Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Dear Friends, Family, and Other Readers of this blog,

Have a wonderful, peaceful, warm yet snowy, Christmas! May your holidays be filled with love, joy, and lots of delicious food :)

Much Love,
Monika & Anil

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Holidays in the South-West

This year's Christmas Holidays we're spending in the parks of the South-West. It's cold, but also very beautiful, and there are hardly any other people around. I'm enjoying the solitude, as well as the snow. Being born and raised in a country with four seasons, I'm deeply appreciative of a little bit of snow for Christmas. Especially, that there is just the perfect amount of it right now: enough to make pictures interesting, but not as much as to make driving and/or hiking difficult.

Winter in Monument Valley

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Light, at the End of the Tunnel

There's hope. I've finally started to organize my photos from the last one and a half year, so the ones of you who are waiting for photos from me might get them soon in the mail.

Below are some photos that I took in April this year in the Upper Antelope Canyon. I've been to the Antelope Canyon twice before, but it was the first time that I saw its famous light beams. It seems that I got lucky and manged to catch all of them.

Next aim: visit Antelope Canyon during winter.

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Apartment, New Husband

Few days ago we moved to a new apartment in a beautiful, sunny, and pedestrian-friendly Noe Valley. I used to live in that neighborhood when I first moved to San Francisco six years ago and I've been in love with it since. I was very excited that we found a great apartment there and that I'd be able to revisit and share my old favorite places in that neighborhood with my husband. Additionally, we have lots of friends living nearby our new place and we've been taking advantage of that by paying some of them semi-spontaneous visits, or by arranging last-minute meetings for coffee in one of many coffee shops located on the 24th street. It's a great feeling to be able to WALK to meet your friends as opposed to driving, and it makes scheduling much easier.

It also seems that the new apartment came with a new, improved, version of a husband. My husband of two-and-a-half years has gone through a major personality change after the move: I don't have to ask him anymore to help me with cleaning! He seems to enjoy vacuum cleaning, moping the floors, cleaning the bathroom, polishing windows, loading and unloading dishwasher, and he does all of these things out of his own initiative! Yesterday he even polished all wooden and metal decorations that we have in the house... I'm not sure if I should be happy or worried ;) But I'll go with happy and assume that this drastic change of behavior should be attributed to how much he enjoys our new place and wants to contribute to maintaining it in a good condition.

My husband actually mentioned a few times that now that we have this great new place, he doesn't feel like going to work or traveling anymore. I'm with him on that. It's so relaxing to just chill in our apartment and enjoy the views that I much rather have people over for coffee/drinks/dinner/brunch than go out to fancy restaurants without the views but with all the hustle and bustle of making reservations and/or looking for parking. So, friends, you are hereby invited to visit us anytime suits you–no need to make an appointment, just show up (like our parents used to do when there were no phones...). At the very least you'll be served a delicious coffee, some home-made sweets and a good company :)

Our living room and my new rocking chair :)

The living room.

The living room faces the ever-green backyard.

Our bedroom.

My new fancy kitchen.

Our new dining table.

The views from the kitchen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Hobby: Juicing

Two or three times a week my kitchen turns into juicing central. I love juicing so much that in the two and a half months that I own a juicer I must have made at least 40 juices.
Left to right: Peach Juice, Carrot Juice, Grape Juice, and Peach Apple Juice

Making juices is a lot of work but it's also lots of fun, and recently it became my new creative outlet. The first few juices I made were based on recipes from juicing books, but quickly I decided to start inventing my own recipes, as the ones from the books were too complicated and not as tasty. Moreover, an apple is not equal to an apple, so one needs to modify the recipes "on-the-go," based on the taste of the components.

My favorite juicing vegetable is the carrot, as it has lots of vitamins and very refreshing taste. For variety, I usually mix it with some other vegetables or fruits, such as celery, apple, pear, peach.

Here, as an example, is a photo of pre-washed and pre-cut vegetables and fruits I fed to my juicer to make a delicious Carrot Celery Apple Peach Juice. (As I buy all of my veggies and fruits organic, I don't peal them, just scrub them a bit under running water.)
Six large carrots, two heads of celery, two apples, and three peaches make one delicious juice.

