Archive for October, 2008

Quick and Deilicious: Lemon Chocolate Chip Cake


Lemon chocolate chip cake without frosting

My mom’s lemon chocolate chip cake has been one of my favorites since I was a kid. The combination of lemon and chocolate go perfectly together, and my mom seems to always have a supply of cake mix on hand. It’s become one of Evan’s favorite cakes, too, so when faced with the prospect of bringing dessert to a friend’s house tonight, it was easy for us to settle on this tasty cake. I don’t know where my mom got her recipe, since she’s had it memorized for ages, but last night she wrote down the recipe and helped us out. Using a Cuisinart, we were able to mix all the ingredients together in about five minutes — the time it took the oven to heat up. I imagine mixing by hand would work just fine, only take a little longer.

Ingredients

  • 1 box Duncan Hines lemon cake mix (you can try other brands, but Mom says DH has the best lemon cake)
  • 1 box Lemon Jell-O Instant Pudding mix
  • 0.5 cups oil (canola or vegetable)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • Semi-sweet chocolate chips — about 1 to 1.5 cups, though you can really add as many as you’d like

Directions

Using a Cuisinart, start by blending the dry cake and pudding mixes. Add the oil and blend, then slowly add in the water. Mix in the four eggs until everything is well blended, then add the chocolate chips and mix them in. Pour the batter into a greased cake pan — we use a tall one with a hole in the middle. Bake in a preheated oven, if using convection, bake at 325 degrees, if just baking, bake at 350 degrees. Check the cake after 45 minutes and test to see if a cake tester comes out mostly dry. If not, bake another 5 minutes and retest. Our cake last night took 50 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes.

The cake tastes great on its own, but it looks much prettier with a coat of chocolate frosting. Also, the chocolate chips tend to sink to the bottom, though this creates a tasty chocolaty sort of crust and the cake will still taste delicious.


The cake with chocolate frosting — we’re done!

A Short Trip to Barcelona: Art, Architechture and Inspired Faux Poster Making

Once we were in London, we wanted to make our way over to Barcelona to visit Bernat and Miriam. We flew over on a Tuesday morning, and had to Leave by Thursday evening, but we made the most of our short trip.


Sitges

Once we got in, we took the train into the city since we were staying near Estacio Franca, and walked over to our hotel, the simple and modern Ciutat Barcelona. We had a leisurely lunch at Santa Caterina Market with Bernat, then headed out of the city to Sitges, a very pretty seaside town. The Sitges Film Festival was in full swing, and we had tickets to see Blindness, but after walking around town, getting food and drinks, and visiting with some friends who were also there, it turned out we had absolutely terrible seats in the enormous theater, so we decided to skip the 10:30 p.m. movie and just head back into town.


Ben Hur — in chocolate

The next day, Evan and I went to the Palau Musica to get tickets to the architectural tour, but they were sold out for the day. We bought tickets for Thursday morning, then relaxed in the beautiful cafe, amid flowery stained glass and ceramic pieces. Then we headed out to the Chocolate Museum, also in the Gothic District. The entry ticket was a chocolate bar (delicious), there were exhibits on how to make chocolate and the history of chocolate, and there were some impressive chocolate sculptures, like the choco Ben Hur. There was also a confectioner’s expo in the building next door, and we were able to snag some more delicious free chocolate.


Miro sculpture — doesn’t it look a bit like Evan?

Then we decided to head up to Mont Juic. We hopped on a bus to the funicular station, then went up the hill. Just a short walk away was the wonderful Fundacio Joan Miro, which had a huge collection of Miro’s work, including drawings from when he was a child, an incredible mercury fountain and enormous room-size pieces made just for the exhibition space. There was also a gallery dedicated to works inspired by Miro.


Mies van de Rohe Pavilion in the rain

After the Miro museum, we walked by the Olympic stadium and the art museum, and took a series of escalators down the mountain to end up at the Mies van de Rohe Pavilion. By this time it was raining, and we had to pay a bit to get into the small pavilion — which took about 3 minutes to get through. It’s a neat structure, characterized by lots of straight lines, and barely-there room designations, and there are two ponds, one of which has a nice statue in it, but other than a single white-upholstered Barcelona Chair, there wasn’t much else to see. It seemed like it should be a free or maybe 1 euro attraction.

From there, we headed across the street to the Caixa Forum. There were two exhibits going on — a small photo exhibit on motherhood around the world, and a much bigger, more interesting and more extensive exhibit of Alphonse Mucha’s work that featured a lot of classic theater posters as well as paintings and other works by the artist. There was also a room set aside for us to make our own Muchas, with poster templates, crayons, markers and cutouts. We chose to make a bit of a satirical poster, bringing Mucha’s feminine ideal into a grittier production, the show Westside Homie: From Goddess to Gangsta, complete with bling, bullets and stripper shoes. Maybe we had a bit too much fun.

