2

The half-eaten Tuna Noodle Casserole. I forgot to take a photo of it before we'd had our dinner!

Gosh! I wrote this blog AGES ago and decided that it needed a bit of tweaking and promptly forgot all about it! Since I haven’t done a food blog for a while, I thought now would be a good time to post it.

I found this really cool recipe on the Weight Watchers website for a meal I could make out of a few staples that I keep in the fridge and store-cupboard and a box of mushrooms. It does not sound like this combination of ingredients could amount to much, but trust me, this dish is delicious! I felt that the original version was a bit bland and it had too many carbs and not enough protein, so I made some modifications!

My recipe, which uses less pasta and more veggies and tuna than the original version, feeds 4 – 5  fairly hungry people, and is best served with a salad or steamed vegetables on the side.

One thing to note, if you are in a hurry you can choose not to precook the mushrooms. The dish still turns out very well. If you do this, the volume of the dish is bigger and the sauce is a lot wetter.

Leftovers keep for 2 days in the fridge and warm up beautifully in the microwave. When I make this we eat half for dinner one night and the rest, two nights later (it gets boring having it two nights running). I think it tastes better later on. Oh, another thing – you can prepare this in advance and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it. Make sure you let it sit at room temperature before cooking otherwise your dish might crack.

I suppose you could substitute the egg noodles with a wholewheat version. Use large, twisty noodles, as they blend well with the sauce and vegetables. Do not under any circumstance use the flat multi-colored egg noodles you get at Trader Joes – I did once and the result was not nice!

I tried this using additional vegetables (french beans and broccoli and green bell peppers) in this dish and it was edible, but not very nice. If you want to increase the amount of veggies in this meal, serve with a green salad or steamed vegetables ON THE SIDE!

I made this when my mother-in-law was visiting and she ate it with hot sauce. That got me thinking that if you want to add some heat to the dish, you could actually put the hot sauce directly in the sauce.

Ingredients:

6 oz uncooked wide or extra wide egg noodles (I tried it with thin, stright noodles and it just wasn’t as good)

12 oz or 2 cans salt water-packed tuna, drained

1 box white or crimini mushrooms sliced

1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (I thaw them by rinsing with warm water or putting them in the microwave for 30 seconds-1 minute.

8 oz light sour cream

1/4 cup fat free or reduced fat mayonnaise

3 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar (or another sharp cheese blend)

1 tsp mixed dried herbs (I use a store-bought blend or oregano)

1/2 tsp garlic powder or 1 tsp seasoning with garlic in it (I use a lovely Trader Joes seasoning called 21 Seasoning Salute)

An additional 1/2 tsp garlic powder

What you do:

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF

2. Cook noodles according to directions without additional salt or oil (usually you simmer in hot water for 9 minutes). Drain and rinse in cold water.

3. Put noodles in an oven proof casserole dish.

4. Sauté mushrooms in olive oil spray with a1/2tsp garlic powder and the mixed herbs and mix in with the noodles. You don’t need to precook the mushrooms, but I do because I love the flavor of browned mushrooms. If you are not precooking the mushrooms, just add the herbs and garlic to the sour cream and fold the raw mushrooms into the noodles.

5. Add the peas to the noodle and mushroom mix.

5. Mix sour cream, mayo, mustard, parsley and garlic or seasoning.

6. Add tuna to the sour cream mix and stir gently.

7. fold the sour cream mix into the noodle mix and make sure that everything is well combined.

8. Smooth out the top of the mixture and wipe rim of the dish with a damp paper towel (otherwise you get burned on casserole on the sides that are hard to clean off).

9. Top the noodle mixture with the grated cheese.

10. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is bubbly. I sometimes leave it in longer until the cheese browns a bit.

11. Serve!

The casserole - ready to bake!


0

This weekend has been a wonderful antidote to the horrid week we had (the apartment upstairs had a leak and the result was a lot of water damage to our apartment which is going to take a while to sort out). On Saturday, we took some of Hub’s rellies (who were visiting from Canada) sightseeing. I find taking tourists round the city reminds me of how beautiful the city is and makes me look at everything with fresh eyes, which is a good thing! In the evening, we had dinner with some friends and some new acquaintances at a restaurant called Marlowe (I had mushroom and truffle polenta – YUM!).

