Monday, April 27, 2009

Cake at 4700 feet!

Cake at 4700 feet! And it came out perfectly. Baking at altitude doesn’t just entail adjustments in temperature and time in the oven. Cakes and breads can come out like hockey pucks. I bought Pie in the Sky Successful Baking at High Altitudes by Susan G Purdy quite awhile ago and finally after being in the house for over 3 weeks I baked a cake. We were without an oven until moving. The cookbook is very cool. The author baked each recipe at sea level, 3000 ft, 5000 ft, 7000 ft and 10000 ft. With lots of trial and error she determined the very precise measurement changes of ingredients and adjustments for each recipe. The adjustments required include increases in liquid or flour or baking soda/powder or using buttermilk instead of milk to increase the acidity of the batter. Since I don’t have an oven thermometer I am not sure of the temperature of our new oven. I made the conversion from Fahrenheit to Centigrade and kept my fingers crossed that it would work. I was worried up until the first bite. We have a beautiful devils food cake with chocolate mocha frosting. Well, here’s what’s left of it. Norm wasn’t fast enough with the camera.

I am going to bake more from her book before I try to adjust some of our favorite cake, cookie, and brownie recipes.

CARS

We’ve been having lots of vehicle troubles. The Galloper has been in the shop for 2 weeks and it will be another 2 weeks. The engine is being rebuilt because coolant water got into a couple cylinders. We’ve learned that most people here do not use coolant (anti-freeze) in their radiators which causes multiple problems.

We also have a Silverado pick-up that we bought from a young man who drove it here form Colorado. He basically beat the hell out of it. Fortunately we bought it at a good price, since we have had many major repairs. Some of the repairs we have had done twice since the Chevy dealer here was a major rip-off. This week the rear shaft bearing went out on it, so we were without both cars for two days. Our mechanic scrambled to get a replacement and got it back to us quickly.

PLUMBING

We had a flood! One of the risers in the master bath sink let go. Luckily we were home and caught it before any damage to furniture etc. Norm used the wet/dry shop-vac to pick up about 5 or 6 gallons of water in the master bath and master bedroom. We have ceramic tile floors everywhere, so it didn’t damage the floors. The box spring got a little wet, since it is still on the floor (until we get the rest of our shipment) but it quickly dried on the veranda in the sun. Juan Carlos and Carlos (the foreman) went through the house and have replaced most of the risers. It turns out that some of them are not stainless steel but an inferior pot metal, prone to letting go under pressure. Again we are so happy that we have such a great builder. He is making things right that are problematic.

THE CASITA, ETC.

The casita ceiling is done ceramic tile has been laid, is being grouted this today and the exterior is painted. Windows and doors are being fabricated in San Ramon.
The cement sidewalk to the casita is done and they are working on concrete parking pad in front of our garage today. We have an iron gate at the entry to our property, and we hope to have the opener installed this week.

LANDSCAPING

We got more grass last week. The additional sod should help keep the exposed ground from blowing around. Rafael, our landscaper, likes to bring me plant gifts. He got my number right away! He brought me a dozen lantana and another dozen coleus. We also had him plant 50 hibiscuses that will serve as a windbreak along the north side of the house. They’ll form a thick hedge and the height can be easily maintained.

SNAKE


I thought Norm was being a bit anal when he asked me to leave the sliding screen doors either completely open or closed when the glass doors are closed. The other morning there was a small snake in the house right by one of the sliding doors. Another tropical experience! The best we can determine is that it got between the screen and the door, and when I opened the door in the morning it came right in. I think it was a littersnake, although we didn’t take a lot of time indentifying it before shoveling it outside. It was 15-18 inches long and about as thick as an index finger. Definitely not a poisonous snake. Because of our high elevation, there are few if any poisonous snakes here. Norm was too busy getting it out of the house to take its picture.

Fred (AKA Houdini)


Fred has been giving us fits. He’s been climbing out of the safe fenced area! Fortunately we’ve been to get him back inside. We’ve made multiple modifications to the fence, but he keeps figuring it out. So for now, we’re keeping an eye on him when he’s outside, and bringing them both in at night. We’ll be posting a blow-by- blow account when we finally have him secure. SOON, we hope!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We're in the house!

We are in the house. We have been in for three weeks and have finally finished unpacking most of our stuff. The first load of stuff anyway. Most of our shipment from Bainbridge is still in storage in San Jose. We’ll get the rest once the casita is finished in about 3 weeks. We purchased a table and chairs and a sofa and side chair for the casita on Craig’s list. It will be easier to not have everything in the house.

Norm got the ice maker hooked and installed up the other day. He spent a day and a half installing it and the trim kit around the freezer and refrigerator. It looks great. He had to make some modifications to the trim kit and the upper cabinets to make it all work. Nothing is simple or straightforward here.



Except for hanging artwork on the walls when we get our container, the master bath is completely finished. It’s huge; vanity cabinet with two sinks, large open shower, Jacuzzi, toilet, and bidet. The big window over the Jacuzzi opens to a completely private yard –no need for curtains anywhere in the house.

We had a couple of unseasonal downpours about a week after we moved in. We found quite a few roof leaks caused by some screws which weren’t properly installed. We knew that the dormers were not yet adequately sealed and they too were leaking. The next day the roofers were back and fixed all.
The following day we had rain again and found one missed screw and a new leak. Those have been fixed and we are hoping for another rain soon to test it before the rainy season. The house is really beautiful and we are very pleased. It will be nice to have all of our furniture and rugs.


We are anxious to do more landscaping. The exposed areas are a constant source of dust and grit, even in the house. We are about a month away from the “green season” (read 9 feet of rain last green season). Starting some time in May we’ll have afternoon rains. The rain will keep the dust down and also make it much easier to plant. The afternoon rain continues until September when the length of rain increases. September and October are the rainiest months. The rain then tapers off through November and December leading to the next dry season.

The cats have been very happy in their new outside home. They haven’t been very interested in lap time, since it is much more exciting to be outside in the dark. The birds wake us up at about 4:45 each morning. Today when I rolled over to go back to sleep I saw a small animal on the front veranda. It took me but a couple of seconds to recognize Fred. I jumped out of bed and was out the door instantly. He was trying to figure out how to get down the steep bank to go after the birds. After about five minutes I was able to get him to come to me and grab him. Norm was inside their enclosed area looking for a gap or a tear in the fence. Once Fred was back in he climbed the mesh fence and was about to go over it again when Norm grabbed him. Foiled by Mr. Houdini again! On Bainbridge the mesh fence worked without a problem. We think the difference is in the stiffness of it. Norm has spent a couple of hours researching and designing the next level of security fencing. Tomorrow we’ll have to get the new solution built. In the meantime, the cats are in the house.

Another orchid on my branch is in bloom. The pale yellow blossoms disappear. We had to hold a t-shirt behind the plant to make them more visible. Here is a photo of one of the bromeliad blooms from above.



We have some trees on the one edge of the property that a keel-billed Toucan finds attractive. We’ve seen him/her out there several times. This one is about 20 inches long, including its five to six inch bill. Norm took this telephoto shot without a tripod, and its not as clear as we'd like. Hopefully we’ll get better photos in the future.