Thursday, November 06, 2008

Russell Brand. (He's famous in England you know...)

We've been fans of Russell Brand since discovering him on the Jonathan Ross Show a few years ago and then again as one half of the famed "Goth Detectives." So when we discovered that he was going to be in town this week, we jumped at the opportunity to see him on stage at Cobb's Comedy Show in North Beach.

Russell was at his low-brow/high-brow best: one minute he is providing a Foucauldian deconstruction of the Jonas Brothers' chastity rings, and the next minute he is discussing British schoolage phenomenon of
"seagulling" (don't ask).

Prancing about on stage, Brand discussed his failure as a VMA-host, repeating jokes that MTV unfortunately cut from the show (the original introduction of Kanye West was very funny) as well as his deep-seated need for fame in
America. What is wonderful about Brand is his open-book attitude about discussing his vanity and overly
self-involved ego. Not once does he hide his flaws from himself or his audience, and in fact, continuously laughs at himself for all of his fallible ways.

It was nice to see that Brand didn't dumb-down his act for a new audience and we hope he finds the recognition in
America he so craves.

Bridge School, third time around

Last weekend, we drove down to Mountain View with Lily and Jason to watch the 22nd Annual Bridge School Benefit concert at the Shoreline Ampitheater.

The line-up was fantastic and the performances were brilliant. On stage this year were:

*Neil Young
*Cat Power
*Death Cab for Cutie
*Smashing Pumpkins
*Josh Groban
*Norah Jones
*Jack Johnson

The weather was beautiful. When we met our friends Mer and Eric at the show, it was sunny and warm in the high 70s. We spent the next eight hours chatting, listening to the music and lying in the sun until the sun sunk beneath the hills and the temperature dropped 30 degrees. Then we bundled up in our wool socks and ponchos and held each other for warmth.

As was the case in 2006 (though not last year), Neil came on stage and played with most of the performers. Some of the "with Neil"highlights were Cat Power's Fortunate Son, Wilco's I Shall Be Released (with both Neil and Pegi), Josh Groban's Harvest Moon, and Norah Jones' When God Made Me. Norah's whole set was fantastic. Her country-girl set, which she called her "having fun" set, included covers of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams.

Here are some videos from Youtube that The Bridge School posted:

As always, we had a wonderful time at Bridge School and we were able to introduce new people to the show (which we enjoy just as much as the concert itself). Please consider coming with us next time ~ it is always a fabulous time with Neil Young and his big family at Bridge School.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A day in the life of a school girl

A number of you have been wondering how I've settled into my new life as a student, so I thought I'd post a blog about the new changes...

So far, everything is going well! I'm surprised by how easily I've slipped back into the academic lifestyle. My classes (one on Chaucer's Troilus & Criseyde and one on Intro to Critical Studies) are interesting and challenging, and the Chaucer class I'm holding discussion classes on is fun and exciting. I was intimidated with teaching Chaucerian language at first, but I have such a great support system at Davis that it hasn't been bad at all. I just pretend that I'm a Chaucer expert and the students think I know what I'm talking about :).

I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Davis. The people there are very helpful, and the vibe is easy-going and friendly. All the people in my class are smart & sassy, and the faculty are kind and full of advice. The campus is lovely, and I'm particularly fond of the gym & pool that is open to all the students for free!

Apart from commuting on the BART/Amtrak from San Francisco to Davis, that seems to take about 2.5 hours one way with all the wait time and delays. But luckily, there's a woman in my program who lives 2 blocks away from me that has graciously offered to let me ride with her 2 days of the week. So I only have to take the public transport commute up and down once a week, which isn't so bad.

All in all, I'm really happy to be at Davis, and I'm super excited to be back at school. It's where I belong :).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pia visits Camp Bauer...Again


1pm – Pia arrived at SFO carrying 4 pounds of fresh ground Orens Special Blend, New York's finest coffee.
2pm – Treated Pia and Mary to a luncheon of homemade Chinese dumplings & spicy vegetable soup. Chris and Pearl labored for 8 hours to prepare the dumplings from scratch but by all accounts, the time was well spent.
5-7pm – Wandered around town amongst thousands of other people all trying to hail a cab to Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park.
7-8pm – Finally made it to the festival just as Beck took the stage.
8-10pm – Watched* Radiohead on stage.
*We did not actually watch Radiohead do anything. As there were 50,000 people at the festival, we were about two football fields away from the stage but the light show was great and the sound from the stage was even better.
10pm – Learning from our mistake earlier in the day, we wised up, avoided the throngs hailing cabs and found a bus that took us close enough to home that we could walk.


