Friday, October 2, 2015

Take - 39 - Italian Style Pizza - homemade in California

Italian Style Pizza - homemade in California

Is there something more satisfying in the world than a slice (or two, or three) of pizza? It has to be way up there as one of the most popular and satisfying fast meal. There is an ongoing war against fast food but in this case, fast can also be gourmet and homemade pizza can qualify as both. I have been making pizza in my home oven for years but never, since this year, have my efforts been so successful. You could have this pizza on your table in less than 75 minutes.  Don't believe me? Try my recipe and tricks for pizzeria quality results and send me your comments. It might take you longer the first time to get your technique and prep organized but once you have your act together, it will be real easy.

First the tricks and tips (and more within the recipe itself):

a) Get yourself a pizza stone. They are inexpensive and can be bought in any kitchen supply stores or online.  I also use a pizza peel, made of either wood or metal. It is not a necessary tool but can be quite useful to get your pizza in and out of the oven and avoid pizza disasters and burns. I know of what I speak!

b) Turn up your oven, the highest you can get it. I have gone to 525 F on mine. Maybe I can even go higher with it but right now at 525F, it is giving me great results.

c) Buy the best ingredients you possibly can. My flour is Italian flour type 00. It is available in lots of grocery stores including Whole Foods if you cannot find it anywhere else. My marinara sauce for the Margherita pizza is San Marzano. It is an expensive marinara but the best available with very little sugar. You may choose to make your own. I use fresh mozzarella available at Costco and made in California. Mozzarella in water is way different than the aged one. The basil leaves, I grow in my California backyard. Fresh basil is now available everywhere.

d) Try not to loads a ton of each ingredient on your pizza. With Italian food, less is more. The quality of ingredients will win over quantity every time. This way you will taste each ingredient and get more pleasure out of your pizza.

e) The following recipe gives you enough dough for 2 thin, free form pizzas. I can never make real round pizzas. Hopefully, you can.

f) You may do it differently, but I use parchment paper to roll out my dough and to insert into the oven with the pizza peel. I find rolling it on the paper much easier and faster to handle the dough and so easy to remove from the oven. Parchment paper is fine in the oven. It will get darker and brittle, but it will be fine.

Margherita Pizza

3 1/4 Cups flour Type 00
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Teaspoon instant yeast
1 Cup lukewarm water
1/4 Cup white wine at room temperature
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Marinara sauce
Mozzarella (preferably fresh or aged shredded)
Basil - fresh

 To the bowl of a food processor add flour, sugar, salt and yeast and pulse a few times to mix. Through the spout add the water, wine and oil and pulse about 20 times (more or less) or until the dough comes together.

 Dump the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until the dough is smooth. Just 5-6 folds


 Separate into two parts and form into balls. Use an extra tablespoon of olive oil to coat a large bowl, deposit the dough balls in the bowl and coat the balls in oil by rolling them around in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic film or a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat your oven. First, remove all oven racks except one, set it at second to last lowest level and put your pizza stone on it. Set your oven at 500F or higher. I presently have a very good oven but in the past, I have used poor quality apartment ovens and have been successful. You might want to test your oven in advance and see how high you can get it and how long it will take to get it there.

While your oven warms up, prepare your ingredients. Set out your marinara sauce, wash and dry your basil and slice your mozzarella thinly.

Ok, so now your oven is ready and your dough has rested. Cut a piece of parchment to fit approximately the size of your pizza stone and spread it on your counter top or table. Sprinkle lightly with flour. Flatten one of the balls and after flouring a rolling pin flatten and roll out the dough. Some might like to flatten it with fingertips, that's good too. Some like to form a crust. It's all up to you. I prefer the rolling pin as a faster way of getting things done and can take or leave the crust. Just make sure your rolling pin is well floured.

Spread the marinara sauce on the dough, add your sliced mozzarella and basil leaves and you are ready to slip your pizza into the oven. From now on, watch it carefully through the window. You do not know how long it will take to get the pizza of your dreams and you wouldn't want to burn it. I would say somewhere close to 10 minutes but as each oven is different, pay close attention to it. Two rules of thumb here.
a) when the cheese starts bubbling it is a sign that it is getting closer;
b) with your peel, lift the pizza and check for brown spots on the bottom. That's a good sign. If there are no brown spots, leave it a while longer until you see the spots.

Remove your pizza from the oven. You may want to add a drizzle of olive oil on top while it is hot. Cut your pizza and enjoy.

Please comment on this recipe and let me know how it turned out in your own kitchen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Take 38 - Rescued love from Taiwan and Leo

Recently we adopted another Golden. Leo, formerly Homer, is about 7 years old and a rescue from Taiwan. Thanks to Rescued love from Taiwan and Norcal Golden Retriever Rescue, he was brought to California, along with many of his pals.

