Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My other love affair

I am totally into baking from scratch but if you are not, sometimes I'm not; this is the recipe for you. Thanks to the geniuses at Bakerella.

All you need: One Betty Crocker Brownie Mix and one Betty Crocker Chocolate Chip Cookie mix. I'm sure these would work with scratch recipes too, but Betty has made it so easy. She's so nice.

Here's what the packages look like.

Follow the directions on the box for making the brownies and pour into a greased 13 X 9 pan. Make the cookie mix as directed on the pouch and drop by rounded tablespoons into the brownie batter. You'll want to press the dough down lightly.

Bake for 35-40 minutes in a 350 degree preheated oven. When they're done, take them out and let them cool completely. For about an hour. Then, you can frost them with chocolate frosting or for a yummier version Whip up some chocolate ganache.

Chocolate Ganache
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
6 Tbsp butter

  • In a small saucepan, heat cream and butter until just before the boiling stage.
  • Pour over the chocolate morsels.
  • Let stand about 20 seconds and stir until smooth.
  • Pour over brownies and let set before cutting.
And Voila, chocolate chip cookie dough brownies! Thanks Betty!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A San Francisco Treat

It's hard to believe that eight years ago, Eric and I met by chance--or more commonly known as a blind date set up by Maria Hathcock. Thanks, Maria. Your intuition has made us firm believers in fate and soul mates. To celebrate our love and anniversary, we left the kids with our parents in AZ, and jetted off for a few days in San Francisco.

Day 1: Things got off to an eventful start. Eric had packed into his luggage a new spear gun that my parents had given him as a Christmas present. For those not familiar with spear guns, they are not guns in the 'bang-bang' sense of the word. They are a metal spear propelled by a rubber band housed in a gun-shaped casing. Still, Eric knew some airlines may have a problem with the device, so he disassembled it into several pieces before placing it in his bag. Of course, the United Air ticket lady freaked out. (Every time I have flown United Air there has been a problem). We explained that the screws required to re-assemble the gun and the only sharp part, the spear tip, had been taken off and weren't even in the bag. But I guess she believed someone was going to climb below mid-flight, find Eric's bag, re-assemble the gun, then use a blunt stick and a rubber band to hijack the plane.

Whatever her lame reasoning, our options were A) buy a $300 gun case from Alaska Air to put the stick and rubber band into, or B) United confiscate it. We asked the lady if she could at least hold it for someone to come pick up, but she wouldn't even respond. So we made up a new option. Eric went outside, gave a skycap $5, and had his mom pick it up from him later that day. I still had to go back to Arizona to pick up Pearce before returning to Hawaii, so I'd just bring it then on Hawaiian Airlines. In the end, that's what happened. Not surprisingly, when I asked Hawaiian Airlines if I was allowed to bring the spear gun in my baggage they responded, "Why not?" I told them the United story and they laughed. "We know the difference between a spear gun and a real gun."

Once in the air, my sweetheart Eric filled me in on all his arrangements for our romantic getaway. Eric is definitely a romantic, and thinks through every detail. He found the perfect boutique hotel called Inn Above the Tide. This is the Inn's website description: At The Inn Above Tide, all 29 rooms and suites face San Francisco Bay and as the name implies, are directly over the water with sweeping views of the San Francisco city skyline, Alcatraz, Angel Island and Marin. From your teak furnished private deck, watch the ever-changing enthralling play of light and sea life against an unforgettable backdrop. Intimately connected to the village of Sausalito, yet magically separate due to its bay front setting, The Inn Above Tide is a minute’s stroll to Sausalito's galleries, restaurants and shops as well as the ferry to San Francisco's many attractions. The scenic vineyards of Sonoma and Napa are just a short drive north.

The view from the ferry of quaint Sausalito and the Inn above the Tide.

We found Pear bubbly and chocolates waiting in our room by the fireplace. Later, we strolled down Sausalito’s Main Street to check out the galleries, and restaurants. We love little towns. We ate lunch at a place called Cacciucco, an authentic Tuscan restaurant. Hit the spot.

In the evening we hopped on the ferry and crossed the bay to downtown San Francisco. It was dark at this point, so we didn't see much other than the large city lights. We got off the ferry and entered the indoor, gourmet, Ferry Building MarketPlace. I loved this place. They had stores dedicated to the finest food items. I thought I died and went to culinary heaven. We perused through each little shop with delight. But my favorite, above all, was Fecchiuti Confections. A fine chocolate and bakery Company in a class of their own. I have never tasted anything better. They are expensive, but worth every penny. I strongly encourage all to indulge.

At the very end of the MarketPlace was where we had a reservation for dinner, The Slanted Door. This restaurant is legendary with a two-month wait for reservations. And let me say, I understand why. The Slanted Door describes it's self as a modern Vietnamese restaurant that showcases the abundance of produce as well as ecologically farmed meat, game and poultry found at farms around the San Francisco Bay Area. Such a modest description didn't express our dining experience.

