The Gordon House, Silverton, OR
Most people aren’t knowledgeable enough  to be able to rattle off famous architects. There is one name, though, that is somewhat familiar to all – Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, in 1991 the American Institute of Architects named Wright as “the greatest American architect of all time.”

In Silverton, Oregon there is a Wright house that is open to the public. The Gordon House is located at the Oregon Gardens after having been saved and moved there in 2001. Originally finished in 1964 in Wilsonville, it was in danger of demolition when the property was sold in 2000. After a hurried rush of fundraising by preservationists, the house was disassembled and moved to Silverton.

The house is one of Wright’s last structures. He designed the house for the Gordons in 1957 and died shortly after signing over the final design to them. It is considered an example of Usonian architecture.

Usonian was based on the anagram for United States of North America (he added an ‘I’ for easier pronunciation). Wright had been known for many years designing very expensive Prairie style homes for those that could afford them. But he had a desire to build affordable, practical small homes for the middle-class. Some of the features that are in Usonian homes and in Gordon House include:
  •  Concrete slab floors versus raised foundations. They included piping for hot water to create heated floors.
  • No basements or attics.
  • Flat, cantilevered roofs.
  • Open floor plans and great rooms – a huge influence seen in today’s modern homes.
  • Based on building units, whether squares, hexagons, or other shapes. In the Gordon House the unit is 7 foot squares. You can see them gridded in the concrete floor and everything else is built off the units.
  • Carports were a Wright innovation as a cheaper alternative to enclosed garages. Again, a cost saving measure.
  • Lots of built-in cabinets and closets, means less need for storage furniture.
  • Use of horizontal lines to enlarge spaces (more on this later).
Wright was also famous for wanting to integrate nature into his structures, whether in the building materials or in the placement and structure of the house.  The Gordon House’s original location had it situated so that the Willamette River ran close and around it and the eastern side had spectacular view of Mt. Hood. There are tall French doors that open outward to encourage you to go outside. The placement of the upstairs windows make you a part of the tree canopy when you are lying in bed or sitting in the bathtub looking out. There are even windows so that you get a beautiful view from the toilet.  

great room showing fireplace, fretwork windows, and library alcove

Material-wise, the house uses a lot stained wood and concrete. The wood fretwork windows were intended to be a cheaper decorative window style versus the stained glass windows used in many of his Prairie style designs.
great room opposite direction. note low ceiling over entryway, 7' square grid in floor, and fretwork

Wright used architecture to influence human behavior as well. He wanted people to go out and experience nature and to socialize with others.  He did this by using a method called ‘compression’. Apparently any entrance way in a Wright house is made in such a way as to force the person to decide to go out or come in and not dawdle in the foyer. In this example, the roof is low at only 6’6” and the space is narrow. It forces you to want to continue into the open great room which is 1.5 stories tall with floor to ceiling windows. In the same way, the bedrooms are kept small and a bit claustrophobic so as to make a person want to get out and join everyone outside. 

kitchen or 'work space'

The same is true for the kitchen, or, as Wright called it, the ‘work space’. Although small in square footage, there is plenty of storage and counter space to make it easy to work in. Again, he wanted people out in the great room versus in the kitchen or bedrooms.

His designs were very exact and did use a lot of horizontal lines to create a sense of width and space. For instance, the concrete blocks were put in place and the masons were told to fill the vertical lines so that your eyes only saw the horizontal grout lines. Everything is exactly placed to continue the horizontal line. You could follow the concrete grout line over and see that it would perfectly line up with the horizontal wood paneling line, then continue on to the horizontal edge of the fretwork, then to the shelving, and even to the placement of the hardware on the cabinetry. This continuous horizontal line forces your eye to keep moving along it to create the sense of space.

I really enjoyed the tour and learned a lot about Wright's style and influence. I look forward to any chances in the future to see some of his other houses that are open to the public.

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The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

We were given the options of how we filled the crust. I decided to go with a pistachio frangipane and cranberries. The green and red are perfect for the holiday season. The only change I would make would be to add a lot more cranberries or fruit. This would be really good with apricots or tart apples as well.

I first got interested in frangipane because there is often a pistachio frangipane tart with raspberries served at the Tower Cafe. Frangipane can be made with other nuts as well, like almonds or hazelnuts.