10am – Woke up early and ate Congee for breakfast, which Pearl picked up in Chinatown after her acupuncture appointment.
11-3pm – Sunned on the deck, grateful that for the first time in two months the fog is finally starting to dissipate and the real San Francisco summer is about to begin. Chris spent the downtime planting a tree (and checking this off his Life-To-Do-List).
3-6pm – Our friend Matt was is town with his band, My Friend Autumn. They played a set at Thee Parkside and invited Pearl on stage with her tambourine (which she then checked off her Life-To-Do-List). Our table was perhaps a bit under-tattoo'd and wanting for a little leather, but the bartender was cool, the drinks were cheap, and the music was fantastic.
6-8pm – Broke our vegan diet for the day by dining at Suppenkuche, San Francisco's best German restaurant. Suckling pigs for everyone!
8-12am – Returned home and played Celebrity in front of the fire. There was also a Bee Gees sing-a-long and Pia treated us to a performance of Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror.


12-3pm – Shopped for sunglasses and zippers. The zippers are for the upcoming Camp Bauer sewing tea party (date TBD).
3-5pm – Watched Tropic Thunder.
5-9pm – Prepared, rolled and ate Sushi. With the right ingredients and tools (rolling mat, sushi knife), it's actually pretty easy.
9-11pm – Relaxed in front of the fire, listening to music.


12pm – Pia departed for New York carry 4 pounds of Nairns Oatcakes.
12:01pm – Chris and Pearl already miss Pia and can't wait to see her in 3 weeks.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rafting the American River

Like our forefathers before us, we celebrated our independence this Fourth of July by going whitewater rafting. On the recommendation of a co-worker, we opted to go down the Middle Fork American River, a 17-mile, Class 4 trip, suitable for the “active, fit and adventurous first-timer” (yup, that’s us!). Flowing through the Tahoe National Forest, we felt so removed from civilization, like we were the only people for miles around.

In the first six miles, we encountered numerous Class 3-4 rapids: as soon as we boarded our raft, we were greeted by Good Morning and Last Chance which certainly woke us up with cold splashes of water. Immediately after, we came across the infamous Class 4+ Tunnel Chute rapid, which drops 25 feet over the course of 100 feet. Our raft came into this rapid at an angle and we hit the first wall in such a way that our raft spun around a few times making it seem as if all of us were going to fall off the raft and have to swim down the rest of the 100 feet amidst boulders and crazy rapids. Fortunately, everyone managed to stay in the raft. By the time we hit the 25-foot water fall to our left, we were all very soaked and having the time of our lives. Tunnel Chute was followed by less intense Class 4 rapids such as the Submarine Hole and Kanaka.

For the next seven miles, the pace mellowed and we had time to gaze up at the beautiful lush forested canyon that surrounds the river. We didn’t see much wildlife, only some ducks and merganser and the occasional sunbathing turtle. One type of “wildlife” that we did see was the gold miners that still pan the rivers of California. We saw perhaps a dozen men, spread over the course of the river, hunting for gold. When asked “having any luck?” their invariable response was “a bit.” As gold sells for $1000 an ounce, “a bit” can add up to a pretty retirement fund fairly quick.

We stopped for lunch around 1pm and we were so impressed by the lunch that Tributary Water Tours provided for us – fresh fruits and vegetables, and sandwiches (with vegan options!). Our guide, Hatter, said that Tributary provides by far the best food of any company he’s worked for.

Another hour of mellow floating followed lunch but the trip ended with a bang as we encountered rapid after rapid after rapid without much of a break. The Chunder (Class 4) was an 8-foot drop and we watched with anticipation as the rafts before us disappeared down the rapids in screams of fear and excitement. This was quickly followed by Cleavage (Class 3-4), Upper Rucka-chucky (AKA, Up Chuck) (Class 4), Parallel Parking (Class 4), Ski Jump (Class 3-4), and Final Exam (Class 4). This last hour of rapids was so intense – intense but really fun. In between these rapids, we had to exit the raft as Hatter mastered the 35-foot drop of the Rucka-chucky (Class 6) rapids on his own (the commercial companies won’t take passengers over this fall).