We ate:
Prather Ranch beef carpaccio with roasted peanuts, rau ram and fresh lime juice
Green papaya with tofu, rau ram and roasted peanuts
Caramelized tiger prawns with garlic, onions and chili sauce
Grilled Australian free-range lamb rack with crispy sunchokes and tamarind sauce
Jasmine rice

How did we hear about this restaurant? Well, for one of Eric's birthday gifts, I took him to a gourmet Vietnamese cooking class, along with several other couples. After we cooked, all the participants, even the chef, sat to dine on our creations. Naturally, as we ate we talked about food. When we asked the Chef what her favorite restaurant was, with no hesitation, she announced it was the Vietnamese fusion of the Slanted Door.

After an amazing meal we like to walk it off. We walked down the main shopping areas of San Francisco. Originally Eric's plan was to go see a play or a concert. But we were out of luck. We just missed Wicked. And there happened to be no concerts of consequence that week. We peeked in and out of a couple of jazz clubs, namely, Slims and Mezannine. But, in the end, we decided to go back to the Inn and snuggle.

Day 2: In the morning, the Inn Above the Tide brought us breakfast in bed. We rented a car and drove down the coast, stopping at each little town. It was most enjoyable not to have to be anywhere, and to have all the time in the world to talk. Oh how we love to talk.

On the warmer mornings, we moved breakfast outside on the veranda overlooking the bay.

We stopped to check out the surf. The waves were perfect, but the water looked painfully cold.

Watching the sunset.

We ended up in Monterey and found a steak restaurant . I had a really good fillet mignon, and Eric had prime rib.

Day 3:
Site seeing in San Francisco.

On the ferry crossing the San francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge behind.

Passing Alcatraz.

San Francisco.

Getting off the ferry at the San Francisco Market Place.

We walked down to the Fisherman's Warf and found a colony of seal lions sunbathing on the docks.

A roller coaster ride on the Historical San Francisco Trolleys.

We rented Bicycles from Bike the Bay, for the day to ride around the city. It was the perfect day to ride; sunny and warm.

In the background, our destination, the Golden Gate bridge.

On the waterfront park. Getting closer to the Bridge.

And closer.

We made it.

The legendary story is that Eric's Grandpa Vern Phillips did a handstand on the rail of the Golden Gate Bridge.

So, I thought I would keep the story alive by doing a handstand too (just not on the rail)

Before heading back to the Warf, we stopped at the Exploratorium to have a little playtime. We love places like the Exploratorium.

See Eric play.

We stayed at the Exploratorium till closing time. It was very cold riding back into town. But we just had to stop to enjoy and take pictures of the stunning sunset.

Riding our bikes back at sunset.

The lovers.

Breath taking.

We returned our bikes to the Warf and took the MUNI back to the Market Place and snacked at an Oyster Bar called HOG Island Oyster Co., while we waited for the ferry to Sausalito.

Baked and raw. Yummy.

After the ferry ride back to Sausalito, we walked to our dinner reservations at Sushi RAN. Sushi RAN is a fusion of traditional Japanese and Pacific cuisine, and was named one of the top-rated restaurants in the Bay area. All their fish and other seafood ingredents are flown in daily from Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market. So, we were very excited.

The appetizer. Today's 'omakase' sashimi tasting:
Meji Maguro (Young Blue Fin Tuna)
Samekawa Karei (Shark skin flounder with seared fin and Miso Powder
Shirako (Japanese Cod Milt a.k.a Cod testicles)
Bafun Uni (Winter hokkaido sweet sea urchin)
Mitshitaler (ground turtle meat balls)
with fresh Wasabi

Akashi Tai, strong current Japanese Red Snapper with Kanzuri and Liver plate.

Kue, Japanese Black Brouper with Jade Egg and Mitsuba.
A variety of Salmon and Blue Fin Rolls.

Day 4: We laid in bed all morning. Had a quick lunch of English-style fish and chips, at a local Sausalito cafe. Then, drove hand and hand, out of Sausalito, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through San Francisco's Streets to the Airport. We couldn't stop gushing over the time we had together. We are truly blessed to love and be loved so effortless. I thank God for that everyday.

P.S. all things highlighted in yellow are links to their website.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Family time

With the kids out of school we had ample time to play hard.

Saturday: All morning, the boys played tag football with other Honolulu wards, at Makiki Park. In the afternoon, we hiked Diamond Head Mountain. Later, out for dinner and a movie called Bedtime Stories, which both my boys loved.

Top of Diamond Head Mountain. Behind us is Honolulu, where we live.

A more complete view of the city of Honolulu.

The inside of the Diamond head's crater.

On our way down, through the mountain.

Sunday: Church at the Tabernacle and a hike up Hawaii Loa Ridge.

Wendi, Eric carrying Pearce on his back, and Connor midway to the top of Hawaii Loa Ridge.

Pearce decided he was big like Connor, and hiked up part of the way.

Pearce having a break.