This amount of fruits and vegetables makes about 1.5 liters of juice.
Notice the ratio between the juice and leftover pulp.
So fresh, so healthy, so tasty!
The end product: Carrot Celery Apple Peach Juice.
And here are ingredients of a very refreshing Tomato Lemon Juice.
Six tomatoes, two lemons (skins and seeds removed),  a bunch of parsley.

Juicing six medium-size tomatoes and two lemons results in 1.5 liter of Tomato Lemon Juice and very little pulp leftover.
Tomato Lemon Juice.
Three pounds of ripe peaches make slightly more than a liter of Peach Juice.
Pure Peach Juice.
Four pounds of grapes make slightly more than a liter of very dense and extremely sweet Grape Juice.
Grape Juice: Notice the ratio of juice to the pulp!

One unexpected but highly welcomed side-effect of juicing is that my husband loves drinking juices and even participates in making them. We're talking here about a guy who would only eat any raw fruits/veggies if handed to him pre-washed and pre-cut! So thanks to my juicer I finally found an easy way to make sure he gets enough vitamins and other micronutrients. If you have a trouble feeding enough fresh fruits and/or veggies to your family, now you know what to do–get a juicer! It's my favorite kitchen equipment and I'm truly in love with it.

However, before you buy a juicer, do a lot of research, as there are many types of juicers, and your research might lead you in various directions.

My research led to me to a masticating juicer, as the masticating juicers cause less oxidation than other types of juicers, and therefore are better at preserving the nutrients and freshness of the juices. Masticating juicers also much more quiet than, e.g., centrifugal juicers. For me that was very important, as I just couldn't imagine wanting to use a noisy device on a regular bases. Well, I can tell you that I made a right call there. My masticating juicer–Omega VRT350HD–is indeed super-quite. My husband and I can talk and juice at the same time!

Another argument for choosing a masticating juicer over centrifugal is that they are easier to clean and I can attest to that. Cleaning and assembling my Omega is a breeze.

Some people, however, prefer centrifugal juicers (such as Breville 800 JEXL Fountain Elite, which I also seriously considered), as they use higher speeds, which makes them faster at juicing. They're also able to take bigger pieces of produce, almost completely eliminating the need for pre-cutting anything that will be fed into a juicer.

Before I tried my Omega juicer, I was concerned that it might be really slow. Still, because of its all other benefits I decided to take a chance on it. I'm so glad that I did! As soon as I made my first bottle of juice all my worries disappeared. It's possible that Omega is slower than centrifugal juicers, but it's still fast enough: it can make 1.5 liter of juice in under five minutes. In case you wonder, the most time-consuming step in juice-making is cleaning the fruits and veggies before feeing them into a juicer, but that would be the same for all juicer types.

As a word of caution, Omega VRT350HD allows for quite a lot of pulp to get into juice. My husband and I actually like it that way, but if you don't like pulp in your juice, you should look for another juicer (maybe Omega J8004?).

Below is a list of juices I made so far and my rating of them (Scale: 0 to 10, where 10 is the highest score):
  • Spicy Carrot (6 carrots + 2 spears of broccoli + 1 cup of spinach + gingerroot + cinnamon + cayenne) >>>>> 4/10
  • Green (2 spears of broccoli + 1 cucumber + 1 green bell pepper + 4 sprigs of parsley) >>>>> 6/10 
  • Apple Green (6 leaves of kale + 2 cups of spinach + 2 cumbers + 3 carrots + 2 apples + 2 sprigs of cilantro) >>>>> 7/10 
  • Beet Carrot Apple (2 beets + 2 carrots + 2 apples) >>>>> 6/10 
  • Lemon Mint (2 limes + 2 lemons + 2 cucumbers + basil + spinach + mint + ginger)
  • Carrot Celery (6 super-large carrots + 2 heads of celery) >>>>> 8/10
  • Carrot Celery Apple (6 super-large carrots + 2 heads of celery + 1 apple) >>>>> 10/10
  • Another Carrot Celery Apple (6 super-large carrots + 1 head of celery + 1 apple) >>>>> 9/10
  • Lime Mint >>>>> 5/10
  • Tomato Lemon (6 medium-sized tomatoes + 2 lemons + a bunch of parsley + gingerroot) >>>>> 8/10
  • Grape (Seedless Grapes Green + Purple) >>>>> 8/10
  • Peach (6 peaches, pits removed, make two glasses) >>>>> 8/10
  • Carrot Orange (6 super-large carrots + 3 medium oranges) >>>>> 8/10
  • Carrot Apple (6 super-large carrots + 2 medium apples) >>>>> 9/10
  • Carrot Peach (6 super-large carrots + 2 medium peaches) >>>>> 8/10
  • Carrot Peach Apple (6 super-large carrots + 2 medium apples + 2 medium peaches) >>>>> 8/10
  • Pear >>>>> 9/10
  • Apple Pear (4 medium apples + 2 medium pears) >>>>> 9/10
  • Carrot Apple Pear (6 super-large carrots + 4 medium apples + 2 medium pears) >>>>> 9/10
  • Apple Pear Peach (2 medium apples + 2 medium pears + 2 medium peaches) >>>>> 9/10
  • Apple Mint (4 medium apples + a bunch of mint) >>>>> 9/10

