November 2012

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. image source:

(NOTE: I just want to mention that I do NOT recommend anyone decorating their outdoor tree this way. It’s not the best way to do it so please keep your feet on the ground, or on a secure ladder, and be safe as you deck the halls…or trees.)

The weekend before Thanksgiving we took advantage of the beautiful, sunny weather and decorated our incredibly tall pine tree with Christmas lights.

We didn’t have a tall enough ladder and, since I was considerably smaller than my husband, I ended up climbing the rest of the way as high as I could to hang up the lights (if I had to guess, I’d say our tree is between 25-30 feet tall.) I could barely see, and not only because of the thickness of the branches, but because my hair got messed up and kept on covering my eyes. Swearing up a storm and sweating like it was 90 degrees rather than 50, I did the best I could to hang them up, and my husband did the best he could to try and wrap it around the tree from the ground, but apparently our best wasn’t good enough. When we lit it up, there were huge gaps and it was unevenly distributed. (another profanity inserted here.)

11-17-12: Look up..up…higher…there I am!

The next day we went back to Sam’s Club and bought more lights (a 21-foot strand of these LED color C3 lights is $14). I went back up the tree, being sure to tie my hair back this time, and redid the topmost strand of lights. My right bicep was sore from the death-lock I had on the tree yesterday, thinking all the while of the scene in First Blood where Rambo falls crashing through the pine trees. It was still difficult as I was trying to hold onto the tree with the crook of my right arm and string the lights with my leather-gloved left hand, plus my husband was struggling with a 20-foot homemade PVC pole to try and hook the lights around the tree. After a while we got it loosely spiraling around the tree, making four tiers of light strands.

Our lighted Christmas tree at 6:45 a.m.

Though I wore a heavy jacket and leather gloves, I still got poked, cut, and bruised from this unassuming tree. So as I mentioned before, stay safe when decorating your outdoor tree and use a sturdy pole, it’ll save time and keep you less wounded. :)

During Thanksgiving weekend the weather got much colder and we started getting snow flurries (SO glad we did our huge tree the weekend before!) We headed over to Molyneaux Tree Farm to get a 7-foot tree for indoors. With the icy winds and snow flurries, I think it was just as difficult to get that tree as it was me climbing ours:

Incredibly windy at the top of the hill. My husband used one of the incredibly dull saws provided at the farm.

We decorated our tree the next day, but I wanted to show you a photo of our cat condo:

The cat condo is all decked out with dollar store decor!

So who else is having fun decorating for their pets? :)

It’s another month for 23 Paws, thanks to Cinnamon at Eat, Pray, Tri!

Cats staying warm in winter! image source:

Those chilly kitties are seeking warmth wherever they can find it, even if it means sitting on light bulbs! Our housecats have more of a wintry advantage by choosing to stay indoors. Here are some ways they like to stay warm:

The Fireplace – it’s cozy, romantic, mesmerizing:

Trixie, caught in the allure of the flames.

Solar Heating – energy-efficient and cost-efficient, but prime locations are limited:

Down Comforter – cozy and comfortable, especially when flanked by two warm bodies:

Wolfie, off to dreamland. :)

Electric Heating Pad – Sammy’s nighttime retreat to warm his old bones:

Cat cube sits on heating pad, which sits on a piece of cardboard.

What are some ways your house pets like to stay warm? My sister’s German shorthair (she still calls him a puppy) takes up most of her bed and sleeps like a rock!

What about hibernating pets??

I’ve been busier with work the past couple weeks, which is good, but it also means more time away from my food blog (and I’m pretty bummed I missed the Recipe Redux for this month!) I usually spend about 2-3 hours creating a post, sometimes more, depending on the topic, photos, and the ease or difficulty of writing it.

Here is a recipe that I recently experimented with, and it’s all thanks to an Apple and Fennel salad I came across at Wegman’s. It was tart, vinegary, and sweetened with a sprinkle of golden raisins. I loved the combination of flavors and thought this would be great to serve alongside the richer Thanksgiving dishes (and it did!) But instead of ordering a couple pounds of this delicious stuff, I thought I’d come up with my own version of this tart n’ tangy palate-cleansing dish.

Simple is Best – All you need is six ingredients, super easy!

Tasty and Tart – Comparing several recipes for apple fennel salad showed me variations with the dressing. There were several recipes that used mainly olive oil and lemon, but I wanted something tarty. Apple cider vinegar was the way to go, and using frozen concentrated apple juice was an easy shortcut. Whole grain mustard was added for flavor as well as texture.

Is Thin Really In? – I came across this easy tip from The Purple Foodie in their version of an Apple Fennel Salad: “Cut everything thinly – the finer the cut, the better the chances of all elements of the salad coming together in a single bite, maximising flavour.” Wegman’s Apple Fennel Salad had thicker slices of apple, about 1/32 of an apple, and it still tasted great with the plump raisins and tart dressing, but I opted for thin slices.

Refreshing and tart. If you ever had pickled green mango, this might taste something like it.

Apple Fennel Salad with Raisins

The apples and fennel can be sliced the night before, just keep them in a ziploc bag–along with the raisins–until you’re ready to pour on the vinaigrette.