Crust (Pasta Frolla)

  • 1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
Note: Superfine sugar is often also referred to as ultrafine, baker’s sugar or caster sugar. It’s available in most supermarkets. If you cannot find “superfine” sugar, you can make your own by putting some regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender and letting it run until the sugar is finely ground.

  1. Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
  2. Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
  3. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface.
  4. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
  5. Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
  6. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
  7. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
  8. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Pistachio Frangipane (double the recipe for this size tart)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shelled natural unsalted pistachios (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

Process 1/2 cup pistachios, 1/4 cup sugar, orange peel, and baking powder in processor until nuts are finely ground, scraping down sides occasionally. Add butter and egg; process until blended.


  1. Heat the oven to 350ºF. 
  2. Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make a lattice top for the crostata if you like. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base. (I just made a small jam tart for myself.)
  3. To help roll the crostata dough, keep the dough on top of the plastic wrap that you had it wrapped in. This can help rolling the dough and can also help when transferring the dough to your pan. You can also use parchment paper for this. However, you can also roll the dough directly on a work surface if you prefer.
  4. Lightly dust the top of the dough and your work surface (if you’re rolling directly on a work surface) with flour. Keep some flour handy to dust the dough as you go along.
  5. If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin's width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.
  6. Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick.
  7. If you used the plastic wrap or parchment paper as rolling surface, flip dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap.
  8. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.
  9. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places. 
  10. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to rechill.
  11. After it has chilled, remove the crust and fill it with the frangipane. Top it with fruit of choice. Pistachio works well with tart fruits like apricots, tart apples, and cranberries.
  12. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. You want to be able to pull a toothpick out clean.
  13. When done, remove the tart from the oven and let cool. If you have used a tart pan with a removable bottom, then release the tart base from the fluted tart ring. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving. Top with a bit of whipped cream or creme fraiche.


I stumbled upon the perfect Thanksgiving Day post.

You may recall my father remarried in June. My mother had passed away in 2008 and I was happy to see him find someone to share his last years with - someone that I like. And here we are at Thanksgiving with an expanded family.

It’s always just been my father, mother, brother, nephew, and me, with the last few years with my mom in the nursing home. Our holidays were quiet and small. Now I’m in my 40’s and suddenly have two new stepbrothers with their children and grandchildren. We will have 17 for Thanksgiving today. Yowza!

Betty has moved into my father’s home and this weekend is having her sons help her reorganize the garage. Once in a while I get an inquiry - “Do you want to keep this?” The nativity set is a no brainer - yes.

Then came a surprise. A plastic bag filled with letters from my mom to her family in the Philippines dating from 1953-1967. Crucial family history as that is the span when my parents met, married, had me, and eventually my brother. Curious how the keepsake letters stop at 1967 after Paul. I think there are more letters somewhere that are the Arabia years.  Then, in fact, my mother had also kept my letters home from boarding school and college which I also have. For now, these are a new found treasure trove.

In this day of technology, email, Skype, and Youtube, it is always interesting to stumble upon old letters. I’ve come across a few important ones to share.

There are over 20 years from 1963 alone, mostly because mom is writing to tell her folks about her new guy she’s dating and then eventually the plan to get married. From what I can tell, they met in June. The request to marry is the beginning of August. The wedding took place in October. That fast.

Mom always said she knew instantly and I’ve heard the story. She worked as a phlebotomist at a hospital in St. Catharines in Ontario (my namesake).  My dad worked nearby and would go to the hospital cafeteria for lunch. He would see my mother there. According to the letters, she was sitting with friends near the cash register and so as he passed by he snuck a look at her nametag and then had a friend arrange their first date. For my mother it was blind date. This is all written in the letter the morning after their first date.

The letter seen here is my dad’s written request for permission to marry my mother. It says, “I consider myself extremely lucky to have met such a wonderful girl and that God has been kind to me, to allow us to fall in love. I have never met a more unselfish person in all my life and I personally consider that she deserves someone far better than I am as I’m just an average person.”

My dad told me last night that mom never dated anyone else. This sort of concerns me. Most of us know today that relationships are full force at the beginning during the honeymoon phase and then settle down and change as time goes on. But back in the day I guess they thought love was a one shot deal. Seems so naive to me now, considering how many relationships and a few broken hearts I've had.

