Saturday, March 30, 2013

San Francisco Zoo

On Friday I met up with my friend Ginny and her two boys at the San Francisco Zoo.  This was our (Clara and my) first time at this zoo and we liked it a lot.  The Oakland Zoo (which we went to just a few weeks ago) is pretty different so it was interesting to compare the two zoos.  I can't say that I like one better than the other - I liked that Oakland had elephants and asian sun bears but I liked that San Francisco had polar bears, hippos, and penguins.

One of the coolest things was seeing this mama kangaroo hopping around with a joey in her pouch.  I've never seen that before and it was fascinating. 

Me, Clara, Ginny, Max and Ollie.  I can't believe that when we first met Ollie was younger than Clara is now.  I remember playing board games with Ginny and Jason just a few days before Max was born and holding Max when he was just a few days old and now she is expecting their third baby.  We are excited for them and wish they still lived close by. 

Tigers are so beautiful.  But frightening.  This is the zoo where just a few years ago a tiger got out of his cage and mauled a visitor to death (but in the tiger's defense, the visitor he mauled was some thug kid who had been taunting the poor tiger). 

Who doesn't love penguins?  They have to be the cutest bird ever.  If I was an animal, maybe I would be a penguin.

Clara was obsessed with Ollie.  I brought her stroller but she mostly wanted to just be walking around chasing after Ollie and calling his name even though Max is closer to her in age (Max is about 8 months older than Clara I think). 

American River Otters - SO cute and fun.  Maybe I would be a river otter instead of a penguin. 

The baboon needed a nap - this was a yawn even though it looks like a roar. 

Clara is now officially obsessed with zoos and keeps asking for the "animals".

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Costco Afternoon

I just got back from a trip to Costco with Clara.  It is almost a weekly thing around here because we go through fruit like you wouldn't believe.  There were way more sample vendors present today than I have seen in a long time and Clara and I enjoyed ourselves strolling around trying all the different samples.  Here is what Clara liked:

  • marinated salmon
  • smoked sausages (she tried two of the four available flavors and asked for more)
  • pineapple slices
  • hawaiian roll
  • bacon
  • strawberry greek yogurt
  • cheese souffle
  • spinach dip on a whole wheat cracker
  • orange juice
  • madeleine
  • crepe with frozen berries and whipped cream
  • honey glazed ham

Here is what she didn't like:

  • pear cake (actually, this was right after the sausage station and she wouldn't even try it because she was too focused on getting more sausage)
  • english muffin with strawberry jam (she made a face at the jam)
  • soft goat cheese (she ate a little bit but made disgusted faces)
  • chinese chicken salad (she usually refuses foods that are too saucy so I wasn't surprised about this one)
  • au gratin potatoes (I have yet to see her eat potatoes of any kind - she spits them out every time in any form I give them to her)

By the time we got to the check-out line her cheek was smeared with blackberry juice and she had a greek yogurt mustache and madeleine crumbs down her front.  She then flirted with the grandpa behind us in line, which seemed to make his day.

I'm thinking we won't be needing dinner tonight.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Pinnacles National Park

Friday night as Paul and I were talking about what to do this weekend, he mentioned driving down to Pinnacles National Park, which is the newest (59th) national park in the U.S and the ninth national park in California.  It is only about 1 hour 40 minutes from us and was originally created as a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt back in 1908 under the Antiquities Act.  I had a very interesting chat with a ranger over lunch who explained that Pinnacles has been lobbying Congress for national park status for nine years and it was finally granted at the end of 2012 and officially became Pinnacles National Park on January 10, 2013 when President Obama signed the legislation. 
The ranger I talked with said that the primary reason for the name change (from monument to park) was for marketing purposes, in the hopes that more people will be drawn to Pinnacles now that it is a national park, but that there was no change to their funding or staffing or anything because the only difference between a national park and a national monument (other than the name) is the way the park was created.  National monuments are created solely through executive power (by the President of the United States) whereas national parks require legislative power through an act of Congress for their creation.  The ranger huffily explained that people seem to think that national parks are somehow "better" than national monuments and so they get more traffic and Pinnacles is hoping to see an increase in visitors now, thanks to the change of status.  Fascinating, right?  All of the park signs still say "monument" though, because they didn't get any extra funding to change all their signs and literature so they will have to do it piece-meal over the next few years.

