Succulent-palooza

Last Sunday, S and I went down to Castroville to check out Succulent Gardens. I cannot believe I've been in Santa Cruz for more than a decade, and have not been to, let alone heard of this place until now.

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It was a nice, lazy Sunday morning, but we made a commitment to get out of the house. I worked my butt off to finish everything I needed to do on Saturday to save the whole of Sunday for succulent-palooza. I was not disappointed.

Out front they had little garden plots that had cute names that I cannot recall now.

Inside their greenhouses, they had everything. Little succulent arrangements, babies, pups, fully-grown succulents. Succulents with spines, succulents that crawl. I think we were there for a couple of hours, going down every aisle of succulent. 

We bought a bunch for the house.  When S goes off to Norway, I don't know how they will survive with my mad plant skillz.

 Wreaths!

Wreaths!

 Babies!

Babies!

 More babies!

More babies!

 All kinds!

All kinds!

 Little ones that look like trees!

Little ones that look like trees!

After all of this, we went to the giant artichoke restaurant and had a bunch of fried artichokes. And then we went back to Santa Cruz and went to another succulent store and bought even more succulents.  Good day, succulent-palooza.

The Perils of Double-unders

When folks see me come from the gym and they say, "whoa look at that dude.  His arms are cut!" I like to think it's not because of the welts on my arms from failing at double-unders. Truth is I do have welts and double-unders are terribly painful if you fail at them. 

15 MINUTE AMRAP

5 burpees, 10 renegade rows, 15 situps, 20 double-unders.   

Really simple workout. 

 

What do I know about ATL?

As I prepare to head to Atlanta for the first time in my adult life (that's a pretty long time), I realize I know very little about the town. I figure that I should start learning about the place, if I'm going to be visiting there more often. So what do I know?

  1. There is a basketball team. 'Nique played for them and I liked him a lot, especially that time he beat Jordan for the slam dunk championship. Spud Webb also played for them. Spud (#4 in the Hawks uniform) is a hero for all short people with NBA dreams.
  2. There are apparently a lot of peach trees in town, and it seems like each of these trees has a road named after it.
  3. Do not call the place Hotlanta. That's like calling San Francisco Frisco. I prefer Mylanta myself, but that's just me.
  4. The Gone With the Wind style ballrooms all burned down during the Civil War.
  5. I learned from that TV show about virginity and property buying on HGTV that there's a perimeter, and you're either in or out of it.
  6. Aside from Outkast, there are no other good hip hop artists from Atlanta.
  7. There are hotdogs at a place called the Varsity. 
  8. Zombies.
  9. The city rail system is a marvel of modernist simplicity and minimalism.
  10. I will order Pepsi when I go there just to see what people say when I do.

More later, as I learn stuff.

First Workout of the Season

This was a fun workout by Bill. I hadn't worked out for about a week, so I was a bit out of it. But as a way to transition back into my regular schedule, this one was particularly effective. I was just about turned inside out by the time I got to the tenth round.

This workout goes like the Christmas carol. We start with the one turkish getup per side. That's round one. On each successive round we progress to the next exercises, but also have to do all prior exercises in reverse order. So once we hit round five, we have to do 5 kettle bell cleans, 4 v-ups, 3 wallballs, 2 burpees and 1 turkish getup per side.

We have fifteen minutes to do this all. And if we don't, then we are absolute scum.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

1 Turkish Getup (both sides)
2 Burpees
3 Wallballs
4 V-Ups
5 Double Kettle Bell Cleans
6 Pull Ups
7 Thrusters
8 Kettle Bell Swings
9 Double Unders
10 Box Jumps
11 Squats
12 Lunges

Death by burpee

Yeah today was a little challenging. The folks at the gym think I'm a little wack because I actually relish burpees. But today was challenging anyway. I reached failure before this other woman in the class did.

So Death By Burpee took place after a warm up that included a five minute wall sit (failure means you have to take a 100m sprint the return to the wall sit).

The first workout was just progressive straight pull-ups for 10 minutes.

And then Death by Burpee.

Starting with six burpees in one minute,  we had to do progressively more burpees, adding one burpee per minute.  This went on for a max of fifteen minutes. Rest period only occurs when you finish doing the required number of burpees for that minute. So potentially we would be doing 21 burpees a minute by the end. But of course that's pretty much impossible. I was able to do up to sixteen in a minute, but by that time I was pretty much a wreck and after that round I could do just 7-10 a minute. Supposedly, after failure, the workout says that your required number of burpees is to subtract one burpee per minute but to be honest, after hitting failure I would just do whatever I could do.