In 1964 I find the letter announcing my mom’s pregnancy with me. I guess I gave her a lot of morning sickness. Then in December, “After all that waiting, it’s finally over. I’m sorry to disappoint you but the baby isn’t a boy nor is she blond or blue eyed (my grandfather apparently didn’t understand the impossibility with genetics). She’s nice and big and healthy though. She has her father’s fair skin and a cute turned-up nose.”

I have a lot more to read through. I just picked dates I knew would be significant to start with.  I'll read through them and then give them to my brother to hold on to. He is the one who is continuing the family through my nephew and possible future children. The letters were a treat, though, on a family Thanksgiving, ensuring that mom stays in our thoughts.
Capitol Garage on Urbanspoon
breakfast burrito at Capitol Garage

It's funny how you can be aiming to go to one place and then end up someplace different entirely. We were going for Sunday brunch with the intention of going to Cafeteria 15L. Turns out, they don't do Sunday brunch. And so we ventured across the street to Capitol Garage.

I've known for some time that they are supposed to have a pretty good brunch. I'm just not that big of a brunch person. Of any meal during a week you can pick, Sunday brunch is the one where you probably have to deal with the most waiting. I think it even beats Friday or Saturday dinners. You just have that "after church" crowd, late sleepers, and weekend family gatherings to contend and compete with. And, as evidenced by 15L being closed, somewhat fewer restaurants.

But it just so happened that it was a Sunday and we were hungry at lunchtime. We would have to deal with it.

We put our names down and took a seat out on an outside bench. It was probably the last warm weekend of the year and it was a beautiful day to wait. We were told there was free coffee and my date went to get a cup. Meanwhile, I checked the tips on Foursquare. There were a lot of suggestions for food, but what really was noted was to expect slow service. We might be waiting for a table for a half hour and an hour for our food. Luckily we had nothing else to do and time to kill.

The half hour estimation was fairly accurate. As was the comment about slow service. We did appreciate one little touch. They give you a little fruit plate each as a sort of breakfast appetizer. Mine had a slice of cantaloupe, half a kiwi, slice of pineapple and two strawberries. Nice.

My date ordered the breakfast burrito that is pictured above. Scrambled eggs with chorizo, black beans, cilantro and pico de gallo wrapped up in a large flour tortilla, topped with fresh avocado, manchego cheese and jalapeno hollandaise, and a side of garage potatoes for $13.95. It was definitely very generous and with plenty of spicy chorizo.

I was faced with a lot of choices, especially in the Benedicts category. They have traditional, Greek, Norwegian, Crab Cake, and La Bajada. I chose the latter with tender pulled pork cooked in a chipotle peach sauce, served over a grilled english muffin with fresh cilantro, manchego cheese, jalapeno hollandaise, fresh avocado and crispy tortilla strips. Also for $13.95. It's hard to see it as it looks like a messy pile, but it was good. The chipotle peach sauce was zesty with a good bite to it. This worked well with the nicely poached eggs which gave it that yolky creaminess. The crunch of the tortilla strips added that extra texture element. My only complaint was that the side potatoes were just luke warm. They held a lot of promise which was lost by them not being hot.

I just stuck with water that day. But note that they have your choice of unlimited coffee, OJ, or mimosas for $6.95.

Overall I'd say their reputation for brunch is well deserved. I'll certainly be recommending it when people ask me for where to go on the weekends.
Jelly Belly factory

I'd find it hard to believe that we don't all have a little kid in us that wouldn't want to eat a Jelly Belly jellybean. How lucky are we that we have the factory in our own backyard. Long a staple of family outings and tourist stops, the Jelly Belly factory tour is one place that many of us find ourselves going to over and over again, myself included. My past outings had always been on weekends. Problem is, they aren't operating on the weekends. The tour goes through a quiet a building. So I took the opportunity of a recent weekday off to go and do the tour again so I could see the place in operation.

Jelly Belly gift shop

The tours run from 9 - 5 with the last tour leaving at 4. Depending on the time of day, year, and just plain luck, you could end up waiting in line for about an hour if school is out or it's a holiday. I got there bright and early on a normal weekday so that I got into the first tour of the day. Even so, the first tour didn't leave until about 9:20 and so I had a chance to do a quick run-through of the gift shop to see if there was anything new.