Anyway, we LOVED Pinnacles.  We went on the most glorious hike I have been on in a while (maybe my favorite hike ever, even).  It was called the Bear Gulch Cave Trail and it was about 2.5 miles round trip (maybe a little less).  We saw rock climbers (we knew beforehand that Pinnacles is a really popular climbing spot) and a very few wildflowers (the impetus for our day trip was to see the wildflowers since this is the prime season for them but we learned once we got there that the park didn't get the rains this year that they normally do so there weren't nearly the number of flowers that they usually get), then we hiked through tunnels and caves where flashlights are required in order to get to the top of a reservoir where we ate a little picnic lunch of strawberries, string cheese, and protein bars. 

Clara enjoyed taking her sunglasses on and off.  And sometimes taking mine on and off too.

There were a number of areas where I had to crouch down and crawl with Clara but we managed just fine.  There is an alternate section that we didn't do which is even tighter and more like spelunking which we will have to try when she is older and can do it on her own rather than in a pack.

Paul was really looking for condors the whole time (this park is a sanctuary for them) but we never saw any, although he managed to point out half a dozen lizards to Clara.

The hiking backpack worked out really well, too.  We weren't sure how Clara would do since the last time we used it (in Yosemite last October) she hadn't been a huge fan but I think that she fits it better now that she is bigger so she can look out better and it is more comfortable for her.  I enjoyed carrying her in it because she played with my ponytail and gave me a shoulder massage most of the way.   

The pictures sort of look like slot canyons in southern Utah but the caves didn't feel like that - they were more damp and mossy with a little waterfall running through them.  We were a little concerned about how Clara would handle the hike through the caves but she LOVED it and babbled in my ear "dark! flashlight! water! rock! go!" (although on the way back she was SUPER tired because it was WAY past her nap time so the only thing Paul heard (since he carried her on the way down) was "home! home! home!" with an occasional "night-night! snooze!" for good measure so that we understood her message.

We started our hike around 11:30 and finished around 1:45, but that was with a nice long break at the reservoir.  Clara was asleep within 5 minutes of being in the car and we had a peaceful drive home.  If you are in the area, we absolutely recommend checking this place out because it was fabulous.  I can't wait to take my parents/sibs hiking here next time they come visit.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fresh Strawberry Cake (or Cupcakes)

I have had this recipe in my repetoire since about 2009 and in my opinion, these are the best strawberry cupcakes out there.  I have tried Sprinkles and Kara's and who knows how many other cupcakery strawberry cupcakes and for my taste, this recipe wins out every time.  Maybe other will agree with me, maybe they won't, but when I was asked to make a cake for a church function last night, I made this and I literally had around 8 people ask me for the recipe.  It calls for fresh strawberries and is the perfect solution when you have strawberries that are starting to wilt (or mold as long as you cut off all of the moldy parts). 

It just so happened that I had taken some pictures as I was making the cake with the thought that I might post the recipe to the blog since another friend had emailed me last week about getting the recipe.  The recipe is adapted from a blog that was taken down a few years ago and I am SO glad I copied down the recipe when I did.  Anyway, if you try these, please let me know how they turn out!  I have only made it as a cake once (last night) and I could see it being a little trickier in that format, whereas making this recipe as cupcakes is a little easier.  The two primary reasons are that the cake doesn't rise much (you won't have round-domed cupcakes) and the frosting can be tricky (you mix fresh strawberries with sugar and the juices start flowing and all of a sudden you end up with a strawberry glaze instead of a frosting) and if you don't get it stiff enough it will just run down the sides of your cake, so keep that in mind. 

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups mashed strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare either cupcake pans with cupcake liners or two cake pans with a piece of parchment paper, cooking spray, and flour in the bottom.  In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add buttermilk, oil and vanilla, mixing well and scraping sides of bowl.  Add dry ingredients and stir just until combined, then fold in strawberries. 

Pour into prepared pans/cupcake liners and bake for 30-35 minutes (for a cake) or 20 minutes (for cupcakes).  Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting with strawberry frosting (or just plain cream cheese frosting would be work too).

Strawberry Frosting

1/4 cup butter, room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese (I use the low-fat kind with no problems)
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp coconut extract
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup mashed strawberries (I used 3 medium/large strawberries and after mashing I pressed a paper towel on them to soak up some of the excess juice before adding it to my other ingredients)

Mix butter and cream cheese with a hand mixer until smooth, then add lemon juice, vanilla, coconut extract and powdered sugar and mix well.  Drain any extra juice off the strawberries (it is okay if there is some juice, you just don't want to get your frosting too runny and the strawberries touch the sugar, they will release more juice than you will already see) and add to the frosting, beating until completely incorporated.  Frost completely cooled cupcakes.

Seriously, this is SO superior to any boxed strawberry cake mix.  I don't have anything against cake mixes (and use them on a regular basis if truth be told) but I NEVER, ever by strawberry cake mix because this strawberry cake is so worth the extra effort.  I suppose if you wanted a really pink cake, you could also add some red food coloring, but I have never bothered with that.   

