Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Summertime is grill time

Summer is coming - time to brush off the barbecue cover and get grilling! To many ex-pats, this is a uniquely US phenomena, associated with hot dogs, hamburgers and loads of ketchup. And traditional barbecuing - cooking meats, generally with some sort of sauce or rub, over low indirect heat for a long period of time - did indeed originate in the US south. But barbecue has evolved into so much more than that. From tiny portable grills you can use on your deck or take to the park to enormous professional grade outdoor kitchens, barbecue is a wonderful way to prepare a meal for two or twenty, and an easy way to entertain. Moving well beyond the basics, you can prepare anything from veggies to desserts on the grill - we've even had our Thanksgiving turkey cooked on it rotisserie style. That is a big bonus on a hot summer day, when the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven. There are many good, basic BBQ cookbooks to chose from, or simply search recipes and tips on-line. The head outdoor chef in our house particularly likes Weber's Big Book of Grilling.

If you live in an apartment, check with your leasing office; most do allow small BBQs on decks and patios, but there are exceptions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Aquarium of the Bay

We recently took out an annual membership to the San Francisco Zoo - partly because after two trips it more than pays for itself, and partly because the zoo membership offers discounted admission to a variety of other spots, one being the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39 in San Francisco. With a week of grey weather and visitors to entertain, we decided to give the aquarium a try.

After holding a membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium last year, I was perhaps not in the best position to evaluate, as comparing the two if really quite unfair. The Monterey aquarium is an amazing facility, one of the best in the world, and can easily consume an entire day. San Francisco's version, by contrast, is a about a one hour walk through. It has some nice features but for my money, I would certainly pay a bit more and visit the Monterey Aquarium. However, since we paid half price I was quite satisfied with our day. The aquarium is a not for profit, aimed at educating and advocating for our oceans and the life they support, and keeping this in mind helped keep my experience a good one. One bonus - we purchased the optional movie ticket ($3), and they let us stay and watch as many of the rotating series of 20 minute films as we liked - everything from cartoons about saving the ocean to the lives of sharks to the rebuilding of the Bay Bridge. The location is great too - if you are entertaining guests and making the obligatory stop at Pier 39, the aquarium offers a calm respite from the frenzy of the area.

We decided to skip the crowds and walked down to the Ferry Building for lunch afterwards - a great option anytime, but especially when you have a variety of palates you are trying to please.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Living in an Earthquake Zone

While most don't give it a passing thought on a day to day basis, we are all well aware that we are living in an earthquake zone. So it's only smart to educate yourself, take a few basic precautions, and be prepared...just in case. There are a few simple things anyone can do. One is to pick up a copy of the US government publication "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country". It provides some great tips you may not think about if you have never lived in an earthquake prone area -  things like securing your hot water heater and book shelves, making sure you store your bleach separately, and to avoid hanging pictures and light fixture directly above the beds. You can also pick up a grab and go emergency pack, or make you own. We have one stored in each of our cars as well as our home. Other things we've done to help feel a bit more in control? A family meeting spot, an out of state contact person and an old pair of shoes and a flashlight tied to the foot of all our beds; you do not want to have bare feet in the aftermath of an earthquake! We hope to never use any of it, but a few small steps are worth the effort.

The publication can be found on line at; for other useful links check out