Finally the little paper hats were passed out and we were told to put away the cameras. Bummer. It's not like they have any secret, Willy Wonka style processes going on in there we can see. Besides, the tours are done from high above as you walk enclosed catwalks.  First stop was for picture taking. This is a new addition since I was last there. Makes sense to add it. Like so many other attractions, people want that souvenir photo and frame with you sitting next to Mr. Jelly Belly bean. Just that it takes a bit of time. I skipped around the line to wait for them to finish. We were given a couple of beans to chew on while we waited. Then we were off.

The nice thing is that there are short little videos that are shown at each stop along the catwalk. They explain a little about the history, the process, and other trivia tidbits. They also give you tasting beans along the way. First was the jelly center. They say that they put flavoring both in the jelly and in the coating. I didn't taste any flavor in the supposed red raspberry center I was given to taste. Later we got a finished wild blackberry bean and that definitely tasted like blackberry. And everyone loves that at the end of the tour each person gets a sample bag of assorted beans.

What many folks don't know is that you can go on a more intimate tour if you are willing to pay. The JB University tours are $47 and take you out in groups of six onto the actual floor of the factory. I'd love to hear from anyone who has gone on this tour.

What surprised me as I went on the weekday tour was how few employees were actually working on the floor. It was so automated with robots and conveyor belts that there were a lot less employees than I expected. But I was happy to finally see the machines in action and the beans flowing down the lines.

Most famous Jelly Belly fan, Ronald Reagan

It's always nice to see the artwork as well. Some of the pieces can take months to finish and have over a million beans.

Jelly Belly tasting line

The tasting station is a popular line. You can go through and taste a few flavors. The gross flavors are no longer related to Harry Potter because I guess they lost the contract or it expired. So now they call them BeanBoozled flavors. You can see above that there is barf, rotten egg, boogers, and more. I watched some people try those and make horrible faces. That told me to stay away from those! During the tour they made a big deal that it took forever for them to perfect kiwi. I tried it and have to say that they've still got work to do. It didn't taste like kiwi to me. My favorites are all the berry flavors, sours, and pomegranate.

There is also a fantastic chocolate counter. I successfully stayed away from purchasing any this time. Boy, was that hard. I love some of the gigantic whipped chocolate haystacks they have with all sorts of add-ins like nuts, marshmallows, chocolate chips, toffee, etc. Mmmmmmmmm.

I also found the bulk sales room by the cafeteria. They sell ten pound boxes of single flavors there as well as some other decorative and farmers market-y type stuff. If you really love one flavor, then a 10 lb. box is $90!

Most people stay in the gift store and buyout the belly flops - the reject beans that are too small, too big, or stuck together. I grabbed a bag to take up for Thanksgiving next week. I also wanted to try their soda pop and selected the green apple. They are made with cane sugar and are very brightly colored. I tried it later, at home, and found it way too sweet. I ended up pouring most of it out. Another favorite item I like is their Sport Beans which have caffeine and some electrolytes. I use these when I go on long hikes and need a burst of sugar and energy.

If you are hungry they have a large cafeteria with a lot of offerings. I've never bothered to eat there myself. But I can see that some families get caught there at lunch time or need a snack. There is also an ice cream counter with JB flavored ice creams.

If you are one of the rare locals who hasn't already gone on a Jelly Belly tour, then you are overdue. Time to venture forth and pay them a visit.

Jelly Belly car

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Budweiser factory tour - Fairfield, CA

We are all familiar with the drive to and from San Francisco and the Bay Area. The drive down I-80, through Davis, Dixon, Vacaville, etc. As we pass Fairfield and Suisun City we notice the giant Budweiser plant in the not-so-far distance. Many of us venture in that direction to take the kids to the Jelly Belly factory tour. How many have stopped for the Budweiser tour? I decided it was time to check it out and report back to you, my faithful audience.

As you drive up to the front of the plant you won't find too many signs or indications that they even offer a tour. The hours are 10 - 4. In the summer they run every day but Sundays. From September through May they run Tuesdays - Saturdays. You'll park in the parking lot to the right side of the complex. You won't see a gift shop or entrance right away. Instead you will need to go through the corporate entrance at the front of the building. The receptionist will then lead you into the factory and up to the gift shop/waiting area on the second floor.

