Monday, December 22, 2014

Mele Kalikimaka from the Brookses!

Happy Holidays from Kauai!

It's been a busy and fun-filled year for the Brookses, leading to some big changes coming our way.  Those of you on Facebook may have followed the excitement day-by-day, but for the rest, we'll give you the year in review.

2014 started off as a relatively stable year.  We started our third year in Oakland, where we've been living in the same apartment for 2 1/2 years.  Scott continued working at Nestle Dreyer's Ice Cream.  No big news.  All of this normalcy did give us the opportunity to indulge in our favorite passtime - travel!  The Michigan State Spartans gave us a reason to start 2014 with a trip to Pasadena to watch them play (win) in their first Rose Bowl since January of 1988.  So after spending Christmas exploring central Oregon, we drove down south to meet friends John, Emma, Jim, and Laura to ring in the new year and watch some football.

The next six months went by close to home, where we passed the fairly warm and dry California winter exploring lots of local hikes, venturing to Yosemite for Easter weekend, and gearing up for a much busier summer calendar.  Scott was slated to travel to Nestle headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland in June for two weeks of training.  So we made plans to have Caroline meet up with Scott afterward in Prague for another 10 days in Europe, giving us the chance to see a bit of Central Europe, mostly Prague and Budapest - both new territory for us.  We had a wonderful time in these two very distinct cities, and as always look forward to going back to keep exploring new places.

Soon after returning home, Caroline was back on a plane to Michigan to visit family and see both of our parents' new homes in the Detroit area.  Scott was able to join for a weekend as well.  It was great to be back in Michigan to see everyone after a two year hiatus.  The week after that, it was off to Albuquerque for a whirlwind "business" trip tending to our rental home as we saw some new tenants move in.  Another place we wish we could make it back to more often.  Late September gave us another opportunity to visit much of the Brooks family, as we gathered in Massachusetts to attend the exquisite wedding events of Scott's cousin Kyle and his new bride Kristen.  New England was another part of the world in which we hadn't spent much time, so we took advantage of our trip east to travel up to New Hampshire and Maine to see the autumn colors and enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the region's famous parks (Franconia Notch, Baxter, Acadia).

Now to the big changes.  In November, Scott discovered an exciting opportunity to work for Nestle's Nespresso division, which is headquartered in Manhattan.  In no time, Scott found himself interviewing in New York, and accepting an offer shortly thereafter.  So by early February of 2015, we'll be moving to NYC to start a new adventure on the east coast!  

With a move from the Pacific Coast imminent, we thought we'd better take advantage of our proximity to Hawaii for one last 2014 trek.  We're sending this year's note on a rainy morning from our oceanfront hotel in Wailua, Kauai.  Even though it's raining, don't feel too bad for us - the sun is scheduled to come out soon :-)

Best wishes to all for a wonderful holiday season, and a happy, healthy new year!  And of course - let us know if you make it to NY in 2015!

Caroline & Scott

As always, proof that we're not getting any cheesier in our old age - it's just our way...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Happy Halloween!

November 1, 2014
Oakland, CA

For the past four years, in celebration of each Halloween since we've returned to California, we've attended the costume party thrown by our friends Dominique and John at their home in Oakland.  Scott is, bar none, the best at coming up with costume ideas that are creative, fun, reasonably easy to execute, not break-the-bank expensive and (usually) easily identifiable to others.  For some reason, though, the costumes he comes up with frequently involve me dressing up as a man, and usually a rather unattractive one, at that.  I gave up fighting it long ago. It's easier just to go with it. (Besides, it makes me look like a good sport!)  

This year, we decided to go as members of the '80s new wave band Devo, famous for their 1980 hit 'Whip it,' not to mention their signature red, energy dome hats (which we had to order from the official Devo fan website).  It's fun wearing something that looks like an upside-down flower pot on your head!

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!

Every year, Dominique really pulls out all the stops with the decorations and food, including a fair amount of jello formed in Halloween-themed molds.  And as if that's not enough, she, John and their daughter always dress up in a creative and well-executed family costume.  Sadly, this was the first year that their adorable daughter, now 12, refused to dress in costume with her parents.  This was also the first year that S'Barkles the dog did not dress in costume.  All good things must come to an end, I suppose.

Our hosts, as Ray Rice and his abused wife
It’s really a kid’s party but all the parents come as well and everyone dresses up.  The kids are cute and there are always at least a few adults dressed in amusing, current pop culture-themed costumes.  

Vanessa, as the evil Cersai Lannister from the popular TV show 'Game of Thrones,' complete with own costume-appropriate wine goblet
Every year, one of the favorite party activities among the kids is always bobbing for doughnuts (suspended from strings on a beam on the patio).  I think some of the adults wonder when they are going to get a chance to play! 

