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

Blood orange mojitos

January 19, 2014
It's blood orange season, a nugget of information we would not know had we not stumbled upon this Smitten Kitchen recipe last year and subsequently polished off our very first blood orange cocktails. Fast forward to this week, when I am shopping for my (wildly successful first attempt at) chicken pho, and spot none other than blood oranges. I bring them home of course and we recreate last year's blood orange margaritas. We then branch out on our own to make the most delicious cocktails we've enjoyed in months: blood orange mojitos. Behold.

blood orange mojito cocktail recipe
Blood orange mojitos
Serves two

1/2 cup blood orange juice
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons simple syrup
6 tablespoons rum
Leaves from several mint sprigs

Muddle mint with rum. Add remaining ingredients. Mix and pour over ice.

Drinks in hand, play the longest game ever of left-handed jenga.

- Steph

Our Thanksgiving tradition

January 16, 2014
For the second year in a row, we spent Thanksgiving camping near the beach. Does twice make a tradition?

Like last year, we wanted to use the four-day break to escape the city, and it doesn't make much sense to head north or west at the end of November on a motorcycle. That left us heading back to the Monterey/Carmel/Big Sur area.

We even stayed at the same campground as last year because it's one of the few campgrounds between San Francisco and Monterey that is open at that time of year. We recognized some of the other campers from last year, who had actually been speculating on whether we would return with the motorcycle. We did!

This year, we decided to be a little more festive with our food. Instead of standard camping fare, we stopped at Whole Foods to pick up turkey, pies and beers. We clearly took the minimalist route compared to the other campers, with their grills, giant tents and table settings.

We once again enjoyed a beautiful sunset and even took a stroll down the beach.

The next day Ben wanted to unwind from a stressful week at work so we returned to the Refuge, a hydrothermal spa where you move from a sauna, to a freezing pool, to a hot tub. We went last winter with friends, proving once again that California is awesome because you can wear your bathing suit in January.

I found a well-reviewed Hawaiian restaurant for dinner. Ben liked his wasabi tuna bowl so much that he's tried twice to recreate it at home.

At this point our plan was continue to Big Sur for a few days of hiking but Ben wasn't feeling well. Instead of making him sleep outside with a cold and a sore throat, we decided to spend another night in our Monterey hotel and to hike instead at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, considered by some the "the crown jewel" of California's state parks. It's usually too packed to park, but the rangers let us through on the motorcycle. We hiked the coastal trail, stopped for a picnic lunch and relaxed on the beach.

The next day we took our time making our way back home along the coast. The drive was beautiful as always.

- Steph

DIY: Media cabinet

January 14, 2014
Our TV has been sitting on a little IKEA corner table since we moved into our current apartment, with gadgets and jumbles of wires un-aesthetically spread around it. So we've thought about getting some kind of media cabinet/table for a while, but for reasons of cost or time never actually did.

With a long time since our last serious woodworking project, however, we decided to build ourselves a media cabinet. We (mostly Steph) researched a bunch of designs, and we found a Crate & Barrel bookcase (which, turned on its side, doubles as a media table) that we liked. At $199 we thought about just buying it, but it was a little too big, we didn't want black, and we wanted better-quality wood, so we decided to adapt the design and build it instead.

The original design

As usual, we started with SketchUp. First we copied the design:

We went to Discount Builders Warehouse, where we planned to buy the lumber, to make sure they had wood that would fit the design, and liked their 3/4" pine.

To better attach the shelves to the vertical boards (and for better aesthetics, if we could do it right), we decided to route 1/4" grooves for the shelves. SketchUp makes it easy to create "components" out of repeating pieces, and create a layer of rulers that can be turned on and off.

Once we liked the design, we could copy the whole thing and separate it to create a cut list. (We tried using the Cut List plugin, but it's not very intuitive and this worked just as well.)

With our cut list we went back to the store to buy the lumber. Unlike with the kitchen counter, when we carried lumber on the bus, this time we needed much larger boards, so we rented a car.

With each project, we have a reason to buy a few more tools. This time we added a saw horse and drill guide. Our parking space (under our porch, enabling a dangled extension cord) again doubled as our carpentry shop.

Over several weekends, we sawed, sanded, drilled, routed...

... assembled...

... primed, painted, and finished...

I wanted to attach the vertical boards to the top and bottom using dowels. Our precision gets a little better on each project, but it's still not perfect. So at the end everything was just a tiny bit off, enough to prevent it from being assembled perfectly. Taking out most of the upper dowels and trimming some of the rear boards made it all fit. The 1/4" shelf grooves, some dowels, eight screws on the sides securing the top and bottom, rear boards flush on all four sides, and flat metal braces screwed into the back make it very structurally sound.

