Saturday, July 26, 2008

Barking at Fisherman's Wharf

A chorus of deep, raspy barking drew me towards Pier 39. Captivated onlookers lined the dock railings, three-deep, and craned their necks for maximum views of the massive sea lions. More than a dozen basked in early morning sun, paying no attention to gulls that occasionally landed in their midst.

As I watched from a less crowded boardwalk across the inlet, I realized my position minimized the stench I'd heard these enormous sea mammals created. But the distance that saved my nose also hampered my view. I could not see them very well until I attached the telephoto lens to my camera. The raucous barking continued as I snapped away, capturing the sheen of their wet hides and laziness of their seaside naps.

Not until I looked at my pictures later did I realize the sea lions had totally ignored the sign that said 'No Docking.'

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Texas-Shaped Chocolate

Sometimes food is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. Such was the case at Westin La Cantera Hotel, in San Antonio. One evening a culinary gift arrived that blew us away with its detail and inventiveness.

A nearly photographic image of the hotel property had been transferred to the removable top of a white chocolate 'box,' which was full of white and dark chocolate truffles, and iced and jellied sugar cookies. Fresh strawberry halves and dark chocolate drizzles decorated the plate, providing visual contrast to the Texas-shaped confection.

The idea that this was too pretty to eat didn't last long - nor did the chocolate.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bugs' Best Carrot Cake

Many years ago, I worked as a part-time cook in a small nonprofit restaurant called Franklin Coffee Shop that was created to serve and support the low income neighborhood in which it operated. The previous cook was legendary for his dishes, including a fantastic carrot cake that I adopted immediately upon taking over his kitchen.

Particularly as I've begun developing more recipes, I've made a number of adjustments to Terry Woodbury's original recipe and created my own version. I've turned it into cupcakes and 9 x 13 cakes many times, but it had been quite awhile since I tackled a two-layer cake, holding my breath as I waited for each layer to drop - fully intact - from its buttered and floured pan. Still a touch warm and adorned with cream cheese icing, it was gorgeous and delicious.

Here's the recipe:

Lisa's Carrot Cake


2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 ounces crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups grated carrots (tip: start with approximately 2 1/2 cups cut carrots)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped fine

Combine all ingredients thoroughly except carrots and walnuts, and then add these ingredients, blending well. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan or two, eight-inch layer pans or use cupcake papers (makes 15-16 large cupcakes). Pour batter in pan and bake 40-45 minutes in a 350-degree oven (20-25 minutes for cupcakes). When cake reaches room temperature, top with:

Cream Cheese icing:

1/2 box powdered sugar
1/2 stick butter
1/2 package (4 ounces) cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange juice (or milk)
1/2 cup walnuts, optional

Allow butter and cream cheese to soften and then cream together with powdered sugar. Add orange juice to thin slightly and vanilla. Combine until thick and creamy. Spread on cooled cake. (tip: Leftover icing will keep in the refrigerator for another dessert, perhaps with cocoa or other flavoring added before you use it)

Dynamic Dance

Chants and drumming filled the air with haunting melodies as the New Dawn Native Dancers created a glorious spectacle of color, movement and enthusiasm. Though only three years old, Quentin Stout, of the Chickasaw and Otoe tribes, performed in the troupe of children, age 3 to 18, as if he'd danced since birth. His nine-year-old brother, Steven Stout, Jr., demonstrated grace and dignity with every step.

The group was only one of many that perform during the Indian Art Market held at Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kansas, each fall. The market brings together hundreds of American Indian/Alaska Native artists who sell exquisite sterling jewelry, one-of-a-kind drums, paintings, and kachinas for two days, on the college campus. Thousands of visitors also enjoy enormous Indian tacos, freshly squeezed lemonade and other treats.

But it is in the arena where Native American participants give visitors a glimpse of their lives through dance, storytelling, and silversmithing and pottery demonstrations. The modern world recedes within moments, as history repeats itself through dedicated performance.