Friday, December 4, 2009

A Perfect Date Night at A Perfect Finish

The husband and I rarely get out for date nights lately, given we have two kids, one who just started kindergarten (oh the homework!), and another who is 8 months old and wreaking havoc on all of our immune systems this winter. But alas! We were able to sneak out last night. I love wine bars. Mainly because I love wine, but I love the whole atmosphere of them as well. And as far as almosphere goes, I've recently fallen in love with A Perfect Finish.

We're downtown San Jose folk - so we love supporting all things downtown. I had noticed this little gem, located on 1st Street @ Polk - across from Bella Mia, a while back and popped in to purchase a bottle of wine for a friend. I fell in love with the bar, which has more of a Palo Alto feel with the more homey folk of downtown San Jose. You can often experience a cool jazz trio or some other musical act, and their staff, very knowledgeable, always have wonderful recommendations.

But the best thing I've discovered recently is their Thursday night wine tastings which run from 7-9PM. For $5 each, the hubby and I were able to taste 5 wines (appx 1 unce pours). Very good price for a wine tasting! Almost unheard of in wine bars these days. Reminds me of a time when I could go to Napa and do wine tastings for free...

But anywho...if you're looking for a great small-budget date night that will make you feel like a thousand bucks, I'd recommend A Perfect Finish. Once you're nice and tipsy, you can walk it off at Christmas in the Park.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas in the Park

Wow! Has it really been 30 years for Christmas in the Park? Apparently so! I've been attending this event since I was a little girl, and now I get to share it with my own kids. My son swoons for this event! Sadly, this year, they are missing the snow machines. Boo hoo. Word on the street is budget cuts. Well, who can blame them? Still, I am sure a campaign to save the snow machine would have covered the cost just fine.

But let's not talk about the missing snow machines where there's still so much to love about Christmas in the Park. For example...I love that it can fit any budget from a free night of fun on the town, $20 for ice skating and a hot cocoa, or start the evening off at The Fairmont, where you can get into the spirit with a hot toddy, then make your way over the park to enjoy the lights.

Christmas in the Park starts this Friday, November 27 and runs through December 27 (me thinks this is a bit shorter this year! It usually goes right until New Year???). The tree lighting will take place on November 27 at 5:30. Check out their website for more details and start making plans!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Curried Pumpkin Soup

I love fall for its comforting foods: creamy soups, sweet squashes, cool season veggies...But I have to say, I do believe my favorite thing about fall foods is pumpkin. My son loves Halloween. So much so, that his favorite colors are orange and black, he watches Nightmare Before Christmas all year long, carries Halloween costume magazines around like they are treasures, and likes to play games where he predicts what each person he knows will dress as. Our entire October revolves around Halloween. I love when we go to the Pumpkin Patch at a farm because I always take it as an opportunity to stock up on squash (sugar pumpkins, butternut, acorn, turban squash, white pumpkins) for the season. But this year I am already getting a jump on it with some sugar pumpkins I bought at the farmer's market.

This recipe for Spicy Pumpkin Soup was adapted from Simply Recipes.


4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cayenne pepper
1-2 sugar pumpkins (6 cups of chopped roasted pumpkin)
5 cups of vegetable broth
2 cups of 2% milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Cut tops off sugar pumpkins (about 1/3 way down to allow for a nice bowl), scoop out the seeds and strings, lie face down on a tin-foil lined baking pan. Bake at 350°F until soft, about 45 min to an hour. Cool, scoop out the flesh.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.

Add pumpkin and 5 cups of vegetable broth; blend well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer soup, in batches, to a food processor. Cover tightly and puree until smooth. Return soup to saucepan.

With the soup on low heat, add brown sugar and mix. Slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Add cream. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve in individual bowls. Sprinkle the top of each with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Serves 8.

Monday, September 14, 2009


My little man recently started kindergarten. Can you believe it? I know! It seems like just yesterday I was in labor for 28 hours, begging the anesthesiologist to put me out of my misery, and yet here we are...5 years and a trillion budget cuts to the education system later...which brings me to Art! You know, when I think about kindergarten, I think about two things: sorting different macaroni shapes, and art! (neither of which seem to be part of the curriculum anymore)

The San Jose Unified School District actually has a wonderful Art Vista program, run by the parents and funded by the Parents Association. And in fact i am the Art Docent for my son's classroom. Don't I sound important? Really what this means is that once a month I get to discuss famous works of art with a group of 5 year-olds, and then I get to turn them into famous artists in their own right. I give my first lesson in October and I am way looking forward to it.

In preparation, I thought it would be good to get myself into the artful mood, and attempt to expose my son to those things that are sadly missing in school these days. With that, I give you: ART DAY! What is Art Day? It's really just my way of pumping my son up so that he looks forward to our day together at the museum. I chose the San Jose Museum of Art because it's located close to us and because it's CHEAP! $8 for adults (me) and free for kids 6 and under (him). We'll pack a little lunch, eat out on the patio, and discuss all the great art we've enjoyed. I'm especially looking forward to Alexander Calder's colorful, animated “mobiles” like the one pictured here (Big Red, 1959).

Sunday, August 30, 2009

You Can Take My Money, But You'll Never Take My Music From Me!

If you caught either my husband or myself on a particularly honest day and asked what the biggest challenge was in terms of paring back our lifestyles, I would say "food" and he would say "music".

If I had my druthers (which I've never seemed to actually have) I would spend sick amounts of money on food. Everything organic, free-range, grass-fed. I don't want happy cows, I want cows that are so freaking beside themselves with glee that you'd think they were completely stoked to be your burger. I would go to at least one very fancy dinner a month. Just once a month is fine, but it must include a very expensive bottle of wine and it must be Chez Panisse at least three times a year. I'd regularly stuff figs with goat cheese, wrap them delicately in pancetta, lightly fry and drizzle them with honey, throw on an apron on and greet my guests at the door.