 In Taiwan, Goldens are the most popular dogs. The are the favorites because of their temperament and beauty and because of the symbol of the word "gold" to Asian people the world over. However, once grown, they are let go, set free, abandoned on the streets. One common excuse is they are too big for the small apartments. Thanks to rescue groups in Taiwan who are in contact with rescue groups in California, the dogs are rescued, cared for through medical needs such as neutering/spaying, cleaned and groomed, fed and then flown to California where they are in great demand. They often have a temperament that is more akin to puppies because they lack the proper training and do not understand English commands.

 We had been thinking of adopting another Golden and when we were told there was one from Taiwan, we decided to go have a look at him at the foster home in Burlingame. Homer, now Leo, was smaller than Rocco. He was very friendly. Maybe too friendly as he immediately started chewing on David's shoes and jean bottoms. Regardless, I was in love. I knew I had to keep my head and my heart in check but hey, how can you with a Golden. We got acquainted for a while and then went to get Rocco who was waiting in our car. Rocco was not impressed and started humping Leo, a sign of control and domination. To diffuse any further battle of the top dog, we decided to go for a walk with both of them. The walk went pretty well so we decided to adopt him and take him home. Papers were signed and a donation to Norcal given and we were on our way.

Things went very smoothly and Leo arrived at his new home. It has now been over a month and while we are keeping an eye on any change in their behavior, all is going very well. Leo adapted very easily to our routine and to his place in the dog pecking order. Rocco has also been most generous and he seems to understand that Leo is new and needs a bit more attention. Walking with them was a lesson too. At first I thought a Y attachment would be the solution but I was quickly made aware of the contrary. Because Leo was not used to walking on the left as Rocco, he would go to the right and I would end up with the Y behind my knees. I changed both leashes for leather ones and got two leashes. Strangely enough, I suddenly had more control holding both leashes with one hand and they got the hang of walking side by side on the left. So what was challenging at first soon worked itself out. Going for a bath at Pet Food Express was another question I had. I had seen a lady there once with Labs and here is how she did it: she tethered one dog to one of the metal loops while she bathed the other one. When she was done, she would simply switch dogs. I tried the same thing and it worked wonderfully for me and they too.

Having two dogs is not double the trouble as one might be inclined to think. You just have to think creatively and it becomes as easy as having a single one. Ok, double the food bill and double the vet visit bill but it's all worth it. They are angels put on this earth to enrich our lives and to entertain us. Both of ours are real clowns in a Golden suit.

So having two dogs is a double blessing and now our house is doubly filled with Golden love.

For more information on adoptions, Google
Rescued love from Taiwan or
Norcal Golden Retriever

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Take 37 - Living the California drought

What can I say about the California drought that has not already been said. Friends from different countries often ask me: what does it mean for your everyday life and how do you save water? Well, here is a longer version of my usual answer.

When we first moved here from Canada, 3 1/2 years ago, unbeknownst to anyone, this drought had already started. To be totally honest, not being used to so much sun and so little rain after living in Vancouver for over a decade,  we were really clueless. We just loved that every day was sunny and warm, winters were practically nonexistent and we couldn't believe our luck of living in California. And time and life went on and so did the sunshine, the warmth and the lack of rain. During that time, we lived in an apartment, watered our plants, took showers, did laundry and used water in the kitchen for cooking, cleaning and rinsing stuff, unaware. Well,  the years went by, we left the apartment for a house we bought and started paying for water with an actual bill and not charges hidden into our monthly rent payment. This bill showed us our monthly usage. Wake-up call! News bulletins started mentioning water waste more and more and we decided to do our part and become water wiser.

We covered all unpaved areas with landscape fabric and mulch (wood pellets). We installed rain cisterns to gather the rare raindrops that would accumulate on our roof and modified a rain drain to drop each precious drop into a covered garbage tub with a hole. We became mindful of the length of our showers and made them shorter. We bought 4 flexible plastic tubs and use them in our showers to gather what would otherwise become waste water. Gallons and gallons are saved this way each time we take a shower. We rinse fruits, veggies, etc over another smaller tub in the kitchen. There too, the quantity of grey water saved is phenomenal. In toilets, we have put full plastic water bottles in the toilet tanks to diminish the amount of water used with each flush. Also, as the saying goes here, if it's brown, flush it down and if it's yellow let it flow. We become immune to the number of times we flush a toilet per day.  If I make pasta or cook veggies in water, I scoop out the food when it is ready and let the water cool on the stove until I can transfer it to a tub. All of this saved water goes for my trees and plants. We do feel a spot of guilt when it comes to our pool. However, here is how we rationale this situation. We did not have the pool built. it was there when we bought the house. We were told that we can't let the level go below the filter pump intake, otherwise the pump cannot work.  If it cannot work, the pool becomes stagnant and a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitos.  That is why, the Government isn't asking pool owners to stop filling them up, just to limit to less than one foot at a time and if you empty it completely for, say,  cosmetic repairs, you can't fill it up again. Since we need to have the pool resurfaced, that is part of a cosmetic repair and we are waiting until the drought is resolved before having it done.