Unfortunately, I was running late to finish the cake and didn't take a picture of it once it was complete.  I made it home with just a little slice left over for Paul and Clara and took a picture in the terrible lighting last night, but here you go:

Oh, and I added up all of the ingredients and if you make 24 cupcakes, then there will be around 265 calories per cupcake (including frosting).  In case you care to know.  :)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Disneyland 2013

We just got back from a fun weekend at Disneyland with my parents.  When a friend offered us two free 2-day park hopper passes through a sibling who works at Disney, we couldn't refuse, and when my parents heard that we were going they jumped at the chance to see us (but mostly Clara) at the happiest place on earth.     
Paul was able to work a half-day on Thursday and then it was a quick 5 1/2 hour drive down to Anaheim where we met my mom and dad.  Clara didn't go to bed before 9:30 p.m. any of the three nights we were there and she woke up earlier than usual, so she was pretty tired a lot of the time but whenever she got sleepy she just asked to "snooze?" and we would lay her down in the stroller with her blankie and her pacifier (she had an overdose of pacifier this weekend and we are paying the price now since this is the week we decided to take it away for good and she is miserable without it) and she would settle right down and nap there in the park while my parents and Paul and I took turns riding grown up rides like Splash Mountain or Soarin' Over California.  Clara woke up in the middle of the night one night while we were there and kept hearing someone (I won't name names) snoring.  She was convinced the sound was not snoring and kept saying "toot! toot!" over and over with each snore.  I was shaking so badly trying to control my laughter as I stroked her hair to help her fall back asleep.

Clara LOVES Minnie Mouse.  But somehow she has decided that Daisy is her favorite (her underpants have both Minnie and Daisy on them and Clara always points out Daisy first - that's how I know).  We never saw Daisy though, but we saw Donald a couple of times and that was exciting for Clara too.

Clara has only seen two Disney movies - Cinderella and Peter Pan.  So it was fun when we met Cinderella right at the entrance of the park on Day 1.  Clara was worried about what was happening and wouldn't smile, but she did manage to say "'Rella" and give her a hug.

You can tell by her face that she was already starting to lag here in line for the Peter Pan ride and we had practically just started our day.  She melted down on the Dumbo ride right after this and promptly took her first nap of the day after that while the rest of us rode Matterhorn and Space Mountain.

We spent a little time in Toontown and Clara really enjoyed playing in Minnie's house.  In fact, now I wish we had spent more time in there just letting Clara wander and enjoy herself.  She particularly liked playing in Minnie's kitchen - maybe because it was so cute and had so many fun things to look at, but also we play pretend kitchen together a lot so she knows what she is doing in there. 

This is Blake - Clara's little friend whose mom is the one who hooked us up with the free Disney passes via her sister.  His birthday was on St. Patrick's Day so he is 2 months and 2 days older than Clara and they had fun playing with Minnie's dishwasher together.

Paul and Clara had exited Minnie's house before me and were taking photos together when I came out of the house.  Clara took this picture (with Paul's help but Clara is the one who had her eye to the viewfinder) of me taking a picture of her on my phone. 

Clara clung pretty tight when meeting Mickey but she did give him a kiss on his nose.

Easily Clara's favorite ride in the park was "It's a Small World".  We went on it both days and she loved it each time.  She would point at different dolls in different lands and ooh and ahh over the different scenes we passed.

Clara did NOT like the Jungle Cruise this time around, which was a bummer.  Really she was just overly tired when we went on it.

Paul and I LOVE rollercoasters and California Screamin' is a great one.  Does anybody actually buy these pictures?  Because everybody we saw was doing the same thing we did which was to just snap a picture of the picture using their phones.
The park was a lot more crowded on Day 2 (Saturday) but we still got a lot in.  Clara was funny about wearing her mouse ears that we got for her on our first trip to Disneyland with her last July. 

We hung out by this waterfall feature in California Adventure while my parents waited in line for Fast Passes for the Radiator Springs ride in Carsland.  I don't have a picture from that ride but I liked it a lot more this time than last year. 

My parents are so cute. 

Clara met the height requirement for the Autopia ride!  Too bad she hated it.  Seriously, she cried the entire time.  She was smiling for this photo in front of the height marker though.

"It's a Small World" - Round 2.

One last highlight for Clara was the parade on Saturday afternoon.  She danced to the music and was fascinated by the characters and the dancers. 

It was such a nice weekend and so much fun to get away and just spend time together.  And Disneyland is always a good idea.