is European style with two long, high community tables and one lower, standard height, long table.

There are paper menus on the tables held in beautifully embossed copper menu holders.

The menu and libations are also posted on large chalkboards along one wall. I'm not a wine drinker but I read in the online article mentioned previously that the Hay Market's wine prices are "excessively reasonable."

Plum and Nectarine Clafoutis ($6.00)

So where did we begin? With dessert! We ordered a classic French dessert, the Plum and Nectarine Clafoutis (pronounced Cleh-foo-tee). It was delicious. Made with organic, roasted black plums and nectarines with Jim's mom's orange butter puddled on the plate. This dessert was over the top delicious!

Though it may look like one a clafoutis is not a cobbler or bread pudding. After reading how to make one it sounds more similar to a flan or quiche that puffs up as it bakes, is allowed to cool before serving then you slice and serve it just like a cake.

I told him eating it made me think of those beautiful picnic photo spreads you see in Martha Stewart magazines. It tasted like something you'd want to bring to a picnic on a sunny summer day, pull it out of an ice box and sink your fork into a chilled slice to enjoy a cool bite on a hot day.

We also ordered the Cheese Plate ($9.00) with Manchego (top), Fourme D'Ambert (blue cheese) and Petite Basque (sheep's milk) cheeses with arugula tossed in just a bit of oil with salt and pepper, locally produced honey butter, house made wine (chianti) salami, and in the center of the picture a special "Chow Chow" mix made with fruit and nuts drenched in local honey with both apple and bread slices.

The Petite Basque was my favorite of the cheeses. We sampled everything and packed the rest in a to go container I'd brought along because we still had a whole day of eating ahead of us. BTW a little scoop, the Hay Market is now serving Brunch on Saturdays.

Along with our check we were given two temporary tattoos! I'd never used a temporary tattoo before so our waitress showed us how to peel off the back and use the damp washcloth to make the ink adhere to my arm.

Ha ha. Hubby did a double take when he saw it later that evening. 

Just two doors down Carl spotted the Top Nosh Cafe. We usually don't just wander into a restaurant but we did that day. The menu of "Market Pies" was so tempting we couldn't resist trying one:

Chicken with Tomatoes
Chicken with Almond & Yogurt
CHicken, Apple & Cheddar
Chicken & Yam with Coconut Curry
Spicy Beef
Wild Mushroom with Gruyére
Roasted Butternut Squash
Grecian Spinach with Feta
Country Ratatouille
Southwest Hot Potato
Eggs, Cheddar & Chives

There's a little seating out front on the sidewalk, two areas with tables and chairs and some counter seating available along one bay of windows.

Inside the restaurant was very modern and very clean. It was so polished looking we started to wonder if it was part of a large chain, which we normally try to avoid on our monthly food adventures.

We ordered a Southwest Hot Potato pie filled with Yukon Gold Potaoes, creamy cheeses and corn and roasted poblanos for just a bit of heat.

So here's where it got interesting. As we stood at the counter we saw an employee take a frozen pie, wrapped in clear cellophane, from a freezer. It was unwrapped and placed inside what looked like an industrial microwave. Carl and I both felt our expectations drop when we saw this. Little did we know that we had nothing to fear.

The Southwest Hot Potato Pie ($5.75)

A few minutes later our pie was delivered to our table with a small portion of cole slaw. The pie, the pie was fantastic! The first thing that came to mind is that it's like a Hot Pocket but a hundred times better. The crust was perfect, thin and flaky, and the filling so tasty I wanted to eat the whole thing all by myself.

Some online research the next day and I learned Top Nosh is a small, local company that started out selling their market pies at the Sunnyvale farmers' markets then began selling at more markets and their frozen pies at several grocery stores like Andronicos and Zanottos. The pies are made, baked then frozen in Santa Clara and delivered to the cafe. They can also be purchased frozen at the cafe for $5.00 each. I will definitely be loading up my freezer with them the next time I head over to Willow Glen.

On their website I learned how much quality matters to owner Yasmin Tyebjee. Considering how delicious the pies are it didn't even surprise me because I felt like I could taste the quality as I ate my pie.
"Top Nosh uses only the finest epicurean ingredients to create delectable flavor combinations from around the world. We use only premium, natural ingredients like free-range chicken, halal beef, gourmet cheeses, unbleached flour, cage-free eggs, creamery butter and pressed olive oil. Top Nosh Farmers Market Pies are handcrafted in small batches, wrapped in a golden pastry crust and quick-frozen to stay at their best until the moment they are served."