1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3-4)
1 pound fennel bulbs (2 bulbs)
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup frozen concentratred apple juice
2 tablespoons stone ground Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste


Slice apples into quarters, remove seeds. Slice thinly and place in a large mixing bowl. Thinly slice fennel crosswise and add to apples. Stir in raisins, set aside.

In a separate bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, combine apple cider vinegar, frozen apple juice, and stone ground mustard with a wire whisk. Put apple mixture in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, pour in vinaigrette and seal tightly, removing as much air without smashing apple mixture.

Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning ziploc bag after a half hour or so to ensure vinaigrette gets distributed evenly. (NOTE: as a precaution, lay the ziploc bag flat in a baking dish, just in case it leaks.)

Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with fennel leaves. Guests may season their own serving with salt & pepper. Serves 12-14.

November 8, 2011 was our last day living in Hawaii.

My husband and I packed our two cats in their carry-ons, made sure we had their paperwork for the plane, got our luggage and left our 600-square foot apartment in the middle of Honolulu for good.

Bathroom on the left by the TV, kitchen (out of the picture) on the left. Cozy place for two adults and two cats.

Balcony and kitchen. Sammy likes the warm air from the wine fridge. :)

We had been married for about a year and a half and our plan was to purchase a home on Oahu. Though we tried to secure a couple of homes, it just didn’t work out.

We looked at a condo deep in Wahiawa valley:

2 bedroom condo with balcony, about 1,000 sq ft.

A tiny plantation house near Lake Wilson, also in Wahiawa:

Old plantation house w/separate studio, both about 600 sq ft each. See how close you are to your neighbor?

We were also in escrow for about ten months for a house in ‘Ewa Beach, but problems with the title and mortgage company had to be addressed in land court, and that prevented us from taking that last step into ownership.

When it seemed that nothing was working out, we decided to move and find a home elsewhere. We visited my sister and her husband in upstate New York and really loved the area, so that’s where we decided to move the first week of November. For the first 4 months we lived in a studio above a garage in a tiny little town called Deposit.

Our rental car and rental home, about 600 sq ft. of the top floor. Bottom is storage for the owners.

There’s a lot I had to learn about living in a colder climate, like driving in the snow:

My husband didn’t let the lack of a garage stop him from working on the car:

Who needs a garage??!!


Although we started looking at homes while we still were in Hawaii, we were now able to see listed properties in person. There were a few that looked promising, but we happened across a lovely farmhouse that was in a great location and going for a great price!

My husband & the home inspector, Dec. 2011.

After a long wait we finally purchased our home in March and were moved in by April. Along with the beautiful house and property, we also got the lady of the house, Trixie:


We started doing some home improvement projects, both inside and outside:

My outdoor project: stone steps going down to the creek.

Ripping out the old ceiling in the dining room.

My husband working on the plumbing.

But in addition to renovations, we also had a couple of get-togethers:

My husband’s birthday dinner: Thanksgiving in July!

And received our first official guests:

My in-laws visiting from Germany.

New York is great, but I miss my family:

Always lots of food at my parents’ house, especially when my two uncles stop by with their own dishes (pork ribs, smoke meat, poke, sushi, etc.)

and having friends over for dinner:

Christmas Eve dinner with friends at our apartment in Honolulu.

But I prefer the weather and changing seasons in Upstate New York over the daily dose of sunshine. Granted I’ve only lived here for one year, and the first winter experience has been one of the most mild ones in the area, so maybe the lady at the Post Office was right in saying, “After a few years, you’re gonna MISS Hawaii!” I really do love it here, and my husband does, too. The people are nice, the weather is great, we live far enough away from the city to have peace and quiet, but close enough to head into town when we feel like it. :)



On Tuesday I posted a recipe for Gluten-Free Pumpkin Brownies and now here’s the chocolate chip version!

If you are tired of using rice flour in your brownies, try these out. The mixture of oat and buckwheat flour plus roasted pumpkin (or sweet potato, if you prefer) is the right combination to make a rich, dense, chocolaty brownie…like this one:

Chocolate chip brownies: moist, delicious, and gluten-free.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Brownies,
makes 16 squares


3/4 cup mashed roasted pumpkin, pumpkin puree, or mashed roasted sweet potato
1/4 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup canola oil or melted coconut oil
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup oat flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder (such as Medaglia D’Oro)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup gluten-free semisweet chocolate chips (such as Ghiardelli) or pecans, or both


Combine roasted pumpkin or sweet potato with chopped dates. Cover and refrigerate least 2 hours so dates can absorb moisture from the pumpkin.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8″x8″ pan with foil, allowing 2″ of overhang on sides. Coat with cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl combine wet ingredients (pumpkin through vanilla). Set aside.

In a large bowl mix dry ingredients (except chocolate chips) with a whisk. Make a well in center and pour in wet ingredients. Mix until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and sprinkle with chocolate chips or pecans, patting lightly with fingers to set the chips into the batter. Bake for 25-27 minutes, center will still be moist when tested with a toothpick.

Cool for 10 minutes and cut into 16 pieces. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge or tightly wrap with plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to a month. Enjoy!