This morning we had brunch at the home of one of Hub’s (French) university friends in North Beach. The weather today was wet, rainy and overcast – reminiscent of the weather ‘back home’. It’s strange, but I have actually started to enjoy rainy days in San Francisco. They have been infrequent enough to be a bit of a novelty and, when following a spate of unseasonably hot weather, they are sometimes quite welcome. And besides, I love the smell of rain on dry earth.

The apartment of the chap who hosted the brunch was really beautiful. It was tucked away in an ‘almost street’, off the Filbert Steps (the ‘street’ had a name, but was more of a pathway and could only be accessed on foot, which is why I thought of it as an ‘almost street’). You have to walk halfway down the steps and turn off into a hidden path that’s overhung with foliage and you find yourself in front of a very small row of homes. The apartment had a balcony in the main reception room with a long balcony in front of it that looked out onto a stunning view of the sea and the Bay Bridge (click on my panorama of it below to see what I mean!). We got to enjoy this view whilst eating our brunch.

Brunch itself was pretty stellar as well – the conversation was lively and animated, and the food was delicious – mostly local produce from the Ferry Building Farmers Market – divine locally smoked salmon, with a proper smoky flavor, olive bread from Acme, sugar-sweet strawberries, peaches and raspberries (and bananas, though I don’t think those were local!). Our host had also prepared Eggs Florentine (I was too full to eat a whole portion, but I stole some from Hub – YUM), homemade creme brûlée (which I had to resist as I am trying to lose weight) and freshly squeezed orange juice (made by our host). I suppose one shouldn’t expect any less from a Frenchman, especially one who’s a friend of my foodie husband!


0

The SF LitQuake LitCrawl 2010 guide

There is a fantastic celebration of literature and writing that takes place in San Francisco every year called LitQuake. It’s an amazing event organized largely by volunteers (LitQuake is a non-profit which only has two paid employees). The event culminates in a “Lit Crawl” – a sort of literary stroll that takes place in and around Mission Street and Valencia Street.

I missed the LitCrawl last year and was determined to attend this year, which happened to take place on Sunday, 10/10/10! The crawl is arranged in three parts, each lasting about an hour. You pick up or download a LitCrawl guide, which shows you the bookshops, bars and cafés that are holding events and you pick an event to attend for each hour. Our problem was that there were not many things that appealed to us in Phase 1 and lots of things we wanted to attend in Phase 2. For Phase 1 we decided to go to Four Barrels Coffee shop on Valencia and 14th for ‘Scribd: Where the World Comes to Read’. We caught a really humorous monologue by Helen Black, or maybe it was an extract from her blog or her book, about a road trip taken with her children from Portland Oregon (or perhaps it was fictional). Whatever it was, I really enjoyed it! Helen was a very animated speaker and her piece was poignant, humorous and engaging. If this had not been the case, we would have left pretty much immediately because the venue was a little bit awkward (a huge empty space in the middle of the room, with the reader in one corner and occupied tables and chairs along two walls). We sort of lurked in front of the tables, but felt uncomfortable, as we were blocking the view of the people we were standing in front of. Check out Helen’s writing in her Scribd page/blog, which is titled ‘Going The Distance Or, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Mother’.

A slightly blurry photo of Helen Black reading her piece

Once Helen had completed her piece, we decided to move on. We strolled into Adobe Books, a huge second-hand bookshop on 16th, which was hosting readings from Small Desk Press. The reading I enjoyed the most here were some poems by local author, Sarah Fran Wisby. Check her out here. I love the fact that her poems contain local references.

Entering the Adobe Bookstore event

Sarah Fran Wisby reading a poem about the Barbary Coast

Hub was a bit bored, and spent his time browsing through books at Adobe. Below is a photo of one of the books he found (but thankfully didn’t buy). Amongst other things, it had a listing and photos of the famous Hundertwasser Toilet in Kawakawa, Northland, New Zealand, that we actually visited during our honeymoon (so romantic . . . not!).