And finally, our new media cabinet!

The store might have under-charged us a little for the lumber, because we got all of it for around $50. Not including new tools, the lumber, paint and miscellaneous parts for the project cost around $100. Factor in the value of appreciating your own well-done work and that's a pretty great value.

- Ben

Wine country camping

January 4, 2014
A few photos from a November weekend trip to Sonoma. We enjoyed an amazing brunch at the Fig Cafe in Glen Ellen on the way to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, where we hiked Lower Bald Mountain and camped next to a (surprisingly quiet) Boy Scout troop. The next day we attended a wine tasting held in a airplane hanger. It was a nice, easy weekend getaway.

- Steph

A birthday in Gold Country

January 3, 2014
pan gold mine columbia state park

This post about an October road trip is embarrassingly late. We're playing catch up.

To celebrate my birthday, Ben planned a weekend for us visiting the former gold-rush towns in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

We first drove through the California Delta, the expansive inland river delta formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers. The small delta towns attracted migrant workers from Mexico and Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and today much of the area remains dedicated to agriculture.

california delta drawbridge

california delta boat riverfront

Of particular note is the town of Locke, which claims to be the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese for the Chinese. From 1913 until 1952, it was illegal for Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Korean immigrants to own land in California. To circumvent this restriction, a group of Chinese merchants approached a local landowner, named George Locke, about building on his land. The town they created — Lockeport, later Locke — still exists, with many of the original buildings still standing.

gambling house locke california
locke california chinese town

After lunch at a biker bar in Locke, we headed northwest toward Amador County. Ever since we attended the Vintners Market in San Francisco last year, I had been wanting to visit Amador, one of California's newest wine regions. We had purchased a bottle from one of the Amador vineyards, and the owner had encouraged us to come visit.

We were really impressed with the wines at two of the wineries we visited: Jeff Runquist Wines and Cooper Vineyards (we even joined the Runquist wine club). Not only were the wines good, but they were reasonably priced (I think the most expensive bottle was about $30) and the tastings were free (a welcome break from some of the overpriced tastings we've encountered recently).

fall foliage leaves vines
pumpkins picnic vineyard

The New Englander in me loved all of the foliage. San Francisco doesn't change color in the fall.

amador county california
amador county roads

And it wasn't just the foliage that reminded me of New England. Couldn't this church be right out of small-town Vermont? Instead, it's the California town of Sutter Creek, where we stayed in a cute bed and breakfast.

sutter creek california sutter creek california

The next morning we headed south on Route 49, a historic highway that connects many of the former mining towns. We pulled in at a few "ghost towns" before arriving at Murphys, once home to one of California's most bountiful gold mines. During one winter, $5 million worth of gold was mined from a four-acre plot. [1] Today it's an upscale town with a few old-time touches, a beautiful spot to eat and wander.

route 4 angels camp murphys
murphys california old car

Our primary destination for the day was Columbia State Historic Park, a Gold Rush town that wasn't abandoned or rebuilt, but preserved as a historic site. A group of prospectors discovered gold in Columbia on March 27, 1850, and by 1852, the town housed more than 150 shops and saloons, including a meeting house and three churches. The population included a sizable number of Chinese, French, Italian, Irish, German and Jewish miners. A fire destroyed the town in 1854 and it was rebuilt with locally made brick and large iron shutters; the resulting style of architecture is characteristic of Gold Rush towns. When another fire struck in 1857, only the brick buildings survived.

columbia state historic park hotelBy 1853, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people called Columbia home, making it one of the largest cities in California. Over the next half-century, the miners unearthed as much as $150 million of gold, which helped finance the U.S. government and Union Army during the Civil War. The Wells Fargo scale in Columbia was used to weigh more than 1.4 million ounces of gold. It was so precise it could weigh a signature in pencil on a piece of paper.

columbia gold mine livery
columbia state park historic gold mine

The town began to decline in the late 1860s, before finally becoming a state park in 1945. It houses the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush-era structures. [2]

After exploring the town, we got back on the road back to San Francisco. The roads weren't the most interesting we've ever done, but the scenery was beautiful. And we ate dinner at a delicious Afghan restaurant to which we hope to return on future trips east.

bridge parrots ferry road
open road california pumpkin patch
cows field

field sunset powerlines

- Steph

[1] Murphys History, Visit Murphys
[2] Columbia State Historic Park brochure