Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Meet Leo

January 20, 2015
We went to Massachusetts for Christmas as usual, but this year we had an extra-special guest.


Meet Leo. Leo arrived at my parents' house the week before Christmas. He was 14 weeks old and weighed 18 pounds. He has already acquired several nicknames — "the little guy," "the creature" and "chub-boy," to name a few — and his favorite activities include eating sticks, doing the moonwalk and playing with his great-grandfather.

I'm going to get you great-grandpa.

Of course we were head over heels in love with Leo (and Alex) and couldn't resist taking tons of photos of them.






Left: Leo on the car ride, before he threw up on me. Right: Leo sleeping in his pen when he got home. 




Leo learns to program


- Steph

Our beer journey through Oregon

December 10, 2014
When we set off for Oregon, we weren't planning a beer-themed vacation. It just sort of turned into that. Beer is a good drink for camping, Oregon is full of craft breweries, many of those breweries serve relatively affordable food. Hence a beer vacation. But if you rewound back in time, the idea of us enjoying a beer-themed vacation would have seemed farfetched.

Let me explain. When we moved to San Francisco, I didn't drink beer at all. "I don't like the aftertaste," I always said, "It's too bitter." Argentina is the full of excellent affordable wine, but its beer selection is hardly noteworthy. Many restaurants only carry a watery lager called Quilmes. I arrived in San Francisco with no appreciation whatsoever for good beer. What changed between then and now? We started taking a lot of motorcycle camping trips and we toured the Sierra Nevada brewery.

There's something about beer that makes it the perfect drink for camping. Maybe because it's easy to carry, or because it comes in reasonably sized bottles, or because it's refreshing and not as dehydrating as wine or hard alcohol. I have particularly fond memories of drinking pumpkin beer on our first-ever California camping trip. At the time, pumpkin beer was the only beer I liked, preferably Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. We take multiple camping trips a year, and since that trip we have almost always brought beer with us (see Thanksgiving 2013).

(I should note that Ben likes beer more than me; I've always been the limiting factor in our beer consumption.)

blue moon harvest pumpkin ale
Pumpkin beer at Lassen Volcanic National Park


And on the last day of that fateful trip, we took a second step toward my embrace of beer. We toured the Sierra Nevada brewery. Before this tour, I couldn't articulate anything about beer. I had no idea what hops were or what a malty beer tasted like. All I knew was that when someone gave me beer, I usually didn't like it. The tour guide explained the process of making beer. We smelled hops and watched the beer getting spun around in a centrifuge. The tour concluded with a tasting of several different beers. The guide explained the concept of IBUs and suddenly it clicked: I didn't like hops, but I liked beer, especially light wheat beers.

The irony is that now that I like beer, I don't particularly like Sierra Nevada beer.


So that's where I started, with wheat bears. Not long after, a Whole Foods employee suggested Blue Star Wheat Beer, by North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg. And that beer graced our fridge for months. Every so often, Ben would branch out and buy something new for himself, but I stuck with my trusty standby. I watched most of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs over FaceTime with my family and when they'd crack out their beer, I'd grab a Blue Star from the fridge. I branched out slowly from there — Blue Star at home, Shock Top at the pizza place in Tahoe, Blue Moon when in Winchester.

All of which is to say that by the time we left on our Oregon vacation, I'd gotten over my dislike of beer and was more than ready to embrace the many wonders of Oregon — its waterfalls, food trucks, lakes and, yes, its beer. The best part of this is that since we've returned I've moved beyond my reliance on wheat beers. I haven't embraced hops yet, but I did voluntarily buy a Deschutes White IPA and almost enjoyed my cousin's Lagunitas IPA. We've also started buying sour beers. Blue Star hasn't dominated our fridge in months, though Shipyard Pumpkinhead makes an appearance every fall.

I wish at this point that I could remember more about our beer journey through Oregon. We always planned to write a blog post about beer, but while we took notes about the rest of our trip, we didn't do a very good job documenting our beer discoveries. I've pieced what I can together from our notes, photos and my memory.