Five flavors for my birthday... And burpees are the answer

My birthday celebration on Saturday involved plenty of ice cream, which I shall review in due time. It is fair to say that what I viewed as failure, others appreciated. Perhaps I should just fail at everything, since people either like my failures, or are too courteous to say that my failures are indeed failures.

The flavors:
1) Buttercream mint
2) Mojito sorbet
3) Chocolate brownie
4) Strawberry balsamic cardamom cream
5) Basil

Hit the jump for more.



The buttercream mint was a rehash of an ice cream I made for Lindsey's birthday. It is based on a recipe by Jeni Britton Bauer, who apparently makes the best ice cream in Cleveland. The first time I made it, it was somewhat of a departure for me. I have always made custard-based ice creams. Britton Bauer's recipes are different because she doesn't use traditional ingredients for her base. Instead, the source of fat in her work comes from cream cheese. Additionally, the cloying sweetness and consistency of the ice cream is also derived from... wait for it... light corn syrup. For this reason, I was reluctant to serve this ice cream, given the fact that most of my peers are at least conscious of the perils of high fructose corn syrup. Britton Bauer uses cream cheese and corn syrup because this kind of base produces a more consistent texture that is easy to scoop and doesn't harden too much. I am dubious of these claims. Perhaps in a mass-production environment use of such ingredients may be more efficient and may produce more consistent results. But in small-batch home environments, use of more natural ingredients may generate tastier results. We shall see when I reproduce this recipe in the future using my more traditional base-- incidentally I have settled on the ice cream base produced by San Francisco's Bi-Rite creamery, and published in their truly awesome ice cream cook book, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones.

Because I could not find the proper ingredients for the buttercream mint this time around, I felt that the flavoring was a little bit off. When I initially produced it for Lindsey's party, everybody raved about it. It paired wonderfully with some grilled peaches. But this time, for some reason, during the flavoring part of the process, when I was supposed to drop a few mint essence drops into the ice cream mixture, and a few natural butter flavor drops into the mix, I kept on hitting the churning paddle with the drops, and not the mix. For this reason, the flavoring didn't really get integrated into the product. Oh well. But people liked it. I have to tell my friends that it was so much better the first time around. What the heck. I thought it was a failure.

The mojito sorbet was my vegan option. I used this recipe from Allrecipes.com. It turned out wonderfully. Everyone, vegans and non-vegans alike, liked it.

The chocolate brownie was an adaptation of the chocolate ice cream recipe found in the Bi-Rite Creamery cook book. Serious Eats reviewed the recipe here. I agree with the reviewer from Serious Eats and will say that this must be the best chocolate ice cream recipe I have ever tasted. They used Hershey's Cocoa in their attempt. I used high quality Green and Black cocoa, which Leslie gave me a long, long time ago, for my version, and it was just amazing. For good measure I tossed in about a cup and a half of brownie crumbles. Because I was pressed for time, I didn't make brownies from scratch. Instead, I relied on the tried and tested Trader Joe's Truffle Brownie Mix, which Wei tossed in the oven for me after she got through mixing the mix up). Always been a fan of the old TJ's brownies. Everybody loved this particular ice cream. Bi-Rite's recipe is truly amazing, and the brownies really kicked the ice cream chocolatey-ness up many, many notches. I will make this again.

Strawberry cardamom has always been one of my go-to flavors in ice cream making. This time around, inspired by the stellar results from the Bi-Rite chocolate ice cream, I decided to adapt my strawberry cardamom to include some of the Bi-Rite mojo. I have long been a fan of their strawberry balsamic, which I get whenever I'm in SF. The strawberry balsamic cardamom cream I made was a mash-up of my own recipe and Bi-Rites. And I present it below. This was a more complex strawberry. The balsamic is bright. The cardamom gives it a nice underlying spiciness, as if it snuck in through the back door. The strawberries I used came from Santa Cruz's Swanton Berry Farms. It's getting late in strawberry season, but theirs are still about the sweetest strawberries I've ever eaten.

Strawberry Balsamic Cardamom Cream 

1 1/2 pints of fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
2 teaspoons of balsamico
2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar

5 egg yolks
1/2 cup of sugar
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 pods cardamom, crushed
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise, beans scraped
2 teaspoons of balsamico

1. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, mix together strawberries, 2 teaspoons of balsamico and 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar. Stir frequently until strawberries are soft and the liquid they release reduces somewhat. 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. If you can put it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour, even better.

