Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial day "feast"

What a weekend!! The Memorial day long weekend was entirely spent just eating - yes, eating and what an awesome feast. On Saturday, my roomie's friends brought along with them loads of Indian dishes and all my favs. They just asked that I make the dessert - which is already my most fav thing in the world - and I gladly did, ofcourse with A to help. I was not sure how many people were planning to come over to my place, so I figured I'd make atleast 2-3 desserts, just in case.

I started off with an ice cream cake, which actually had to endure a lot of strain, I will tell you why in a minute. This is what I did - on Friday, I baked a simple pound cake (dense, not airy because it had to take the weight of the ice cream). I also lined my cake pan with a plastic wrap, scooped in chocolate ice cream to make a thin layer, froze the pan for 10 minutes, removed the frozen ice cream layer, wrapped it in more plastic and dumped it in the freezer; I did the same for the strawberry and vanilla ice creams (it was a good idea to buy one of those 3-in-1 flavors). I also left my vanilla frosting on the counter (as opposed to the fridge). On Saturday, I started to assemble my layers together. I brought out the pound cake, levelled it off, plopped the ice cream layers vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, and started frosting the cake with a simple vanilla frosting. As I was doing so, the plate decided to tumble off the counter and plop(!) it landed on the floor with the chocolate ice cream at the bottom. Lucky for me that I had layers, so I just discarded the entire chocolate layer and had to make do with just 3 layers. Obviously now my cake looked really ugly, so I sliced a few strwberries and stuck them on the cake sides and top and then A suggested that we drizzle chocolate over it (I think that was because he loves chocolate with everything). Anyway, I think it came out pretty decent in the end. Here's what it looked like.
I wanted to make a quick next dessert, so I decided to go with a cheese cake truffle. I bought a plain cheese cake, cut half of it, mashed it up, made tiny balls of it and left it in the refrigerator over night. The next day, I melted some white and some dark chocolate; dipped the tiny balls first in white and then in dark chocolate and sprinkled some grated dry coconut over it. Simple but delicious. For the third dessert, A decided to pitch in and make his fabulous pineapple upside-down cake, I guess because it was the popular demand. Of course you have to ask him for the recipe, but this is what it looked like and boy, was it yummm!!

For the kids that were going to come over, we made some chocolate chip cup cakes and decorated it with the only things available at home - a tube of orange icing, tiny marshmallows (leftover from A's bday party) and chocolate syrup (yes it was A's idea again - i told you he loves it!!) and the kids really loved it.

And I ended up making some banana-walnut loaf cake for tea, which I do not have pictures for. But it was surprisingly warm and delish (to put it in Rachel Ray's words) and the guests really loved it, although I should have made more of it, 'coz I hardly got a bite :( .

On Sunday, Mr and Mrs R invited us over for a barbecue party followed by a southie dinner. We hogged on corn, chicken, fish, veggies and lots of more junk, took a huge break and had some extremely yummy "mor kozhambu and parpa usli". Oh and leaving the best for the last, we had amazing carrot halwa and kesar pista ice cream. I was surprised I could even move after that.

All in all a fabulous weekend, thanks to everyone for cooking, inviting me and for just being there.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Trip to Oregon

My vacation to Oregon was one of the best I've had in the last few years. All through the weekend, the weather was perfect, albeit fluctuating between bright and sunny and cloudy and cool. We started off with a 13 hour delay due to bad weather, traffic and flight delays and being stuck in Las Vegas for a night, which further shortened our already too short trip. After landing at the PDX airport at about 2.20 pm, we set off to try and find local wines and quaint vineyards and wineries. True to our usual modus operandi, the first thing we did was get off the highway. Driving over small, country roads in Dundee Hills, we came across Maresh vineyards, one of the oldest establishment in the region. They grow their wines locally and sell them only on site and so their labels are hard to find. After tasting their wine trio, we absolutely had to get a bottle and settled on the Pinot Gris. What I loved the most was the location of the vineyard and their tasting room, which was a small cabin-like structure made of all recycled, used components like used flooring from a school and windows from an old building, situated on top of a hillock with vines growing all around. From there we ventured a little further on the road and found Erath Winery, one of the most famous wine producers of the Williamette valley. Here we got a Dry Reisling and a Pinot Noir Chocolate Raspberry Sauce, which I hope to try out very soon as a drizzle over my bundt cake. Since we started our wine tour so late in the day, two wineries were all we could fit in before closing time; we also had a long drive ahead of us (almost 4 hours) - as we had to reach our camping ground; so we bid good bye to the wine region and headed off towards the Cascade mountain range.