In general, we loved breweries that offered both beer samplers and food. The beer samplers provided an easy way to branch out and to compromise between our differing interests. I didn't have to stick with tried-and-true wheat beers when ordering in smaller quantities. Ben could throw in an IPA or two that I could try and he could finish if I didn't like it. And the breweries offered much more interesting options on-site than what they sell in big retail stores. All in all, we tried at least 50 different beers on this trip (I swear I'm not exaggerating). Deschutes served by far our favorite beers, though Full Sail in Hood River won for the best tasting room (a covered deck overlooking the Columbia River).

deschutes beer sampler
Beer sampler at Deschutes in Portland


Here's our list of beers we remember trying, as well as a description of each beer. I've noted beers that we particularly liked.

Breweries and brewpubs

North Coast — Fort Bragg, CA
  • Red Seal Amber Ale: Malt and hops are beautifully married in this full-bodied, copper-red Pale Ale. Red Seal Ale is generously hopped in the traditional manner for a long, spicy finish.
  • Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout (not one of our favorites): Produced in the tradition of 18th Century English brewers who supplied the court of Russia’s Catherine the Great, Old Rasputin is a rich, intense brew with big complex flavors and a warming finish. 
  • Brother Thelonius: This Belgian-style abbey ale is rich and robust with an ABV of 9.3%.
  • PranQster Belgian: PranQster follows in Belgian ale tradition using a mixed culture of antique yeast strains that results in a floral nose, a full fruity flavor and a clean finish.

Deschutes — Portland, OR, and Bend, OR
  • Fresh Squeezed IPA (one of Ben's favorites): This mouthwateringly delicious IPA gets its flavor from a heavy helping of citra and mosaic hops. 
  • Chainbreaker White IPA (one of our favorites): Brewed with wheat and pilsner malt; this IPA displays beautiful citrus aromas from Cascade and Citra hops that meld with the esters of Belgian yeast. Think thirst quenching hopped-up wit beer with enough IBUs to warrant the IPA name.
  • Not the Stoic (one of our favorites): Aged and sequestered in select oak casks. The result — a contemplatively brewed quad created in homage to all those who doubted the original. 
  • Doppel Dinkel Boch (my absolute favorite): Double down with this imperial spelt beer that features a generous amount of dinkel (spelt) malt in place of the traditional wheat malt. The result features aromas of bubblegum, banana, clove, citrus, and a slight spiciness. 
  • New Bruin Fruited Sour Brown (one of our favorites): This fresh, soured brown ale was fermented with lactobacillus and a Belgian yeast strain and conditioned with Szcechuan peppercorns and Italian plum. The result is a snappy tart brown, with palate tingling spice ready to enhance any food pairing.
  • Cream Ale: This American style Cream Ale is one of the smoothest beers ever made at Deschutes Brewery. The grist bill consists of Pale Malt, Honey Malt, Flaked Barley, Munich, and Rolled Oats. The cirtal hop flavor is imparted by Hallertau and Crystal Hops. 
  • Twilight Summer Ale: This clever golden-hued ale pours remarkably crisp and clean. A distinctive malt body complements a refreshing hop profile led by a heady dose of bold Amarillo hops. 

Full Sail — Hood River, OR
  • Session Premium Lager: An extremely tasty import-style lager, like the kind of beer made back in the pre-Prohibition days— plenty of flavor that goes down clean and smooth. American and European hops offer a wonderful noble hop aroma, and the two-row barley malt and a touch of wheat malt give a pleasant, refreshing finish. ABV 5.1% IBU 18.

