Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

Every year we face a decision about New Year’s Eve…  what to do, what to do?  Let me state right up   front that I am past the point in my life where I want to go out, get drunk, and kiss some stranger at the stroke of midnight.  Been there, done that.  If that is your thing, go for it!  (And let me know how it went so I can re-live my misspent youth)

These days I settle for something a little more sedate.  Some years we have gone out to a restaurant for some multi-course dinner designed to take you right up to midnight, but dessert and a champagne toast seems a little tame, even for me.  Some years we have gone to friend’s parties where the food is awesome and the atmosphere much more lively, especially if they set off their own fireworks purchased the previous July on the local First Nation Reservations.  I am a sucker for fireworks!  Living in Seattle we have the luxury of the fantastic fireworks display off the Space Needle at midnight, and it is a sight I hate to miss.  Unfortunately, some years we can only sort-of see it, because of the clouds and rain.  Kind of like trying to watch the July 4th fireworks in San Francisco…
The best New Year’s fireworks for me hands-down were in Sydney, off the Harbour Bridge.   I got to see them the year we spent the holidays with my Aussie in-laws.  From a boat, in the harbor.  Awesome.

 I have been doing some research and there are other big New Year’s fireworks shows in Paris, Hong Kong, Rio, London and I think it is a worthy goal to plan to see them all.  Maybe not in the same year, though.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

have yourself a merry little xmas

I hope you have the chance to spend the holidays with people whose company you enjoy, whether family or friends.  If you are really lucky, your family are also your friends.  I will be spending Christmas with my Aussie husband, whose company I definitely enjoy.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cookie Exchanges (Or, how to gain 5 pounds in one day)

I love this time of year.  I love the music, the lights, the food.  Most of all, I love cookie exchanges.  I know the general idea is to bake and then trade with others so that you will have a nice selection of treats to offer your guests when they descend on you for the holidays, but that is not how it works in my world.  I go to collect and hoard.  In fact, I have a whole strategy for these gatherings.  1. Get there early and stake out a place by the door so you can see what people are bringing.  2. Bring a large container – preferably air tight – to load up on the goodies.  3.  Bring a large bag to put said container in, so nobody can see just how much you walk away with.  A friend of mine hosts just such a gathering every year.  She makes some tasty quiche or frittata and usually has some nice cheese set out as she knows we will need some protein to balance all the sugar we are going to ingest.   She starts in late morning so we can call it Brunch, and serves champagne and coffee drinks.  In my opinion, this is how everyone should do this.  She also invites all the ladies she knows so there is a fantastic selection, even from the friend who doesn’t bake - she brings little bottles of Baileys.

Everything is set out beautifully, and we all circle the table “tasting” all the offerings.  By the time things wind down in the early afternoon, we are all in a sugar coma and slightly tipsy from the champagne and/or Baileys.  Now, you might think this all sounds wonderful and stress free.  Not a chance, as I obsess about what type of cookies to bring for my offering.   An old favorite? (retro)  A new recipe out of a magazine? (trendy)  Perhaps something chosen randomly off a website? (risky)  And to add a layer to everything, my Aussie husband does not eat chocolate so to be fair to him I try not to make something he can’t eat.  Last year I thought I would try a recipe from my mother’s files – Pecan Pie Bars.  For some reason, they would not set and I was left with a gooey runny mess.  No way I was taking that! 

Fortunately for all involved, a few days earlier I had ordered 2 dozen cookies from my friend at Farthest Star Cookies  and they saved the day.  She bakes them with booze in the batter, so they were a big hit with this group.  In the end, I had to admit that I had not in fact baked them myself, but by that time we had all had a bit to drink so no one cared.  I was able to load up with everyone else’s nice homemade goodies with a clear conscience.   I think this year I may skip the recipe search and just order a bag of Cookie Shots!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

More Beer!

So apparently the entire state of Oregon is beer nirvana.  I already knew that Bend had more than its share of excellent brewpubs, but I found out that Astoria - of all places - seems to be the next hotbed of microbrewing outside of Portland.  I left my Aussie husband at home to road trip to the coast and meet up with a couple of girlfriends for the weekend.  I had no expectations for the charming town of Astoria, so was quite pleasantly surprised to find it had – count them – 3 brewpubs.   As it was windy and rainy, the obvious choice for lunch was the Wet Dog cafĂ© attached to the Astoria Brewing Co.  I was slightly disappointed in their beers, as they were all very hoppy and needed some balance.   The food, however, was quite tasty, with a pretty wide ranging menu.  After lunch we noticed that the weather had cleared a little, so set out for the Column, a lighthouse shaped monument at the top of a hill with a staircase to the top.  A very wind-y spiral staircase.  Which made for an interesting trip back down, after those beers at lunch.   As a friend once said, “more beer will fix it!”  so to calm our nerves and sooth our stomachs we headed for the Fort George brewery.   Now this was my kind of place!  Well-balanced (but still hoppy) beers, and oyster shooters on the bar menu.  We got some strange looks from the other tables as we tried to down some of the biggest oysters I have seen in shooters, but we figured hey -nobody knows us here!  Yes, we took pictures, and no, I am not going to post them.
The last option was Rogue, which had a great place on the river.  Their beers are reliably good and reliably interesting.  All in all, a very productive day!  We returned to our hotel and as this was a “girls’ weekend” we gave ourselves facials with cucumber slices to sooth our eyes.  No, I’m not posting those pictures either.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fish Pedicures

I had read somewhere that having these spa treatments were becoming quite popular.  I’m not sure how you feel about having tiny fish gnaw at your appendages, but I was keen to try it.  I did an online search and found a place that offered this service – at the Underwater World Aquarium on Sentosa Island.  In Singapore.  Sign me up!  Fortunately, we had already booked a trip to Singapore to meet up with my Aussie in-laws.  We would be taking a cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong with them so arrived in “Singers” a few days early to have some extra time to eat. (we’ll  save that story for another time)  As we didn’t have an appointment, we arrived nice and early and were the first ones at the door when they opened.  After a quick foot wash, we were ushered into a room with what looked like wading pools with little benches around the edges.  We were given a choice:  “Turkish Spa Fish” or “African Spa Fish”.  I went straight to the African pool because the fish were bigger and I had a lot of calluses. 

I was not even remotely prepared for the sensation.  Do you have ticklish feet?  Then I wouldn’t recommend having a Fish Pedicure, unless you are trying shock therapy to get over your foot sensitivity.   As we were the first customers of the day, the little buggers were voracious, swarming over our feet and moving up our ankles to the calves.  Visions of piranhas in the Amazon flooded my mind.  My first instinct was to jerk my feet out of the pool, but as the minutes ticked by and my jaw gradually un-clenched, I started to enjoy the feeling.  Plus, it was fun to move your foot around and watch them follow it in a swarm.  By the end of our allotted time I had gotten quite used to the feeling, and was sad to have to remove my feet from the pool.  And that is why I was so excited when we saw this sign in a side street in Shinjuku, Tokyo on a more recent trip.

The man behind the front counter spoke about 3 words of English, and we spoke about 3 of Japanese, but it was enough to book a session with my little flesh-eating friends, followed by a marginally more relaxing massage by ladies who spoke no English at all.  After that experience, getting on the subway at rush hour was a welcome relief.  I think I should stick to regular pedicures for a while...