These days, each time we turn on the faucet or flush the toilet, we stop and think before we do it. That's how we are doing our part to help this situation but truly, I cannot wait for a regular rain season and long days of nothing but rain making everything peaceful and fresh again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Take 36 - Café Chez Panisse - A meal to remember

Take 36 - Café Chez Panisse - A meal to remember

A little while ago, I was about to celebrate a birthday so I asked my husband to be treated to a Birthday Lunch at Café Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Chez Panisse is widely known because of the quality of its food and also because of its owner Alice Waters, who has been a guiding light and innovator of the farm to table movement, eating locally and organically here in California. The restaurant is also well known because of the fact that so many great and talented people worked there and went on to do wonderful things in the food industry. The two that immediately come to mind are David Tannis, who has at least two exceptional cookbooks that I know of and David Lebovitz, who has been living in Paris for the past decade, has a blog at,  and  who has so many great cookbooks that I have stopped counting.  But I digress, so back to Berkeley. There are two establishments at Chez Panisse: the restaurant and the café, both located in the same building. The downstairs restaurant is only open for dinner and the café, on the second floor serves lunch and dinner. Going to either requires some planning since you need a reservation which cannot be made any earlier than a month in advance. My husband was willing to treat me to this lunch but not to slave over the long process of getting a reservation. Since I tend to pick my battles, I made the reservation. (Get all of the details at A word of warning, you have to be patient. On the given day, one month before the chosen date I called and just like when you were a teenager and there was a contest on the radio and you kept dialing and redialing and kept getting a busy signal but kept dialing, thank goodness for the redial button these days and when suddenly there was no more busy signal and you held your breath hoping this would be the right time, well it was finally my turn. I spoke to someone, stated my business and was transferred to the reservation person. And finally, there I was with my date and time. The building is a beautiful one in downtown Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue. The architecture reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie houses. The decor is simple and muted but with a distinctive style. The food was sublime and the service was impeccable and attentive. Needless to go into what we ate since the menu changes regularly and you can rarely get the same dishes. An appetizer, a main course, with a glass or two of wine, a dessert and an espresso completed this wonderful meal. However, this kind of greatness will cost you. For us, it was over $150.00 but no regrets here since it was perfect and a long time dream on my part to visit this establishment. Not your everyday kind of indulgence but I hope to do it again in this lifetime.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Take 35 - Sluzl

Take 35-  Sluzl

Happy New Year Everyone !

Sorry for being scarce in the last year.  New dog, lots of new projects, etc. Among those new projects, I've wasted, errr..., spent lots of time on a little project with David, my husband.  I am  happy to say that you too can now waste, errr..., spend time sliding pieces around to resolve any of the 365+ puzzles on  

A word of warning though, stay away from the hard and crazy puzzles!  It should work on any browser on any computer, phone or tablet. 

We are not responsible for any resulting addiction. :) Curse me or praise me but please, give me your comments on this new way of wasting time having fun !


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Take 34 - Golden Retriever - Rocco - our new love ! -

Take 34 - Golden Retriever - Rocco - our new Love !
It's been almost nine months and we have been in love from day 2. Rocco, picked us. He felt our pain. The interviewer from Norcal Golden Retriever felt it too when she came to meet us at home and get to know us. That pain was raw and tears were close by and ready to roll down our faces but we powered through it and finally, we set up a date to meet our potential new companion. We were also asked if we wanted a young puppy or would go with an older Golden. To us it really made no difference because we had established that young or old, it was the luck of the draw.  You could have a young who could get sick at 5, like our Taylor, or have an older very healthy one. So really it meant no difference to us. A few days later we got to meet our new friend at his foster home in Mountain View. We played ball in the back yard with him and noticed his great energy. He went non stop after the ball and interacted with us. We also got to go for a walk. He was not great on leash and it was easy to tell that that dog had not been taught to walk in a disciplined manner but had had a lot of fetch time. His body was slim and streamlined. He did not have a bulky frame. So that was it, we were taking him home. Papers were signed and recommendations were made and off we went with our new pal.