Connor hiking down from the summit, descending from out of the clouds. On either side of us is a shear drop.

Connor communing with nature.

I was playing around, trying different modes with our new camera,
and some how this flick was made in black and white
defusing only certain greens here and there. Turned out cool.

After the hike. Connor and Wendi, muddy and tired.
One of Connor's Christmas gifts was a pair of black Keens, men's size 7. Can you believe that?

The kids and I went to the Honolulu Zoo and later boogie boarded at Waikiki Beach, specifically Walls.

Pearce poses at the elephant yard,
with beautiful Diamond Head Mountain in the background.

Every time I come, these two are getting it on.
Horny Buggers!

The Honolulu Zoo has the best playground surrounded by giant trees.
Pearce likes to play here at least once a week.

The Keiki Zoo means Little kids Zoo.
Pearce likes this part of the Zoo because he gets a lot of interaction with the animals.

Pearce in the fish bowl.

Pearce takes the adventurous route to the goats.

I just love the Honolulu Zoo. It's so open and lush.

The famous painted trees. Gorgeous.

At sunset, we sat on the beach eating Teddy's Bigger Burgers and shakes. They have a pineapple shake to die for.

Tuesday: All morning we played Madden 09' football on our SPS3. Then got off our duffs and spent the afternoon at Sandy's beach on the east side of O'ahu. These waves are legendary and not for the weak of heart. Only a local, like president elect Obama can ride these bad boy waves that can pipe 10 feet right onto the beach. Luckily, today the waves are only about 4 feet.

President Elect Obama body surfing Sandy's break.

Connor working up the nerve.

Pearce taking his afternoon nap.

Eric pushing Connor to engage.

Connor comes back for his boogie board .

Waiting for the right moment to emerge.

Connor flies through the waves all smiles.

And this is how the locals ride.

Wednesday: Star Wars marathon. This took us from early morning till into the early afternoon. I think we only made it through 5 out of 6 movies. I think we ran out of treats. Both my boys were in heaven fighting along with every battle. Then we took the kids to the nearest corner lined with tents selling every type of Firework. Basically, in Hawaii anyone can buy anything you can set off. And it literally turns Honolulu into Baghdad. Pops, and bangs rang throughout the city from 3 pm till 3am. Smoke clouded the air so thick; the large skyscrapers became invisible. Days later, we talked with friends who had completed several tours in Iraq. They told us that all the fireworks brought back a lot of bad memories and anxieties. They drank themselves to sleep to avoid the night. That's sad.

Around 9pm we set off a batch of fireworks, at a local park. Connor was in Heaven while Pearce, our safety boy, stood as far away as possible. We would explain that it was okay to come closer. But without hesitation, hands waving, Pearce repeated " No thank you. I'm fine."

Around 11pm we walked with hundreds of others to the beach walk at Waikiki to watch the State of Hawaii wow us with their fireworks display.

Sitting in the sand at Waikiki beach, Eric, Pearce, Wendi and Connor anticipating the count down to 2009 firework show. The stranger who kindly took this picture didn't speak English, and so gave us no warning that she was taking it. Explaining the weird expressions and my hands around Connor trying to move him back for the picture. So it’s an action shot. Love those.

Thousands in unison counted down 3, 2, 1.... 2009. Simultaneously the fireworks exploded over the ocean and the beach erupted into cheering and kissing. It was exciting. The fireworks were set off from large barges parked a couple of miles from the Waikiki shore. The ocean below mirrored each burst of color. It was magical.

Pearce was so impressed by the fireworks, he would raise his hands up in praise and awe after each pop. I love seeing my kids completely happy. What an awesome beginning to a new year.

Thursday: Early in the morning, Connor and I went Parasailing together off the coast of Waikiki.

Connor and Wendi. Up, up and away.

That plane came pretty close.

Flying 500 feet above the ocean, side by side we flew in the most beautiful silence. Connor was in awe. The view was astonishing. The deep blue ocean turns aqua once next to the sand, hugging a large glassy city, backed by towering green-carpeted mountains. The moment made for sappy feelings.

And suddenly we were being pulled in slowly. We gently anchor our feet to the boat and Connor's expressions exploded with excitement. His words pour out faster than I could take them in. I couldn't stop grinning; this was definitely a happy mom moment.

The afternoon was all about Connor and Daddy time. Eric took Connor and a few of the boys in the ward out to the jungle to play 6 hours of Airsoft games.

Lt to Rt top row: Jason, Eric, Connor and Lewiston.
Lt to Rt bottom row: Soros, Lefty, Al.

Pearce ready to play too.
Poor kid was crushed when we told him he couldn't go.

..........And in *Phillips fashion, the night ended with dinner and a movie called Bolt.

* This term 'Phillips fashion' means we keep going with activities until the city closes down and kicks us out. The Phillips family motto is never stop to sleep. Ever. Especially Jane and David Phillips...for the love get some sleep!

Friday: Back to Sandy's beach until sundown.

Sunday: Thank goodness it's a day of rest.