2. In a medium bowl beat together 1/4 cups of sugar and 5 egg yolks. Set aside.

3. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, mix together rest of sugar, milk, cream, the cardamom and the vanilla bean. Bring liquid to a slight simmer. When the bubbles start forming around the edges, remove the cream mixture from the heat and let the spices infuse, by covering the pan and letting it be for about 20-30 minutes.

4. After infusion, temper the eggs with the warm milk mixture by mixing a half a cup of the milk mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Once the egg yolks have warmed enough, whisk the eggs back into the cream mixture, placing the mixture over medium heat until custard forms. This should take an additional 1-2 minutes, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon. Once the custard forms, remove from heat and chill the mixture. I use an ice bath. Pour the custard into a medium bowl, straining the mixture through a fine mesh sieve to make sure the custard is nice and smooth. Set the bowl into a larger bowl filled with water and ice. Chill for up to two hours.

5. When ready to churn, pour the set aside strawberry mix into the custard, mixing until everything is well blended. Add the two remaining teaspoons of balsamico to the mix.

6. Churn in ice cream maker, following you ice cream maker's directions.

Churning strawberry balsamic cardamom cream

The basil ice cream is a direct application of Bi-Rite's basil ice cream recipe. It was good. Different. Good.

All in all, a good time was had by all. Karaoke followed, and hilarity ensued. Fatness also ensued.

And so today my workout, courtesy of the good people of Toadal Fitness, was particularly challenging. I LIKED IT.

Burpee AMRAP Hell

25 minutes AMRAP

  • 10 one arm kettlebell swings (L)
  • 10 burpees
  • 10 one arm kettlebell swings (R)
  • 10 burpees
  • 100 meter farmer walk with the heaviest kettle bells you can do
  • 10 burpees
  • 250 meter run
  • 10 burpees

Ugh.







Run for the hills

Not too many hills involved. Just posting it here for uh... posterity.

250 meter run
20 snatches (l)
250 meter run
20 snatches (r)
250 meter run
20 burpees
250 meter run
20 thrusters (l)
250 meter run
20 thrusters (r)
250 meter run
20 jump lunges
250 meter run
20 kettlebell swings (l)
250 meter run
20 kettlebell swings (r)
250 meter run
20 jump squats
250 meter run

This is one of my favorites. Variations are cool too.

National Burger Month 05/11/2011: Inside-Out Salmon Cheeseburgers


Oh man. Too much beef. I don't know if I can keep on doing this. But I'll do it today at least. Today I decided to do salmon because... too much beef.


I've done inside out cheeseburgers before, with beef and lamb. Conceptually, the inside-out salmon cheese burger is similar. It's two patties of meat that I use to sandwich a little bit of cheese. For this sandwich, I take some grilled salmon basics and turn them into a burger.

Stuff:
1/2 pound salmon fillet (pin bones and skin removed, so I'm left with slightly under 1/3 pound)
1 tbsp dill, chopped
2 tbsp Philly cream cheese, softened
salt 
pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

I chopped the fillet into manageable cubes and processed them in a food processor, pulsing until it was chopped but not liquified. Into the fish I mixed the dill, and some salt and pepper to flavor. I formed two patties, and layered the cream cheese on top of one of them. 


After this, I covered the cheese up with the other patty and patted everything together until I had one cohesive fatty patty. I then massaged it with the olive oil, softly and gently, and oh so lovingly, so that when it went on a medium hot grill, it wouldn't dry up too much.


Fish doesn't take as long as beef to cook, so after just 2-2 1/2 minutes I flipped it over and cooked the other side for the same amount of time. If you do it properly, this thing wouldn't leak too much. I'd imagine if you do it incorrectly, you'd have no cheese left inside the burger because the Philly, it just runs when it melts. Yuck.

You can do what you wish with your fatty patty of salmon. I topped mine with tomato and microgreens, and had it in English muffins. Oh, yes.

National Burger Month 05/09/2011: Veggie Burger with Beef Topping

This is a veggie burger from Trader Joe's:


This is a little under 1/4 pound of beef chuck that I have massaged with salt, pepper and worcestershire sauce:


This is a veggie burger resting on a bed of beef: (I had to slice off parts of the veggie burger so that it would fit in its bed)


This is a veggie burger, resting on a bed of beef, with beef topping:


And this is a surprisingly terrific burger, one of the best I've had this month:

Really, this was a revelation. I was expecting it to just okay, but I can't believe how the good it tastes. I think it's because the Trader Joe's veggie burgers are spiced a little bit (I think I taste cumin and garam masala) and those really set the beef off. Also, the texture was terrific. Some veggie burgers tend to mush up when cooked, and they mushed up nicely here and kind of kept the burger perfectly moist. If only I didn't feel like I just ate two burgers at the end of the night. Ugh.