My first frustration was rather minor. I had arrived at 10:25 and the receptionist told me that the tours started on the hour. So the next one was going to be at 11. I could look around the gift shop and wait in the waiting area. We all know I don't drink, so there was definitely no interest in buying something with a drinking motif. But the gift shop did have quite an array of items that you would expect to see: clothing, drinking accessories like coolies and bottle openers, and signs and more. I did a quick once over and then sat and waited.

Budweiser tasting room

At 11 an employee came in and told us he was there to take us next door to the tasting room for the tour. He explained that there was unlimited soda and pretzels for everyone. For those of legal age, they could go to the counter and choose to taste from a selection of beers available. They did not pour just a dixie cup full. You got an 8 oz. glass of beer. You were also given a ticket that was for your second taste selection. You could choose to have that as soon as you polished off your first glass or you could wait til after the walking tour was completed.

The big frustration (for me) then came up. The walking tour would not start until 11:30.  So now I had another half hour to wait! Sigh. I suppose this serves a purpose. People are enjoying their samples and maybe, if they drink them both before the tour they won't have to worry about their sobriety when it's time to drive away from the facility later. Still, I found it annoying. Why wasn't this disclosed before? They should have said that the walking tour starts on the half hour. I felt a bit misled.

At about 11:20 the guide started to give an introductory spiel about the company and facility. There was also a short video explaining the five most important ingredients: barley, hops, rice, water, and yeast. Finally safety glasses were passed out and we were able to begin the walking tour.

We first stopped and took a look at the conveyor system for bottling beer. It was not working. The guide explained that most of the beer these days is put into cans as the bottles are less popular. So this line was not running most of the month. Our next stop was to see the tanks.

The beer goes through a series of processes. The first set are the hot processes. Water is combined with ground barley to create a mash. The mash is combined with milled rice and boiled. Enzymes start to break down the mash's startch into fermentable sugars. It is then brewed with the hops, which give it flavor. It is now called wort. The wort is cooled down so that they can then start the cold process.

Yeast is added to start the fermentation process of the wort. The wort is transferred to giant tanks that hold hundreds of gallons. The yeast ferments the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Now we have beer. Budweiser is known for its beechwood aging. They place a foot and a half high layer of beechwood chips in the bottom of each tank. The beechwood aids in continued formation of flavor and carbonation.

Our stop was to see the cold tanks where the beer was aging with the beechwood in the bottom. The tanks were about 10 feet in diameter and 72 feet long - giant! The cold room we were in was at about 42 degrees, had three stories, and had a total of 120 of these tanks. We did not get to see any part of the hot process.

Our final stop was to see the canning line. Millions of blue Budweiser cans were speeding down lines being filled with beer and then packaged. It was definitely noisy.

And that was it. Really. We saw an idle bottling line, some giant cold tanks, and the speeding canning line. That's it. What a huge disappointment. Basically, if you go to Pyramid or River City Brewing downtown you can see the same storage tanks, just smaller. You're just missing the assembly lines.

Now you know why I titled this post "Skip the Budweiser". There was really nothing worth seeing. The only benefit I could see to going on this tour was if you love their beer and you want a total of 16 ounces of free beer to drink and some souvenirs from the gift shop. It's much more interesting to just hop on down to Brew it Up (now closed 2013) and make your own.

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 Golden Bear on Urbanspoon

One really shouldn't critique a restaurant on one dish alone. So this is not a review of Golden Bear overall, only their fabulous Juicy Lucy Burger. Hopefully I'll be returning again soon to try some other dishes. But then again, I might be so hooked on the burger now that it will be difficult to try something else!

When I eat a burger I tend to use quite a bit of ketchup. My modis operandi is to pour out a mound of ketchup, not for dipping my fries in (I only dip those in a pile of salt - saltaholic!), but for dipping my burger in.

The Juicy Lucy is described as: "House Ground Niman Angus stuffed with Fontina, Bacon, Jameson® Glazed Onions, Avocado, and Lettuce." Yay! No tomatoes. I don't eat raw tomatoes and always have to say, "hold the tomatoes". This burger doesn't even come with them.

I apologize. No pictures. I was camera-less, it was dark, and I was hungry.

The burger arrived with a side of potato salad. We were sad and disappointed to hear that they had discontinued kettle chips!  What! I'm hoping this was meant as "we ran out" instead of them being taken off the menu permanently. After all, all the reviews have praised the kettle chips. The potato salad was pretty dull and there's really nothing more to be said on that.