Double Mountain Brewery — Hood River, OR
  • The Vaporizer: The Vaporizer is a golden-hued Pale Ale that features a beautifully hoppy aroma and flavor. The malt is 100% Gambrinus Pilsner, a sweet and supple malt from Gambrinus Malting in British Columbia. The hops are primarily of the Challenger variety, grown on a single farm in the Yakima Valley. Dry-hopped to pump up the hoppy goodness. 6.0% ABV, 55 BU.
  • Kolsch: In Cologne, many a brewery produces a light-bodied ale with a delicate fruitiness and rounded maltiness, attributable to the unique yeast strain commonly used. This K├Âlsch is unfiltered and more generously hopped than its German cousin. 5.2% ABV, 40 BU.
  • Sacre Bleu: This beer uses yeast from Abbaye de Scourmount (they make a little beer called Chimay) in Belgium. The roasted fig, clove, and ripe banana esters shine through the dark fruit, malt forward body. Belgian candy sugar lends a light caramel flavor, and dries the beer out very nicely. Brewer’s Gold hops balance the entire beer, leaving it clean on the palate. 7.4% ABV, 35 BU.
  • Lulu (one of our favorites): This beer blushes with additions of hibiscus, pink peppercorn, and pink rosebuds. An earthen tartness mingles with floral and tangerine aromas, and a slight warming at the back of the mouth rounds out this saison. 6.5% ABV, 39 BU.
  • Cluster: The oft forgotten "Cluster" was the dominant hop in the U.S. brewing industry for centuries. A more delicate floral note at the top leads you deeper in to a grove of pineapple and orange, and a dewy herbal character follows closely behind. This year’s version glows like an early summer sunset, has a clean bitterness, and it dried out nicely, making it highly drinkable.

10 Barrel Brewing — Bend, OR
  • We stopped in here for a drink and I have no idea what we had. I know we didn't like it as much as the beers at other brewpubs.

Sierra Nevada — Chico, CA
  • Kellerweis: Inspired by traditional Bavarian techniques, Kellerweis is a true artisan experience. Brewed in open fermentation tanks — a process rarely seen today—to let the ingredients truly shine. The result is a hazy wheat ale — untamed, raw and alive. With a full, fruity aroma and notes of spicy clove and banana bread, Kellerweis is a truly unique brew.
  • Summerfest: Since their invention in the 1840s, Pilsener-style beers have become the world’s most popular style. With a nod toward the original Czech tradition, Summerfest is brewed to feature the best of Bohemian nature. Crisp, golden, dry and incredibly drinkable, Summerfest has a delicate and complex malt flavor and spicy and floral hop character — the perfect warm weather beer.
  • Bigfoot Barleywine: Bigfoot is a beast of a beer, brimming with bold flavors of bittersweet malt and heaps of aggressive whole-cone Pacific Northwest hops. First introduced in the winter of 1983, Bigfoot is a cult-classic beer brewed in the barleywine style, meaning a strong, robust, bruiser of a beer with the refined intensity of a wine. 
  • Old Chico Crystal Wheat: This filtered beer is brewed with malted wheat and barley, and perfectly balanced by unique Crystal hops. Old Chico is a great choice for those new to craft brew and longtime beer aficionados alike — light-bodied, refreshing and wonderfully drinkable.
  • Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest: Southern Hemisphere features fresh New Zealand hops that are picked, dried and shipped to the brewery within seven days. The result is a complex beer that showcases the floral and herbal flavors and aromas of Southern Cross, Pacifica and Motueka hops. 

Restaurants
  • Rogue Mom Hefeweizen (@ Bridgewater in Florence, OR): Mom Hefeweizen is a refreshing, American-style wheat infused with Oregon Roses.
  • Breakside Brewery India Golden Ale (@ Interurban in Portland, OR; one of Ben's favorites): Originally crafted with Ninkasi Brewing, this double IPA is the lightest, hoppiest beer you’ll ever try. Loaded with tropical and fruity notes from Mosaic, Eldorado and Chinook.

Campsite beers
  • Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen: This naturally cloudy flagship brew starts with the highest quality wheat. Its bold, clean flavor and pronounced citrus and floral aromas are what define American-style Hefeweizen.
  • Pyramid Hefeweizen: This American-style Hefeweizen is a unique take on the traditional Bavarian classic. This refreshingly unfiltered wheat ale delivers a distinctively smooth flavor worth savoring with friends.
  • Full Sail Amber Ale: This is a sweet, malty, medium-bodied ale with a spicy, floral hop finish. It’s brewed with 2-row Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malts and hopped with Mt. Hoods and Cascades. 
  • And more...