What an awesome experience whitewater rafting was. We can’t wait to go again! While none of us fell over the raft, it certainly felt as if we could have fallen out any time. We credit our raft guide for a safe and wonderful trip – thanks Hatter!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vegan, Camping, Comedy Shows & a Walk...

As a number of you have noted, we’ve been less diligent about updating our blog this year. You see, we’ve been busy trying to cram in as many “blogworthy” activities as possible before Pearl returns to school this fall! Anyway, this is a what we’ve been up to this last month:

Vegan – As many of you know, we successfully completed our four-month vegan experiment at the end of April. Never before had we felt as fit and healthy as we did then. So what did we do to honor our very healthy bodies? Treated them poorly with fried foods for a month, of course! Yes, a horrible idea, and believe us, our bodies punished us relentlessly for every non-vegan bite we took. However, we’ve learned our lesson and have returned to a vegan diet indefinitely.

Camping – Number of times Chris and/or Pearl had been camping prior to April 27 2008: 0. Number of times Chris and Pearl have been camping since April 27 2008: 4. We had so much fun sleeping outdoors in Arizona (first in Havasupai and the again in Sedona) that we’ve gone twice more since our return. Lily has joined us for both of our California trips (just outside Sacramento) where we camped in the middle of a lake on our very own island! The lake was warm and we spent our days jumping in using the rope swing, paddle boating, and practicing diving for the two days we were there. We had so much fun that the three of us decided to return the following week for more rope swinging, canoeing, and BBQing. Who knew that camping would be so much fun?

Comedy Shows – Like camping, watching live comedy was a new experience for the both of us, but we’ve seen two performances in the last month that are definitely worth blogging about.

FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. Some of you might be fans of the HBO sitcom about the experiences of two naïve New Zealanders living in New York City. Well, Brett & Jemaine took their act to San Francisco with the songs they wrote for the show. Most of them are silly, ridiculous songs about their awkward experiences in the big city. While the songs are hilarious on their own, what we enjoyed best was watching Brett & Jemaine interact with the audience and with each other; the chemistry between them is just fabulous.

DAVE CHAPPELLE. We’ve wanted to see Dave Chappelle on stage for years. Lately, Chappelle has been popping up in different comedy clubs around the nation, returning to his favorite medium – stand-up comedy. So, we’ve been keeping an eye out for him in the hopes that he return to San Francisco. Last Sunday night, we discovered that he’d be performing later that night at the Punchline Ha Ha Comedy Club. We tried to get tickets through the club but it was sold out. Always up for an adventure, we decided to head down to the club to try our luck. There was a “stand by” line so we decided to wait in the hopes of being let in. We waited for 2 hours, from 10pm to midnight in the freezing cold, and watched as the never-ending line of ticket holders got smaller and smaller. There were about 13 people ahead of us on the stand-by line, and 6 others behind us. After all the ticket holders were let in, the doorman started letting in the stand-bys in groups of 2 and 3…finally, when we were at the front of the line, the doorman said “I’ve got room for two more and then that’s it.” We were the LAST people to get into the show that night! Amazing luck! Chappelle hit the stage just after midnight and didn’t say goodnight until past 4:40am! It was the most ridiculous 4.5 hours of our lives. Unfortunately, we can’t repeat any of his jokes here as he makes Carlin’s “Seven Words” routine look puritanical by comparison, but believe us when we tell you that Chappelle is at his best.

We are hoping that RUSSELL BRAND will also make a stop in the Bay Area this year. He’s been performing recently in Los Angeles and has a scheduled date in New York on July 20.

SF AIDS Walk – We just signed up to walk in support of The SF AIDS Walk 2008 on July 20 at Golden Gate Park. We joined the Quan Yin Healing Arts Center which provides free services of Chinese medical treatments (including acupuncture, herbs, massage & exercise) to patients with HIV/AIDS. The proceeds that we raise will help not only SF AIDS but also QYHAC’s own HIV/AIDS program. We’re really excited to help bring awareness to the cause.