But the burger! I was faced with a hearty burger with a nice sized, hand shaped patty. I was going to ask for my ketchup but went ahead and took a big bite. I forgot all about that ketchup. I'm telling you, if I consumed that burger without even thinking about ketchup, then it was one fine burger! It was juicy, salty, flavorful, and satisfying. It was everything you want in a burger. It was burger heaven.

For those searching for Sacramento's best burger, this is a contender!

But it's fun!,

A few months ago I stumbled upon the XOSO League. This league plays those games we played in grade school: kickball, dodgeball, and volleyball.

Now, I am one of the most non-athletic people you could ever find. I'm terribly uncoordinated and I have a balance problem. This means I'm a loser at skating and it took forever for me to learn to ride a bike. I still don't dare to let go of the handlebars and go hands free. I would have been one of the last kids chosen for teams but somehow avoided that childhood embarrassment.

At the same time I also had the lucky benefit of not gaining weight until I hit 30. I was able to avoid exercise at all costs. The thing is, it all catches up to you. Boom! Hit 30 and ten extra pounds suddenly appeared. Last week I was instantly depressed when Dr. Oz said I can expect to gain 12-15 pounds just from menopause. Then you start to think about aging and that to age in a healthy way, you need to exercise.

So now I exercise whether I like it or not. And I don't like it. It's become an unfortunate necessity. I might hate it, but at least I've crossed the line so that now I have to workout because my body is in more pain if I don't. My cardio of choice? Spin class.

But I saw the XOSO league and was really wanting to join. After all, kickball and dodgeball don't take great athletic ability. Surely I can handle it. When my friend, Mark, said he wanted to play I said I would join him. We'd both try it out together. There was a new foam dodgeball season starting up that is only going to last five weeks. That seemed harmless enough. If I didn't like it, I would only have to survive five weeks.

Turns out, I like it! We had our first games and my team, the Sactown Smackdown (named by Mark), had a double header. Each match lasts 30 minutes. The teams are coed and they mix up the teams so that you are playing with people from other teams. It makes it more social and less competitive. It's all in good fun.

I was worried when I had read over all the rules. Actually, it turned out to not be that bad. You play as many games as you can within the 30 minute match. My only problem is I can't throw a ball worth a darn. I've got no power and no aim. Most of the time I just dodged and then handed balls to the guys to make the throws. Still, we won a majority of our games.

Afterward everyone headed over to Streets of London. They give a discount to league members if you are wearing your team shirt. The games didn't stop. All of the teams mixed together and started playing a drinking game. It became apparent that any fitness benefit from playing dodgeball was soon negated by the calories ingested via the drinking games. But I really liked how social the league was.

Alan, a new teammate who has played in a couple of XOSO leagues before, told me that the social aspect is what he loves about XOSO. Unlike a softball league where you pretty much bond with your team but not necessarily with opposing teams, the XOSO teams all mix and socialize together.

So after only one night I am very happy with joining the league. I think I might be the oldest one in this season, but age isn't really the issue. It's about getting out, finding a new physical activity that's fun, meeting new people, and not sitting at home on a Wednesday night.

We are all supposed to eat more dark green, leafy vegetables. Not many of us do. In fact, how often have you ever bought kale? I use it in a great lentil soup recipe from Sacatomato Ann's cookbook, Hands-off Cooking. Other than that, it's an ignored vegetable in the supermarket.

Then Andrew from Eating Rules told me about baked kale chips. Baked kale chips?  Yep. These are your healthy alternative to potato chips and super easy to make. They are so easy and good (yes, good) that now I make a point to buy a bunch of kale each time I'm at the grocer. I can eat an entire bunch of kale in one sitting! Think about how much of your dietary vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. you just took care of like that!

I'm telling you, give these a try!

Baked Kale Chips

bunch of kale, washed and dried
olive oil
salt or seasoning of choice

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take the kale and pull off and toss the thick stems, leaving you with just the green leafy bits. Tear these into bite size pieces. Spread them out on a cookie sheet or two. Spritz them with olive oil. (Do not toss them in oil. I did this my first time and it is too much oil!) Sprinkle seasoning over the leaves. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. Check. You want the leaves to be nice and crispy, all the moisture baked out of them. Remove from oven and serve!