For the night, we had planned to stay at a cabin in the La Pine campground near Bend. To get there, we decided to take the path through the mountain range. This road forms a part of the West Cascades Scenic byway and was truly scenic. Tall trees lined the road on either side and we could see snow clad mountains approaching closer at every turn. The drive took us to an elevation of almost 5500 ft. This proximity to nature was truly exhilarating. We spent our drive debating the finer points of identifying sentient beings and discussing alternate scenarios where trees were more highly evolved than humans. And reached La Pine at around 10 pm. We had rented a little wooden cabin with bunk beds and spent a few hours playing cards after which we had to have our rest.

Sunday dawned bright and beautiful and for once, we were ready to start our day early. We planned to visit Crater Lake (2.5 hours) but before that we had to eat. In La Pine, we found a trucker's diner called Gordy's and decided to try it out and we were glad we did. The diner serves local fare on a piled plate. It also had a brilliant collection of tiny trucks - from Walmart to Fedex and everything in between. After the yummy food, we resumed our drive towards Crater lake. The north entrance of Crater lake is closed until late-June and so we had to drive further to get to the South entrance and I am glad we had to because on the way we found some very pretty scenes. As we came to the junction that led to Crater lake on one direction, we noticed that the signpost indicated that a lake lay just 4 miles on the other, and so we decied to make a detour. We were on the banks of Agency Lake - a bright blue lake with houses right on the shore. We also found a cute dog herding sheep around! :)

After the little detour, we were back on our rad towards Crater Lake. Crater lake was formed about 7000 - 8000 years ago because a volcano collapsed Mt. Mazama and snow and rain filled up the caladera. A smaller volcano formed an island in the lake called Wizard's Island. This lake is noted for it's pure and pristine water. When we reached Crater Lake, we saw that the view points were all under about 5 ft of snow, which we had to climb to take a look and the view was UNBELIEVABLE. The only word that popped out at that time was "WOW". The snow gave us a huge advantage because now we could see the entire area without any obstacles due to the extra height. Crater Lake was amazing.

After Crater Lake, our next part of the plan was to take the Rogue-Umpqua scenic byway, which lay along the River Umpqua and explore the water falls that line the byway. Our first stop on this byway was the Clearwater falls, which (apparently) requires no hike. But, the road leading to the falls was under snow, so we could not take the car to the Falls point. This did not stop us though. We treaded through the deep snow and found our way to the 30-ft waterfall and it was worth it.

Our next stop on the byway was Watson Falls, near the Tokatee Campground. This is a 275 ft water falls that is best viewed after a 0.6 mile hike up a rocky hill. As we reached the uppermost viewing point, we were drenched with the spray from the falls. It was beautiful.

It was late evening, when we finished our hike and resumed our drive across the byway and to Portland. On the way we made a stop at a beautiful frozen lake, where we had to stop for pictures and soon it started snowing. Two minutes later its stopped (!) and we were on the road again. And this was when my friend saw a sign board that read Umpqua Hot Springs, so of course we had to find it. The search led us off the highway into an unpaved driving path through the forest. We followed the spooky path for a few miles after which we had to turn around. We stopped at a clearing and were discussing our options, when a kind Portlander stopped by to tell us that the road led to a bridge that was (can you believe it) broken! So we had to head back and unfortunately never found the springs :( But we had a wonderful time just looking for it :) After a few more stops along the road to see swift waters and grab a bite, we made it to Portland at about 12 midnight (by which time I was asleep in the back seat :D, thanks A&A for not waking me up).

Monday was the last day of our trip and we had only until 1pm. Of course, our first stop was Byways Cafe, a famous diner featured on Food Network. The hash and the Amaretto French toast were both amazing, true to their reputation. We had one more hour before heading to the airport and so we landed at the Chinese Botanical Garden. This garden is situated in the Chinatown in Portland, but once you enter the premises, it is unbelievably quiet and calm and peaceful and ... I can go on. The sound of water instantly calms you down and the flowers and shrubs are very artistically placed. We tried Chinese tea at their restaurant called The Tao of Tea. The Lotus Ancien that I had was very flavorful and woke you up in an instant. My friends had milder ones, but all of us were happy with our choices and very glad to be introduced to this kind of tea drinking culture, which is so different from the kind that we are used to. I will definitely try this again at home and I am sure my friends will too. This was our last stop and we left for the airport, taking our respective flights back to Philly and San Diego. We were sad to end our lovely trip but very glad that we did this together. I must say here that if I were to repeat this trip over or go for another, I would not ever trade my trip companions, they are the best!!
Thanks guys for an awesome trip and let's hope for lots more to come.