The book that Hub found

We decided to move on to our Phase 2 locations early so that we could get good seats, peeping into ‘Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids’ on the way there, where there was a very crowded reading from Hans Christian Anderson. Hub’s choice for phase 2 was ‘Zombies and Zeppelins’ at his favorite bookstore in the city, Borderlands Books. I was torn between ‘City of Stairwells: Exploring Place in San Francisco’ by Writerscorps at Serendipity (a really cure gift shop) and the talk I eventually went to, simply called ‘Granta 112: The Pakistan Issue‘, which turned out to be a launch of sorts, of this issue of Granta magazine, which took place at Modern Times Bookstore a couple of doors down from Borderlands.

Once in the bookshop, I realized that Granta 112 included pieces by authors I have read/heard and liked, including, Kamila Shamsie and Nadeem Aslam, I bought myself a copy, and dipped into it, whilst waiting for the talk to begin. I also bought a copy of Michal Pollan’s, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, which I will blog about some other time.

There was just one speaker and a representative of Granta at the talk. The speaker was the wonderfully talented and hugely inspiring Uzma Aslam Khan, who read from her contribution from the magazine, titled ‘Ice, Mating’. I initially thought I would slip out halfway through the session and catch some of the Stairwell talk, but Ms Khan was so engaging that I couldn’t tear myself away. She read beautifully and evocatively.

After her reading there was a question and answer session in which she was asked a variety of questions about her background, the places she’s lived (although she is originally from Pakistan, Ms Khan has also lived in the UK, the US and Japan. She currently lives in Hawaii), and rather randomly, about her opinions of the current dramas involving the Pakistani cricket team.

My favorite question was one that the Granta representative asked about Ms Khan’s fondness of writing on tissues. This is just the kind of author’s quirk I love hearing about – the sort of thing that makes me like an author even more than I did before! I recorded Ms Khan’s answer and have posted my clip of it here. Do have a look, I know you’re going to enjoy it!

Uzma Aslam Khan reading at The Modern Times Bookstore

Once I have got through my current (vast) book backlog, I think I might buy one or both of Ms Khan’s books, The Geometry of God and Trespassing.

Hub joined me for the last five minutes of the talk and we went back to Borderlands Books to talk to our good friend, Susan Tunis, an old friend of hubs, who runs the Bookcrossing SF Bookclub that we sometimes attend and who is an avid reader as well as a talented editor and reviewer, and who also attended the Zombies talk. Check out her blog, In one eye, out the other . . . Adventures in reading, which has lots of really wonderful book reviews.

We were too tired to move on to Phase 3, though I was quite keen on seeing the McSweeney’s and The Believer offering, and ended up going home. After my positive experience of the 2010 LitCrawl, I am eagerly looking forward to LitQuake 2011.


0

About a month ago I went to an overnight spiritual retreat at Point Montara near Half Moon Bay, just outside San Francisco. The weather was overcast and cloudy, which gave an atmosphere that was very conducive to the nature of the retreat – inward thought and contemplation.

Here are some photos:

The lighthouse at Point Montara

The view out to sea from Point Montara. I spent hours sitting on the rocks and looking out to sea.

The view from the hostel dining room

The view from one of the the hostel's kitchens

The lighthouse at dawn


0

Octopus kites at The Berkeley Kite Festival

I haven’t blogged for ages. I have several almost-completed blogs in my drafts folder, which I haven’t finished and posted. I resolve to do some catching up this week, so look out for a host of new posts . . . starting with this one!

We went to the Berkeley Kite Festival at the end of July. I have not blogged about it yet because I wanted to include a video clip and have bee trying different ways to do this. I finally resorted to youtube.

The Berkeley Kite Festival was amazing fun. We met some friends, F, a fellow ex-pat Brit and her fiancé, E, who happens to be a bit of a kite flying pro on the side.

We ate a picnic lunch, which included several treats from Berkeley Farmers Market, where F and E had shopped earlier in the morning. We then watched various displays, including kite ballets, kite fights and kite races and did some of own kite flying too. Hub ended up buying a 3D green kite and we both tried our hands at flying it . . . fairly successfully! E brought along two kites from his extensive collection – the one he (and F) flew was a huge pirate kite! Yo ho ho!

Highlights were watching the beautiful kites and the priceless sight of Hub running around and flying his kite like a little kid!

My only negative was that the park was full of gophers, that kept popping up from under the ground. I’ve never seen them before. They look like gerbils – quite cure, really! But if you’re a city girl like me, this sort of wildlife, however cute is a bit creepy!