The next day we toured the Palau Musica and were wowed by the beautiful concert hall, with its stained-glass sun skylight, tiara-like chandeliers around the palm tree pillars, and mosaic muses surrounding the stage. It was also incredibly bright and airy, with windows all along the sides. It was unlike any other concert hall I’d ever been in. I wish we could have seen a performance.

We spent the rest of our time walking around the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Gothic District. Evan bought ham, we celebrated Bernat’s birthday (happy birthday!) and we hopped on a plane back to London since we were heading back to California the next day.

Getting Out of London City Center: Oxford, Eltham and Chiselhurst

Oxford


Oxford

On our London trip, one of our goals was to actually spend time OUT of the city since we hardly ventured out when we were living there because we were so busy, and Evan wasn’t able to go with me to Oxford, Cambridge or Brighton. Our first day trip was to Oxford. We hopped on the Oxford Tube at Notting Hill Gate and less than two hours later, we were standing in the middle of Oxford’s High Street.


eBoy LA poster; photo from eBoy site

We started by going into the church right in the center of town and climbing up to a lookout point where we were able to see the whole city. Then we wandered by the Radcliffe Camera and the library, and stopped in at the Blackwell’s art and poster shop, where we bought a great poster of LA by eBoy. It had all sorts of LA landmarks, zombies, SWAT teams and more done up in a fun, colorful old-school arcade game style. The shop also had plenty of other cool posters, cards and books.


Christ Church College Quad

Then we went to visit Christ Church College, walked around town some more, and got gooey, warm and delicious cookies from Ben’s Cookies in the covered market. We also saw a whole, headless deer hanging from the wall. It was more than a little disturbing. There was also a goat in a similar position. We did, however, see some live deer in Magdalen College’s field, and had a nice walk around its pretty grounds, which are right on the river. It was too cold and rainy for punting, though.

Eltham Palace

My friend Janet invited us out to her neck of the woods — Bexleyheath — to see some of its sights, so we met her at the Eltham train station about 30 minutes outside of London, and went to visit Eltham Palace. The place is an Art Deco palace-turned war command center-turned historic site, built on the same spot as one of Henry VIII’s childhood home. It was rainy, so we didn’t get to tour the grounds and gardens much, but we did go through the many living rooms, bedrooms and funny exhibits on the family’s pet lemur, including not one, but two stuffed lemur dolls. We took along the free audio guides, but they proved excessively verbose. Though the segments would start off well and had plenty of interesting information, each room’s story seemed to last for ages. Thankfully, there were signs we could read, instead. I just wish the weather had been better and we could have had a picnic.

Chiselhurst Caves


Me with my oil lantern in the Chiselhurst Caves

After our morning in Eltham, Janet brought us over to the Chiselhurst Caves, man-made caves in a hill that were started 4,000 years ago by the druids, then continued by the Romans and the Saxons. The caves were used to house 15,000 people during the WWII air raids, and they currently host frequent role-playing events, though in a separate section from the main tour. Stil, you can’t help but notice the LARPers dressed in everything from caveman to wizard costumes as you pull up to the small visitor’s center.

We paid for a tour, and descended into the caves with a big group of people and a guide. We grabbed lanterns, since most of the caves don’t have lighting, and started our tour through the cold stone walkways. We passed by the church, the stage, lots of spots for triple-decker bunk beds, a druid altar, a well and a hospital. The guide told us about what life in the caves was like during the war, its mining history and its quite honestly creepy ghost stories. They also took us by a “cave monster” on our way out!


Chiselhurst Cave Monster

It was great to see a part of London we’d never experienced and get to some tourist sites that we’d never read about in our guidebooks — and that some Londoners don’t even know about. Thanks, Janet!

A Perfect Day in London: Art, Music and History

westminster abbey, London
Westminster Abbey

Our first whole day in London, Evan and I decided to do some touristy things we hadn’t gotten around to when we were living there. We started with a trip to Westminster Abbey. We were a bit turned off at the £12 entry fee to go into a church, but my parents had strongly recommended it, so we went ahead. Thankfully, that entry fee includes an audio guide that gives a great tour of the church. You can move from item to item on the tour without always stopping to punch in numbers, its segments are short and to the point, and there are extra info segments you can listen to if you want. It also has a full-color screen with titles and pictures of the things you’re seeing, and even a few videos about areas of the church that are inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. We were seriously impressed with the attention to detail, timing and the flow of the tour that was put into the place, which really helped us enjoy walking among the tombs of kings, queens and notable artistic and scientific figures.

Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square

Next we headed over to Trafalgar Square, where we noticed that St. Martin in the Fields was FINALLY free of scaffolding — we’d never seen it like that. We stopped in to check it out, and were surprised to find a concert rehearsal in progress. We sat down and listened to the small orchestra of about 15 musicians practice Mozart’s Requiem for a concert that evening. It sounded great, if a bit echoey in the mostly empty church, and we stayed for about 30 minutes. The free concert was a wonderful surprise.

Salvator Rosa, self portrait, from the National Gallery, London
Salvator Rosa, self portrait, from the National Gallery, London

Since we were already in Trafalgar Square, we decided to check out the National Gallery since Evan had never been and I’d only been on a rushed walk-through on the tail-end of my parents’ visit. They were holding an education program with artists leading drawing classes, and they were handing out pencils and paper at the information desk, so I grabbed one and went on a search for something to draw — next to a nice comfy couch for Evan to sit on. I didn’t join one of the bigger groups, but settled on Salvator Rosa’s self portrait, in which he looks like a pirate (though he was actually dressed like a scholar according to the information card). I would have worked on the drawing a bit longer, but the fire alarm went off, and we were evacuated.

Since the evacuation occurred right at closing time, we just headed up into Soho where we were meeting friends and grabbed drinks at the very cute new Las Iguanas on Dean Street before going to Gopal for an Indian dinner. We also made it to the last Tuttle Club at the Coach and Horses on Greek Street that morning, had a quick lunch at the yummy Just Falafs, which has a menu as punny as you would imagine, and warmed up with a hot chocolate break at Pret — they really have the most delicious hot chocolate.

Check out our photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

A Short Jaunt Back to London

Since Evan and I left London, I’ve wanted to go back. Luckily, we had tickets waiting for us (the last leg of the around-the-world trip plus our original return tickets). We thought we’d be using them over Thanksgiving, but since we’re still unemployed, we decided to move up the date and head out the first week of October.

We left what felt like summer in LA for what felt like winter in London — it was cold, rainy and windy. Thank goodness we remembered to bring our winter coats, though we should have brought hats, gloves and scarves, too. Still, despite the London chill, we were thrilled to be back in our temporary hometown and see all the friends we’d made.

We took the Heathrow Express into town, since we were staying right by Paddington Station, and started a new London adventure, where we mixed going to the sights we’d skipped over the first time around with catching up with our new friends and former co-workers. We even managed to sneak away to Barcelona for a few days to visit Bernat.

We’re back in LA now, but I’ll write more about our trip soon. Unfortunately, we didn’t take too many photos because it was so dreary out. But I may need to add on to my Top London Travel Tips guide with some of the cool things we did, like listen to an open orchestral rehearsal at St. Martin in the Fields and take a tour of the Chiselhurst Caves.

Oh, and check it out: Evan and I are front and center in the Tuttle Club photo on Tech Crunch UK since we went to the Social Media Cafe’s last meeting at the Coach and Horses. I wish I could be there now to check out their new meeting space at the ICA.

Check out our photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

Learning to Make Tamales in Vegas

Friday, Evan and I headed out to Vegas to visit his friend Adam, go to Adam’s girlfriend’s birthday party, and just get out of LA for a bit.

I never knew Vegas could be so relaxing: We stayed at Adam’s house, we only went into one casino, and we never drove down the strip. We had some relaxed dinners, made about 300 tamales for Rosie’s party, and learned how to make gourmet jello shots.

For me, making tamales was one of the high points of the weekend. I’d never made them before, and I was very happy to learn with Rosie’s family in the kitchen. We started with premade masa in giant bags, various meats (pork, beef and chicken, all cooked and seasoned before I arrived) and corn husks soaked in water.

We got into an assembly line: one person washed the corn husks to make sure they didn’t have any hairy tendrils left; another person made balls of masa into little pancakes, then put some meat in the middle, folded the pancake over and pinched the ends closed; another person took the finished masa-meat pockets and folded them into a corn husk, by first wrapping the husk around the sides of the mixture, then folding up the bottom of the husk, while leaving top end still open.

I stayed on husk-folding duty until it was time to make some veggie tamales — for those, we put strips of potato, carrot, green peppers and queso fresco in the masa pocket.

When the tamales were all prepared, we arranged them, open end up, in giant steamers on the stove, poured in boiling water, and steamed them for a few hours. Surprisingly, they stayed hot for hours after they were done cooking.

The tamales were a hit at the party, and we got some leftover veggie ones to bring home — thanks for the care package!

Note: I know I should just take my own pictures so I can stop staying this, but photos of the tamale-making process should be coming soon.