But this isn't about me. This is about my husband. He likes music.

And in the past he's been known to spend crazy amounts of money on it. Why crazy? Well, here's an example: he'll buy an album from iTunes. But then he might decide this album is so awesome that he's willing to spend more than double the amount for the album by buying it twice. Because of the packaging. He actually has an interesting justification for this as well based on how well off he feels that particular musician is. If he hasn't been completely sold out just yet, well, he deserves the higher profit an album purchase would bring him versus the download. So really it's like a tax on the arts. And he's willing to pay that tax.

Unfortunately we can no longer afford that tax. This is very hard on my dear husband. Especially because he left the car unlocked overnight last week and the only things that were stolen were his iTouch and his satellite radio. Seriously, the punk kids might as well have ripped his heart out. (There's actually a 'free' story in there because when dear husband called Sirius to let them know the radio was stolen and should be deactivated, Sirius offered to send him a new one because they didn't want him canceling his service. He was going to purchase a new radio and didn't even think to try and get it free. So, BONUS! There's a lesson there...things can be gotten for FREE...look for them!)

So that dear man that I love has been very sad about the music as of late. But then he was listening to the local jazz station (it's the only station he likes on regular radio) and calls me to ask me to look up a phone number for him. I give him the number. He calls me back shortly and says, "I got us added to the guest list to see George Clinton at the Regency Ballroom!" The concert is tonight. I didn't go. I would love to, but it's a school night and the kids and all. But mostly, my husband and his best friend love love love their music. And they'd have a better time and appreciate the freebie much more than I would. So I am wishing them an awesome free concert tonight.

And I'm contemplating how having the satellite radio stolen led dear husband to listen to the jazz station which led to his hearing about the guest list and getting in to see George Clinton for free. He's getting another satellite radio for free, so except for the iTouch, he would have come out on top from this little ordeal!

I personally consider the loss of the iTouch to be his penance for not listening to his wonderful wife when she said to be sure to lock the car door. But that's just me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Free Food for Me!

Today I scored. A neighbor friend of mine was unable to use her box of produce from a CSA (Community Share Agriculture) and offered it up on our neighborhood mailing list. Guess who was the fastest to jet on over to her neighbor's porch and pluck those tasty free veggies? That's right. Me.

Me, me, me, me, and me.

And what, pray tell, did I score? Radishes, padron peppers, Hungarian wax peppers, 8-ball squash, and carrots. This is the fun of a CSA. You get what you get, and then it is up to you to be creative. As for my plans...the wax peppers will store in the fridge for a bit and eventually be used as an ingredient in my homemade salsa (if I can ever get around to picking those tomatoes). The squash will provide a yummy side dish for the next three nights' dinners; the carrots will be eaten raw tomorrow (we love us some carrots); I've yet to plan for the radishes; but the padron peppers! Oh you tasty little morsels, you.

I've never had a padron pepper. I was wondering if I should use them, versus jalapenos, in my salsa. But a quick search on Google and I realized what a popular appetizer the padron pepper was. Essentially you just saute them in some olive oil until the skins brown and blister and finish with some sea salt. Voila! A party in your mouth. My husband and I devoured the little suckers.

(image courtesy of Jane Spice Recipes)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weekly Challenge: Day 3

Man, today was a challenge indeed. First off, I had a huge hankering for a Starbucks Java Chip Frapuccino Light (my favorite!). But I promised myself that if I did cheat, it would not be for a coffee. So instead, I drove past that Drive-Thru Starbuck's (can you believe there's actually a Drive-Thru Starbucks right down the street from me?). Ahhh...the cruelty.

And then by evening, I really wanted to cook (I love to cook). And to me, cooking means picking out a fun recipe, going to the store, buying specific items for my specific recipe. Many of the ingredients will be half-used and later go to waste. I really, really wanted to go buy food. But instead I somehow pushed through it (I probably wouldn't have except that I'd have to tote a baby and a kid with me and I decided at the end I was just too lazy to do that). I had just picked vegetables from my garden this morning an d happened to have my first two tomatoes ripened on the vine. I picked them and wondered what to do with just two. I decided to use them to make an incredibly easy homemade pasta sauce. See recipes below!

Breakfast: Two slices of whole wheat bread with homemade blackberry jam. Seriously good.

Lunch: Chicken sausage, grilled garden veggies.

Dinner: Pasta with homemade sauce, grilled garden veggies. Dessert: peaches with whipped cream (I made the whipped cream by whipping some organic cream I had in the refrigerator and adding sugar to taste).


Grilled Garden Veggies
2 zucchini, cut into diagonal strips appx 1/4" thick.
3 yellow onions cut into 1/2" thick rounds
2-3 sweet peppers, red, yellow or orange. Cut into 1" thick strips

Toss with olive oil and kosher salt and grill (I use a raclette to grill my veggies unless my hubby is actually cooking an entire meal on the grill -- he's the grill guy).

Light, East Tomato Sauce
2 large tomatoes (3/4 - 1 lb ea.)cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2-3 cloves of garlic sliced
2 - 3 basil leaves sliced into thin strips
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Use a bit of the olive oil to saute the garlic for a minute or so. Add tomatoes and saute with garlic for about 3-5 minutes. Throw all of this into a mixing bowl and add the remainder of the olive oil into the bowl, as well as the basil and salt and pepper to taste. Throw in cooked pasta (angel hair is great) and mix everything together. You can also grate some fresh Parmesan cheese onto the dish.