- Steph

Recipe: Cranberry margaritas

December 4, 2014
We like this margarita recipe for two reasons:

First, the resulting drink contains a sizable quantity of liquid, much of which isn't alcohol. When we make margaritas at home, they tend to be simple, strong and small. It's nice that you can sip on this drink for a while.

Second, it's still sour like a margarita should be. I'm always disappointed when I make the mistake of ordering a flavored margarita (mango, pomegranate, etc) that turns out to be sweet.
Cranberry margaritas
Makes two drinks

2 shots tequila
2 shots cranberry juice*
2 shots lime juice
1.5 shots Cointreau
1 shot simple syrup (ours is two parts one part water to one part sugar)
1/2 shot orange juice

Mix everything in a shaker and pour over ice.

*We use pure cranberry juice, which is very tart. You could probably use cranberry juice cocktail, but you'd want to adjust the recipe accordingly.

Adapted from Southern Living.

- Steph

Our brand new dresser, via Ikea hacking

October 8, 2014
ikea hacking tarva dresser

We spent the past several weeks building ourselves a new dresser. We were in the mood for another woodworking project, but with our limited amount of woodworking space, we weren't sure whether building a whole dresser was feasible. Then we realized that IKEA sells a few pieces of unfinished furniture and decided to try "IKEA hacking."

IKEA has two types of unfinished wood dressers: the Rast and Tarva lines. There are lots of hacks online for Rast dressers, but we wanted something bigger. Most of the Tarva options were also on the small side for two people, so we settled on combining two Tarva 5-Drawer Chests (pictured above). They're made out of solid pine, so no particleboard or engineered wood. Miraculously, we even fit both dressers into a two-door electric BMW that we had rented for our trip to IKEA.

As you can see we made a number of modifications:
  • We bolted the two dressers together.
  • We routed the edges of each drawer.
  • We routed across the middle of the top drawers, to make each look like two drawers.
  • We replaced the two top boards with a single piece of 1" thick solid pine and routed the bottom edge.
  • We added molding around the bottom.
  • We shortened the legs.
  • We painted and stained.
finshed tarva dresser ikea

All of this (of course) turned out to be a lot more work than we expected.

The routing wasn't difficult, just tedious. First, we experimented with different bits and depths on a throwaway board. Then we mounted each board to the saw horse. We had to cut fast enough to not burn the wood but slow enough to be smooth, and routing all 10 drawers took almost an entire day.

Fitting the molding perfectly was a challenge. To cut the ends at 45˚ angles, we used a simple plastic miter box. (The next big tool on my wish list is an electric compound miter saw.) We cut the legs to be tall enough for the molding plus 1/2" (most of the gap sinks into the carpet). For the molding to be flush with the front of the drawers, we added 1/4 shims to offset the molding from the legs. Unfortunately, between the width of the saw, the thickness of the pencil marks, the imprecision of the ruler, and simple error, we cut the front piece of molding almost 1/4" too short. Cutting a tiny piece off the end of the spare molding, we created a shim that we spliced into the gap with wood glue, which after polishing with a little wood filler and painting, is barely noticeable.


You can see the molding we added on the left and the routing on the right.

Unlike our media cabinet, we didn't have to measure and saw most of the boards — they came pre-cut by IKEA, and the top board we had sawed at the lumber store. But there was still plenty of sanding and routing, which we did in the driveway under our apartment, producing a lot of sawdust. Despite vacuuming constantly, and cleaning the dust off the neighbor's cars, our neighbor complained (reasonably) about "blanketing everything" with dust. So we've probably burned our political capital on that front for a few months.

Choosing colors was the hardest part. We had a vague idea of wanting a dark stain on the top and a light paint on the rest, but went through dozens of paint swatches and stain samples before we settled on the combination. The stain is "espresso" by Varathane, and the paint is "indian muslin" from the Pittsburgh Paints palette (though we weren't impressed with their actual paint, so we got the equivalent color from Benjamin Moore). The paint wasn't exactly as we expected — on the swatch it was a little darker, more pink, less off-white — but it came out nicely enough. One pint was enough for two coats on the whole thing (with primer underneath).