If you would like to donate, please follow this link:

White Water Rafting – For the weekend of July 4th, our friend Stephen is coming back to town and we’ve signed up to go rafting down the American Fork River. It’ll be our first time, and we signed up for a Class 4 ride, which is for the “adventurous beginner” and intermediates. Let’s hope we don’t fall off the raft too many times! We'll be sure to post photos post-ride.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Life Is Grand

Last week we took a trip with Pia to Havasu Canyon, a less-traveled section of the Grand Canyon and home to four beautiful blue-green waterfalls. It’s located on the Havasupai Native Reservation in the heart of the Grand Canyon, and the village can only be reached by foot or by horse (or, if you are feeling lazy, by helicopter). Visitors can stay the night at the sole lodge in the reservation or camp at the camp sites.

It’s been just over a week since we arrived at home, so we are fully rested, our muscles have recovered, and we’ve caught our breath enough that we can finally blog about our adventures.

The night before our hike, we stayed in Peach Springs, Arizona, the closest town to the head of the Havasu Canyon trail. Peach Springs is so small that it doesn’t have its own grocery store or gas station, so remote that we couldn’t get cell phone reception. The morning of the hike, we were up before the sun and drove to the trailhead without any difficulties (though Pearl almost drove head-on to into a deer standing in the middle of the road). As the sun rose over the desert we noticed that we weren’t as alone on the road as we had thought: all along the road on both side were many bulls, deer and giant, overgrown rabbits (think Harvey).

When we arrived at Hualapai Hilltop, we were surprised to discover that the parking lot was full at six in the morning. We hadn’t seen a single car on the road for the entire ninety minute drive to the trailhead. As we parked our car, we noticed two hikers, stretching and checking the straps on their camping packs. We quickly got ready and followed their lead because they looked like “expert” hikers with their “expert” camping gear and “expert” hiking outfits. Compared to them, we looked like the misfits group in a bad eighties movies (Chris was dressed in an argyle sweater, Pia’s shoes were falling apart, and Pearl was dressed as if she was on her way to an aerobics class). Unfortunately, we lost the “experts” when Pia and Pearl were using the disgusting Port-a-potties at the top of the trail (last toilet for ten miles!), so we started our trek on our own and hoped for the best. Just ten minutes into the hike, we met a man on his way up to the parking lot. Two hours later we passed another group of hikers on their way up who reported that they had left the camp at 3:45am, which meant that the first hiker must have started his hike up at about 2 in the morning!

The first 1.5 miles of the hike descends down steep switchbacks (elevation drop of 2000 ft). It was a fairly easy climb down the canyon, though we anticipated that the climb back up would be an entirely different story. Thereafter, the trail winds through the canyon for 6.5 miles (with a drop of another 1000 ft) to the village of Supai. It was a beautiful, mostly-isolated trail, surrounded by vivid red rocks, red sands, and red boulders. It seemed as if we walked into an Indiana Jones movie set, so seemingly similar to the backdrop of Petra in The Last Crusade. The only thing that took away from the beautiful scenery was our heavy packs. We stopped every so often to exchange packs and rest our backs (we were carrying a camping pack for the tent, a rucksack full of water and food and a makeshift sleeping bag carrier which proved to be awkward to carry from the start). Six miles into the hike, we had enough of the heavy weight on our backs and decided to hire mules to bring our gear up the canyon the next day. The hike down was difficult enough that we couldn’t imagine carrying our stuff up 3,000 feet. Pearl was even willing to leave our gear behind if we couldn’t hire mules!

We saw very few hikers heading down into the canyon but dozens, perhaps hundreds heading back up. This explained why the parking lot was so full. Unknowingly, we chose the day for the hike perfectly; all the weekend hikers/campers were clearing out just in time for our arrival, such that when we arrived at the falls that morning, we found it quiet and relaxing.

About 1.5 miles from the village, we came to the running waters of Havasu Creek and knew that we were close. At this point, we’d been hiking for close to four hours, completely exhausted and hungry. We practically ran the rest of the way to Supai, and turning the last corner before the village, we saw, to our surprise, the “expert” hikers from the parking lot four hours earlier. We sped up, overtaking them just before reaching the village, proving, well, nothing at all. Still, we were pretty proud of ourselves - who are the expert hikers now? J

It was a relief to see the village. Supai is an isolated provincial village with a lodge, a café, a general store, a school, a church, and a campsite. It reminded Pearl and Pia of the provincial towns in the Philippines. Supai is the only village in the country that still gets its mail delivered by mule.

