Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Happy Birthday

It's my son's birthday today. It is hard to believe that 10 years have already gone by!

This is the first time he told me that he will not want to throw a birthday party...he doesn't want me to be busy preparing for the party and cleaning up after it is over. How thoughtful of him :)

I offered to make a durian mousse cake for him, since he loves this fruit and I have been waiting for an occasion to try out this recipe. He told me to bake something else as his younger brother hates durians. In the end, we decided to make a mango mousse cake.

On Sunday night, we had a mini-party with just the four of us to celebrate the occasion. The birthday cake was made with layered sponge cake filled with mango mousse. I baked the sponge layer using this recipe which has became my favourite. I made the mousse layer following this recipe shared by Florence. Instead of decorating the cake with whipping cream, I made a mirror layer using a mixture of mango cordial, water and gelatin powder. As requested by the birthday boy, we left the cake plain, without any decoration. We loved the taste of the cake...especially the mousse layer which was very delicious. It was a joy to watch the boys wiped out every single crumb on their plates. My husband helped himself with another bigger slice before we could finish ours!

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Close to Nature

"None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree."...John Muir

"Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."...John Muir

Well, we did not have the luxury of time, nor the physical strengths to spend an entire week at the wilderness...we could only afford two days...and we tried our very best to make full use of it.

It was late morning by the time we entered the park. We had a light lunch...made up of simple sandwiches and light the beautiful Tenaya Lake. We then stopped over at the Olmsted Point. It took me a while to figure out the rounded back view of the Half Dome from this scenic vista point. After making a couple of stops along the way, by late afternoon, we made out way out of the park, as the only accommodation that we could find...or rather we could afford, was about an hour's drive away from the park entrance at the town of Mariposa.

The next day, we head back to the park and drove straight up to the Glacier point. We were all very excited when we got to the trail head for the Sentinel Dome. It is a very easy trail except for the very last few metres up to the granite dome itself.

We came across this rock formation on the trail, from a distance I thought it really looked like the side view of a giant's head...the 'eye', 'nose' and 'chin' are so prominent!

My elder boy enjoyed the walk as he loves anything that has got to do with science...he stopped by to examine this tree trunk...and trying to 'count' how old the tree had lived. He was smart enough to give up within a few seconds!

Along the way, we saw this interesting puzzle-like bark of a Ponderosa pine...and even spotted a deer...

We felt like we were on top of the world when we finally reached the peak. The 360 degree views of the valley at this 'watch-tower' were simply awesome!

We went on to enjoy a picnic lunch at the Glacier Point...

and were delighted to have company...

At the Glacier Point, you get to see the most spectacular views of the entire Yosemite Valley...cut and sculpted into this U-shaped valley by mother nature.

Besides the magnificent granite formation, Yosemite is also the home to several waterfalls...

We ended our trip with a strenuous hike up to the footbridge of the Vernal Fall footbridge, before the long drive back to the San Francisco bay area.

We drove a total of 1500km on this 4-day road trip...hiked several miles on different trails and took many pictures and video clips. Most importanly, we brought home a lasting memory of the wonderful times we spent as a family.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

On the Road Again

Whenever we are on a self-drive vacation, I am always the one performing multi-tasking along the way. Besides being the 'human-version' of the neverlost GPS navigation system, I have to double up as the camera man, offer my assistance whenever my kids have problem struggling to unwrap the assortments of snacks and 'feeding' my husband with tibits and drinks. I even have to make a constant effort to strike up a conversion just to make sure the driver doesn't doze off on the wheels! Luckily, gone were the days we had to stopped by the road to do emergency diaper changing. Anyway, I pretty much enjoyed the tasks so long that I don't have to do the driving!

Unlike our past road trips, it was quite peaceful at the back of the car this time round. I don't know whether to be thankful to the Gameboys and PSP which kept the boys so engaged and busy with..but somehow I missed the songs, silly jokes, gigglings, and the occasional squabbles that kept us occupied during the entire journey on our past driving trips. I think I have to make it a point not to bring any of these electronic devices on our next trip.

The night before, we were still discussing on the best route for our drive from Lake Tahoe to the Yosemite National Park. We only managed to decide on a route during breakfast just before leaving the motel. I opted for an easier route via Highway 395 all the way, instead of taking the more scenic route via Highway 89 which would take a much longer time. As such, I thought there wouldn't be much to expect during this 3 to 4 hrs drive to our destination.

I was wrong. In fact, we were met with the most beautiful scenery along the way once we hit highway 395 just minutes after leaving Lake Tahoe...

just look at the Sierra Nevada (Spanish for "Snowy Range") mountain range at the far distance...

fields dotted with cows gracing in the morning sun...

and could you believe that all the above photos were taken while the car was moving at a speed of about 100km/h? It has got nothing to do with the camera...the scenery is just so stunning that anyone can snap a postcard-perfect picture along the way.

It was late morning before we reached Mono Lake...

and soon we were on our way to the entrance of the Yosemite park...

the views got more and more spectacular along the Tioga Pass road (which only opens end May to October).

At an elevation of getting close to 3000m, I tried to force my ears to 'pop' while at the same time keeping my eyes fixed to the spectacular views ahead...