Next we headed over to Taiwan Restaurant. I think almost everyone knows Taiwan and for many it's considered to be the best Chinese Restaurant in the South Bay. Some of their best loved dishes include their Crispy Beef, Pineapple Fried Rice and Honey Walnut Prawns.

When I first dined at Taiwan I would order the Honey Walnut Prawns. When I became allergic to shellfish I switched to Honey Walnut Chicken. Then I became a vegetarian and since then I've ordered Honey Walnut Fried Tofu ($9.95). It's not on the menu but I asked the waitress if they could make it for me. I blogged about it here. Not only did I love it, the restaurant was really excited to make it because they couldn't recall ever making it for anyone before.

The cubes of tofu are coated in a light batter and fried  until crisp. The candied walnuts are sweet and crunchy. The cubes of tofu are tossed in the sweet and creamy honey sauce and all of it is plated on a bed of shredded cabbage. *Drool*

So I wanted to introduce Carl to it and, no surprise, he loved it too! The only downside about Honey Walnut Tofu is that you have to eat it all when you order it. It doesn't reheat well because the tofu absorbs the sauce. It doesn't taste bad reheated, just not nearly as good as fresh. So when dining alone this is a problem because I can't eat an entire order by myself.

After Taiwan we headed down the street to the Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt & Ice Cream Co. It's located ont he corner of Lincoln and Willow Street and much to our surprise, looks as if it won't be in its original location much longer.

Directly behind it a large new shopping and office center is being built. Where the shop now stands will eventually become the new Willow Glen Town Square. The shop will move into the new building when it's completed next month.

The reason I wanted to try the Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt & Ice Cream Co. was neither for its Fro-yo or Ice cream. And it wasn't for its toppings even though they have an impressive variety split into two cases.

We were there for their Frozen Custard ($3.00 + $1.25 single specialty topping). Their website reads:
"What we are famous for: Frozen custard is a cold dessert similar to ice cream, however it is much healthier and lower in fat than the alternative. It is an ultra rich soft serve product made with cream, pasteurized eggs and sugar. It originated in Coney Island around 1919, but is very hard to find on the West Coast. Customers venture far distances all over the bay to experience this frozen treat."
All I can say is that it was rich and creamy and definitely tasted more decadent than ice cream! We had the vanilla with fresh raspberries. Carl only tried one bite so I did my best to finish the rest but had to admit defeat before I could eat it all.

They offer 6 sizes as well as a low calorie alternative called Wow Cow with only 9 calories per ounce and low in lactose.

Our final stop was a Willow Glen Institution. La Villa Gourmet Italian Delicatessen was founded in 1947 and to this day remains  a popular eatery famous for their raviolis and sandwiches.

Along with the deli cases are imported goods for those who love to cook!

I must confess I'd never stepped foot inside of La Villa before. Not that I hadn't tried. I did try once at lunch time over a decade ago but the place was so packed with people I literally could not enter the building. If I frequented WIllow Glen more often I'm sure I would have tried again. So when Carl insisted it had to be part of our food adventure I was all for my first long overdue visit to La Villa.

We had a stuffed artichoke ($5.50) that a lady in line ahead of us insisted we had to try, a vegetarian lasagna ($6.99)  and some macaroni salad ($2.19).

The stuffed artichoke was really yummy. I have to say this would be my favorite way to eat a fresh artichoke. Just pack it full of stuffing so that with each leaf you get some seasoned breading to eat with each petal.

The vegetarian lasagna was literally, the best I've ever had. It's not full of big chunky vegetables, in fact the amount of veggies is fairly modest. The pasta was perfectly cooked, not over cooked, the tomato sauce zesty and full of flavor and the cheese was just enough, not over the top too much. La Villa's lasagna made me realize that most restaurants get it wrong by either over cooking the pasta, putting too much flavorless cheese on or using a mediocre pasta sauce to meld it all together. I will definitely be back for their lasagna.

I'm also looking forward to trying their famous raviolis. We saw customer after customer leave the store carrying their boxes of raviolis to go. Finally Carl couldn't take it and asked a lady if we could photograph her boxes. LOL. Turned out she also owns a breakfast and lunch restaurant named Cafe San Jose over on Meridian Ave. I've never been there before but now want to try it out.