We tried to have brunch at the café, but they were low on ingredients: the non-meat platter consisted of eggs, hash-browns and toast, without the hash-browns and toast; the breakfast burritos were served by spoon as they were out of tortillas. We had better luck buying tiny jars of strawberry jelly and peanut butter at the store across the café, which ended up providing our lunch and dinner during the trip.

We set out for our campsite, located two miles beyond the village, and passed the Navajo Falls. The 75-ft high waterfall was beautiful but it was no comparison to the Havasu Falls located about 5 minutes from the campsite. The Havasu waterfall drops 100-ft into sparkling blue-green waters (Havasupai means “people of the blue-green waters”) and looked like nothing any of us had seen with our own eyes. The water was freezing but swimming near the falls was a magical experience. Shortly after wading into the waters, Pearl was nearly dragged by its strong currents, though Chris was there to save her from floating away. She did drop the water-proof camera she was holding, and with it all of the photos we’d taken of the Falls. We were swimming about in the pools for about five minutes when Pia shouted “Look!” and we turned to see the camera drifting lazily back to us on a reverse current.

After the swim, we returned to our campsite, and Pia and Chris pitched our tent perfectly while Pearl made the best peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches we’ve ever tasted. By 3pm, we were utterly exhausted and all we wanted to do was go to bed. We forced ourselves to stay up by playing cards, had dinner (PB&J again) and by 6pm, with the sun still shining and the birds still chirping, we were in our sleeping bags fast asleep.

We woke up at 4:30am, packed up our tent and gear in the dark, left two of our packs at the mule-train drop-off, and began our trek back to Hualapai Hilltop just after 5am. We were fully rested from our 10-hour sleep that we started off at a great pace, extremely excited that we didn’t have to hike up with our packs. We watched the Grand Canyon expanse wake up with the morning sun, a magical experience for we were the only ones hiking at that hour and didn’t see anyone else heading the opposite direction until 7:30am. It was extraordinary to watch the texture of the rocks change depending on the location of the sun in the sky.

By the time we reached the last 1.5 miles of the hike – the steep switchbacks UP the canyon, Pearl felt like she was walking in place. The top never seemed to get any closer. It felt to us that we were hiking the last 1.5 miles for as long as the other 8.5 miles took. When we finally caught our first glimpse of the trailhead, we celebrated with a round of fist pumps and water. When we reached the top, we were shocked to discover that we finished the climb up in less than four hours…most guide books estimate this climb to take between 8-10 hours (though time estimated is with packs).

Our packs didn’t arrive for another two hours but we calculated that we wouldn’t even be nearing the top had we carried up our gear. As we waddled over to collect our packs, we noticed that everyone around us was walking like tired and sore penguins as well.

It took us another three hours to drive to Lake Havasu City, where we quickly showered and jumped into the hot tub to heal our bodies. We spent the next two days relaxing in the pool and the tub, stretching every muscle group while sipping on frozen margaritas, celebrating our wondrous feat. Next up: Sedona, AZ!

Sedona, AZ

The drive into Sedona along Route 89A was a multi-color spectacle, the bright blue skies contrasting with the red-rock buttes, both colors even more intensified by the surrounding dark green forests. There was a sense of balance and peacefulness in the air, not surprising since Sedona is well known for its pockets of energy centers, called vortexes, that some believe enhance peace and creativity (though others believe the vortexes are burial grounds for alien spaceships).

Unfortunately, once we got to Sedona proper, we found that the tourism trade had taken over the town, ruining the peace that we felt on the drive up. The influx of restaurants, stores and galleries driven by the tourist industry coupled with the tiresome traffic jams left a bad taste in our mouths. It is easy to see why so many people have a love/hate relationship with Sedona because we were immediately drawn to the natural beauty but repulsed by the commercialism. We were excited to check out the work of the local artists and artisans but sadly all we found were shops that specialize in cheap Southwestern gifts that had little to do with art and a lot to do with overpriced and tacky knick knacks.