Preparing to bob for doughnuts. 
Disclaimer: these doughnut pics are from 2012.  One really doesn't need photos of kids trying to eat doughnuts without using their hands every single year...
Coincidentally, this year was the tenth anniversary of their first Halloween party, just as it was the tenth anniversary of our now-infamous, blow-out Halloween bash before we sold the house and headed for Mexico.  Although John and Dominique are new friends since our return to the Bay Area whom we did not know ten years ago, by pure chance, they picked up right where we left off, throwing their first party the same year we had our last!.  It was a bit of a bittersweet milestone for me, especially as I had wanted to have an anniversary party commemorating that long-ago night that friends still talk about.  But Dominique and John’s party was more fun than ever this year, definitely proving to be a worthy and fun distraction that allowed us to get our Halloween fix!  

Now, to start thinking about next year's costumes...hmm, hoping to be able to reuse that Devo whip we bought for my costume this year...

More photos:
Scott's energy dome vodka jello "shot" before it completely collapsed
The annual pre-party photo at home

Things might have gotten a little out of hand with the Devo whip...

The bowl of collapsed energy dome vodka jello we brought to the party was a bigger hit than anticipated, especially considering that we had no shot glasses...
This friendly hombre kindly lent me one of the shot glasses from his bandolier
Just another Devo photo op

Playing with the creepy decorations...
Aaaaaannnnd, another successful Halloween is in the books!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Grabishfarm Mulefoot Hog Farm-to-Fork Dinner

October 12, 2014
Dixon, CA

This past weekend, we had an opportunity to attend a farm-to-table event at Grabishfarm, a small working farm just outside Sacramento that specializes in heritage hogs, goats and guinea hens, along with ducks, turkeys and various other fowl.  

The dinner was put on in conjunction with two Oakland restaurants - the chefs from Chop Bar and Lungomare prepared the amazing dishes with food that came from the farm - along with Field Recordings Winery.  As a bonus, a shuttle bus was provided from Oakland to the farm in Dixon! 

Ready to depart for the farm from Jack London Square
Upon our arrival at the farm, we were met with flutes of bubbly and invited to tour around the farm, visiting with the animals and mingling with the other guests.

Here's to Grabishfarm!
Amy, who owns and operates the farm with her husband Larry, was a fantastic hostess!  She poured wine, took guests on tours and happily answered any questions that people had about the farm and the food, all while seeming totally friendly and relaxed in the midst of putting on this event for a large group of strangers.  Amy's parents, who came from Pennsylvania to attend the dinner, were quite hospitable as well, ensuring that no one's glass was ever empty and just being generally friendly, enjoyable and host-like, making everyone feel as welcome and at-home in the farm environs as the animals themselves.

The goat area at Grabishfarm
The tables, placed in a single long row, were elegantly set with down-to-earth organic details such as a single quail feather attached to each menu card, flatware bundled and tied with jute and a sprig of thyme, burlap table runners, and benches created from hay bales covered in burlap sacks in lieu of traditional chairs. So festive and fun!

Putting finishing touches on the table
I had wanted to attend this sort of farm-to-table dinner for quite some time and was thrilled when this opportunity arose.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect but the entire event definitely surpassed my expectations.  The animals were friendly and fun, living in a pleasant, free-range environment amongst the eucalyptus trees.  

Um, Scott?  There's someone nibbling your hair...
The farm's heritage guinea hens and friends
Making friends with Frances the Standard Donkey and her equine pal
The food, from the tomato/watermelon and green salads and goat cheese and pate with homemade bread to the roasted-beet-and-faro salad with duck morsels and Mulefoot Hog porchetta, was all outstanding and the various wines provided a nice accompaniment to the meal.  
Are we in France...or Dixon, CA?  Best. Pate. Ever.
A salad of organic chicories, pears, candied almonds and freshly made goat cheese
Mulefoot Hog porchetta

After dinner, there was a generous selection of dessert wines and we especially enjoyed a bourbony-tasting brandy, while lingering at the table beneath the strands of tiny white lights, as dusk turned to darkness.

More photos:
We received a warm welcome at the farm
Here's to you, my tasty friends!

One of Grabishfarm's heritage Fainting Goats

Scott's always making friends wherever he goes...
The hogs so good they got a farm-to-table dinner named after them!
Tim the goat, taking a break from hangin' with his Mulefoot pal, Boss Hog
Frances, the Standard Donkey
Talking about melons, in the vegetable patch.  I'm not sure I trust these two...
The table, located beyond the vegetable patch beneath the trees

Ready to eat!
Perfectly seasoned chicharrones to start.  Pro-tip: they taste even more amazing with a little dab of the pate spread on top...
Thank you for an amazing evening, Grabishfarm!
The brandy was so good, we decided to take some to-go for the ride home...
Grabishfarm, we love you!