Since March, he has brought nothing but joy to us. At first he would be a bit shy and quiet, a bit as if he wanted to be on his best behavior and make sure we would keep him. He had been shuffled through a few homes in the past few months.  So, bit by bit he started showing us his true personality. Very well trained with outstandingly nice manners, he made us realize what a bonus it was to adopt an older dog. His age is not precise as the papers showed two different date but according to our vet he would be between 8-10, based on the wear and tear of this eeth.

We really lucked out with Rocco. Adopting an older dog is something else altogether and does not always have to mean more health problems or assorted vet bills. Rocco is in great health and has the energy of a much younger dog. He runs, he swims, he can play fetch non stop and is always a willing participant at play time.

I would like to highly recommend Norcal Golden Retriever. Their members are totally dedicated to Golden Retrievers and do their job with passion. They do their research on the dogs that are surrendered by thoroughly evaluating them and doing an in-depth one  on one with future owners. They come and visit your home and look at your environment asking questions and making suggestions (if need be) as to how to improve your living conditions to increase your possibilities of success with your new pet and ensure the dog’s welfare. They also have a website that should be visited to get the idea of what they are all about.

Lastly, if you love dogs, live with one or more dogs and would like a good read, I highly recommend the following book:

Daytripping by David Rosenfelt.

However, just one word of caution, make sure you have lots of tissue available while reading. At least one story in that book, if not more, will have you crying for sure, but it’s all good. Great praise go to this author and his wife for their dedication and generosity. You will not be able to put the book down, unless it is to go blow your nose or wipe your eyes.

Enjoy !


Friday, July 18, 2014

Take 33 - RIP Darling Taylor

On March 14th of this year, we said goodbye to our darling Taylor and just now, did I feel capable of
writing about him. Taylor had been in our lives for 5 1/2 years and we had had him since he was 8 weeks old. He and we had grown together. He has showed us the way while raising him. He was our first dog.

On December 24th, 2013 we noticed something was not right with Taylor, our Golden Retriever. He was listless, would not eat, did not want to drink. He seemed in a daze and disconnected. We hurried him to an Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Palo Alto. After a couple of hours of tests and treatments, we learned he had a 104 degree fever and we were sent home with him and some antibiotics. To make a long story short, during the next week we went back and forth to our vet, hoping it was just a virus and some dehydration but unfortunately, after several treatments we were referred to Sage Veterinary Hospital in Campbell, after more tests we were told it was not a virus but an aggressive form of cancer called Hemangiosarcoma. After he had surgery to remove the mass growing in his body, we kept our eyes in him because the prognostic was not good. He was given two month at most before the return of the disease and chemotherapy might only give him an extra month. In March we noticed a mass developing in his chest and made the quick decision of returning to Sage for the final goodbye moment.

Making the decision was easy when knowing there was no future but it's the aftermath we were not prepared to face. Everything in our home reminded us of Taylor. He had occupied such a large space in our lives. Now the house was empty without him. David and I were in constant pain and tears. We even went away for a weekend and had to hide when the pain bubbled to the surface and our eyes filled with tears. It was a rough time.  Seeing other dogs, especially other Goldens was the worst. Another thing from the well meaning people around us were the sympathy cards. Gut wrenching words that had me burst into uncontrollable tears. I could not even show them to David after they arrived in the mail. I knew he could not face that kind of pain. A neighbour sent a card and included the following text:

by Gene Hill

He's just my dog.

He is my other eyes that can see above the clouds; my other ears that hear above the winds. He is the part of me that can reach out into the sea.

He has told me more than a thousand times over that I am his reason for being. By the way he rests against my leg. By the way he thumps his tail at my smallest smile. By the way he shows his hurt when I leave without taking him.(I think it makes him sick with worry when he is not along to care for me)

When I am wrong, he is delighted to forgive. When I am angry, he clowns to make me smile. When I am happy, he is joy unbounded.

When I am a fool, he ignores it. When I succeed, he brags.

Without him, I am only another person.  With him, I am all powerful.

He has taught me the meaning of devotion. He is loyalty itself.

With him, I know a secret comfort and a private peace. He has brought me understanding where before I was ignorant.

His head on my knee can heal my human hurts. His presence by my side is protection against my fears of dark and unknown things.

He has promised to wait for me ..... whenever ..... wherever. In case I need him.
And I expect I will - as I always have.

He is my dog.

It took me three tries to read the complete text and even now, I write these words my throat constricts. Thank goodness, with time, (and a new love) things get easier. In my next blog, get ready to hear about my new love. Taylor would approve.