We couldn’t run away fast enough from Sedona proper and head back to nature! Thankfully, we made plans to camp at Sedona rather than stay at a hotel. We were lucky to have gotten the last spot at Manzanita campsite, a small but clean site with only 18 campsites. Each site has a fire pit, a grill, a picnic table, and room for a tent, all situated along a bubbly creek. We pitched in minutes (as if we’d been doing it for years!) and left our stuff to check out some of the famous Sedona vortexes.

Our first stop was Bell Rock butte, which is called so for its supposed bell shape. We walked around the butte on a path that heads directly to its base. Indeed, there was a powerful sensation of peace and balance in the air that surrounds the butte. Presumably, this is why people call it a balanced vortex (some say it is the synergy of the feminine, the masculine, and the balanced energy). Certainly, there was something remarkably serene about Bell Rock. We stopped at Cathedral Rock butte next, and we concurred that it looked like a church surrounded by towering spires made of red earth. This vortex is made up of the feminine energy. It was beautiful for sure, but the air here didn’t seem as magical as it was at Bell Rock.

As it was getting late, we decided to head back to our camp site for some dinner and s’mores. The kind campsite host taught us how to light a campfire using pine cones as kindling, and we were able to eat dinner under the stars in the warmth of a fire. It was so fun making s’mores over a campfire, just like in the movies. We spent the rest of the night huddled around the fire, looking up at the stars, loving the peacefulness of our immediate surroundings and the expansiveness of the heavens.

The campsite host warned us that unlike in Grand Canyon, the temperature might drop to below freezing by midnight and to prepare ourselves for a cold night. So we got bundled up, reluctantly left the warmth of the fire and climbed into our tent. The host was right: the overnight temperature dropped into the 20s. When we got up at six the next morning, we could still see our breath on the air. We hoped that the sun would come out soon for our hike up Bear Mountain.

We had read about Bear Mountain in our travel guide book, which called the hike “strenuous” and marked it with a big W for “wilderness.” Cocky from our “expert hiking” of Grand Canyon, we thought we were well equipped for it. With our compass, water and snacks in tow, we started the drive to the head of the trail. Finding the trailhead proved more difficult than we anticipated because it was not clearly marked; this should have clued us in on how “expert” this hike would turn out, but we naively started our hike into the wilderness despite the lack of markings. About two minutes into the hike, we soon realized that the W really meant wilderness…there was no trail for us to follow – no markings, no cairns, no nothing! We kept walking in the hope that we would come across a trail that would lead to the mountain but after ten more minutes of walking aimlessly around, we were forced to admit that we had no idea where we were going. We couldn’t see the mountain or anything to indicate in which direction the mountain lay. So we laughed and decided that perhaps this was too advanced for us so we slowly traced our way back to the car thinking that we’d do an easier hike somewhere else this time around. As we began to walk back to the car, we quickly realized that we had no idea where our car was parked – everything looked the same! We wandered around for about fifteen minutes getting more and more lost. As Pearl freaked out, Pia turned the compass around in circles trying to figure out how to use it and Chris bent down to look for signs of foot prints from previous hikers (he was using his ranger skills to get us home). He found some horseshoe prints and we followed these for a while before just deciding to just head “that way.” Luckily, we found the road and followed it a half mile until we reached the car again. Guess it was the universe humbling us from being so cocky about our expertise.

That pretty much ended our trip to Sedona – we thought about doing another hike, but when it came down to it, we decided that we’d rather spend the rest of the day lying in the sun. On the drive back to Lake Havasu, we all decided that with a little training and a lot of friends we could one day climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Who’s with us?

Monday, February 25, 2008

This Week's Obsession: Tea

Last week we received a wonderful book from our friend, Liz, called "The Way to Tea: Your Adventure Guide to San Francisco Tea Culture" by Jennifer Leigh Sauer. By a small coincidence, this week we are playing host to our friend, Stephen, who recently started up the website which is devoted to tea reviews.

On the recommendation of the book, we spent much of the week
taking tea classes, watching tea ceremonies, and sampling dozens of teas from around the world. On Sunday we took our tea at Samovar Tea Lounge in the Yerba Buena Gardens; on Friday we took a gai wan class at Teance in Berkeley where we learned how to properly steep and drink tea using the "lidded bowl" - the preferred method of tea drinkers since the Ming Dynasty; on Saturday we escaped the rain by spending the afternoon at The Imperial Tea Court at the Ferry Building where we watched a gong fu tea ceremony using yixing clay pots.