In another instance of "it's in my own backyard all these years but I've never gone...", I ventured to the Blue Diamond Gift Store yesterday. I'm going to a food blogger conference this weekend and we are supposed to bring a gift that either represents our blog or our area. I had been stuck on what to take until someone said "almonds". This made perfect sense to me and so I headed to Blue Diamond.

Located at 1700 C Street, the building is considered an historic landmark. The site is still in operation today. In fact, it turns out that 2010 is their 100 year anniversary. Blue Diamond has 80% of the world market in almonds and sells to 95 countries.

I was surprised by the size of the store. It was very large and open with colorful and attractive displays of all their products. I had no idea they made so many items. But with the push to healthy foods you will find everything from the nuts to almond milk, butter and paste. There were also the logo items like t-shirts.

For those of us who like to bake, they sell 4 and 7 lb. cans of almond paste as well as 4 lb. cans of slivered and sliced almonds. Most of the gift packages revolve on the different flavored almonds. The gift I ended up with had almonds, chocolate almond milk, and almond popcorn.

If you are in need of a gift representing Sacramento, then consider checking out the Blue Diamond store yourself.

Search for blue diamond almonds
As I've repeatedly mentioned in this blog, I'm allergic to alcohol and so I don't drink it. So when I go to any restaurant or happy hour I'm in it for the food.

Sometimes I'll go out to nibble. A bar or restaurant is offering free or cheap appetizers. On occasion I'll go to a happy hour to meet with friends. Mostly I'll go to promotional events such as grubcrawls or social gatherings like Tweetups and charity events where restaurants are donating food. They may be donating the food, but they are hoping that there will be drinkers who will pony up to the bar and buy a round or two. (Sorry I'm not a cash cow for you in that regard.)

But when it comes to the food, especially if you are a restaurant and not just a bar, you should be making a little effort. This is a case of making an impression to make me want to come back and actually eat a full meal, give you business, tip your servers, recommend to my friends, Tweet and blog about. It amazes me when restaurants totally drop the ball.

Good Example: Last week I did the Halloween grubcrawl. First place was Vive, the new Mexican place that is by the downtown ice rink. It's already got its location working against it since the area becomes a virtual dead zone after 6 p.m. Three Monkeys, the prior occupants, didn't make it. It is one of those places that I would look at every day as I exited the 24 Hour Fitness but wasn't giving any serious consideration to going to. We entered and it was pretty darn empty. (Although Tuesday nights aren't exactly happening anyway.) They did put out a decent spread though. There were chicken, cheese, and carnitas quesadillas, taquitos, and, of course, chips and salsa. I enjoyed my quesadillas and we found out that Vive does $1 taco Tuesdays all day long, not just for happy hour. What a great lunch deal! They fed us and I learned about their taco Tuesdays.

Bad Example: Compare that with stop #2 at Table 260. First of all, I had very low expectations for this place from the get-go. The Bee had a scathing review months ago that basically said that you know a restaurant is on its deathbed when they don't even bother to try anymore. "Table 260 Downtown is a restaurant in a free fall, with practically no apparent effort to be a viable business, let alone a proud practitioner of soul food." Ouch! So here we are, a crowd of about 30 people, most of whom have never been there before. If you are trying to save your restaurant, especially after a bad review and you are trying to prove you are making changes, then you should make an effort with this captured audience. What did we get? They didn't bother to set up a table of food. Instead they came around with those tiny little condiment cups with "Gumbo shooters". Talk about skimping and not very good gumbo anyway! Then they came around with a tray of sweet potato french fries and napkins so that you could take a small handful. The last thing was some chip with Cajun beans or something on it. Skimpy and bad! All they did was solidify my decision that they aren't worth my effort either.

Last week I also went to the Sacramento Magazine kickoff party for their "Best of" issue. It was at Cafeteria 15L. Here's a restaurant that has been on my to-do list for a while. How did they do? The food they had was their famous mac n cheese (yum!), cut up chicken n waffles with gravy (not bad if you grabbed the chicken pieces), potstickers (pretty good, better than many places), and pork and meatloaf sliders (didn't try). This was enough to keep them on my to-do list versus deterring me.

Tonight I'm off to Cosmo for the election night happy hour. They have free "left and right wings" from 5-6. Hope they make an effort!