Although it was freezing cold, we had to pull over by the road when we saw this lake. The place was so tranquil and serene...

it was a bliss to be able to stand by the lake just to enjoy this breathtaking scenic view of the whole area. Although we were at this spot for not more than 10 mins, the memory of this place will stay on for a long long time.

This little segment of our entire road trip truly fits in to the saying "the journey is the destination".

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Lake Tahoe (Part 2)

On the second day of our road trip, we spent the entire day driving around the scenic Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America. The evening before, my little one declared that he would be able to 'walk' around the lake. Little did he know that Lake Tahoe is actually more than half the size of Singapore, with a maximum length of 35km and width of 19km. It is also interesting to know that the lake is at an elevation of almost 1900m above sea level. When I saw those road signs stating the altitude of the area, I wondered how tricky it would be to bake at such high altitude? The first time I got to know that there is something known as 'high altitude baking' was when I bought my first box of Betty Crocker's brownies pre-mix many years back. Apparently, with the differences in air pressure, recipes meant for 'sea-level baking' have to be adjusted if you are living at high altitude. Well, I guess I will never have the chance to try it as I don't foresee myself moving to anywhere higher than 100m above sea level. Anyway, I have digressed ;)

I have to confess that I didn't really pay much attention when it came to planning our driving tour around Lake Tahoe. I did read up on Lake Tahoe before leaving for our vacation, but it was nothing, compared to the in-depth study of the various hiking trails available at the Yosemite. So, while we were having breakfast, we did some last minute search on the internet, hoping to get some idea how to spend the day. As with all last minute work, we didn't had much luck finding what we were looking for. In the end, we drove off with just a map on hand and with the only thing I remembered from the guide book...that is, to start driving from the western shore, making a clockwise loop around the lake.

After stopping by a few vista points for some photo taking, we pulled over the side of this beach, known as Sunnyside. We were drawn by the beautiful blue water and I was delighted to discover the beach was covered with pebbles.

I started clicking away on the camera while the boys amused themselves by throwing handful of pebbles into the water. It was a shame that we only had an idiot proof camera with us...I tried taking several shots of the whole area hoping I could 'stitch' them up to form a panoramic photo when I got home.

If not for the freezing cold breeze, we would have stayed a little longer here.

We continued our drive and shortly, we reached Tahoe city, at the northern shore. We stopped over at a parking area to get our bearings, after which I stepped out of the car to have a look around...and I spotted this gorgeous sculpture right next to the parking lot.

For over a hundred years, a 120-ft Jeffry Pine (known fondly as the Big Tree by the locals) marked the centre of the town. After it's passing in 1994, a section of the tree was preserved and this sculpture was commissioned.

We took a stroll along the beach front...

before making a detour to the Squaw Valley for a quick stop over.

After a hearty all-you-can eat pizza lunch at the Round Tables pizza at the town of Truckee, we tried to find our way to the Donner Lake Summit trail. However, when we finally managed to locate the trail head, we thought we should give it a the place seems quite deserted, instead we simply drove round the Donner Lake.

Then, it was back to the Tahoe shoreline, passing a few beaches before we headed up to the Mt Rose summit area.

Once again, we gave up the idea of taking the hike to the would be way too long and time consuming. However, we did walk less than half a mile up the trail and was greeted by this stunning view of the whole area:

As it was getting late, we continued our journey back to South Lake Tahoe, stopping only once near the Secret Harbour:

It was a good drive around the lake...I thought the scenery along the way was so stunning and beautiful...but not until we came across more spectacular views the following day on our way to Yosemite...

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Lake Tahoe (Part 1)

It seems like it was only yesterday that we were all packed and ready to leave for the airport...and very soon we are back to our comfortable I wish we could extend our holidays for another week!

After all the unpacking and cleaning up after a trip, I finally get to seat down to sort out the tonnes of photos we have taken during our two weeks trips to the San Francisco bay area in California. As promised in my last posting, I would love to share our travel photos and stories with you. However, I guess I have to do it in batches, as there are just too many photos to go thru! So for this first installment, I will share with you our trip to the beautiful Lake Tahoe.

We spent the entire morning, driving from the bay area to South Lake Tahoe city. It was worth the 4 hrs drive as it got more scenic as we approach our destination.

I enjoyed watching the never ending pine trees that lined along both sides of the road...while the boys were busy punching away the buttons on their electronic gaming devices at the back of the car!

We were pleasantly surprised when we saw the distant mountains were still covered with snow!

Once we checked-in to the motel, we wasted no time to get on to the nearest hiking trail at the Emerald Bay.

The trail though considered easy, was fairly steep, it's about 4km round-trip. At the bottom of the trail, near the beach, we saw the famous Vikingsholm Castle.

Well, the boys were not so interested in the building, but were more pre-occupied with the geese.

We then went on a short trail to the lower section of the Eagles Falls.

It was indeed a good hiking trail to start with...the boys enjoyed the walk and it was a great way to get them off their gameboy and psp! Walking back to the parking area was a little tedious for me and my younger boy, but he managed to get his daddy to piggy-back him for the last quarter-mile up to the trail head ;)