We also couldn't resist doing a little shopping while we were there. La Villa carries products that don't seem to be available anywhere else! This is a shot of all of our purchases combined. Carl purchased a bruschetta tapenade and some pasta. I purchased an Italian chili sauce, some finely ground sea salt, Habanero Pepper Jack Cheese, some balsamic vinegar and a bag of spaghetti O's shaped pasta.

You can check out Carl's recap over on his blog by CLICKING HERE

I also had to share with you my favorite boutique in Willow Glen. It's called Magpie and it's full of vintage styled home decor, gift and garden items.

Willow Glen is a cute and quaint old fashioned downtown shopping district located just South of HWY 280 between the Meridian and Bird exits. The majority of shops and restaurants are located down Lincoln Avenue between Minnesota and Lester. There is free street parking and plenty of free parking lots behind the shops so this holiday season if you want to support local small businesses, Willow Glen would be a great place to shop.

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably enjoy our previous adventures this year:

A Surprisingly Delicious Pleasanton Food Tour

A Pescadero Food Tour: Where and What to Eat Off HWY 1

A Bay Area Cheap Eats and Secret Menu Food Adventure

• A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

• Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

• Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour

• Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dessert for Breakfast

The Red and Black from Fleur de Cocoa

Sometimes I feel to full to truly enjoy dessert after a big meal. The obvious solution is to eat it first, as an appetizer, while I'm still feeling hungry and take a bit more of my dinner home as leftovers.

This morning I decided to have a dessert for breakfast because I'd been to Los Gatos last night and couldn't imagine not visiting Fleur de Cocoa. I just made it! They were closing in ten minutes so I had to hurry and decide what to get. Usually I order a Marion described as "A seasonal marion blackberry dark chocolate mousse dome with dark chocolate sponge cake."

But last night I wanted to try something new so I ordered the Red and Black, an award winning dessert I'd seen in their pastry case for years but had never tried.

The red and black consists from top to bottom (in layman's terms) of a single, fresh, dusted with confectioner's sugar raspberry and bit of decorative dark chocolate atop a dark chocolate glaze followed by chocolate mousse filled in the center with a raspberry coulis over a thin disc of chocolate sponge cake on the bottom. The thinness of the cake is similar to the joconde sponge cake I learned how to make in my first Daring Baker's Challenge earlier this year. And it was delicious!

Fleur de Cocoa’s Pastry Chef, Pascal Janvier, began learning about pastry making in Normandy, France when he was 13 years old and later received his Masters in Pastry and Chocolate in Paris. Years later he came to the United States to teach American pastry chefs how to make French pastries. Eventually he opened Fleur de Cocoa, where he offers classic French pastries, cakes, and tarts, adding his own artistic touch and variations. Many of his offerings are seasonal as he believes in using fruits when they are in season.

His attention to detail is visible and his expertise is confirmed each and every time I enjoy one of his desserts. You can enjoy them too any time you're in Los Gatos by visiting Fleur de Cocoa. Just take a stroll down North Santa Cruz Avenue and you'll see his shop near the movie theater.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Parrots, Crows and a Hawk in the Urban Jungle

Hubby and I were heading back to our car in a Safeway parking lot yesterday when I noticed a flock of crows harassing a hawk right above us.

Around and around they flew. The crows never actually attacked or touched the hawk, but at the same time they never ceased surrounding and mobbing it. It was the strangest thing. I've seen it happen a time or two before with just a bird or two but with a flock of nine crows it was really quite a spectacle.

I'm no ornithologist but I'd read in the past that crows do this because they are territorial and also because they often want to drive hawks away from their nests and young. Eventually the hawk flew higher which caused some of the crows to lose interest but a few tried to stick with it.

I wish I had my new and better Lumix GF2 camera with me!

Two Mitred Conures haning out in Cupertino

I should have known better because just the other day I had another avian photo op in a Cupertino parking lot when a large flock of, probably around two dozen, Mitred Conures came to feed in some trees. Indigenous to South America the conures are able to survive our mild winters due to an abundance of fruit and berry trees.

There is an established flock of conures that usually live in Sunnyvale, just on the other side of Highway 280 but this year they seem to be expanding their range into Cupertino. They made such a din with their squawking but when they all took to wing at the same time they were really beautiful!