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Empire Mine State Historic Park

The Empire Mine is "one of the oldest, largest, deepest, longest and richest gold mines in California." The mine had been operational for over hundred years–between 1850 and 1956. During that time it produced 5.8 million ounces of gold and apparently there is still at least four times as much gold left in the mine! In the 1950's the mining costs soared and the operation became unprofitable, which led to closing the mine. Well, since then the price of gold has increased over 40 fold, so maybe it's time to reopen some of these mines!

During its operation, the Empire Mine kept "The Secret Room." This room contained an accurate scale model of the entire Empire/Star mine complex with its 367 miles (591 km) of underground passages. The model was a valuable tool for mapping the richest gold spots and as such it was a tightly guarded corporate secret. Today, visitors to the park can see the model in the Visitor Center.

View down the main drift at Empire Mine.

The park protects not only the mine, but also several historic buildings, in which the Bourn family-the long-time owners of the mine–lived and entertained their guests. On weekends, the park offers guided history tours of these buildings. They're quite interesting to see, as they were extremely modern for their times: they had running hot water and electricity!

The Bourn Cottage–a residence of the Bourne family.
The Bourne Cottage.

The Bourne Cottage.

The living room inside the Bourne Cottage.

The dining room inside the Bourne Cottage.

The living room inside the Bourne Cottage.

The servants room inside the Bourne Cottage.

Amazing stove in the kitchen, the Bourne Cottage.

The gardens surrounding cottage are well-maintained and have a variety of exotic plants.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nevada City and Grass Valley, California

Nevada City, CA: population 3'068, elevation 2'477 ft
Grass Valley, CA: population 12'860, elevation 2'411 ft

Last weekend serendipity brought us to Grass Valley and Nevada City–two neighboring towns settled during the California Gold Rush. In fact, two of the richest mines in California–the Empire Mine and North Star Mine–are located in Grass Valley. Apparently, the Empire Mine is still full of gold, as only about 20% of it was extracted.

These two mines turned Nevada City and Grass Valley into two most important mining towns in California (at least between 1850 and 1851) and their past glory is still clearly visible today in beautifully preserved historic downtown districts, which attract tourism and provide employment for the locals.

Even though Grass Valley is larger and has bigger historic downtown, we liked Nevada City much more. It felt more relaxed, it seemed to be more friendly towards artists and other free-thinkers, and it had many good coffee places. In contrast, we had trouble finding a coffee place in Grass Valley, and when we finally found one, the coffee there was terrible. Still, we enjoyed our stay there a lot, and we're likely to come back in the future.

Here are some photos from the two towns.
Nevada City, CA

Nevada City, CA

Nevada City, CA

Nevada City, CA

Nevada City, CA

Grass Valley, CA

Grass Valley, CA

Grass Valley, CA

Grass Valley, CA

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Explosion of Color: Californian Fall

Brutus, a winter storm which brought a mixture of rain and snow to California today, didn't manage to dissuade me from going hiking in the mountains. My courage (or stupidity) was rewarded by awe-inspiring display of magnificent fall colors. Yet another proof for my thesis that there's no place like California: even during the storm it keeps its head high, puts on the best clothes, and looks even more dignified and sensational than usual.