I am very keen to return to the kite festival, perhaps with more friends (and more kites) in tow.

Check out my video of  the giant Octopus kites and other giant kites!

Here are some more photos!

The huge octopus kites that greeted us as we neared the main display field.

Hub's new green kite!

A beautiful dragon kite - I saw several of these. I think that they were articulated, as they flew in a very realistic way

E's pirate kite finally takes flight!

I loved these little multi-colored men kites that danced in the breeze!


3

On my recent visit to France, my in-laws, who currently live there, took me to Monet’s house and garden in Giverny, which is located a couple of hours out of Paris. It was definitely the highlight of my trip to France. I’ve been meaning to blog about this since I got back, but was slightly daunted with the prospect of selecting a few photos from the large number of photos I took to put into the post. I finally did it and here’s the blog!

The house was pretty enough (sadly they did not permit photography), but the garden was breathtaking. I think the flowers you see depend on the time you visit. When I visited, the garden was decked out in alm.ost every shade of blue and purple imaginable, with bursts of red. It felt like heaven on earth. It was so beautiful. There were two parts to the garden  – the garden at the front of the house an the waterlily pond. It really did feel like I was inside one of Monet’s famous paintings. Have a look at my photos and you’ll see what I mean.

Tulips and Forget-me-nots in front of the house

Some of the flower beds in the garden in front of the house

The pathway to the Lily pond, lined with tall Bamboo plants

Look at the photo below of Water Lilies alongside this painting.

Waterlilies reminiscent of Water-Lilies, Claude Monet 1905

Look at the photo below alongside these paintings.

The first bridge, with waterlilies in front of it.

Look at the photo below alongside this painting.

The second bridge with Wisteria

I loved the Wisteria on the bridge, so here it is again!

Oriental Poppies in the front garden on our way back


0

On our recent visit to the SFMoMA, we stopped for a hot drink at the cafe on the terrace, which serves amazing Blue Bottle coffee. It also serves divine Recchiuti hot chocolate and incredible-looking art-themed desserts, which are not like anything I have ever come across. I didn’t feel compelled to actually have one – they look too good to eat – but I loved looking at them and I think you will too!

Mondrian Cake - Velvet cake, chocolate ganache. Inspired by "Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow", 1930

'Build Your Own Richard Serra' Cookies - Swedish gingersnap, chocolate sablé, graham cracker and citrus tuile

Frida Kahlo Mexican Wedding Cookies - Walnut/nocino shortbread, hand-printed box, printed ribbon. Inspired by "Frida and Diego Riviera", 1931

Diebkorn Trifle - Genoise cake, lemon mousse, mandarin curd, strawberry gelée. Inspired by "Ocean Park #122", 1980

Jeff Koons' White Hot Chocolate - White chocolate, milk, cardamom, lemon zest, Lillet marshmallows, gold leaf. Inspired by "Michael Jackson and Bubbles", 1988

Thiebaud Layer Cake - Chocolate cake, chocolate ganache, strawberry-rose geranium buttercream. Inspired by "Chocolate Cake", 1971

Ellsworth Kelly Fudgesicle . . . not really . . . this is the actual Ellsworth Kelly sculpture that inspired the fudgesicle

Ellsworth Kelly Fudgesicle - Recchiuti chocolate. Hub had this. I had a lick. It was undoubtedly the best chocolate fudgesicle I had ever eaten. I love the fact that they use Recchiuti chocolate. Recchiuti is a San Francisco-based artisanal chocolatier and one of Hub's favorite chocolatiers

No picture of the actual thing, and in any case this was not art-inspired. However, I loved the sketch, so I added it. Secret Breakfast ice cream is made by a local ice creamery called Humphrey Slocomb. Apparently it has cornflakes in it!


0

I think I have a slight obsessions with signs, which has been fueled by the weird and wonderful signage I have come across since moving to San Francisco.

Here are three signs we saw on the same (very short) stretch of road in Marin on the way back from visiting the Marine Mammal Sanctuary a couple of months ago. In isolation, the signs were interesting, but in quick succession on the same short stretch of road, they were hilarious! So much so, that I made Hub drive back along the road and stop at each sign so that I could take a photo!