We used "clear satin" finish, two coats of oil-based polyurethane on top (over the oil-based pre-stain and stain) and two coats of water-based polycrylic finish over the water-based paint. (The knobs we stained with the same espresso color, no finish.)

The funny thing with this dresser project was it was actually the second iteration. Several months earlier, we saw a large, very nice-looking dresser on the street corner, and carried it into our driveway. It was old and worn, but we thought it was made out of good wood and worth re-finishing. So we stripped the paint off the whole thing, and started to replace the rotted wood runners with new metal ones, when we realized it was all just particleboard. (The giveaway was when a little rainwater that got through the tarps caused the top to puff up significantly; real wood wouldn't have done that.) We decided the low-quality materials weren't worth the work. Despite feeling foolish at having spent so much time working on it, we sold it on Craigslist pretty quickly, defraying the cost of "v2".


Our first attempt. What it looked like when we found it (left) and what it looked like when we sold it (right).

Our rough estimate for what this all cost:
  • 2 Tarva dressers: $218
  • Stain: $14 (including one can we didn't use)
  • Primer: $11
  • Paint: $8
  • Top board: $37
  • Hardware: $20
  • Assorted materials (drop clothes, miter box): $21
Total: $329
And the reason we went through all this trouble in the first place? Steph has been using a bookcase as a dresser for the past two years. We thought it was time for an upgrade.

- Ben

Tomatoes all year round

October 4, 2014
We didn't go quite as crazy with our canning extravaganza as last year, though I did buy a 20-pound box of early girl tomatoes. Ben's company, Good Eggs, sells delicious, local produce, and one of their producers was selling a box of tomatoes that "didn't quite meet their standards of perfection." At $1.15 per pound, it sounded perfect for canning. I used half for tomato sauce and half for gazpacho.



Tomato sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

10 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 cup of olive oil
20 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups white wine
2.5 tablespoons sugar
3.75 tablespoons salt

For the gazpacho, I couldn't fit everything in one blender batch, which gave me a perfect excuse to experiment. Each batch featured slightly different ingredients.

Gazpacho #1
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
Chopped basil
Salt

Gazpacho #2
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 white onion
2 T sherry vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
Dash of cumin
Salt

Gazpacho #3
2 pounds of early girl tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1 thick slice of stale white bread, cubed
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1 T lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
Chopped basil
Dash of cumin
Pepper
Salt

- Steph

Road trip: Portland

September 29, 2014
Walking along the Willamette River
Start from the beginning of our Oregon trip.

Days 6-7: Portland (0 miles)

For our three days in Portland, we reveled in our hedonistic sides. Basically, we ate and drank and then ate some more, with some music and urban exploring thrown in.

We were staying in a residential neighborhood on the east side of the river, about a 20-minute walk from the historic Mississippi district. European ship-workers dominated the area in the 1800s, before it evolved into a primarily black neighborhood after a 1948 flood. The construction of I-5 and the Memorial Coliseum in the 1950s and 1960s cut off part of the neighborhood and by the 1980s, it was a center for drugs, gangs, street crime and general urban decay. The city declared it a historic district in 1999, helping spark a still-ongoing revitalization. It's now home to a number of bars, restaurants and shops. Our first night, we wandered into a newly opened bar called the Interurban, with a nice back patio. Ben tried and enjoyed a new type of beer, an India Golden Ale double IPA from Breakside Brewery. [1]

My chosen food truck. The options were overwhelming.
The next day we explored Portland on foot. We ate at the (in)famous food trucks, though Ben chose better than I did with his falafel from Wolf and Bear's. After lunch, we found Powell's Books, which claims to be the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world. It takes up an entire city block. And not only did they have a ton of books, but they also seemed to put a lot of care into curation. The staff highlighted their favorites, including this one that Ben wants to read about America's forgotten naval expedition to the Dead Sea. Their store map was also pretty awesome:

Continuing our cultural afternoon, we toured the Oregon History Museum's exhibit on the history of the state. As a bonus, we also got to see a special exhibit on Abraham Lincoln's legacy. We had strategically planned our day to take advantage of happy hour, which we always miss in San Francisco, so we walked along the waterfront up to Deschutes Brewery. The brewery was founded in Bend, Oregon, and opened a brewpub in Portland in 2008. Deschutes is one of the larger craft breweries in the U.S. and its Mirror Pond Pale Ale is pretty easy to find (it's not our favorite though). More in another post on our favorite beers of the trip. Post-drinks it was time for ... dinner, of course, at Bamboo Sushi, which claims to be the first certified, sustainable sushi restaurant in the world.