We can't wait to try a few other tea houses in the city and to take additional classes, but what we are most excited about is performing the tea ritual for our friends!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vegan Black Forest Cake and Other Recipes

We were hesitant to post this one, lest you think that our vegan experiment has consisted entirely of desserts, but this recipe was too good to pass up. For a dinner last Monday we baked a vegan Black Forest Cake. It wasn't that difficult to make and it tasted delicious. Also below are some of our favorite non-dessert recipes that we've had on heavy rotation over the last two months. Enjoy!

Vegan Black Forest Cake

2 cup almond milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup olive oil

2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

“Buttercream” Frosting:
3/4 cup margarine (or Smart Balance) softened
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
6 tbsps almond milk
3 tsps pure vanilla extract

Cherry Filling:
1 jar maraschino cherries
2-4 T kirschwasser (cherry liqueur)
1-2 T cornstarch

3-5 T grated chocolate

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease bottoms and sides of two 9" cake pans. Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper.

Whisk together the almond milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil and extracts to the almond milk mixture and beat till foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add in two batches to the wet ingredients. Beat till no large lumps remain. Fill cake pans with batter. Bake 30-40 minutes till toothpick comes out clean. Let cool in pan five minutes and transfer to rack to cool completely. Peel off wax paper. Set aside.

Cream together the margarine and the shortening until well combined. Add the confectioners' sugar in about 1/2 cup batches and beat well adding a little splash of soy milk after each addition. When all ingredients have been well incorporated, add the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Make sure consistency is thick enough for frosting the cake.

Simmer cherries in syrup and add liqueur. Add cornstarch until filling is thick. Set aside.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate. Spread some frosting on the cake and when cherries are fully cooled spread the cherries over the frosting.
Place other cake on top. Frost the cake evenly. Toss grated chocolate evenly on top of cake. Decorate alternating frosting with cherries. Serve.

And now for the non-dessert recipes…

Best Hummus Ever
(recipe modified from:
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
3 garlic cloves
3 cups of rehydrated garbanzo beans (or two 15-ounce cans, drained)
1/4 cup tahini
a pinch of cayenne and paprika
kosher salt
the juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup of olive oil

Toast cumin seeds in a little skillet until fragrant and dark, about a minute. Pour them into a mortar and pound with a pestle. Add garlic cloves to the cumin and pound them until they become paste.

Scrape everything into a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients. Pulse the machine a few times, then add 1/2 cup (or more) of olive oil. Process until smooth.

2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 ripe avocados
1 habanero, minced
bunch of cilantro, take off stalks and mince leaves
2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped
1 lemon, juiced
3-4T olive oil

Mash avocados with a fork. Mix in half of lemon juice and half of olive oil. Mix in shallots, garlic, habanero, cilantro, tomatoes. Add more lemon juice and olive oil if needed. Salt & pepper to taste.

(recipe from:
2-1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for sprinkling while kneading & rolling out dough
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
8 8-inch squares of aluminum foil for baking pitas

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour with the salt, sugar, and yeast. Add the oil and water. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for three minutes then stir in the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time. If the dough is moist, add a small amount of additional flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 6 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces.

Roll into balls, dust lightly with flour, and cover with a damp tea towel. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Use the palm of your hand to flatten each ball into a disk. Finish with a rolling pin, flattening the dough into a disk about 6" in diameter and 3/16" thick.

Place each round on a square of foil, and carefully place 3 or 4 of the rounds directly on the oven rack. Bake for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they are puffed.

Repeat with the remaining disks.

Japanese Avocado Salad
1 head red-leaf lettuce
3 stalks green onions, chopped
1 carrot, juliened
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 avocado, sliced thinly

Carrot-ginger dressing:
3 T mirin
3 T rice vinegar
2 T soy sauce
2 T vegetable oil
2 t sugar
1/2 T sesame oil
2 t ginger
4 T grated carrots

For the dressing, mix all of the ingredients in a tight-lid bowl and shake.

Toss lettuce and carrots and place in serving bowls. Throw green onions on top. Arrange tomato slices and avocado slices alternating the two. Put dressing on top and serve.

