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 !


Inline image 4

Inline image 3

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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Take 32 - Martial Cottle Park - San Jose

On January 31, 2014 Mr Walter Lester died at the age of 88. Who was Mr. Lester and what does he have to do with the Martial Cottle Park, you ask? Well plenty, actually. You see, Mr. Lester was born, grew up, worked and lived a couple of blocks away from our home, here in Blossom Valley, San Jose. His home, but mostly its land, is the site of the future Martial Cottle Park.  287 acres, equivalent to 236 football fields that is being developed to become a park with a visitors' center, picnic areas, historical farming exhibitions, etc.

Mr. Lester was born on July 7, 1925. He never married, nor did he have any children. Mr. Lester could have become just another multi-millionaire of Silicon Valley as the offers for his land kept coming from investors who wanted to turn it into another sub-division or a mall. However, Mr. Lester was steadfast on his plans for this property. Throughout the years he refused to sell and in 2003 he signed over the property in a grant deed to Santa Clara County and California Department of Parks and Recreations but with certain conditions. He wanted the land to stay the way it was, preserved as farmland and open space, with arching old oaks and broad views of the surrounding mountains. He also stated that he wanted no part of the property to be used for high intensity, organized recreational uses such as athletic fields, playgrounds, swimming pools or other similar activities. He wanted the property to be used as a public historical park that would inform and educate the public about the agricultural heritage of Santa Clara Valley. Silicon Valley, a technological area, used to have a topographical vocation. Much of it covered Santa Clara Valley and used to be known as Valley of the Heart's Delight, a region rich with fruit orchards up until the 1960s.

This space is in the south part of San Jose, bordered by Chynoweth Avenue, Snell Avenue, Branham Lane and Highway 85.  The project for the park had been almost dormant up until a couple of weeks after we moved into our new home, in October 2013.  As I walked my dog in that area every day, I started noticing more and more activity with trucks going in and out and increasing during several weeks with digging and paving and the start of a building going up. Then on February 1st, one day after Mr. Lester's passing,  a partial trail was opened and people started walking, with or without a dog, cycling and simply enjoying this wonderful space. Walking this trail, in its infancy, you can almost imagine what the final product will look like. The feeling is magical. The trail is paved but on each side the soil has been worked and sprinkled with seed to grown grass.  A few benches have been installed as well as a couple of doggie stations with bags and waste bins. The fields around go on forever and you distinctly get the feeling of wide open spaces in the countryside, although you are in the middle of the third largest city in California, almost completely surrounded by mountains in the distance. The main trail is about halfway done as the rest of the land is surrounded by fences during the completion of the project. This is a wonderful addition to our neighbourhood and will enchant and help educate people on agriculture for a long time to come.

Sadly, I did not know Mr. Lester but I will give a silent thank you each time I walk those trails and look out into the distance to admire the same views as he surely did.

I recently found this recipe in an Ina Garten  (Barefoot Contessa) cookbook. I love her cookbooks. I have almost all of them. The recipe is from Foolproof.
The combination of salmon and tomato is not usual but trust me, it is outstandingly delicious.
Well worth the effort. This is a version of the recipe. Enjoy !

Salmon with tomato stew

Olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion
2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes halved lengthwise
Salt and Pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons basalmic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves
4 pieces salmon fillet, about 8 ounces each

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 3 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat for a few minutes until onion is very tender. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Stir in tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt and half a teaspoon pepper and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time to time until liquid is almost gone and sauce has thickened a bit. Off the heat, stir in the vinegar and basil.

Place a large sauté pan (that can go in the oven) over high heat for a couple of minutes. Brush the salmon all over with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place skin side up in the pan. Do not move the fish for 3-4 minutes until it is browned. Carefully turn the salmon on its skin side and put the pan in the oven for 8 minutes. Carefully remove the pan and put fish on a serving platter, covering it with aluminum foil for 5 minutes to allow it to rest.

Reheat the tomatoes, check seasoning again and serve hot, warm or at room temperature with salmon.

Bon appétit !

Monday, December 16, 2013

Take 31 - San Jose - Blossom Valley - Getting to know my neighbourhood

Before getting to know my neighbourhood, I had to get to know my house. In the rental home where we lived previously, the appliances were run-of-the-mill machines in-so-far as being very basic appliances without bells and whistles. Nothing beeped nor dinged nor chimed. Where we are now, it is very different. Each appliance has its own sound and musical note, to let you know it requires your attention. For example, the dishwasher has the beep (6 times) at the end of its cycle and it repeats the same 6 beeps a total of three times until you give up and stop whatever you are doing and open the door of the appliance to shut it up. Our fridge has this very practical beep so that if you do not shut either door properly, after a few minutes it will let you know by beeping continually until you realize your mistake. The microwave also has its beep, which is a single long sorrowful one. As though it's sorry to see you take out the food you have placed in there to heat.
Not wanting to be left out, the oven also does its part by beeping and dinging depending on what you require of it. And then there are the washer and dryer. Since 2009, Samsung has been my choice for washer and dryer and I have had that brand in three out of four of my past homes including this one.  I believe someone at Samsung must have a real sense of humour. At the end of its cycle it has this little instrumental number about 15 seconds long that is endearing and child-like. Both the dryer and the washer have this piece so if both machines happen to end their cycle almost at the same time, they both give you their performance almost simultaneously which can be an incredible source of cacophony. However, this synchronization of time is rare and yes, I could make it play at a lower volume but I really don't mind it. I also had had to change the ringer on my phone because it shared the same notes as our front door bell. One day I ran downstairs thinking there was someone at the door when actually my phone was ringing. It's enough to drive you bonkers ! :--))

Needless to say we also have a list of little projects that require regular visits to Lowe's or Orchard's. During one of those visits, I noticed a sign on the road that showed you the way to Hayes Mansion. Of course, my curiosity got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation. I soon found out that Hayes Mansion is a Mediterranean Villa designed by architect George Page that used to be the home of the Hayes family until they sold it in the 1950s. The villa remained empty and fell into disrepair until 1994 when it was successfully renovated and it is now a conference center. Do go have a look at their website It is simply a magnificent building. You can go there for brunch too. Although quite pricey, I hear it is one of the best and David and I plan on going there one day for a special occasion.

Across the street from Hayes Mansion is a park who also used to have a different vocation. It used to be Frontier Village Amusement Park, a western style theme park which opened in 1961 and closed in 1980. Nothing remains of that theme park except the trees on 49 acres of beautiful grounds. The paths meander through the park and at its edge there are tennis courts and a children play area.  There seems to be an unofficial rule with dogs running freely off-leash and enjoying the open area. As well, there is a beautiful tree shaded picnic area with tables and bbq pits, which can be reserved for special occasions by calling 408-794-PARK a division of the City of San Jose.

Here is a quick recipe for a spice mix to enhance your popcorn:

Southwest Spice Mix
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground New Mexico chile
Toss ingredients together. Use 1 tablespoon of the mix for every quart of fresh popcorn and toss together. Store the leftover mix in an airtight jar.