National Burger Month 05/08/2011: Lamb Burger with Harissa and Yogurt


Mmm lamb. Cute lamb.

My original plan was to recreate my döner kebab burgers from three years ago. Instead, with a bowl-ful of ground lamb instead of strips of lamb sirloin, tonight's burgers were an adaptation of one of my favorite recipes. The basic components are similar: lamb, harissa sauce, yogurt, pita and a few greens. Preparation is also identical.

Stuff for the burgers:
1/2 pound of ground lamb
1/2 large onion, pureed
salt
ground black pepper

I started with pureeing half an onion in my food processor. In the pureed onion, I mixed 1/2 pound of ground lamb. I salted and peppered this  and set it aside for two hours.

In the meantime, you can read a book, watch some Netflix, and make the harissa sauce.

Stuff for the harissa:
2 tomatoes, sliced in quarters
2 tbsp crushed chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp caraway seed
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp salt


All of this I mixed together in a food processor and salted some more to taste. This was set aside and can probably keep for a week in refrigeration.

Other stuff to top the burgers:
Some yogurt
Some salad greens
Some more tomatoes

The burgers were grilled for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes each side in medium to high heat. Patties are enveloped in pita bread, topped with yogurt, the harissa and some salad.

And that's it. Mmm lamb. Cute lamb. Tasty  lamb.


National Burger Month 05/06/2011: Chorizo Burger with Pico


I was originally going to do this burger on the fifth of May, for obvious reasons, but I ended up getting my act together the day after.  This was inspired by a comment my cousin Jon left on my Facebook page about a burger he made for a bunch of his friends.


My chorizo burger uses about a 50-50 blend of grass-fed beef chuck and chorizo bought from one of the many local Mexican groceries in Santa Cruz. Seasoning was simple; I used just a little salt and pepper. For his burgers, Jon used Goya chorizo, and I can't even imagine how that would taste. The burgers were grilled over medium heat in the old barbecue.

I topped my burgers with a little pico de gallo salsa, which I talk about here on a previous Cinco de Mayo burger. I can't believe that was 2008. For 2011, I left out the avocado.

Extremely pleasing. But the chorizos-- I think they wreak havoc on the tummy, if you know what I mean.

edit: I also slathered on some Philly cream cheese on the burgers after grilling. Could've used farmer's cheese, but the Philly was such a good contrasting saltiness to the spiciness of the burgers. So creamy, so good.

National Burger Month 05/05/2011: Taqueria La Cabaña

I post now for the sake of the two or three people who read my blog, hoping that they did not think I gave up on Burger Month. Not yet.

I was planning to make a burger on the fifth, but a friend asked if I could go to dinner, presumably to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. So I agreed to go out after ensuring that there would be burgers wherever we went. We ended up at the Taqueria La Cabaña on Mission Street in Santa Cruz.
I regularly eat at Cabaña. I think they make a good mole. I think it's great on their chicken enchiladas. I also think they make a really delicious Frankenstein's Burrito, which they call the California burrito, which is your basic super burrito with your choice of meats, and has sour cream, cheese, rice, beans and french fries, inside the tortilla. It is wonderful.

Since I am attempting a burger a day for this month, I ignored all my regular dishes and went for Cabaña's bacon cheeseburger with fries platter. I think it was a delicious burger. The beef patty was probably the frozen store bought variety fried on the taqueria griddle, so there was nothing too special there. I was hoping that the burger, fried as it was on the same griddle they use to fry their other taco meats would be infused with the flavors of carnitas, but alas I didn't get any of that. They did use a nice sesame seed roll and topped it with the usual suspects-- lettuce, onion, tomato. Condiments built into the burger were mustard and mayo. But no ketchup. And I think it worked better this way.

All in all, it was an above average diner-style burger. The bacon was crisp, as was the lettuce. The slice of American cheese, however, could stand to have been meltier. Other than that, I was pretty pleased.

Below is a picture that does the burger a little disservice. I did not have a proper camera with me.

National Burger Month 05/04/2011: The Basics

Every year since I've done Burger Month, I've ended up with a burger recipe that I deem my burger standby.  In previous years, they've been simple (just the grass fed beef chuck with salt and pepper) and they've been a little spicier (shown in the link, underneath a layer of prosciutto).