Ben has a tradition of taking photos with Honest Abe.
The next day we didn't have much of a plan, until our AirBnB told us we absolutely had to eat at the Peruvian restaurant Andina, which someone at a party had also recommended to us. (We basically spent our time in Portland following the recommendations of people who used to live there, which is almost always a wonderful strategy for planning a trip). It didn't hurt that the food in Portland is really good and much cheaper than in San Francisco. Of course, Portland's median income is $51,000, compared to $73,000 for San Francisco, so we imagine the city feels more expensive for people who live there. I guess that's one upside of living in the most expensive city in the country, you start seeing everything else as "cheap."


Portland is supposed to have a good craft distillery scene, and not knowing anything about distelleries, we were eager to explore. Unfortunately, Distillery Row was out of the way, but we found nearby Clear Creek Distillery, which specializes in eau de vie. We still don't know much about distilleries, though we did figure out that neither of us much enjoys eau de vie. After all this eating and drinking, we were ready for a break, so we headed for a cool public park with a fountain, where we enjoyed ice cream and read our books.


Ben loves to recount the story of the wonderful night he spent at the McMenamon's in Portland on his 2006 motorcycle trip. Of course we had to go back, so that's where we headed on our second night. Unfortunately, the vibe wasn't quite as transcendental as the first time Ben visited (possibly because the musicians were somewhat mediocre and told overly long stories about their songs). We followed that up with one more drink at a bar on Mississippi Street, before retiring back to our rental, refreshed for our return to the wilderness. Also, we had washed our clothes, always a plus.







- Steph

Sources:
[1] Guide to the Boise Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon

A Yosemite anniversary

September 27, 2014
Yosemite Valley, with Ben's head bandaged
It's been a whole year since our wedding, and to celebrate our anniversary, we went to Yosemite National Park for a long weekend. Campsite reservations go on sale online months in advance, at 7 a.m. on specific days, and sell out in seconds; we booked a site at North Pines Campground (in Yosemite Valley) at 7:00:15 sharp back in April, in a mad rush to click anything available and check out.

We decided to go in style and rent a car for the four-hour ride each way (it being a rather boring freeway drive most of the way) instead of taking the motorcycle. (This allowed for luxuries like real coffee instead of instant espresso.)

We drove up Thursday and set up camp. On Friday, we hiked to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, taking the Mist Trail up and the John Muir trail down. On Saturday, we hiked up to Dewey Point. About halfway up, though, I tried to cut a fallen branch into walking sticks by kicking it in the middle (while it was propped up on a log), but I miscalculated the angles and it snapped up and hit me in the head, knocking me down and causing a nice gash right over my eyebrow. Steph patched me up with our first aid kit (and later with butterfly bandages bought at the general store) and we decided to head back down. We were surprised by the lack of any medical services in the park on weekends. (Fortunately it seems to have healed well.)

Injury aside, it was a very fun weekend, with perfect weather, and obviously beautiful scenery everywhere.

We're thinking next time we go, rather than stay in the tourist-heavy areas like this time, we'll do a backpacking trip through the wilderness further north and at higher elevation. (We haven't done real backpacking since Patagonia.)

Liberty Cap, view from top of Nevada Falls

Vernal Falls (with a rainbow) on left, Nevada Falls on right
Vernal Falls



Driving to Yosemite

Panoramas: the view from the top of Nevada Falls and our campsite at North Pines Campground. Scroll to the right to see the whole photo.

panorama yosemite national park

panorama campsite yosemite national park

Boo-boo
- Ben