CAUTION RUNNERS ON THE ROAD - I think it should have had a ':' or a ',' after 'CAUTION'. OK, this sign is not so remarkable - there is some sort of race going on and motorists are being warned to watch out for runners!

SLOW: FROGS ON THE ROAD WHEN WET - Frogs on the road? Frogs? REALLY? Clearly frogs are a BIG problem for the Marin motorist to warrant such a very prominent sign. NB. It had been raining prior to our visit and the the road was wet, but although we looked very carefully, we saw no frogs!

DO NOT APPROACH OR FEED COYOTES - Clearly frogs are the least of the our problems on this stretch of Marin!


3

The Point Bonita Lighthouse

I started feeling really claustrophobic in the city in the weeks after coming back from London, the weather has been hot and the city was crowded due to Gay Pride Week, so Hub suggested we go to the Point Bonita Lighthouse in Marin for a weekend excursion. On our last visit, we arrived at 3.35pm – minutes too late to go through the tunnel to the lighthouse (in case you’re thinking of visiting, the timings are Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m), so on this visit we made sure that we set out early.

We parked our car on the street and made our way to the lighthouse . . .over a pathway with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge . . .

The Golden Gate Bridge from Point Bonita

Then through a tunnel in a cave and along a very perilous looking bridge to the lighthouse (UPDATE Nov 2010 – the bridge is now closed, as it was deemed unsafe. It is due to reopen in a couple of years after a new bridge has been built. The views are still spectacular and worth visiting).

The view from the pathway of the bridge and the lighthouse

Park Rangers in front of the bridge only allowed two people to cross it at a time. This slightly concerned me. Wouldn't you be worried too?

Hub raced on ahead, whilst I walked very, very slowly . . . the bridge creaked and swayed when I got to the middle of it! The rust on all the hinges and supports did not help to boost my confidence, even though the rangers assured us that the bridge was tested for safety every week.

This is view down from the scary bridge. Looking down was NOT a good idea . . . at least I got a cool photo!

The view from the lighthouse was wonderful, though our ears were assailed by the booming foghorn every couple of minutes.

This was the view from the lighthouse away from the bay

The lighthouse had a small exhibit of artifacts and some interesting information about the many shipwrecks that had come to being in and around it. I was surprised to find that despite the existence of the lighthouse and the three others built before it in the surrounding areas, there were wrecks well into the beginning of the twentieth century. During the gold rush years over 300 boats ran aground during the Gold Rush years, the most tragic of which was the wrecking of the City of Rio de Janeiro in 1901, due to fog, in which 128 lives were lost.

On our walk back to the car, just after walking back through the tunnel, we were stopped by a park ranger who told us to look down at the rocks and beach below. What a treat was in store for us when we looked! We saw at least 80 seals basking in the sun. I tried to take a photo of some of them using my camera and Hub’s binoculars. The clearest photo was of three seals on a rock. I have posted it below. This little stretch of coast is a protected wildlife sanctuary. People and boats are not welcome! This means that it has become a favorite haunt for these shy creatures (when the food in the area is plentiful).

Look carefully and you will see that the smooth white rocks and the darker one between them are seals!


0

My parents have lived in the same mansion block flat (condo) in North West London since I was approximately 6 years old. Prior to moving to their current flat, they rented another flat across the street . The flats are beautiful, red-brick mansion blocks and are over 100 years old. Famous residents include the composer, Sir Adrian Boult and various Du Mauriers of literary fame. There are two large communal gardens for the exclusive use of people living in the flats. From time to time the board hold social functions. One of the highlights of the summer is one such function, the summer garden party.

When I was a child the garden parties used to be fairly low-key with a mixed assortment of nibbles (including lots of peanuts and the odd home-made Victoria Sponge cake) and ancient bottles of drinks donated by the largely middle-aged to elderly residents. There are lot of younger people with children living in the buildings now, so for the past few years the board has hired face-painters and entertainers to keep the children occupied whilst the adults schmooze. We usually take my niece to the garden party. It’s an event she looks forward to all summer. Since she often visits my parents and has made some friends via frequent trips to the garden and the annual Easter Egg Hunt and Halloween Trick-or-Treating, she knows a number of the children who attend.

The Entertainer at work

The children playing a game! It was girl's against boys and of course the girls won!

Balloon sword-fights on the bottom lawn!

Every inch of the garden was full of children!