I also took this image with my old Lumix DMC LX3 point and shoot. All of these photos would have been so much better had I had my micro four thirds Lumix GF2 with the zoom lens with me! These two back to back incidences are definitely reminders that I should be carrying both cameras with me at all times!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Custom Oil Painting of the Cutest Dog Ever

Unbeknownst to hubby, Kitai was asked to be a dog model to have his portrait painted in oils as an example of the custom dog portraits now being offered through the Stone Griffin Gallery in downtown Campbell, California. So he was really surprised when he wandered into the gallery this morning and saw the painting. He exclaimed "Hey! Is that my dog?" To which the gallery owner replied "No, it's your wife's dog." LOL

That's my dog Kitai aka www.CutestDogEver.com

I was asked to submit a photo of Kitai, which you can see in the lower right corner of the picture above, and artist Eileen Graham created the beautiful oil on canvas painting to display at the Stone Griffin Gallery.

Pricing is:    

12" x 12"       $275
12" x 18"       $380
16" x 20"       $575
20" x 24"       $850
24" x 30"       $1275

If you have any questions drop by or give gallery owner Dana Smith a call:

Stone Griffin Gallery
234 E. Campbell Avenue
Campbell, California 95008
Tel 408/374-5200
Cell -- most anytime: 408/806-1352

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Nation's Shame Raises the Moral Consciousness of the World

"Wang Yue died about 12:32 a.m. Friday"

Do you know who she was? She was a little two year old girl nicknamed "Yue Yue" who lived in China. A week ago she wandered into a market street and was hit by a van. As is too often the case the driver, aware he hit her, stopped his vehicle, got out, then chose to drive away. Originally it was an accident. But then it became a hit and run made so much worse as he ran his rear tire over her as he fled the scene.

Image of Yue Yue a second before being hit. From a video on CNN.com

As if a hit and run accident that caused further injury to the victim isn't bad enough what transpired over the next six minutes was not only unthinkable, it was captured on video. Over a dozen passersby, 18 to be exact, saw Yue Yue lying injured and bleeding in the street and chose not to help her. Then a second truck ran over her and didn't stop. Finally a 57 year old woman named Chen Xianmei, collecting trash off the street saw Yue Yue and drug her to the side of the road to safety before she could be run over a third time.

Image of passersby ignoring Yue Yue. From video on GlobeAndMail.com

While the international media debates the reasons for the lack of compassion and empathy by those who saw little Yue Yue lying in the street (some could even hear her groaning in pain) all I can say (and it may sound judgemental but I'm going to say it anyways) is that there is no reason good enough to excuse this incomprehensible lack of humanity.

A second wave of shock and outrage went through me when my friend Chris posted the link to this news story on Facebook. In it the article says about the only woman who stopped to help Yue Yue that ". . .critics have accused her of helping the girl merely out of a desire for publicity."

Seriously? Twenty others left her to die and there are people willing to criticize the only person who stopped to help?

Perhaps even more unbelievable is that Yue Yue's mother Qu, who accepts responsibility for failing Yue Yue by allowing her to wander into the path of danger, bears no ill will towards the people who chose not to help. She said:
"I won't judge them. Let them make their own judgment. If they are married and have children, they will know. But I bear no grudge and refuse to be disappointed by society. Many kind people have come to help."
What happens in China may seem a world away but make no mistake, this isn't a problem that exists only in China, it happens in cities and countries all around the world. Even here in the United States. It's called the Bystander Effect. It's a phenomenon that occurs when someone is in trouble or need and the odds of that person receiving help from bystanders is diminished the more witnesses there are to their need. Meaning: If one person saw you in trouble the odds are they would be more likely to help you than if 17 or 70 other people were there at the same time.

A show on ABC hosted by John Quinones explores this phenomenon.

CLICK HERE then click on the months to view past episodes to watch online.

"What Would You Do" shows both the lack of connection and compassion some people have towards their fellow human beings and the passion and courage others display to protect someone they don't even know when confronted with an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. The staged scenarios, caught on hidden camera, display the morality, humanity and conviction, or lack thereof by how witnesses choose to react to what they are seeing.

If you're as shocked as most of the world is by what happened to little Yue Yue and are asking yourself "How could this happen?" my suggestion is to watch several episodes of What Would You Do? and you'll begin to grasp how this did happen.

It's tragic that it takes the pain, suffering and needless loss of a two year old's life to awaken the consciousness of an entire country and the world. At times like this it would seem we, as a species, are de-evolving as many of us seem to care more about money, prestige and power than the well being of our fellow man. Our capacity to care (at all, altruistically and empathetically) is, imo, one of our greatest gifts. Perhaps the next time you see a fellow human being in need you will try to help, even if in just a small way. I've tried to do so in the past but will, to honor Yue Yue, try harder in the future.

RIP little Yue Yue. You will never be forgotten.