Vegan “Borscht” Soup
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 shallots, minced
6-8 cups water
beets, peeled and chopped (use latex gloves)
green stalks of beets, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
spinach leaves
mung bean sprouts
fresh dill, minced
fresh parsley, minced

Sautee tomatoes and shallots in oil. Add dill and parsley. Add 6-8 cups of water. Let simmer for half an hour. Add beets, beet stalks, potatoes, carrots, spinach, mung bean sprouts (or whatever veggies you want). Season with red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, dried dill, dried basil. Serve with a dollop of Tofutti Better than Sour Cream.

Chinese Vegetable and Noodle Soup
2 T oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T ginger, minced
2 T red chili paste
6-8 C water
2-4 T rice wine
1 pack firm tofu, cubed
bok choy, cleaned
spinach, cleaned
mushroom, sliced
carrots, chopped
water chestnuts, drained
bamboo shoots, drained
baby corn, drained
1 packet noodles (mung bean, chinese vermicelli, soba or udon)
salt and pepper to taste

garlic - sliced thinly and fried until crisp (3-5 minutes)
shallots - sliced in rounds and fried until crisp (5-8 minutes)
ginger - grated
scallions - chopped
peanuts - ground using mortar & pestle

Sautee shallots, ginger and garlic in oil until golden. Add chili paste and sautee for another 2 minutes. Add water and rice wine. When boiling, drop to low heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Thirty minutes before serving, add all vegetables, tofu and noodles. Simmer for another thirty minutes and flavor with salt & pepper. Serve with condiments on the side.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

More Vegan Desserts

For a dinner party we're having tonight, we decided to try another recipe from Romero's & Moskowitz's VEGAN CUPCAKES TAKE OVER THE WORLD (the book which provided the wonderful recipe for our cupcakes), and we are absolutely amazed by how delicious these recipes are.

The vegan Milano cookies that we made last night are even better than Pepperidge Farm's, and we're not exaggerating. After a bite of these cookies, you'll realize that going vegan is really not that hard!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Veganism Rocks!

Hello again,

For those of you who haven't heard, we have gone vegan...temporarily. We've decided to try it from January to May and see how we feel. We've just passed out first month mark and so far we feel fantastic.

We've been experimenting with new recipes and modifying old ones. The vegan borsht was a big hit, as was the penne primavera, the veggie tempura and Courtney's vegan banana chocolate ice cream. But, by far, the recipe that got the biggest reaction from our friends has been the vegan cupcakes we made this Saturday for a housewarming party. Most of the guests didn't realize that the cupcakes were vegan until after they were all gone. It was a great pleasure to see our empty tray next to the unopened box of store bought cupcakes on the counter.

We found the recipe in the link below. The only change we made was to use almond milk instead of soy.

If anyone has any recipes they would like to share, please pass them along. Cheers!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Goodbye 2007 . . . Hello 2008

Happy New Year, everybody!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. Chris and I were lucky enough to have Pia for the 10 days leading up to the new year, and in typical Chris-Pearl-Pia style, we had a lot of activities planned for the end of 2007...

On Christmas eve, the three of us spent the day cooking a meal for 10 (turkey, mashed potatoes, honeyed sweet potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, green bean casserole, and brownies) and on Christmas day, we brought it over to Fill Up America and helped serve to those in need. In the morning we were wrapping donated presents for children, and the afternoon we served the food. Fill Up America was able to feed over 300 guests on Christmas day, and it was wonderful to be part of such a fulfilling experience.

We spent Christmas evening at home, cooking and eating a wonderfully decadent meal.

A few days later, we threw a "Goodbye 2007 . . . Hello 2008" party to celebrate 2007 once more before heading into 2008. We had over 30 friends and friends-of-friends show up for some food, some drinks, some dancing and a whole lot of fun.

On New Years Eve, we started our day by skyping with our nephew Neil. He's almost 2 and has been saying the funniest things (a mish-mosh of French and English).

We rang in the new year at the Eclectic Fever masquerade ball, a world music event, where we danced to Bhangra and Mexican Reggae and even a beatboxing MC.

Despite all the activity, we found plenty of time to relax in our matching red striped onesies.

We were sad to see Pia go but it's time for us to start working on our annual To Do Lists. We hope you are ready for a great 2008; we certainly are!