But I think one of the best parts of burgers are that while I could go all out and do something with ground lamb, topping it with a bunch of feta or something, in the end the burger is just as good in its basic utilitarian unit. There is something to be said about the efficiency with which one can prepare a great sandwich, with the least amount of prep work.


In any case, my go-to standby burger, since last year is a simplification of the spicy burger that I linked to above. I lose the siracha (still what I believe to be the king of hot sauces) and the garlic powder this time, and leave it with just a little more spice than burger with salt and pepper. I've turned to this recipe for the greater part of the past year and I think it's done well.

Stuff for one burger:
1/3 pound grass fed chuck (always the grass fed)
a couple of turns of the black pepper mill
a couple of pinches of kosher salt
a pinch or so of garlic salt (the kind I use is sold by McCormick and comes in a salt grinder)
and a splash or two of worcestershire sauce (I prefer the original, Lea & Perrin's)

This is all mixed together and shaped into a patty, and cooked on a hot grill for about 3 to 3.5 minutes per side, for a nice medium.

My bread preference right now is a fresh brioche bun. Brioche because the buns they sell at Trader Joe's are just the right size for a 1/3 pound burger, and also because when toasted, the butter in the bun just smells so good. But be careful! They burn easily!

So there you have it, my go-to basic burger for 2011.

And here's a pic (because I was told I needed to have a pic). That's the basic burger on a grill pic.

National Burger Month 05/03/2011: Hotdog

This is a hotdog. Really. Or at least, this is what a hotdog would look like if it decided one day it wanted to dress up as a burger.


It started out as two store-bought Hebrew National all beef franks. As far as hotdogs go, the Hebrew Nationals are pretty good. I actually prefer Sabretts, but these were on hand. I don't really go for the Santa Cruz health food store organic hotdogs. It's the classic New York dirty water dog for me.

But how does it begin to look like a burger? With a little bit of violence.

And since these are generally leaner than ground chuck, I needed a binder to keep things together. So I whipped an egg, and got my hands dirty with the minced hotdog.

Greasy.

So this is what it looks like when done. I topped it as I would a regular hotdog: with mustard and sauerkraut.
The hotdog burger was actually Leslie's idea. When she first suggested it, I had a visceral yuck reaction. Executed, it tasted like a hotdog, but did not quite feel like a hotdog. I think the problem for me is that both hamburger and hotdog occupy an overly marked area of my food story. Both are comfort foods that resonate with much personal history and meaning. And while I can make a burger out of other kinds of meats (and those who have read this blog before have seen me do the weirdest crap), stripping a hotdog of what it means and infusing it into a burger was just too much freaky roleplaying.

I think I like the concept better than the product.  


National Burger Month 05/02/2011: Cheeseburger with Extra Stuff


This burger is hiding something.



I actually did something like this shortly before National Burger Month. I ate it in front of Bettina. She had something healthy... a salad, or something. And I had this. She asked me whether I was going to do Burger Month, but at the time I was still uncommitted. I guess I could say that this burger inspired me to go on.

But anyway...

It's not really the cheese. This is Vermont Cabot Cheddar. Just that would make this just a good burger.

This is the Cheeseburger Eggsplosion. It's not my invention. I actually got it from my favorite burger site, A Hamburger Today. They blogged about it about a month ago.

It starts with a hole.

And then we stick an egg in the hole.

And then we flip it over. 

And then we get it all over ourselves.

This is the Cheeseburger Eggsplosion.








National Burger Month 05/01/2011: Teriyaki Beef Burger with Grilled Pineapples

I'm still unsure if I should keep on doing this. As recently as a week ago, I was like, "burger month? I think it's a bi-annual thing." This could be just for today, but last night I was equivocating again.


After a recent vacation to the Philippines, I had grown a couple of pants sizes larger. I can't help it if I can get a buffet and a massage for $15-- I was like a human wagyu cow. In the ensuing months, and after a couple weeks of riding my bike everywhere, I have gotten back to wearing my pants without suffering from belt line bruises at the end of the day. But National Burger Month is here and it is a dangerous thing. And it's so tiring to think of a new burger a day.


So I equivocate.

To celebrate the beginning of the National Burger Month and les damnés de la terre on this May Day, I have a teriyaki beef burger that I top with grilled pineapple rings.

The teriyaki marinade for the burgers is simple, based off a recipe from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes of the World. I marinated ground beef for about one hour, then formed it into patties, which I grilled, along with pineapple rings. This is a very simple burger.

For the teriyaki marinade:
1/4 cup sake
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin
1 tbsp sugar